Unequivocal Equivocation – an open letter to Dr. Trenberth

This essay from Willis appeared on WUWT overnight Saturday while I slept. After reading it this morning, I decided to make it a sticky at the top of WUWT (I also added the open letter reference) because it says everything that needs to be said about the current state of affairs in climate science and the skeptic position. I ask readers not only to read it, but to disseminate it widely at other websites and forums. Hopefully, the right people will read this. Thanks for your consideration, and thank you, Willis.

UPDATE: I’ve made this essay available as a PDF here: Willis_Trenberth_WUWT_Essay suitable for printing and emailing. – Anthony

UPDATE2: Trenberth reacts: edits speech to fix copying, leaves “deniers”

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I would like to take as my text the following quote from the recent paper (PDF, 270k also on web here) by Dr. Kevin Trenberth:

Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence [on the climate].

Figure 1. The game of Monopoly’s “Community Chest” card that was randomly drawn by Dr. Kevin Trenberth. Some guys are just lucky, I guess.

The “null hypothesis” in science is the condition that would result if what you are trying to establish is not true. For example, if your hypothesis is that air pressure affects plant growth rates, the null hypothesis is that air pressure has no effect on plant growth rates. Once you have both hypotheses, then you can see which hypothesis is supported by the evidence.

In climate science, the AGW hypothesis states that human GHG emissions significantly affect the climate. As such, the null hypothesis is that human GHG emissions do not significantly affect the climate, that the climate variations are the result of natural processes. This null hypothesis is what Doctor T wants to reverse.

As Steve McIntyre has often commented, with these folks you really have to keep your eye on the pea under the walnut shell. These folks seem to have sub-specialties in the “three-card monte” sub-species of science. Did you notice when the pea went from under one walnut shell to another in Dr. T’s quotation above? Take another look at it.

The first part of Dr. T’s statement is true. There is general scientific agreement that the globe has been warming, in fits and starts of course, for the last three centuries or so. And since it has been thusly warming for centuries, the obvious null hypothesis would have to be that the half-degree of warming we experienced in the 20th century was a continuation of some long-term ongoing natural trend.

But that’s not what Dr. Trenberth is doing here. Keep your eye on the pea. He has smoothly segued from the IPCC saying “global warming is ‘unequivocal'”, which is true, and stitched that idea so cleverly onto another idea, ‘and thus humans affect the climate’, that you can’t even see the seam.

The pea is already under the other walnut shell. He is implying that the IPCC says that scientists have “unequivocally” shown that humans are the cause of weather ills, and if I don’t take that as an article of faith, it’s my job to prove that we are not the cause of floods in Brisbane.

Now, lest you think that the IPCC actually did mean that ‘humans are the cause’ when they said (in his words) that ‘global warming was “unequivocal”‘, here’s their full statement from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Summary For Policymakers (2007)  (PDF, 3.7 MB):

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level (see Figure SPM-3).

Despite the vagueness of a lack of a timeframe, that is generally true, but it says nothing about humans being the cause. So he is totally misrepresenting the IPCC findings (which he helped write, remember, so it’s not a misunderstanding) to advance his argument. The IPCC said nothing like what he is implying.

Gotta love the style, though, simply proclaiming by imperial fiat that his side is the winner in one of the longest-running modern scientific debates. And his only proffered “evidence” for this claim? It is the unequivocal fact that Phil Jones and Michael Mann and Caspar Amman and Gene Wahl and the other good old boys of the IPCC all agree with him. That is to say, Dr. T’s justification for reversing the null hypothesis is that the IPCC report that Dr. T helped write agrees with Dr. T. That’s recursive enough to make Ouroboros weep in envy …

And the IPCC not only says it’s true, it’s “unequivocal”. Just plain truth wouldn’t be scientific enough for those guys, I guess. Instead, it is “unequivocal” truth. Here’s what “unequivocal” means (emphasis mine):

unequivocal: adjective:  admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding; having only one meaning or interpretation and leading to only one conclusion (“Unequivocal evidence”)

Notice how well crafted Dr. T’s sentence is. After bringing in “global warming”, he introduces the word “unequivocal”, meaning we can only draw one conclusion. Then in the second half of the sentence, he falsely attaches that “unequivocal” certainty of conclusion to his own curious conclusion, that the normal rules of science should be reversed for the benefit of … … well, not to put too fine a point on it, he’s claiming that normal scientific rules should be reversed for the benefit of Dr. Kevin Trenberth and the IPCC and those he supports. Probably just a coincidence, though.

For Dr. Trenberth to call for the usual null hypothesis (which is that what we observe in nature is, you know, natural) to be reversed, citing as his evidence the IPCC statement that the earth is actually warming, is nonsense. However, it is not meaningless nonsense. It is pernicious, insidious, and dangerous nonsense. He wants us to spend billions of dollars based on this level of thinking, and he has cleverly conflated two ideas to push his agenda.

I understand that Dr. T has a scientific hypothesis. This hypothesis, generally called the “AGW hypothesis”, is that if greenhouse gases (GHGs)  go up, the temperature must follow, and nothing else matters. The hypothesis is that the GHGs are the master thermostat for the globe, everything else just averages out in the long run, nothing could possibly affect the long-term climate but GHGs, nothing to see here, folks, move along. No other forcings, feedbacks, or hypotheses need apply. GHGs rule, OK?

Which is an interesting hypothesis, but it is woefully short of either theoretical or observational support. In part, of course, this is because the AGW hypothesis provides almost nothing in the way of a statement or a prediction which can be falsified. This difficulty in falsification of the hypothesis, while perhaps attractive to the proponents of the hypothesis, inevitably implies a corresponding difficulty in verification or support of the hypothesis.

In addition, a number of arguably cogent and certainly feasible scientific objections have been raised against various parts of the hypothesis, from the nature and sign of the forcings considered and unconsidered, to the existence of natural thermostatic mechanisms.

Finally, to that we have to add the general failure of what few predictions have come from the teraflops of model churning in support of the AGW hypothesis. We haven’t seen any acceleration in sea level rise. We haven’t seen any climate refugees. The climate model Pinatubo prediction was way off the mark. The number and power of hurricanes hasn’t increased as predicted. And you remember the coral atolls and Bangladesh that you and the IPCC warned us about, Dr. T, the ones that were going to get washed away by the oncoming Thermageddon? Bangladesh and the atoll islands are both getting bigger, not smaller. We were promised a warming of two, maybe even three tenths of a degree per decade this century if we didn’t mend our evil carbon-loving ways, and so far we haven’t mended one thing, and we have seen … well … zero tenths of a degree for the first decade.

So to date, the evidentiary scorecard looks real bad for the AGW hypothesis. Might change tomorrow, I’m not saying the game’s over, that’s AGW nonsense that I’ll leave to Dr. T. I’m just saying that after a quarter century of having unlimited funding and teraflops of computer horsepower and hundreds of thousands of hours of grad students’ and scientists’ time and the full-throated support of the media and university departments dedicated to establishing the hypothesis, AGW supporters have not yet come up with much observational evidence to show for the time and money invested. Which should give you a clue as to why Dr. T is focused on the rules of the game. As the hoary lawyer’s axiom has it, if you can’t argue facts argue the law [the rules of the game], and if you can’t argue the law pound the table and loudly proclaim your innocence …

So now, taking both tacks at once in his paper, Dr. T. is both re-asserting his innocence and proposing that we re-write the rules of the whole game … I find myself cracking up laughing over my keyboard at the raw nerve of the man. If he and his ideas weren’t so dangerous, it would be truly funny.

Look, I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news to you, Dr. T, but you can’t change the rules of scientific inquiry this late in the game. Here are the 2011 rules, which curiously are just like the 1811 rules.

First, you have to show that some aspect of the climate is historically anomalous or unusual. As far as I know, no one has done that, including you. So the game is in serious danger before it is even begun. If you can’t show me where the climate has gone off its natural rails, if you can’t point to where the climate is acting unusually or anomalously, then what good are your explanations as to why it supposedly went off the rails at some mystery location you can’t identify?

(And of course, this is exactly what Dr. T would gain by changing the rules, and may relate to his desire to change them. With so few examples to give to support his position, after a quarter century of searching for such evidence, it would certainly be tempting to try to change the rules … but I digress.)

But perhaps, Dr. T., perhaps you have found some such climate anomaly which cannot be explained as natural variation and you just haven’t made it public yet.

If you have evidence that the climate is acting anomalously, then Second, you have to show that the anomaly can be explained by human actions. And no, Dr. T., you can’t just wave your hands and say something like “Willis, the IPCC sez you have to prove that what generations of people called ‘natural’, actually is natural”. There’s an arcane technical scientific name for that, too. It’s called “cheating”, Dr. T., and is frowned on in the better circles of scientific inquiry …

(N.B. – pulling variables out of a tuned computer model and then proudly announcing that the model doesn’t work without the missing variables doesn’t mean you have established that humans affect the climate. It simply means that you tuned your computer model to reproduce the historical record using all the variables, and as an inevitable result, when using only part of those variables your model doesn’t do as well at reproducing the historical record. No points for that claim.)

Third, you have to defend your work, and not just from the softball questions of your specially selected peer reviewers who “know what to say” to get you published in scientific journals. In 2011, curiously, we’ve gone back to the customs of the 1800s, the public marketplace of ideas — except this time it’s an electronic marketplace of ideas, rather than people speaking from the dais and in the halls of the Royal Society in London. If you won’t stand up and publicly defend your work, it’s simple – you won’t be believed. And not just by me. Other scientists are watching, and considering, and evaluating.

This doesn’t mean you have to reply to every idiot with a half-baked objection and a tin-foil hat. It does mean that if you refuse to answer serious scientific questions, people will take note of that refusal. You must have noticed how such refusal to answer scientific questions totally destroyed the scientific credibility of the website RealClimate. Well, they’re your friends, so perhaps you didn’t notice, but if not, you should notice, here’s an example. (PDF, 147K) Running from serious scientific questions, as they make a practice of doing at RealClimate, makes you look weak whether you are or not.

And Always, you have to show your work. You have to archive your data. You have to reveal your computer algorithms. You have to expose everything that supports and sustains your claims to the brutal light of public inquiry, warts and all.

Dr. T., I fear you’ll have to get used to the sea change, this is not your father’s climate science. The bottom line is we’re no longer willing to trust you. You could publish in the Akashic Records and I wouldn’t believe what you said until I checked the figures myself. I’m sorry to say it, but by the actions of you and your colleagues, you have forfeited the public’s trust. You blew your credibility, Dr. T, and you have not yet rebuilt it.

And further actions like your current attempt to re-write the rules of science aren’t helping at all. Nor is trying to convince us that you look good with a coat of the finest English whitewash from the “investigations” into Climategate. Didn’t you guys notice the lesson of Watergate, that the coverup is more damaging than the original malfeasance?

Dr. T, you had a good run, you were feted and honored, but the day of reckoning up the cost has come and gone. Like some book said, you and the other un-indicted co-conspirators have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting. At this point, you have two choices — accept it and move on, or bitch about it. I strongly advise the former, but so far all I see is the latter.

You want to regain the trust of the public, for yourself and for climate science? It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Here’s my shortlist of recommendations for you and other mainstream climate scientists:

•  Stop trying to sell the idea that the science is settled. Climate science is a new science, we don’t even have agreement on whether clouds warm or cool the planet, we don’t know if there are thermostatic interactions that tend to maintain some temperature in preference to others. Or as you wrote to Tom Wigley, Dr. T,

How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter.  We are not close to balancing the energy budget.  The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not!  It is a travesty!

SOURCE: email 1255550975

Curious. You state strongly to your friend that we’re not close to knowing where the energy is going or to balancing the energy budget, yet you say in public that we know enough to take the most extraordinary step of reversing the null hypothesis … how does that work again?

At this point, there’s not much about climate science that is “unequivocal” except that the climate is always changing.

•  Don’t try to change the rules of the game in mid-stream. It makes you look desperate, whether you are or not.

•  Stop calling people “deniers”, my goodness, after multiple requests that’s just common courtesy and decency, where are your manners? It makes you look surly and uncivilized, whether you are or not.

•  Stop avoiding public discussion and debate of your work. You are asking us to spend billions of dollars based on your conclusions. If you won’t bother to defend those conclusions, don’t bother us with them. Refusing to publicly defend your billion dollar claims make it look like you can’t defend them, whether you can or not.

•  Stop secretly moving the pea under the walnut shells. You obviously think we are blind, you also clearly believe we wouldn’t remember that you said we have a poor understanding of the climate system. Disabuse yourself of the idea that you are dealing with fools or idiots, and do it immediately. As I have found to my cost, exposing my scientific claims to the cruel basilisk gaze of the internet is like playing chess with Deep Blue … individual processors have different abilities, but overall any faults in my ideas will certainly be exposed. Too many people looking at my ideas from too many sides for much to slip through. Trying anything but absolute honesty on the collective memory and wisdom of the internet makes you look like both a fool and con man, whether you are one or not.

•  Write scientific papers that don’t center around words like “possibly” or “conceivably” or “might”. Yes, possibly all of the water molecules in my glass of water might be heading upwards at the same instant, and I could conceivably win the Mega-Ball lottery, and I might still play third base for the New York Yankees, but that is idle speculation that has no place in scientific inquiry. Give us facts, give us uncertainties, but spare us the stuff like “This raises the possibility that by 2050, this could lead to the total dissolution of all inter-atomic bonds …”. Yeah, I suppose it could. So what, should I buy a lottery ticket?

Stop lauding the pathetic purveyors of failed prophecies. Perhaps you climate guys haven’t noticed, but Paul Ehrlich was not a visionary genius. He was a failure whose only exceptional talent is the making of apocalyptic forecasts that didn’t come true. In any business he would not have lasted one minute past the cratering collapse of his first ridiculous forecast of widespread food riots and worldwide deaths from global famine in the 1980s … but in academia, despite repeating his initial “We’re all gonna crash and burn, end of the world coming up soon, you betcha” prognostication method several more times with no corresponding crashing burning or ending, he’s still a professor at Stanford. Now that’s understandable under tenure rules, you can’t fire him for being a serially unsuccessful doomcaster. But he also appears to be one of your senior AGW thinkers and public representatives, which is totally incomprehensible to me.

His string of predicted global catastrophes that never came anywhere near true was only matched by the inimitable collapses of the prophecies of his wife Anne, and of his cohorts John Holdren and the late Stephen Schneider. I fear we’ll never see their like again, a fearsome foursome who between them never made one single prediction that actually came to pass. Stop using them as your spokesmodels, it doesn’t increase confidence in your claims.

•  Enough with the scary scenarios, already. You’ve done the Chicken Little thing to death, give it a rest, it is sooo last century. It makes you look both out-of-date and hysterical whether you are or not.

•  Speak out against scientific malfeasance whenever and wherever you see it. This is critical to the restoration of trust. I’m sick of watching climate scientists doing backflips to avoid saying to Lonnie Thompson “Hey, idiot, archive all of your data, you’re ruining all of our reputations!”. The overwhelming silence of mainstream AGW scientists on these matters is one of the (unfortunately numerous) reasons that the public doesn’t trust climate scientists, and justifiably so. You absolutely must clean up your own house to restore public trust, no one else can do it. Speak up. We can’t hear you.

•  Stop re-asserting the innocence of you and your friends. It makes you all look guilty, whether you are or not … and since the CRU emails unequivocally favor the “guilty” possibility, it makes you look unapologetic as well as guilty. Whether you are or not.

•  STOP HIDING THINGS!!! Give your most private data and your most top-secret computer codes directly to your worst enemies and see if they can poke holes in your ideas. If they can’t, then you’re home free. That is true science, not hiding your data and gaming the IPCC rules to your advantage.

•  Admit the true uncertainties. The mis-treatment of uncertainty in the IPCC reports, and the underestimation of true uncertainty in climate science in general, is a scandal.

•  Scrap the IPCC. It has run its race. Do you truly think that whatever comes out of the next IPCC report will make the slightest difference to the debate? You’ve had four IPCC reports in a row, each one more alarmist than the previous one. You’ve had every environmental organization shilling for you. You’ve had billions of dollars in support, Al Gore alone spent $300 million on advertising and advocacy. You’ve had 25 years to make your case, with huge resources and supercomputers and entire governments on your side, and you are still losing the public debate … after all of that, do you really think another IPCC report will change anything?

If it is another politically driven error-fest like the last one, I don’t think so. And what are the odds of it being an honest assessment of the science? Either way the next IPCC report won’t settle a single discussion, even if it is honest science. Again, Dr. T, you have only yourself and your friends to blame. You used the IPCC to flog bad science like the Hokeyschtick, your friends abused the IPCC to sneak in papers y’all favored and keep out papers you didn’t like, you didn’t check your references so stupid errors were proclaimed as gospel truth, it’s all a matter of record.

Do you truly think that after Climategate, and after the revelations of things like IPCC citations of WWF propaganda pieces as if they were solid science, and after Pachauri’s ludicrous claim that it was “voodoo science” to point out the Himalayan glacier errors, after all that do you think anyone with half a brain still believes the IPCC is some neutral arbiter of climate science whose ex-cathedra pronouncements can be relied upon?

Because if you do think people still believe that, you really should get out more. At this point people don’t trust the IPCC any more than they trust you and your friends. Another IPCC report will be roundly ignored by one side, and cited as inerrant gospel by the other side. How will that help anyone? Forget about the IPCC, it is a meaningless distraction, and get back to the science.

That’s my free advice, Dr. T., and I’m sure it’s worth every penny you paid for it. Look, I don’t think you’re a bad guy. Sadly for you, but fortunately for us, you got caught hanging out with the bad boys who had their hands in the cookie jar. And tragically for everyone, all of you were seduced by “noble cause corruption”. Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s happened to me too, you’re not the first guy to think that the nobility of your cause justified improper actions.

But as far as subsequently proclaiming your innocence and saying that you and your friends did nothing wrong? Sorry, Dr. T, the jury has already come in on that one, and they weren’t distracted by either the nobility of your cause, nor by the unequivocal fact that you and your friends were whitewashed as pure as the driven snow in the investigation done by your other friends … instead, they noted your emails saying things like:

In that regard I don’t think you can ignore it all, as Mike [Mann] suggests as one option, but the response should try to somehow label these guys a[s] lazy and incompetent and unable to do the huge amount of work it takes to construct such a database.

Indeed technology and data handling capabilities have evolved and not everything was saved.  So my feeble suggestion is to indeed cast aspersions on their motives and throw in some counter rhetoric.  Labeling them as lazy with nothing better to do seems like a good thing to do.

SOURCE: email 1177158252

Yeah, that’s the ticket, that’s how a real scientist defends his scientific claims …



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unequivocal: adjective: admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding
It would seem that he used the correct word… climate scientists admit no doubt or misunderstanding.
(whether what they admit is fact is a different matter)


Willis: My suggestion is that we NOT refer to “climate”. That is another pea. Refer to “global warming”, which is their underlying claim. And then poke holes in the “anthropogenic” part. Language has subtle effects.
Jim B

Sam Hall

“Look, I don’t think you’re a bad guy.”
I am not so sure. He is doing everything he can to push AGW, trash our economy and cause millions of deaths. There is a name for people like that and it isn’t a nice one.

Baa Humbug

Hmmmm I think there’s somebody cringing right now. (or kicking his cat)
I agree with almost everything in this essay Willis except…

Look, I don’t think you’re a bad guy.

Lay with dogs, get up with fleas. A years supply of Advantix won’t fix his problem.

What a fine piece of writing. Congratulations.


Just one word: Excellent


Yes, I have often seen the conflation of 2 ideas-global warming real, humans the cause mixed together-in surveys, in papers etc etc. If you say the global warming threat in future has been exagerated you are, of course, denying the world has warmed. Politicians are the worst at this. Talk about lumping things together.


Could anybody actually make it through that entire post??

Peter Plail

Thank you Willis for such a clear exposure of the failure of Trenberth to abide by neither logic nor scientific principles.
He referred to sceptics as charlatans, let me quote a definition: “A charlatan (also called swindler or mountebank) is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.”
I’ll leave everyone to draw their own conclusions as to which side of the fence the charlatans sit.

Joe Lalonde

Once it is published, then it is a reference that needs no defending as it is absolute.
Would you like to use that as a defence for garbage science?
Climate science has. Any mistakes shown mean nothing as it was published by their peers of the same like minded.
Arrogance now reins and no defence is required.
I feel so sorry for the kids being taught this as 100% accurate. Been done now for generations.

John Marshall

I agree with everything above. The problem is that Trenberth’s paper on atmospheric heat exchange is the one the IPCC values and he claims is the truth and real science. He can’t even make his energy flow picture balance and assumed that heat will flow from cold to hot which the 2nd law of thermodynamics states is impossible. Sorry Kevin you talk c**p


Fantastic post Willis. You got it right.
Message to the 91 Norwegian representants in Cancun;
Read and weep. Find something else to do. Your carbon footprint is “unequivocally” too large.

John Innes

Best summation I’ve seen to date. Inspired writing. Well done, Willis!


Mister Trenberth lost it and it, is still missing.


Dr.T- denier of science.

David L

This reminds me of “cold fusion”. Two guys claimed they demonstrated it. The theory seemed right. However nobody could reproduce the results. So where is “cold fusion” today? It’s dead. The AGW crowd claims they demonstrated their theory of CO2 connection to climate, and the theory seems right, but nobody can reproduce the results. However after all these decades and millions spent, it won’t die. It’s kept alive by shady dealings of the primary authors to the story (as found in their own emails) and public fear mongering (as found on the nightly news and elsewhere). It’s certainly not kept alive by increased scientific substantiation nor vindication of accurate predictions.
When Einstein came up with an outlandish theory of gravity, that mass warped the space around it, there was nor universal acceptance until they predicted such warping would manifest itself in the image of stars behind a solar eclipse. Decades later astronomers observed exactly what was predicted. What do we have with the AGW meme? “Snows are just now a thing of the past” in the UK….then three years in a row and snow: record snow: guess what Einstein? FAIL!
And how many times have they failed yet the old story won’t die?


A stunning, excellent piece of writing.
Well done.

Brian S

That Monopoly card does say Community Cheat, doesn’t it? What an appropriate card for him to draw!

Keith Battye

I , truly, have no idea whether the globe is warming or not, let alone in an unprecedented way. I do know that here in Harare things feel and change like they have over the last 60 years of my life.
What I do know for certain is that our generated CO2 has not been proved to be consequential in any way for any change that might be happening.
That’s the fundamental thing here in my mind. If the climate is changing is man made CO2 responsible in any significant or worrisome way? It would be good for unequivocal evidence for this and so far it has not been presented. Our little spirals off into betting on Sea Ice areas or forest fire frequencies are just interesting in a time filling kind of a way. All too debatable and easily modified by statistics used by whichever team you are rooting for.
Is there unequivocal evidence of a global temperature increase at all rather than just “needle hover” ?
Is their equally unequivocal evidence that CO2 is doing things that will bring excessive stress to earth and all that lives on her?
Every time you see a move like Trenberth’s little arabesque you know that the core to his argument is non-existent. It’s like being asked by a Christian to prove there is no God, failing which there must be one. It might be religion but it most certainly isn’t science.
Well done Willis for once again re-centering the debate. We all need to know if the “global temperature” is actual an item, likewise if it is going up or not, and what is causing it not what Trenberth , without any convincing evidence, blames on Man Made CO2.

wayne Job

Nicely and roundly roasted. Well done.


Yeah, what Willis said. All of it.
And one more thing. If CAGW is correct, future generations will put the blame for inaction onto climate scientists who don’t take Willis’s words to heart. They won’t be blinded by tribalism into blaming the sceptics who asked reasonable questions or demanded decent standards in the science. They’ll condemn those people who should have met those challenges.

Frank K.

Great essay, Willis! Thanks.
This episode reminds me that to nineteenth century physicists, it was “unequivocal” that light must have a medium within which to propagate, leading them to develop the idea of the luminiferous aether. After all, Maxwell’s equations required such a medium, as explained in the Wikipedia article:
“In addition, Maxwell’s equations required that all electromagnetic waves in vacuum propagate at a fixed speed, c. As this can only occur in one reference frame in Newtonian physics (see Galilean-Newtonian relativity), the aether was hypothesized as the absolute and unique frame of reference in which Maxwell’s equations hold. That is, the aether must be “still” universally, otherwise c would vary along with any variations that might occur in its supportive medium. Maxwell himself proposed several mechanical models of aether based on wheels and gears, and George FitzGerald even constructed a working model of one of them. These models had to agree with the fact that the electromagnetic waves are transverse but never longitudinal.”
Even as problems were found with the theory, scientists at the Royal Institution in England still defended its existence as late as 1908:
“Contemporary scientists were aware of the problems, but aether theory was so entrenched in physical law by this point that it was simply assumed to exist. In 1908 Oliver Lodge gave a speech in behalf of Lord Rayleigh to the Royal Institution on this topic, in which he outlined its physical properties, and then attempted to offer reasons why they were not impossible. Nevertheless he was also aware of the criticisms, and quoted Lord Salisbury as saying that “aether is little more than a nominative case of the verb to undulate”. Others criticized it as an “English invention”, although Rayleigh jokingly corrected them to state it was actually an invention of the Royal Institution.”
So, to paraphrase Lord Rayleigh’s quote above, one can suggest that CAGW theory is “actually an invention of the IPCC.”

Ken Harvey

“Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence [on the climate].”
I like that a lot, Dr. Trenberth. It is my belief that the core of Saturn is made of vanilla ice cream, and, as I believe my own hypothesis, then that surely is so and it is unequivocal. So far as I am aware no one has ever denied it to be the case: unequivocal. Supporters for my position? I have little doubt that with some application of effort I could drum up several thousand from the internet. They would, of course, lack something in the way of letters, but, so what? According to your own rules the onus would be upon the more learned to prove the nul hypothesis. Difficult that. Some of the most brilliant minds ever to be gifted to this planet have said, unequivocally, that the nul hypothesis can never be proved.
So there you are, Dr. Trenberth, for all practical purposes the supply of vanilla ice cream is without limit.


Brilliant article, long as it was, i wanted more.
I think that the hockey stick team have made a fundamental mistake by putting all their eggs into one basket. Everybody knows that this is a bad idea.
Looking forward to your next posting.


Trenberth wants proof there is no God, sorry.. I mean, AGW.
Im sure I have seen this kind of inductive reasoning in ancient debates on Gods existense. I never took them serious though, maybe I should.

Alexander K

As ever, Willis, your communication skills allied with your ability to unpick a statement and lay out all the costituent parts for us all to see so clearly are combined in an object lesson in critical analysis of language.
Like other posters, the only thing I disagree with you about, is your very generous assessment that Trenberth is ‘not a bad guy’. A person that has the education, training, intelligence, opportunities and privelege that Trenberth has, must surely have knowingly selected his strategies to make his way through the post-Climategate era; those strategies suggest to me that ‘he IS a bad guy’.


Dr T just got pwned!

I’m sorry, but this is too far. What is Mr. Trenberth’s email? And his bosses? We need to directly tell him how foolish he is. He has now completely overstepped the scientific method. What a fool.


Brilliant piece of writing, Willis – thank you. I particularly appreciate your positive comments, such as “I don’t think you are a bad man”, and I happen to agree. I don’t think that Phil Jones is a bad man either, nor even Bill McKibben – they have been seduced by a noble cause, and their life’s work is at stake.
“Seduction by a noble cause” has happened for centuries, and once seduced, it is exceedingly difficult to break free despite the evidence there may be against your beliefs. Escaping from an abusive cult, even an abusive marriage, can be the hardest thing in the world, once you have committed your life to it.
We have the same thing in medicine – the noble cause of preventing heart attacks has seduced the majority of mainstream medicine to worship at the feet of cholesterol-lowering statin medication. Many billions of dollars have been spent already in putting the fear of death into people and vastly enriching the inner circle of big pharma. The mainstream medics who go along with it, research for it and promote it are not part of a big conspiracy, but have been seduced by the noble cause. Once their academic lives have been committed, it takes a very big, magnanimous person to be able to stop and consider that they may have been barking up the wrong tree.
I greatly appreciate your gentle, conciliatory approach to Dr T. I hope very much that he reads, listens and deeply ponders your excellent advice.

Bruce Cobb

“Prior to the 2007 IPCC report, it was appropriate for the null hypothesis to be that “there is no human influence on climate” and the task was to prove that there was.”
Hasn’t the good doktor just erected a classic straw man argument there? No one has ever argued that humans have no influence on climate, and that was never the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis was, and still is that natural climate variation driven by various factors, primarily changes in the sun and oceans have always been the major drivers of climate. But his strawman is even more insidious – a double strawman, if you will, because the argument isn’t even about “human influence”, but rather specifically about human-produced C02, and its effect on climate. Now, I have to wonder why would Trenberth want to talk about “human influence” instead of manmade C02? His dishonesty knows no bounds.

David Jones

Robb876 says:
January 15, 2011 at 3:55 am
Could anybody actually make it through that entire post??
Yes, and I pretty much understood every word of it. What’s up Robb? To heavy and complex for you?

Lew Skannen

Very thorough. Says it all.
Very nice article.

“We haven’s seen any acceleration in sea level rise. We haven’t seen any climate refugees. ” <– "haven't seen".
" Stop re-asserting the innocence of you and your friends. It makes you all look guilty, whether you are or not … and since the CRU emails “unequivocally” favor the latter possibility, it makes you look unapologetic as well as guilty. Whether you are or not."
"favor the latter possibility," shouldn't this be "favor the former possibility"
or "whether you are or not" should be in parentheses, "(whether you are or not)"
Excellent article!

Mark Twang

How sad the ecofascists must be to know that no matter how much they agree on their schemes to defraud us, Congress is never going to buy their bull. Their last best chance was voted out in November.

Steve C

Excellent post.
There’s another point I don’t think we make nearly enough of. Before the alarmist camp can claim that GW (or anything else climatic) is not just a natural phenomenon but mankind’s doing, they really have to show that they are including – and accounting for – every factor with any significant effect on weather/climate in their models.
Not only do they not do that, but it only takes, say, a week’s reading of WUWT to show why they don’t – can’t yet – get close. Climate science is still at the infant stage of collecting evidence and making preliminary hypotheses, never mind trying to scare us all with half-cocked “predictions” inferred from “trends” which are down in the statistical noise.

David L

Robb876 says:
January 15, 2011 at 3:55 am
Could anybody actually make it through that entire post??”
Pretty much everyone with an attention span longer than a gnat’s

Jack Simmons

Great summary. Well written.
Another side point:
I am really getting tired of certain words and phrases such as:
“Back in the day…” – a reference to a time when things were better, people did their job right, etc. Why not say something like: “back in the mid-sixties…”
“At the end of the day…” – People used to say “In the final analysis…”. That was wrong too, because there is no final analysis on anything. Why not say something like “My conclusion is…” or “The evidence suggests…”
awesome – used when someone accomplishes anything such as remembering to pull up their zipper.
perfect – used as awesome.
These latter two words are sprinkled liberally in the speech and writings of people under thirty. My theory is we are seeing the results of a generation taught to have high self esteem. Teachers encouraged their students not by challenging them to do better, but by telling them spelling the word CAT correctly was ‘awesome’. Not punching Sally out at lunch time was ‘perfect’. My teachers encouraged me by refraining from drawing red check marks all over my papers. This happened when I got the correct answers. No one was awesome or perfect; language of that nature was reserved for truly awesome things like landing on the moon or a politician telling the truth.
Of course robust and unequivocal are terms used by people trying to add credence to their theories; as regular readers of this blog site can attest.
Its too bad. All of these are nice words, overused by a generation losing its ability to talk and write with precision and accuracy. When a people loses its language, they lose the verbal symbols of ideas and their world is diminished.


How is it that the IPCC can link ‘unequivocal’to ‘melting of snow and ice’..?
Where is this happening..?
Every year, with relentless reliability, the Arctic ice melts in the summer, and with the same relentless reliability, freezes up again in the winter.
I would say THAT was unequivocal….


C’mon you gotta love these guys, they’re now allowed to reverse the null hypothesis at will. Can’t wait for their next ‘trick’.


Steve McIntyre has shown below that Trenberth has lifted a lot of the text verbatim from a Nature Geoscience article.
So in addition to being a shameless peddler of false information, he’s also a cheap plagiarist. It’s a shame on climate science and everyday they find new lows to sink to.

That is a thorough, well written, well articulated and brilliant stomping.
I thank you dearly, my good man Willis!

I have the negation. Sea level rise. It will reverse shortly.

Great post Willis thanks.
Verity Jones said at CA that Trenberth forgets that for every finger he points away from himself, there are three fingers pointing back. Now here are three fingers I would like to keep in view.
One – Steve Mosher’s comparison of Trenberth’s IPCC AR4 words with what they should say. Note the pea under thimble again.
Two – Ross McKitrick showing how crucial this sleight-of-hand removing UHI is for the whole IPCC position.
Three – (look under link 2) Trenberth has now added to the phrases people will quote and remember him by.
Track back from my posts linked here to the originals who deserve the credit and follow-up, Steve and Ross.

Buzz Belleville

What a dishonest posting. Completely omitting the IPCC conclusion that human activities are “very likely” (defined as >90%) the cause of observed warming. And the point is that — with the strong la Nina of the last half of 2010, the end of a prolonged solar minimum, the negative PDO and AO, and even the Milankovich cycles tranding towards more NH ice formation and cooler temps, all combined with the fact that 2010 tied for the warmest year on record and we are seeing a record number of AGW-related extreme weather events — we’ve reached the point where the IPCC “very likely” conclusion has become even stronger. At some point, when all the variables line up to anthropogenic warming causing catastophic events, the burden does shift to the skeptics to provide an alternative explanation. Spencer has tried with the PDO, and Lindzen has tried with the iris theory, but neither is supported by observed events of the past few years.
Another strawman — No one says natural forcings have ‘no effect.’ They have taken a back seat to human emissions as the dominant forcing, but natural cycles and other natural variables continue to influence, even significantly, our weather and global temps on short-term, even decadal, timeframes.
The point that we haven’t warmed the past decade and that the past 30 years are consistent with natural variability …. kind of shameless. You have to do some serious manipulations with starting years or peak years to come to those conclusions. Nine of the 10 warmest on record within the past decade (1998 being the other). The rolling 5-year or 13-month averages on a steady upward trend. In fact, including the last two years, we are well within the 0.2-0.3 degrees C per decade. And the last 30 years show a marked departure from the previous 300 in terms of the rate of temp increase and the temp levels reached.
This past week, I started into the “international climate regime” part of my sustainable energy law class, and I’m always amazed by how accurate those warning of AGW in the 1980s were. They nailed it. We should have listened to them long ago.


That was a great essay, Willis. How amazing that a supposed scientist would seek to reverse scientific process. I’m a financial person, and nothing changes the laws of money, just as nothing changes the laws of science, no matter how much people fiddle about with them.


One more thing, Willis, please stop letting them get away with saying that all of the investigations exonerated the ClimateGate Fools. The one serious violation was the FOI, and they got away with that due to the statute of limitations. That is not the same as exoneration at all! The other white washes were just that, but they narrowly escaped a real problem on a technicality.
Other that that quibble – dead on!


I am going to throw this ball at your face. But don’t duck unless you can prove it isn’t made of soft cotton. It is after all most likely a hoax perpetuated by elitist scientific journals that it is made of rock. And even if it is a rock, it could just be a natural cycle. Rocks happen, they have always been around. Many people have been killed by rocks in the past, in fact whole species have been wiped out by them. Hence there is no need to duck. Quack!

Robb876 says:
“Could anybody actually make it through that entire post??”
I thoroughly enjoyed it. But if someone who has bought into the notion that a harmless and beneficial trace gas is going to cause thermogeddon, then, as they say, “the truth hurts,” and turning one’s eyes away is a relief.
CO2 has risen about 40%. That is significant. If increased CO2 caused global harm, we would surely have seen evidence of it by now. But there is no verifiable evidence that anything unusual is occurring, except for the substantial increase in agricultural production.
In a world where a billion people subsist on less than $1 a day, more CO2 means life for many of them. But I think Dr Trenberth cares more about keeping the grant gravy train rolling than he cares about starvation.


It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove something *didn’t* occur. That, of course, is what they are counting on…


Slash all federal taxpayer support to agencies, institutions, universities performing so-called climate research. We have wasted enough resources over the last 30 years supporting apocalyptic climate fraud. The only real man-made apocalyptic catastrophe we face is the threat of nuclear war. Unlike the brinkmanship rules played during the Cold War the rules today are different.