"People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful."

Guest post by Alec Rawls

Nasa Cosmic Rays

Andrew Orlowski at the UK Register has an anecdotal account of Downing College’s skeptics-vs-believers mash-up. Ace of Spades pulled the juiciest bit:

In short, the day lined up Phil Jones, oceanographer Andrew Watson, and physicist Mike Lockwood, the latter to argue that the sun couldn’t possibly have caused recent warming. He was followed by the most impressive presentation from Henrik Svensmark, whose presentation stood out head and shoulders above anyone else. Why? For two reasons. The correlations he shows are remarkable, and don’t need curve fitting, or funky statistical tricks. And he has advanced a mechanism, using empirical science [image above], to explain them.

At the other end of the scale, by way of contrast, the Met’s principle research scientist John Mitchell told us: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” adding, “Our approach is not entirely empirical.”

Yes, you could say that.

Lockwood’s failed argument against a solar explanation

Orlowski on Lockwood:

The strongest argument, according to Lockwood, for the sun not being a driver in recent climatic activity is that “it has been going in the wrong direction for 30 years.”

Hmmm. So as soon as solar magnetic activity passed its peak, when it was still at some of the highest levels ever recorded, these very high levels of solar activity could no longer have caused warming?

As I have noted a number of times, this argument depends on an unstated assumption that, by 30 years ago (by 1980 or so), ocean temperatures had equilibrated to whatever forcing effect the 20th century’s high level of solar activity might be having. Otherwise the continued high level of forcing would continue to create warming until equilibrium was reached, regardless of whether solar activity had peaked yet. (The actual peak seems to have been solar cycle 22, from 1986-96, not 1980, as Lockwood claims.)

When I pressed Lockwood on his implicit equilibrium assumption he justified it by citing evidence that ocean temperature response to solar activity peters out (as measured by decorrelation) within a few years:

Almost all estimates have been in the 1-10 year range.

But decorrelation between surface temperatures and solar activity is very different from equilibrium. All decorrelation is measuring is the rapid temperature response of the upper ocean layer when solar activity rises or falls. That rapid response indicates that the sun is indeed a powerful driver of global temperature, but it says next to nothing about how long it takes for heat to carry into and out of deeper ocean layers.

This was brought out by AGW believers like Gavin Schmidt who are concerned about the energy balance implications of equilibration-speed. In a simple energy balance model, rapid equilibration implies (other things equal) that climate sensitivity must be low. Since belief depends on high climate sensitivity, the rapid equilibration claim cited by Lockwood had to be shot down, which was managed quite successfully (ibid).

In sum, Lockwood’s rapid equilibrium assumption is dead and buried, leaving him no grounds for dismissing a solar explanation for post 70’s warming. I’ll keep an eye out for video of Lockwood’s presentation, but I doubt he mentioned the rapid equilibrium assumption upon which his argument depends.

More punk students

Remember these graduate student “climate scientists,” going all Clockwork Orange for the planet or something:

Sounds like they made an appearance at Downing College too:

The audience had been good enough to heed Howard’s opening advice that “if anybody mentions Climategate, they’ll be evicted”. Nobody ambushed the CRU crew all day – it was all very polite. I noted that the skeptics made a point of listening politely to the warmists, and applauding them all. A group of students and a few others, simply giggled and mocked the skeptics, however from start to finish. One of their tutors (I presume) was in hysterics all day.

Give ’em an A. They learned their “observational evidence is not very useful” lesson well.

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Theo Goodwin

How satisfying it is when someone advancing a totally idiotic position is hammered by his own people. Though I cannot say that there is hope for the lot of them or even one of them.

Adam

Why isn’t this Quote of the Week?

Buffoon

“John Mitchell told us: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” ”
Really really?
If anyone has video evidence of this statement (audible), please, please get it posted and displayed with some context. It’s possibly the worst anti-science statement I’ve ever read.

Lady Life Grows

After all, if they used observational evidence, somebody might observe that plants and animals thrive better in the summer than in the Spring and Fall, not to mention winter, and that could be the end of the hysteria.

Michael Ozanne

Observational data has only 1 minor role when doing science by model. When you find your model doesn’t agree with the observations you know you have to can it and try again. Other than that, empirical data , who needs it?

Pompous Git

Buffoon
The statement: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” is perfectly accurate. It is a statement about The Agenda which has little if anything to do with science.

MattN

“Why isn’t this Quote of the Week?”
My thoughts exactly. I just wonder if he actually kept a straight face will uttering such nonsense…

Mike McMillan

Can’t say much for the video.
“I am a climate scientist”
“I am the walrus”
“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”
Beatles and Gilbert & Sullivan got ’em beat, homey.

MattN

BTW, the sun is NOT a light switch. Have any of these idiots ever heard of thermal inertia? Just because I turn the stove off does not mean the kitchen immediately starts cooling off…

Tom in Florida

“People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” adding, “Our approach is not entirely empirical.”
Apparently he was addressing how to persuade elected officials.

higley7

Pompous Git says: “It is a statement about The Agenda which has little if anything to do with science.”
Perfectly correct. All of the junk science propaganda is simply to make a case for a huge wealth and power grab, redistribution of wealth to cripple the undeveloped world, and to create a one-world government. Why else do you think that they are already planning to try to implement a UN world level environmental monitoring agency, the brand new World Environmental Organisation (WEO), at the meetings in 2012? They also want to give UNEp more power to pushing their policies.

Steve from Rockwood

On John Mitchell’s comment that “people underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful.”
And Buffoon’s comment that “it’s possibly the worst anti-science statement I’ve ever read.”
I couldn’t disagree more. Mitchell is giving very sage advice here on the state of observational data in climate science (and no I am not being sarcastic). By running models, climate scientists should be able to test their theories without having to wade through the high noise levels and/or short-term high amplitude variations in global temps that make the data record so complex (and of limited use).
Sadly, it seems, many of these scientists are looking for disaster scenarios so we take every quote from a climate scientist with maximum skepticism – occasionally to the point of missing one.

Latitude

John Mitchell told us: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,” adding, “Our approach is not entirely empirical.”
===============================================
Sounds like a bad re-run of Max Headroom…….
Climate models invalidate the real world

Lew Skannen

Observational evidence is worse than ‘not very useful’, it can be extremely damaging to beautifully crafted, lovingly polished, highly expensive models.
It is a bit like saying that a porcupine is ‘not very useful’ in a baloon factory.

PaulH

There must be some kind of Stockholm Syndrome/Tron thing going on here. They seem to have become imprisoned by the computer models they created, and cannot bring themselves to disagree with the models, no matter how far the models deviate from reality. Bizarre.

Paul Coppin

“John Mitchell told us: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful”
I guess then, we can unequivocally say that: melting glaciers don’t mean squat; sea level changes have no relevance; polar bears aren’t really in danger; the thickness of arctic sea ice doesn’t matter, nor its extent; who cares if the Antarctic is warming?; changes in atmospheric CO2 don’t correlate to anything important; the hockey stick really was somebody’s bad joke; GISS and NCAR are wasting their time fudging the temperature history; Yamal trees really are just old firewood…

John A. Fleming

No, no, no. It’s a perfectly rational and justifiable statement. Determining how the Earth’s climate works by using observations is very difficult, because the climate signal is swamped by noise (weather, seasonal). Instead, with a model, you can fiddle with forcing functions and feedbacks, and run the model hundreds of times in experiments. The actual observational data is just another instance of those climate experiments. All you have to do is show that that your model could have generated the historical measurements, if only you had had enough butterfly wings to initialize the model with. As the feedbacks and forcing are fiddled with, the model results agree with, then don’t agree with, the observational data. Once the feedbacks and forcings are all tuned up, the model is golden, and has predictive capability.
I have no idea if this is /sarc or not, and I wrote it. But I can imagine a climate modeler saying it in all seriousness, and daring you all to point out the fallacy.

Latitude

Steve from Rockwood says:
May 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm
Sadly, it seems, many of these scientists are looking for disaster scenarios so we take every quote from a climate scientist with maximum skepticism – occasionally to the point of missing one.
=================================================
“even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while”
Steve, First off, do you really believe climate science is advanced enough to make predictions that anyone should listen to?
And which ones should you listen to: warmcold, snowrain, droughtflood, windcalm…….
could, might, may, if……
Miss what?

Quis custoddiet ipos custodes

“John Mitchell told us: “People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful,”
Great- I assume this means we don’t need to spend anymore money on equipment to measure those pesky attributes anymore………………………….

richcar 1225

Lockwood only recently acknowledged that the sun likely was responsible for the recent strong negative NAO and southerly displacement of the jet stream. He stated that it only had a local effect on England’s cold temps in December and January but did not have a global influence. The Altai glacier temperature reconstruction from an ice core demonstrates a twenty year lag from group sunspot number and atmospheric temperature over the last 750 years. This years decline (.56 degrees today from last year) is right on schedule.

TomRude

Science is dispensable when politics and finances are at the heart of the matter.
Climategate only helped discrediting their PR campaign yet the war is raging upon us: utilities, smart grids, money grab etc…
While so many skeptics celebrated the fall of Copenhagen thanks to climategate, Big Green has regrouped and is now winning.
This whole thing will not be resolved peacefully, no way. This is totalitarism after all.

Louis Hissink

Lockwood is correct iff solar radiance is the sole energy input into the earth-system.
He is wrong if plasma universe model is used, for then the measured millions of amperes of electrical current entering and exiting the earth system via the polar Birkeland currents add energy in addition to that supplied by solar radiance.

Luther Wu

MattN says:
May 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm
BTW, the sun is NOT a light switch. Have any of these idiots ever heard of thermal inertia? Just because I turn the stove off does not mean the kitchen immediately starts cooling off…
_____________
Let’s change that to: “the kitchen is immediately cool…”

R. Shearer

Paul Coppin, other than the antarctic not warming, you just about got it right.

Sean

You know I always thought is was ill advised that climate scientiests in England used global circulation models to make seasonal forecasts for Great Britain 3 months in advance since the models were never shown to be skillful in regional predictions. I had no idea a person like John Mitchell existed. Given his statement, its now perfectly understandable to me now that they use them (even if they are horrendously inaccurate). So please, lets not discourage John Mitchell, he is a great of falsifiable predictions.

Laurie

” …specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. ”
“Six by nine. Forty two.”
“That’s it. That’s all there is.”
“I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe”
Douglas Adams (1 January 1980). The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Steve from Rockwood

Latitude says:
May 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm
Steve, First off, do you really believe climate science is advanced enough to make predictions that anyone should listen to?
And which ones should you listen to: warmcold, snowrain, droughtflood, windcalm…….
could, might, may, if……
Miss what?
======================================================
Latitude, lets pretend for a few thoughts that we don’t dislike climate scientists and that they aren’t totally useless. I for one think that a few of them must be honest, but I don’t track the field so I don’t know the players.
A guy shows up at a climate conference and he suggests that looking at model responses can be more beneficial (to climate scientists) than observational data. You and I may knee-jerk react to think he is polishing up his model when in fact he may be making a very honest statement about the general usefulness of observational data in climate science (i.e. it’s of low use). So we can poop on him right there and then or we can give him some room to discuss how his models can help scientists learn more about climate science. My gut feeling is that the variation in output of these models is far below the observational variance (that was really the point of my earlier post).
And as for miss what? well miss his point. His point is that the usefulness of observational data is lower than the model outputs. Set the bar where you like, but the observational bar is lower than the model bar.
On a final note, someone posted Jim Hansen’s original discussions on global warming circa 1990s (?) where he discusses what the changes to global climate might look like. He lists only summer heat and drought. Your comments on snowrain, droughtflood etc while somewhat funny (and nicely sarcastic) really sums up my rejection of climate science. You can’t have two faces (the climate scientists). Hansen only had one when this whole thing started. It was a warming world with less water. Bottom line is even the climate scientists think the observational data is less useful than their models.

Jack Simmons

Just exactly when did the world go insane?
I don’t mean the druggies and alcoholics, they’ve always been insane.
I’m talking about the scientists and other educated elites.
When did they lose their marbles?
How can statements like these be made with a straight face?

I have seen and heard prats like John Mitchell at many a scientific conference. His type is not that unusual.

Caleb

RE: Lew Skannen says:
May 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm
“It is a bit like saying that a porcupine is ‘not very useful’ in a balloon factory.”
Excellent! I am going to quote you, somewhere down the road. Is that original?

Steve from Rockwood

Latitude says:
May 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm
“even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while”
===============================================
But what if a blind squirrel had access to a state-of-art modeling program?
Yah he would probably starve. Forget it…

Olen

Sounds like a confession.

richcar 1225

Movements morph. In Breckenridge, Colorado where I live the town just had their second annual sustainability conference. Last year a young Kennedyesque Aspen greenie started the conference announcing that oil companies are spreading misinformation to discredit global warming. He pointed to Kevin Rudd as an inspiration for the US the day before he was sacked. This year it was all about ‘sustainability’ and not climate change. The local college has announced they will be offering their two first four year degrees in business and sustainability. The conference was lightly attended this year. I think there was a notable lack of enthusiasm given the economy and this winters six hundred inches of snow. It still looks like a normal mid winter there with more snow on the way.

Chuck Dolci

I wonder, was that video peer reviewed?
I guess those guys are “climate scientists”. After all, they do jump up and down a lot, make clownish facial contortions, cop an attitude, and scream a lot of totally unintelligible gibberish.
That is the sum total of their arguments.

RockyRoad

The strongest argument, according to Lockwood, for the sun not being a driver in recent climatic activity is that “it has been going in the wrong direction for 30 years.”
Ok, let’s look at a more discernible situation: Has anybody out ever found that the hottest day of the summer is June 21st? Based on the above logic, it certainly should be (greatest amount of sunlight in the N. hemisphere). But we all know it never is. Never! The hottest day of summer is generally the latter part of July/first part of August–considerably later that the “longest day”.
So much for their argument!

John

Observational evidence IS the power of the model. Has Lockwood never seen a Victoria’s Secret girl?

Barry L.

QUOTE OF THE YEAR

richcar 1225

With their guru Hansen floating the lingering Pinutubo aerosol theory to explain the lack of ocean heat uptake they know their in trouble.

Models showed that wind turbines would be cost effective. As if.

Laurie

Steve from Rockwood, I’ve read your post several times. There are many words so I’m thinking there must be a complete explanation if I would just follow the reasoning. Maybe it’s just more than I should worry my pretty little head over but I still don’t get it.
Can you tell me what you mean by “useful”? Does this mean “accurate” or “revealing trends” or “providing a path to a better understanding of climate”? Something else?
I thought the issue was about whether models could tell us what climate has been and what we can expect in the future and why. At 1990, 2011 was the future, not far but still a period in which we had predictions from the models. Now that we are here, how can observational data be less “useful” that models? Aren’t we interested in using observational data to check the results of the models to verify we are on the right track? Or what? Are you smart enough to write clearly and educate me?
Thanks! Oh, IA(obviously)NAS

Harry Won A BAgel

“People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful.”
This is a true statement if the your objective is to promote irrational fear of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.
I would go further, far from being “not very useful”, observational evidence actually falsifies the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis .

They weren’t allowed to bring up climategate? It just demonstrates how warmist defense of this scandal is dependent on the ‘out of context’ line, which if you read more emails, just falls apart by the seams.

David Falkner

Observational evidence isn’t very useful? So how do you validate the models? Against other models? Of course not, against observational evidence. Of course, you are really not comparing the results of one model run against one observation. You are looking at the average weather data against the average model run. N=30 to meet the assumption that you are drawing from a normal distribution. But is the weather a normal distribution? Can you make that assumption with any sample size? It doesn’t seem responsible to do so. If you look at the summer data for any point on Earth, you’re likely to see an average that is closer to the upper bound than the lower bound. In the winter, the data is likely to be skewed to the colder value. It would make infinitely more sense to only make a single day the comparison point. Position relative to the sun is more important.

Cassandra King

“People underestimate the power of models. Observational evidence is not very useful.”
The above quote describes the alarmist side perfectly, observed reality has not been kind to the CAGW position and so the claim is correct. Their models alone describe and validate their theories while observational evidence has simply served to contradict those models. The inner conflict and central contradiction within climate science has always been the widening gap between modelled reality and observed reality. Pro CAGW climate scientists can not let go of their models because it is all they have, a one trick pony that has a broken leg.
Those few words are remarkable in that they describe perfectly why CAGW theory is not valid and why it should be laid to rest so the world of science can move on to much more important challenges. Those words are true, the person who uttered them was speaking the truth, it should be the final epitaph carved in stone and placed outside every place of learning. I have never yet heard so few words so perfectly describe a theory.
Science is built on the foundation of matching theory against observed reality, no theory has ever survived the conflict between theory and observed reality until now, CAGW is in essence a theory and this theory has not been able to describe and match what we see in reality. At any other point in history the theory would have been disowned and disposed of but we now see a revolution in science.
Those at the heart of CAGW research are attempting what amounts to a coup against science, the attempted eviction of observed reality from its place as the ultimate validator of theoretical science. The replacement of unproven theory ahead and over observed and proven reality is of course a gross perversion of science but it is easy to see why this is occurring and why it has been all too obvious from the start.
Climate science began its remarkable life with a conclusion which climate science then attempted to validate with the new science of modelling, this new branch of science took advantage of the huge increase in computing power, coupled with a massive influx of money. Climate science made the basic error of trying to find evidence to back up their models, the increasingly desperate search for any evidence they could find and use that validated their models and so desperate did they become they tried to use anything that remotely looked like it might validate their models until it reached hilarious proportions with less rain/more rain/hotter/cooler/more snow/less snow proving CAGW.
Climate science grew too big too fast with no solid foundation on which to base its existence and now the final and ultimately useless attempt to deny reality in favour of models, it must be that observed reality that is wrong and not the models? This inevitable conclusion to this comic tragedy that sceptics saw coming years ago, the epitaph that will be carved on the metaphorical gravestone of CAGW theory. Never before has so few words described so perfectly the demise of a mass delusion.

I’ve noted previously that Economics and Climate Science are very similar in a number of ways. Both are closed shops with certain orthodoxies, both have political import, both have recently been caught with their pants down.
In the post above is noted the response from Climate Science a couple of years on. we have the more considered response in the economic field.

John F. Hultquist

Just yesterday there was a post by Paul Vaughan titled Interannual Terrestrial Oscillations. A great lot of observational evidence was presented. The general tone of the comments was that the contribution to climate science was underwhelming. ( aka “not very useful”)
Perhaps, John Mitchell meant that with a complex system and much data some method(s) or model(s) [equations] might be helpful – a “not entirely empirical” approach.
Does everyone but me have a problem with that?

Paul Vaughan

The headline of this article is classic.

Laurie

I just watched the “I’m a Climate Scientist” video. What I have to say may be simplistic to many of you. Remember, I already confessed that I am (obviously) not a scientist. I just have to get this off my chest!
Look, there was a time when I read the articles about global warming and previously global cooling. Yes, I’m old enough for that and I read the LA Times daily. It was all interesting but what did I know? How could I know? IANAS. I was just watching the studies unfold. Al Gore was entertaining in his “documentary”. Bjorn Lomborg’s “Cool It” seems rational and balanced but I could be mistaken. Real Climate-too much anger and arrogance. I love the many posts and charts at Wattsupwiththat and I check it out every day. So you might think I lean to the “lukewarm” side. Nope. I’m skeptical. How’d that happen? Well,
Big Oil didn’t turn me.
Climate Scientists didn’t fail to present their views properly.
Bloggers didn’t convince me.
Alex Jones is a nut ball, IMO.
Our beloved host didn’t provide the information that made me see the light.
Here are the two ideas that stopped the Dixie cup from reaching my lips:
1. “Global Warming is Real, It’s Here and the Debate is Over!” ::blink, blink:: This is how we do science now? Declare a consensus and close the debate?
2. Month after month, year after year, for at least ten years, I’ve read about horrific weather events and the news includes the information that the event is attributable to CAGW. Here’s what else is included: “The worst cyclone since 1890!” “Hottest year since 1934!” “Catastrophic flooding occurs every 10-12 years but this one is the worst since 1963” “Tornado swarms-hundreds of tornadoes! We haven’t seen as many ‘killer tornadoes’ since 1957!”
One might ask (I certainly do) what was going on in 1890, 1934, 1957, 1963 and 1978 that caused these weather events and why do we think CO2 and CAGW is the cause of more recent events? The answer: Because there is much more CO2 now and therefore, there can be no other reason. Everyone know this but you! What? Huh?
So here I am, resenting how my significant tax contributions will be spent and not liking those giggling, snarky “Climate Scientist” grad students very much, either.

Laurie

Cassandra King
Thanks! This is certainly what it looks like to me.

Mann Bearpigg

I think the video would have been better sung to the tune of ‘Firestarter’ by the Prodigy. Just replace the word ‘Firestarter’ with Climate Scientist.