Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
The proverb that “they can’t see the forest for the trees” means, they are so consumed with detail, they don’t understand the larger situation. This is true of society in general and climatology in particular. One book that at least addresses part of the problem as it relates to climate, is Essex and McKitrick’s Taken By Storm, in the chapter titled, “Climate Theory Versus Models and Metaphors”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has exacerbated, amplified and exploited the problem because they are about politics, not science.
Shortly after appointment to Chair of the newly formed Assiniboine River Management Advisory Board (ARMAB), I called a meeting at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. I invited people from Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments involved with as many aspects of the river basin as possible. It was amazing, in a Province of 1.2 million people, how few knew or communicated with each other. I knew communication between different levels of governments is bad, but was shocked to find, it was as bad within the same level of government. Worse, many didn’t know their part in affecting the interaction between the natural dynamics of the river basin and human activities.
People introduced themselves and explained why they were present. Some didn’t know. The Department of Highways representative said his department had nothing to do with water. I asked him if he knew that, a) they built and maintained drainage ditches on each side of a road, b) that some ditches are larger in flow capacity than many rivers and streams in the basin and, c) a majority cut across the natural drainage slope of the region? Of course, none knew the climate history of the basin. Some knew I had done climate studies, but nobody had ever consulted me or looked at the material.
Over my career I’ve given evidence at trials, advised lawyers in court cases, served on dozens of commissions of inquiry and participated in numerous government and private studies on a variety of issues related to climate, water resources, and environmental issues. Almost without exception the conclusions were,
· Data was inadequate to reach meaningful conclusions,
· Most people were only minimally doing their job and few knew the context of their work,
· Every rule was being bent, broken or ignored, which speaks to the paradox that rules are made to make things work, but when a group says they are going to work to rule, it means they are going to stop it working.
· Previous recommendations for change were ignored. On my first commission looking at conflict over a lake, I discovered recommendations of three previous commissions were never enacted. There was also a letter sent to Ottawa in the 1880s by an engineer in the region, identifying the problems and offering solutions. I also knew that fur trader and explorer Alexander Mackenzie had commented on the problems 200 years earlier. All were ignored.
· Usually, responses were so slow that if they came at all, a new pattern had emerged that was aggravated by the actions. The history of the Assiniboine drainage basin was a pattern of reactions driven by the wet and dry cycle of the Prairies. With wet cycles demands for drainage forced some reaction. By the time it started, a dry cycle drove demands for retention and storage.
It appears life is, as Shakespeare’s play title says, “a comedy of errors”. However, every once in a while, it randomly becomes a tragedy of errors.
Gestalt theory says that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. It is part of learning theory.
Gestalt theory applies to all aspects of human learning, although it applies most directly to perception and problem-solving.
According to Gestalt experts, the principles to apply are as follows.
1. The learner should be encouraged to discover the underlying nature of a topic or problem (i.e., the relationship among the elements).
2. Gaps, incongruities, or disturbances are an important stimulus for learning
3. Instruction should be based upon the laws of organization: proximity, closure, similarity and simplicity.
It has application to climatology, and today’s analysis and understanding of the world and how it works. Chances of success are, at best, seriously hampered by the problem of specialization. Accurate identification and integration of each specialized piece, is essential to understanding. Specialization guarantees you will not see the forest for the trees. Different languages, definition of terms and perspectives exacerbate this problem. The introductory course in any subject at any university, is where the separation begins. These usually leave fundamental differences and divisions unexplained, yet, they seriously affect and limit understanding.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fails for many reasons, but, not least, is the problem of specialization. In fact, they have a much larger problem because there are crossovers and similarities within the specializations that are markedly different between the sciences. This is demonstrated in their Working Group I (WGI) The Physical Science Basis Report and those in Social Science Reports of Working Groups II and II. Then, they run into serious problems when they tried to integrate political and economic models. Integrating them with economic and social scenarios of WG II and III and calling them projections, supposedly masked failures of the scientific predictions of WGI. This goes a long way to explaining why a few people with a political objective were able to create the unrepresentative, unreal, Summary for Policymakers (SPM).
The IPCC created an intellectual and philosophical Tower of Babel that has only temporarily served the political objective. It limited the possibility that anyone would put two and two together and realize their answer was five. Like another famous tower, it is leaning and ready to fall.
Specializations In Climate
Figure 1 is a simple systems diagram of weather components and illustrates the challenge.
Figure 1: Source: After; Climate Stabilization: For Better or for Worse? William W. Kellogg and Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 186, December 27, 1974
An important question from a Gestalt perspective is, how many specializations are represented? I used the diagram as a prompt, while explaining to a lawyer the difference between climate science and climatology. The former, are individual specialists who happen to study climate. The latter, must integrate every part. The problem and challenge is underscored by the need to create integrative or interdisciplinary studies for real world problems.
As a climatologist, trying to put all the pieces in the puzzle, I have always known it was necessary to consult with specialists. For example, when using statistics, I relied on Alex Basilevsky, whose biography lists climate studies. He was especially interested in Markov probabilities. This failure to consult specialists was identified by the Wegman Report as a serious failure of the paleeoclimate group associated with the “hockey stick” fiasco. In a devastating finding they wrote,
It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.
The challenge, when dealing with specialists, is to know enough to ask the right questions and understand the answers. This worked well in many cases, but often created more problems, because I received different answers from people in the same specialization.
The last sentence by Wegman seems to imply that they didn’t consult because they knew their work would not withstand scrutiny. That proved to be the case, when Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitirck looked at what was going on. However, there is another issue of differences between specialists. Consider the following communications between two, well-informed global warming skeptics. Willliam Kininmonth, former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology and author of, “Climate Change, A Natural Hazard” wrote:
I have difficulty in understanding the reluctance of some to embrace modern radiation transfer theory. The first validations were made in the 1940s and 1950s with aircraft and balloon borne instruments measuring radiation fluxes at various altitudes through the atmosphere. Then there were instruments released from rockets taking measurements as they descended through the atmosphere. As computing power developed the algorithms for evaluation became more complex. As instrumentation developed the fine structure of wavebands were better measured. My point is that radiation transfer theory is not a theory that was formulated 60-80 years ago and has not changed. It has evolved to incorporate more complexities as computing capability and instrument observing precision have improved. It will continue to improve but the fundamental theoretical base and broad conclusions remain valid.
The reply by Arthur Rorsch, whose views are well detailed in an article titled “Pseudoscientific elements in climate change research,” replied
The origin of the reluctance is this. The laws have been deduced for radiation processes with a blackbody covered cavity. I think my colleague Ponec sent you already his short treatise on it with the interesting comment that there has been developed other views on the application of the laws in Nature which seem not to be noticed by the atmospheric sciences.
Another part of the discourse cited above is in reference to the latest publication by Ferenc Miskolczi. As one skeptic wrote,
We still have a long way to go in understanding the world and its climate. Miskolczi is analysing a different set of data, a different approach to atmospheric science, not that of a meteorologist.
My experience is that you get different responses, depending on whom you ask and how they apply the physics. For example, engineers usually have a different understanding than others. They claim it is because their physics has to work. To be trite, it is a variation on the joke that an optimist says the glass is half full, the pessimist that it is half empty, and the engineer that it is badly designed.
This appears to speak directly to my point about the Gestalt Theory as it applies to climate research.
So the questions remain. Which physicist is correct? Why do they disagree? Why does the climate sensitivity number keep decreasing? Is it because the science isn’t settled, or that they all look at pieces of the climate puzzle differently?
Gestalt applies, if for no other reason than, the sum of the climate parts are greater than the whole and the IPCC keeps digging. A good example of the Gestalt problem is, that the UK Court ruling on Al Gore’s movie insisted the government provide handbooks for teachers to use before showing it in the classroom. The Department of Education had to produce different handbooks for the science, social science and civics teachers.
Understanding weather and climate is a major example of the difficulties identified in the Gestalt Theory. The problem will continue as long as the IPCC exists, because it was designed to look at individual trees while ignoring the natural forest, and then only a man-planted forest.