Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The State of Climate Science: Have We Passed Peak Civilization?

Scientists: Clouds reflect sunlight. Could it be true? Image source

A recent empirical study by Spencer and Braswell published in the journal Remote Sensing (RS), challenges beliefs about human-caused climate warming with evidence that climate warming predictions ignore a significant role of clouds on surface temperatures.

This conclusion is vehemently denied by a number of prominent climate modellers and has resulted in the resignation of the RS's Editor in Chief. It has also prompted a rebuttal that passed RS's peer-review process like a dose of salts, and a rebuttal video, that ends with these reassuring words:
Results that purport to overturn decades of science are almost always wrong.
Oh, well then, no need for further observation or experiment.

Except now we have the rebuttals of the rebuttal, some of which are, if nothing else, entertaining, including this from philosophy of science grad, Tallbloke, and this by physicist LuboŇ° Mot.

To a non-specialist, a striking feature of this controversy is that it pits warmist modellers and curve fitters against skeptical experimenters, which raises the question of whether "climate science" as the term is used by the warmist camp is, perhaps, a misnomer. In particular, one may ask, what is scientific about a modeling exercise that makes predictions about the climate fifty or a hundred years hence, which cannot be tested except over a similar time-scale?

All that can be tested today are some of the components of the climate models, for example, how things like cloud cover, solar activity, or sea surface temperature are related to air temperature. This is the work of experimentalists such as Richard Linzen, Willie Soon or John Christie.

Generally what the experimentalists find does not seem to support the conclusions of either the modellers, or the curve fitters, such as Kevin Trenberth, Phil Jones, or Michael Mann.

Without questioning anyone's integrity, the conflict between these groups suggests that much of what goes under the name of climate science is not so much science as futurology based on some questionable techniques that produce questionable predictions.

Is this a sign of the times? Is science morphing into something else? A branch of politics, perhaps? Have we, as some observers suggest, reached "peak civilization," and begun the descent into the New Dark Age?

See also:
Al Gore's assault on the integrity of science


  1. Do try to keep up Speccy, we are in a post-normal age, an age of 'new-normals' so of course the old science is no longer adequate and only the new 'Post-Normal Science' can save us from ourselves.

    Besides didn't that clever geezer Einstein prove 100yrs ago that empirical science was as dead as the aether - who needs real experiments when you can get a clever geezer (jewish is best) to do 'thought-experiments' or run computer models?

  2. Actually, Einstein was OK.

    One of the best, in fact.

    He wasn't much for experimentation, it's true. But as a Patent Examiner Third Class, he didn't have a lot of opportunity for lab work during his most productive years. But he introduced the important notion that scientific concepts must have operational definitions, i.e., the definition must indicate how the thing is to be measured.

    So Einstein's theoretical ideas were all subject to experimental testing, although some of the test have come at astounding cost, e.g., the Gravity Probe B satellite experiment which confirmed Einstein's predictions about gravity frame dragging (whatever that may be) cost $3.5 billion and took over fifty years to from conception to test completion.

  3. But what you say about "post-normal science" seems worryingly close to the mark as applied to climate science.