My post about Andrew Montford promoting Doug Keenan’s statistical models (well, statistical somethings), prompted Andrew to respond with a post of his own. In the spirit of harmony, I thought I might spend some time commenting there. I was pleasantly surprised by how it went; not because I achieved much, but more because it wasn’t a complete disaster. That was probably partly because my skin is thicker than it once was, and partly because the general behaviour was better than I was expecting (I’ve also learned what and when to ignore).
However, what I did encounter was a large fraction of all the standard contrarian arguments. In the spirit of Willard’s new Contrarian Matrix, I thought I might summarise as many as I can remember.
- Isn’t energy only conserved in a closed system?
Well, it is conserved in a closed system, but really it’s just conserved. If you add energy to a system, the energy increases. If a system loses energy, the energy goes down. Ignoring quantum fluctuations, the total energy is always conserved.
- Anders isn’t a scientist, but a corrupt activist :
This seems like a pretty standard accusation. I think Richard Betts and Myles Allen were accused of the same on B-H yesterday. Not quite sure what they think I’m campaigning for. Maybe, a better understanding of basic science. Other than that, not really much else.
- We can’t measure the energy of the climate system with any accuracy :
I’m not actually sure if this is correct or not – if we can measure the temperature and density and know the equation of state, then I think we could determine the total energy. However, we’re not trying to measure the total energy. We’re trying to determine how it is changing, and this we can do with sufficient accuracy to establish if it is changing over some reasonable timescale (years).
There was the obligatory link to a Feynman video. I assume this was to illustrate that I’m not behaving as a scientist should, but which normally illustrates that the person who posted the video doesn’t understand what Feynman was saying.
Apparently, despite all the disagreement, we actually agree. This is odd, because – if this were the case – you’d expect the other party to respond with something like “yes, I agree with you”, not “why are we arguing, you agree with me.”
- Anders doesn’t understand what Doug and Andrew are saying :
This is again a little odd, given that I was also told I agreed with them. I think I do understand (and disagree with) what they are saying. However, those who claimed I didn’t understand what they were saying, then didn’t put any effort into explaining what they were actually trying to say.
- Anders is fixated on radiative physics :
Well, it was hard to see why this is such a bad thing. This was, however, also combined with the standard “surface temperature depends on convection, conduction and evaporation” argument. Well, convection certainly plays a role, but radiation processes are a crucial part of setting the surface temperature and are especially important if you want to consider how adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere might influence surface temperatures.
- Physical models need to be verified :
This seems to be an extension of the Popper gambit. Not only must models be falsifiable, they also need to be verified. This would appear to indicate a significant confusion about the difference between engineering and basic science. Scientists use physical models to try and understand complex systems. How well the model replicates certain aspect of the system tells you something of the physical processes that control the system being studied. A model doesn’t, however, have to actually be verified before you can use it in this way.
- Various latin quotes were bandied about :
Presumably this was intended to make the person using these quotes seem clever and intellectual. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide if this was successful or not.
- We can’t we be sure that it isn’t something else :
Sure, we can’t, but just because it could be something else, doesn’t invalidate our current understanding. The other issue with this argument is that if it is something else, and this something else is somehow significant, you’re counting on two unlikely outcomes. One is that something we haven’t thought of has a major influence on our global surface temperatures. The other is that our current understanding of the processes that we think do influence our surface temperatures is wrong. Anything is possible, but this seems rather unlikely.
- You have to falsify the null hypothesis :
I clearly understand the concept of a null hypothesis. However, normally rejecting or accepting the null is a test that determines whether or not a particular hypothesis has some statistical validity or not. An issue in climate science is defining a suitable null. In this particular instance the claim was that there is only one null hypothesis and that it is an obvious null. I, however, still don’t know what it actually is.
- I don’t believe in the power of back-radiation :
This was in response to me asking if they accepted the standard explanation for the greenhouse effect. I don’t really know if they do or don’t, but they don’t like the power of back-radiation. Well, that’s fine, because I don’t think it’s really all that relevant. Maybe some people describe the greenhouse effect using this kind of terminology, but that doesn’t mean that that is quite how they think it actually works. If you don’t like this terminology, use something different.
So, those are all of the basic arguments that I encountered on B-H. Although I don’t really like appeals to authority, and have largely avoided really describing my own credentials, I have now been studying physics or doing research for closer to 30 years, than to 20. My academic credentials are not outstanding, but they’re nothing to be ashamed of either. Given that, it is somewhat hard not to get a little irritated when someone with no (or very little) scientific experience – or credentials – tells me how science should work and why I’m wrong. This may explain why many don’t bother engaging in such discussions. To be honest, I can’t really see myself doing it too often either. I’m not even sure that writing my own blog is doing me any favours.
Something else that struck me is that Both Andrew Montford and Doug Keenan seem to be claiming that the Met Office agrees with them. Having read the Met Office’s response, it’s a little hard to see how they’ve drawn this conclusion (as it seems fairly clear that they don’t). However, I get the impression that the Met Office feels that it cannot be seen to be unduly critical of a member of the public (taxpayer). Well, I’m a taxpayer too and I don’t see how we benefit from a publicly funded, scientific organisation not making it clear whether they do or do not agree with someone’s criticism of their methods. Of course, it may be impossible to write something that wouldn’t be misinterpreted by people like Andrew Montford and Doug Keenan, but I would certainly encourage the Met Office to be a little more direct.