Red Team vs Blue Team

Having some kind of Red Team exercise, to test and challenge the climate science consensus, seems to be gaining a small amount of momentum. Steve Koonin (who I have discussed before) has an article in the Wall Street Journal called A ‘Red Team’ exercise would strengthen climate science. Judith Curry, who brought the idea up during her testimony to Congress, seems to approve.

So, why isn’t this idea of there being some kind of adversarial challenge to mainstream climate science being embraced? Well, one reason is that this is kind of how science works all the time. People are constantly challenging our understanding so as to either improve, and strengthen it, to modify it, or – in some cases – to completely overthrow it. If a consensus has developed, it is quite likely that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to seriously challenge the fundamentals of the consensus position, even if many of the details are still not completely understood.

There are also already examples of this ‘Red Team’ kind of thing. Berkeley Earth was a recent attempt to re-analyse the surface temperature datasets and, guess what, it got basically the same answer as everyone else. The CLOUD experiment is looking at a possible link between cosmic rays and could formation. Although there is a link between cloud formation and cosmic rays, the effect is marginal. There have even been tests of the Iris Hypothesis and, again, even if there is an effect, it is probably small.

So, maybe those who think that this ‘Red Team’ idea is worth pursuing can actually explain what is being suggested.

  • Who would make up the team/teams? I don’t think that those who are publicly promoting this are really planning to get all that involved themselves. In fact, one of the strongest proponents of this idea has been involved in a Red Team project and – to date – appears to have achieved absolutely nothing. Are there lots of other researchers who are keen to be part of such a team? Would we try to force some to become part of such a team? I can’t see how the latter would work as researchers are normally free to decide what they’d like to pursue. If the former, who are these people?
  • How would this work be funded? The norm, whatever the funding source, is to write a proposal that lays out what work will be done, what the goals are, and what might be achieved. Given that this would be fundamental research, there isn’t a need to say – in advance – what the results would be, but some kind of justification for why it should be funded would normally be expected? Given the nature of the topic, I would imagine that anyone who could put together a half-decent ‘Red Team’ proposal would find someone to fund it, even if the normal funding routes were unlikely to be successful.
  • How would the programme be assessed? How would we decide if the ‘Red Team’ had successfully challenged the mainstream position? Who would decide this? The norm would simply be that the community would slowly accept those ideas that are supported by the evidence, and largely reject those that are not, but that’s the position we’re already in. What special process would we follow to determine if the ‘Red Team’ exercise had been successful, or not?

Given the above, my general impression is that those who are proposing this are not planning to get all that involved themselves, and have no idea who would make up the ‘Red Team’. They’re not actually planning to present any details of what they’re proposing; they would just like some of the funding to go to ‘Red Team’ projects (whatever those might be). Also, they have no real idea of how this would be assessed and – given past experience – I would fully expect them to propose a ‘Green Team’ if it appeared that the ‘Red Team’ was not having much success in challenging the mainstream position.

My impression is that this is simply an attempt to sow doubt, rather than a serious suggestion for some major new research projects – I’d be happy to be proven wrong, though. Since I would like to be helpful, where possible, where they could start is to at least provide some plan for how they might address Judith Curry’s non-attribution argument. All that would be needed, to start with, is just some ideas as to how one might test whether or not most of the observed warming could be natural. I shall not hold my breath waiting for these ideas to be presented.

Eli’s take on Koonin’s idea for a Team B.

Posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Gavin Schmidt, Judith Curry, Research, Science, The scientific method | Tagged , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

A day of activism … sort of

I discovered via Rachel’s blog that today was Pedal on Parliament 2017 (Scotland, only). Rachel has a new post about the event in Abereen. It’s also the day for the Marches for Science. So, we thought we’d go and spend the day in Edinburgh and just wander around. We walked through the park where the cyclists were gathering (we had decided not to bring our bikes – my wife isn’t really a cyclist) and watched them go past.

We then headed off to the museum for a while (the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, is both free, and excellent) and then found somewhere to have lunch. After lunch we meandered down the High Street to the Parliament, where the Pedal on Parliament was winding up.

The March for Science was due to start, so we found our way up to the route, joined up with a colleague who we happened to bump into, and made our way back down to the Parliament. I really didn’t know what to expect, and was quite surprised by how many people were taking part; more than I was expecting. There wasn’t much chanting, or even much noise (I suspect scientists are just a bit too reticent) but it was a very pleasant, and cheerful, walk.

Once we arrived at the Parliament, there were a number of speeches about the importance of science, and evidence, and how this should be the start of scientists doing more to address the misinformation that seems to becoming ever more prevalent (I, obviously, agree and am trying to do my bit). I did find it quite invigorating to see a whole lot of other people who seemed passionate about scientists engaging publicly, so maybe this will be the start of something positive. It ended with an impromptu ceilidh, but we decided we’d done enough and headed home.

Posted in advocacy, Climate change, Science, Scientists | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Marches for Science

Tomorrow is the day of Marches for Science. The idea of a march for science has somewhat divided people, although along rather predictable lines. There’s concern that it will be seen as politicising science. There’s concern that it will be seen as a march for scientists, rather than as a march for science. There have been issues related to inclusivity and diversity. Science should aim to be inclusive and diverse and should aim to avoid being seen as being associated with mainly one group; some of the rhetoric around these marches did not make this sufficiently clear.

My own view is that even though this hasn’t always been promoted as carefully as it could have been, I think it is good to see people who are passionate about something trying to stand up for what they believe in. The intention, as I understand it, is to highlight the important role that science plays in our lives and to protest against attempts to undermine our scientific understanding when it presents results that are inconvenient to some.

I was, however, wanting to make a fairly simple point, because this is – I think – a fairly simple issue, and scientists (well, myself, at least) have a rather simple view of this. As far as I’m aware, people who do science (and, by science, I really mean research in general) are ultimately interested in trying to understand whatever system it is that they are studying. They believe that they can gather information about that system and analyse that information in a way that will allow us to improve our understanding of the system being studied. They also believe that this information should be made available to society in general and that it should be used to inform decisions that influence how we live our lives.

There are, of course, strong caveats. This information does not – by itself – tells us what decisions should be made, or even how we should live our lives. There may be some things that we (as a society) decide should not be studied. This information may also allow for certain things that we might choose not to do. There may even be cases where we make decisions that seem at odds with the available evidence. There will also be many occasions where other factors, that are more difficult to quantify, strongly influence what we might choose to do.

However, most scientists (as far as I’m aware) think that an informed society is better than one that is not informed. They believe that we should at least accept this information, even if we end up doing things that seem counter-intuitive, given that information. If we start (as seems to be the case) justifying views on the basis of rejecting information that is regarded as reliable and well supported by the evidence, then that would seem to suggest that these views are not well informed.

At the end of the day, science/research provides valuable information that can help to inform society and we should be willing to recognise this, even if some of what is presented is inconvenient; people, especially those who represent us, should be able to defend their views in the light of the available evidence, not reject the available evidence when it appears to be at odds with their views.

Posted in Personal, Politics, Research, Science, The scientific method | Tagged , , , | 46 Comments

The Earth from Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has taken an image of the Earth, through the rings of Saturn. I don’t think I really need to say anything more.

Credit: NASA/Cassini

Posted in Research, Science | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Reconciling ECS estimates – again

I’m heading home after giving a public talk, and have a bit of time to write about the recent Armour paper Projection and Prediction: Climate Sensitivity on the rise. It’s basically another attempt to reconcile energy balance estimates for climate sensitivity, with other estimates. Although the ranges for the different estimates do overlap, energy balance estimates (or observationally-based estimates) imply that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) might be lower than the other estimates suggests.

The basic energy balance calculation is

ECS_{infer} = \dfrac{F_{2\times}}{\lambda} = \dfrac{F_{2\times} \Delta T}{\Delta F - \Delta Q},

where F_{2\times} is the change in forcing after doubling atmospheric CO2, and \lambda is the feedback factor. As can be seen in the equation above, this can be determined from the observed the change in temperature \Delta T, the measured change in system heat uptake rate \Delta Q, and an estimate for the change in radiative forcing, \Delta F.

However, as Armour (2017) says, when using the above to estimate ECS a

key, but often unstated, assumption:[is that] that the global climate feedback in operation when equilibrium is reached, \lambda_{eq}, will be equal to the feedback in operation at any given time, \lambda.

There are, however, indications that the feedback response may not be constant over time, possibly due to the pattern of the warming not being constant. This would imply that the above assumption is not correct and that the ECS inferred from a basic energy balance calculation will not necessarily accurately represent the actual ECS. This is illustrated in the figure below. It shows, as a function of time, (for both abrupt CO2 injections and 1% per year CO2 ramping) the ratio of the actual ECS to the ECS inferred using the energy balance approach. Essentially, the inferred ECS is typically smaller than the actual ECS.

Credit: Armour (2017)

Credit: Armour (2017)

If you use an estimate for the ratio of the actual ECS to the inferred ECS, you can then correct the ECS estimates, as shown in the figure on the right. This also includes a correction that takes into account that the models typically use air temperatures, while the measured surface temperatures are a combination of air and sea surface (as initially presented in Richardson et al. 2016). It also includes an additional correction which takes into account that the ratio might also depend on the actual ECS value. Overall, this does a good job of reconciling the energy balance estimates with the estimates for climate models, and suggest a best estimate for the ECS of around 2.9K, and a 90% range from 1.7 to 7.1K.

A few additional points. We don’t know that these adjustments are correct. However, we do have a situation where there is a mismatch between different climate sensitivity estimates. We also have plausible arguments that can reconcile these estimates. This doesn’t make this reconciliation correct, but does at least provide arguments for why we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of climate sensitivity being higher than the basic energy balance estimates suggest – especially as these estimates require assumptions that may not be true (constant feedbacks).

There was another point that I wanted to try and make, but may not do very well, as it is getting late. What we’re trying to do is produce a distribution that gives us some indication of what we might expect climate sensitivity to be. There is, however, essentially only one answer; we just don’t know what it is. We want to use these estimates to inform how our climate might responds to future changes in anthropogenic forcing. In some sense, we may never really know which estimates where right, as we would only really regard the energy balance estimates as having been wrong if climate sensitivity turns out to be very high (say > 4K), and the others as being wrong if it turns out to be very low (say < 1.5K).

However, trying to argue for a reduced probability in some region of parameter space, when we can't yet know that this region is actually less likely, seems – to me, at least – a poor way to inform ourselves. Given that these energy balance estimates do not actually rule out (with high confidence) much of the standard ECS range, and given that there are plausible reasons as to why they might be producing a range that is skewed to lower climate sensitivity values, would seem to suggest that we should be careful of using them to strongly influence our assessment of the expected range for climate sensitivity.

Anyway, my train is almost due in, so I'll probably stop there. Hopefully I've explained this fairly clearly (it's been a long day) and if others have comments, feel free to make them.

Nic Lewis already has a post on how inconstant are climate feedbacks, and does it matter? The answer to the question he poses (according to Nic, at least) is essentially that they are not inconstant and, even if they were, it wouldn’t matter.

Posted in Climate change, Climate sensitivity, ClimateBall, Judith Curry, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 98 Comments

State of the blog

Since I’ve now been running this blog for four years, I thought it might be an opportunity to consider if I should make any changes. Things have certainly got a little quieter, which might simply be because I’m writing less, but it does seem as though blogging overall has got quieter; many of the other blogs seem rather quiet. It’s possible that this is indicative of some kind of overall change, which might be a positive, but there does still seem to be quite a substantial amount of misinformation being presented in the media, so it’s not clear that there is some kind of overall improvement in the quality of the available information.

Since I am sometimes criticised for my moderation, I had considered relaxing some of my bans, but I suspect it wouldn’t stop the criticism (I think it’s mainly looking for something to criticise, rather than a serious issue with my moderation) and the comment threads might simply then degenerate and I’d just have to re-instate the bans, or start moderating more heavily again.

Another possibility would be to have more guest posts, but I’m not even sure if there is any demand; there are plenty of venues for people to write posts if they wish to. If, however, anyone is looking to write something and would like a guest post, feel free to get in touch; I will, however, still retain some amount of editorial control.

Alternatively, I can just leave things as they are. I certainly don’t have time for any major increase in activity on the blog, so it might just be best to not change things too much. However, if anyone does have any ideas, or thoughts, let me know through the comments and I will certainly consider any suggestions that might be made. Be also interesting to hear other people’s views as to the general state of climage blogging; has it really changed quite a lot over the last few years and, if so, what could have caused it to change?

Posted in ClimateBall, Global warming, Open Thread, Personal | Tagged , , | 65 Comments

Four years!

WordPress reminded me that I started this blog 4 years ago today. Not really sure what to make of that. I’d like to think that I’d have some kind of insights to share, but I don’t really think I do. I’ve certainly learnt a lot, but – in some sense – I’m probably more confused than I was when I started; things I thought should be simple, clearly are not. On the other hand, some things seems clearer; we’ve had three record warm years in a row, Arctic sea ice has spent most of the last year at the lowest extent in the satellite era, atmospheric CO2 is heading towards 410ppm, and we’ve had bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef two years in a row.

I’m not really sure what else to say. Hope everyone has a good Easter break (whether you celebrate Easter, or not) and here’s a song I really like.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments