Salby again!

After my last encounter on Bishop-Hill, I had a thought that I might simply avoid commenting there. However, when someone suggested that Rupert Darwall was a perceptive chap, I couldn’t resist pointing out that this was only true if regarding complete nonsense as having merit, qualified as perceptive. For context, Rupert Darwall recently wrote an article defending the – unpublished – work of Murry Salby, who happens to think that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is natural, and not anthropogenic. Well, he is very obviously wrong. My comment, however, lead to a new Discussion thread where I was challenged to show why Darwall and Salby are wrong. I tried, but I don’t think I managed to convince anyone there.

The problem I have is that showing that Murry Salby’s ideas are wrong is extremely easy. Consider the figure below. It shows how much CO2 we emit through burning fossil fuels, how much is absorbed and emitted by the oceans, and how much is absorbed and emitted by the biosphere (of which we’re also part). What’s fairly clear is that both the oceans and the biosphere absorb more than they emit (we don’t really absorb any as we’re not currently creating fossils, or – at least – not nearly fast enough). If the oceans and biosphere are absorbing more than they emit, then they very clearly cannot be the source of the increase in atmospheric CO2 and – in fact – are absorbing almost half of what we emit. The rise in atmospheric CO2 is, therefore, all us. To illustrate how well Bishop-Hill gets this trivial concept, there is a Bishop-Hill post that attempts to mock Bob Bindschadler by pointing out that the oceans and biosphere emit much more than we do, while failing to point out that they then absorb more than they emit.

Source : Fig 7.3, IPCC AR4

Source : Fig 7.3, IPCC AR4


You can even do more. The isotope ratios (C14, C13, and C12) tell us that the source must be old biological organisms (fossils). The reduction in atmospheric oxygen tells us the source is something being burned. There are multiple lines of evidence that show that Murry Salby’s suggestion that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is natural, is complete and utter nonsense.

So, here’s the conundrum I have. Bishop-Hill is just a blog and it’s also a free world. People can say whatever they like and if they want to promote silly ideas, that’s fine. Under normal circumstances I would simply ignore it – there are plenty of blogs spouting nonsense about climate science that I happily ignore. However, this is not just any old blog, it is run by someone (Andrew Montford) who has quite a high-profile, in the UK at least. He appears on the radio, on television, writes articles for magazine, and is quoted in newspaper articles. Yet, he appears not to understand, or accept, what is a trivial – but crucial – aspect of this topic. If he were honest, the next time he’s asked to talk about this topic in the media, he might respond with : “Sorry, maybe you should find someone else. I don’t understand this very well.” Maybe, also, the next time he writes a post mocking Julia Slingo – the Met Office’s Chief Scientist – he should consider the possibility that the reason he doesn’t get mocked more often is that decent people don’t mock those who have trouble understanding really simple concepts. I really do think we need a better class of climate “skeptic”.

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74 Responses to Salby again!

  1. Raff says:

    They are a strange bunch over there. You’ll find people who claim their motivation is science and how it has been corrupted by climate scientists (scientivists as they will call them). And yet they swallow Salby-related nonsense hook, line and sinker without a hint of dissent from those who appear as if they should know better.

  2. Rachel M says:

    Oh dear. You’re a sucker for punishment. If you manage to convince any of the commenters at BishopHill that we’re the source of CO2 (through burning of fossil fuels), I’ll eat my underpants.

  3. Raff,
    Indeed. I noticed you were commenting on the Discussion thread. I enjoyed your comment about it being difficult to be alarmed when giggling at any mention of Salby 🙂

  4. I’ll eat my underpants.

    Nooooo, don’t give me a reason to go back and try again!

  5. Rachel M says:

    haha. I dare you. 😉

    No, I really shouldn’t be encouraging this godawful waste of time. Better to leave them be.

  6. Nick Stokes says:

    After years of trying to argue about natural sources/sinks and how they have to balance, I’ve decided that the simplest thing is just to hammer the mass balance record. It seems to be the hardest for them to distort.

  7. Marco says:

    ATTP, the picture you provide is not evidence as such, since it is a schematic representation of what we know. Salby challenges that we know this.

    Much more important, however, are the following two points

    1) For this first I will quote John Nielsen-Gammon:
    “Eventually I realized that if 0.8 C of warming is sufficient to produce an increase of 120ppm CO2, as Salby asserted, then the converse would also have to be true. During the last glacial maximum, when global temperatures were indisputably several degrees cooler than today, the atmospheric CO2 concentration must have been negative. That was enough for me.”

    The correlation simply does not hold, unless we’ve recently entered an age where new physical laws have been introduced by something or someone

    2) In order for our anthropogenic emissions to not be responsible for the observed increase (or only for a small part), there must be a source that has lost enormous amounts of CO2, and a sink that has taken up even more. Here the scheme from AR4 is useful for a Gedanken experiment. Just for a moment think away all numbers, apart from the anthropogenic emission (the 29). Now fill in the other numbers, such that i) the net inflow into the atmosphere is positive and about 12 or so, and ii) the net flow into the atmosphere from one of the other sources is much, much larger than the anthropogenic flow. After all, Salby argues that the CO2 primarily comes from a non-anthropogenic source, so the net emissions of that other source must be enormous. Theoretically, both of the other two sources may be net emitters, but then we need a third source that is the sink.

    So, what source has lost so much CO2, and what sink has taken up so much CO2? The two cannot be the same.

  8. Marco,
    Fair point about the schematic. I actually used John N-G’s argument (which I think may actually have originated with someone else) on B-H and pointed out that this was so obviously an issue that many serious scientists saw no point in considering Salby’s ideas any further. It didn’t work.

  9. Marco,

    Salby challenges that we know this.

    Does he really? I didn’t think he really did. He essentially tries to show that CO2 responds to temperature changes (which it does, but he’s only analysing the short-timescale response) and that that the rise must be of biological origin (which it is, but he ignores the change in carbon-14 ratio). So, he certainly doesn’t show that there is any reservoir (other than fossil fuels) that is losing CO2, he just argues that it’s probably soil, without actually showing that this is the case, which is what I think you’re suggesting with this

    So, what source has lost so much CO2, and what sink has taken up so much CO2? The two cannot be the same.

  10. Marco says:

    ATTP, I’ve never went into the details of what Salby suggests, since he doesn’t provide an explanation for where the CO2 comes from and where it goes. However, he *must* be challenging the scheme, since the numbers don’t fit. It is a little bit like showing Kiehl & Trenberth’s scheme of the in- and outgoing radiation to someone who claims backradiation does not exist: to them it isn’t any evidence of being wrong, and by claiming there is no such thing as backradiation, they are of course challenging the scheme.

    Re John NG, it is possible he came to the same conclusion as someone else. To me it is a good argument, but combined with the problem of identifying the required source and sink and the necessary enormously large out- and inflow of carbon in these two (the measurements actually contradict there are such large net flows), it means Salby’s hypothesis deserves little attention until he provides a credible explanation as to why we have not seen a particular source and sink (or set of sources/sinks) having respectively decreased and increased their carbon storage by several thousand gigatons of carbon in the last 100 years.

  11. verytallguy says:

    I thought perhaps a quick look at the “Debunking Handbook” might be instructive.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf

    First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation.

    It is a proven fact that the current CO2 rise is caused by human activity, primarily fossil fuel combustion. This is readily obvious in the graph here(1), which shows CO2 rise clearly coincident with industrialisation. We can check this rise against total emitted by burning fossil fuels; only half ends up in the atmosphere whereas most of the rest ends up being absorbed in the oceans and causing their measured acidification (2).

    The false theory of Salby that the CO2 rise is from temperature rising causing natural emissions is obviously proven incorrect by these simple facts; he requires that oceans or other unknown natural systems are emitting Co2 whereas in fact they are absorbing it. There is a kernel of truth in his analysis in that short term temperature rises do cause short term CO2 rises. however beyond a year or so this effect is dwarfed by human emissions.

    Yet more evidence is provided by the measured oxygen content of the atmosphere reducing by the expected amount if burning fossil fuels were the cause, and also by the changes in isotopic measures of carbon in the CO2 in the atmosphere.(2)

    The CO2 rise in the atmosphere since industrialisation being caused by humans is a simple, unequivocal fact.

    (1) http://www.skepticalscience.com/CO2-emissions-correlation-with-CO2-concentration.htm
    (2) http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-increase-is-natural-not-human-caused.htm

  12. Marco,

    I’ve never went into the details of what Salby suggests, since he doesn’t provide an explanation for where the CO2 comes from and where it goes. However, he *must* be challenging the scheme, since the numbers don’t fit.

    Okay, yes, I see what you mean. I think his challenge is based on finding a correlation with temperature (which as Gavin Cawley has pointed out on the discussion thread, is simply a correlation with short-timescale variations and is entirely insensitive to the long-term trend) and then shown that the C13 to C12 ratio indicates biological origin (ignoring C14) and then jumping to, so it’s soil. So, he’s inferring it’s wrong without actually showing that to be the case.

    I agree, though, that the John N-G (and others possibly) argument is a pretty definitive, and is actually what I started with on the Discussion thread.

  13. Actually, I think the person I associated John N-G’s argument with was Eric Wolff.

  14. Lars Karlsson says:

    Another good SkS page debunking Salby (among others): Climate Change Cluedo: Anthropogenic CO2.

  15. Lars,
    Thanks, I was looking for that one the other day. Always seem to have trouble finding it, which is probably just me not looking hard enough.


  16. I agree, though, that the John N-G (and others possibly) argument is a pretty definitive, and is actually what I started with on the Discussion thread.

    The definitive physics argument is actually that following the math of sequestering diffusion.
    http://contextearth.com/2013/12/02/dealing-with-the-dynamics-of-diffusional-sequestration/
    http://theoilconundrum.blogspot.com/2013/03/stochastic-analysis-of-log-sensitivity.html

    What this also gives you is the fat-tailed adjustment time and the ~50% uptake due to the diffusional spike … and then one can use the results directly in a long-term model of atmospheric CO2 growth, with a more realistic fit than the BERN model.

    The reason this is a second nature type of argument to many process engineers is that diffusion of dopants in semionductors follows the same behavior. Most of the math has been done before, with the twist that CO2 has numerous diffusional pathways, leading to a Maximum Entropy prior giving the best behavioral model.

  17. andrew adams says:

    I’ve been trying to work out how (mathematically speaking) we could be emitting an amount of CO2 which is just over twice the observed increase but yet not be responsible for that overall increase. As I see it first of all we have to assume that, as per Marco’s comment, Salby is correct and the IPCC’s figures for natural (land based and ocean) CO2 sources and sinks are wrong. But we do know that the figures for human emission and the net increase in CO2 levels are fairly accurate.

    So we know that we are emitting about 29Gt p.a., of which 12Gt is remaining in the atmosphere. So let’s assume that as Salby suggests we are only responsible for a small proportion (say 10% for argument’s sake) of the net increase. In that case only about 1.2 Gt of our 29Gt is staying in the atmosphere and the rest is being absorbed by natural sinks. Surely it would be logical to assume that any natural increase in CO2 would be absorbed by natural sinks in the same proportion, so to produce an additional 10.8 Gt net increase would require a gross increase of 260Gt from some natural source. Now it seems to me that the existence of some natural source of CO2 which is producing about 9 times the level of human emissions and and has by some weird coincidence only come into play since we have been burning large amounts of fossil fuels is not only inherently unlikely but completely unsupported by any evidence.

    Now admittedly this is only a “back of a fag packet” argument and I’m more than happy to be corrected but I just don’t see how else Salby’s argument could work.

  18. Andrew,

    I just don’t see how else Salby’s argument could work.

    Indeed, I don’t either. I can’t actually even think of a construct that would actually work, although – maybe I haven’t tried hard enough 🙂

  19. dhogaza says:

    Why do you want to convince Montford that he is wrong? As you say, he’s fairly high profile, so why not simply document the fact that he denies the most basic notion that our dumping of gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere increases the concentration of atmospheric CO2?

    Do what you can to publicize it, make it commonly known, and hopefully he’ll be asked about it when he shows his face in public venues.

    Convincing him he’s wrong and getting him to change his tune might just make him seem more credible, not a good thing.

  20. John Mashey says:

    Although it has taken a while, I’m nearing completion of the back-history of all this, about 80 pages.

    1) John N-G, August 5, 2011
    See Unforced variations at RealClimate, comments:
    (37, 42, 45, 46,l 47, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56-62, 77, 80, 81) but then:
    “82 John N-G says 5 Aug 2011 at 12:59 PM = John Nielsen-Gammon
    I was lucky enough to attend Murray Salby’s talk at the IUGG conference in Melbourne. The thesis is not quite so simple as a correlation between CO2 rise and short-term temperature variations, because he found corroborating evidence in the change of CO2 slope over time. This made the argument not so easy to dismiss out of hand, although Salby was extremely careful not to draw any conclusions in his public presentation.

    It was quite good sport to play “spot the flaw” in real time. Fortunately, the talk was the last of the session, and both Alan Plumb and myself chatted with him right afterwards. Aside from whether a statistical argument makes physical sense, it also must hold water statistically by being applicable beyond the time frame of model development. In discussing what his model would mean for past variations of temperature and CO2, it eventually became clear that he believed all paleoclimate data that supported his statistical analysis and disregarded all paleoclimate data that countered his statistical analysis, even though the latter collection was much larger than the former.

    Eventually I realized that if 0.8 C of warming is sufficient to produce an increase of 120ppb CO2, as Salby asserted, then the converse would also have to be true. During the last glacial maximum, when global temperatures were indisputably several degrees cooler than today, the atmospheric CO2 concentration must have been negative.
    That was enough for me. …”

    John N-G is Texas State Climatologist and Professor at TAMU (good school in this turf, including other folks like Gerald North and Andrew Dessler.)

    2) Then there was Colin Prentice, about the same time:
    How we know the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic
    Prentice was Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC TAR Section 2: ‘Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide’ and (necessarily) a well-published expert on this topic.

    3) Eric Wolff was later, in 2013:
    On the integrity of ice core records.
    He’s a well-published ice-core expert now at Cambridge.

    4) Of course, in the discussion at RC, Eric Steig (another ice-core expert) and especially Gavin Schmidt commented.

    5) Serious people knew Salby was wrong and could explain it, and then moved on.
    The pseudoskeptic blogosphere generated thousands of comments.

    6) I’m reminded of thelast scene from Point Break, in which FBI agent Keanu Reeves lets (criminal) Patrick Swayze do one last ride.
    About 6:50-7:50, Australian police yell at Reeves: you let him go! … We’ll get him when he comes back.
    Reeves: he’s not coming back.

    There are some similarities, given that Salby might have left MQ as quietly as he did CU, but instead opted for a spectacular crash.

  21. Marco says:

    ATTP, Eric Wolff may have made the same argument, but I can’t find anything from Wolff about Salby until 2013, whereas John NG’s comment is from August 2011.

    Wolff commented at length on Salby’s clear ignorance of what ice core researchers actually know and do. It looked to me like Salby just repeated most of Jaworowski’s debunked argumentation.

  22. dhogaza,

    Why do you want to convince Montford that he is wrong?

    I don’t know if I really want to convince him that he’s wrong, but Salby’s ideas are so obviously wrong that not acknowledging that just seems remarkable.

    Convincing him he’s wrong and getting him to change his tune might just make him seem more credible, not a good thing.

    Possibly, but my goal certainly isn’t to find ways to undermine people. I would be quite pleased if vocal “skeptics” at least accepted what was obviously wrong. It may make them seem more credible but may make them actually more credible (okay, stop laughing, I know I’m naive).

  23. Marco,

    Eric Wolff may have made the same argument, but I can’t find anything from Wolff about Salby until 2013, whereas John NG’s comment is from August 2011.

    Ahhh, I didn’t know the dates, so John N-G gets it 🙂

  24. John Mashey says:

    By the way, Rupert Darwall’s article was in City Journal, which seems an odd location for such an article, although it thinks well of itself.

    However, it is run by the Manhattan Institute of Policy Research, yet another think tank in the Koch&friends collection. See Study Details Dark Money Flowing to Climate Science Denial, especially this pie-chart, where Manhattan is #4. In 2011, they spent $2.7M on the 4 issues of City Journal.

  25. John Mashey says:

    The science has been argued in thousands of comments from July 2013 onward and thousands before, especially in endless Bart-vs-Ferdinand Engelbeen sequences, in which Ferdinand shows infinite patience.

    How many people’s minds got changed?
    Of 438 Dismissives identified there, 190 commented explicitly on Salby’s ideas. About 10 either rejected them or had mixtures, 180 never wavered.

    Of course, people may have changed their minds, but not been willing to say so, given the intensity of group-think. One commenter said:
    “I’ll assume his sacking is mainly due to his anti-CAGW stance scientifically
    Well I’ll get downvoted to hell for saying this but I won’t shy away from i.
    On the one hand, maybe Macquarie only want professors who can add and
    subtract. Salby was incorrect to say that most CO2 rise has been natural,
    because simple arithmetic proves industry has been the source of CO2 rise.”

    But in general, I couldn’t find a single active commenter who started by saying Salby was right, and later said they now understood why he was wrong.
    Sauron-class Morton’s Demons at their best.

    I speculate that there is a low probability of ever convincing Montford.
    Really, if he were not doing this, who would care what he thought about climate? As it stands, like Watts, he has a group of supporters in his “D-K corral”.

  26. Joshua says:

    ==> “If he were honest…”

    I know that is just a turn of phrase, and not to be a scold, but hmmm.

    I like to read this blog because you try to avoid such characterizations. Such statements are one of the reasons why I’m skeptical about “skeptics.”

    I think the whole BH thing is getting to you. Maybe you’re frustrated with the difficulty in finding good faith exchange? But I would suggest that you going over there will not result in good faith exchange.

    I like what Gavin Cawley has to say over at that BH thread:

    ==> “there is no need to introduce suggestions of dishonesty or malice. People make errors and they misunderstand things, that is explanation enough.”

    My sense is that he is very careful about remaining consistent with that basic principle of appropriately skeptical analysis. and I will now add him to the list of folks that I will look to as a benchmark for understanding the science.

  27. Joshua,

    ==> “If he were honest…”

    I know that is just a turn of phrase, and not to be a scold, but hmmm.

    I agree and I did think a little about that. The word “might” later in the sentence was intended to suggest that he might not and would still be honest, but I’ll grant you that it would have been better had I chosen to say that differently.

    I think the whole BH thing is getting to you.

    Possibly. In a sense I do still find it amazing that this aspect of the topic isn’t simply accepted and I don’t quite understand what stops people from doing so. As I said above, I don’t have any great interest in actually undermining people. I would much rather that people who were reasonably high-profile accepted those aspects of the science that aren’t disputed. It might make them appear more credible (which some might dislike) but might also make their arguments more credible. If they’re going to have a platform, I’d certainly rather that it was based on a credible understanding of the science, than not.

    I like what Gavin Cawley has to say over at that BH thread:
    .
    .
    .
    My sense is that he is very careful about remaining consistent with that basic principle of appropriately skeptical analysis. and I will now add him to the list of folks that I will look to as a benchmark for understanding the science.

    Yes, I did rather look at Gavin’s comment and go “hmmm, maybe I should behave a bit more like that”. Really don’t like people showing me up like that 🙂

  28. That anthropogenic influence is the driver of increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere must have been totally obvious as soon as the empirical results of Keeling started to come out. The logic is so simple that trying to explain in in more detail adds only fuel for getting confused for people receptive for such an influence.

    Another issue that was presented all around as soon as Salby started to present his claims is that his point was totally moot. He got rid of the trend by detrending the data. That’s how simple his error was.

    While all this is clear and should not need further discussion, it’s interesting to note, how much is still poorly known on the details. Understanding the details better would help in determining more accurately the effective lifetime of the increase in CO2 concentration. From AR5 we can see, how uncertain the share of remaining after 500 years, or even after 200 years still is.

    The expected long term effects of large CO2 emissions are highly dependent on these uncertain estimates.

  29. John Mashey says:

    If someone writes something that damages another’s reputation, and it’s demonstrably wrong:
    1) they might apologize and correct the error
    2) or they might not.

    Just out of curiosity, has Montford ever apologized to Jon Overpeck?
    See the original dog astrology post about HSI.

  30. What has happened to WordPress? Pasting a link to a figure in a comment has never before brought the figure to be a part of the comment. That’s progress.

  31. Joshua says:

    John Mashey –

    Re 1:56 post.

    That analysis over at Desmog is really interesting. I wish there was more analysis of that type more easily available.

    This, in particular, is an interesting stat:

    ==> “~5% accepted Salby’s story at first, but were able to change their minds, at least to being cautious about Salby’s story.”

    My experience has been that although in there is a lot of “sharing” alternative views in the blogosphere, there is precious little in the way of anyone having their views changed. It looks to me that most of the discussion is between people who are trying to confirm biases and/or convince someone that they are right as opposed to between people interesting in exploring alternative interpretations so as to inform their own.

    I’d guess that the 5% of folks who seemed to change their minds (assuming that determination stood up to careful scrutiny) is actually much higher than we’d typically find in the blogosphere, If 5% of “skeptics” really were open to having their minds changed through discussion, I would be very impressed!

  32. JWhite says:

    ATTP Says…

    ===>In a sense I do still find it amazing that this aspect of the topic isn’t simply accepted and I don’t quite understand what stops people from doing so.

    This might be easier were you a Psychologist, instead of a Physicist

  33. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “I would much rather that people who were reasonably high-profile accepted those aspects of the science that aren’t disputed. ”

    Has Andrew actually weighed in on Salby, or does he just post about the “controversy” around Salby’s views w/o actually discussing the veracity of his analysis?

    I have found that some other notable contributors in the climate wars tend to allow for plausible deniability in these kinds of situations – where they don’t actually say that they support or rewject outlier views but at the same time wax poetic about the contributions of “skeptics” and the “extended peer review” of the blogosphere without accounting for outlier views. It’s a way to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.

  34. verytallguy says:

    …my goal certainly isn’t to find ways to undermine people

    If someone is influential, wrong and impervious to rational argument, I think undermining such a person would be an excellent and worthy goal.

  35. Joshua,

    Has Andrew actually weighed in on Salby, or does he just post about the “controversy” around Salby’s views w/o actually discussing the veracity of his analysis?

    To be fair, he hasn’t. I have asked him directly on Twitter without a response and he thanked the person who created the Discussion thread which moved the discussion off the main post (so he’s aware of it). My view, however, is that you are the owner of a blog that focuses on climate science/climate change, are interviewed in the media (and write about in the media) and have done so for a good number of years, then if you’re aware of a discussion on your blog about something for which there is a definitive answer, then you should simply say so. Of course, that’s my view, but I do think that Andrew’s lack of involvement in a discussion on his own blog about this topic says something (although I have no idea what).

  36. vtg,

    If someone is influential, wrong and impervious to rational argument, I think undermining such a person would be an excellent and worthy goal.

    It’s not my goal, but I have no real issue with that being the outcome if an influential person who is wrong fails to acknowledge that error. Although, to be clear, as Joshua mentions above, Andrew may well understand this, it’s just not obvious from the discussions going on on his blog.

  37. verytallguy says:

    ATTP,

    ok, I’ll clarify.

    If someone is influential, wrong and impervious to rational argument, or facilitates others in that, I think undermining such a person would be an excellent and worthy goal, and indeed, probably an essential enabler to meaningful action on emissions.

    ie while Mountford and Lawson are the BBCs go-to people for climate denial, undermining their position is essential for political action on GHGs. Mountford’s facilitation of the normalising of denial of CO2 source in this instance is consistent with a wider FUD strategy.

    Or perhaps you’re indiferent as to whether action is taken on GHGs and just concerned with the interesting science?

  38. vtg,

    If someone is influential, wrong and impervious to rational argument, or facilitates others in that, I think undermining such a person would be an excellent and worthy goal, and indeed, probably an essential enabler to meaningful action on emissions.

    Sure, I agree.

    Or perhaps you’re indiferent as to whether action is taken on GHGs and just concerned with the interesting science?

    No, not indifferent at all. Just that my expertise is science and so my view is that if I can help to present the science more clearly and to show where others are getting it wrong, that may make a positive contribution (all the while knowing that this is just a blog and I’m just some pseudonyms person).

    My point about undermining was not that I object to people being undermined or would be upset if something I did undermined someone else. I’m more than happy for that to be the outcome if they are influential and presenting scientific information that is wrong/flawed or an unreasonable representation of what we currently understand. My point was mainly that I wouldn’t have that as a goal, even if it is what I might expect would be the likely outcome if my intervention were to play some kind of role.

  39. I was recently attempting to explain Deep Climate’s dismemberment of McIntrye and Wegman to a group of so called libertarian ‘rocket scientists’. You can guess how well that went over. These people really do see in black and white. The fifties, they are a comin back.

  40. TLE,

    These people really do see in black and white.

    Yes, I’ve had the same. “So, was he right or wrong?” …. “hmmm, well it’s not that simple.”.

  41. I have observed many times that people with enough education to add to self-confidence, but not at the level of professional scientists are often receptive to skeptical arguments at some level. Getting the correct message to this group of people is significant, because they may be considered authorities by other people with less relevant education.

    People with this tendency are not convinced by claims on certainty as they have learned from other fields as well that such claims are often much more weakly justified than their proponents claim. Strong contradictory claims from both sides makes then suspect both (they don’t usually accept the most extreme skeptical views). For the scientific side to succeed it must present its arguments in a way they perceive as more objective and as involving the required amount of self-criticism.

  42. Joshua says:

    ==> “For the scientific side to succeed it must present its arguments in a way they perceive as more objective and as involving the required amount of self-criticism.

    You are describing some sort of abstracted or theoretical, or generic phenomenon. I’m not sure it describes reality.

    The dynamic you describe seems to presume that the convincees are not predisposed to go in one direction or the other with the evidence they are presented – that somehow information that is independently assessed to be “objective” will be perceived as “more objective.”

    With respect to climate change, or other issues where the polarization is high, I think the evidence shows that is not likely to be the case.

    Can you give some examples of what you’re describing, where “people with enough education to add to self-confidence, but not at the level of professional scientists” are convinced about science related to climate change that is presented in such a way to be perceived as “,more objective,” accompanied by the “required amount of self-criticism?”

    Perhaps that 5% from the Desmog blog that John linked? Personally, I think that the 5% shown their would not pan out with a larger sampling and controlled analysis – and that in the end far less than 5% would follow the path that you seem to think might be quite common or even dominate.

  43. Joshua says:

    Attention moderators – the basic randomness of the moderation algorithm has struck yet again!

  44. John Mashey says:

    Re: plausible deniaibility:
    See Climate of smear.
    Tag B Salby was right on human non-origin of CO2 rise, ice cores
    Tag C Accept Salby’s story as accurate, support him.

    Depending on where you are, that might or might not be considered defamatory … but it is hard to reach any conclusion but that it was intended to damage MQ’s reputation and incite BH’s followers. A few dismissives, to their credit, said “premature” or equivalent. Many praised it.

  45. Thanks for the link, Anders. Anyone who clicked it might be overwhelmed by all the other evidence that we caused the CO2 rise, so the relevant bit is that atmospheric oxygen is decreasing. Why? CO2 outgassed from the oceans comes out as complete CO2 molecules, so that doesn’t decrease atmospheric oxygen. But burning carbon uses up oxygen.

    At WUWT, Ferdinand Engelbeen cites TAR Fig 3.4 (p206) which plots atmospheric O2 vs. CO2 from 1990-2000. If the rise in CO2 were due to ocean outgassing (or volcanoes) the line would be horizontal because O2 wouldn’t decrease. If 100% of the rise in atmospheric CO2 were due to burning carbon, the line would point down at a 45 degree angle because each added CO2 molecule removes an O2 molecule from the atmosphere.

    However, notice that the actual line points down at an even steeper angle than 45 degrees. This shows that we’re responsible for ~200% of the rise in atmospheric CO2, and that dissolved CO2 (which causes ocean acidification) is increasing despite the warming oceans.

    I didn’t know your tweet was prompted by Rupert Darwall’s ridiculous article. After wasting many hours trying to show Jane Q. Public that we caused the CO2 rise, I was horrified to watch him regress back to a position of self-imposed ignorance after seeing Darwall regurgitate Salby’s nonsense.

    I’ve been trying for years to give Jane/Lonny Eachus and other contrarians the benefit of the doubt. But it’s increasingly hard to believe that they’re honestly confused, rather than deliberately spreading civilization-paralyzing misinformation. I completely agree that we need a better class of climate “skeptic”.

  46. Joshua,

    What’s possible depends on the venue.

    The readership of most climate blogs is polarized. They read mostly blogs that serve to confirm their earlier views (and offer opportunities for ridiculing the stupidity of the opponents). When they decide to read blogs from the other side, they expect to disagree and dismiss most of the arguments without much thought.

    The more positive experience comes from cases elsewhere, and also from some cases where people do not come to the blog to read about climate change, but just to read what the blogger writes about this time.

  47. John Mashey says:

    As per Tags B and C
    1) Nobody clearly changed position on Tag B:
    either they knew Salby was wrong and explained why (including a few dismissives)
    OR
    they accepted his ideas and never expressed a clear change.
    There were a few who were mixed/contradictory/ambiguous.

    2) Tag C was more complex, and actually more interesting, and is what has been taking so long to write up. Of the 438 Dismissives
    12% said nothing about Salby’s story
    78% bought Salby’s story about MQ, and never backed off, often with much mouth-frothing
    6% were consistently cautious/skeptical of Salby’s story
    5% were ambiguous / contradictory and a few even clearly expressed change of mind.

    Note the distinction: Tag B: you have to know a little about the science
    Tag C: depends on simple everyday knowledge, like hear both sides of an employment dispute, although it helps to know a little about the ways universities and corporate credit cars work.

    In general, of the 31 science-based skeptics who commented, everybody who addressed Tag C either said “we don’t know” or knew enough to raise doubts or actually searched the web to find useful history and thought about it, which no dismissives really did. (A few folks took quick looks at WoS or Google Scholar, but didn’t get any further than seeing Salby’s publication rate had dropped.)

    After the hammer fell 07/12/13, many shifted to:
    a) We don’t believe the NSF OR more commonly, as per Darwall:
    b) Well, he may had had personal issues, but that doesn’t prove his science wrong*, and all that is distraction and smokescreen created by DeSmogBlog.

    I.e., the idea that Salby’s science was right was credible was clung to fiercely.

    * That is true, anyone who knew anything knew Salby’s ideas were pseudoscience.
    But it was fascinating how the same people could raise Climategate as indicating awful behavior by scientstis…
    … were quite happy to excuse a guy who likely committed multiple grant frauds in US, mis-used credit card at MQ to take a nice trip, betrayed his schools, his students, and associates.
    What he did to his grad student Titova was appalling … but nobody noticed that, being eagetr to bash MQ.

  48. Joshua,

    Attention moderators – the basic randomness of the moderation algorithm has struck yet again!

    I selected the moderate those who criticise me option 🙂

    Okay, I don’t know why your earlier comment was moderated.

    Pekka.

    I have observed many times that people with enough education to add to self-confidence, but not at the level of professional scientists are often receptive to skeptical arguments at some level.

    I’ve noticed this too and don’t really know how to engage with such people without appealing to authority, which is never really a good idea.

    Getting the correct message to this group of people is significant, because they may be considered authorities by other people with less relevant education.

    Indeed. Easier said than done, though.

    For the scientific side to succeed it must present its arguments in a way they perceive as more objective and as involving the required amount of self-criticism.

    In general, yes. With Salby’s ideas, though, it’s not as obvious.

    @DumbSci,
    Thanks. Wasn’t sure how to do that.

  49. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    ==> “The more positive experience comes from cases elsewhere, and also from some cases where people do not come to the blog to read about climate change, but just to read what the blogger writes about this time.”

    Can you point to actual more positive experience happening on line somewhere, some documented evidence of it happening elsewhere, or can you give an account of your personal experience where it happened with some significant number of people – w/r/t climate change or another similarly polarized context?

    First, I think that the classification of “more objective” is very difficult to quantify (because what is more objective is generally subjective).

    Second, I’m not sure how to determine what “required amount of self-criticism” looks like.

    Third, I have yet to see significant indication of people changing their view on what scientists say in a polarized context merely because the scientist was self-critical in some capacity. I’ve been asking you for evidence of that sort for a while now. I understand the logic of your supposition of what might happen – but I think it is unlikely to happen on much of any scale in the real world. Accordingly, I think that the uncertainties in your description of a hypothetical (what might happen if things were different) should be more qualified. Ironically, I am may just fit the condition that you’re describing: I might be more convinced of your assertion if it reflected a greater level of skeptical scrutiny. If you gave me some information that addresses my critique, I could put that to the test!

  50. ATTP,
    Concerning increase of CO2 my preferred arguments are:

    1) Over a long enough period (like a few decades) the mass balance alone is a strong enough argument. A large amount has been released, roughly half of that is in the atmosphere, the other half somewhere else (oceans, biosphere and top soil). No comparable other sources exist. If such would exist the oceans, biosphere and soil would have to take that as well. Such an alternative contradicts so simple things that it’s not credible at all.

    2) The increase in CO2 concentration is very smooth with small wiggles related to ENSO and similar climate variability.

    It’s better to state just these simplest arguments. If they don’t convince someone, then nothing is likely to do that.

    When the issues are not that simple the way I have described them in public presentations is essentially:

    1) List alternative explanations trying to make justice for all of them.

    2) Explain, why I have ended up in considering one or some of them more likely correct than the others.

    Most listeners are satisfied by such an approach, and in most cases take my justification seriously. They don’t necessarily accept it as a truth – and neither should they, but they seldom dismiss it totally. If the present counterarguments in the discussion that’s usually only better as that allows for some extra justification.

    The words make justice in the first point are essential, because only that helps me survive from the more difficult questions.

    Trying to make people reverse their views fails in almost all cases, trying to make them move a little bit, is more likely to be ultimately successful, but that requires repetition of the activity by many people, who have the common goal of improving understanding. The process may be frustrating by its slowness, but that must be accepted, when attempts to speed it up fail.

  51. Pekka,

    It’s better to state just these simplest arguments. If they don’t convince someone, then nothing is likely to do that.

    Indeed, that is all I really did. I pointed out the mass balance and the point that John N-G made. Gavin Cawley introduce the more complex issue or correlation wiggles, but that didn’t really work either. As you say, if that doesn’t work, nothing will.

  52. Joshua,

    I cannot refer to any research or published evidence. The only evidence I have is personal observations both from public presentations in front of live audience (by both myself and others) and discussion that has followed the presentations, and from long lasting arguments related to controversial issues in public media.

  53. Steve Bloom says:

    “For the scientific side to succeed it must present its arguments in a way they perceive as more objective and as involving the required amount of self-criticism.”

    A scientist, or for that matter anyone else, being careful with their arguments shouldn’t have much to self-criticize, although I suppose they can get their ticket punched by attacking their colleagues.

    Anders, do you really buy into the self-criticism bit, especially the required amount part, noting whose requirement it is, or was that just you being academically equable again?

    For myself, I think it’s long been clear that subsequent to a reasonable first pass at convincing such people, mockery and shunning are the best approach.

  54. ATTP,

    It’s impossible to judge from the reaction on a hostile site, whether the arguments have had any effect, as it’s virtually certain that nobody will stand up and tell that now he understands the issue. Those who enjoy attacking you will do that, whatever they think about the actual issue.

    In addition the whole issue was really not related to the subject of the post.

    The question about the interpretation of a specific text is a different issue. On that you may reach agreement even with someone, who disagrees on everything else mode strongly than you disagree with Nic Lewis.

  55. For myself, I think it’s long been clear that subsequent to a reasonable first pass at convincing such people, mockery and shunning are the best approach.

    What have you gained by that?

    Do you know what that has done on what more moderate people think about you?

  56. Steve,

    Anders, do you really buy into the self-criticism bit, especially the required amount part, noting whose requirement it is, or was that just you being academically equable again?

    A bit of both maybe 🙂 I think it’s always good to be self-critical. As I responded to Pekka though, don’t think it applies in the case of Salby’s ideas because they almost certainly wrong.

    For myself, I think it’s long been clear that subsequent to a reasonable first pass at convincing such people, mockery and shunning are the best approach.

    I’m kind of there myself, but I end up feeling bad if I mock people, so would rather shun them. In truth, if I mock someone it’s because I think there’s a chance that they’ll respond and we might actually get somewhere. If I think it’s pointless or they’re incapable of responding in some reasonable way, I won’t bother.

    Pekka,

    The question about the interpretation of a specific text is a different issue. On that you may reach agreement even with someone, who disagrees on everything else mode strongly than you disagree with Nic Lewis.

    Yes, that can be true.

  57. ATTP, the title of the discussion was “So where are Salby and Darwall wrong …. precisely?”, so I had to mention the correlation not being mathematically connected in any way with the long term rise in atmospheric CO2 as that is precisely where Salby (and others) went wrong. I am not too surprised that this didn’t recieve any further discussion, but anybody reading will see that the question was answered directly (and that no use was made of the answer).

  58. Dikran,
    I wasn’t criticising your approach, and you’re right, that is strictly speaking what they were asking for. I was assuming that showing that he couldn’t be right would be enough. I was wrong 🙂

  59. Tom Curtis says:

    Andrew Adams, all that is required for us to not be responsible for the increase in CO2 even though we have emitted more CO2 than is currently in the atmosphere is that CO2 concentration be a pure function of ocean temperatures, ie, that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (or ocean, given at least some CO2 in the ocean) have no effect on the partial pressure of CO2 over the ocean. In that circumstance, and given a 0.8C rise in ocean temperatures there will be a specific rise in atmospheric CO2, and while we will have increased the global amount of CO2 in the system, the CO2 in the atmosphere would still have risen be the same amount even without that contribution. The anthropogenic contribution, in such a system, would only have limited the fall on ocean CO2 concentration that would have otherwise resulted.

    Of course, a simpler way of stating the condition necessary for Salby’s theory to be true is that all that is necessary is that Henry’s Law be false. Where the matter not so serious I would be greatly amused by the shere number of well established physical laws the climate change deniers require to be false (but only where it impacts on climate change, or course).


  60. I’ve been trying to work out how (mathematically speaking) we could be emitting an amount of CO2 which is just over twice the observed increase but yet not be responsible for that overall increase.

    We only see 1/2 of what we emit because of diffusional physics. The oceans do act like a sponge but once the CO2 enters the water it does a random walk. 1/2 goes deeper and 1/2 comes up for every time step. This has the effect of the ocean capturing 1/2 of the total fairly quickly but with a significant fat-tail for deeper sequestration. That is the hand-wavy explanation of what occurs in a slab calculation.

    Unfortunately, Salby and others like him see this fast diffusive sequestration and mistake that for a first-order rate uptake and then come up with an insanely short time constant of CO2 sequestration of like 5 to 10 years — yet not realizing that the fat-tail makes the first-order approximation go out the window and the actual adjustment time is 100’s or 1000’s of years, if it exists at all.

  61. Mack says:

    The biggest issue with Salby ,is that like Trenberth , he attempts to do “Earth Energy budget” diagrams. Both try to balance up incoming and outgoing radiation. Well sorry Salby, Trenberth et al. ..it’s mission impossible….in watts/sq.m….. at least.
    @ Pekka. I don’t like talking behind some people’s backs on the internet so I wish to refer you here… http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2014/08/sack-australias-biggest-laughing-stock.html?showComment=1408182051991#c8686407071562919858

  62. Mack,

    The biggest issue with Salby ,is that like Trenberth , he attempts to do “Earth Energy budget” diagrams.

    Well Salby doesn’t. Are you sure you know what he’s suggesting?

    Both try to balance up incoming and outgoing radiation. Well sorry Salby, Trenberth et al. ..it’s mission impossible….in watts/sq.m….. at least.

    It’s funny how certain some can be about certain things. Plus, you’re wrong. It’s certainly possible to estimate with reasonable accuracy our energy balance. You don’t need to directly measure it at the top of the atmosphere.

  63. Mack,
    Actually, your comment about Pekka on HotWhopper is somewhat unpleasant and would seem to indicate – as does your comment above – that you don’t understand this topic particularly well.

  64. Marco says:

    ATTP, I really don’t think Mack has the ability to understand. Just see this incoherent rambling:

    “Secondly…Andrew Lacis, ( like all the rest) ,says “This puts the global-mean incident solar energy at 340.2 w/sq,m.” No it doesn’t cloudpoint.
    The 1360w/sq.m is a yearly global average, and is a bulk load which cannot be buggerised round with and divided down. You can’t just pick one instant in time and say the Earth casts a shadow , therefore this and that are calculated. The sun shines over your head also at nightime when you deal with this average. Reality is , the 1360w/sq.m IS the incident solar radiation. It should be regarded as non-directional, covering the whole globe at the TOA. ”

    As I pointed out, this comes down to believing in a flat earth (with ‘earth’ only being one side of that flat circle).

  65. Marco,
    Yes, that would require that the Earth were completely flat and always facing the Sun. Hard to explain day and night in that case.

  66. I’m happy to disappoint those who have misunderstood some of my earlier comments to support anti-science stances.

    Sometimes I think that people have over-interpreted some specific studies to tell more than they do in my view really tell, but that applies to results that have not been confirmed well enough, not to the well established science.

  67. Mack says:

    [Mod: This comment has been removed by the moderator]

  68. ATTP no problem. If neither explaining how we know Salby cannot be right, nor pointing out his specific error works, perhaps there is no approach that will be successful, but at least we have tried both approaches between us!

    Explaining why Salby cannot be right would be my first approach as well, indeed in my comment on Essenhigh’s paper (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ef200914u) I began by explaining how we know the rise is anthropogenic before explaining Essenhigh’s specific error (confusing residence time with adjustment time). Explaining hw we know the argument is wrong is very straightforward and make the audience more able to understand the specific error.

    It was worth a try.

  69. John Mashey says:

    Darwall wrote:
    “Further, Salby presents satellite observations showing that the highest levels of CO2 are present not over industrialized regions but over relatively uninhabited and nonindustrialized areas, such as the Amazon.”

    That refers to Salby’s discussion, 39:00-40:30, of his April 2013 lecture at a German military academy, Helmut Schmidt U, in Hamburg,as far as I can tell, the first time he used this graph publicly. He later used it in UK tour, including for Parliament.

    It’s clearly from SCIAMACHY, but I can’t find the exact image anywhere so far.

    Likewise, I have not yet been able to locate the source for Figure 1 in Darwall’s piece. people might look in on the comments.

  70. John,
    I think this comment from Lars Karlson is relevant to that figure.

  71. John Mashey says:

    Thanks, I’d seen Lars’ comment and looked at the article, but that still didn’t point right at the image Salby used.
    I asked the SCIAMACHY folks, who responded quickly with a pointer to the exact image, which of course Salby over-interpreted for nontechnical audiences.

  72. Lars Karlsson says:

    And here is Roy Spencer:


    How Much of Atmospheric CO2 Increase is Natural?

    At face value, what this plot shows is that the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 can be easily explained (actually, “over-explained”) with a combination of anthropogenic emissions and increasing temperatures, where the quantitative relationships are based upon detrended data. The contributions to the model trend in atmospheric CO2 is 61% anthropogenic, 22% ocean temperature, and 17% land temperature.

  73. Lars,
    Interesting, a combination of reasonable and confused. This comment here

    But it does show that since warm years tend to cause greater natural emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere, we should at least consider the possibility that the long-term warming trend (whatever its cause) is contributing to the increase in atmospheric CO2.

    I thought the basic point was that the rate at which our emissions are absorbed depends on temperatures. So, over the course of annual cycle, the fraction of our emissions that remains in the atmosphere depends on temperature. I guess the last bit of the last sentence is technically correct in that the atmospheric CO2 concentration would be different if our emissions were not also accompanied by a change in temperature, but given that the change in temperature is – almost certainly – mostly us, that would seem to imply that the rise is still all anthropogenic.

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