Based on Observations Only!

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), who I’ve written about many times before, have released a report which they’ve described as [t]he World’s first state of the climate survey based on observations only. I think it’s meant to the a response to the WMO’s State of the Global Climate Report, which I would recommend reading, rather than reading the report produced by the GWPF.

The GWPF’s report is full of the standard talking points, so I won’t bother rebutting them again. I was going, instead, to make a more general point about their suggestion that it is based on observations only. It’s clearly intended to suggest that their report is somehow pure and uncontaminated by nasty things like models. However, this doesn’t make any real sense. You can’t really do any kind of research without some kind of model.

Even making observations requires models; you need some way to convert whatever happens in the measuring device into a quantity that represents some property of the system that is being observed. It could be as simple as converting a change in height of Mercury in a thermometer into a temperature, or as complex as trying to determine the temperature in the troposphere from satellite radiance measurements. Either way, you still need some kind of model in order to make meaningful observations of the system being studied.

However, even if we accept that we can make observations that are not significantly influenced by the underlying models, observations – by themselves – tell us very little. They might be able to tell us if some property of a system is changing, but without some kind of model, we won’t know why it is changing, or what such changes might tell us about the system being observed. Models are a key part of doing research and suggesting that their report is based on observations only is not only wrong, but also indicates that they don’t even have a basic understanding of how research is undertaken (okay, there is an alternative interpretation, but I’m trying to be polite).

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39 Responses to Based on Observations Only!

  1. Keith McClary says:

    From p.2 :
    “Air-temperature data suggests that a part of the heat released from the Pacific
    Ocean during the recent El Niño episode may have been transported towards the
    polar regions, especially in the northern hemisphere, mainly via the Atlantic sector.
    Many Arctic regions experienced high temperatures in 2016, especially in the autumn
    and early winter, along with associated weather-related phenomena. At the same
    time, north of 70°N, the outgoing longwave radiation from the top of the atmosphere
    has been above normal. Through this mechanism, much of the additional heat released
    to the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean may have been lost to space from
    the Arctic region.”
    I guess it doesn’t count as a “model” if it’s a math-free hand-waving hypothesis.

  2. Keith,
    Indeed, it looks like what they really object to are models that are based on the laws of physics. Hand wavy models that they can use to support whatever hypothesis it is that they’re currently promoting are clearly preferred.

  3. Ohmz says:

    an exponential observation after 2014 and onwards. That after 2012’s polar axis shift, all the minor to major weather fluctuations were in place namely in 2014 started of the caps shifting into minor to an almost alarming rate. 2017 has the disruptions of sea creatures in sighting in a global scale, furthermore that deep creatures may have an indicated that the sea bed is disrupted. That is my observation after 2012’s shift.

  4. John Hartz says:

    As to be expected, the GWPF’s report has gone viral in Deniersville.

  5. Ohmz,
    You’ve lost me, I’m afraid.

  6. Griff says:


  7. semyorka says:

    “However, even if we accept that we can make observations that are not significantly influenced by the underlying models, observations ”
    The theory ladeness of observation.
    The classic example is something like mass. You weigh an object on Earth with the theories of Galileo you are observing its mass but without the concept that will change based on acceleration and so on. With Newton you have the idea that if it is accelerating (falling in a lift) the weight and the mass will be different and it will differ as you go further from the Earth or weigh it on another planet, Moon. Then with relativity the value of the mass is also affected by your inertial frame of reference. An observation we have been taking long before antiquity and into the deepest past of human consciousness and yet the meaning of that observation changes depending on the theoretical framework we surround the observation with.

  8. semyorka says:

    “Models are a key part of doing research and suggesting that their report is based on observations only is not only wrong, but also indicates that they don’t even have a basic understanding of how research is undertaken ”
    Science is modelling. It is making observations in the physical universe, then forming abstraction of the observed behaviour that can be symbols* that can be mathematically manipulated. This is then used to derive the possible future behaviours of observed physical systems. What I am trying to say here is we think of something like “mass”, this is a mathematically manipulable, symbolic representation of a physical entity. We use this symbol\idea to predict the behaviour of objects in the physical universe. Billiards balls, galactic super clusters etc.

    This process of reducing everything to mathematical quantities is modelling. That modelling is science, or is near to its intended end point. The competition between the differing models is scientific debate. Heliocentric vs Geocentric. Newton vs Relativity.

    In one way of looking at it, at its most reductive, science is observation, then modelling and testing those models. Though philosophers of science would have a world of annexes to add to that.

    *This is partly the Simon and Newell model of human cognition, perhaps dated for humans but very much how we see computers and other mechanical means of computation\cognition.

  9. John Hartz says:

    Ohmz: You state:

    That is my observation after 2012’s shift.

    Where, when, and how did you make the observation?

  10. Jim Hunt says:

    Alice F. and I have been so busy winding up the cryoblogospheric denialista on Twitter and in the heart of darkness that is Climate Etc. that her own article on this thorny topic is still unfinished 😦

    Here’s where Alice’s little grey cells started twitching:

  11. crackers345 says:

    “Without models, there are no data.”

    – Paul N. Edwards, “A Vast Machine”

    Click to access Edwards_2009_A_Vast_Machine_Introduction.pdf

  12. Joshua says:


    Re: your 8:53 on Lomborg and sea level change…

    OK, it seems absurd to me on face value to talk about two-year trends in sea level change….but you must be cherry-picking.

    Certainly, even if he did one time and stoop, hyperbolically, to talk about two-year trends, he has spoken far more often about longer term trends. Right?

  13. Joshua says:

    Hmmm. the GWPF link keeps timing out for me. The demand for this scientific tour de force must be breaking the Internet.

  14. Joshua says:

    Well, the GWPF might be down, but there is always the trustworthy WUWT:

    =={ “There is little doubt that we are living in a warm period. However, there is also little doubt that current climate change is not abnormal and not outside the range of natural variations that might be expected.” }==

    If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you can always rely on skeptics to acknowledge uncertainty…eh?

  15. 2017 has the disruptions of sea creatures

    I think we are taking Ohmz a little too seriously. Ohmz is just illustrating where the scientific ideal of the GW Policy Foundation leads to.

  16. BBD says:

    Either way, you still need some kind of model in order to make meaningful observations of the system being studied.

    Nonsense. All you need is your opinion and an internet.

  17. JCH says:

    Observe the rate of sea level rise stay above the satellite-era trend for a record, ongoing, length of time. What do they call it where staying above the old trend never ends?

  18. Griff says:

    JCH @ March 23, 2017 at 8:41 pm observe…… “natural variability”.

    Lomborg has been documented to say a lot that is not based on the actual content of his cited sources.

    The long term* trends .
    Ignores the potential for exponential increase in such metrics.
    It also ignores increasing “natural variability” in said measurements.
    To my simple uneducated mind this “natural variability” suggests an unstable climate trending towards a new state.
    Alarmist? you bet. There is plenty to be alarmed about .

    *It would take effort such as Tamino does to discern the difference between long term trend noise from “natural variability”. and exponential growth in said trend.

  19. Chubbs says:

    A suggestion for next years opener:

    “While 2017 was one of the warmest years on record, global temperatures early in the year were steady at 2016 levels. This fact suggests that much of the global 2017 temperature peak was caused by a one of the weakest La Ninas on record.”

  20. oale says:

    Well, I’ll assume GWPF just observe without measuring anything and be done with it.

  21. izen says:

    Two observations about the GWPF Report.

    1)- The first text in the report after the title is a disclaimer,-
    “Views expressed in the publications of
    the Global Warming Policy Foundation
    are those of the authors, not those of
    the GWPF, its Academic Advisory Council
    members or its directors”

    This is immediately followed by a list of all those who are repudiating the ‘views’ that follow.
    They are all male, almost all white and all but two claim a title other than ‘Mr’, they are Dr, Professor, Sir, Lord, Right honourable MP or in one case the Rt Rev Dr Bishop.
    The juxtaposition of the disclaimer and very ‘authoritative’ list of the Great and the Good struck me as ironic.

    2)- It is Cycles all the way down.
    Without models, but with a liberal application of Fourier analysis, Humlum observes(?) that the recent climate changes are just the coincidental peaking of various cycles from ENSO to PDO. Even the melting polar ice, that fall off the bottom of the graph he presents is just ascribed to a 5.3 year cycle in the Antarctic matching the 4.5 Arctic cycle.

    As is typical of the whole report no attempt is made to explain the cycles or confirm that they are real rather than spurious results from the mistaken analysis of quasi-periodic sequences that are too short to determine a significant frequency or amplitude. Recent research indicating that natural cycles are being disrupted and overwhelmed by the observed warming is never mentioned.

    Observing a ‘cycle’ in the data seems to allow epistemic closure. A Natural climate pattern of stability with cyclical variations has been observed and therefore any anhtropic influence is rejected.
    Despite the clear implication from the polar ice graph (fig31) that something qualitatively, not just quantitatively, has changed.

  22. Jim Hunt says:

    Alice is in a state of shock! Over at WUWT she hasn’t been banned yet. Roy Spencer is making her case against the GWPF for her. And one kind soul has even had something nice to say about her!

    “Live Free or Die”!

  23. verytallguy says:


    you made me read the report. Sad!

    Actually I only read the first paragraph of the executive summary, which was such a desperate and incoherent attempt to deny reality I couldn’t bear reading any more.

    Here it is, in all its glory.

    It is likely that 2016 was one of the warmest years in the temperature records
    from the instrumental period (since about 1850). However, by the end of 2016,
    global air temperatures were essentially back to the level of the years before
    the recent 2015–16 oceanographic El Niño episode, although there are small
    differences between the individual temperature records. This fact reveals that
    the global 2015–16 surface temperature peak was caused mainly by El Niño. It
    also suggests that what has been termed the ‘hiatus’, ‘pause’ or ‘period of gentle
    warming’ may endure after the recent El Niño episode.

  24. BBD says:

    2)- It is Cycles all the way down.

  25. JCH says:

    Griff – there was a La Niña, and the rate of SLR broke tradition and remained above the satellite-era trend, and it’s now ticking back up. With the prospect of an El Niño starting as early as May-June, not a lock, there is a possibility the rate of sea level rise may not return to the mean for another year. It’s already remained above trend for a record length of time.

  26. JCH says:

    I love cycles. When your favorite cycle fails to support your argument, you just jump on another one. If your cycle is too long, just shorten it by invoking some other cycle. Among the handiest cycles are the long ones as you can’t see them coming.

    I’ve stolen the stadium wave. Its priests and believers are praying for it to come. I say the stadium wave has already come and gone. So does the GWPF as PDO+El Niño is waving goodbye to the roadkill called the PAWS.

  27. Jim Hunt says:

    I’m somewhat surprised that nobody else here seems to have come to the same conspiratorial conclusion as Alice’s little grey cells:

    Lamar Smith’s Show Trial for Climate Models

    We feel sure that Lamar Smith and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will nonetheless be pleased to see this [GWPF] report become public shortly before their planned hearing on March 29th.

    We also feel sure they were pleased to view the contents of another recent “white paper” published under the GWPF banner. The author was ex Professor Judith Curry, and the title was “Climate Models for the Layman“.

  28. John Hartz says:

    Proof some people will believe anything they read…

    Everything You Need To Know About The Conspiracy Theory That Australia Does Not Exist

    Almost 20,000 people have shared a Facebook post claiming to have evidence that Australia, the country, does not exist.

    Brad Esposito, BuzzFeed, Mar 23, 2017

  29. angech says:

    JCH says “I love cycles. When your favorite cycle fails to support your argument, you just jump on another one. If your cycle is too long, just shorten it by invoking some other cycle. Among the handiest cycles are the long ones as you can’t see them coming.”
    +++++ . Nearly fell off my cycle laughing. Great comment. Great observation. Thanks for brightening up the weekend.

  30. izen says:

    Humlum uses language well to imply that the divergence in observed trend between the surface and satellite records during the ‘slow-down’ indicates it is the surface temperature which is open to the most doubt.

    With any other observations that contain an explicit trend, CYCLES appear, sometimes multiple cycles of different strengths and phase relationships.
    (No need to look for a process when it can be ascribed to a Natural cycle.)

    “The specific atmospheric humidity is stable or slightly increasing up to about 4–
    5 km altitude. At higher levels in the troposphere (about 9 km), the specific humidity
    has been decreasing for the duration of the record (since 1948), but with shorter variations
    superimposed on this trend. A Fourier frequency analysis (not shown here)
    shows these variations to be influenced by a periodic variation of about 3.7-years’

    “A Fourier frequency analysis (not shown here) shows the
    12-month change of tropospheric carbon dioxide to be influenced by periodic variations
    of 2.5 and 3.8 years’ duration, respectively.”

    “A Fourier frequency analysis (not shown) shows the PDO record to be influenced
    by a 5.7-year cycle, and possibly also by a longer cycle of about 53 years’ duration.”

    “A Fourier-analysis (not shown here) shows the AMO record to be controlled by a
    cycle of about 67 years, and to a lesser degree by a 3.5-year cycle.”

    “A Fourier analysis of the ACE series for the Atlantic Basin (not shown) reveals it to
    be strongly influenced by a periodic variation of about 60 years’ duration.”

    “Both 12-month average graphs are characterised by repeated variations superimposed
    on the overall trends. The Arctic extent is strongly influenced by a 5.3-year
    periodic variation, while for the Antarctic, a periodic variation of about 4.5 years is important.”

  31. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli’s take is that without a model data is numerical drivel.

  32. Magma says:

    At least for me, that report would receive a failing grade or at best a D in an undergraduate term paper. Many graphs — and most of the sources are legitimate, for a change — but they show data without any context, and what little analysis is present is shoddy or unsupported.

    If this is the best the GWPF can come up with…

  33. izen says:

    “At least for me, that report would receive a failing grade or at best a D in an undergraduate term paper. ”

    you may be applying an inappropriate marking scheme. It is clear this is not intended to be persuasive within the climate research community. Even with my shallow general knowledge of the subject I am aware he has claimed, and graphed, observations indicating a pause in any trend in stratospheric temperatures by including the derived lower stratosphere graph, but omitting all the (more direct!) higher stratospheric observations that DO show a continued cooling trend (finger print of AGW).
    Humlum also cherry-picks tide gauges and satellite data to emphasise a discrepancy and cast doubt on any acceleration of sea level rise.

    There were several occasion when I found the tone of what Humlum had written odd.
    I think a metaphor would be high frequency hearing loss. I can hear (read) some of what he says, but there is a lot of information in the high frequencies that I am missing because I do not have the ability to resolve it.
    An example;-
    ” Much of the heat given off during the 2015–16 El Niño appears to have been transported to the polar regions, especially to the Arctic, causing severe weather phenomena and unseasonably high air temperatures. Subsequently, the heat may have been radiated out to space, as latitudes north of 70°N have been characterised by above-normal outgoing longwave radiation during the northern hemisphere autumn and early winter of 2016″

    At first reading I was puzzled by what seemed a statement of the bl33ding obvious. The poles get warmer, they emit more energy. S-B says E=T^4. But, a few degrees rise of cold polar temps would be less effective in radiating energy than a similar rise of warmer equatorial temperatures because of the 4th power exponential ratio.

    Then I realised I was missing the ‘dogwhistle’ The recent (exceptional?!) warmth was just an ENSO cycle and all that heat will disappear by Natural cooling from the polar regions with no long-term influence on the inherent stability and uniformity of the climate.

  34. JCH says:

    If they were even remotely close to being correct, Jan, Feb, and Mar 2017 would be cool. Instead, they’re hotter than 2016… coming off the 2016 La Niña?

    And, the first 1/4 of 2017, all but in the books, is likely the only shot 2017 had at being cooler than 2015.

  35. Magma says:

    @ izen 7:46 pm

    Yes, I think you identified the subtext intended.

    “Whenever the Earth experiences a warm El Niño or a cold La Niña episode, major heat exchanges take place between the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above, eventually showing up as a signal in estimates of the global air temperature. However, this does not reflect a similar change in the total heat content of the atmosphere–ocean system. In fact, global net changes may be small, and such heat exchanges may mainly reflect a redistribution of energy between the ocean and atmosphere. Evaluating the dynamics of ocean temperatures is therefore just as important as evaluating changes of surface air temperatures.” (emphasis added)

    Humlum writes this, yet as implicitly noted by JCH earlier, one of the graphs he fails to include is that of global ocean heat content vs. time.

    I suppose he just forgot.

  36. Mal Adapted says:“>Semyorka:

    Science is modelling. It is making observations in the physical universe, then forming abstraction of the observed behaviour that can be symbols* that can be mathematically manipulated.

    And, theories are models, or else they are tautologies.

  37. John Hartz says:

    I have recently seen an uptick in postings by climate scince deniers asserting that GCMs and economic models are generically comparable I personally believe this proposition to be hogwash. Have any articles been written on this topic recently?

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