Frank’s New Memo

Frank Luntz issued a new memo:

Frank suggests that we drop the word sustainability. According to his research, it conveys the status quo, whereas the American people demands improvement – a better, a safer, and a cleaner environment. For a Conservative who preached for conservation in his earlier memo, that sounds like a concession.

Frank also suggests that we focus on the benefits of addressing climate change, and not only its dangers. That’s fine with me, as long as it does not inject the usual concerns regarding CAGW and as long as we realize that hopes and fears go hand in hand. (Not a bad album, if you ask me.) Frank himself illustrates his suggestion with his recent experience of a wildfire emergency. But who better than Hope (Jahren) to talk about climate hope:

Frank offers other suggestions during his testimony. (See the poster below.) I will let you pay due diligence to them in the comments. Here is my take-away. Climate change has consequences, and we are all in in together.

And that’s the new memo. I would trust this kind of work more than anything armchair wordsmiths can produce, me included. At the very least, Frank bestows fair hints as to how to reach more conservative contrarians.

Everybody’s changing and Frank sure does not seem to feel the same:

Posted in ClimateBall, We Are Science | Tagged , , , | 70 Comments


I’ve been on holiday for a week or so. While I’ve been away there’s been quite a lot of media coverage of the paper that I discussed in this post and that we discussed extensively in this pubpeer thread.

It started with this New Scientist article, then Mother Jones, then the Independent, the Express, and Daily Kos. The main discussion point is that the journal (Scientific Reports) is investigating the publication of this paper and I’m quoted as saying that it should be withdrawn.

Philip Moriarty has a nice post called sloppy science, still someone else’s problem where he argues strongly for retraction. When a paper is clearly wrong and makes no contribution to the field, why should it remain in the literature where it could still get cited and would require people putting effort into publishing formal critiques? Others, however, disagreed partly because even a paper that is wrong could advance the field, and partly because forcing a retraction could play into the hands of those who claim there are scientific gatekeepers.

My norm would be to agree with the latter. Even if something is wrong, people could still learn from it. Also, we would need to be very careful that papers with inconvenient results weren’t retracted by journals because those who objected to what the paper suggested kicked up enough of a fuss. Also, most research requires assumptions and judgements that may not be universally accepted. How do you decide if an error is sufficient for retraction and who gets to make this decision?

However, in the case of the Zharkova et al. paper, the error is completely elementary. It’s something we teach our first-year students. There is no value in debating in the literature something that has been accepted by virtually all physicists/astronomers for a very long time. The community shouldn’t have to commit time and effort to correcting a basic error made by people who really should know better. The ideal would be the authors recognising that they’d blundered and voluntarily withdrawing the paper. Since that seems unlikely, the journal deciding to do so would be the next best thing. I’m not planning to hold my breath, though.

Posted in ClimateBall, ethics, Philosophy for Bloggers, Research, Scientists, The philosophy of science, The scientific method | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

It’s dangerous!

There’s a recent Nature Climate Change article by Shinichiro Asayam, Rob Bellamy, Oliver Geden, Warren Pearce and Mike Hulme. It’s called Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous. The basic idea is that the rise in political rhetoric that sets a fixed deadline for decisive action on climate change can be dangerous, and that the IPCC should take responsibility for its report and openly challenge the credibility of such a deadline.

This relates to recent rhetoric suggesting that we have 12 years to avoid a climate catastrophe. I have a number of problems with what this article suggests. Firstly, as others have pointed out on Twitter, this 12 year deadline is presented in a number of different ways, some of which are entirely consistent with what is presented in the IPCC reports. Even the Guardian article – used as an example in the paper – correctly describes what is presented in the IPCC report: Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050. Some of the rhetoric does indeed incorrectly represent what is being presented by the IPCC, but this has been criticised by climate scientists.

The other issue I have, is why target this rhetoric? Why not highlight that it’s dangerous to promote climate science denial? What about Lukewarmerism? Is being alarmist dangerous? Is being too optimistic about our ability to solve this problem dangerous? What about being too pessimistic? Is it not dangerous to promote a narrative that suggests we should delay acting on climate change? Maybe it’s also dangerous to suggest that we should take drastic action now? Given that any public rhetoric about this complex topic is likely to be simplistic, it’s probably pretty easy to find some reason to criticise what is presented.

The article also claims that

Climate change is a ‘wicked social problem’, one that must be resolved and renegotiated, over and over again22. Deadline-ism is at once both ineffectual and self-defeating.

I’ve discussed this issue before and, in my view, it’s simply wrong. We’ll always live in a world were climatic events can have a lot of impact. We also can’t avoid there being periods when the climate changes; we’re not going to turn off volcanoes, stop solar variability, or halt internal climate variability. However, in this context climate change refers to anthropogenically-driven climate change which is almost entirely due to our emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols into the atmosphere. We do have a solution for this; get net emissions to zero. This may be complex and difficult, but it’s not wicked.

Also, the 22 in the above quote is a citation to a paper by Reiner Grundmann, that I discussed in this post. I’ve discussed Reiner Grundmann’s work on a number of occasions and have mostly been unimpressed. Something that I’ve never discussed, and for which he should probably be better known, is that he once suggested that [t]here is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science. I’ll leave it to the readers to judge the significance of this.

The final issue I have with the article is that it’s a classic blame the messenger framing. The issue isn’t what is presented in the IPCC reports, but how it’s been interpreted, and used, by some who are promoting drastic action. I think it’s perfectly fine for climate scientists to call out those who misrepresent the science, but it’s not their fault that some have done so. The IPCC also doesn’t really have a group who could easily go around criticising those who misrepresent what is in their reports. They have administrative staff, but the reports are written by scientists who volunteer their time; there isn’t really a formal IPCC group who can then go around criticising those who misrepresent what the reports present. Maybe there should be, but there currently isn’t. Also, they’d have to be very careful that they didn’t then go from being an organisation that was policy relevant to one that was becoming policy prescriptive.

So, as you can tell, I’m not particularly taken with the article. There is more that could be said, but I’m trying, and failing, to keep this short. I’m going to end with some additional context about some of the authors that may, or may not, be useful.

The authors:
Since some may be new to this topic, I thought I might provide some additional context. I’ll express some of my own views, but people should make their own minds up about the relevance.

Oliver Geden has made similar arguments before. He’s criticised temperature targets, the inclusion of negative emission technologies in some of the scenarios, and now deadline-ism (a word that the authors appear to have made up). There’s typically some truth to what he presents and I’ve sometimes found it interesting to engage with his arguments. However, I think they’re often simplistic and tend to have (as is the case here) a blame the messenger framing. Overall, I don’t find his contributions particularly helpful or constructive.

Warren Pearce has also been an author of a paper that criticised the IPCC press conference and suggested that it was incoherent. A number of us wrote a response in which we pointed out that they appeared to have misunderstood the terminology and that some of what they presented was simply not true. Warren Pearce also wrote a Guardian article asking if climate skeptics [were] the real champions of the scientific method? To be fair, his conclusion wasn’t yes but he certainly painted some well-known “skeptics” in a much more favourable light than many would regard as reasonable.

Warren Pearce has also been critical of consensus messaging (Reiner Grundmann and Mike Hulme were also amongst the authors of this paper). In this context, Warren Pearce once provided a platform for Ben Pile to criticise consensus messaging. If anyone has come across Ben Pile, you may be rather surprised by this since his understanding of this topic is woefully poor.

In the comments to that post, Mike Hulme (one of the authors of the article I was discussing above) suggested that Ben Pile was spot on. Again, if you’ve come across Ben Pile, you’ll be well aware that if you were ever about to utter the words Ben Pile is spot on the sensible thing to do would be to go back and check again that he is indeed spot on. It would probably be worth checking a couple of times, just to be sure. It’s not that Ben Pile can’t be spot on, but it’s very unlikely. Don’t forget that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Maybe it’s unfair to highlight the above, but it does provide some insights into views that some of the authors have expressed publicly. I certainly don’t find them particularly constructive voices. That, however, is mostly because I think that we should be finding ways to reduce our emissions as fast as possible while also taking into account various relevant societal and political factors. I also think we should be supporting those who are trying to communicate the importance of this topic, not criticising them because sometimes others use this information in sub-optimal ways. Of course, if you have a different preference (for example, if your preference is to delay acting on climate change), then you may find them to be constructive voices.

Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous – paper by Asayama, Bellamy, Geden, Pearce and Hulme.
Posts I’ve written about some of Oliver Geden’s other presentations.
The power of scientific knowledge – guest post by Reiner Grundmann on Roger Pielke Jr’s blog in which he suggests there is an eerie similarity between race science and climate science.
Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method? – Guardian article by Warren Pearce in which he asks if climate sceptics are the real champions of the scientific method.
Beyond counting climate consensus – article by Pearce, Grundmann, Hulme et al. in which they criticise consensus messaging.
Response by John Cook to the Pearce et al. article above.
What’s behind the battle of received wisdom? – guest post by Ben Pile on the University of Nottingham’s Making Science Public blog in which he criticises consensus messaging, and where Mike Hulme (in the comments) claims that Ben Pile is spot on.
An accurately informed public is neccessary for climate policy – response by Dana Nuccitelli to the above post.
Point Counterpoint – Rabett Run post highlighting that Mike Hulme once told Paul Price that the reason you and I disagree about climate change is that you care about future generations and I don’t.

Posted in Uncategorized | 126 Comments

Nature Scientific Reports

Correction – 07/07/2019: I’ve been informed that the journal title is actually Scientific Reports, not Nature Scientific Reports. I’ve edited the text, but not the title.

Michael Brown made me aware of a new paper in Scientific Reports by Valentina Zharkova called Oscillations of the baseline of solar magnetic field and solar irradiance on a millennial timescale. Michael has, in the past, been critical of Scientific Reports because of the dodgy science it seems willing to publish. This new paper seems, unfortunately, to be another such piece of science.

What this paper focusses on is the motion of the Sun around the barycentre of the Solar System, commonly referred to as the Solar Inertial Motion (SIM). This motion is a consequence of the gravitational influence of the Solar System planets, primarily Jupiter. What surprised me about the paper was a claim that

[t]he solar inertial motion means for the Earth that the distance between the Sun and the Earth has to significantly change (up to 0.02 of a.u) at the extreme positions of SIM, and so does the average solar irradiance, which is inversely proportional to the squared distance between the Sun and Earth.

This seems to be suggesting that the typical, or average, distance of the Earth from the Sun can change quite substantially due to the motion of the Sun around the barycentre of the Solar System. Although influences from the other planets in the Solar System can perturb the orbit of the Earth, the semimajor axis (or, average distance) is expected to remain constant. Suggesting that it can vary by up to 0.02 a.u. would seem to be at odds with our understanding of orbital dynamics.

However, since I’m easily confused, I thought I would actually look into this. I use a package called MERCURY6, which can integrate the orbits of planetary systems. You can download a version here. The default setup is to simply integrate the orbits of the Solar System bodies. So, I integrated the Solar System back in time for 800000 years, and then forward in time for 800000 years. I then plotted (below) the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit.

Variation of the Earth’s orbital eccentricity over the past 800000 years, and 800000 years into the future.

The above variations are known as Milankovitch cycles. If you compare the above figure with the eccentricity plot here, you should see that it is essentially the same.

I then considered the motion of the Sun around the barycentre of the Solar System, for the period 1945 to 1996. This is the Solar Inertial Motion (SIM) that Zharkova’s paper is suggesting plays a key role in climate change through changing the distance from the Sun to the Earth. It’s shown in the figure on the right. If you compare it with this figure, it’s pretty much as expected. So, the code (as expected) seems to be working fine.

The claim in Zharkova’s paper appears to be that this motion of the Sun around the barycentre will substantially influence the distance from the Earth to the Sun. So, I then plotted this for the next 80 years (which was mainly so you can see the variations due to the small eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit). As you can see, the distance does change, but this is simply because the orbit is slightly eccentric (e = 0.0167). The dashed lines show the expected perihelion (closest) and aphelion (furthest) distances.

So, even though the Sun is moving around the barycentre, the orbit of the Earth around the Sun is entirely consistent with an orbit of fixed semimajor axis and eccentricity (technically, the eccentricity does change, but not very much over a period of 80 years). We can even plot the semimajor axis of the Earth’s orbit, which is shown on the right. Here I’ve plotted it for a time of 1000 years and, as you can see, it is constant (as expected).

So, Scientific Reports appears to have published a paper that makes a claim about the Earth’s orbit around the Sun that violates some pretty basic orbital dynamics and that then uses this to suggest that most of our warming is natural. Firstly, you would hope that a Nature journal would at least pay particular attention to papers that make strong claims about important topics. Secondly, you would also hope that they would check that this isn’t based on some pretty basic error about an extremely well-understood topic. When it comes to Scientific Reports, such hopes would appear to be in vain.

Posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Global warming, Pseudoscience, The scientific method | Tagged , , , , , | 236 Comments

The Black Knight

I’ve been engaging in some discussions with people I shall politely call climate “skeptics”. It struck me that it’s a bit like the classic Black Knight scene from Monty Python. Start off being polite and complimentary. The resonse is unpleasant and aggressive. A metaphoric battle ensues. No amount of pretty clear evidence will convince the “skeptic” to change their mind. When it’s clear that there’s not much point of carrying on, they will insist they’ve won and that you’re a coward who’s running away.

P.S. For those unfamiliar with Monty Python, or who don’t have a sense of humour, I’m very certainly not suggesting that the solution to the online climate wars is to take up arms against climate “skeptics”, or engage in any form of physical violence.

Posted in ClimateBall, Comedy, Global warming, Satire | Tagged , , , | 523 Comments


I’m spending a couple of weeks in Vienna while attending a workshop on planet formation. Spent yesterday doing a bike tour, and wine tasting, in the Wachau Valley, and then spent today visiting some of the attractions in Vienna. The picture on the right is the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace. We also walked around Belvedere Palace and then visited the Art History Museum.

It’s been very hot, although not as hot as parts of France. Out apartment doesn’t have airconditioning and, for a few days, I didn’t even have a fan. It was remarkably uncomfortable and I found it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. A fan certainly helps, but it’s still uncomfortably warm at night.

Something that has struck me while attending this workshop is that even though it is reasonably focussed (planet formation) there are still aspects of this topic that I’m not familiar with (and the same, as far as I can see, is true for the other attendees). I think many areas of science have become sufficiently complex that it’s not easy to stay in touch with all of what is going on, even for those in that research area. This probably has implications for how we might define relevant expertise. It might also suggest that those who think they can see obvious problems in complex research areas may simply not understand the issues quite as well as they think they do.

I’ll finish by highlighting Michael Tobis’s Realclimate post about Absence and Evidence. It discusses the recent article by Ross McKitrick that highlights the work of Roger Pielke Jr. It caused a bit of a Twitter furore in which Roger seemed incapable of distinguishing between a criticism of what Ross McKitrick implied in his article, and an attack on himself. To be fair, this was not a surprising outcome.

It seems pretty clear that Ross McKitrick used Roger’s work to imply that Climate Change is not impacting extreme weather events. This seems clearly not true, and yet Roger seems quite comfortable with Ross McKitrick’s article. The link between climate change and extreme weather events is complicated, and some do indeed make claims about climate change and extreme weather events that are indeed too strong. Implying no connection between climate change and extreme events is, however, not a suitable response to such claims. Treating a criticism of such an article as an attack on one’s work is bizarre. Maybe Roger needs to remind himself of the Mertonian Norms.

Posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Philosophy for Bloggers, Science, Scientists, The philosophy of science | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Rachel’s Bike

Rachel used to hang around with us at AT’s. She also moderated the blog for a while. She runs a blog in which she talks about her life in Scotland, with a focus on living a low-carbon life, especially biking and plant-based diets. Follows an edited transcript of the last time we touched base. Rachel’s text is in roman, mine is in italic.

ok, great. I’m here
I’m writing a post for the Aberdeen Cycle Forum

how’s it going

Good! I got some funding – £6,500 from LUSH (a chain of shops that make soap). I spent it on some 3D visualisations of bike paths. One of them I’m about to release today. Do you want to see?

What Aberdeen could Be

i’ve stumbled upon something related
about a city in Austria:

Aspern isn’t just about families. It was deliberately planned with a brand identity, one that might elsewhere be considered political: all the streets and public spaces are named for women.

Yes, I saw that but forgot to read it. Thanks!

i bet it would be cool to have a more humane city center
more so for a city that is centered around fossil fuels

I don’t know whether I’ll ever see it happen but I will keep trying until it does happen or I die.

you don’t take no as an answer, do you


if only we were all like you
so you went to the parliament

I organised it 🙂

i see that

There’s just no-one else here to do it

the photo reveals your movement is now part of the yellow vests

No, don’t say that. I don’t want to be aligned with them because they started by protesting a tax on fuel but I’m totally in favour of taxing fuel as are most cyclists.

you’re right, sorry

So do you have climate questions you want to ask?

well, yes, i do, but the interview is about you

Yes, I saw one of them. Is this the interview now?

yes, it’s just an edited chat

ok, well what do you want to know?

we usually have space for a few questions
well, first of all
how does it feel to have left climateball
(asking for a friend)

Have I left?
I still see the denial and hear it
I just actively ignore it now
I also think that group is getting smaller and will eventually wither away to nothing. Is that just my imagination, do you think?

i think the more we hear about contrarians, the more we hear the same contrarians
it’s easy to spot those who are just trying to push talking points
there is a death thread on twitter where all the contrarians come and go
it’s so big the twitter engine wrecks it
so i think many contrarians are caught in their own matrix

Are they all on Twitter now? I guess WUWT is still active but I never read it.

the thread has been going on since at least june 2017

The same thread?

more or less, it’s complex, as one can only have 50 interlocutors at the same time
but yeah

That’s crazy. Why don’t they start a new one?

twitter also changed its system to accomodate that kind of thing
the thread has been restarted many times, but it’s like a magnet

I won’t ask for a link
Is more happening on Twitter now than on blogs?

you’re better placed than me to say – you worked for wordpress
aren’t blogs dying

I hope not. I want to keep blogging. Twitter can’t replace that.

personal blogs are small, the tool is great, i have yet to find something better

I do notice that businesses are starting to create Facebook pages as their only online presence and I think that’s a terrible mistake.

i do too
my only activity on fb is to push newsies about how awful fb is

I just read local news headlines on FB now and keep it for messenger with my friends and family

when did you quit wp

Over a year ago.
March 2018 was my last month

do you miss working there

Sometimes. I’m still a very loyal blogger on wpcom and will never give that up. But I needed more of a challenge work-wise and I’ve got that now.

i thought you were bored by your new job

I was until I got promoted.

good thing you got bored
i should get bored more often

I’m now transitioning into a product manager role. My company is sending me on a product manager course starting next week.

what’s that

This is the course
As a product manager I’ll be steering the direction of development of our product.
I will decide what gets implemented next and why.
I’m really lucky to get this opportunity.It’s a bit daunting in many ways.

you’ll have a team working for you

Not exactly. We’ve already got a team of developers so I’ll be working closely with them. But I’ll also be working with our commercial team to learn what prospective clients want and I’ll continue to work closely with support to understand the needs of our current user-base. I’ll be in the middle linking all the different teams.

should we plug the company, or you prefer not to

Sure! It’s Award Force. We make software for managing awards, competition, grants, scholarships and stuff like that. We facilitate the submission and managing of entries and the full judging process. It’s a feel-good industry because it’s all about recognising human achievement.


It’s a nice field to be in and the company is fully carbon neutral.

how so

We’re not certified or anything but we calculated all our emissions and offset them with tree planting. We also make regular donations to Sea Shepherd Conservation.

george may have a point in saying that we may need to stop eating fish for a while
i have become a part-time vegetarian

That’s great! What is part-time though? If it’s just veggie one day per week then that’s really not part-time. Did you see my family was on BBC news recently as a low carbon family?

Meet the Martins, living a low-carbon lifestyle in Aberdeen.

no i did not

I do some voluntary work for Aberdeen Climate Action and the BBC contacted them looking for a low carbon family and they put them in contact with us.

better than climateball

What is?

voluntary work, biking for climate and for biking, having a low carbon lifestyle

You wanted to ask about my cargo bike?

yes, you switched to electric

yes, I have an electric cargo trike
It’s great! It gives me confidence on the roads because it has a throttle which gives you a boost to get started.
Cargo bikes are the future for last mile deliveries.
Just getting some rocket from my garden

so you still rent cars for your holyday trips
if only cars were like cargo bikes

Yes, we either rent a car or use the car-club car. We’re members of a car club here. I do wish you could pedal in cars. It would give you something to do on a long journey.

still more sensible than owning one, and refutes the dilemma

Way cheaper too

you still have that book on your website?

How not to die cookbook?
Yes, I cook mostly recipes from that except on burger or haggis night.
The How not to die cookbook has a great vegan recipe for Mac and cheese.

will try it
i think if we allow for some meat, say each month, vitaminic needs can be met

you’ll change your mind

you know me, i will
what’s your most favorite easy recipe that could change the world

um, maybe what I ate tonight? Veggie burgers? They’re so yummy. I could eat them every night. Healthy too and low environmental impact and so easy to make. I guess it depends what type of burgers you buy. I don’t get the fake meat ones.

i’ve heard they’re good
i have many versions, one i like is with mushrooms

Mushrooms are good

they may outlive us


so, christchurch, any news from your family over what happened

We definitely talked about it although none of our family live there
We were all horrified
We used to live not far from one of the mosques
There are so many shootings in America now that I don’t think they’re even reported on the news any longer

at least they stopped advertising the names

that’s good

how do you live brexit

I hope it doesn’t happen but if it does there’ll likely be another Scottish independence referendum and then Scotland will probably become a separate country and rejoin the EU

will the brexit thing be a problem to stay in scotland for your family

no, it doesn’t affect us in that way because we’re not European

god that’s silly, lol

We’re not allowed to live and work here without a visa anyway
European citizens can move around and work anywhere in the EU but that doesn’t apply to us
If Scotland becomes independent it might become easier
It would be interesting to have another referendum to see whether people have changed their minds about Brexit. I think a lot of people have.
Most people in Scotland want to stay in the EU
It was something like 60% in the referendum

it’s less divisive than the separation, then


overall you seem happy

Very. Things are good for me. I’m happy where I’m living, I’ve got a lovely family, and work is pretty good. Just as long as we don’t have leave Scotland I’m happy.

you would?

No, I don’t want to. I love it here.

so, all this happiness
and you left climateball
there are no coincidences

I just got busy
I don’t have time to follow all the online climate discussions

looks like it
you haven’t missed anything

Still the same conversations over and over again?

it’s just one big exchange, with some fixed points, yes
it evolved a bit, as contrarians have become more isolated
they said their piece
their best concerns have been integrated
time to move on
perhaps they got busy too

i doubt it
they know they’ve lost. we’ve all lost.
they don’t realize how much it will all cost us

it’s like not flossing for years
except it’s collective teeth

good analogy

any music you’d like to share

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is one of my favourite

ode to joy, of course

I love that piece of music
It’s the 3rd movement in the 9th

prfct, lady
you made it

thank you, Rachel

Posted in We Are Science | Tagged , , , | 26 Comments