Re: [asa] Ottawa Citizen: The Skeptics Are Vindicated

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Nov 26 2009 - 12:46:40 EST

Though I think the discussion on this list has been of commendable quality of late, I'm afraid this topic hasn't been our finest hour. Too many of us were too quick to blame each other for inappropriate biases and to commend ourselves for true objectivity. May I remind all of us to stop using this list to ascribe motives and nefarious behavior to each other or to others. Let's stick to ideas and concepts. Whether the unethical acquisition and release of private emails is justified as "whistleblowing" will be determined by others. Whether the authors of the emails in question had a legitimate context in which the comments should be understood will also be worked out in due time.

But before anyone on this list can jump to conclusions about the implications for AGW, it may be helpful to step back and take a look at the big picture. First, it is important that we always remember that fraud, and its more common cousin, subconscious bias, are an ever-present possibility in any scientific endeavor. That's why scientific methodology seeks to offset and compensate for such possibilities. Ever since grad school, I've been intrigued by pseudo-science (having been caught by YEC, I suppose) and have had to deal with it all too often in my career. One of the most common indicators of fraud, and often the way it is discovered, is the lack of reproducibility of data. For example, a few days ago I was just reading about Paul Kammerer and the declaration of his apparent fraud on midwife toads in 1926 which led to his suicide. There was no independent confirmation of his results.

What is the situation with AGW? In this case, it seems that the data in question are far from the only argument for AGW. In fact, the case is made quite independent from it. As John pointed out, the fact of AGW isn't really in question, just the magnitude and timing and seriousness of it. Maybe it's good to remind ourselves of the evidence for AGW.

1. Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 since 1957 show an accelerating increase in concentration to its current level of about 385ppm, up about 40% from its pre-industrial level of about 275ppm.
2. The isotopic ratio of atmospheric carbon, C13/C12 has been declining in exact proportion to the increase in CO2 concentration. The only known source of low C13/C12 carbon is fossil fuel. Hence, virtually all of the increase in CO2 is due to anthropogenic consumption of fossil fuel.
3. At present trends with a rate of increase of 2ppm/year, which is accelerating, by the end of this century the CO2 levels would be approximately 600ppm, and continuing to rise rapidly, if our carbon emission rate continues to rise.
4. Paleoclimatology informs us that there is a very close correlation between CO2 levels and global temperatures. (just google any vostok ice core data). There is positive feedback in that higher temperature enhances CO2 and higher CO2 enhances T so either one can be the driver, depending on sources. During the 4 temperature peaks in the last 420ky, CO2 never rose to its current level though the temperature was near or higher than today. It also indicates there has apparently never been as fast a rise in CO2 as we are experiencing now.
5. Hence, we find ourselves in a disequilibrium state, with anthropogenic activity forcing CO2 levels to rise well beyond the equilibrium level. The temperature lags due to thermal inertia but will inevitably rise to equilibrium levels.
6. The big question is how fast and how long before negative feedback forces kick in. Unfortunately, the solar cycle that might induce another ice age is a few thousand years away. This is the arena of uncertainty. Going back even farther in paleoclimatology, it appears that the last time the earth had a CO2 level of about 1000ppm was 50mya when the north and south poles were dominated by tropical forests, setting the stage to create the oil and gas fields that are now there. It seems the ice sheets formed when the CO2 level dropped to around 500ppm or so. Hmmm. This is reversible so it is likely that CO2 levels climbing back up could melt the poles eventually. Historical sea level data indicate this would raise the ocean levels by perhaps 15-25 meters, if not more. How soon? who knows. But it seems clear that what we are emitting into the atmosphere now is setting the stage for a radical change in the future which would have major disruption in the human population, sooner or later.

In other words, the seriousness of AGW is quite independent of any of the data in question. There is a consilience of evidence from several lines of investigation. This indicates that even if there had been a fraudulent intent, it had no bearing on AGW. It appears that the data in question dealt with specific examples of where global warming was already evident. That's a different question from the severity of AGW in the broader scope.

In summary, to trumpet that "skeptics are vindicated," implying that AGW isn't as serious as was thought, is rather premature and ignores the basic science of AGW.


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Received on Thu Nov 26 12:47:13 2009

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