Fair-ish and Balanced-ish
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Can CIS Accurately Report On Science?
The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) is, in it's own words "the leading independent public policy 'think tank' within Australasia. The CIS is actively engaged in support of a free enterprise economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents. By critical recommendations to public policy and encouraging debate amongst leading academics, politicians and journalists, the CIS aims to build a better society."
While the vast majority of CIS work doesn't concern global warming, I've always found a good method checking out an organisations; abilities, fact checking and objectivity, is to examine it's one of publications in a field which you know a lot about. Then it is simple to compare reality vs. how they present it.
And in the case of global warming, CIS fall apart at the seams.
This article, titled "Global Warming Raises Political Temperature" written by Barry Maley, a senior fellow at the society.
Looking over the parts of the essay which deal with the science behind global warming we get:
Global warming is not new. The fossil records, evidence from tree rings, ice cores and ocean sediments, and other indirect measures of earth temperatures, reveal significant variations over tens of thousands of years. Temperature fluctuations quite independent of human activity are normal.
So far so good. Pity he doesn't end the essay here.
The immediate question for the world is whether the recent climatic record reveals significant temperature changes. Within the last 50 years we have experienced major increases in the release into the atmosphere of the so-called greenhouse gases which some climatologists and environmentalists have argued are causing global warming and raising the possibility of catastrophic climatic changes. The climatic models accepted as a basis for the Kyoto treaty predicted that measurements would show that atmospheric temperatures have risen over the last twenty years. This prediction allows a crucial test for the global warming hypothesis. If the prediction is not fulfilled the hypothesis must be discarded, and with it the case for emission controls under the Kyoto protocols collapses.
This paragraph isn't so bad. Predictions should be made, and the models tested. However, Maley ignores (or more likely, is unaware of) a lot of complexity associated with atmospheric temperatures. For example, the loss of ozone, leads to a much lower absorption of high energy photons in the upper atmosphere. This means significant amounts of energy, which would normally go towards warming the upper atmosphere, are instead used to produce skin cancers. So this should give an overall cooling trend in the upper atmosphere (and a corresponding small cooling effect in the troposphere).
As Australian scientist John Daly points out, the record of these surface temperatures a warming of 0.4 C from 1975 to the present.
Goto jail, do not pass go. John Daly is no more an Australian scientist than Barry Setterfield. While the mention of John Daly doesn't invalidate Maley's article, it does further my suspicions that Maley is simply reciting propaganda uncritically.
It is this portion of the warming phase which is of particular interest, especially when compared with the measurements of atmospheric temperature over the same period.
These atmospheric measurements were made by satellites using highly sophisticated and accurate measuring devices. There is confirmation of the accuracy of the satellite records from quite independent recordings by a different method. Helium balloons are sent aloft using radiosondes, as they are called, to measure exactly the same part of the atmosphere measured by satellites. These measures proved to be highly consistent with each other.
Wrong. While it is true that the satellites carry highly sophisticated and accurate measuring devices, these devices don't measure atmospheric temperatures. Rather, this information has to be reconstructed by complex models of the atmosphere and the satellites. And these reconstructions are up for debate. When the article was written, there were three different reconstructions (there is now four). The reconstruction most favoured by climate change skeptics, was up-to it's fourth revision.
The radiosonde data is likewise highly variable. There are different interpretations of it, each giving different trends.
Maley really gets confused with the accuracy of these techniques.
The results from both sets of atmospheric measurements showed a trend at odds with that shown by the surface measurements. Atmospheric temperatures showed a warming of less than 0.1 C, due to the El Nino of 1997-98. Prior to then the satellites were showing a slight global cooling, which persisted in the Southern Hemisphere, with the Northern Hemisphere showing only the slight warming over the 21 year period.
In a nutshell, Maley is saying that a highly uncertain cherry-picked (this description only applies to one of the reconstructions) measurement of a physical phenomena (tropospheric temperatures) is different than a much more certain measurement of a different physical phenomena (surface temperatures). Can anyone say "apples and oranges".
Incidentally, since the publication of this paper, the addition of new data and more accurate models, has lead to increasing convergence between the satellite and radiosonde data with surface temperatures.
How, then, can we reconcile a surface warming of 0.4 C over the 21 years with this atmospheric record of virtually no change?
Do we really need to? Convergence between the two is highly overrated.
To add to the puzzle, the surface records taken in North America, Australia, and Western Europe are in close agreement with the atmospheric recordings.
This sentence is oh so very wrong. If you look at graph (d) here, you can see for yourself, the temperature trends for North America, Australia, and Western Europe for the period 1976 to 2000 (approx. the same period as the satellite data). It is immediate obvious that the warming in these areas is much greater than Maley's cherry-picked satellite numbers.
The answer seems to be that in these countries the records have been better collected and maintained than elsewhere, especially in those countries racked by warfare and upheaval, where the records showed rising surface temperature. Further evidence has been adduced to throw doubt upon the reliability of the surface measures in various locations, especially the local distortions caused by heat-producing activities in urban and airport areas. A significant proportion of the surface measurements are therefore suspect, while the atmospheric measurements are above suspicion and reliable.
Areas of great warming (twice the global average) include parts of the war racked North Territory of Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Alaska. Obviously these countries lack the technological abilities of say India, where the temperature rise is much lower.
So what about this urban induced warming. This, alas, fails to pass the test also. It's a pretty easy job to look at rural stations and compare them with the complete ground record. There is very little difference between the two. The same applies when we compare the complete surface record, with trends recorded from very isolated stations (such as lighthouses). Urban warming, is a real phenomena, but it's effect on the recorded surface temperature trends is minimal.
The statement "the atmospheric measurements are above suspicion and reliable" comes complete with it's own satire.
The upshot is that the climatic model predictions which formed the basis of the Kyoto recommendations have been invalidated. This is the conclusion reached in January this year by an expert panel of scientific specialists in temperature measurements commissioned by the United States Academy of Sciences. The best data and eminent scientific opinion find no real evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. With so much of economic and social importance at stake, it would be the height of scientific, economic and political irrationality for Australia to ratify the Kyoto treaty or to take any steps to reduce emissions.
At this stage, I'm going to be very generous to Maley, and assume that he didn't bother to read the National Academy of Sciences report that he cites. His description of it's finds are completely false. It's worthwhile reading the whole report (which can be found here), but for readability, here are it's findings:
(1) Surface temperature is rising.
(2) Based on current estimates, the lower to mid-troposphere has warmed less than the earth's surface during the past 20 years.
(3) Current estimates of surface and lower to mid-tropospheric temperature trends are subject to a level of uncertainty that is almost as large as the apparent disparity between them
(4) The observed trends have been partially, but not fully, reconciled with climate model simulations of human-induced climate change.
(5) The record of satellite observations of lower to mid-tropospheric temperature is still short and subject to large sampling fluctuations.
(6) It is not currently possible to determine whether or not there exists a fundamental discrepancy between modeled and observed atmospheric temperature changes since the advent of satellite data in 1979.
Given Maley the benefit of doubt, it appears that he has been taken for a ride by the charlatan John Daly.
Reading over Maley's bio, he appears to have no physical science qualifications. He is a specialist in behavioural science and lists his fields of knowledge as "Family and social policy, schooling, children's rights, family law, fertility, children, welfare". No hint of anything which would lead credence to him knowing what he is talking about.
Now, there is nothing wrong with people reading up on science and making mistakes about it in the process. It's all part of the game. What concerns me, however, is that an organisation, which presumable takes itself seriously, would proudly post an essay which is completely orthogonal to reality on it's website. If they have nobody with the skills to evaluate a complex field, what the hell are they doing associating their name with error filled pseudoscientific garbage like this?
If the CIS want to be seen as an honest and objective organisation, they should distance themselves from this article.