Global Warming: Save the hypothesis!

December 29, 2010

Christmas Day delivered a special present to critics of the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) point of view:  an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Judah Cohen – Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming.  One couldn’t ask for a better example of an intellectual house of cards being passed off as science than this wonderful essay.  Like George W. Bush, for whom the answer to any economic problem – slow growth, budget deficit, budget surplus, whatever…  was always to cut taxes, for Mr. Cohen, all observations lead to global warming as an explanation.

Anyone who seriously thinks about climate change understands that weather and climate are not the same, and that  just as a few cold winters don’t disprove AGW, neither do a few hot summers prove it (although that latter point is not often heard from AGW advocates!)  Nevertheless, the record cold in Europe and North America seems to fly in the fact of the AGW theory.  Why the freeze if the Earth is getting warmer?  So, Mr. Cohen leaps into the fray to answer just that question…Of course, one wonders why he feels he must address this ‘question’ if weather is not climate..?

Mr. Cohen is a forecaster for a firm ( that sells information, or rather, data, to firms that need to estimate their exposure to climate-based risks.  Certainly a reasonable service, but it’s not the same as science.  And like all forecaster/modelers, he must have an explanation for everything, or his credibility falters.  In this regard, he is like a conspiracy theorist, the type of person who has a theory that explains everything!  To leave any question unanswered is to invite a withdrawal of confidence.

Cohen presents a complicated explanation for how the earth can be warming and yet experience colder weather in the northern hemisphere.   It’s very logical, and even plausible…but it’s all speculative.  There is no proof for any of it, and he offers none.  It also happens to be derived from his pet theory that he has modeled and flogged before.  Time will tell if the Earth continues to behave in a manner that could be explained by his notion.  Meanwhile, his ideas offer no proof at all for the AGW theory, but simply constitute an example of “saving the hypothesis.”

Saving the hypothesis is the tactic one takes when observed phenomena seem to invalidate one’s theory:  Construct another theory to “save” the original one!  Blaise Pascal exposed this tactic brilliantly in his epistolary debates on the vacuum, although he did not give it that name.  Aristotle, and centuries of his successors said that Nature could not “tolerate” a vacuum, so all evidence that a vacuum can be created was explained away with new substances, ethers, compounds, etc. that we can not see or measure, etc. etc.  No matter what evidence one presented from direct observation, there was always a reason why one was not observing a vacuum.  So, today, no matter what the evidence – and the recent weather is not evidence of much of anything either way! – it must support the accepted idea that AGW does exist.


Four Seasons

February 26, 2010

I grew up in southern California, but I never liked the weather.

Quantitative deep freeze

January 12, 2010

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”

William Thomson, created Lord Kelvin for his engineering work on transatlantic communications cables, had firm views on what was and was not scientific knowledge.  He was also interested in global temperature, but not they way we are today.  He put a monumental scare into Charles Darwin, whose ideas he did not accept, by calculating that the earth must be much younger than Darwin had believed it to be.  His conclusions were based on the rate at which the earth would cool from its initial molten state.  Since evolution takes a very long time, and Darwin knew that well, this was a serious blow to Darwin’s theory.  Eventually, Kelvin’s figures were shown to be wrong, and we now believe the earth is billions of years old, plenty for Darwin!

Kelvin also was interested in very low temperatures.  He created the temperature scale, now known as Kelvin, that has as its begining, Absolute Zero (no connection to the vodka) which is the point at which all molecular motion ceases – thermodynamic zero.

All this stuff about metrics and temperature got me thinking about the latest blast on global warming, this time related to a major IPCC scientist who has been quoted as implying that all the climate science of projected warming is wrong.  He writes that the warming in the recent decades, such as it is, is not the result of CO2, but of natural cycles.  The warming due to CO2 is now kicking in, and will continue unabated as long as we burn fossil fuel.  He laments that some journalists have “distorted” his views, describing him as a sort of crypto-denier, and asserts that “if my name was [sic] not Mojib Latif it would be global warming.”  Wow, there’s a believer!  (I guess he doesn’t believe in the subjunctive, but who does?)

I’m sure there have been reports in magazines and news shows that do distort Mr. Latif’s views – that’s to be expected in popular science journalism.  What is odd is that he doesn’t see that his views do contradict some of the AGW orthodoxy.  That is, a lot of people would deny that natural cycles have much, if anything, to do with the purported temperature rise over the last few decades.  They point to a clear “signal” of AGW.  His statements also raise the question of how he is so sure that the real AGW warming will begin soon – isn’t that just his … belief?  I mean, if it hasn’t been happening already, how can he be so sure?  Those computer models?

Finally, he weighs in with a strange observation about the ability of people to reason coherently:

 Nobody would discuss the problem of [Einstein’s theory of] relativity in the media. But because we all experience the weather, we all believe that we can assess the global warming problem.”

Actually, I have seen discussions of relativity in the media, and some of them were admirably clear.  They may be difficult to understand because the theory entails a profound challenge to our “common sense” notions, but that’s another story.  Latif seems to be claiming that only experts such as himself can assess AGW, presumably with the help of their digital crystal balls, but we can all assess the logic of their claims, and his seems rather tortured.

As Kelvin might have asked, let’s just look at the numbers…

The Little Ice Age – View from Versailles

December 17, 2009

Baby, it’s cold out there!!

From the memoirs of Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, a blast from the past reporting on the Little Ice Age and the horrible effects of global cooling!  An excerpt from Chapter XLIV:

One of the reasons Madame de Maintenon had brought forward, which much assisted her in opposing the siege of Lille, was the excessive cold of this winter [1708-09]. The winter was, in fact, terrible; the memory of man could find no parallel to it. The frost came suddenly on Twelfth Night, and lasted nearly two months, beyond all recollection. In four days the Seine and all the other rivers were frozen, and,—what had never been seen before,—the sea froze all along the coasts, so as to bear carts, even heavily laden, upon it. Curious observers pretended that this cold surpassed what had ever been felt in Sweden and Denmark. The tribunals were closed a considerable time. The worst thing was, that it completely thawed for seven or eight days, and then froze again as rudely as before. This caused the complete destruction of all kinds of vegetation—even fruit-trees; and others of the most hardy kind, were destroyed. The violence of the cold was such, that the strongest elixirs and the most spirituous liquors broke their bottles in cupboards of rooms with fires in them, and surrounded by chimneys, in several parts of the chateau of Versailles. As I myself was one evening supping with the Duc de Villeroy, in his little bedroom, I saw bottles that had come from a well- heated kitchen, and that had been put on the chimney-piece of this bed- room (which was close to the kitchen), so frozen, that pieces of ice fell into our glasses as we poured out from them. The second frost ruined everything. There were no walnut-trees, no olive-trees, no apple-trees, no vines left, none worth speaking of, at least. The other trees died in great numbers; the gardens perished, and all the grain in the earth. It is impossible to imagine the desolation of this general ruin. Everybody held tight his old grain. The price of bread increased in proportion to the despair for the next harvest. The most knowing resowed barley where there had been wheat, and were imitated by the majority. They were the most successful, and saved all; but the police bethought themselves of prohibiting this, and repented too late! Divers edicts were published respecting grain, researches were made and granaries filled; commissioners were appointed to scour the provinces, and all these steps contributed to increase the general dearness and poverty, and that, too, at a time when, as was afterwards proved, there was enough corn in the country to feed all France for two years, without a fresh ear being reaped.