Do clouds disappear?

03/05/2010

Falsification tests of climate theories

Do clouds disappear when cosmic rays get weaker?

or “Don’t you worry, my dear, we’ve seen no tigers”

The Sun makes fantastic natural experiments” Henrik Svensmark says, “that allow us to test our ideas about its effects on the Earth’s climate.” Most dramatic are the events called Forbush decreases. Ejections of gas from the Sun, carrying magnetic fields, can suddenly cut the influx of cosmic rays coming to the Earth from exploded stars.

According to the Svensmark hypothesis, cosmic rays seed the formation of low clouds, so there should be a reduction in the Earth’s low cloud cover in the aftermath of a Forbush decrease. During the past few years there have been repeated attempts to declare the hypothesis falsified, when various teams failed to find the expected decrease in the low cloud cover.

One morning in April 2008, I woke up to find that since midnight the BBC had spread all around the world the news that British physicists had more or less destroyed the Svensmark hypothesis. Violating a basic principle of objective reporting, the broadcasts went out before Svensmark himself had a chance to comment.

By lunchtime he and I had done our best to limit the damage – and the deception of the public – in brief radio and TV interviews. A remark from Svensmark went belatedly onto the BBC website, that the critic it quoted had “simply failed to understand how cosmic rays work on clouds”.

Two years later, critics still don’t understand it. But they go on telling the tale that Forbush decreases have no important effect on clouds, and the media go on echoing them. When Svensmark and his colleagues published in August 2009 a report that showed very clear effects, and explained why others had failed to see them, the BBC and almost everyone else ignored it. But not the scientific critics, who returned to the fray in December 2009 and February 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

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Falsification intro

01/05/2010

Falsification tests

Introduction: Is climate research a real science?

Here’s how the philosopher of science Karl R. Popper explained how to disitnguish a real, or ’empirical’, science from a pseudo-science.

Popper: Logik der Forschung 1934. In English, The Logic of Scientific Discovery 1959.

I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation. In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense: but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.

Hence the statement, “It will rain or not rain here tomorrow” will not be regarded as empirical, simply because it cannot be refuted; whereas the statement, “It will rain here tomorrow” will be regarded as empirical.

A series of postings under Falsification Tests in Calder’s Updates will compare results for the man-made global warming hypothesis and for Henrik Svensmark’s cosmic climate hypothesis about cosmic rays and clouds.

Historical background

Although the Svensmark hypothesis is quite recent (1996), it’s a fresh version of a much older and more general solar hypothesis, that the Sun is responsible for climate change over years, decades and centuries. From its origin with William Herschel in 1801, the idea that copious sunspots mean a warm climate and a scarcity means a cooler climate was the leading hypothesis for nearly two centuries.

The solar hypothesis was supposedly falsified in the 1980s when the SolarMax satellite measured the variation in the Sun’s brightness during a solar cycle and found that the changes were too small to be very influential on the climate. That is still the official position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but the verdict flew in the face of abundant historical evidence for solar-driven climate change. The Svensmark hypothesis soon provided a mechanism for greatly amplifying the influence of the Sun’s variations.

As for the man-made global warming hypothesis, its adoption by an influential group of climate scientists is also a recent phenomenon. Writing in Scientific Europe (ed. Calder, 1990) the first chairman of the IPCC, Bert BolÍn of Stockholm, recalled that the idea that human beings would alter the Earth’s climate by releasing CO2 was neglected or disbelieved by most climate scientists from 1896, when Svante Arrhenius pointed out the possibility, until 1988, when a meeting of experts in Toronto called for a curb on CO2 emissions.

What changed their minds was mainly the big increase in computer speeds. It enabled the development of ever-more elaborate models to simulate the climate for decades ahead, on various assumptions. The continuing reliance of the man-made global warming hypothesis on the computer models is important to remember. As they assume that positive feedbacks amplify the rather small direct greenhouse effect of CO2, the models easily generate alarming predictions of big temperature rises as CO2 increases.

And they are endlessly adjustable. Medieval astronomers, who believed that all heavenly motions had to be ideal circles, were able to match the imperfectly measured motions of planets by adding epicycles. Similarly, climate scientists can tweak the models to deal with criticisms and would-be Popperian falsifiers keep finding the goalposts moving.

In any case, different models give a wide range of different predictions, both globally and regionally. The man-made global warming hypothesis thus comes perilously close to “It will rain or not rain here tomorrow”, which Popper said is not empirical, because it cannot be refuted. While this slipperiness may be handy for the “warmists” to score temporary debating points, it would leave them with a pseudo-science if there were not some features of the hypothesis that remain open to tests.

Many critics wish to refute the Svensmark hypothesis. Their tests will be evaluated too, starting with claims, much publicized over the past few years, that changes in cloudiness fail to follow sudden changes in the influx of cosmic rays. In such a contentious area I must of course declare an interest, as co-author with Svensmark of The Chilling Stars, which explains his hypothesis.

Initial postings

  • Do clouds disappear when cosmic rays get weaker?
  • Is the recent warming of Greenland unprecedented?

Other tests of the Svensmark hypothesis will include

  • The recently lazy Sun
  • Laboratory tests
  • The Earth’s changing magnetic field
  • Recent changes in the Earth’s cloud cover
  • Anomalous Antarctica

Other topics tests of the man-made global warming hypothesis will include

  • Do temperature changes follow CO2 ?
  • The Hockey Stick
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Upper air temperatures
  • Anomalous Antarctica