Wisdom of Kilgore Trout

25/06/2010

Predictions Revisited, Updating Magic Universe, and Climate Change: News & Comments

The Wisdom of Kilgore Trout

While checking a reference for yesterday’s posting I came across an epigram concerning human behaviour that I declared, back in 1983, should rank with Einstein’s E=mc2 in physics. I quoted it in 1984 and After, but it really ought to be written on every blackboard in the world.

Who said so? None other than Kilgore Trout, the imaginary science fiction writer invented by the real-life science fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut re-caps a Trout story called Plague on Wheels.

A space traveller called Kago told the Earthlings about the self-reproducing automobiles on a dying planet named Lingo-Three.

Kago did not know that human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague. There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on Earth.” Within a century of Kago’s arrival the Earth was dying too, littered with the shells of automobiles.

Getting an interview with Vonnegut was never easy, but when I managed it my key question was whether Kilgore Trout’s epigram expressed his own opinion. He said, Yes it did.

Before this accidental prompt, I wasn’t going to bother to comment on a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, no less. Anderegg et al. claim that scientists convinced about man-made global warming are cleverer and better respected, as well as much more numerous, than scientists who are unconvinced.

Now I’ll say that it’s scary but not surprising that the National Academy of Sciences should permit a division of experts into an ingroup and an outgroup, and an evaluation of them by arbitrary tests that have nothing whatever to do with the inherent substance or merit of their research. Unsurprising because it accords with Kilgore Trout’s insight into human behaviour, which has been well verified in psychological experiments.

Alec Nisbett of BBC-TV filmed one experiment called Klee-Kandinsky, executed for real with unsuspecting schoolboys, for our documentary “The Human Conspiracy” (1975).  I also summarize the experiment in Magic Universe, in the story “Altruism and aggression: looking for the origins of those human alternatives”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Warming of Greenland?

06/05/2010

Falsification tests of climate theories

Is the recent warming of Greenland unprecedented?

or, Come for a ride on my polar roller-coaster

The strongest reasons for doubting the man-made global warming hypothesis come from pre-industrial climate change. During the past 10,000 years, since soon after the end of the last ice age, there have been bigger ups and downs in global temperatures than during the 20th Century. Yet according to the IPCC, citing measurements of gas trapped in polar ice, the concentration of CO2 varied by only about 20 ppm throughout those 10,000 years – less than a quarter of the change during the 20th Century.

So whatever caused the pre-industrial climate changes, it was not CO2. The record is well accounted for, in fact, by (1) a change in the Earth’s attitude in orbit, which brought a gradual cooling to the Northern Hemisphere, and (2) solar variations that superimposed on that trend a succession of warmings and coolings. Yet to offer such natural explanations for past events does not logically falsify the man-made global warming hypothesis, because its supporters say it represents an important new factor in climate change.

If increasing CO2 had no effect whatever on the climate, that might be surprising, but the claim of the hypothesis and its computer models is that the new contribution from man-made greenhouse gases has become the main driver of recent climate change. Implied here is a falsifiable statement, namely that there is something very unusual about the recent warming of the world. That is certainly the sense of many scientific and political pronouncements about global warming.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


Climate Change intro

01/05/2010

CLIMATE CHANGE – Introduction

This section of Calder’s Updates is unavoidably a battleground, but within reason it will stick to the physics and dodge the propaganda that surrounds climate research.

Headings in this section

  • News and Comments watching developments
  • The Svensmark Hypothesis outlining the science
  • Falsification Tests digging deeper into the physics
  • Updating The Chilling Stars with evolving stories

In 1997 The Manic Sun by Nigel Calder was the first book to describe a new wonder of Nature – namely Henrik Svensmark’s discovery that the effect of cosmic rays on clouds amplifies the influence of the Sun on the Earth’s climate. Ten years of progress with the physics led to a second book The Chilling Stars in 2007, co-authored with Svensmark.I was also a script consultant to Mortensen Film for the TV programme about Svensmark’s work, “The Cloud Mystery”.

Despite plenty of time to re-consider the story, if it had turned out to be foolish, the evidence looks better and better as the years pass. Yet most climate scientists still ignore or reject Svensmark’s findings from observations of the real world, physics experiments, and theoretical analyses. Scoffing or vehement objections come from supporters of the man-made global warming hypothesis, who realise that the Svensmark hypothesis offers the strongest challenge to the assumptions in their climate models that predict climatic catastrophe.

The customary give-and-take arguments among experts, about which scientific theory fits the facts better, would be fair enough. But since climate physics became a political issue, the involvement of governments, funding agencies, scientific journals and the media in propagating a particular view of climate change has made rational debate difficult. Here’s a comment from Svensmark in an interview by Discover magazine, July 2007.

Question: In 1996, when you reported that changes in the Sun’s activity could explain most or all of the recent rise in Earth’s temperature, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel [on Climate Change] called your announcement “extremely naive and irresponsible”. How did you react?

Svensmark: I was just stunned. I remember being shocked by how many thought what I was doing was terrible. I couldn’t understand it because when you are a physicist, you are trained that when you find something that cannot be explained, something that doesn’t fit, that is what you are excited about. If there is a possibility that you might have an explanation, that is something that everybody thinks is what you should pursue. Here was exactly the opposite reaction. It was as though people were saying to me, “This is something that you should not have done.” That was very strange for me, and it has been more or less like that ever since.

To me (Calder) as a reporter of major discoveries that went on to win Nobel prizes in several different fields, the contrast between flimsy conjecture and creative brainpower backed by real evidence is fairly obvious. Being a generalist, rather than a specialist reporter of climate science, also helps to keep me objective, but I’m not inexperienced or ignorant in this field. It can be irritating when “warmist” journalists and campaigners with no relevant training of their own try to question my competence. Hey, I’ve even published a couple of formal scientific papers of my own.

Calder’s writing and editing on climate-related subjects

2007 (updated 2008) book: The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change. Joint author with Henrik Svensmark

2003 book: Magic Universe: The Oxford Guide to Modern Science. Topics Include Biosphere from space, Carbon cycle, Climate change, Cosmic rays, Cryosphere, Earthshine, Earth system, El Niño, Ocean currents, Solar wind, and Volcanic explosions

1999 scientific paper: ‘The Carbon Dioxide Thermometer’, Energy & Environment, 1999, Vol. 10, pp. 1-18, on how CO2 seems to respond to climate change rather than the other way around.

1997 book: The Manic Sun: Weather Theories Confounded about the Sun & climate, including Svensmark’s initial discovery about cosmic rays and clouds

1991 book and related TV series: Spaceship Earth about Earth observation, Including space observations of clouds, storms, temperatures, ice, oceans, bioproductivity, land use, and deforestation.

1990 book: Scientific Europe (editor, for Foundation Scientific Europe). It includes climate articles by Hermann Flohn, Bert Bolin, Paul Crutzen, and Lennart Bengtsson.

1983 book: Timescale: An Atlas of the Fourth Dimension. Among many other topics it traces climate change from the first ice ages 2300 million years ago to the Little Ice Age ending in 1850.

1974 book and related 2-hour TV programme: The Weather Machine. These included the first public reports of the confirmation of the Milankovitch ice-age hypothesis. Participants on TV include Hubert Lamb, Nicholas Shackleton, John Imbrie, Willi Dansgaard, George Kukla, Syukuro Manabe and Bert Bolin.

1974 scientific paper: ‘The Arithmetic of Ice Ages’, Nature, Vol. 252, pp. 216-18, with the first formal confirmation of the Milankovitch Effect. (Done with a pocket calculator, to legitimize what we were saying in The Weather Machine.)

1973 book: Nature in the Round: A Guide to Environmental Science (editor). Includes articles on climate change by L.P. Smith and Grahame Clark.

1968 book: Unless Peace Comes (editor). Includes Gordon MacDonald on weather and climate modification as weapons of war

1965 book: The World in 1984 (editor, for New Scientist). Among about 100 commissioned 20-yr forecasts, contributions on weather & climate came from Graham Sutton, Fred Singer, D.A. Davies & Roger Revelle

Calder has often spoken about climate change in lectures and on TV and radio, including an interview (2007) for The Great Global Warming Swindle, WagTV’s production for Channel 4. He has published articles on the subject since 1961.


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