The Age Of Embarrassment

Fourth of a series


I’ve been posting on this topic for several weeks, and it appears this will go on for a while. That’s another way of saying there will be no end of discussion on this topic. The matter is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and its implications.

What motivates this post is an item that came across my Facebook feed as a “Suggested Post.” I’m not completely sure what drives these suggested posts, but an item from Marketing Land suggests what lies beneath:

Facebook’s popular Sponsored Stories ad type shows posts from pages but must come from one of the user’s connection. This new “Suggested Post” ad type would allow brands to advertise a specific post to users who have no interactions or connections with a brand.

This explanation suggests that somebody paid to cause this item to appear on my feed. Who paid for it is not immediately clear, and I will much appreciate it if a reader will clear this up for me.

Anyhow, the ad is a link to an item from the Truth And Action site. That item deals at length with Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his dispute regarding the scientific consensus for AGW. Here is the item:


The liberal narrative about climate change is starting to fall apart thanks to conscientious scientists who have spoken out in face of pressure to toe the alarmist party line.

Dissenting from the supposed consensus of scientists who believe mankind is primarily responsible for climate change, Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cast doubt on the very existence of said consensus. Indeed, the climatologist argues that the amount of scientists who believe climate change is man-made is much lower than the left and their allies in the media make it out to be.

Speaking to talk show host Bill Frezza on RealClear Radio Hour, Dr. Lindzen claimed that the idea that researchers overwhelmingly agree on climate change has been “propaganda” from the beginning. He said that the media helps push the narrative by saying scientists agree, but never bother telling people what exactly it is that they agree upon.

Since most Americans are unfamiliar with climate science, they feel pressured to accept the claims of personalities purporting to speak on behalf of scientists, allowing the climate change consensus myth to strengthen it’s hold in the minds of citizens.

Discussing the widely-touted 97% of scientists who believe in man-made climate change, Dr. Lindzen pinpoints the source of this claim as a 2013 report put out by one John Cook. Although the study has been cited by innumerable figures, Lindzen finds it’s methodology to not only be wanting, but highly dishonest to boot.

“Cook’s paper found of the scientific study ‘abstracts expressing a position on [manmade global warming], 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.’ But Cook’s assertion has been heavily criticized by researchers carefully examining his methodology.

A paper by five leading climatologists published in the journal Science and Education found only 41 out of the 11,944 published climate studies examined in Cook’s study explicitly stated mankind has caused most of the warming since 1950 — meaning the actual consensus is 0.3 percent.

‘It is astonishing that any journal could have published a paper claiming a 97% climate consensus when on the authors’ own analysis the true consensus was well below 1%,’ said Dr. David Legates, a geology professor at the University of Delaware and the study’s lead author.

A 2013 study by Andrew Montford of the Global Warming Policy Foundation found that Cook had to cast a widenet to cram scientists into his so-called consensus. To be part of Cook’s consensus, a scientific study only needed to agree carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that human activities have warmed the planet ‘to some unspecified extent’ — both of which are uncontroversial points.

‘Almost everybody involved in the climate debate, including the majority of sceptics, accepts these propositions, so little can be learned from the Cook et al. paper,’ wrote Montford. ‘The extent to which the warming in the last two decades of the twentieth century was man-made and the likely extent of any future warming remain highly contentious scientific issues.’

Despite the dubious nature of the consensus, liberal politicians used the figure to bolster their calls for policiesto fight global warming. President Barack Obama even cited the Cook paper while announcing sweeping climate regulations.”

Source: Daily Caller

The first thing that caught my attention in the foregoing was the the first three words, “The liberal narrative.” Oops, this is going to be about politics, or at least there is going to be an argument that political motives are involved. If you are like me then you are also wondering how scientific issues come to be a matter of politics. Before reading on, you might want to go through the Daily Caller article. I saved off a copy in case it’s not available in the future.

To be specific, here is the critical language from Truth And Action: “Indeed, the climatologist argues that the amount of scientists who believe climate change is man-made is much lower than the left and their allies in the media make it out to be.” Lindzen states that the much touted consensus is less than 97%. But he doesn’t attempt to peg the actual level of consent, though he makes numerous arguments as to why it should be less. What is significant in the Truth And Action piece is there are no claims against the facts of AGW.

That takes us to another matter. If anybody is in a position to refute the science behind AGW, it is Richard Lindzen. He is well qualified with respect to the related science, and he has actually challenged critical related points. For example:

Lindzen hypothesized that the Earth may act like an infrared iris. A sea surface temperature increase in the tropics would result in reduced cirrus clouds and thus more infrared radiation leakage from Earth’s atmosphere. This hypothesis suggests a negative feedback which would counter the effects of CO2 warming by lowering the climate sensitivity. Satellite data from CERES has led researchers investigating Lindzen’s theory to conclude that the Iris effect would instead warm the atmosphere. Lindzen disputed this, claiming that the negative feedback from high-level clouds was still larger than the weak positive feedback estimated by Lin et al.

Lindzen has expressed his concern over the validity of computer models used to predict future climate change. Lindzen said that predicted warming may be overestimated because of inadequate handling of the climate system’s water vapor feedback. The feedback due to water vapor is a major factor in determining how much warming would be expected to occur with increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Lindzen said that the water vapor feedback could act to nullify future warming. This claim was criticised by Gavin Schmidt.

There is more, and readers should go to the Wikipedia entry for a complete discussion. At the bottom of the foregoing Lindzen addresses the matter of water vapor feedback. It’s something that came up in a previous presentation I made on AGW. In particular:

Water vapor accounts for the largest percentage of the greenhouse effect, between 36% and 66% for clear sky conditions and between 66% and 85% when including clouds. Water vapor concentrations fluctuate regionally, but human activity does not significantly affect water vapor concentrations except at local scales, such as near irrigated fields. The atmospheric concentration of vapor is highly variable and depends largely on temperature, from less than 0.01% in extremely cold regions up to 3% by mass at in saturated air at about 32 °C. (See Relative humidity#other important facts.)

The average residence time of a water molecule in the atmosphere is only about nine days, compared to years or centuries for other greenhouse gases such as CH4 and CO2. Thus, water vapor responds to and amplifies effects of the other greenhouse gases. The Clausius–Clapeyron relation establishes that more water vapor will be present per unit volume at elevated temperatures. This and other basic principles indicate that warming associated with increased concentrations of the other greenhouse gases also will increase the concentration of water vapor (assuming that the relative humidity remains approximately constant; modeling and observational studies find that this is indeed so). Because water vapor is a greenhouse gas, this results in further warming and so is a “positive feedback” that amplifies the original warming. Eventually other earth processes offset these positive feedbacks, stabilizing the global temperature at a new equilibrium and preventing the loss of Earth’s water through a Venus-like runaway greenhouse effect.

To clarify and to summarize: Adding CO2 to the atmosphere results in a rise in temperature. The rise in temperature allows the atmosphere to hold more water vapor. The additional water vapor causes the atmosphere to absorb more infra red radiation, raising its temperature further. Fortunately other factors keep this process from running away.

I particularly note this from the proceeding: “Lindzen said that the water vapor feedback could act to nullify future warming.” I find this statement difficult to reconcile with any known facts. Perhaps somebody has made a typographical error that will explain the anomalous language.

Anyhow, Lindzen has and does weigh in on the science related to AGW, unlike political critics the likes of United States Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma and current presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump:

Donald Trump (real estate developer) doesn’t believe in climate change and asserts that the changes we see are actually just weather, unaffected by human actions. He puts climate change low on the list of problems we need to address. In 2012, Trump said global warming was a hoax created by China to make U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive. He supports regulating air pollution.

Sorting through the various issues surrounding Richard Lindzen and AGW, it becomes apparent that if there is a consensus, the consensus is that Lindzen and his scientific colleagues are in disagreement. The report from the IPCC highlights this disagreement:

Contrary to the IPCC’s assessment, Lindzen said that climate models are inadequate. Despite accepted errors in their models, e.g., treatment of clouds, modelers still thought their climate predictions were valid. Lindzen has stated that due to the non-linear effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, CO2 levels are now around 30% higher than pre-industrial levels but temperatures have responded by about 75% 0.6 °C (1.08 °F) of the expected value for a doubling of CO2. The IPCC (2007) estimates that the expected rise in temperature due to a doubling of CO2 to be about 3 °C (5.4 °F), ± 1.5°. Lindzen has given estimates of the Earth’s climate sensitivity to be 0.5 °C based on ERBE data. These estimates were criticized by Kevin E. Trenberth and others, and Lindzen accepted that his paper included “some stupid mistakes”. When interviewed, he said “It was just embarrassing”, and added that “The technical details of satellite measurements are really sort of grotesque.” Lindzen and Choi revised their paper and submitted it to PNAS. The four reviewers of the paper, two of whom had been selected by Lindzen, strongly criticized the paper and PNAS rejected it for publication. Lindzen and Choi then succeeded in getting a little known Korean journal to publish it as a 2011 paper. Andrew Dessler published a paper which found errors in Lindzen and Choi 2011, and concluded that the observations it had presented “are not in fundamental disagreement with mainstream climate models, nor do they provide evidence that clouds are causing climate change. Suggestions that significant revisions to mainstream climate science are required are therefore not supported.”

This is not to say Lindzen is the only ranking scientist to dispute AGW. A list if available on Wikipedia, and it contains names most will recognize. I will mention a few:

The list is separated into categories:

  • Scientists questioning the accuracy of IPCC climate projections
  • Scientists arguing that global warming is primarily caused by natural processes
  • Scientists arguing that the cause of global warming is unknown
  • Scientists arguing that global warming will have few negative consequences

It will be noted that none of these include scientists who believe global warming is not happening or that CO2 does not contribute.

Perhaps missing in all of this is why the matter of scientific consensus even comes up. Of course, consensus matters, because an idea that is completely fractious at this stage in the game is rightfully suspect. There are two approaches for those who want to deny the validity of AGW:

  • Refute the science directly.
  • Point to a long list of scientists who do not agree with the validity of AGW.

Lacking the first, many fall back on the second. There is a mistake in that. Taking the second approach opens the argument to the same pitfall invoked by Lindzen. Who are these people opposing AGW? An example is available. There is a list of 31,000 (could be more by now) scientists in opposition:

This claim originates from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which has an online petition ( that states:

We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

To participate in the petition one only needs to mark a check box to show that one has a Ph.D., M.S., or B.S. degree, and then fill in the fields. Unfortunately, that means that anyone can sign the petition, whether they have a degree or not.

The appropriate rejoinder to such attacks is the scientific consensus. Anybody wanting to refute AGW with an opposing consensus will need to address the 97% consensus.

In previous discussions the term “accepted science” has been tossed around derisively. It was pointed out that Galileo went against “settled science” and was proved to be right. When that came up my response was that what Galileo went against was not science, settled or not. It was accepted conjecture with no basis in scientific discovery. In the end it is not settled science that matters but what can be demonstrated. Currently what is being demonstrated is the reality of AGW.

There will be more on this. Keep reading.

4 thoughts on “The Age Of Embarrassment

  1. Pingback: The Age Of Embarrassment | Skeptical Analysis

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