Lamar Smith’s Show Trial for Climate Models

It’s that time of the month again, and the needle on Alice F.’s wetware alternative facts detector blasted through the end stops again yesterday. As a result I felt compelled to inform assorted planetary politicians that Alice had detected that trouble was brewing:

Alice’s little grey cells started twitching with the following announcement from ex Prof. Judith Curry:

Her suspicions were confirmed when a quick search of the usual suspects revealed this announcement by the Global Warming Policy Foundation:

From the associated “press release”:

A report on the State of the Climate in 2016 which is based exclusively on observations rather than climate models is published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Another one of the usual suspects, Anthony Watts, blogged about the GWPF report this afternoon:

Compiled by Dr Ole Humlum, Professor of Physical Geography at the University Centre in Svalbard (Norway), the new climate survey is in sharp contrast to the habitual alarmism of other reports that are mainly based on computer modelling and climate predictions.

Prof Humlum said: “There is little doubt that we are living in a warm period. However, there is also little doubt that current climate change is not abnormal and not outside the range of natural variations that might be expected.

As this slideshow of learned (and not so learned!) comments on Twitter reveals, the WUWT and GWPF’s claims leave an awful lot to be desired:


In particular Dr Ole Humlum’s “white paper” is not “based exclusively on observations rather than climate models” nor is it “The World’s first” such “State of the Climate Survey”. As Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville pointed out on Watts Up With That:

Ummm… I believe the Bulletin of the AMS (BAMS) annual State of the Climate report is also observation-based…been around many years.

Victor Venema of the University of Bonn pointed out on Twitter that:

and Mark McCarthy of the UK Met Office added that:

All in all there’s several “alternative facts” in just the headline and opening paragraph of the GWPF’s press release, which doesn’t augur well for the contents of the report itself. We feel sure that Lamar Smith and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will nonetheless be pleased to see this report become public shortly before their planned hearing on March 29th entitled “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method“:

We also feel sure they were pleased to view the contents of another recent “white paper” published under the GWPF banner. The author was ex Professor Judith Curry, and the title was “Climate Models for the Layman“. Lamar Smith et al. certainly seem to qualify as laymen, and Judith’s conclusion that:

There is growing evidence that climate models are running too hot and that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is at the lower end of the range provided by the IPCC.

will no doubt be grist to their climate science bashing mill next Wednesday. Unfortunately that conclusion is yet another “alternative fact” according to the non laymen.

This report, however, does little to help public understanding; well, unless the goal is to confuse public understanding of climate models so as to undermine our ability to make informed decisions. If this is the goal, this report might be quite effective.

The Problem With Facts

The problem with facts is that in this day and age they are not enough. My title for today is shamelessly plagiarised from an article by Tim Harford, originally published in the Financial Times.

I was born just before Christmas 1953. Way back then:

Scientists were publishing solid evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. From the viewpoint of Big Tobacco, more worrying was that the world’s most read publication, The Reader’s Digest, had already reported on this evidence in a 1952 article, “Cancer by the Carton”. The journalist Alistair Cooke, writing in 1954, predicted that the publication of the next big scientific study into smoking and cancer might finish off the industry.

It did not. PR guru John Hill had a plan — and the plan, with hindsight, proved tremendously effective. Despite the fact that its product was addictive and deadly, the tobacco industry was able to fend off regulation, litigation and the idea in the minds of many smokers that its products were fatal for decades.

Is the link with the 21st century assault on evidence based policy making by the Trump administration in the United States obvious to you yet? If not, Tim continues:

So successful was Big Tobacco in postponing that day of reckoning that their tactics have been widely imitated ever since. They have also inspired a thriving corner of academia exploring how the trick was achieved. In 1995, Robert Proctor, a historian at Stanford University who has studied the tobacco case closely, coined the word “agnotology”. This is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced; the entire field was started by Proctor’s observation of the tobacco industry. The facts about smoking — indisputable facts, from unquestionable sources — did not carry the day. The indisputable facts were disputed. The unquestionable sources were questioned. Facts, it turns out, are important, but facts are not enough to win this kind of argument.

Metropolis III, Death & Taxes – Kasia B. Turajczyk (2009)
Metropolis III, Death & Taxes – Kasia B. Turajczyk (2009)


Please read the Tim’s article in its entirety, but towards the end he mentions that:

There’s a final problem with trying to persuade people by giving them facts: the truth can feel threatening, and threatening people tends to backfire. “People respond in the opposite direction,” says Jason Reifler, a political scientist at Exeter University. This “backfire effect” is now the focus of several researchers, including Reifler and his colleague Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth.

All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world. Facts, it seems, are toothless. Trying to refute a bold, memorable lie with a fiddly set of facts can often serve to reinforce the myth. Important truths are often stale and dull, and it is easy to manufacture new, more engaging claims. And giving people more facts can backfire, as those facts provoke a defensive reaction in someone who badly wants to stick to their existing world view. “This is dark stuff,” says Reifler. “We’re in a pretty scary and dark time.”

Is there an answer? Perhaps there is.

We know that scientific literacy can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science. But a new research paper from Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson explores the role not of scientific literacy but of scientific curiosity.

Unfortunately Tim provides no link to the learned article he references, but we can put that right! Here it is:

Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing: Curiosity and Information Processing

According to Kahan et al. in their introduction:

This article describes evidence suggesting that science curiosity counteracts politically biased information processing. This finding is in tension with two bodies of research. The first casts doubt on the existence of “curiosity” as a measurable disposition. The other suggests that individual differences in cognition related to science comprehension—of which science curiosity, if it exists, would presumably be one—do not mitigate politically biased information processing but instead aggravate it. The article describes the scale-development strategy employed to overcome the problems associated with measuring science curiosity. It also reports data, observational and experimental, showing that science curiosity promotes open-minded engagement with information that is contrary to individuals’ political predispositions. We conclude by identifying a series of concrete research questions posed by these results.

This all sounds curiouser and curiouser, so let’s go deeper down the rabbit hole shall we?

In less than two decades, politically motivated reasoning has assumed an imperial reach over the study of mass political opinion formation. It has driven to the periphery theories emphasizing rational choice dynamics, heuristic information processing, public-spirited idealism, and popular disengagement. It has colonized countless individual topics from group polarization to source-credibility effects, from biased information search to the effects of factual misinformation.

The final frontier that scholars have yet to fully chart, however, concerns individual differences. Who is most vulnerable to the tendency to selectively attend to information in patterns that reflect their commitment to ideologically and like-defined groups, and who is the least vulnerable?

In this article, we report a curious finding about politically motivated reasoning. Data we have collected suggest that this form of reasoning appears to be negated by science curiosity.

Perhaps there is a glimmer of light at the end of the long dark tunnel after all? Kahan et al. conclude:

These two forms of evidence paint a picture—a flattering one indeed—of individuals of high science curiosity. In this view, individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

whilst Tim Harford puts it this way:

Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.

What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science — somebody who can create a sense of wonder and fascination not just at the structure of the solar system or struggles of life in a tropical rainforest, but at the workings of our own civilisation: health, migration, finance, education and diplomacy.

Do you suppose that Dan Kahan is up to that job himself? Perhaps not, since his paper signs off as follows:

As we have taken pains to emphasize, this research remains at a formative stage. As always, there are unresolved questions. The goal of this article was to report the pleasure we took in observing these surprising results in the hope that doing so would motivate other curious researchers to join us in trying to answer them.

Perhaps its time to turn to Alice?

A Letter from Wonderland

Dear Alice,

I would like to let you know about the current state of affairs in our Wonderland.

We have a new queen and a new king. Actually it is a kind of confusing situation because The Queen and The King are the same person. HeShe looks like Shiva, a god with a thousand personalities. And it has become weirder and weirder because The Queen isn’t a ‘she’, she is a ‘he’. But this is an insignificant detail. HeShe loves to scream as often as possible and as loud as possible ‘OFF With His Head’, ‘Off With Her Head’ , ‘Off With Their Heads’.

And you do remember, I hope that you remember it very well, I am sure you do. The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head’, crying and shouting without even looking at them or looking around.
HeShe is not only using the old diversion of The Queen Of Hearts, heshe is also getting more and more crazy, crazier and crazier. Almost every day heshe is growing more and more unpredictable. The Queen is the centre of the Universe, it is all about her, her huge ago and the caprice of her whim.

Do you remember the flamingos? The Queen has found new mallets – they are THEM and the OTHERS. They very reliably try to escape and to fly away as far as possible. Every day the puppet soldiers are trying hard to find new OTHERS. I am wondering what heshe would start to use if they all were gone. The Queen has also found new croquet balls, they are not hedgehogs any more. There are all kinds, every day she chooses a new sort as it pleases her.

A Polish Fairy Tale – Kasia B. Turajczyk (2014)
A Polish Fairy Tale – Kasia B. Turajczyk (2014)


Yesterday I had a short encounter with the Caterpillar. He said this to me:

We are in a global war of ideas. It’s not meritocracy versus imagination but it is authoritarianism versus democracy .

You do remember him, do you not? It took him another 20 minutes to say something more. He put the hookah into his mouth and he was smoking and smoking and smoking again. After that he spoke once more.

When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

I think his words will puzzle you, because as you may remember there was not a lot civilisation here before. But that is a different kettle of fish. Apropos fish, they have all vanished from Wonderland. I wonder if they moved away of their own accord or if the flamingos helped them to disappear? It puzzles me.

I had also a short ‘tête-à-tête’ with the Hatter. He is very afraid, he is even considering leaving Wonderland. Can you imagine that? Wonderland without the Hatter.

Oh Alice, what will happen to us? We are all mad here. But are we going to be madder and madder and madder?

With much madness and  many growls,

The Cheshire Cat

Leaked Document Suggests NOAA Oceanic Research Faces 26% Cuts

An article by yours truly, reproduced from our sister site and originally published on March 4th 2017:

The Washington Post reports that:

The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget of one of the government’s premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose $126 million, or 26 percent, of the funds it has under the current budget. Its satellite data division would lose $513 million, or 22 percent, of its current funding under the proposal.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service would be fortunate by comparison, facing only 5 percent cuts.


It certainly sounds as though wave buoys are under threat. This is from the “Climate” section of the NESDIS web site:

NOAA’s satellites, radars, buoys, stations, and gauges monitor the variability of the Earth’s climate and contribute to long-term data records.

The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) house over 20 petabytes of comprehensive atmospheric, coastal, oceanic, paleo‐climatological, and geophysical data from a variety of sources.

This data, available on a full and open basis, not only provides an accessible environmental record available both today and for future generations but also supports authoritative and timely assessments of our climate.

The division of NOAA responsible for the WaveWatch III model used by surf forecasters is the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the National Weather Service. At first sight that is not such bad news, but that does of course depend on whether the rumours are true, and if so which 5% of the NWS gets cut.

Watch this space!