The scientific method doesn't change just because it's climate science

If you follow space news like I do, a few weeks ago you would have stumbled across many media articles about a new astronomical discovery – a planet orbiting a pulsar that is likely a single massive diamond crystal. Very cool stuff.

The leader of the team that made this discovery recently published an article at the Australian site The Conversation titled “Diamond planets, climate change, and the scientific method.” In it, Dr. Matthew Bailes writes about how people treat great astronomical discoveries totally differently from great climatological discoveries, even when the methods used to make the discoveries are essentially identical:

It may come as a big surprise to many, but there is actually no difference between how science works in astronomy and climate change – or any other scientific discipline for that matter.

We make observations, run simulations, test and propose hypotheses, and undergo peer review of our findings. Continue reading

Editor-in-chief resigns as a new paper identifies errors in "fundamentally flawed" climate paper

Last Friday, Wolfgang Wagner of the journal Remote Sensing resigned as editor-in-chief. He took this extraordinary step because he felt that it was his responsibility that Remote Sensing published a “fundamentally flawed” climate paper by Roy Spencer and William D. Braswell, both of the University of Alabama – Huntsville (UAH). In response, Spencer wrote on his blog: “If some scientists would like to demonstrate in their own peer-reviewed paper where *anything* we wrote was incorrect, they should submit a paper for publication.” The first published response appeared this morning in the journal Geophysical Research Letters by Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M, and Dessler’s response points out multiple severe deficiencies in Spencer and Braswell’s paper titled “On the misdiagnosis of surface temperature feedbacks from variations in Earth’s radiant energy balance” (hereafter SB2011). Continue reading

NSF clears Mann of misconduct implications made by Sen. Inhofe (updated)

Second in a series.

[See update to the conclusion below]

In February, 2010, Pennyslviania State University (PSU) cleared Michael Mann of three allegations of research misconduct (and cleared him of the fourth in July 2010). In response, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote a letter in February, 2010, to the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) asking them to conduct their own, independent investigation of Professor Michael Mann. Inhofe requested two specific things – that the OIG look into supposed research misconduct according to the NSF’s definition instead of PSU’s, and that the NSF determine whether or not Mann had violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), information quality guidelines, the Federal False Claims Act, and/or the Federal False Statements Act.

On August 15, 2011, the OIG closed the investigation after concluding that there was no specific evidence that Mann had violated any of the rules, regulations, or laws Inhofe asked about. Continue reading

NSF confirms results of Penn State investigation, exonerates Michael Mann of research misconduct

First in a series

As a result of the illegal publication of CRU climate emails, the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) conducted an inquiry and investigation into allegations of research misconduct by Professor Michael Mann. The University exonerated Mann of all four allegations in July 2010, but the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviews such investigations for completeness and correctness. On August 15, 2011, the OIG released the results of their own review, agreeing with all of the conclusions of the PSU investigation and subsequently acquitting Mann of all the allegations of research misconduct made against him.

PSU published the results of an their internal investigation into alleged research misconduct by climatologist Michael Mann on July 1, 2010. As S&R reported, the university’s conclusions were that Mann did not falsify data over the course of his research, that he did not destroy any emails in possible breach of the Freedom of Information Act, that he did not misuse his position or abuse confidentiality agreements, and that he did not deviate from accepted practices of conduct for his field. Continue reading

Most speakers at the 6th International Conference on Climate Change misidentified as scientists

The sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC), a large gathering of human-caused climate disruption deniers that is sponsored by the Heartland Institute, opens tomorrow morning. The frontpage for the conference website makes a number of misleading or false statements, but one phrase that caught my eye was “The scientists speaking at this conference…” This list of speakers contains so few actual scientists (and even fewer climate scientists) that labeling the speakers as “scientists” is misleading.

Let’s take a quick look at the speakers:

Milloy proves he's either incompetent or a liar in latest op-ed

In his Washington Times op-ed titled 2012 GOP guide to the climate debate,” commentator Steve Milloy made a large number of claims that are demonstrably wrong – 18 at last count. But one of his claims relating to the illegal hack and release of climate scientists’ emails dubbed “Climategate” casts a shadow over all the others. Milloy wrote that “[n]o input from skeptics, even those mentioned in the emails, was included” in the “Climategate” investigations. However, Milloy’s own prior writings on the topic demonstrate that his statement in the Washington Times op-ed is false.

On July 14, 2010, Milloy wrote a commentary for The Daily Caller titled “Penn State’s integrity crisis.” In the commentary, Milloy wrote that “[o]f the five additional interviews conducted, four were of Mann’s fellow alarmists. The lone climate skeptic interviewed was MIT professor Richard Lindzen.” Continue reading

Milloy's latest climate op-ed riddled with errors

Today, the Washington Times ran an op-ed by science-denier-for-hire Steve Milloy titled “2012 GOP guide to the climate debate.” Based on the number of errors and irrelevancies masquerading as serious concerns I discovered while reading it, the Washington Times should have titled the op-ed “How to lie to voters about climate disruption.”

Here’s a brief rundown of all the problems I found. I’ll be dealing with a few of the worse errors in greater depth in a follow-up post.


  1. “Al Gore and his enviros duck debating so-called ‘climate skeptics.’” – So debates like Dessler vs. Lindzen or Lambert vs. Monckton don’t count? It’s true that debates like these are rare, but that’s because debating a climate disruption denier is about as effective as debating evolution with a young-earth creationist or a proponent of “intelligent design.”
  2. Continue reading

Venus’ climate V: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature is a result of greenhouse heating (corrected)

On Monday, I wrote that there were only two possibilities for why Venus’ surface temperature is so hot – either something internal to the planet’s crust and core was keeping Venus hot, or something about the atmosphere was. Tuesday I showed that it wasn’t internal heating. Wednesday I disproved the “Venus formed recently” hypothesis. And yesterday I ruled out a celestial collision that might have melted Venus’ crust, effectively absolving Venus’ core of any responsiblity for Venus’ surface temperature. Given the planet itself can’t be the source of the heat,the atmosphere has to be keeping the surface hot somehow. Continue reading

Venus’ climate IV: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from a "recent" astronomical collision

Artist rendition of celestial impact that formed the Moon.
Fahad Sulehria,

The images returned by various robotic probes to Venus suggest that the planet’s crust is geologically young – less than a billion years old. Scientists currently believe that, because Venus has no continental drift to speak of, heat generated by radioactive decay in Venus’ core gradually builds up until it’s hot enough to melt significant portions of the crust. The resulting volcanism would release so much lava that it would largely erase geologic features that existed prior to the “resurfacing.”

Another alternative hypothesis for the young observed age of Venus’ surface is that Venus could have been impacted by a large asteroid or comet that released enough energy in the collision to resurface Venus. Continue reading

Venus’ climate III: How scientists know Venus isn’t geologically young (Corrected)

Simulation of planetary accretion (Ken Rice, UC-Riverside)

Yesterday we found that, for Venus to be hot due to internal heating, either the planet’s core would have to be a star, its crust would have to be less than a meter thick, or its crust would have be composed of diamond. None of these is remotely possible, so the internal heating hypothesis has been entirely disproved. Another hypothesis proposed by climate disruption deniers for why the surface temperature of Venus is so hot is that Venus might have formed recently (geologically speaking) instead of having formed about 4.5 billion years ago along with the Earth and the rest of the planets.

We can test this hypothesis a couple of different ways. The first is to again use the mathematics of a black body. In the case of an ideal black body the size of Venus, we can calculate the amount of time it would take to cool from one temperature to another as Venus radiates energy into space. Continue reading

Venus’ climate II: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from internal heating (Corrected)

Hemispheric view of Venus produced by Magellan.

One of the hypotheses proposed by climate disruption deniers for Venus’ hot surface temperature is that Venus has an unusually hot core. The logic goes like this – if the core is hot enough, then the surface temperature would be from heat bleeding through the crust instead of from the greenhouse effect of a 97% carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere. This hypothesis can be quickly disproved by running three simple calculations.

Scientists estimate that Venus’ solid crust is about 50 km thick, and data from robotic probes indicates that it’s of similar composition to the Earth’s crust. The Earth’s crust is largely silicates, and so I’ve simplified the following calculations by assuming that the entire surface of Venus is composed of silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2, aka quartz), which makes up about 60% of the Earth’s crust. Continue reading

Venus’ climate I: How scientists know Venus’ surface is unusually hot (corrected)

Ultraviolet image of Venus’ clouds as seen by the Pioneer
Venus Orbiter, Feb. 26, 1979 (NASA).

Scientists have known that the surface of Venus is extremely hot since the first probes flew by the planet in the 1960s. Venus’ hot surface is presently understood to be a direct result of the composition of the atmosphere – Venus’ atmosphere is nearly 97% carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is known to be a greenhouse gas, and the same optical properties that make it a greenhouse gas are what’s responsible for Venus’ high surface temperature.

But there are people who reject the idea that CO2 could be the cause of greenhouse warming on the Earth. They have come up with a number of interesting hypotheses for how Venus’ surface could be so hot without CO2-induced greenhouse warming.

Over the next few days, I will examine the most common claims about Venus’ surface temperature made by climate disruption deniers and look at whether or not their claims stand up to some basic physical tests. Continue reading

GOP swallows blue pill of delusion, votes to strip EPA of greenhouse gas authority

It’s no surprise that the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to do away with the EPA’s rules on greenhouse gas emissions. But H.R.910, the bill to strip EPA authority over greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, provides at least two examples of how Republicans have chosen the blue pill of delusion instead of the red pill of reality. Continue reading

Latest hearing shows GOP is the Ministry of Magic to climate disruption's Death Eaters

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry, Dumbledore, and the Order of the Phoenix have to work against Voldmort’s Death Eaters in secret while the Ministry of Magic blinds itself to the needs of the wizarding world. Worse than simply doing nothing, however, the Ministry spreads anti-Potter propaganda in the newspapers, manipulates the law to target Potter and Dumbledore (who know Voldmort has returned), and in their refusal to acknowledge the problem, makes it just that much easier for Voldmort to secretly gain strength.

On March 31, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing on the topic of climate change. It’s clear from the hearing charter, the list of witnesses, and the large number of climate myths uttered that the GOP has become the Ministry of Magic to the Death Eaters of human-caused climate disruption. Continue reading

Heartland Institute VIPs misrepresent facts again

On January 24, Mark Boslough of the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories wrote an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican in which he criticized the Heartland Institute and Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut and retired geologist turned climate disruption denier. In response, the Heartland Institute ran several posts on their blog and submitted an op-ed to the New Mexican from the Institute’s president.

The blog posts and the op-ed each contain multiple errors and misrepresentations that are in character for an organization that has a thoroughly documented history of manipulating facts and misrepresenting science to serve their ideology. Continue reading

Rep. Upton's business competition hypocrisy, exhibit A

Rep. Fred Upton, Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a hearing yesterday on a piece of legislation euphemistically named the Energy Tax Prevention Act. This law seeks to overturn the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. In Upton’s opening statement, he claims “I know American manufacturers can compete – but not if they are saddled with burdensome regulations that put us at an unfair disadvantage.”

On the surface, this is a completely reasonable thing for a Republican to say. After all, Republicans generally are against regulations on the laissez-faire premise that all regulation is bad for business. But Upton is also on record supporting repeal of last year’s healthcare law, something else that would put American manufacturers at an “unfair disadvantage.” Continue reading

The perpetual debunking of Christopher Monckton

If you’ve been reading S&R for a while now, you’re probably familiar with the fact that I have issues with Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, and climate disruption denier. While he came to my attention as a result of his many errors of fact regarding climate science, my issues with Monckton are largely the result of the fact that he has labeled student activists “Hitler Youth,” has threatened legal action against his critics in transparent attempts at intimidation, and accuses his critics of resorting to ad hominem attacks while describing them as looking “like an overcooked prawn.” Pot, meet kettle.

Now, thanks to the miracle of massive databases and people who know how to code them, we have available a new Monckton debunking tool. John Cook, physicist and creator/editor of the website has put together a page devoted exclusively to debunking Monckton’s many, many, many myths. Continue reading

Canadian Embassy emails reveal Canadian, US lobbying on tar sands-derived oil

Recently released emails written by employees of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC and other Canadian government workers show that the Embassy directly lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress in an attempt to influence regulations and legislation that could restrict exports of Alberta tar sands-derived bitumen and petroleum. The emails further reveal that the Bush Administration had asked the Canadian Embassy to lobby Congress and to use its influence with key oil companies to convince them to lobby on Canada’s – and the Bush Administration’s – behalf. Continue reading

The 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award

Welcome to the 2010 Climate B.S. of the Year Award.

2010 saw widespread and growing evidence of rapidly warming global climate and strengthening scientific understanding of how humans are contributing to climate change. Yet on the policy front, little happened to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe negative climate impacts, including now unavoidable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, snowpack, glacial extent, Arctic sea ice, and more. These physical impacts will lead to sharply increased disease, military and economic instabilities, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events, among other things. Without appropriate risk management action, the United States will be hit hard. There is no safe haven. Yet confusion and uncertainty about climate change remain high in the minds of too many members of the public and Congress.

Why? In large part because of a concerted, coordinated, aggressive campaign by a small group of well-funded climate change deniers and contrarians focused on intentionally misleading the public and policymakers with bad science about climate change. Much of this effort is based on intentional falsehoods, misrepresentations, inflated uncertainties, and pure and utter B.S. about climate science. These efforts have been successful in sowing confusion and delaying action – just as the same tactics were successful in delaying efforts to tackle tobacco’s health risks.

To counter this campaign of disinformation, we are issuing the first in what may become a series of awards for the most egregious Climate B.S.* of the Year. Continue reading

Anthropogenic climate disruption: skeptics vs deniers

I’ve been struck repeatedly over the last few years by how fundamentally non-skeptical many self-proclaimed “climate change skeptics” actually are. Skepticism has a definition after all, and while I’ll have more to say on this later, today I want to introduce an analogy that I use to differentiate between a climate disruption skeptic and a climate disruption denier.

Let’s say that the state of modern climate science is like a piece of lacy swiss cheese – filled with small holes, but still pretty solid. There are no major voids in knowledge, although like any other scientific discipline, there are lots of places where we could know more. Continue reading