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The Science of Denial

Above-James Taylor (R) of the Heartland Institute thinks he knows more than science.

Whenever science reports facts that bother the public or challenge public policymakers, science denial is not far behind.

One of the more famous cases from history was Galileo, who became a target of the Pope in Rome for his facts about astronomy. Today the most significant denial is about climate change. Huntsville has a self-appointed Galileo, only the situation is backwards. This time, the “Galileo” is feeding conspiracy theorists with the wrong fuel, but hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory!

A paper by Dr Roy Spender of UAH was published in Remote Sensing, a peer-reviewed science journal that questions what others are saying about climate models. Remote Sensing is about the nuts and bolts of remote sensing, not necessarily climate science, even though they overlap.

It’s logical to assume that there is room for some argument in the nuts and bolts of climate models and how things are measured. That’s normal. But something about climate change brings out the loonies who can’t wait to play Galileo too. Take, for example, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, who uses confirmation bias to blow things out of proportion with “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism-”

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.
Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA’s Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models…

Funny huh? in two paragraphs, this guy uses the word “alamist” or “alarmism” 3 times, not including the title. Nice work!

But wait, is Spencer’s work reliable? Just because loonies pass it around, does that make it wrong? He’s been in the news before and wrote a book, “The Great Global Warming Blunder,” which just feeds the conspiracy theorists like Taylor.

From skepticalscience.com-

In his latest book, The Great Global Warming Blunder, Roy Spencer lashes out at the rest of the climate science community for either ignoring or suppressing publication of his research. This research, he claims, virtually proves that the climate models used by the IPCC respond much too sensitively to external “forcing” due to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, variations in solar radiation, and so on. Instead, Spencer believes most climate change is caused by chaotic, natural variations in cloud cover. He and a colleague published a peer-reviewed paper in which they used a simple climate model to show that these chaotic variations could cause patterns in satellite data that would lead climatologists to believe the climate is significantly more sensitive to external forcing than it really is. Spencer admits, however, that his results may only apply to very short timescales. Since the publication of his book, furthermore, other scientists (including one that initially gave Spencer’s paper a favorable review) have shown that Spencer was only able to obtain this result by assuming unrealistic values for various model parameters.

Roy Spencer is not your average climate contrarian. He has a PhD in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a researcher at the University of Alabama–Huntsville, used to work in one of the climate units at NASA, and has published some well respected research on climate. And yet, in The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists, Spencer’s latest book, he isn’t just talking about his accomplishments in mainstream science. Rather, he’s taking his case “to the people” because he says his latest research has blown the lid off the consensus among climate scientists that humans are causing significant climate change. But the part of his research that has been published in the peer-reviewed literature has largely been ignored, and the rest has been quashed in the review process…

…That’s how Roy Spencer sees himself–a persecuted Galileo, boldly speaking scientific truth to power, while most of his fellow scientists succumb to greed and cowardice. Whether Spencer ultimately turns out to be right or wrong, in this review I will show that at this point, he hasn’t even come close to proving his case. Furthermore, some of his work has been of demonstrably poor quality, so if his aim is to convince other scientists, he has shot himself in the foot more than once. Whereas Galileo’s main thesis was eventually universally accepted, the probability of that kind of outcome here seems vanishingly small…

read the full story…

Back to the topic-

Spencer got his latest paper into Remote Sensing, and the media say what they want to say, depending on what point of view they want to have. This one in the International Business Times has a sensational headline, but a balanced article-

…With new data collected from a NASA’s Terra satellite, the previous model may be proven as a hoax. Hypothesis based on the satellite’s findings show that planet Earth actually releases heat into space, more than it retains it. The higher efficiency of releasing energy outside of Earth contradicts former forecasts of climate change.

Dr. Roy Spencer, a team leader for NASA’s Aqua satellite, studied a decade worth of satellite data regarding cloud surface temperatures…

…Other climate scientists disagreed with Dr. Spencer’s recent findings spotting flaws and calling his model “unrealistic.” The statistical information from the satellites are lacking as Spencer may not have accounted for fluctuations and other variables in the study.

Dr. Andrew Dessler, a Texas A&M University professor in atmospheric science, described Dr. Spencer’s report as nothing new nor correct.

“He’s taken an incorrect model, he’s tweaked it to match observations, but the conclusions you get from that are not correct,” said Dessler…

Full story…

Physorg.com was not so easily fooled-

A study on how much heat in Earth’s atmosphere is caused by cloud cover has heated up the climate change blogosphere even as it is dismissed by many scientists.

Several mainstream climate scientists call the study’s conclusions off-base and overstated. Climate change skeptics, most of whom are not scientists, are touting the study, saying it blasts gaping holes in global warming theory and shows that future warming will be less than feared. The study in the journal Remote Sensing questions the accuracy of climate computer models and got attention when a lawyer for the conservative Heartland Institute wrote an opinion piece on it.
The author of the scientific study is Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama Huntsville, a prominent climate skeptic. But even he says some bloggers are overstating what the research found. Spencer’s study is based on satellite data from 2000 to 2010 and is one of a handful of studies he’s done that are part of an ongoing debate among a few scientists…

Full story…


4 Responses to “The Science of Denial”

  • mike shupp:

    If you’re going to start thinking about climate warming and it seems a bad thing, and your thoughts lead you to the notion that human behavior may be a factor, then your thoughts are apt to continue on to the notion that maybe human behavior can be changed to undo the climate change.

    But this implies mechanisms to alter human behavior. Laws, taxes, regulations, that kind of thing. Conservatives and libertarians would rather have their internal organs removed without anesthesia that consent to such, so denying the reality of climiate warming is absolutely essential.

    This is all self enforcing. Suppose again we impose heavy carbon use taxes upon ourselves, shell out billions to subsidize wind mills and solar cells, and give countless hours of instruction to school children on “proper” behavior, and reach the year 2100 without catacylsmic global warming. Those who have been worried about global warming will proclaim the crisis was averted by such efforts; those who have poo-pooed the notion of global warming will argue that we’ve undergone heavy taxation, abusive regulation, and state-imposed brainwashing of children for absolutely no reason at all. And opinions on all this will likely not have changed by 2200.

    Creating a problem of sorts. I sort of gather that on both sides of the issue (at least here in the US) there’s a notion that action to deal with climate warming is basically wrong until we have a consensus on the need for such, with “consensus” meaning something like 90% agreement. This obviously isn’t going to happen soon. For the sake of the argument, should the US have gotten rid of slavery or given women the vote by waiting on a consensus to form?

  • Space:

    Good thoughts.

    Yeah, denial is an interesting and persistent thing. You are right. For a certain group, the problem can never be real, no matter what. Later if something gets done that makes a difference, that would be proof that it never was a problem.

    It reminds me of people complaining about what CARB did to reduce pollution in SoCal. The air got better, and now they think that is proof that those pesky gas gadgets on pumps don’t do anything.

    I think there is plenty of room to debate the details. We should expect climate models to change and improve. What doesn’t help at all is politicians and policy wanks from both sides just trying to exploit the problem, or lack of it. Deniers are not helping, and Al Gore isn’t either.

  • Continuing to conduct a global experiment of trying to increase temperatures to levels not seen since the early Eocene where sea levels were probably 90 meters higher than they are today is probably not a good idea!

    Moving towards a nuclear and renewable energy economy is good for creating jobs and wealth for the American economy and is good for the environment. Despite being struck by one of the largest earthquakes in global history combined with being struck by a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, radiation from the relatively primitive Fukushima reactors still haven’t killed anyone. No one has ever died from radiation in the US from commercial nuclear reactors.

    But even without the threat of global warming, being dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels in general is bad for the US economy and especially bad for the environment. It cost the US $30 to $70 billion a year to protect the Persian Gulf oil routes for an already heavily subsidized petroleum industry. And the annual global health cost of burning coal are estimated to range from $86 billion to $423 billion. Its really time to move away from the fossil fuel economy.

  • John:

    Considering the amount of pollution created manufacturing a single commercial wind turbine and supplying its backup is far more polluting than producing energy by conventional means. The insistence by the government that a CFL bulb is an vast improvement when in actuality its far more inefficient and dangerous for consumers and to the environment compared to the lowly incandescent bulb.

    No matter if you are liberal, conservative or in between, the mandated and over regulated decisions by government without consent or understanding affect the lives of all Americans.

    I remember simpler times when we built geodesic domes, used micro hydro for electricity, grew our own crops and used solar energy to heat our water without interference from the government. Today, new architectural designs and materials for construction and equipment designed by private industry have improved energy efficiencies far greater than any government agency could ever mandate.

    Instead of investing in modern methods of generating electricity, government mandated green slush funds and state municipalities are penalizing consumers with tiered energy rate hikes to funnel money into so-called green energy programs using archaic methods while consumers pay to subsidize foreign industries at the expense of the American industry and its workers.

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