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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Dragons, Scorpions, and Climate Change Deniars

Timothy Birdnow

A thoughtful and polite reader - Pete Ridley - has directed our attention to a blogpost by Judith Curry about the "dragonslayers", men like Dr. Tim Ball, or John O'Sullivan, etc. who have made it their life's work to debunk Global Warming. Of course, after reading the piece - which consists primarily of a letter from a climatologist named Grant Petty - I had to make a thorough rebuttal. Here is the entire exchange:

May I suggest that readers pay a visit to Professor Judith Curry's "Letter to the Dragon Slayers" thread ( for a set of interesting comments about "Slayers" Tim Ball, John O'Sullivan, Ken Coffman, etc. Michael Scherr and others associated with them.
Several issues are in dispute so some of you may be able to resolve some of the differences.
Best regards, Pete Ridley

Hi Pete! Thanks for visiting our website; feel free to visit at any time.

Thanks for providing the link to Dr. Curry's post (and Dr. Petty's letter). It is interesting, and he makes a good case (Dr. Petty, not the more comely Dr. Curry :) ) I have to disagree with a couple of his fundamental assumptions, though.

Dr. Petty states;

"I am quite confident that you vastly overestimate the role of fraudulent claims
and fundamental errors in the science. The nature of real modern science
is that fraudulent claims don’t go undetected long, because too many
people are working on pieces of the same giant jigsaw puzzle, and when
pieces don’t fit, they look around for the reason."

This is demonstrably untrue, in any number of ways. For example, most of the research that is being done is based on computer models but uses data put out by only a few outlets. CRU, UAH, GISS, and a couple of others collect raw data and process it, then send it to the researchers who plug it into their computer models. Now, they all tend to use the same models, and groupthink often applies. A few years ago S. Fred Singer and some others did a test of those models, plugging in past data to see if they could predict current conditions. They couldn't. But the researchers continue to use them anyway, because they are the approved versions. And they continue to use the processed data from places like CRU. The e-mail scandal at CRU illustrates that the data is, well, not totally fictitious but whenever there was doubt it was assumed that temperatures were higher. Anthony Watts did a survey of the temperature stations, and found some terrible practices. Many stations were closed and their data assumed based on other stations, some of which were over a hundred miles away. Many stations had cities blossom around them, subjecting them to the urban heat island effect. Yet this is the data (with it's strong warming bias) used by people like Drs. Petty and Curry.

And do not forget the journals. The CRU e-mails revealed a concerted attempt by the "Hockey Team" to force journal editors only to publlish alarmist literature. They succeeded in forcing out several editors, I might add, for doing just that. I chronicled some of it here

Dr. Petty destroys his own case;

"And no one has any incentive to let others get away with bad science – on the contrary,
science is very competitive when it comes to getting funding. Do you
realize that only a fraction of submitted proposals get funded, and that
academic scientists’ promotion and tenure depend on their getting funded?
Everyone’s goal is to show that they can find and patch shortcomings in
the science and to answer the unanswered questions so as to improve their
own standing."

And there you have it. It works in the opposite direction from that assumed by Dr. Petty. The most breathless, most apocalyptic pronouncements gets the funding, not the guy who says that, well, yes the planet has warmed a slight bit but it may not be anything but a natural phonomenon. Remember, that funding comes from foundations, from charities, and most of all from government. The donations made for this research expects results - and by results we mean big, flashy things. Many of these donars have a vested interest in promoting the radical changes in lifestyle that Global Warming can only provide. Governments are particularly eager; it allows a massive expansion of government and a huge ingathering of power. There is constant pressure to provide the science to justify AGW, and the actions deemed necessary to remedy it. Of course, the Third World wants it; it leads to massive redistribution of wealth and a chance to catch up with the First World. The way this works is, when in doubt, shout!

And that is precisely what happened with the BEST research. Dr. Curry herself became upset at the way her co-researcher handled the media, arguing that the BEST research drove a stake through the heart of Global Warming skepticism. It didn't; a graph of the data shows statistically insignificant warming in recent years, and that was only surface data to boot. But it didn't stop Dr. Richard Muller from blabbing to the press, and trotting out a hockey-stick type graph. Dr. Curry came out publicly against Muller (it would have been impossible to do otherwise) and Muller walked it back, but the damage was done in the media.

This, at least, is how it's supposed to work; Muller overstepped his data. But often the data is flawed, and the interpretation of that data, well, open to interpretation. And as for tenure; once you've got it you are pretty much untouchable, so you can fudge all you want. Look at Michael Mann, who is STILL employed by Penn State.

In point of fact, the peer review of which Petty speaks is happening not in the journals but in the "deniar" community. Dr. Petty becomes quite petty about it, too;

"you will close your eyes to that evidence forever
and continue to be the conspiracy theorists who believe that you’re
modern-day Galileos fighting the evil scientific establishment, and
everything you see and hear will be forced to fit into that paranoid
world-view no matter how divorced from reality it is. And in your
missionary zeal, you’ll drag real scientists into court and try to prove
that they’re frauds and liars, costing them and their families time,
money, and personal distress. And in the end, you’ll succeed in proving
that only in your own eyes, because most or all of them are actually just
trying to do good science."

Does it not occur to Dr. Petty that it is perhaps he and the establishment types who are willfully closing their eyes? It is the alarmist who have called for Nuremberg trials for "deniars", who have demanded (as Heidi Cullen of the Weather channel did) for the revocation of licences of meteorologists who refuse to accept the established view, who have pressured editors to not publish "deniar" work in journals and have launched lawsuits and personal attacks to destroy them. That Dr. Petty does not know or does not care about the abuses from his own side of the discussion speaks volumes in itself.

In the end it is Dr. Petty and his friends who defend Lysenkoism here.

At any rate, thanks for visiting and an interesting piece for me to dissect, Pete! Please feel free to visit, and do help us keep up the discussion. I realize you do not agree with us, and that is fine, because we both can learn from the other.


A couple of other points that occured to me after posting my reply:

1.Dr. Petty complains about "dragonslayers" yet does nothing to address the climatologists, meteorologsists, geologists, physicists, etc. who are part of the movement. He acts as though he's dealing with laymen such as myself. He's not; look at the list of scientists at the NIPCC, for instance. What of Roy Spencer, John Christie, Patrick Michaels, S. Fred Singer, the late Frederich Seitz? I could go on, but we all know the list is too long to post here. These aren't auto mechanics with firearms in their basements clinging to their God and guns; these are (or were, until the alarmists and media slimed them) well respected, credible members of the science community doing the research.

2.Dr. Petty dismisses all of the previous such scares and bad science. Remember Alar? Remember Dioxin? For that matter, remember eugenics? There truly WAS a "global cooling" scare in the '70's, although it didn't have time to ramp up because we entered a warming period. Remember nuclear winter? How about Freudian theory and Margaret Mead? The list goes on and on - and the science did eventually fall, but there was nowhere near the amount of political and social capital invested in these things as in this AGW theory.

3.Dr. Petty doesn't seem to realize that there actually ARE credible scientists debunking AGW theory. The NIPCC is one such example. While nobody denies that the planet has warmed modestly in the 20th century, the cause of that warming is much in dispute. Yes, carbon dioxide has risen, but correlation does not necessitate causality. The fact that we have had a long pause - 16 years (since the El Nino year of 1998 was an anomaly) discredits the theory upon which the models are based. Yet Dr. Petty is content to refer to those who point this out as some sort of flat-Earthers. HE is the one with eyes closed.

4.Dr. Petty ignores the recent discoveries in astronomy that suggest astral factors influencing climate. He rightly does not feel competent going outside of his own field, but he should give at least a passing nod to the research being done there. Too many climatologists refuse to accept the notion that they cannot understand climate without understanding astronomical influences. Yet Piers Corbyn regularly makes good weather predictions based on space weather.

In the end, while Dr. Petty may have made a good try, he ultimately has done more harm than good, at least on this website.

I hope we hear more from Pete, because he is a polite and thoughtful interlocutor and it would be nice to have a frank and open discussion of this issue.

As for Dr. Curry, she would do well to remember the tale of the frog and the scorpion. In the end, "it's my nature" will bring her down as well.

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