Tag Archives: Changing beliefs

Who am I to say?

When I started this blog back in 2013, I had several questions. The most prominent was how I, as an interested member of the public, could assess who is right and who is wrong. At that time, I also was looking for information on how laymen/interested members of the public could figure this out.

Initially, I played with the idea to tackle this question by using logic. I abandoned the idea rather quickly. Formal fallacies could surely distinguish between who is right or wrong, but these are not exactly the fallacies that one can readily find in the debate.

I also found some information that layman/interested members of the public had other ways of evaluating a subject, but I didn’t find much details back then. So now and then during the last six years of blogging, I contemplated on these two questions, but until recently these stayed unanswered.

Until I got this comment on a post dissecting the claim that there had been a “sudden rapid growth” of the number of registered all-electric cars in Flanders:

Continue reading

Recovering my senses

In the beginning of October 2008, I was just a simple green person, minding his own business, voting for the Flemish green party since my early twenties, believing that there was an agreement between scientists that global warming is bad, that we are responsible and that we should do something about it. That seemed perfectly logical back then. Although I also had the impression that the scientists were exaggerating their case, I was convinced that they were basically right.

The issue of global warming surely interested me, but other things in life had priority and I never had a closer look at it. I felt strengthened by the fact that the scientists claimed that they had it all figured out. Heck, I was at the “right” side of the debate and that was a very comfortable position to be in. There was nothing left for me to do, just to trust.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2009 and I suddenly found myself deeply in the skeptical camp…

That is at the, gulp, “wrong” side of the debate.

How on Earth did someone like me get over there?

Continue reading

The lost Paradise

applebite

One of the things that changed when becoming more skeptical about global warming was my attitude towards climate. In my believers years I had a sense of (false) stability. I believed that the climate system was at its pinnacle and that we humans were adapted to it after so many centuries. But then, by emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, we added so much greenhouse gases that we are in the process of changing our climate.

Scientists in the media told us this time and time again. They are still telling it now. So why wouldn’t it be true?

Raised as a catholic this was something that sounded really familiar. We were accustomed to our specific climate and now, bang, by burning fossil fuels we were losing this safe and stable climate and we (or at least our children) will have to endure a changed, hostile climate. It has the Adam and Eve-story painted all over it. We bit the apple of emissions and now we were chased away from harmony of nature. We had it all, yet we blew it and now we have to pay for our sins.

Also from the environmental movements in the 1970s-1980s I got the image of “Mother Earth”. A poor figure collapsing under the unbearable pressure we load onto her. We humans were changing the earth. We were to blame, no doubt about that.

Another thing was my belief that the Nature was something incredibly feeble. Even a small change could knock it out of balance…

This is of course not what reality shows. I was living in an illusion. The climate is not static, it is not at its pinnacle either and it has the ability to balance. It is constantly evolving. We live in a world of extremes. The temperature difference between day and night can be dramatic. As between summer and winter. The same for other variables like precipitation. Even the climate (as an average of weather over decades) keeps on changing. It is more like a cycle than the straight line I envisioned it to be.

That poor Mother Earth image is not according to reality either. Mother Earth is also a raging mom. That feeble Mother Nature is much stronger than we are. Always have been in the past. As far as history learn us, countless (extreme) weather events killed countless humans over time. It didn’t just began to do this after we started burning fossil fuels. History is the witness we seem to neglect.

Nature and life are incredibly resilient. It should be in a ever changing world in which extreme events can and will happen. Humans have an incredible range in which they can live: from the freezing poles to the hot tropics. Gosh, there are animals and plants living there too. When looking closer, more species are living in the tropics than in the mid latitudes. The mid latitudes at its turn have more species than the poles. So I don’t really know were the fear of having less species in a warmer climate comes from. As my interest was always in Nature, I should have known such things. I guess emotions took over and abandoned reason.

In biology and ecology lessons I learned that all species live in their own niche. So even if species get extinct (happened in the past, happens now and surely will happen again in the future), those niches will be filled in by other, better adapted species.

Looking back to my not so distant past, it is no surprise that we think that by turning back the CO2 to pre-1950-levels we get back our paradise. Maybe that’s true, but that might be an illusion as well.

Trust and Certainty are not enough to convince

In the previous post I ended with the statement that it was not very comfortable on the “wrong” side of the debate, but nevertheless that this was the side I wanted to be on. That sounds a bit strange for someone green of heart. I am not masochistic either. How could this be?

In my believers years I perceived climate communication as something that was certain. The scientists seem to have their stuff in order. They had a real simple, easy to understand concept. And they looked sure, very sure. The science was clear. There was a consensus, you know, 97% of the scientists agree. The models agree with each other and allegedly show skill. The deniers just an uninformed, biased lot with an agenda. Connected with Big Oil and with Big Tobacco. I got to hear there are many pieces of evidence: raising sea levels, melting pole caps, increasing temperatures, extreme weather,… To summarize: we are heading to a disaster. There wasn’t much doubt about that.

Who would argue with that?

Although I had the impression that scientists in the media exaggerated matters, I believed the theory was basically true. Why would I doubt? It all looked plausible. Most people around me think the same. The media regurgitate the same things over and over. I am no scientist, so how would I know?

But when looking into the issue, things didn’t add up. I didn’t really understand, until I realized that climate is a complex and chaotic system. In such a system such high confidence levels can never be warranted. Settled science in a complex and chaotic system is suspect. Models of such a system are doomed to fail in such environments.

In a simple logical system this would definitely fly, but climate is not that kind of system. Therefor the many comparisons with straightforward forms of science, with the allusion that climate science is as certain/settled/…

There is only a couple decades of accurate global data. Before that, only sparse data that was never intended to be used that way. How can the science being certain when climate is about the long term data, that is not there yet? How to distinguish between a recovery of a cold period and anthropogenic global warming?

The assumed certainty clearly serves another purpose. My guess: political. It is about credibility. Even although I find myself in a minority view and although there is a strong resentment, even hostility, against this view, I find it increasingly difficult to stand behind this kind of “evidence”, How certain one may bring it.

That was then, this is now

Looking back at the time when I was a believer, the biggest change was the way of thinking. Back in those days my thinking was rigid. Black and white. It certainly had to do with the claimed urgency and the noble cause. This made me rather intolerant towards those who had a different idea. Those were people who “denied” the situation, who were in the grip of Big Oil (or generally Big Industry). This is what I knew from my previous history of environmental concerns and projected this onto the current global warming theory.

My thoughts were that politicians, the Government, had to fix the issue and was prepared on cutting back, was prepared to sacrifice considerably economically and in comfort. That was certainly the result of the “noble cause”-thinking. If the issue is so important and so urgent as propagated, then sacrificing something was not a problem, even a sense of duty, something we have to do.

But it was not really thinking, it was believing. I believed what the scientists in the media were saying. I believed the science was clear and settled. I didn’t look at it, I believed scientists did this for me. There was an alleged consensus and I was perfectly happy with that. More, I thought it was a good base for urgent policies.

It is hard to admit, but at that time I admired Al Gore. Although I was thinking that his film (The Inconvenient Truth) would certainly exaggerating things, I was of the opinion that his efforts on climate were nevertheless highly admirable. I thought the end justified the means. To be honest, he is thinking that also. He believes that it is appropriate to over-represent his case in order to let the people listen to his preconceived solution. And exaggerating he does!

The switch occurred when I realized that the stories I was told didn’t add up. It surprised me how small the base was for those claims. How emotionally based the message was.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean something is true. If the argument relies on a consensus it means it was not possible to unequivocally demonstrate the truth. I was surprised to find out that this “consensus” was an opinion, not a scientific fact. That was what I believed: that climate scientists, who examined the issue methodically, found clear-cut evidence that proved the urgency. But that seemed not be the case. The evidence is based on statistics, assumptions, scarce data, but above all on the result on climate models. The more I looked at the showed “evidence”, the more I noticed that especially the outcome of the climate models was taken as reality.

It was very strange to realize my thinking made a u-turn and to my big surprise I found myself in the opposite camp. To be honest, it is not a very comfortable position on the other side of the debate, yet it is the side I want to be on.

Things I took for granted: when the blades of a windmill turn, it is saving fossil fuel somewhere else

In a strange way I do like windmills. They look majestic and the slow turning of the blades had something meditative. There also is that part of When the blades are turning, it is producing energy and therefor saving fossil fuels somewhere else. It is a nice thought, but is it also true? I didn’t gave it much thought until I experienced something that made me think.

Just before the Millennium I bought a house and renovated it, As someone green at heart I wanted some green technology in it. I thought a solar panel would be nice. When asking around I heard that solar panels that produce electricity were not efficient yet. I was advised to take a solar panel that heats water in a boiler. The principle was really straight forward. The sun heats the water that goes in that boiler. If I need warm water and the water isn’t warm enough, the central heating system would heat it up in stead. If the water was warm enough I had actually water heated by the sun. Simple as that.

It looked promising. Even when there wasn’t that much of sunlight the indicator light on the sun boiler was lighting up. My water was heated by the sun and it saved the gas that otherwise was needed to heat that same water. Nice, it worked!

But there were some problems too. The central heating system didn’t work that well. It took a looong time before the room was warm. This was a new system, so I feared that the capacity of the central heating system was not well calculated and my system was underpowered. Not really threatening, but quite an inconvenience. Probably my own mistake. What goes around comes around.

Other things made me think also. One summer I powered off my central heating. My assumption was that I only used warm water in summer. That shouldn’t be a problem when sun was shining. So no need for a central heating system for heating water. The sun boiler should be enough. That didn’t go well. Although the indicator light was on most of the time (and water was being heated) the water that came out of the system was only lukewarm.

Forward somewhat later. I heard strange noises in the solar system and I unplugged it. But this had quite some consequences. When I put on the heating, the room heated up in a jiffy … the system was not underpowered after all. It worked just fine. The problem seemed to be the solar installation or the link between the solar installation with the central heating system.

But if the central heating had problems to heat the room, then it was running longer, so needing more gas. Was this really true? To try this out I left the solar system off for a longer period. Then came the winter. The central heating wasn’t struggling, indeed less gas was needed to come to the desired room temperature and the room warmed up much faster than before.

I don’t know why the installation was faulty. Maybe there was a fault in production. Or it wasn’t properly installed. Or it didn’t work well with my central heating system. Or I couldn’t expect more from this early generation solar installation. Or my consumption pattern of warm water wasn’t compatible with the system. Or whatever.

The point I want to make is: when the alternative energy source is only a tiny portion of the total energy produced, it is really difficult to know if you are saving energy or not. I didn’t notice that it took more energy than it produced. My thought was that I was saving gas because the indicator light was on, but that was clearly not the case.

The same when generating electricity with wind/solar. Can we be sure that when the blades of a windmill are turning energy is saved somewhere? Wind energy as well as solar energy are intermittent and used in a system that needs a constant power production. This means the production of electricity will depend on the wind or the sun, not on our consumption. We can not trust wind and/or solar to produce energy when it is needed, so backup power needs to be provided. Which is using (fossil) fuel. But with only a few percent of solar and wind in the energy mix, nobody will ever notice if we are either saving fossil fuels, breaking even or using more of it in the process.

Things I took for granted: tree rings are accurate temperature proxies

treeringthermometer

The biggest hurdle I took in my quest to understand the global warming story was a graph called the Hockey Stick. It represents the temperatures over the last 1,000 years. I believed what I was seeing and saw this as a proof of the current anthropogenic global warming. I found it everywhere and was done by scientists, so naively I thought it had to be correct. If temperatures stayed stable for about 1,000 years and the last hundred years took of like a rocket, how much proof do one need to have, considering that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas and we emit loads of it into the atmosphere.

Tree-rings showed how warm or cold the climate was, I had no real problem with that, I learned that in primary school. The higher the temperature, the wider the tree-ring. The lower the temperature, the smaller the tree-ring. Just count and measure them and you are done. This was confirmed by scientists who declared that Bristlecones pines were good proxies for temperatures of the past because they live long.

There was the word: proxies. Thousand years ago there were no thermometers. The temperatures back then were measured not by instruments that measure temperature, but by something that is influenced by temperatures. That is a proxy. Temperatures have an influence on the width of tree-rings. True, but are they good indicators of past temperatures?

Looking at the background. Trees are complex organisms. They react on temperature, sure, but also on a bunch of other things. Beside temperature they react on:

  • precipitation
  • nutrients
  • disease
  • wind
  • sunlight
  • competition with other trees
  • competition with animals
  • local variations
  • concentration of carbon dioxide in the air
  • events like storms, lighting,…
  • and probably many, many more…

That makes it different from thermometer. Thermometers measure temperature via the expansion/contraction of a substance, which is representative for the current temperature. There is a direct relation between the expansion/contraction and the temperature. Hence the ability to measure temperature.
On the other hand, temperature has an influence on the width of tree rings, but this is not direct. The tree rings translate the temperature signal, but also those other signals. The temperature signal is diluted in the other signals, there will be a lot of noise in the tree rings. Getting rid of the noise and distilling only the temperature signal will not be possible if nothing is known about the other signals.

There are other things: datasets from trees are sparse. There aren’t that many very old trees. How to compare with modern datasets with real thermometers? Temperature readings of thermometers are read every day at least two times, sometimes a reading every hour. Tree rings one a year. Tree-rings depend on the tree and the period it lived.
A lot of fuss about sparse data, where did I hear that before?

Back to my own story: the Hockey Stick was the difficult hurdle to take. It was difficult because I began to realize that the media brought one sided information about the climate, but wasn’t that far to realize that it was necessary to be critical, not just assume that something was true because the majority thinks so.

Why did I took it for granted? It is a combination of several things:

  • I just looked at the graph and what it meant seemed obvious. I even saw it as proof that humans were causing global warming.
  • I trusted science. I had no reason to believe the scientists were biased in any way or that the information that reached me was one-sided.
  • The graph was found everywhere I searched for historical temperature data. I had no reason to think this could be one-sided information, it seemed straight forward.
  • It was presented as something evident: there was no doubt about this. For example scientists state that “tree rings are a good proxy” because they live long. I didn’t realize that he probably meant a proxy in time, not necessarily a reliable proxy for temperature. Big difference.
  • The basis looks simple and straight forward: warmer: bigger rings. colder: smaller rings. It didn’t seem rocket science. What I forgot to take into account was that a tree is a living thing and reacting on the many influences in its environment. It was brought too simple, but a little bit of thinking would have discovered flaws in the reasoning.

When I think back about this period, I ask myself the big question: how could I ever believed tree rings are thermometers in disguise? How could I ever have believed this stuff?

Things I took for granted: Global Mean Temperature

earth-thermometer

For the alarmist mind climate can not been more simple. Carbon dioxide levels go up, temperatures goes up. Whatever weather event we encounter is caused or influenced by it. Nothing can even disprove this, there is no room for doubts with this simple logic.

This logic is based on several misconceptions. In some next posts I will explore some of misconceptions I had and how they changed.

The first misconception (being adrressed in this post) is: the earth has a global temperature, this is measured and it is going up in a way that is causing alarm. It even seemed to be accurate enough to capture an 0.8 °C increase in temperature over 160 years.

Just a couple years ago I had no doubt that this was feasible and that the science was mature enough to achieve this kind of accuracy. In my believer years I especially looked at the NASA-Giss dataset. Not really a surprise: this dataset is extensively used by alarmist minds and it had an aura of being trustworthy. Let’s look more into it.

Strange things start to happen when a person start to think logically about the things that surrounds him. I came to the realization that in reality the concept of a Global Temperature does not exist and it seems absurd claiming we could measure it accurately.

To begin with, temperature varies a lot. Not only in location, but also in time. In humans, taking a temperature is really simple. Stick a thermometer in your mouth, read the value and you will have an accurate measurement of the temperature inside the body.

Not so in Earth. There is not one convenient place where the temperature of the earth can be measured. For example in Belgium the South-East part (The Ardennes) has the highest elevation and in general has colder temperatures than the rest of the country. In the North-West there is the North sea and temperatures are moderate there. In the North-East there are more extremes in highs and lows. So even in a tiny country as Belgium there are several different influences on temperatures.

Even on a more local scale there are differences. I live near a hill, smack in the middle of the country. On that hill there is woodland and this has a slightly different temperature than its surroundings. Also a few kilometers from where I live there is another hill with a micro-climate where it is warm enough to cultivate grapes, something which is not possible in the place where I live, even being within walking distance.

There is not only a huge variation according to the location, each point will vary throughout the day and night. It will be coldest in the morning just before sunrise and warmest in the afternoon. Also there will be variation throughout the year (coldest in winter, warmest in summer and spring/autumn in between). And probably also longer cycles of 30, 60, 200 years,…

So, no place on earth will have the same temperature for very long during the day and temperatures will change constantly. Measuring the mean temperature will be quite a challenge. It is not possible to measure temperature at all those places, so the next best thing will be to measure as many points as possible. As been done in surface temperature datasets as GISS and HadCrut.

If all those stations were kept in the same way, this would give us some more idea of the temperature evolution over time (at least for the measured spots), but this is not the case. Stations are dropped, moved, instruments changed, surroundings changed,… Inevitably, the mean temperature will be the result of a statistical analysis, hopefully a good representation of the real temperature.

When one wants meaningful results, samples must be representative of the population. Bias in sampling will influence the end result. The problem here is that surface stations are situated in specific places. In or near cities, airports and other places where people most likely live. Excluding places where people normally don’t live (mountains, deserts,…). In the GISS dataset, most of the samples are taken from the United Stated, some in Europe and Asia and only very few in Africa and Australia.

This is called Convenience sampling. This means there is no real random sampling. Not all points have the same chance of being measured. Although convenience sampling has it merits, it is definitely not the right way to sample for a mean temperature. Especially when instruments/locations/… change over time.

Sampling in convenient places means sampling in/near cities and airports, therefor attributing to Urban Heat Island effect. Due to pavements/asphalt/buildings more heat is accumulated during the day and irradiated at night, therefor leading to higher temperatures than without these constructions. This could be compensated, but this will mean starting from assumptions. The more the assumptions agree with reality, the more accurate the result. But how to correctly compensate for all this bias?

This is not the only bias. I already learned about other siting biases like weather stations located next to air conditioner units, close to buildings and parking lots, even one on the roof of a building. These things undoubtedly will have an influence on the temperature reading and on the results after the calculations. Discovering this measurement bias was my first turning point from a believer to a skeptic view.

The ultimate question will be: how much does this non random sampling matters? That is an open question. Maybe the rest of the potential measurements cancels the bias of measurements out. But then, maybe not. Systematic bias is very unlikely to cancel out. If one want to have a result from this incomplete data it will necessary to make assumptions about the quantity of the bias.

Look at how the GISS dataset morphed over a couple decades from a cycle to almost a straight line. Which gives the impression that the scary result is dependent on new assumptions, not new measurements.

That is only land temperature. Earth is covered 75% by water. Measuring temperatures was first done by sticking a thermometer in a bucket of water drawn from the ocean over automatic systems of measuring the temperature of water in the intake port of large ships to buoys. It went from very scarce data in the past to more detailed information from 2003 (Argo).

What about satellite data? Coverage is much better, although not 100% of the surface (there are slices that aren’t covered and there is a gap at the pole). But these are not the datasets being used by alarmists and only 30 years worth of data.

But, but, doesn’t the Giss dataset is temperature anomaly, not absolute temperatures? Sure, it is and has it advantages and disadvantages. Maybe more on this in a later post. In Giss the result is the difference between the measured temperatures against the average temperature between 1951-1980. Smack in a period when there was a new ice age scare. Compare a current temperature with a average low temperature and this current temperature will be over accentuated.

Ultimately, why did I took it for granted? Every time I heard about it, I was used as something evident: “the temperature of the earth is rising”. This made me think it was evident. Science made quite some progress, why wouldn’t it possible that the temperature of the earth could be determined? But the temperature of earth is incredibly complex and ever changing. Now when someone tells me that the temperature of the earth (510 million square kilometers) could be measured with an accuracy of 0.1 °C from biased samples containing the data of a couple thousand stations, I would think it is ridiculous, something not to be taken seriously.

How not to compare thunderstorm days

onweer_blauw

This is part of my story – you might see the category: My Story first if you haven’t already (begin at the bottom of the page and work yourself up).

Since my beliefs in Global Warming had crumbled I got the desire to be able to check out some things myself and not to rely on the opinion of others. But what could I do as an interested layman to achieve this goal? The first thing I intended to do was to take a closer look at the messages that appeared in the media, but not to take them on face value as I did before. My impression until then was that the mainstream media tells a very one sided story climate-wise and it could be interesting to discover the neglected data…

This is about the first story I checked. It made an impression back then. We write August 23, 2011. A big thunderstorm crossed Belgium. I experienced it when I was at work. It was surreal: at about 10 AM it gradually got darker and darker, until it was pitch black. It seemed like it was night time. Then came the wind, rain and thunder. Afterwards we learned that it was so dark because the thundercloud was about 16 kilometer high and not much sunlight could come through. A couple days before (August 18) we also had a heavy local thunderstorm which killed 5 music lovers at Pukkelpop festival when a tent collapsed and 140 others needed medical attention.

As expected, the next day I found articles in newspapers that made the connection of these storms with Global Warming. One such story was in the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws of August 24, 2011. The title over two full pages was: “87,000 lightings and more rain than previous storm” and subtitle (over almost one page) “Warming of the earth increases storms” (translated from Dutch):

Coincidence? Yes and no
Two very severe thunderstorms in less than a week time: could this still be a coincidence? “Yes and no” according to Luc Debontridder. It is a coincidence that these thunderstorms are so severe. But it is certain that there are more thunderstorms than in the past. We reexamined the numbers and noticed that the number of detected thunderstorms in the previous decades did increase: from on average 88 days per year in the 1980s to 94 days now. Be careful: literary every thunder-activity on Belgian area is in this number. A thunderstorm that makes havoc in for example Vlaams-Brabant, but didn’t effect Limburg, will be counted as 1 thunderstorm day. But the increase of 88 to 94 thunderstorm days is irrefutable and according to Debontridder blamed on global warming.
The prominent Belgian climate expert Jean-Pascal van Ypersele confirms this. “When the climate warms by greenhouse gases and the temperature rises, there will be more evaporation from the oceans and seas, that is the way it is. Therefor clouds will be filled with more water vapor and those clouds will turn quicker into thurderstorm clouds. I see those weather extremes increase in the next 30 to 40 years anyway, says van Ypersele.

At first glance this seemed rather balanced: according to both of them, the severity of both thunderstorms was a coincidence, but not the frequency. There doesn’t seem to be strange looking statements. But yet some things caught my attention.

[…] We reexamined the numbers […]
What do they mean by this exactly? Did they simply looked at the numbers again when the last two thunderstorms came over? Or did they reexamined/adjusted/normalized/reconstructed the historical/current data? Whatever, after this “reexamining” they noticed an increase of 6 thunderstorm days per year in comparison with the 1980s.
[…] literary every thunder-activity on Belgian area is in this number […]
It seems the author left a back-door open. It tells us that these numbers alone will not say much. A local storm will have exactly the same weight as a heavy storm over the entire country. There are 6 storm days more per year on average. This could well be small local storms. With such a way of counting this doesn’t necessarily mean a significant change.
[…] from on average 88 days per year in the 1980s to 94 days now […]
The way this is stated reminded me of a statement I read some time ago. Can’t find the reference a the moment, but here is the gist: the mean temperature of the previous decade was compared with the mean temperature of the current decade and the conclusion was that the current average was higher. But when one looked at the current trend it went down. The fact the mean was higher was because the beginning of the period was much warmer and this pulled the mean upwards. So with this in mind this statement caught my attention. It also made me wonder if there was a specific reason why they skipped the 1990s altogether and took the 1980s to compare with?

I went searching what was known about thunderstorms in Belgium. I didn’t find much (what didn’t come as a surprise at all), but found that the climate experts of the KNMI(Royal Meteorologic Institute of the Netherlands) were not so sure about this connection (translated from Dutch):

[…] To what extend climate change effects thunderstorms and lightning is difficult to determine. The data series with observations of the number of thunderstorm days are of variable quality and don’t say anything about the frequency of lightning. […]

That is an interesting statement. “Variable quality”. Probably it means no consistent measurements over time? This made me wonder if this was the same for our country? After some searching, it seems KMI (Royal Metereologic Institute of Belgium) used manual systems (which only partly detected lighting activity) and those were replaced in August 1992 by SAFIR (Système d’Alerte Foudre par Interférométrie Radioélectrique) which can detect lightnings with a high resolution. SAFIR was later extended to BELLS (BElgian Lightning Location System) with an even higher resolution.

For those who don’t yet get it: 1992 is just after their base period of the 1980s. Let me rephrase that: KMI replaced in 1992 a low resolution system with a high resolution system. So in the 1980s they used a system that didn’t detect all thunderstorms. In the 2000s they used a automatic system that detects much more thunderstorms, if not all. How did they manage to compare those two correctly? Maybe they had to adjust the previous measurement data to be able to compare those two? Is that what they meant by “reexamining” the numbers?

It is true that if you count the observed number of thunderstorm days you will find more in this decade compared to the 1980s, there is no doubt about that. But they “forgot” to mention that there are better detection methods now than back then in the 1980s.

The making of The Hockey Stick

MBH98

The Hockey Stick (MBH98)

My story from believer to skeptic – part 3
You might see Part 1 or
Part 2 first if you haven’t already.

In Part 2 I explained I started to realize that the global warming alarmism was just a gross exaggeration, not always backed by the observations. But the alarmist side still had a convincing argument. The last hurdle to take was the temperature chart of the last 1000 year. I came to know the name of this chart: The Hockey Stick. It was made by Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes in 1998 (MBH98) and was extended in 1999 (MBH99). It represented temperatures of the Northern Hemisphere over the last 1000 years. It showed a slowly rising of the temperature (the shaft) until the last -let’s say 100 years- when it went completely through the roof (the blade).

This chart was been found everywhere I looked for proof of human fingerprint of the warming due to CO2. I still was really naive at that time and I believed this graph was correct because it popped up about everywhere. How could this be incorrect after so many people eyeballing it? I compared it to the system of Open Software in which bugs gets removed by maximum exposure to many people that get access to it. The more people look at it, the quicker the bugs can be found and eliminated. So my thoughts were, the more that Hockey Stick figure gets reviewed, if there were errors in it, the quicker they would be found.

It was confusing. If this graph really was true, then my new understanding about climate didn’t even matter, then there was a very good reason for sounding the alarm. It was clear for all to see. In the time frame in which man was developing rapidly, temperatures went through the roof. It couldn’t be more clear.

In the meanwhile it became January 2009, about three months after I started my quest. At that time I became a regular visitor of a site called ClimateAudit. It is run by a Canadian mathematician Stephen McIntyre. I didn’t realize it, but he was an important factor in the investigation of the hockey stick graph. Together with Ross McKitrick (a Canadian environmental economist of the University of Guelph) he investigated the graph and they found things didn’t add up.

The Wegman report

One day, when I visited the blog, I checked the links bar on the left in stead of directly start reading the articles. There I stumbled on a link to the Wegman Report (left link bar, under “Links”). From previous searches I remembered vaguely that it had something to do with the Hockey Stick. I downloaded the report and started to read. I was baffled. The more I read it, the more I realized the Hockey Stick probably was based on faulty assumptions, bad statistics and probably a too close related group of scientists. This was the final drop in a bucket almost full.

To come back to the report. Edward Wegman is a statistician (Center For Computational Statistics, George Mason University) and he made this report for U.S. Congress in 2006. Some issues of the many parts that shook me (my bold):

The controversy of Mann’s methods lies in that the proxies are centered on the mean of the period 1902-1995, rather than on the whole time period. This mean is, thus, actually decentered low, which will cause it to exhibit a larger variance giving it preference for being selected, as the first principal component. The net effect of this decentering using the proxy data in MBH98 and MBH99 is to produce a “hockey stick” shape. Centering the mean is a critical factor in using the principal component methodology properly. It is not clear that Mann and associates realized the error in their methodology at the time of publication. Because of the lack of full documentation of their data and computer code, we have not been able to reproduce their research. We did, however, successfully recapture similar results to those of MM [McIntyre & McKitrick]. This recreation supports the critique of the MBH98 methods, as the offset of the mean value creates an artificially large deviation from the desired mean value of zero.

After MBH99, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick [MM03] published their critique of the 1998 paper, citing calculation errors, unjustified truncation or extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location errors and incorrect calculation of principal components. They also claimed that using the MBH98 methodology and the Northern Hemisphere average temperature index for the period 1400-1980 shows that temperatures in the 15th century exceeded those of the late 20th century. In particular, they claim that MBH98’s incorrect usage of PCA alone resulted in the well-known “hockey stick” shape.

Wow, this was heavy! The hockey stick didn’t seem to be withstand scrutiny well. As far as I could understand it, the uptick at the end was not derived from the data itself, but was formed from an incorrect usage of methodology, combined with the use of a proxy that doesn’t seem to be a good proxy for temperature in the first place. Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick went even further and tested the methodology itself. They took red noise (a kind of random data) and combined it with the Bristlecone data. They found that this created hockey sticks in 99% of the cases. Oops.

More info

This story of the investigation of the hockey stick is broader than the Wegman report. But this report was the trigger for looking into the issue in more detail. The best summery of this story is written by Marcel Crok in NatuurWetenschappen & Techniek: a very clear and well researched NWT article in pdf format. Best to look at this pdf before continue, in order to be able to situate the impact it had on me.

Even more background information (on this page is a link to a pdf file with the background information).
Finally, the Hockey Stick Project page with the complete time line and responses to criticism on their investigation.

The impact

Why this report (and the papers of McIntyre and McKitrick on the Hockey Stick) had such an impact on me?

  • It showed that my assumption that the graph was properly eyeballed didn’t hold. It took a lot of time and effort of at least one person (and probably three persons or more) to get hold of the methods and data to be able to review it. It took me by surprise that the information that proved anthropogenic global warming was not organized or documented. This didn’t make much sense to me. How could that very important data not being available for all to investigate? Is this how scientists behave when they have crucial data that is important for explaining “the most important problem of human kind”!?!? The eyeballing I presumed was only the peer review that was apparently done within a small group of closely related people. We should expect more scrutiny of data that affect policy decisions.
  • The graph depended heavily on statistics, but when statisticians reviewed this paper, they found many errors in it, not detected by the (much celebrated) peer-review process. This got me thinking about what this peer review was all about. In this case it definitely wasn’t the gold standard it was told to be.
  • It was the first time that I noticed the political side behind climate science (the graph was prominent in the 2001 IPCC report).

The final result is that I am not much impressed anymore with someone showing a hockey stick result as proof of global warming and there have been many since.

Ending

And hey, we know the temperatures in the 20th century went up. What’s the big deal? Sure, temperatures went up in last century, but that was not the claim. The claim was that the temperatures of the 1990s were the highest of the last 1000 years, but this doesn’t follow from the data.

I couldn’t see this in the past, because I didn’t look at the data and just believed what others told me (others who obvious didn’t look at the data either). This is a viscous circle. People read that CAGW is true, don’t check the data and pass the message on. In this way it looks as if this is an universal truth, because the same message is mentioned everywhere.

Stephen McIntyre and his blog certainly had a huge influence on me. What influenced me most was the expression to check things oneself and in the end this is what I began to do. That was one of the reasons why I started this blog and adopted this blog name.