By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project
Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
Skepticism: In an essay titled “Be Skeptical of Those Who Treat Science as an Ideology” appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann discusses the difference between anti-science and skepticism, and the difference between denialism and skepticism. As an oncologist, faced with treating patients dying with cancer, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann recognized the importance of honesty and integrity in building trust with her patients. She writes: [Boldface added.]
“When I was a practicing oncologist, one way I built trust with patients was to be open and honest about what I knew for certain and what I didn’t. On my best days, I didn’t just talk; I listened. I answered patients’ questions to the best of my knowledge and did follow-up research on the ones I couldn’t answer. If I witnessed an outcome I didn’t expect, I revisited my assumptions. That’s how I applied the scientific method in the wild.”
As the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann continues to apply the scientific method.
“I follow a similar approach in my current job. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation uses a data-driven, evidence-based decision-making model. When the evidence changes, so does our strategy—as it did with malaria. Once it was clear that controlling the disease world-wide was practically and politically unsustainable, we increased our focus on accelerating elimination in regions where it is feasible now. At the same time, we’re continuing to support efforts to save lives and develop the tools that will eventually allow us to eradicate the disease.”
“What is undeniable is that the scientific breakthroughs in which we invest, such as new vaccines and hardier crops, help people around the world survive and thrive. How many more people benefit—and how quickly—will depend in part on public confidence in science.
“We can rebuild that confidence by uniting around the qualities of the scientific method. As the name suggests, the scientific method is not a belief system, it is a practice. We would all benefit from more practice.”
The continuing ability to question and challenge assumptions as data are gathered is essential.
“Skepticism is the lifeblood of scientific progress. By constantly asking whether there is a different answer, a better approach or an alternative view, scientists drive improvements and innovations that ultimately benefit everyone. It is not “antiscience” to be skeptical—it’s definitively pro-science. At a time when people of all ideological stripes are seeking definitive sources of truth, we should all embrace our inner skeptics and turn to the scientific method for a fresh approach to resolve our differences.”
Over-confidence to the public, not skepticism, are characteristics of an anti-science attitude.
“But whereas skepticism and uncertainty have always been the heart and soul of science, confidence and certainty are the coin of the realm in much of today’s public discourse. Unquestioning confidence is deeply troubling for the scientific community because it is not the currency we trade in, and it has led people in America and around the world to question scientific enterprise itself. We should all be troubled when science is treated as if it were an ideology rather than a discipline.”
Whether it is medicine or establishing government energy policy, applying the scientific method, and constantly questioning assumptions as evidence changes is essential.
“The point of science is not to produce doctrine, but to collect and test evidence that points toward conclusions, which in turn inform approaches, treatments and policies based on rigorous research. These conclusions are provisional. Scientific investigation is undertaken to question today’s knowledge, to seek new evidence through research and experimentation.
“That is not to say that previous evidence was ‘false,’ merely that it was less complete. Those surgeons who performed radical mastectomies in the 1980s were acting with the best knowledge available at that time. As the understanding improved, so did the methods. Nor is it to say that current knowledge shouldn’t be trusted—there is strong evidence that vaccines save lives, for example, and scant evidence that they cause harm.”
The refusal to examine evidence, favorable or unfavorable to a set of assumptions, is harmful.
“Valuing beliefs over science manifests itself as cynicism at best, denialism at worst. Scientists talk about skepticism to assert that nothing should be accepted or rejected without considerable evidence. Denialism—the refusal to accept established facts—is different and dangerous. According to Harvard research, between 2000 and 2005 AIDS denialism in South Africa led to an estimated 330,000 deaths because the government rejected offers of free drugs and grants and dragged its heels on establishing a treatment program.”
Although they may be important, science is not advanced by a government gathered consensus, as much as by the practice of continuingly questioning assumptions based on the most rigorous, appropriate evidence. See Article # 1.
Quote of the Week. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules. The rules of the game are what we mean by fundamental physics. – Richard Feynman
Number of the Week: Three Years, Up or Down?
Greenland Ice Sheet: There has been strong disagreement among some researchers if the Greenland Ice Sheet is losing mass due to carbon dioxide-caused global warming or due to other means. Researchers from the Artic Research Centre of Aarhus University in Denmark and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk, Greenland, have discovered a large geothermal “hot spot” area in Northeast Greenland. “’North-East Greenland has several hot springs where the water becomes up to 60 degrees warm and, like Iceland, the area has abundant underground geothermal activity,’ explains Professor Soren Rysgaard, who headed the investigations.”
This discovery creates further issues with climate models describing accelerating sea level rise, such as those with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its followers with NOAA and NASA. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR-5) describes a strong relationship between carbon dioxide (CO2) and ice melt, with greater sea level rise based on increased atmospheric CO2.
“It is very likely that the rate of global mean sea level rise during the 21st century will exceed the rate observed during 1971– 2010 for all Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios due to increases in ocean warming and loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets. Projections of sea level rise are larger than in the AR4, primarily because of improved modeling of land-ice contributions.” The different Representative Concentration Pathway are based on estimates of future CO2 concentrations.
As reported in the November 11, 2017, TWTW, at least in part, Antarctic ice melt appears to be resulting from geothermal activity below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, with over 130 geothermal hot spots identified near a rift valley below the surface. The practice of attributing an accelerating sea level rise to Antarctic ice melt caused by increased CO2 has long been disturbing. Even the AR-5 Synthesis report recognized that surface temperatures in Antarctic are not rising (p.48).
More disturbing, is that atmospheric temperatures are not rising over the Antarctic as they should be if the expressed greenhouse gas-warming hypothesis is correct. [Note that the satellite measurements do not include the poles.] Since the atmosphere at the Antarctic is not warming significantly, and temperatures at the surface remain well below freezing (except for brief periods on the Antarctic Peninsula, largely outside the Antarctic Circle), there is no logical reason to assume that the cause of any melting is increasing atmospheric CO2.
Thus, the concept of increasing CO2 is causing increasing sea level rise from polar ice melt embodies two assumptions that need to be established with physical evidence: 1) the extent to which increased CO2 will cause increased temperatures, assumptions or models do not suffice; and 2) the extent to which increased temperatures will cause Antarctic ice melt.
With the new evidence from Greenland, similar issues arise with assumptions on the loss of the Greenland ice mass caused by CO2 contributing to an increase in sea level rise. See links under Changing Cryosphere – Land / Sea Ice and http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf
Global Sea Level Rise Investigation: On her web site, Climate Etc., Judith Curry has begun a series on sea level on observations and causes of global sea level rise for which she appreciates comments. The current post discusses “definitions of sea level and the causes of sea level variations and rise. An overview of the geological record of sea level rise is provided, with a focus on Holocene (the current interglacial). Historical and archaeological evidence (prior to the instrumental period) of sea level variations is also discussed.”
Curry reviews a 2016 paper by Kopp, et al., which reinforces the approach used in AR-5. The KOPP paper was slightly modified after a coding error was discovered. The authors are to be thanked for frankly addressing the error. They are not to be condemned or dismissed for reporting an error. For science to progress, such corrections need to be publicly discussed. Unfortunately, some members of the global warming orthodoxy have claimed the atmospheric temperature data from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has been discredited because small errors in calculation of the orbits of satellites have corrected by UAH. Such condemnations are more ideology than proper scientific practice.
As Curry states: Kopp et al. “compiled a global database of regional sea level reconstructions from 24 localities, many with decimeter-scale vertical resolution and subcentennial temporal resolution. Also included are 66 tide-gauge records.” Immediately, the issue appears of how representative are the samples of 24 localities and 66 tide-gage records? There are hundreds tide-gage records giving dramatically different results. For example, the Gulf of Bothnia, and in Scandinavia tidal gages show sea levels are falling, due to rebound of the land from last Ice Age, called post-glacial rebound or isostatic rebound. Other areas, such as tidewater Virginia, tidal gages show sea levels are rising due to land subsidence, primarily from groundwater extraction. Gages at The Battery, show Manhattan may be subsiding, from heavy buildings built on bedrock.
In the Kopp study, the long-term proxy data and the tide-gage data are dominated by the East Coast of the US and by Western Europe, with no proxy data from Scandinavia. The sample appears not to be representative of the coast lines of the world, thus may be of little value. An obligation of research proposing samples are representative is to remove every possible source of bias, not to introduce bias.
A second major issue is the use of semi-empirical models, which Willem de Lange and Robert Carter found to be the most alarmist of all the techniques they reviewed in their study of global sea-level change. In general, these modeling techniques do not explicitly state assumptions, that can be challenged or substantiated by observations. They tend to be built more upon assumptions supporting assumptions, which has little value in understanding the physical world.
A third major issue is excessive precision in estimates of 20th century sea level rise. Adding speculative probability statements only adds doubt to the skeptic.
In sum, the conclusion of the Kopp study that 20th century sea level rise was extremely likely faster than during any of the 27 previous centuries is not substantiated, although there is little doubt that sea levels are higher than they have been since the last interglacial period, the Eemian, about 115,000 to 130,000 years ago. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Changing Seas.
Precision of Ice Core Measurements: Some of the best data we have of historic temperatures are the studies of isotopes of gases and various components of the atmosphere in ice cores, such as Vostok in Antarctica, and GRIP in Greenland. These time-consuming, labor intensive extractions have been carefully handled, for they reveal precious information of the history of the earth’s climate for thousands and hundreds of thousands of years.
Playing the “devil’s advocate,” Tim Ball has an essay in Watts Up With That explaining why he thinks the ice cores give little practical information, or at least are not precise measurements of temperatures and time-lines. One may agree or disagree with some of the specific statements Ball makes, but the issue points to the need for independent confirmation of research results before any strong conclusions can be drawn. See link under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
John Coleman, RIP: For those who were privileged to know him, weather broadcasting pioneer John Coleman will be remembered for his enthusiasm, booming voice, and his humanity. Yet, Coleman angered some of his colleagues for challenging the claim that increasing atmospheric CO2 is causing dangerous global warming. Although honored for his work by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), Coleman resigned from that organization when it no long met his high standards of integrity, by adopting the narrative of the IPCC. John Coleman will be sorely missed by those who knew him. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy – John Coleman.
Oily Litigation: The fact that certain municipalities, such as Oakland, San Francisco, and New York City, are suing certain oil companies, such as Exxon-Mobil, is being enthusiastically supported by many who consider themselves to be environmentalists. The New York City lawsuit and some of its false statements were discussed in last week’s TWTW. According to some attorneys, the motives are quite clear – hoping to get big payoffs from oil companies, without disrupting the economy. The actions by Exxon indicate these visions may not be easy to realize. The recent legal claims by these municipalities appear to be inconsistent with filings they made under the Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 in soliciting investments in their municipal bonds, securities offerings.
Richard Epstein is a legal scholar with the Hoover Institution. He is best known for his writings and studies on classical liberalism, libertarianism and torts. In two different articles he questions the wisdom of the actions of the municipalities, particularly in their blunt claims about the damages the cities will suffer under speculated global warming-caused sea level rise, and the certainty expressed in these claims. Epstein avoids the scientific issues but emphasizes the difference between what the cities have stated in securities offerings, using Oakland as the primary example, and what they claim in the filings against oil companies. Epstein states:
“Making wrongful statements in a securities offering is serious business. The general rules on covenants in securities (which include both stocks and bonds) is one of completeness in which any false statement or any material omission becomes actionable on a strict liability standard, so that there is no forgiveness under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933…”
According to the Cornell School of Law, Section 11 1933 Securities Act for Misstatements and / or Omissions applies to every
“Person, director, named, in the registration statement including:
“4) every accountant, engineer, or appraiser, or any person whose profession gives authority to a statement made by him, who has with his consent been named as having prepared or certified any part of the registration statement
(5) every underwriter with respect to such security.”
This liability applies with:
“any material errors in a registration statement creates strict liability on the part of the issuer. Along with the issuer, anyone involved with creating the registration statement is also subject to liability.”
According to Epstein, the courts take Section 11 of the 1933 Securities Act, which was extended to existing securities in 1934, very seriously. Probably far more seriously than they would take the false claims about individuals, such as Drs. Seitz and Singer, or organizations, such as SEPP.
Manhattan attorney Francis Menton discusses what he thinks of the New York mayor’s initiative.
The visions of sugar plums these mayors may have had when they filed their litigation may be turning into bitter lemons. See links under Litigation Issues and https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/77k
Solar Cheaper that Fossil Fuels? In this era of exaggerated claims, the solar industry and its promoters have few peers. A journalist for Quartz claimed that “Electricity from all forms of renewables will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.” His claim came from an announcement by Adnan Amin, who heads the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), which released a new report at its annual summit on Jan. 13 in Abu Dhabi. The article has such gems such as: “In developed countries, solar power has become cheaper than new nuclear power.” But it does not discuss capacity factor or reliability, dispatchability.
The actual report states:
“Record low auction prices for solar PV in Dubai, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2017 confirm that the LCOE can be reduced to USD 0.03/kWh from 2018 onward, given the right conditions. These include: a regulatory and institutional framework favourable to renewables; low offtake and country risks; a strong, local civil engineering base; favourable taxation regimes; low project development costs; and excellent solar resources.” (p 7)
In other words, in desert regions at low latitudes, with government subsidies, solar power can become inexpensive, provided someone else is responsible when electricity is needed at night or on rainy days. As energy analyst Roger Andrews wrote when examining a renewable energy project on King Island, Tasmania:
“It’s clear that the low prices for intermittent wind and solar bid at recent capacity auctions apply only when the local grid assumes all responsibility for balancing and grid stability. When wind and solar have to stand on their own feet it’s a different ball game.”
See links under Communicating Better to the Public – Make things up and Energy Issues – Non-US
Green Fleet Sunk? The US Department of Defense (DOD) concerns of energy sources in a time of war have long been valid. Before oil became dominant, coaling stations were established in the Pacific. Some of these stations became sources of refueling with oil and providing re-supply. Thus, it was not unrealistic when DOD began to explore alternative sources of fuel, when Washington was gripped with the fear the world would run out of oil in the 1970s. Or later, when Washington feared that all the oil resources would be controlled by countries hostile to US interests.
Further, when many in Washington were convinced that burning of oil and other fossil fuels may cause dangerous global warming / climate change, DOD planning responded with National Defense Strategy that these pages find far-fetched. Some of the applications, such as renewable energy on the battlefield were outlandish.
According to reports, the summary of the new National Defense Strategy signed by Defense Secretary James Mattis makes no mention of “global warming” or “climate change” and little mention of energy issues, “except that the U.S. would ‘foster a stable and secure Middle East’ and ‘contributes to stable global energy markets and secure trade routes.’”
Apparently, the Green Fleet has gone the way of wooden ships. See links under Change in US Administrations
Number of the Week – Three Years, Up or Down? We have two conflicting headlines: 1) “Temps jumped a half-degree over 3 years. ‘Just remarkable’”; and 2) “Oceans Cool Off Previous 3 Years.” Both discuss sea surface temperatures, and the seas cover over 70% of the earth’s surface. But the conclusions are different; yet, not wrong. Both headlines deal with the large, recent El Niño. The first headline covers the period of 2014-2016. The second headline covers the period the recent fall in temperatures, and goes back to March 2014 (for Northern Hemisphere, earlier for Southern Hemisphere, Tropics, and Global).
The “jump” that was remarkable is gone. The apparent conflict illustrates that understanding the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and other natural variability, is critical for understanding the human influence on climate Yet, they are largely ignored by the IPCC, and its followers including NOAA, and NASA.
Scientific knowledge is always provisional. The point is to produce evidence, not doctrine.
By Sue Desmond-Hellmann, WSJ, Jan 19, 2018 [H/t Martin Stickley]
SUMMARY: The key points of the article are summarized in the This Week section, above.
2. China Sucks Gas Out of Global Market as It Shifts From Coal
Move boosts LNG price and leaves swaths of industry in China struggling with limited gas supplies
By Sarah McFarlane and Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ, Jan 23, 2018
SUMMARY: Smog form coal is a major problem in the cities in China. The authors write:
“The world’s No. 2 economy is cutting back on coal after President Xi Jinping made a cleaner environment a key priority at last Fall’s Communist Party Congress.
That has left swaths of industry in China struggling with limited gas, including giants like German chemical company BASF SE and local producer Yunnan Yuntianhua Co., as supplies are diverted to households that had previously relied on coal for heating.”
As new supply as limited prices in natural gas, China demand has busted the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) industry. Behind Japan, China is now the second largest importer of LNG.
“Analysts say that given Beijing’s very public commitment to improving air quality, the shift away from coal is unlikely to lose urgency over the medium term. But neither will Chinese policy makers let citizens freeze, meaning that gas supplies will continue to be diverted to households.”
“China has committed to increasing gas’s share of its energy mix to 10% by 2020 from its current level of around 7%. That could increase annual gas demand by more than 50% from 2016 levels to 325 billion cubic meters, according to Bernstein.” [An energy analyst.]
The shift to natural gas over coal is projected to continue.