Hook, line and stinker

homer.jpgRichard Treadgold has been attempting a sceptical deconstruction of Professor Keith Hunter’s new statement on Science, Climate Change and Integrityfor the Royal Society of New Zealand. It’s not a pretty sight.

Professor Hunter should be ashamed of this shoddy piece of research. The lowliest undergraduate would do better than he.

The senior scientists who’ve made misleading public statements about global warming include Peter Gluckman, David Wratt, James Renwick, Brett Mullan, Andrew Reisinger and Jim Salinger. Their cheeks are smooth and their mouths are smiling but their breath stinks.

Meanwhile, “tenacious” Ian Wishart issued a press release entitled Errors in Royal Society of NZ climate change paper:

The Royal Society of New Zealand has again nailed its sorry little tail to the mast of a sinking global warming ship, with a statement designed to convince news media, politicians and the public that the science behind climate change is sound.

That’s the “sorry little tail” of the nation’s leading scientific society, but Wishart’s not finished. He sums up:

If this is the best evidence the Royal Society of New Zealand can muster in support of climate change, God help the Key administration and his beleaguered science advisor Peter Gluckman, because the people advising National and Gluckman on climate are NIWA and the Royal Society.

New NZ CSC chairman Barry Brill weighed in with his own devastating critique. Prepare to be savaged by a dead sheep:

The paper is unusual in that Professor Hunter lays out the scientific arguments for all to see. But what is even more unusual is the rather obvious fact that the arguments are transparently wrong – to the point of being a serious embarrassment for both your author and your Society.

Treadgold piles it on:

That Hunter presents his statement under the imprimature(sic) of the Royal Society does not imbue it with authority but debases the Society. A mud pie made by the King is still just a mud pie.

Together they give Professor Hunter nowhere to hide. His egregious statement has no leg to stand on and he can only withdraw it and apologise.

There’s blood on the floor — but it’s Treadgold, Wishart and Brill’s blood clogging up the drains, because in their rush to dismantle Professor Hunter’s statement, they not only get their facts wrong, but they have demonstrated the very point Hunter was making:

Debate, and scepticism are healthy and to be encouraged, as is transparency of information. However, vicious personal attacks on the integrity of experienced scientists, and indeed their critics, serve only to detract from the real issues and are out of place in a rational society.

Let’s see if I can avoid making vicious personal attacks on Treadgold, Wishart and Brill (TWB) as I point out the errors they make…


TWB concentrate their efforts on Professor Hunter’s list of multiple lines of evidence supporting the case that change is occurring, and that action would be prudent. Wishart objects to this section:

“The amount of extra carbon accumulated in the ocean and the atmosphere matches the known quantity emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels.”

Professor Hunter has set a little trap here, and Wishart falls for it:

Except, he appears to have forgotten that there’s a discrepancy between what’s been emitted and how much remains in the atmosphere, known as “the missing carbon sink”. In other words, the Royal Society is wrong. The emissions don’t match.

Brill attempts something similar:

Rebuttal: Oceanic carbon has never been measured, and cannot be estimated. The biosphere also takes up CO2 from fossil fuels (eg forests). There is a well recognised “missing carbon sink”, estimated to be as high as three trillion tonnes per annum.

Treadgold can only manage incredulity, but devotes a whole post to it.

TWB are wrong, and Hunter’s precise point is correct: the measured increase in carbon storage in the ocean and atmosphere is equivalent to the amount of fossil fuels burned since the beginning of the industrial era. Hunter does not mention other anthropogenic sources of carbon — primarily from chopping down forests — but they are roughly in balance with terrestrial carbon sinks (which have been called “missing sinks” because the exact details have proved hard to pin down). The “discrepancy”, as Wishart calls it, is irrelevant to the central message: that the increase in atmospheric carbon is our fault. In fact the “missing sink” and oceans have been doing us a big favour by storing away a very big chunk of our emissions…

Why Brill thinks we can’t measure or estimate ocean carbon content or uptake is a mystery. We’re certainly never going to be able to count all the carbon atoms one by one, but we do understand a very great deal about ocean chemistry — and Keith Hunter is an expert in that field.

TWB also take exception to Hunter’s comments on ocean heat content:

It is also clear that the oceans absorb about 85% of the excess heat resulting from this radiative forcing by greenhouse gases (as well as about 40% of the carbon dioxide). Detailed measurements of the changes in oceanic heat content, and the temperature rise that accompanies this, agree quantitatively with the predicted radiative forcing.

Wishart thinks the oceans aren’t warming much:

Which would be fine, except that the oceans are not warming up much at all, which the Argo project, discussed in Air Con, found, and which has also been detected in another study last year.

Hilariously, the study he quotes (Towards closure of regional heat budgets in the North Atlantic using Argo floats and surface flux datasets, Wells et al, Ocean Sci., 5, 59–72, 2009 [PDF]) says nothing about global ocean heat content, but is concerned with detailed modelling of the heat budget of the North Atlantic.

Wishart moves on to reference Skeptical Science (an “appalling” site, apparently) on ocean heat content, and chooses to quote the final paragraph, but not the complete final paragraph. I wonder why?

Independent analysis seem to indicate that over last half dozen years, the ocean has shown less warming than the long term trend… but nevertheless, a statistically significant warming trend. [my emboldening of the bit Wishart leaves out]

So the oceans continue to warm… Wishart is careful not to state that there’s actual cooling going on (though he’d love you to leave you with that impression) but Brill, however, goes the whole hog.

Rebuttal: Oceanic heat content has decreased steadily since the ARGO programme commenced measuring it in 2004 – despite sharply rising GHG emissions.

More than slightly out of date, Barry. Try reading Wishart’s reference. Can’t you sceptics agree on anything? Meanwhile, all Treadgold can do is recycle Brill’s comments on it being “physically impossible” for the greenhouse effect to heat the ocean. As ocean heat content has been steadily increasing, it would seem that physics is not on Brill’s side. Here’s a graph TWB would probably prefer you didn’t see:


Not only is ocean heat content increasing, it accounts for the vast majority of the energy accumulating in the system, as Prof Hunter says. (Graph comes from Murphy et al, 2009, via Skeptical Science’s excellent post on measuring the earth’s energy imbalance).

Next, TWB get shirty with Hunter’s assertions about sea level rise. Wishart refers to one of his own posts as a reference that allows him to declare:

If he’s trying to suggest sea level increase is unusual or rapidly increasing, then in a word, “rubbish”.

What Hunter is saying is none of those things, but that observed sea level rise is consistent with the observed increase in ocean heat content. In any event, Wishart’s “rubbish” link is to a “CO2 Science” (sceptic site noted for its creative reinterpretation of what papers actually say) report on a paper by Wöppelmann et al. When you read the abstract, you see it refers to a refinement of the sea level data for the last century, which the authors state is in line with earlier work. CO2 Science adds a gratuitous “Hence, it would appear that 20th-century sea level rise has not been in any way unusual, even over the most recent decade of supposedly unprecedented warmth.” Pure invention, in other words. They just made that up, and Wishart swallowed it whole. Par for the course, I suppose, for the deep throat of climate denial.

Brill’s offering repeats his earlier mistake on ocean heat content, but does include this:

Rebuttal: Sea levels have risen by about 18mm/decade for the past 100 years, having extremely poor correlation with either GHG concentrations or fossil fuel use.

Sea level shows an extremely good correlation with ocean heat content and with global temperature, as a recent paper explains. Both of those things are intimately tied into to atmospheric carbon levels and as recent increases are due to human action, you’d have to say that Brill is 100% wrong.

In one respect, and one respect only, does Brill have a point — and it’s a small one. Hunter’s original statement referred to “outgoing solar radiation reflected off the Earth’s surface”. This was an error, missed in proof-reading (or prof-reading), and has since been corrected to “outgoing infra-red radiation”, which renders Brill’s comments on albedo irrelevant (Wishart didn’t notice the obvious mistake!). Brill goes on to say that the “The “simple physics” of 1.5W/m2 is flat wrong.” Which only proves that he’s flat wrong. It’s straightforward if not particularly simple physics, but the basic principles involved have been understood since Fourier and Tyndall first investigated the subject 150 years ago. Perhaps Barry has trouble keeping up with the latest work…

So what are we left with? Three attempted rebuttals of Keith Hunter’s statement on climate change, each of which makes fundamental errors — misleading or misrepresenting the facts — in service of a scurrilous attack on a respected academic and the nation’s top scientific body. Here’s Brill closing his “open letter”:

It will be with a sense of anticipation that we put our fact-based arguments over the very existence of dangerous human-caused global warming to the gatekeepers of our public science academies and at last expect their reasoned response.

What facts are those Barry? The ones you’ve made up, or the ones other people have made up for you? You’re going to have do a lot better than that if you want the world to take you seriously.

There is an important lesson here for the scientific community in New Zealand. The aggressive ignorance on display in the TWB papers is no longer something you can afford to treat with lofty disdain. These people are playing dirty — happy to publicly impugn your work and reputations, based only on their imperfect and ideologically blinkered interpretation of reality, and happy to see their views echoed in Parliament by Rodney Hide and ACT. What’s at stake is not science itself — that great endeavour is quite safe from the intellectually and morally bankrupt attacks of the sort launched by Brill and his pals — but the public perception of science and its value to society. At a time when we will need all our reason to steer a path through a rocky and uncertain future, scientists cannot afford to sit on their hands. Time to hit back, to show the community at large that the age of reason is not dead.


21 thoughts on “Hook, line and stinker”

  1. From his time as Associate Minister of Energy under Muldoon, Barry Brill has been a shill for big business; I doubt that he even wrote "his" response to the RSNZ paper.

  2. Dear Gareth

    I will not read the complete vomit from CSC, but from the excerpts provided it looks to be toxic. I don’t know much about defamation law but surely they must be getting close to being able to be sued.

  3. Of course Treadgold, Brill and Wishart missed or willfully ignored the main point of Hunter's paper – the question of transparency and availability of publicly obtained data. He announced that the Royal Society is to look into developing a code of practice for this.

    But, very significantly, he raised the issue of the responsible use of public data:

    "At the same time, of course, it is only fair to expect the critics of the mainstream scientific views on climate change (and other contentious areas of science) to adopt an equally transparent approach with their own information, and with their own use and re-analysis of data entrusted to the public domain. They should also subject their findings to rigorous peer review. Opinion, however forthrightly expressed, will not change the laws of basic science.”

    I hope this becomes part of the code of practice and eventually makes it into the laws of the land.

    People like Treadgold should face legal justice for their willful and dishonest use of NIWA's data, and the refusal to reveal either what data they used or how they had modified it.

    Actually, I can see why they would want to keep quiet about the paragraph – and divert attention away from it.
    My recent post Dangerous science denial

  4. From Barry Brill submissions to ETS

    Ferburay 2009
    "Water vapour, which constitutes over 90% of all greenhouse gases is ignored because it has a short life in the atmosphere – perhaps only a week…"

    Really Bazza? Water vapour is ignored? Perhaps you might explain this:

    AR4 FAQ 2.1
    : "Water vapour is the most abundant and important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere."

    October 2009
    "The cooling of the last 11 years is incompatible with model projections."

    hmm where have I heard that one before?

    Too much of a Gish Gallop to really deal with retread or Brill in detail but I note in passing his Feb 2009 submission reproduces the OISM "petition".

  5. The case of Treadgold trodden.. I’d guess.

    I asked about the guy trying for a mesmerising littul Richard debut at the abc’s drum blog… word came back it was the same guy. So, this result and revalidation of the science fits nicely.

    Ken’s point about obligatory responsibilities of non-scientific folks for the science and scientists is also very welcome. Not that this should impede democracy and/or participation in it, more so that serious democracy resolve matters.

    Thanks for the “Gallop” link, Doug_Mackie, which appears to explain the reactions I had gotten upon declaring earlier deniosaurus advocates of scientism..

  6. Come to that I'd be curious to know what a certain fellow (and in a most curious perversion of the word, an "honourary" fellow) of RSNZ have to say about this.

    Tell us Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter, what do you think?

    Chris, you are science advisor to NZC"S"C. Did Barry seek your advice over this? If so what did you tell him? If not, what do you think of what he was written?

  7. The skeptics rants are becoming more and more insane by the day. Maybe this kind of attack will open the eyes of a few (and there are a few -mainly know naught geologists) in the Royal Society who've been a bit too tolerant of these nutter's viewpoints. Hunter's opinion piece was too even-handed – he gives the skeptics far too much credit in assuming they are interested in transparency. They have thier agenda and that's all that matters.

  8. "These people are happy to publicly impugn your work and reputations" – abd did it again today. See "Oceans Eleven" item athttp://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC1004/S00028.htm.

    I thought the main point of the Royal Soc paper was that science could now measure all the annual heat energy flows being stored in the ocean, atmosphere, etc and convert that back to tonnages of CO2 – which summed nicely with the known quantity of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel usage.

    If it all balanced neatly, it would be pretty hard to argue that the extra warming was coming from some other source.

    So, I had a look at the Skeptical Science blog to check out the Murphy graph in this post. It doesn't really say much – just that the ocean is capable of absorbing a lot more heat than the atmosphere. The quantity of ocean heat content over the last 60 years seems to have been deduced from models rather than observed in the field.

    The impression from Professor Hunter's paper was that the energy imbalance had been solved. But the Murphy group finished up with a huge gap that's more than half of the total warming – and put it all down to aerosols. They made no attempt to quantify the actual aerosols (difficult, I know) but just treated it as a 'big bucket' balancing factor.

    If that's all there is, the energy imbalance problem is just as great as it ever was – and I'm not sure why the royal society would spring into print about that.

    1. What a peculiar press release. Apparently the NZ C"S"C can't even count – they only had 10 points, so they had to repeat one just so they could use that snappy "Ocean's Eleven" tag. Ocean's Ten just wouldn't have cut it.

      Very odd also that the press decided to put words in quotes that never actually appeared in Hunter's original statement. For example:

      3. “Greenhouse gases (GHGs) will trap outgoing solar radiation”. Wrong: Solar radiation doesn’t go out. It comes in.

      The original line in Hunter's piece is "outgoing infra-red radiation", not "outgoing solar radiation", and that is perfectly correct – incoming solar radiation is short-wave, reflected radiation is long-wave infra-red.

      Likewise point 5:

      “Oceans absorb 85% of the radiative forcing of GHGs.” Wrong: This is physically impossible. CO2 radiates infrared at wavelengths of about 12 microns, while the limit for sea absorption is 3 microns.

      The original says: "oceans absorb about 85% of the excess heat resulting from this radiative forcing by greenhouse gases", which of course is perfectly physically possible.

      This is a new low, even for the NZ C"S"C. They are just plain making stuff up. Quite disgraceful.

    2. "The quantity of ocean heat content over the last 60 years seems to have been deduced from models rather than observed in the field." – Australis.

      Quite how that would be accomplished in the manner you suggest is indeed a mystery. The estimates of global ocean heat content are actually derived from measurements, as logic and common sense would dictate:


      "There are several recent calculations of observed ocean heat contents from the surface to 700 m depth [Domingues et al., 2008; Ishii and Kimoto, 2009; Levitus
      et al., 2009]. In each study, temperature profiles were converted to estimates of the ocean heat content. Each study also corrects expendable bathy-thermograph (XBT) measurements using fall rate or empirical corrections. These corrections make the heat content estimates more accurate than previous estimates using similar data [Wijffels et al.,2008]."

  9. CTGorilla: Strong statements – "making things up", "a new low", "quite disgraceful" – are all based on an allegatiion that Keith Hunter's paper had been misquoted. The paper said "infrared" not "solar" you assured readers.

    Your assurance is untrue – possibly deliberately? Here is the direct quote from the Royal Society paper as it appears on Scoop:

    "It is simple physics that these extra gas concentrations will trap an increased amount of outgoing solar radiation reflected off the Earth’s surface…."


  10. I stand corrected.

    Point 5 is still misquoted in the "Ocean's Eleven" press release though (but not in Brill's original letter).

    “Oceans absorb 85% of the radiative forcing of GHGs.” is how it appears in the press release, which is a nonsensical thing to say – radiative forcing is measured in W/m<super>2</super>, not microns, so missing out "excess heat resulting from" completely changes the meaning of the quote.

  11. Kevin Trenberth’s claims in this week's "Science" journal, have led to a correspondence with Pielke, who says there can’t be “missing heat” in the deep ocean, or it would have been detected by Argo as it was transmitted through the upper ocean. The satellite diagnosis must be wrong. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/04/16/ncars-missi

    Trenberth ripostes: “I do not agree with your comments. We are well aware that there are well over a dozen estimates of ocean heat content and they are all different yet based on the same data. There are clearly problems in the analysis phase and I don’t believe any are correct”.

    If Trenberth, perhaps the most authoritative of the IPCC scientists (and a New Zealander to boot), is so scathing about ocean heat measures, then why does the New Zealand Royal Society rely heavily on this flawed measurement as proof of human-caused global warming?

    1. I may post on the Trenberth paper because it's interesting, but not for the reasons you (or Wishart) might suppose it exposes.

      Two points: the RSNZ does not rely on ocean heat content as "proof" of anything. It's one of multiple lines of evidence that support the view that global warming is happening and we caused it.

      Second: all the heat content estimates agree on one thing – the ocean is warming up, and has been for a long time. Look at the graph I provide above, for an example of one. If no data set or analysis showed ocean heat content rising over the last 50 years, then you could fairly claim that there may be a problem with our estimates of heat accumulation in the climate system.

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