The (un)principled sceptic

Over at Treadgold’s emporium, the owner is mining a rich vein of nonsense: he’s posting the letters to the editor the newspapers won’t print. One that caught my eye is from Professor Mike Kelly, a Cambridge nanotechnologist and climate sceptic who happens to hail from New Plymouth. Professor Kelly makes a good start:

It is perfectly possible to adopt a position, as I have, of ‘a principled climate science scepticism’.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But a bit later on, in attempting to adduce evidence in support of his position he writes:

She [the author of the piece he’s complaining about] might like to look at the recent analysis by Pat Franks (sic) which tightens the conclusion that the anthropogenic contribution is at most 0.3°C per century. This concludes that it is rising temperatures that are increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide, not the other way round.

Oh dear.

Treadgold helpfully supplies the link to Frank’s “analysis”, published and lauded at µWatts. The piece does indeed claim to arrive at a low figure for humanity’s contribution to current and future warming. Unfortunately, Frank’s work has been dissected by someone who understands the statistics of climate, and found to be little better than “mathturbation“. Tamino (for it is he) concludes in Frankly, Not:

Frank’s model has no physical basis. It ignores the known physics of climate including greenhouse gases, sulfate aerosols (both man-made and natural), solar variations. It fails the simplest test of predictive skill, miserably. It fails comparison to a ridiculously simple multiple-lines model, miserably. His use of results to estimate climate sensitivity is, not to put too fine a point on it, laughable.

You might think that the Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics at the University of Cambridge, being a principled sceptic, would take care to ensure that he used only evidence that meets the highest standards when arguing his case. Instead, he joins the ranks of the Carters and Leylands of this world, happy to rely on any old rubbish as long as it comes from someone defined as being on their side. For Carter, it’s the “work” of EG Beck, for Leyland it’s the cooling predicted by John McLean. Kelly’s eye has fallen for Frank. It’s clearly a marriage of minds.

11 thoughts on “The (un)principled sceptic”

  1. Now this is a surprise – an aging white male at the top of his little hierarchy thinks that AGW is bogus?

    Is there any other demographic of of climate change denial? Where, for example, are the third world females decrying the IPCC “hoax”, or even a young geologist or two?

    1. These unprincipled characters are giving us AWMs a very bad name! Moral cowardice of the worst sort, that’s what they all have in common. After all, it’s only the future of the planet – what does any of them care when he’s going to kick the bucket in the near(ish) future?

  2. Gareth, I take your point that by simply looking at a trend the attack is very unsophisticated. I agree that forming a climate model based on physical characteristics and testing this against history is more robust.

    However this still leaves a problem. The average person does not have the skill to do this. They are left with two choices, accept what an authority it tells them, or do unsophisticated analysis and see if anything smells fishy.

    On an issue such as climate change where so much public data is available it is important that simple analysis leads to broadly the same conclusions as the ones given by those advocating change. When I look at the following I tend to agree with Kelly.

    There are 8 clear periods on the graph. Decreasing from 1850-1860. Increasing from 1860 to 1880. Decreasing until 1920. Increasing until 1945. Decreasing sharply for a few years. Flat until 1978. Increasing until 1998. Flat for the last part.

    The gradient of the increases does not appear to be getting steeper overtime.

    So to the casual observer this seems to be a somewhat random graph dominated by two warming periods (1920-1945, 1978-1998). It seems difficult to conclude the second warming period is unusual on the graph. Certainly global warming theory should suggest that the second period should have a steeper gradient?

    Is the casual observer supposed to ignore this on the reassurance that complex climate models can explain it?

    1. Why would you expect the incline to be getting steeper?

      CO₂ emissions are increasing at most exponentially, so you would not expect an increasing slope in the temperature graph – the increase should be linear.

      Of course, CO₂ is only one of the many forcing factors, so the actual picture is much more complicated than that, which you know very well, given how many times we’ve explained it to you. So why do you keep misrepresenting the most basic climate science?

    2. I guess you nailed it this time _R2D2:

      I quote you as saying: “However this still leaves a problem. The average person does not have the skill to do this. They are left with two choices, accept what an authority it tells them, or do unsophisticated analysis and see if anything smells fishy.

      Very obviously the outcome of your “Dilemma” is simple: Trust the experts. Do you honestly think that some backyard dabbler with a libertarian grudge against the scientific establishment as motivation is a reliable source of evidence in a matter of serious concern for the future of this planet, humanity and the very ability of yourself and your offspring to feed themselves for the rest of their lives??

      Would you in all honesty try to back-seat fly the approach of a 747 into Auckland by meddling with the captain’s handling of the aircraft because you have done a few hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2010??? Would you like to stay awake and alert in a heart bypass operation to tell your surgeon how to hold the scalpel because you have seen it done on Shortland Street?

      The point is exactly this that politically opinionated hobby scientists make gut level judgements on matters well above their ability motivated by nothing better than their political culture and then try to influence or lead (in case of politicians) a debate that is to dangerous to get wrong for the entire planet. What a hoot and what a circus this deniersphere has become.

      Well R2D2 take make your choice, trust those who have the ability to know and lead or dabble with the club of the armchair sailors.

    3. There is a rather obvious upward trend in your graph, not explained by your alleged repeating oscillation if thats what it is. Im also looking at medieval warm period on wiki ,which includes a temperature graph from around AD600 – 2010 sort of a longer term view. Sure looks like something unusual is happening after 1920 to me.

  3. It’s also ‘obvious’ to me that the sun rotates around the earth… am I expected to believe some fancy-pants astrophysical explanation?

    I’ll see your –

    It seems difficult to conclude the second warming period is unusual on the graph.

    and raise you –

    a little more than one full period of oscillation is in evidence

    This from Pat Frank himself, who shows up over at Tamino’s blog to ‘defend’ himself. In response to Tamino’s observation regarding his paper that –

    Such effort would be futile, because of the simple fact is that there aren’t nearly enough “cycles” to show that global temperature is following a cyclic pattern

    If you can’t see what’s funny here, don’t worry about it.

    Other than that I’m not arguing with you, R2, because the very fact that after all this time you can still post stuff like this is sufficient evidence of what a futile task that is.

  4. I’ve exchanged a few words with Pat Frank, he has some seriously silly ideas about ocean acidification, the ice cores and fossil leaf stomata too.

    One fantasist relying on the “work” of another fantasist hardly inspires confidence.

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