Wool gets in the eyes

wool over eyes

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With the Royal Society smoke ‘n’ sea level rise

Last September, the Royal Society published a report entitled “SEA LEVEL RISE Emerging Issues”, available as a pdf (645 KB). In the accompanying press release they had this to say:

Professor Keith Hunter, the Society’s Vice President of Physical Sciences, who contributed to the paper, says researchers are starting to be able to estimate the amount of rise that we should expect to see over this century and beyond. But he says these projections of future sea level rise depend upon the future melting of ice sheets, which is poorly known.

“The uncertain knowledge about ice sheet behaviour is the key reason why IPCC projections in 2007 did not state upper bounds for sea level rise. Similarly, Ministry for the Environment guidance in 2008 wisely left open the question of any upper limit on sea level rise.”

The paper states that some early scientific work into the effect of a warming climate on ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica suggested that many metres of sea level rise could occur within a century. However, it says few scientists now consider that such rates are possible.

What do we learn from this?

We learn that we can’t guess future sea level rise, since we can’t guess future ice sheet melting; our mates at the UN and the MfE won’t touch it, and our first guess was several metres but now only the cranks go that far.

The press release expresses complete ignorance on future sea level rise. Great. So we also learn that scientists can make complete ignorance appear very interesting.

A failed experiment is still useful. It tells you something you didn’t know before, so it’s a step forward. But to put it into a press release? You should save a press release for the big stuff. Is there anything big in the press release?

The opening statement (now we’re going backwards) isn’t exactly portentous:

New research on the melting of ice sheets is helping coastal managers understand how to plan for future sea level rise.

That’s slightly interesting, but the press release then contradicts itself. We’ve already heard it — the guff about we can’t guess this and we don’t know that, as though it’s highly scientific and fascinating. The admission of ignorance.

But how can coastal managers (whatever they are) learn anything useful to their planning if we can’t guess future sea level rise? Missing out the upper limit misses out the very point of an estimate! Nobody plans for the lower limit, everybody cares about the upper limit! Without it, the whole exercise is useless. The IPCC forgot its customers.

What did Keith Hunter say: “these projections of future sea level rise depend upon the future melting of ice sheets, which is poorly known.” That won’t help our “coastal managers” one bit. Why does the Royal Society tell us that it’s “helping”? We’ll check the paper, but if the press release reflects what’s in it, I’m pessimistic. We can expect complete ignorance.

We can read several sentences and still remember the first; we can follow the thread of an argument, and we expect the Royal Society to do the same. It’s odd that they can’t manage it and even odder that they don’t seem to think we can either. Because here they have said A = B, then four sentences later they say A ≠ B.

FAIL. And we noticed.

Anything else in the press release? Anything big?

Well, I’m embarrassed to say so, because this comes from the Royal Society, who have always been the most prestigious and trustworthy organisation in the country, but the biggest thing in the rest of the press release, issued with great fanfare last September — check this out for yourself — is the news from Professor Hunter that “the majority of New Zealand’s large towns and cities are on our coasts.”

What can I say? Why did they bother?

So (smiling), maybe there’s something big in the paper?

The Royal Society paper

The first words of the summary that begins the RS paper are:

When the Earth was warmer, global sea levels were several metres higher than at present.

Are they stating a simple correlation here, a coincidence? Like, two things happening at the same time, but not necessarily connected? Are they hoping we’ll make a connection without them having to explicitly state it — or are they really claiming the warmth caused higher sea levels? Because there are no words that logically connect the two parts of the sentence, there’s just a comma. A small thing, a comma, and very versatile; it can even imply “then.” But it doesn’t actually mean “then” — not ever. Not then, and not now.

So you could say with equal truth that when the Earth was warmer (comma), dinosaurs walked around on it. But they’re not going to say that dinosaurs might … whoa, they’re not, are they? Or you could say: when the Earth was warmer (comma), no people were alive. This is fun!

When the Earth was warmer (comma),

  • CO2 levels were much higher.
  • plants grew faster and further than you can imagine.
  • Australia and New Zealand were literally at arm’s length.
  • the Romans expanded their empire.
  • Britain and Europe were one.
  • Greenland was green.
  • nature invented the hippopotamus.
  • the Egyptians invented public granaries.
  • Africa and South America were joined at the hip.

Are they saying that warmth made the sea level higher? Is that it?

But if they are, they’re simplifying it too much. Because temperature is not the only driver of sea levels — there are other things: tectonic activity, rebounding of the mantle after the ice age, subsidence from withdrawal of ground water, melting of glaciers and ice sheets and even the saltiness of the sea water.

Then there are short and medium-term factors, like barometric pressure and oceanic oscillations like ENSO.

It’s wrong to say that if the temperature rises then so will the sea level. It may not. Of course, the question to ask ourselves is: “What are they really saying?” It’s hard to tell — almost as though they are being deliberately vague.

Wool, anyone?

The paper continues

Global warming results in rising oceans.

So they are saying it. Silly them. It’s a simple statement, but it’s not always true. If “global” warming tended to increase sea levels by, say, 0.3 mm/yr, but local isostatic rebounding was occurring at 0.4 mm/yr, the sea level won’t rise, it’ll actually fall, because the land is rising.

The next one’s a purler.

Scientific understanding of how climate change is driving sea level rise has improved in the past four years and recent estimates of future rise are greater than those assessed in previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

There are two parts to this sentence:

  1. Knowledge has improved.
  2. Recent estimates are greater.

This time the two parts are joined by an ‘and.’ This is different from using a comma, because there’s even less logical connection between the two parts. All that’s necessary is for the two things to coexist temporally (exist at the same time). We can put many things together in this way and have fun doing it.

Knowledge of sea level rise has improved (and)

  • postal rates are up.
  • the moon is full.
  • John Key is now Prime Minister.
  • we’ve lost the America’s Cup.
  • New Zealand is a leading builder of luxury yachts.
  • the Rugby World Cup is less than 70 days away.
  • the population of New Zealand has passed 4 million.
  • crude oil prices are declining.
  • our cat died.

But none of those statements bears any relation with the first (about knowledge of sea level rise) and no statement joined to another by an ‘and’ ever will. What is the Royal Society telling us with this statement?

Being charitable, I would suggest that your guess is as good as mine. Other people, I’m sure, will believe the RS is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Because the inescapable implication is that recent estimates of future sea level rise are greater than ever before because knowledge has improved. But they (cleverly?) don’t say that, and we must ask why?

In fact, recent estimates of future sea level rise are greater for no better reason than that certain people blinded by their own expectations think they should be greater. Otherwise, why avoid stating the reason? It’s more than suspicious, it’s disgraceful.

That’s all for now. This is a bit long. I’ll discuss the rest of the paper soon.

Views: 125

30 Thoughts on “Wool gets in the eyes

  1. Andy on 20/06/2011 at 3:58 pm said:

    There is another factor affecting sea levels which are the adjustments made to the data to “compensate” for tectonic rebound from the Ice Age

    The recent thread at Bishop Hill covers this


  2. val majkus on 20/06/2011 at 6:10 pm said:

    John Keys has arrived and now Aust has a ‘carbon pact’ with NZ
    Sorry guys doesn’t look to be popular
    My fav comment
    philj of perth Posted at 11:09 AM Today
    Did the NZ public get lied to as well or did they vote on the matter?

    Comment 11 of 38

    Could you guys take him back home?

    • Andy on 20/06/2011 at 6:41 pm said:

      This sounds great. Why don’t we form an Asia Pacific Union while we are at it?
      We can suck in a few lame duck economies (like Greece) along the way, and hasten our economic demise.

      Either our ruling elite are blindingly stupid, or they are taking the piss. It’s really hard to tell.

  3. Richard C (NZ) on 20/06/2011 at 8:04 pm said:

    “SEA LEVEL RISE Emerging Issues”,

    Issue 1): Sea level rise is currently decelerating and if the trend continues the rise will halt (top out – reach a zenith) in a couple of years.

    Issue 2): The rate of rise since the turn of the century (2.63 mm per year last time I checked, I think it’s about 2.3 now) is nowhere near the 10mm per year on average required for a 1m rise over this century.

    Issue 3): Sea level rise is not an issue.

  4. Richard C (NZ) on 20/06/2011 at 8:24 pm said:

    “the Egyptians invented public granaries.”

    In 1801 William Herschel announced he had spotted a correlation between sunspots and wheat prices.


    Handy to know when a famine is coming (and wheat prices skyrocket), which now seems to be the scenario by the next decade or even earlier Unlike the useless RS and IPCC predictions.

  5. QF in Aus on 20/06/2011 at 9:01 pm said:

    Why, all the BS sea level rise has already been falsified by Nils-Axel Morner. http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/reprint/the_great_sealevel_humbug.html

    • Well, sure, QF, but the RS don’t seem to have noticed! I thought we should tell them.

    • Oh sure, a single paper refutes the claim, so we can use our confirmation bias to reject all other contradictory research!

      This blog post is so full of reductio ad absurdum that I have no idea what it’s trying to prove or what the argument is.

      Care to right a rational response instead? No, of course you wouldn’t.

      Are you even aware that you are commenting on sentences in the summary of the paper? Summaries or abstracts do not provide the rational behind the statements, they just briefly outline the findings so people can determine whether they want to read the full paper which has references to the appropriate research. You’re an idiot to think you can write some kind of meaningful take-down based on the abstract or summary.

    • Hi Dr Pitt. Interesting-looking web site you have.

      “full of reductio ad absurdum … prove … argument” — Sorry about the lack of clarity, but I’m not the one making goofy statements — complain to the Royal Society. I did get carried away, for this is yet another example from our so-called scientific elite of what sounds like woolly thinking but is cleverly contrived from no evidence whatsoever to push the government and the people of this country down a false and expensive path because the instigators are deceived by their own confirmation bias. The article isn’t finished, as I indicate. I’ve obviously made you quite annoyed, but we have a bit of a history with the RS and NIWA, as the same small group of climate scientists is active in both. It can be confusing to an outsider without a proper introduction. But you’re right, I shouldn’t get so emotional.

      Of course I know what I’m commenting on. Half the post deals with the press release, did you notice that? I’ve mentioned a mere three sentences of the summary and haven’t even started on the paper yet, but already it’s a lot of fun.

      By the way, you should say “write” not “right”, and “rationale” not “rational”. Turn spell-checker off, engage brain.

      You suggest I could be an idiot, which is possible, but it would certainly be idiotic to ignore ambiguous, evasive writing from any professional organisation, whether it appeared in the summary, the paper or the jolly bible, but “takedown”? Are we playing cops and robbers now?


    • Andy on 21/06/2011 at 2:11 pm said:

      I can see you have done a lot of modelling work, which looks very interesting.
      To the casual reader, the RS paper seems to be entirely based on models, eschewing empirical science along the way.

      A lot of us, myself included, think there is a bit to much reliance on models in the field of climatology. I think that is Richard’s point, using a somewhat iconoclastic writing style perhaps.

    • All of science is based on models – empirical data on it’s own has absolutely no explanatory power, because even correlation on the data itself is making assumptions about the causal order between observation. The question people should ask, and what modellers should address is, “what assumptions do these models make?” instead of just their predictive power or robustness.

    • Andy on 21/06/2011 at 7:47 pm said:

      All of science is based on models – empirical data on it’s own has absolutely no explanatory power

      Yes I agree, reality is highly overrated, and doesn’t pull in the research grants.

      Over to Richard Feynman…

  6. Alexander K on 21/06/2011 at 3:20 am said:

    The Kiwi RS are as useless as the UK and the Scottish varieties, our RS is merely a similar but Antipodean gentleman’s club for dilletantes that like to have meetings, chat about sciency stuff then publish papers that us stupid bloody proles won’t understand, dontcha know! Like most well-heeled snobs, they are arrogant as well as prejudiced and quite useless at making or doing anything that makes sense.

    • Actually they are very involved with scientific research and endeavour in New Zealand and your comment seems mostly misplaced vitriol. Did a scientist run off with your wife or something?

    • Yes WE are. The Coalition is soon to release our own study of NIWA’s review. Watch this space.

      I venture to add that the quality of New Zealand research is world-class and admired around the world. From Rutherford to Gluckman we have produced men dedicated to scientific truth and lifetimes of devotion to their subjects. I love breathing the same air as they do. But in the climate arena there is something rotten. Nothing indicates it so clearly as a press release claiming to help while confessing ignorance of the topic.

    • Actually, we’ve produced world class people of both sexes. Not just men.

      A press release confessing ignorance where ignorance exists is being intellectually honest.

    • Both sexes? Yes, I knew that.

      Yes, such a press release would be honest but you seem to miss the point of my comment on this press release. The paper gives no help whatsoever to the planners because it makes no estimate of future sea level rise, the authors explaining that they are ignorant of what it could be. Yet the press release states plainly (emphasis added):

      New research on the melting of ice sheets is helping coastal managers understand how to plan for future sea level rise.

      They said the sea level research is helping; they also said they don’t know the future rise. I’m pointing it out. The only characteristic of future sea level rise people want to know is its possible height. But the scientists haven’t told them. There’s something seriously wrong with climate scientists who can call that helping.

  7. Mike Jowsey on 21/06/2011 at 7:32 am said:

    Thoroughly enjoyable article, Mr. T. Sorry to hear about your cat.

    • Glad you liked it!
      Tuppy the cat was elderly, at least 18 solar cycles, and poorly. It was her time, and thank you.

    • Andy on 21/06/2011 at 9:22 pm said:

      Hopefully Tuppy will get a long rest in that big Maunder Minimum in the sky after all those busy solar cycles.

  8. val majkus on 21/06/2011 at 9:16 pm said:

    sorry about your cat Richard; I’m a cat lover myself and when I’m at my computer my cat (a young burmese) sits on the desk just in front of the keyboard
    but losing a cat is hard; I always get another one asap cos I can’t live without one

  9. Alexander K on 22/06/2011 at 3:43 am said:

    Dr Pitt, you are obviously not familiar with either the New Zealand character or the reputations of the various Royal Societies. I do not pretend to be a scientist but I do read history. You should try it some time, but I suppose it’s quite difficult to see the pages from such a high horse.

  10. Alexander K on 23/06/2011 at 3:06 am said:

    Dr Pitt, your web site is very interesting and full of fascinating stuff, but that does not make your statements re models in science sit all that comfortably with those of us who have been watching the forecasting models that certain cliques of climate scientists have invested their credibility in fail by a significant margin to match real-world data year after year after year. One of the clearest thinkers and writers on any science topic I have come across is Willis Eschenbach, who wrote a piece titled ‘Models All The Way Down’, which was posted on WUWT. I suggest you read this, if you have not already done so.
    A current senior scientist at the UK Met office said not too long ago that data from observations in science were not terribly useful compared with models; his organisation is constantly ridiculed for it’s remarkably poor track record for forecasting weather further than one week out.
    You may also have followed the controversy which followed the leaking of a tranche of emails from UEA in the UK. A number of individuals prominent in the UK and Edinborough Royal Societies were involved in various facets of the subsequent enquires and, in the of considered opinion of many observers, failed in their duty to the spirit of the scientific method and its princples.

  11. Doug Proctor on 23/06/2011 at 8:44 am said:

    In my lifetime I’ve been subjected to the following end-of-world scenarios:

    1. 1955. Communism, Russian.
    2. 1963. Nuclear war, with Russia. Actually almost happened.
    3. 1968 Black-white race riots and Colour War in America, destroy USA, bring end to World Order.
    3. 1970. Global cooling and coming ICE AGE, leading to
    4. 1975. Global famine.
    5. 1980. Nuclear war in the MidEast.
    6. 1980. Communism, Chinese.
    7. 1982. Nuclear war, with Russia.
    8. 1979 – 1982. Great Depression Redux, bigger than the Great Depression of the 30s.
    9. 1985. End of oil within 30 years.,
    10. 1985. Failure of Californian (and other) food crops to keep up with population, limited famine.
    11. 1985. Loss of Ozone, global blindness and crop failures.
    12. 1990. End of fishing, fish all gone. Famine in 3rd world areas eating fish.
    13. 1995. Communism, Chinese, or at least Chinese people infiltrating and running the West.
    14. 2000. Y2K. Back to stoneage without a TV.
    15. 2000 Global warming, famine, flooding, death of all species, the oceans.
    16. 2011. Ocean acidification. Extinction of all marine species.

    Somewhere there was also:

    Forests all gone, including Amazon.
    Run out of precious metals.
    AIDS. Killing 1/3 of the world.
    Birdflu Killing 40% of world.
    Hantavirus. Killing lots and lots.
    Birdflu again.
    Swine flu.
    Brain-softening Mad Cow Disease.
    Anthrax spores in the postal system. Not to be confused with cyanide in the Aspirin.
    Overpopulation, again, but somehow at the same time as famine and lack of fresh water: in death, people reproduce like zombie-rabbits, perhaps.
    Drinkable water runs out. Still on the go.
    Estrogen in the water supply.
    DDT in mothers’ milk.
    Tropical diseases sweeping the First world.
    Flesh-eating diseases AND
    Antibiotic immune bacteria.
    Garbage in the oceans.
    Air pollution.
    Acid rain.

    I’m sure I’m missing some.

    Do you get the idea that the last 55 years has been a delicate act of brinkmanship by all our eco-liberal pundits and professors? Thank the Lord they have steered us through so many almost-disasters. I just wish they would be full martyrs and PAY for the “fixes” also.

    • Andy on 23/06/2011 at 9:32 am said:

      Speaking of lists, Omniclimate has a great (tongue in cheek ?) take on why CAGW is logically impossible


    • Alexander K on 24/06/2011 at 1:19 am said:

      Brilliant, mate. I will be chuckling all day. Or I would be if these idiot scenarios were not so costly and politicians weren’t so gullible.

    • Andy on 24/06/2011 at 7:47 am said:

      You did miss one.
      That’s the imminent default of the Greek economy, contagion across the eurozone that ensues, and heaven knows what after that. (World financial collapse?)

      This however, is a real problem.

      Hence we don’t talk about it.

  12. Flipper on 23/06/2011 at 9:25 am said:

    Doug Proctor – Excellent.

    As youy say, you could extend the list almost without limit, back to shortges of various metals and even timber, through to that idiot Paul Erlich’s population “:bomb” predictions.

    Richard T…. Dont worry about the Flat Earth Soiciety. The Pitt’s of this world are not worth the trouble.

    I always wonder about people like “Dr Pitt.”
    Wihout bothering to check what is probably a self-aggrandizing web site, it is obvious that Ph.Ds (in Hip Hop?) are now almost as prevalent as sardines.

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