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Competing interest?

There has been quite a degree of interest in the Louise Gray article in the Telegraph the other day - the one in which we were led to believe that a variety of scientists were calling for a halt to economic growth and the introduction of rationing.

Donna Laframboise is one person who has been taking a look at this story. She notes that Louise Gray is not presenting an accurate picture to her readers:

Gray, who appears to have interviewed Anderson, fails to make it clear that the bit about rationing represents Anderson’s personal opinion. It is highly misleading to suggest, as her article does, that this measure enjoys the support of “physicists and chemists from some of world’s most respected scientific institutions.”

As others have observed, Anderson is not only a director of the Tyndall Institute for Climate Change, but, more remarkably, is a non-executive director of Greenstone Carbon Management, a company that works " in partnership with commercial and public sector organisations to enable them to measure, manage and report their carbon emissions".

Now this looks to me like a fairly clear competing interest, one that one would have expected Prof Anderson to declare in his new paper in Phil Trans A. The code of practice for UK researchers published by the UK Research Integrity Office says that:

3.15.6 ... All funders and sponsors of research should be clearly acknowledged and any competing interests listed.

Unfortunately, Prof Anderson appears to have forgotten to mention his interests in the paper in question.

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Reader Comments (64)

Professor Anderson,
I think that you dismiss the role of water vapour in the air too quickly.
Also the related subject of cloud variability.
Are you aware of any research that definitively shows that feedbak mechanisms are positive rather than negative?
How do you account for the fact that in a number of widely dispursed sites in Australia, the long term temperature trend, barring UHI), has been flat for far more than the last 100 years?
Or is Australia not part of the world in your view?
Are you aware of the 60 odd year climate cycle and the fact that the warm part of the cycle has now ended and that we are now in the down hill run and that we will be lucky if the temperature in fifty years is as warm as at present?

Or have you not personally studied climate history in depth?

Dec 2, 2010 at 2:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

Thankyou Professor Anderson for putting your head in the Lion's mouth. Debate is always good.

I would like to deal with one point that you made about the enrichment (or lack of it) of climate scientists. I don't remember ever reading anything that implies that individual climate scientists will become rich as a consequence of the upsurge in climate science. This may be true of those at the political/economic interfaces such as President Gore, but clearly not for academics.

The point that is being made is a rather broader one, i.e. relating to the exponential growth in academic posts for climate scientists, and the associated support funding from governments. I suspect that there is no other academic discipline that has ever seen such a growth in support (yet another Hockey Stick perhaps?). The charge now being made is that, to sustain that growth it is necessary to protect the "narrative" that produced it and that this may lead to being economical with the truth.

Dec 2, 2010 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Just found this exchange and I would like to add my thanks to Professor Anderson for making his comments and I admire the stance you have taken regarding your chosen life style principles. I will need a lot more time to further digest the scientific issues.

Once again thanks for taking the time to get involved it is truly appreciated. Also thanks to the Bishop for keeping a platform on which it is possible.

Dec 2, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Thank you, Professor Anderson - you appear to walk the walk. I think Monbiot tried, but the temptation to fly around the world dispensing his wisdom proved too much!

The main problem I have with the CO2 argument is that I find it hard to believe that the removal of one molecule in 2500 of the atmosphere would suddenly decrease the surface temperature by 33 degrees. Is that really the case?

Dec 2, 2010 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Dr Anderson,

You have taken some of the weakest arguments, if they are indeed arguments, coming from science ignorants to make your case (regarding your first post). A good example is is the "climate scientists are in it for the money" argument.

People argue against the present IPCC driven state of climate science for a variety of reasons - each has to be understood in its own context. Since they might all appear one below the other in a blog comments section - as a relative newcomer to blogs (I presume), and an outsider, these may all appear like a homogenous mass to you.

Skeptics have critiques of different levels of sophistication to offer; to be sure, many are not formally put together or published (for the same reasons scientists have unwritten papers rotting away in the desk drawers). But the germ of the idea is many a time, something any climate scientist should have no problem accepting.

Secondly, I dont have a car, for example. I spend a good amount of time, learning and criticizing aspects of climate science on the blogs. Therefore I must be in the pay of 'big oil' right? Skeptical commenters are not scientists always, but scientists should not harbor counter-prejudices as defenses (as much as possible). I firmly believe that if scientists were to engage on a more widespread basis in the blogs, they would find themselves gravitating toward the skeptical blogs - for reasons totally unconnected to the science.

Dec 2, 2010 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

@Kevin Anderson, thank you for taking the time to join the conversation.

Correlation, Quantification, Observation.

1.6 W/m² for the net anthropogenic forcing (agree/disagree?)

In the tropics there is a change of 5 W/m2 in reflected energy for each 1% change in cloud cover. (agree/disagree?)

Can you point me to research showing a change in cloud cover cannot be responsible for the proposed temperature changes, or indeed any research quantifying cloud cover in the tropics over a prolonged period?

Changes in cloud cover in the tropics can account for the postulated temperature change (agree/disagree?)

Dec 2, 2010 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

"Second, carbon dioxide is the most significant of the greenhouse gases; though it is important to note that water vapour is an essential part of the warming story. However, its presence in the atmosphere is a consequence principally of the temperature rise brought about by the longer-lasting greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide"

This would seem an extremely unlikely hypothesis on a planet that is 70% covered by water. Do you seriously suggest that in the absence of CO2 no evaporation would occur?

Dec 2, 2010 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered Commentertty


This is central to the recent CO2 'control knob' paper by Andy Lacis. He discusses the paper in some detail with Roger Pielke Snr here:

Jos De Laat of the KNMI weighs in with a guest post here:

Dec 2, 2010 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Kevin Anderson | Dec 1, 2010 at 8:20 PM, I read through your essay with interest, looking forward to reaching your take on attribution. I pretty much agree with your four points, there is "greenhouse" warming, CO2 is in the atmosphere and responsible for part of the ~33 C extra warmth, atmospheric CO2 increasing, and humans are probably responsible for that.

That said, none of those items have anything to say about whether 20th century warming is principally due to excess CO2. So, your conclusion in the affirmative, based on not-evidence, was a surprise.

Only climate physics, as represented in climate models, can attribute physical cause. The meaning of data is granted only by physical theory, after all, but not by chains of personal inferences.

However, climate models have demonstrated no predictive competence. See Demetris Koutsoyiannis' recent quite comprehensive test here. Likewise, perfect model tests of GCMs show they have little or no potential predictability. See Jerry Boer's 2008 multi-GCM study, for example.

GCMs are tuned to the global temperature trend, with the pronounced water vapor feedback already built in. It can be no surprise, then, that they would go on to predict pronounced warming with increased atmospheric CO2.

Further, studies of GCMs show that they all can be made to hindcast 20th century global temperatures despite that their CO2 climate sensitivity varies by a factor of 2. It's found that this variation is overcome by adjusting the values of various other parameters to compensate out the sensitivity problem. This parameter variation therefore accounts for a second factor of 2. Presumably these parameter adjustments are within their own estimated limits of uncertainty.

That analysis alone indicates that GCMs have a built in factor 4 error. And, of course, the full ranges of the parameter uncertainties have never been propagated through any GCM projection, and so a proper estimate of the physical uncertainty in any projection has never been made.

All that, and (as Jerry Browning made very clear at ClimateAudit) the non-physical attributes of GCMs, such as the hyperviscous atmosphere and the suppression of enstrophy, means that the parameterizations are necessarily unphysical in any case. As GCMs are unphysical, how come their projections to represent physical reality?

So, I don't see that you have any scientific ground to stand on. The deep conundrum for me is that none of the above is cryptic. It's all out in the open and in the literature, and nevertheless, one scientist after another is convinced of AGW despite the *entire* lack of scientifically valid evidence for it. This whole cognitive dissonance business is a total puzzle to me.

Dec 6, 2010 at 2:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

Stern: Rich nations will have to forget about growth to stop climate change
Economic expansion cannot be achieved forever if greenhouse gases are to be curbed, warns the leading economist and author of the UK's government's report on climate change

The ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ debate – latest news articles

Dec 6, 2010 at 4:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Listen to Prof Anderson talking nonsense on the Jeremy Vine show in October last year.

Dec 7, 2010 at 1:16 AM | Unregistered Commentergilpaton

according to the audo clip the sceptics met up with Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall Centre the next day - I wonder what happened - were the sceptics persuaded?

Right at the end of the clip Kevin Anderson very inappropriately compares the damaging effect of 2 degrees C increase in global temperature with the same increase above normal 36.5 degrees C human body temperature (apart from fact that there would need to be about a 6 degree C increase to be lethal).

Dec 8, 2010 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterQ

Professor Anderson
It is the climate sceptics rather than the AGWers who are usually accused of being in it for the money (big oil etc...). I also admire your low carbon efforts. You seem to be very defensive about all that but I am not going to criticize that.

However, if you live in a 2-bed flat then I wonder if you have any kids. Not that it matters in of itself, but it is easier to be frugal without kids and with a salary of 60k you would certainly feel quite well-off. With kids and wife, it is hard to live without a washing machine and £60k would seem like much less and I would have to admire your efforts even more. While I would happily live like this, I doubt my wife and kids would put up with it. ;-)

Dec 14, 2010 at 2:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterDominic

KA, my point, which you missed though others have made it, is that for you a 'conflict of interest' only seems to be possible over money. You have much to learn about 'conflict' and about 'interest'.

Others have corrected you about emphasizing the importance of CO2 over water. We know what the effect of CO2 is in the laboratory; we don't know what its effect is in the huge analog computer that is the atmosphere. Heck, we don't even know precisely what water vapor does in the atmosphere, a gas which is demonstrably more important there than CO2.

Dec 14, 2010 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

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