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Quantifying Uncertainties in Climate Science

Another date for your diaries - the Royal Met Soc's meeting on uncertainty in climate science.

Climate models produce different projections of future climate change under identical pathways of future greenhouse gases. This meeting will highlight recent studies that have attempted to quantify those uncertainties using different approaches.

Time No. Presenting author Title
Prof Reto Knutti, (ETH Zürich) Projection uncertainties: The multi model perspective.
Dr Paul Williams, University of Reading. Climate models: The importance of being stochastic.
Dr Jonty Rougier, University of Bristol Background and philosophy
Dr David Sexton, UK Met Office UK climate projections.
Dr Tamsin Edwards, University of Bristol Palaeo-constraints on climate sensitivity.
Dr Lindsay Lee, University of Leeds Constraining aerosol models.

Details here.

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Reader Comments (224)

Thanks to Fay Kelly Tuncay for alerting me to this by email in the early hours. As I said in my reply I may be a bit busy that day but it would be good if someone was able to go from BH (in addition to Tamsin!) and report back.

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

It coincides wonderfully well with the BH pub meet ^.^

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:22 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Now that is what I call thoughtful of the Royal Meteorological Society!

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I suppose that now the North Koreans have confirmed the unicorn existed I will have to modify my idea that a trace of a trace gas responsible for all life (even unicorns) can have a noticeable and entirely deleterious effect on our climate. I apologise to all climate scientists for not having believed them before based only on my perception of empirical evidence without due consideration of what was emerging from the world of fantasy.

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat


This National Meeting is held jointly with the Royal Statistical Society

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:51 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

It is amazing (in view of the past) and gratifying (in view of our future) to see the scientific word "uncertainty" emerge in the proposed presentations.

Dec 2, 2012 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commenteroebele bruinsma

Or, computer modelling ("btw can we have a new super computer?" - J. Slingo) and doubtful statistical methodologies and certainly basing ideology in unquantifiable future divination.

Dec 2, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

A faster bigger computer just means they wait less time for their random numbers to be generated.

If each cycle in a prediction is 95% accurate then it will take only ~12 more cycles for inaccuracy to grow to 50% .

Dec 2, 2012 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

When I see the words " Climate models" I get a painful twinge in the guts and feel very negative about the whole thing.

This concerns me because in my younger days I was enthusiastic about all things scientific, which made me choose science as a career. Climate "scientists" have certainly had a profound effect on my view of science and I can't forgive them for that.

Dec 2, 2012 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Climate "scientists" have certainly had a profound effect on my view of science and I can't forgive them for that.
Dec 2, 2012 at 6:39 PM Schrodinger's Cat

Nor me. Now, if I read something about, say, DNA analysis of archeological samples, I find myself wondering whether they too are hiding some kind of decline.

Dec 2, 2012 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

What a rogue's galley of presenters.

Dec 2, 2012 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

13 years I studied for my qualifications only to have these morons make it all worthless. jeez !!

Dec 2, 2012 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

It will be interesting to hear what rational Tamsin has to say.

Dec 2, 2012 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

"Quantifying Uncertainties in Climate Science"

In the Church Hall if wet?

Dec 2, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

graphicconception is the thread winner with "in the Church Hall if wet".

Dec 2, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Nice' ladies' of this kind in New Zealand are also convinced that climate change is caused by humans. The trouble is they are also convinced that herbs are 'natural' and don't contain chemicals They respond to the information that plants are made of chemicals with anger. Nice 'ladies' of this sort control the media here . Niceness is stultifying discussion.

Dec 2, 2012 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterm e wood

I wonder how it can last so long for have we not been for years that there is NO uncertainty in climate science.

Dec 2, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

There has been too much of Guesswork In, Gospel Out in this business, as if scientists were desperately impatient to show dramatic results. A little more humility and a lot more patience woud both be in order I think, and both to be promoted assertively in the public square now that 'climate change' has been adopted so widely and dramatically by political and financial interests for their own ends. The coarsening of climate studies by the dismal dramatis personae as revealed for example by the Hockey Stick Illusion and the Climategates, and the shocking misuse of the associated 'gospel' by those who produced such as 'An Inconvenient Truth', or 'No Pressure', are all grounds for stronger participation by wiser minds. Perhaps this conference will see some kind of move in that direction. Or will we see yet more special pleading?

Dec 2, 2012 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Dec 2, 2012 at 7:37 PM | Stephen Richards

13 years I studied for my qualifications only to have these morons make it all worthless. jeez !!

Sadly this reveals a rather ignorant and prejudiced attitude in you. I doubt if you've ever met any of these people or heard anything about them at all, so pre-judging them is not scepticism, it's bigotry. I guess you have seen Tamsin's contributions here, and you may even have looked at her own blog - and on the basis of those, I struggle to see why anyone would call her a "moron".

The Bish will remember Jonty Rougier from when he visited the Met Office - Jonty was in the audience for the Bish's talk and had a lot to say about quantification of uncertainties in palaeoclimate studies. He is an excellent statistician and is well-known for giving climate scientists a hard time, and I fully expect him to do so at the RMS meeting.

My colleague David Sexton's talk will also be very good - he's another excellent statistician as well as being a very down-to-earth guy.

I very much encourage folks here to go to the meeting, it should be great. I only wish I could go myself, but I can't make it up to London that day. I hope Josh can go and provide cartoon notes - I'm looking forward to seeing how Tamsin looks in Josh's style :-) (You haven't drawn her before have you? If so I missed it!)

Hope you enjoy!

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

I agree that Richards' comment is a bit off. But I doubt it was meant personally.

Let us do empirical work instead of whingeing about 'uncertainty'.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Registered Commentershub

Personally I've seen far too many future projections based on greenhouse gases and far too few on natural drivers.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Richard Betts:

Climate scientists (the real ones) have a duty to speak out in the interests of true science. We have had decades of alarmist hype and I have not heard any dissent. Much of the alarmism and policy advocacy has come from the Met Office which continues to make flawed forecasts based on models dominated by CO2 driven warming.

I am sick of the lies. Am I alone in this?

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

@Richard Betts. Dr Tamsin Edwards certainly is not a moron
Misguided? Possibly.
Grant-grubbing? Almost certainly.

In fact she fits in perfectly with the other graspers.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Well said, Richard Betts. It is too easy to tar everyone with the same brush. It is all part of the coarsening of this debate in which tempers can run high so easily. I am not clear what Stephen Richards intends by his comments, but they read as hot-headed and harsh.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

As for Josh and the new calendar. I've got my copy. I haven't seen the Telegraph's Matt calendar offering for next year yet. But I do have the Matt calendar for this year. December features a middle-aged couple, the wife sitting knitting in the armchair, the husband standing beside the Christmas tree in front of his climate change advent calendar hanging on the wall. He's opening a window, and saying 'Ooh, today we've got a picture of a dead polar bear'.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Schrodinger's Cat

I agree with your point but Richard was definitely responsing to a bit of a prejudiced comment.

Back in my studying days I went to a few of these Met Soc meetings and struggling back on the last bus to Reading. I seem to remember Piers Corbyn popping up at the front to sell his forecasting to the mumblings of us Meteorologists. My other recollection of the Blackett laboratory was a year doing Physics at Imperial. Out of 200 students in my year about 1/3 were left handed.... very sinister ;-) Anyway it made it slightly tricky ay times to avoid the leftie on your right hand side and the clashing elbow syndrome with all of us packed into the lecture theatre.

Vaguely related but just been reading a BBC climate article where 'low lying nations' want "to call for a threshold temperature rise less than 2C, arguing that even a 2C rise will jeopardise their future."

I hope when the time comes they will set a max cooling threshold of 2 degrees to avoid the nuisance of half of Britain being covered by ice again.

Dec 2, 2012 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Lots of people feel they wasted years in rigorous applied science and technical training in traditional sciences, only to a) see people doing purely conjectural work in some 'hot field' getting all the cake, b) see people with social skills and soft scientific backgrounds climb way ahead in the totem pole.

Dec 2, 2012 at 11:00 PM | Registered Commentershub

Oh god!

That someone would think, erroneously, that the existence of different model output represents in any way "uncertainty" is worrying. That influential well funded climate "scientists" would think that is terrifying.

Be scared that in the minds of these people, all they believe that they need for certainty is all model output agreeing.

The ignorance of this is truly terrifying.

Dec 2, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Richard Betts can we take it the science is not 'settled ' after all otherwise the need for any 'Quantifying Uncertainties ' ?

That idea is this area has stick made for its own back , the desires to banish that very scientific element 'doubt ' by 'the Team' with the silence from others in the area. And its a legacy this area is going to have to leave with for many years to come for when the gatekeepers fail in such a spectacularly way it takes a very long time to win trust back. Frankly I bet some of those backing 'the cause' are doing it not becasue they hard core believers but because of the feeling that they their sitting in a a house of cards which if it falls takes a great deal with it.Not just those that built it but also those that stood by watching them build it who said nothing .

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Granted that Mr Richard's posts may have been robust but a lot of our future hangs upon the predictions/projections that 'climate scientists' come up with.
From what I've taken from the input from Tamsin, yourself -Dr Betts, Dr Wilson and, but a few others I have no doubt about the personal integrity that you bring to the debate.
But folks, you are in a very small minority compared to the sneering bombardments of the consensus-brigades that will broach no disagreement, questioning and, certainly. no prospect of debate on a public platform.
That you may be caught up as innocent bystanders is unfortunate but, given the stakes, inevitable.
I'm a typical 'sceptic'.
I think that CO2 causes warming.
I understand that CO2 concentrations are increasing because of the consequences of chemistry and the utilisation of current forms of energy.
I believe that the enormous sums of money associated with our need for energy are being targetted as fair game by governments; some of whom are ignorant of physical constraints but blinded by short-term advantages.
Stephen Richard's words may be harsh but his concern must be understood and put into context.
This is not a game, this is life and sometimes, the gloves have to be taken off!

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

What are the latest news on the BH pub meeting?

ps can we stop asking Richard the same questions over and over again please?

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Two amendments to my previous post.
(1) Dr Edwards
(2) sneering Bombardiers

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Zeke Hausfather: The role of science blogs in communication and collaboration
Peter Sinclair: Effective Use of Social Media in Communicating Climate Science
Michael Mann: Using Blogs and Social Media in the Battle to Communicate Climate Change: Lessons from The Front Lines
Michael Tobis: How Climate Science Lost the Internet - and How We Can Win it Back Again
Kevin Ward: Earth Matters: Promoting Science Exploration through Blogs and Social Media
William Gunn: Creatiing a Collaborative Research Network for Scientists
Laura Guertin: VoiceThread as a Peer Review and Dissemination Tool for Undergraduate Research
Christopher Rowan: The many modes of Twitter: developing and maintaining a professional identity on Twitter

This is a list of presentations by "prominent bloggers" at the American Geophysical Union

1] Do any of these have anything to do with geophysics?
2] Reading this list, do you not get a sick feeling to the stomach, about what's happened to science?
3] What are Michael Mann and Michael Tobis doing on this list? They are both failures, as bloggers
4] There are, for damn sure, a dozen other blogs on the skeptical side that are better than each and every one on this list. Who's going to pay for them to go to San Francisco to present their poster?

What in the blue hell is "social media"?

Dec 3, 2012 at 1:13 AM | Registered Commentershub


Always amusing to see arch-fantasist Mann telling us all about 'battling in the front lines' when his daily reality is precisely the opposite, being spent evading challenges of all kinds. Maybe somebody should remind him of the fate that befell his obvious role model, Thurber's Walter Mitty.

Dec 3, 2012 at 1:39 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

EM Woods - you and I must know the same set of ladies in NZ, as I was told by a female friend of long standing and in a tone that brooked no discussion, that 'natural' remedies contain absolutely no chemicals.
The ignorance 'out there' is truly frightening!
Gekko, the same thought as yours recurs as a theme for me. Willis Eschenbach put it beatifully in his story 'Models all the way down'. Highly-educated adult children playing with computers, with very few exceptions, in my view.

Dec 3, 2012 at 1:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

"...that 'natural' remedies contain absolutely no chemicals"

Dec 3, 2012 at 2:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

These models are not easily falsifiable, and therefore they are not useful science.

Dec 3, 2012 at 3:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterguscost

BH pre-Christmas Pub Social Meeting details:

Wednesday 12th December, Anglesea Arms, South Kensington, London. SW7 3QG. From 18:15.

We will meet at the Anglesea Arms...a decent pub about 7 mins walk from South Kensington tube...for a pre-Christmas social. 15 mins from Imperial if you're going to the RMS meeting beforehand.

I'll be there from about 18:15 onwards. For recognition I will carry both Hide The Decline and The Hockey Stick Illusion. Josh The Cartoonist will be coming along about 19:00 to distribute copies of his Sceptical Calendar.

Everybody welcome for a convivial evening.

For queries about the arrangements, please contact me directly


For queries about the calendar, please contact Josh directly


Hope to see you there!

Dec 3, 2012 at 3:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Steven Richards, Don Keiller

Your comments are over the top. I think reasonable people can agree that Tamsin has shown that she is not one to hype things. I would also echo Richard B's comments about Jonty Rougier, who was highly critical of mainstream paleoclimatology's approach to statistics when I spoke at the Met Office.

Tarring everybody with the same brush doesn't help.

Dec 3, 2012 at 7:29 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

That's the mistake you make Andrew, Richard Betts and Tamsin Edwards sound reasonable enough, I am quite sure Mark Serreze, Al Gore at his beach side property and Rajendra Pachauri are all affable and come across as sounding - reasonable people.

In the end, there is a right and a wrong in all of this and moreover a morality, of probity which has significantly gone missing and it follows, that, with such people compromise can never be reached because polar opposites can never meet.

Dec 3, 2012 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

The synopsis of this presentation is a perfect illustration of my earlier point

Constraining aerosol models.
The effect of global aerosols on clouds is one of the largest uncertainties in the radiative forcing on the climate1. Cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) are large soluble aerosol in the atmosphere onto which clouds form and are a key quantity in understanding the aerosol-climate effect. Global aerosol models2 are used to simulate the global distribution of aerosol from emission or nucleation to CCN but these models come with a degree of uncertainty. We perform global variance-based sensitivity analysis (SA) via emulation to identify the leading causes of parametric uncertainty in CCN3,4. Performing SA on every model grid box throughout the year 2008 we can identify the processes leading to uncertainty in model predicted CCN. The same technique is used to show that the most important uncertainties in model predicted CCN are not the same as those in indirect forcing due to changes between the pre-industrial and present day aerosol processes.

In English, that gobbledigook means this:

Clouds are important in determining climate responses. Our models don't understand clouds to the extent that different models give very different results. We are going to tweek a bunch of models in the same way to try and find out why they give different results. Once we do that, we will understand cloud responses.

I think most readers will instantly realise that understanding why a group of models purportedly designed to model the same process give different output is NOT the same as reducing or even addressing uncertainty of you ability to understand and hence model the ACTUAL PHYSICAL PROCESS.

This stuff is interesting academic endevour. It has NO place in the general discourse of climate chanhe as a real wrold issues - physical or political.

Dec 3, 2012 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

It's unhelpful to the debate to engage in abuse of the people involved. However, 'abusing' the science presented is required to see if it stands up.

I would like to see Prof Betts and Edwards take a little more time to comment in the Guardian, so much of the Guardian's output is alarmist nonsense underpinned by nothing more than NGO screeching. They should be put back in their box occasionally and perhaps fewer people would think this whole debate is political.

Dec 3, 2012 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

Bish. As you and your readers know my experience with "Climate Scientists" has not been a good one.

As Swiss Bob says, until the likes of Richard Betts and Tamsin Edwards speak out against the wilder flights of fancy and doom-mongering delivered daily by the Beeb and The "Guardian", why should I not "tar them with the same brush" as the charlatans at CRU that I had a 3-year legal battle with?

Dec 3, 2012 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Don - I don't know your day job but I and many here have the luxury of talking climate without having to answer to anybody. OTOH I do not think Richard's work includes debunking The Guardian.

Just look at the Met Office-Daily Mail polemic on the lack of warming, and how singularly uninterested was the former in replying to howling mistakes done by Cuccinelli on The Graun on the same topic.

I guess up on high nobody has understood it yet that the continuous association of the MO with fools buffoons and fanatical ignorants cannot do it any good.

Dec 3, 2012 at 10:37 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos


"Grant-grubbing? Almost certainly."

I think we could safely class that as an ad-hom (ad-fem?).

Dashing to the vet now, but back later...

Dec 3, 2012 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards

Perhaps Richard Betts and Tamsin might post reviews of your book, Bish, on "hide the decline"?

Dec 3, 2012 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered Commentersam

Some of the comments are grossly unfair. Here are a bunch of knowledgeable people discussing openly and publicly about what we do and do not know in climate research, and on how to make that rigorous. Go and listen to them and engage them in a constructive discussion.

By the way, speaking at events like this does not affect the probability of success in fund-raising.

Dec 3, 2012 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Hear, hear! Well said, Richard Tol.

Those of us unconvinced by the case for acute alarm over rising CO2 levels have little organisation and little power and little money in comparison with Big Green, Big Finance, Big UN, Big Politics, Big Media and even Big Energy (if I might be permitted a little mirroring of a terminological style widely used by activists - without undermining, I hope, my next points!).

It seems to me that the coherence provided automatically by concentrating on evidence and argument, and trying to keep calm in the face of many provocations by pressure groups and sundry vested interests, are both important if we are to gain more sympathy for 'our' side of 'the cause'. More open discussion and sharing of ideas is to be welcomed wherever and whenever it might occur, and this RMS/RSS seminar looks like it could make a good contribution in that regard. At the very least, it could give us an up-to-date peek at the kinds of arguments and concerns current amongst some relevant experts.

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Don - I sympathise with you given the obstruction and bad behaviour you have had to endure from climate scientists, but for all we know Richard B. and Tamsin do try to engender some rationality and balance in the Guardian, but their efforts fall on deaf ears. iirc Tamsin was one of the scientists who spoke up against the Times Atlas wildly exaggerating the Greenland ice sheet's diminution?

In any case, as John says the RMS/RSS seminar is a welcome opportunity for some hopefully constructive dialogue. You never know, the modellers may even be about to fess up and admit that all their models are about as accurate and reliable as the Met Office's weather forecasts. (Oh, I forgot, the Met Office use the same Unifited Model for both). ;)

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

@Iapogus. The "Skeptic" side have been "reasonable" for far too long - and see where it has got us.


We need to take a leaf out of the agitprop Green groups, control freaks and scamsters who have routinely abused, denigrated, marginalised and ridiculed anyone who dare disagree with their encyclicals on "Climate Change"

If that means upsetting "moderate" climate scientists- then so it it.

I, for one, do not want to see my children empoverised by this perverse, anti-Human faith.

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

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