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« Silencing your critics | Main | Barry, Tamsin and Peter G »

Nobel laureate on temperatures

Revkin posts what I have to say is an astonishingly fatuous letter from Nobel laureate Burton Richter in response to the letter of the 16 in the Wall Street Journal.

Armed with my own Nobel Medal, I say if you can read a graph, the evidence is indeed incontrovertible because the temperature has gone up. The Physical Society is right, he is wrong, and I can’t understand why he complains about the temperature rise issue when there is more to discuss on the second question; who is the villain?

This is what is known in the trade as a straw man. Nobody is arguing that temperatures have not gone up, including the 16 signatories of the Wall Street Journal letter. Somehow one expects that Nobel laureates would be able to string together a logical argument (or at least that the winners of scientific Nobels would be able to do so).

The 16 scientists note only that temperature hasn't risen for over ten years. This is inconsistent with a world warming at 2 degrees per century and is surprising in view of the increases in greenhouse gases we have seen over the same period.

Let me say it again: the question is not whether temperatures have risen or whether mankind has affected the climate. Temperatures have always risen and fallen and mankind has always affected the climate. The question is whether we have a problem on our hands. The poor performance of the climate models suggests that the problem is much less than we have been led to believe.

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Reader Comments (75)

"To those who are interested in the most recent analysis, I point them to the work of Dr Richard Muller and his group at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Muller was a climate skeptic and pulled together a group of scientists and mathematicians and reanalyzed all the data. He did an outstanding job and gets the same answer as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

He's either lying or he's stupid. Muller was never a climate skeptic. In addition, if he actually looked at what BEST did and understands the problems, he would know they didn't do an outstanding job.

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

"Armed with my own Nobel medal (which was for discovering the J meson)..."

The ultimate argument from authority - and the unlimited unscientific statement.

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterFed

that should be ultimate unscientific statement

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterFed

Cages have been rattled and 'the Team' are getting their people out to PR 'the cause for all their worth. But why this was after all merely one article in the WSJ , what is it about this article that has got them so hot under the collar ,

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Nobody is arguing that temperatures have gone up, including the 16 signatories of the Wall Street Journal letter.

Important not to be inserted there?

[BH: adds Thanks- fixed]

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I've worked with very intelligent people and sad to say that they can also be the dumbest people I've ever met.


Feb 2, 2012 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

This proves conclusively that many of the consensus supporters are poorly knowledeable about the issues and have blindly and lazily bought into the majority view. They just read the latest Nature or Science issue and gossip about it in their labs, and think they know everything.

One more whose words I won't trust.

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

No Richard, I don't think a 'not' is needed. Temperatures have certainly risen since the end of the LIA ( which is nice). The point of interest is the lack of any recent rise. Richter's claim that "That the temperature has not gone up for a few years is irrelevant." is question begging at its finest as that is exactly what is causing the fuss.

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Richter says "The Little Ice Age that began in the 14th century reduced the temperature of at least the northern hemisphere by about one degree centigrade in a couple of hundred years". I would have hoped a physicist would know that the term 'centigrade' is deprecated, especially in scientific literature where the derived unit has been defined since 1948 as degree Celsius.

The context in the APS statement is about having to take mitigating actions, so there is implicit attribution to man, i.e. AGW, in the statement. That certainly is not incontrovertible.

Richter's tone is completely out of place for a physicist. Clearly his Nobel award has gone to his head. It is tautological and begging the question to say 'it is incontrovertible that temperatures have gone up because I can see on a graph they have gone up'. How about 'It's incontrovertible that the sun goes round the earth because I can see it goes round'? Don't even need a graph for that.

Not very smart, Mr Richter, sir.

Feb 2, 2012 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

"In the 1950s we learned that CO-2 was going up faster than assumed previously. "

I don't give a damn about what you thought earlier.

The foundation of much alarmism is based on saying it is "worse than what we thought". Well, you thought that, didn't you?

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Eddy, in the context it doesn't make sense to me without the not. But it's the Bishop's prose - he'll no doubt know in a jiffy which is right when he looks at it.

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

SFT, there is more from this person by way of tautologic statements. I guess it happens when you don't read back what you wrote, I don't know.

" Improved efficiency can lower energy use in buildings, saving money and reducing emissions"


The Laureate concludes:

"The authors can join in the discussion without resigning from the society, and perhaps learn a few things."

The Nobel has indeed gone to his head.

Imagine. If the Nobel committee existed during the time of Jesus, they would have tried to insult him by giving him a Nobel.

Lesson: Not every Nobel prize winner is a Nobelist.

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Actually we do have a problem on our hands: people are placing far too much weight on these unproven, unsupported, incomplete and often undocumented "climate models".

I'd almost get a picture of a globe balancing precariously on a wobbly climate model and "the team" proclaiming that the real Earth is about to fall apart. Josh ?

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeroen B.

If no-one is arguing that temperatures have not gone up, it would seem therefore that it is 'incontrovertible' - which is exactly what Glivaer quoted in the WSJ piece was arguing against.

So you seem to want to have it both ways - either everything is uncertain (including the temperature rise) - in which case people like Richter are going to point out that this isn't true, or you accept that it is warming (which you now prefer), which makes statements like Glivaer's and the WSJ fatuous in the extreme.

How about a little consistency? Can you get past the tribalism to criticise the WSJ letter and the insinuations therein?

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

"Nobel laureate on temperatures"

and Dr Roy Spencer on temperatures:-

"UAH Global Temperature Update for January 2012: -0.09 deg. C"

"The global average lower tropospheric temperature anomaly for January, 2012 took a precipitous plunge, not totally unexpected for a La Nina January"

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Burton Richter Nobel laureate? wow "Armed with my own Nobel Medal"

Didn't Jonathan Aitken say "with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play. I am ready for the fight" - just before he was caught lying and was sent to prison?

Perhaps Burton Richter should hand back his medal now that he has proven he does not deserve it!

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCinbadtheSailor

Temperatures have always risen and fallen and mankind has always affected the climate.

Er, what? "always affected the climate" - since we swung down from the trees and then - throughout antiquity?


Feb 2, 2012 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Micro climate maybe but even then its a stretch.

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.


Land-use - clearing forests with stone axes - affected the climate.


Temps rose at the end of the twentieth century and haven't risen since. It's as simple as that.

Feb 2, 2012 at 7:17 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Actually we do have a problem on our hands: people are placing far too much weight on these unproven, unsupported, incomplete and often undocumented "climate models".

I'd almost get a picture of a globe balancing precariously on a wobbly climate model and "the team" proclaiming that the real Earth is about to fall apart. Josh ?

It's climate models all the way down.

Feb 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon

In Top Trumps doesn't a Physics Nobel beat a Chemistry Nobel? :)

It is looking more and more peculiar the focus on the mention of the lack of warming of the last 10 years from the WSJ article - I think I notice that this is accepted universally now ;) To my layman ears the point the original 16 scientists were making is that models and alarmist predictions don't look good for the CAGW faithful today, that is what ...

"Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now."

...says to me.

I mean, weren't we all told about a decade or so ago that we all should be flailing around in the middle of the blade of a disastrous hockey stick temperature rise about now? What's happened to that? It seems this huffing and puffing over where to start trends and whose Nobel winner can beat yours is yet another argument from authority attempt at distracting from what any guy on the street is starting to see.

Feb 2, 2012 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

"Armed with my Nobel prize"

Michael Mann has got a Nobel prize too you know. He has it framed in his office.

Feb 2, 2012 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterandy scrase

Is it over the top to say that Burton Richter is an idiot savant?

Feb 2, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Austin

I'm sorry, but I find Revkin completely sleezy and suspect. The very introduction to that article was:

You can find a Nobel Prize winner to support either side of the CAGW debate. So I have invited two to comment on how stupid the deniers are...

In my opinion it is pretty dishonest journalism to dress up your polemnic as balanced journalism.

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

"........ temperature hasn't risen for over ten years. This is inconsistent with a world warming at 2 degrees per century ...."


Feb 2, 2012 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Sometimes I think science, reasoning and evidence have very little to do with contentions about the climate.

With this example I think it is certainly true. What is the most significant word in the excerpt BH quoted? What carries the most meaning, the take home, and preponderance of emotional energy [remember, it's not about the science.] ?
The fact that it isn't obvious shows this relies on the same realities as advertising, and if advertising didn't work on supposedly scientific, rational people, it wouldn't be used.


That is all you need to read. It makes the false assumption that a barely measurable, not noticeable increase of mildness in the climate is a terrible thing. Why? Because it was perpetrated by a Villain. And villains do terrible things!
But don't forget, folks, the power and weight of this message is due to the fact that it emanates from someone with a Nobel prize for science!

There is a second part of the message that jumped out at me [like the dog's breakfast that it is] which is this -

There are two legitimate questions to ask about global warming. First, is the temperature going up? Second, if it is changing, what is causing it?

Can we all agree that this is a) Not true b) Deceiving c) Garbage?

A question that precedes both of the above is 'Is a tiny change in temperature at all significant for civilisation and life on earth'? Because as the answer is 'No, it isn't' the other two questions sort of change their importance.

Like many scientists who actually have not thought about climate in any depth at all, Richter wanders around never having questioned the patently false assumption that warmth is a bad thing. The word has taken on some of the negative lustre of 'radiation', where the the expression "an increase in radiation [/warming]" automatically registers in our emotional centre as 'a perilous step closer to death'

It is nonsense!

Warm greetings and a happy interglacial to everyone!

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnteros

You hit all the buttons there Anteros my friend. The other legitimate question is does it matter? If you miss that one out you're dumb. And, in this case, a Nobel Laureate. But what's new.

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

A little tweak of Burns, and we have it:

'Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a [Nobelist],
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that. '

The poor chap can clutch his Medal for all its worth, but his words make him a laughing stock.

More of that poem, with a translation in plain English, here:

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Meanwhile Reality

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

As I expected. You can't actually bring yourself to criticise fatuous nonsense from 'your side'.

Feel free to ignore this comment too.

Feb 2, 2012 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Joe Public, think of it this way: NOAA in the USA has 1934 as the 3rd warmest year in US history and only by a .25F and only after UHI is ignored and only after many "adjustments". That was 80 years ago. 2008,2009, 2010 and 2011 are all significantly cooler than 1934.

You can only get 2C warming if you choose specific starting date. But if temeprature is cyclic (and we know it is) than right now it is cooler than the 1930s.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

I like it John. Very apposite, an a that.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Armed with my own Nobel Medal
Willy waving....

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterHoi Polloi

Joe Public

Try this

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:18 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Well Frank ignoring your latest comment would only be fair, after all you ignored BH's reply to your original comment.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Very well said, Bishop. Why does Revkin post arguments that contain obvious logical blunders?

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin


The statement that Giaever objected to was:
"The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now."

This is an ill-drafted statement that equates GW with AGW and CAGW. Silly, unscientific nonsense. GW: yes, but none recently; AGW: probably a little; CAGW: highly unlikely.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:24 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Your Grace,

You are quite right. Much of the "evidence" indicates either a moderate warming trend in the future (with very weak evidence for harmful destablisation of the climate) - or non at all. The policies being pursued are only justified by extreme and imminent CAGW. The biggest gulf that exists is not between alarmists and realists, but between alarmists and the evidence.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Thanks to those providing additional explanations to my 9:28 pm question.

The prediction is "...a world warming at 2 degrees per century...".

But if the temperature hasn't risen for one decade (out of 10 x decades), I fail to understand why there is an inconsistency, as there are a number of future decades in which there could be a greater increase.

Feb 2, 2012 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I find it interesting that "right wing Murdoch rags" like WSJ and "Faux" News try to make a point of giving both sides of any contentious issue a chance to state their position - as WSJ did in this case.

Meanwhile the "higher minded" folk like Revkin at the NYT and our own dear Grauniad clowns pile in on the "progressive establishment" side of the argument while trying to pretend that the other side doesn't even exist.

That's what happens when you have a "cause".

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Just a footnote -

While reading the comments on Revkin's Richter piece, one particular phrase caught my eye.

"We don't have time to waste on charlatans and prostitutes."

This comment has clearly been passed by the high-minded NYT moderators and succeeded in attracting no less than 13 recommends from other readers.

Obviously its not nearly as offensive as all that "hate mail" that climate scientists get though - or somebody at the NYT would be writing an article about it.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Joe Public Feb 2, 2012 at 10:59 PM

"But if the temperature hasn't risen for one decade (out of 10 x decades), I fail to understand why there is an inconsistency, as there are a number of future decades in which there could be a greater increase."

Whilst that comment is perfectly correct. The issue at present is that the models that predicted the 2 deg in a century did not predict that the temperature would not rise for the last decade+. So to have fallen very early in the prediction just how much store can be place in the future decades.

"The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."

That last para was written in 3+ years ago, we still can't explain the "lack of warming". So is our "observing system" still inadequate? A difficult claim to make when for the last decade the 3 major databases have drawn the conclusion that they have to be correct because they agree with each other?

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

@Joe Public

The fact that there has been no rise in global temperature since 1998, despite 14 years of increasing levels of CO2, suggests to me that the linkage between these two variables is not as strong as we have been led to believe. This of course does not make it impossible for global temperatures to rise by 2 deg Celsius this century, but as a scientist, it makes me think that there are some other mechanisms at work.

On this basis, claims that CO2 levels act as an atmospheric thermostat seem less plausible than they did back in the late 1990s - and if global temperatures start to tail down any time soon then the IPCC had better have a good cover story, as their output plagues the lives of every one of us daily.

Interestingly, new satellite data here show that we currently have a global temperature anomaly at a level which was normal in about 1980.

If this is cause for alarm, then I'm clearly missing something.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

The reason that temperature has been static for a decade+ is apparently down to "natural variation" and "heating in the pipeline", which (as far as I can tell) are epicycles added to explain away the gap between CAGW theory and empirical measurement.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterwoodentop

Joe Public ... which decades warmed at .2C per decade in the last 100 years?

HADCRUT3 (and most of the others) has the temperature up about .8C from 1910.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Joe Public, there were two periods of warming according to HADCRUT3 abd two periods of flat temperatures.

One of the slopes is supposedly caused by Man. One isn't. Maybe a Nobel winner could explain why the first slope, steeper and longer than the second was not caused by man.

Maybe he could explain the flat line periods as well since they tend to demolish the CO2 theory.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

"I say if you can read a graph, the evidence is indeed incontrovertible..."

For the 1 billionth time, squiggly lines aren't 'evidence' if they don't represent anything. In that case they are drawings. A brainless clown can make them just as well as a Climate Scientist or computer.


Feb 3, 2012 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

"mankind has always affected the climate"

I think not Bish

Feb 3, 2012 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterKar;


exactly, there seems to be less about the GHG bogeyman CO2 spouted to the "guy on the street" by MSM & Climate experts (IPCC maybe) recently (since it always was climate change not deadly warming apparently,or is it hiding), all you do hear is carbon footprints & how bad they are & sustainability is the way forward.
they have moved on, hot/cold/rich/poor, they know how to adapt the message to suit their agenda.

Feb 3, 2012 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

@Joe Public ...

This is why the 2C per century is laughed at ...

Feb 2, 2012 at 6:20 PM | Jeroen B. "Actually we do have a problem on our hands: people are placing far too much weight on these unproven, unsupported, incomplete and often undocumented "climate models"."

Feb 3, 2012 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

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