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« DIY integrated assessment model | Main | Gavin and straw men »
Saturday
Apr132013

Potsdam and the scientific method

The Potsdam Institute has something of a reputation for being a research unit of loose morals. The letter written by one of their star scientists in the Economist suggests that their grasp of the scientific method is even looser.

Prof Anders Levermann's missive responds to the Economist's article on climate sensitivity and is pretty jaw-dropping:

SIR – The reduced warming of the past decade is brief and can be understood in terms of natural fluctuations from the El Niño phenomenon, the effects of volcanoes, the solar cycle and the uptake of heat from the oceans, which continues, in contrast to your statement. There are and will always be fluctuations in global temperature, but the underlying trend is robust, man-made and consistent with a climate sensitivity of around 3°C.

The IPCC’s range on sensitivity is supported by, but not merely based on, models. It is deeply rooted in physics. Quantum physics and thermodynamics, the same physical laws that underlie the functioning of our computers and power plants, yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°C. This is based on the facts that carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane absorb infra-red; a warmer atmosphere holds more water; and ice and snow melt under warming. Any deviation from this baseline needs a reason. As long as we do not find modern physics to be fundamentally wrong, we will have to plan for a climate sensitivity of 3°C.

 

So, the empirical evidence suggests climate sensitivity is low. A hypothesis based on "quantum physics and thermodynamics" suggests it's higher. And Professor Levermann thinks we should accept the hypothesis until the deviation from reality is explained.

Scientific method fail.

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Reader Comments (66)

I suspect Professor Levermann hasn't come across Joe Postma. It looks like he's forgotten all the physics he ever learnt.

Apr 13, 2013 at 9:32 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

He might forget the physics he does remember the money.

Apr 13, 2013 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

"yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°C"

I don't think I've seen the simple derivation of 3 degree 'sensitivity' from quantum physics and thermodynamics. I assume he is talking about a doubling of CO2 here.

Apr 13, 2013 at 9:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Irrespective of the physics, I am reminded by what Revkin advised Shakun in their post interview discussion; i.e. speak in 2 sentences (or don't use is and ought in the same). Prof Levermann, like many climatologists comes across as more of an activist than a scientist.

Apr 13, 2013 at 9:48 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Rob:

Indeed, why do they need GCMs when "quantum physics and thermodynamics yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°C"? All we need is to see the workings.

Apr 13, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Philip you beat me to it, although more eloquent than my musings. Where are these workings in the physics. Here's what the IPCC says about feedbacks:

"The traditional approach in assessing model sensitivity has been to consider water vapour, lapse rate, surface albedo and cloud feedbacks separately. Although this division can be regarded as somewhat artificial because, for example, water vapour, clouds and temperature interact strongly, it remains conceptually useful, and is consistent in approach with previous assessments..."

So there you have it, they have some understanding of the individual feedbacks and the physics thereof, but no understanding of how they interact to build a model that replicates the complex interaction between these four physical events. And if we do the same way as we did before, i.e. treat each feedback separately we'll get the same answers so it is consistent.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

I've got only one word to say: "Gordon Bennet".

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh.

3 degrees it is. I spit on hand. We have deal.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Prof Anders Levermann, another poor schlepp who sees his belief system under attack by rationalists. Anders old fruit, I think you need to offer up a sacrifice to the great God CarbonDioxidisis. If you could make that a personal sacrifice the world would thank you.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenternoTrohpywins

"The reduced warming of the past decade is brief and can be understood in terms of natural fluctuations from the El Niño phenomenon, the effects of volcanoes"

Interesting - I wonder which volcanoes he refers to - I hadn't noticed any in this century of sufficient size to show in the climate record.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Professor Levermann's argument from basic physics reminds me of an analogy I read some years ago in a sceptical blog, but I don't remember which one.

Basic physics tells us that if you stick one end of an object in hot water (i.e. water with a noticeably higher temperature than the surroundings) heat will be conducted to the other end of the object. You can easily test this at home by holding a spoon and sticking one end into hot water.

You can also test the idea by filling a bath with piping hot water and then sitting in it with a medical thermometer in your mouth. Your body temperature will barely change, not just because the materials of which we are made are poor conductors compared with metal but because the human body has inbuilt mechanisms to keep its temperature within certain limits.

Of course those mechanisms don't always work, otherwise nobody would ever die of hypothermia or of heat stroke, but most of the time they work quite effectively. All sorts of complex interactions also take place in the global environment. Arguments from basic physics might be valid but you cannot tell whether or not that is the case unless you understand those interactions.

Would Professor Levermann really disagree with the above ascertains? If not, why does he propound such naive arguments as those in his letter?

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

A sentence containing "Quantum physics" must be true, including this one.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndré van Delft

It would indeed be profligate to overthrow quantum physics and thermodynamics because of a single apparent failure of their empirical consequences in an area where there are many other factors at work. I do not object so much to the scientific method employed here, but to the claim that those theories entail a specific climate sensitivity.

Apr 13, 2013 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

These "people" never had a mind to lose.

Apr 13, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

"...It is deeply rooted in physics. Quantum physics and thermodynamics, the same physical laws that underlie the functioning of our computers and power plants, yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°"

This is excellent! I have waited a long time to se this formulation, which clearly exists and can now be published. Bish, I suggest that you offer a guest post so that we can all review this seminal piece of work.

Apr 13, 2013 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

I've seen the "GCMs are physics-based, and so must be correct" argument many times, but this is surely the ne plus ultra of the species.

Apr 13, 2013 at 11:42 AM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Quantum physics and thermodynamics used in this way , has as much value as chicken entrails to predict what is going to happen.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Lying is saying what you know to be untrue. To lie you have to know what the truth is. Therefore climate scientists are generally not liars.

Bullshitting is saying what you would like someone to believe without knowing whether what you are saying is true or not. The best quality of bullshit is said with complete sincerity. Although they believe what they are saying, the true bullshitter does not know it is true.

BH commenter Rhoda asked a succession of questions about what experiments or measurements had been done to verify the basis of climate science. Despite her persistence, I think she got not a single meaningful answer.

So far as I can see, climate science is entirely bullshit, dressed up and expressed with impressive sounding words to make it sound like physics.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:21 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

This nonsense nees a reply - Bish, you are good at getting letters published in the MSM - your comment above will do, as it hits the nail on the head. On the other hand I'm sure the writer of the original piece might have something to say.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Thompson

What's this about 'accepting' thermodynamics and quantum physics? No one just accepted it. We performed experiments.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM | Registered Commentershub

Image: Desperate hand waving! Josh?

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Andre van Delft says

'A sentence containing "Quantum physics" must be true, including this one'

Well, perhaps........

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterErwin Schroedinger

Yes, well. I always prick up my ears when I hear about methane.

Let's consider the obvious experiment laid on by Nature herself, illustratory moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Titan is a Saturnian moon with a significant atmosphere, 1.5% methane (that dreadful greenhouse gas, magnitudes worse than CO2) and the rest mainly nitrogen. Saturn's distance from the Sun is 1.5 billion km. Titan's average surface temperature has been measured as -179.2C

Ganymede is a Jovian moon, about the same size and mass as Titan. It has essentially no atmosphere, hence no greenhouse effect. Jupiter is about 0.75 billion km from the sun - that is, half the distance of Saturn. It's average surface temperature is -174.3C

Oops, oh dear. That's a bit of a surprise isn't it. Even allowing that Titan is twice as far from the Sun as Ganymede, with it's hideous greenhouse atmosphere you would expect it to be hotter. Ganymede is, if anything, a wee bit warmer, if you can call it that.

No need to torture false confessions out of mathematics, physics and temperature records. The above convinces me that the greenhouse effect is all bollocks (until someone can show me EMPIRICAL evidence otherwise).

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

Wasn't it Einstein who once called quantum entanglement "spooky action at a distance"? Sounds a little like PIK's Arctic-ice-loss-causes-cold-European-winters theory! :o)

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

I wonder why Professor Levermann didn't include relativity, celestial mechanics, solid state physics, etc.

It would have been easier if he just told us which astrological charts he used to prove CAGW.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfusedphoton

Levelgaze:
That is a very interesting bit of data. Do you have a reference to the information? How is it explained? By the way that certainly is a bit chilly. Perhaps funny things happen to the laws of physics when things get that cold.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Erwin Schroedinger may or may not possibly be right. Or wrong.

Apr 13, 2013 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterWerner Heisenberg

@bernie

None of this information is arcane, it's easily verifiable on standard astronomical sites on the Net.
Even allowing for reduced insolation of Titan by the inverse square law, there would have been a measurable effect, if it existed.

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

Levelgaze:
It would be a mistake to directly extrapolate the greenhouse properties of a gas from Earth to Titan. Compared to Earth's, the Titanic [Titanian?] spectrum of infrared emissions is shifted towards the lower end [in energy; that is, higher wavelengths]. It's the interaction of methane's (or CO2's, or ....) absorption spectrum with the nominally near-black-body emission spectrum, which makes for the size of the greenhouse effect. See, for example, this; you would want to overlay a black-body spectrum of about 100 K to see which absorption lines are relevant to Titan.

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:08 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM | LevelGaze

It doesn't seem a very good argument. Being twice as far away I would expect Titan to be much colder and as you explain it isn't.

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

@Werner

Heisenberg is driving Schroedinger down a German country lane one nice sunny afternoon, and he runs over a cat.
'Mein gott, I think I've just hit a cat! Look back and see if it's dead!'
Schroedinger looks back. 'I couldn't possibly say.'

Apologies to whoever it was who first wrote that in Scientific American, when it was still an entertaing journal.

I'll get my coat now, don't see me out.

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

If professor Anders Levermann is so cocksure of the science:

It is deeply rooted in physics. Quantum physics and thermodynamics, the same physical laws that underlie the functioning of our computers and power plants, yield a baseline climate sensitivity of about 3°C.

Proof positive, at last - CAGW is proven - mankind's CO2 emissions the evil genie warming the world but....he didn't quite say that did he?

carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane absorb infra-red

Where is the 'man made emissions' bit?

Furthermore: isn't that the point of the whole MMCO2 = warming presupposition?
.
Perhaps he, professor Levermann - could share his methodology, calculations and conclusions with those of us who continue to wander about in the 'dark'?

Or, is it just preposterous, imperious blustering from a man and an institution which is demoralized and one more abject exaggeration highlighting the wretchedness of a scientific institution riddled through with politicization and thus spewing a constant litany of lies?

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Most lies are attempts to tell deliberate untruths and most attempts are successful. But not all. Sometimes the truth is told inadvertently. What is essential to lying is bearing false witness and stating to be the case something that one does not believe to be the case.

Most CAGWers are entirely sincere and totally wrong, in parts - those vital to the argument.

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Layson

Regarding Titan's GHE: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/253/5024/1118

Being twice as far from the sun means Titan gets four times less sunlight. And don't forget to account for albedo...

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNullius in Verba

'Mein gott, I think I've just hit a cat! Look back and see if it's dead!'
Schroedinger looks back. 'I couldn't possibly say.'
Other version: "Yes, it's dead, I'm just not certain it's a cat."

Apr 13, 2013 at 1:41 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

'It is deeply rooted in physics.'

Well...,it is deeply rooted, anyway.

Apr 13, 2013 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBullocky

This nice professor gives us as good an example of bunker mentality as there has been in many years.

Apr 13, 2013 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

The climate models (2009 Energy budget) claim 157.5 W/m^2 is absorbed by GHGs near the Earth's surface. 94.5 W/m^2 is imaginary. A further 40 W/m^2 goes straight to space via the 'atmospheric window'.

Apart from the 0..5 or is it 0.9 W/m^w 'missing heat, the 134.5 W/m^ net of a lot of imaginary cloud albedo then disappears. I call it a perpetual motion machine of the 2nd kind......

Apr 13, 2013 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

"'A sentence containing "Quantum physics" must be true, including this one'
Well, perhaps........"
Apr 13, 2013 at 12:35 PM | Erwin Schroedinger

It was definitely true until you read it..

Apr 13, 2013 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

“The IPCC’s range on sensitivity is supported by, but not merely based on, models. It is deeply rooted in physics.” (Levermann)

"The traditional approach in assessing model sensitivity has been to consider water vapour, lapse rate, surface albedo and cloud feedbacks separately. Although this division can be regarded as somewhat artificial because, for example, water vapour, clouds and temperature interact strongly, it remains conceptually useful, and is consistent in approach with previous assessments..." (IPPC, AR4)

To take a very basic culinary analogy, you can “consider” mustard, egg yolk, oil and salt “separately” but if you don’t get them to “interact”, you’ll never get anything like a decent mayonnaise.

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterFRENCHATKINS

@Level: ...greenhouse effect is all bollocks...

Close but no cigar. Solar is full spectrum, CO2 works in both directions, radiating area is 4x receiving area which balances out the red-shift. Result: net zero, the same quantity of understanding which led to the naming of it as greenhouse.

Power spectrum

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

He's an expert in spin...

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

Yes, that 3 degree claim of Levermann dovetails nicely with the claim of Michael Mann and Dana Nuccittelli in the ABC publication Environment:

http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2013/04/12/3735095.htm

What it is is essentially an idiot's average. If the last fifteen years proves anything, it's that they don't have a clue about climate sensitivity or what a doubling of CO2 will mean.

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Since Prof, Leverman falsely invoked quantum physics, famous quantum physicist Wolgang Pauli's critique is in order:
So bad it is not even wrong.

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

@ssat: there can be no net surface IR emission for main GHG bands. There is limited surface IR for the non minor GHGs. Result - no CO2 -AGW , no link between CO2 and H2O vapour, no effect of CO2 on lapse rate,

The final part of the chain is that Climate Alchemists have misunderstood the 'dip' in OLR CO2 signal - it's not from ~220 °K but from ~260 °K, an artefact.

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

"SIR – The reduced warming of the past decade is brief...."

A scientist would say that it is 10 years, not "brief".

Apr 13, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The Professor writes:

"This is based on the facts that carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane absorb infra-red; a warmer atmosphere holds more water; and ice and snow melt under warming."

Actually, no conclusions about potential effects on climate can be drawn from the fact that GHGs absorb infra-red. To draw such conclusions, one must first solve the forcings versus feedbacks equation through empirical research on earth's atmosphere and oceans.

The Professor writes:
"The reduced warming of the past decade is brief and can be understood in terms of natural fluctuations from the El Niño phenomenon, the effects of volcanoes, the solar cycle and the uptake of heat from the oceans, which continues, in contrast to your statement."

The fifteen to seventeen years of flat temperatures shows that natural variation can overwhelm the influence of all GHGs on climate to the degree that the warming signal is lost entirely. The period of flat temperatures surprised the Alarmists whose models did not predict it. They remain surprised. Their efforts to explain the flat period have amounted to nothing more than attempts to hindcast it. Instead of typical academic "hand waving" generalities about natural variation, they must embrace the truth that there are natural processes at work that are not accounted for in their models. They must engage in empirical research on natural processes. To do that, they must overcome their illusion that computer models can substitute for empirical research.

Apr 13, 2013 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Prof Levermann's letter looks like a token to "balance" three other sceptical letters. Interesting that the editor chose such an appalling offering which could so readily be shot down.
For what it is worth I sent the following.

Sir, I am full of admiration for Professor Levermann’s powers of seeing into the future. He says (Letters April 13th) that “the reduced warming of the past decade is brief”. How does he know? Such a schoolboy howler does little to support his other assertions.

Apr 13, 2013 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

Roy,

sounds like this one from WillisE on WUWT:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/27/the-unbearable-complexity-of-climate-2/

One of his best. Simple but illuminating.

Apr 13, 2013 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonW

...written just in time so that Mrs Merkel (supported by Mrs Cameron) can instruct Mr Cameron not to "go wobbly" on the EU climate change agenda. Why else would she invite the whole Cameron family over - surely no one thinks it has anything to do with rengotiating a new treaty for the benefit of the UK? Mrs Merkel is a chemist I believe, so she will blind him with science.

Apr 13, 2013 at 5:58 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

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