The Persistence of Paradigms

August 31st, 2010 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.


I received a question from a reader today regarding why the writer of a recent article summarizing the state of the science on cloud feedbacks did not mention our newly published work.

The usual suspects were questioned, but there was nothing new there. Cloud feedbacks are just as uncertain today as they were 20 years ago, blah, blah. More of the same.

Now, I would like to think our new paper demonstrated not only the main reason why cloud feedbacks have remained so uncertain, but why their estimation from satellite data tends to give the illusion of a sensitive climate system.


None of the so-called experts mentioned what has been ignored as a potential climate change mechanism: Natural cycles in cloud cover. I had wondered for years why no one investigated the possibility, and our work clarified for me that this indeed is a huge question mark that most researchers do not even realize exists.

Unfortunately, I predict it will be at least 2 years before our paper is digested and believed by influential people in the climate community…if even then. (They still think the truth is lurking in computer models somewhere…just turn this knob a little more to the right left…)

This brings up the issue of how entrenched some ideas get in the scientific community, and not only for scientific reasons.

Dr. Roy in a Previous Millennium

In an earlier life, my claim to fame was demonstrating that satellite passive microwave radiometers could be used to measure rainfall over land. My first paper on the subject (actually, my first published paper ever) had the cover illustration on the front of Nature magazine. Ha! If they only knew I would grow up to be a “denier”.

At the time (1983) the established scientists working with NASA wanted to build the first weather radar to fly in space. While this was a worthy effort in its own right — finally realized with the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) — one of the radar’s original justifications was to measure rainfall over land.

My work was apparently providing evidence it was not needed. So, as a post-doc newcomer to the field, I was rocking that boat.

For me, that experience was when I lost my innocence. My research worldview was shaken. Scientists are not objective after all! Gasp!

Now, even after over 20 years of telling people of all of my subsequent experiences that only reinforced my claim that scientists are not objective, it seemed like no one was particularly worried about this.

Then Climategate broke upon the scene. Scientists behaving badly! Gasp!

What Was I Talking About? Oh, Yeah, Cloud Feedbacks

So, what I am getting around to is that it will take a long time before the climate research community looks at, understands, and believes what we have done.

Sometimes I have half-jokingly mentioned that it will probably take an IPCC-ordained scientist to “discover” the same thing. I experienced that behavior, too. NASA research centers can be pretty competitive with each other. If it wasn’t invented at their center, it wasn’t invented.

So, getting back to the original question: Why did this science writer not mention my work in his summary article on cloud feedbacks? I’m afraid he’s the last one I would expect to know.

Consider:
1) Most scientists, let alone science writers, will not even be aware that our paper has been published.
2) Even if they know it has been published, they won’t bother to read it because they have already heard it conflicts with IPCC orthodoxy.
3) Even if they dare read it, they probably won’t take the time to understand it, and so they will revert to the IPCC party line, anyway.
4) Even if they read it and understand it, they will not recognize its importance. After all, the reviewers made sure our paper was sanitized so that it would not make any outright claims that could potentially shake the faith of the Believers. The reader will instead have to know enough about the field to figure out for themselves what the implications are.

Fortunately, I have been getting some good feedback in recent days (Hah! Feedback!). A nice note from Lord Monckton basically said, “NOW I see what you have been talking about!”

A blog reader who doesn’t even do climate research read the whole paper and understood it. Now, THAT is cool.

But, while this is heartening, we still need the mainstream climate scientists to pay attention. Unfortunately, scientific discovery never was the purpose of the IPCC, and you disagree with them at your professional peril.

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23 Responses to “The Persistence of Paradigms”

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  1. Jeff T says:

    Roy’s paper was published on August 24th. Lemonick’s article was published only six days later. It’s a bit early to complain about being ignored.

    • Actually, for the last 6 months or so, reporters have been asking me when the paper was going to be officially in print. They knew what the paper contained. This writer could have covered it. I’m not complaining…just telling folks it takes years for paradigms to shift.

  2. Kevin says:

    Dr Spencer, although I am not by profession a Scientist, I certainly have the utmost respect for the honestly derived results of your and their efforts. All of the results I achieve as an engineer are based on the fundamental knowledge produced by many scientists over the last few centuries (Maxwell, Ohm, Faraday, Edison, the Wrights, etc. etc.) Without their efforts I could not produce anything useful. I do get a sense of satisfaction that I have successfully applied the knowledge they derived to improve the lives and safety of others. The knowledge you have and are producing is very useful and it will improve people’s lives, you just need to be patient to see those results occur.

    I selected a slightly different path and decided that engineering was the best match for my skill set. In my mind the best part of being an engineer is the almost immediate feedback, i.e. “peer review” I get in the laboratory. This is almost immediate, i.e. “does it work as well as you predicted it would?”, but I realize that the nature of your work does not provide this timely feedback. I can understand the frustration of this delayed feedback inherent to the nature of your work. Don’t think for a second that politics don’t exist in the engineering field, they seem to be omnipresent.

    Just a couple of sayings that might brighten your mood:

    “Illegitimi non carborundum” = “don’t let the bas—ds wear you down”, I actually heard this first from an uncle that participated in the Normandy Invasion. This saying dates from WWII, when at the time the threat from the axis certainly seemed more pressing than the alleged threat from climate change. At least then people where actually dying each day, not potentially dying 100 years in the future.

    “I burned out a clutch once on a paradigm shift”

    I will read your paper as soon as possible (busy with family stuff don’t you know). But I promise as a “non-climate” scientist to give it a detailed read and give you my honest feedback. And no I’m not an IPCC member so maybe my input might be worth a few dollars more now.

    Cheers, Kevin.

  3. Christopher Game says:

    You write: “the truth is lurking in computer models somewhere…just turn this knob a little more to the right…”

    Nonsense my dear fellow, for the politically correct results one should always turn the knob a good deal to the left !! Not knowing that important principle of science, no wonder you are a denier !!

  4. Philip says:

    I thought your paper was very well written and convincing – congratulations both to yourself and to Dr Braswell. If I have understood correctly, your calculations – and those of L&C – provide strong evidence for negative short-term feedbacks, but do not allow clear-cut conclusions about long-term climate sensitivity. I wonder if it is possible to comment further on the distinction between feedbacks operating on intraseasonal to interannual time scales and long-term climate sensitivity?

    • That is the big question, Philip. I have yet to find any measure of SHORT-term (year to year) climate variability in the IPCC climate models that is related to their LONG-term climate sensitivity (which is determined by their feedbacks).

      Now, maybe in the REAL climate system they are well related, in which case AGW becomes a non-issue. But I have found no way to determine that, other than wait 50 to 100 years and see what happens.

  5. Massimo PORZIO says:

    Dear Dr. Spencer,
    I started to read about climate about one year ago.
    At the beginning, I admit that some “consensus” climatologists’ behaviour baffled me. Before I “jumped” into the blogosphere climate arena, I always believed that the truth will out with time, but reading some dissertations that time, for a moment I thougth that the very basic principles of science, as I knew them, were violated forever. Luckily, searching in deep into the web mess I discovered some climate sources of information (like the one you own), which still continue to follow the first goal of science: looking for the truth.
    The truth is one and unavoidable. There isn’t any “hockey stick” or “rotten ice” which can fight against the the current climate truth. That is, even if CO2 is a temperature positive feedback, then this feedback must be compensated by a greater negative feedback. This because following the Henry law the temperature, it is itself a positive “feedback” of the CO2 concentration in air which escapes from the sea water (unusual way to define a feedback indeed). It’s the typical dog chasing its tail. There are no “tipping points” to reach, we should already experience a temperature runaway today, no matter the current absolute CO2 level.
    Your clouds negative feedback in the SW band is surely a good candidate to the solution of the issue.
    Just be patient and wait, but I’m sure that you don’t need my suggestion about it.

    By the way, here is a link to the Rodrigo Caballero’s simulator (He is from the Meteorology and Climate Center School of Mathematical Sciences / CASL University College in Dublin, Ireland).

    http://geoflop.uchicago.edu/forecast/docs/Projects/full_spectrum.html

    It does the same of the Dr.Archer’s Modtran on line simulator but it has the SW band too.

    If you double the CO2 concentration to 750ppmV, it’s sufficient to increase the “Low Cloud (1-2 km) Fraction” by 1.4% to return to the 16°C original ground temperature.
    Of course, being an electronic engineer with 23 year of experience in software and hardware design, I rememeber you that it’s just a simulator. It does what the programmer wants it does.
    Nothing less and nothing more than Lara Croft. 🙂

    Massimo

  6. Slabadang says:

    Dr Roy Spencer!

    Thru the complex fog of forcings feedbacks and so on…
    I had my EUREKA moment of clear sight when I had a look at this animated satellite picture of the outgoing radiation from earth.There is a giant red “elefant” presented.

    a GMS-05 picture.Doesent it say the most obviuos things?

    http://www.theclimatescam.se/

  7. Miroslav Pavlí?ek says:

    When I was a half-child teachers taught us the phase equilibriums, triple points etc. They told us always it’s the same force that keeps our planet in balance with negative feedbacks of the three phase bland that never allow the conditions be far from the triple point as we live in a climatic thermodynamic water buffer. Also Mars, though there is the only tiny amount of water and its atmosphere is shabby, is kept in certain balance with water phase equilibrium. The thermodynamic buffer keeps the word of ours in balance as perfect automatic control system that restores the natural state even if a cataclysm happens. That’s why the planet could sustain condition for life for the eons. When I later used to be a technician for some time who worked with thermal technology, then I fond that a well designed steam generator, distillation column, synthesis reactor etc. is virtually self-controlled without computer-operated valves due to natural feedback balance driven by the very thermodynamic. Trust in thermodynamic buffers that keep our world in basic order and security became essential part of my trust in the world.

    I thought that also each one who knows what is the triple point and Carnot cycle must feel it in the same way. Thus I was scared and outraged when someone came with the positive feedback and conception of our billions years old word as an instable storage of combustible stuff that could be destroyed with heating “fire-storm” due to a tiny ignition that creates a new flame feeding vapors. The positive feedback contradicts anthrop principle as we could not evolve in such a world. I knew the negative feedback must be here am happy that Dr. Spencer fond how it works in detail in the real word. I find very pathological the other researcher don’t do the same and believe in the opposite although they didn’t drop from school owning to thermodynamic as they must have lost common sense.

    • Thomas says:

      Miroslav, you misunderstand the severity of the positive feedbacks that are being discussed. It’s not a question of any disturbance making Earth head towards either Mars or Venus in climate, that is indeed ruled out by history (at least unless we reach forcings never experienced before). The positive feedbacks that are believed to exist “just” amplify any warming (or cooling) by a factor of 2-4. One degree initial heating from doubling CO2 then gets magnified to around three degrees warming.

      If you look at Earth’s history you will not that it has a far from perfect thermostat.

      • Anonymous says:

        Looking at the climate it appears to me like the buckets with pipes and valves full of phase changing fluids and heat, which I know from the industry, not as a gun-powder barrel. It always behaves like a complex oscillator (negative feedback) not a detonator (positive feedback). To me it’s the same way with Mars and Venus although the mass of atmosphere and other parameters are different thus the equilibrium finding oscillation look different, too.

  8. Riku Mellin says:

    Although I’m barely 17 year old and active on this issue of climate change for barely eight months, making all those same mistakes as so many others (for example believing that Co2 couldn’t affect becouse it is only so small part of the climate or sunspots and cosmics rays could already explain the warming, based on our current knowledge of them), while scoring some points of my own (for example finding a journal name missing on the refrence side of thr IPPC 4th Assestment report around the Third Work Group that no one else seemed to have noticed), I had great interest in your work sense October 09.

    I had waited your’s and Braswell’s paper anxiusly ever sense you announced the initial acceptance to JGR some time before summer. After now reading your paper, even I with my basic finnish Gymnasium level physics could undertand the major points of your paper. I want to personally thank you and Braswell for this easy to understand peer-reviewed paper that we have been allowed access easily. You have been an inspiration for my studies and my ever increased attention to get to the bottom of science on both sides.

    Thank you!

    • Thomas says:

      Just a warning: the hard part of understanding a scientific paper is noting all the stuff that *isn’t* there. Are the data used of sufficiently high quality? Are there other factors not included in the analysis, or other ways to explain the same data? Just being able to follow the argument and think that it sounds reasonable isn’t enough, unfortunately. For an amateur to find out if a scientific paper is any good you have to let other professionals try to pick it apart and see if they find any flaws, and hope you are clever enough to guess who is right at that point.

  9. Riku Mellin says:

    Yes, I have actually had this problem in the past when for example going trough Svenskmark’s papers :D.

    I was actually pretty interested about Lin et al 2010 paper, wich agw observer listed as a paper that would debunk all of Spencer’s papers with a concept of “climate memory” that would render all simple climate models useless in modeling climate.

    But thanks for the fair reminder Thomas, I will be one of the eager to read the pro-cathastropic AGW sides arguments… When they bother to write.

    (Couldn’t for some reason post a direct response, sorry 🙁 )

  10. JohnGalt says:

    Dr. Spencer,

    Let me add my thanks to you for this website. I haven’t read your latest paper yet, but I’ve started. I worked in Huntsville last year, I really enjoyed Stanlieo’s.

    I’m a physicist who’s worked in defense aerospace for many years. One think I’ve learned is that any computer model not coorelated to lab data is a disaster waiting to happen. We had a guy who once claimed the aircraft input vibration levels we specified couldn’t be real, because his FEM predicted a more energetic response than the engines could deliver. I’ve seen 6-DOF Monte Carlo missile fly out models that only gave the right answer if you initialized them with the ‘correct’ random number seed. I’ve seen an attempt to interpolated aero coefficents to with in a hair of M 1.0 for use in a safe seperation model. Only when the missile hit the horizontal stabilator did anyone point out that the coefficent in question could not be interpolated from above and below because it had a max point of inflection at M 1.0. I could go on.

    All of these guys believed their model. It’s like a religion, they begin to have blind faith in it. The worst is when the guy who developed it isn’t even the one running it, some computer jockey is.

    Again, thanks for trying to bring some reality to a field that seems to need some. At least in aerospace, we generally have to face reality, like it or not.

  11. JohnGalt says:

    I forgot to add earlier, if you got a review from Lord Monckton, you are one of the few in your field to have received an actual peer review, LOL. I couldn’t help myself.

  12. Hang in there Roy. You are one of the few voices of the “deniers” that has the credibility to stand strong AND the openness to “say it.” I am a Professor of History (and a speaker to college students about life and values), so I claim no knowledge at all about science. As such, I teach my students to look for the evidence which, of course, should come from the experts in the field.

    Today, it is so hard to find the evidence for the other side (as you have stated, that evidence is usually shuttered by the prevailing view). When I look at the setting, it is impossible for me not to race back immediately to the time of Galileo. Then, the scientists were the ones who seemed to be pursuing truth while those who controlled the process politically tried to silence them.

    Now, sadly, it seems most of the scientists have joined forces with “those who control the process politically.” I hope that you will keep fighting the good fight! Your words both encourage me and provide me with some evidence that allows me to join the conversation within my sphere of influence.

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