Monday, November 8, 2021

How Scientific Is Climate Change Science?

I have been mulling this over for a couple of weeks now. I am not thoroughly confident that I have grasped the essential point, but I find Francis Menton’s analysis well worth a post. Those who are more savvy in science will perhaps want to correct one or both of us. 

As you no doubt know, Menton writes the Manhattan Contrarian blog. He often proposes analyses of climate science, and especially of climate change hysteria.

In his post two weeks ago, he offered the following analysis. If we want to establish that human beings are the proximate cause of whatever changes the climate has undergone over the past few thousand years-- but especially over the past few hundred years-- we would need a control condition. That is, we would need to know what the climate would have been like if there had been no human beings, or better, if the Industrial Revolution had never happened. 

Science uses control conditions all the time. If you want to establish whether a medicine works you need to conduct trials wherein you offer the pill to two groups of people, both of whom are suffering from the same illness. You offer one group the new miracle drug and you offer the other a placebo. Then you can discern scientifically whether the medicine cures the illness or whether some other factor has intervened. If you offer all participants the same medicine, you do not know to the same degree of certainty whether it’s the medicine or some other factor-- as in, the body’s ability to heal itself.

In the case of climate science, we cannot know what the earth’s climate would have been under those conditions-- call them a counterfactual-- so the analysis that blames human beings for the current condition of the climate is based on flawed science. After all, we know that the climate changes and that it has changed all by itself before humans befouled the planet. Remember the Ice Age?

So argues Menton, and I believe that his point is well taken.

In shorter form, the settled science is effectively more like religious dogma. If it cannot be questioned; if it cannot be tested against a control; if it cannot be disbelieved-- it is dogma. Given that climate change hysterics are so hellbent on blaming human beings for everything that is happening to the climate, theirs feels like a religious mania wherein the species, and especially the white male capitalist patriarchy, is being punished for defiling the Goddess of Nature.

Without further ado, here is Menton’s analysis:

“The climate is changing, and we are the cause.” That is a statement that is so often-repeated and affirmed that it goes way beyond mere conventional wisdom. Probably, you encounter some version or another of that statement multiple times per week; maybe dozens of times. 

Everybody knows that it is true! And to express disagreement with that statement, probably more so than with any other element of current progressive orthodoxy, is a sure way to get yourself labeled a “science denier,” fired from an academic job, or even banished from the internet.

The UN IPCC’s recent Sixth Assessment Report on the climate is chock full of one version after another of the iconic statement, in each instance of course emphasizing that the human-caused climate changes are deleterious and even catastrophic. Examples:

  • Human influence has likely increased the chance of compound extreme events since the 1950s. This includes increases in the frequency of concurrent heatwaves and droughts on the global scale (high confidence); fire weather in some regions of all inhabited continents (medium confidence); and compound flooding in some locations (medium confidence). (Page A.3.5)

  • Event attribution studies and physical understanding indicate that human-induced climate change increases heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones (high confidence) but data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale. (Page A.3.4, Box TS.10)

  • Some recent hot extreme events would have been extremely unlikely to occur without human influence on the climate system. (Page A.3.4, Box TX.10)

The interesting part, Menton concludes, is that none of the scientists declares it all to be a certainty. They have confidence. They are convinced. They believe that human influence must have caused it.

So, over and over, it’s that we have “high confidence” that human influence is the cause, or that events would have been “extremely unlikely” without human influence. But how, really, do we know that? What is the proof?

Obviously, it matters. If we do not know what the climate would be doing on an uninhabited earth or on an earth where everyone was living in mud huts and returned to enjoying a hunter/gatherer existence, we do not know to a scientific certainty that human beings are the guilty parties.

Menton continues. You will note that he wrote this on the eve of the Glasgow climate confab-- one that was not attended by major players in the fossil fuel world-- Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. So, was it about the climate or was is all about precipitating the decline and fall of Western civilization:

This seems to me to be rather an important question. After all, various world leaders are proposing to spend some tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars to undo what are viewed as the most important human influences on the climate (use of fossil fuels). Billions of people are to be kept in, or cast into, energy poverty to appease the climate change gods. Political leaders from every country in the world are about to convene in Scotland to agree to a set of mandates that will transform most everyone’s life. You would think that nobody would even start down this road without definitive proof that we know the cause of the problem and that the proposed solutions are sure to work.

Of course, if we do not know the cause, then we should have some doubt about whether the solutions are going to work.

Menton then adds some thoughts from the philosophy of science. As I understand it, the null hypothesis would be the condition where the earth was uninhabited by humans or where the Industrial Revolution had not taken place. Testing the hypothesis would require us to know to a certainty what would have happened under different conditions.

Here’s the way I would put it: in real science, causation is established by disproof of a null hypothesis. It follows that the extent to which you may have proved some level of causation depends entirely on the significance of the particular null hypothesis that you have disproved, and the definiteness of your disproof; and it further follows that no proof of causation is ever completely definitive, and your claim of causation could require modification at any time if another null hypothesis emerges that cannot be excluded. The UN’s “attribution” studies universally deal with consideration of null hypotheses that are contrived and meaningless, and whose disproof (even if validly demonstrated) therefore establishes nothing.

Menton continues:

Here is how Briggs expresses the same concept I have just described:

All attribution studies work around the same basic theme. . . . A model of the climate as it does not exist, but which is claimed to represent what the climate would look like had mankind not ‘interfered’ with it, is run many times. The outputs from these runs is examined for some ‘bad’ or ‘extreme’ event, such as higher temperatures or increased numbers of hurricanes making landfall, or rainfall exceeding some amount. The frequency with which these bad events occur in the model is noted. Next, a model of the climate as it is said to now exist is run many times. This model represents global warming. The frequencies from the same bad events in the model are again noted. The frequencies between the models are then compared. If the model of the current climate has a greater frequency of the bad event than the imaginary (called ‘counterfactual’) climate, the event is said to be caused by global warming, in whole or in part.

In other words, the “attribution” study consists of invalidating a null hypothesis that is itself a counterfactual model with no demonstrated connection to the real world as it would have existed in the absence of human influences. The people who create these counterfactual models can of course build into them any characteristics they want in order that the result of their study will come out to be an “attribution” of the real world data to human influences. Why anyone would give any credence to any of this is beyond me.

Were last year’s hurricanes bad because we drove too much or because we exhaled too much:

Anyway, when you read, for example, that scientists have demonstrated that the severity of the past year’s hurricane season is due to human greenhouse gas emissions, you may find that you are asking yourself, how could they possibly know that? After all, there is no way they could possibly know how many and how severe the hurricanes would have been absent the GHG emissions. Well, now you know how it is done, They just make up the counterfactual world in order to create a straw man null hypothesis that will get the result they want from the AT99 “attribution” methodology. Hundreds upon hundreds of climate “scientists” follow this methodology with blinders on, and somehow no one ever notices that the whole exercise is meaningless, even as it provides the entire basis for a socialist takeover of the world economy.

And yet, considering the number of people who believe that carbon dioxide is fouling the atmosphere and causing the climate to change for the worse, the easy solution would be for all climate change believers to stop exhaling, thereby diminishing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and saving the climate.


markedup2 said...

I endorse your solution!

The other problem with the models: They're wrong. If these models (of existing, not counterfactual, climate) had been accurately predicting the future since their conception (or some later refinement), then I might take this seriously. As far as I know, not one single prediction has come to pass.

An Inconvenient Truth is now clearly hysterical. We've lived through most of the timeline and nothing it predicted has happened.

JPL17 said...

I suppose that, all other factors influencing climate being equal, one could treat global temperatures + weather events prevailing before the Industrial Revolution -- say, in 1750 -- as the "null hypothesis", and conclude that whatever climate differences between 1750 and today are due to the Industrial Revolution. However, as even climate alarmists concede, "all other factors influencing climate" are never equal. Since this denies them the chance to test their 1750 null hypothesis, they resort to inferring what the climate would have been like in 1750 had all those "other factors influencing climate" been the same in 1750 as they are today. But again, this is guesswork at best, and rigged outcome at worst. The one thing it clearly isn't is science.

Anonymous said...

This isn't rocket science. There was a well documented cold spell some centuries ago better know as the little ice age. It was a natural event caused by half a dozen or so cyclical galactic events. The key point is that it is cyclical and will occur again as will follow on warming events. The mini ice age ended statistically in 1850 and surprise, surprise what happens at the end of a mini ice age? It warms up, duh! It has been warming since 1850 well before the invention of SUV's. During that 170 years there were fluctuations caused by those solar and planetary events that made it warmer or colder for a few years (i.e. warmer in 1934, colder in the 50's). But as a general rule it has trended warmer... AS EXPECTED! Not as a result of anything we mere humans have done. Not because of CO2 or methane. But mostly because of the sun and to a lessor extent planetary events. This is cyclical! It will at some point revert back to a cooling cycle! Thank god for a warming climate AND, ironically, increasing CO2 rates. Because we probably could not feed 8 billion people if the climate had not warmed. Simple as that!

Beware the next Maunder minimum! THAT will probably reduce (kill) the earths population by 4-6 billion people. And just like the current natural and cyclical global warming there will be nothing we mere humans can do to stop it.

David Foster said...

To be taken seriously for purposes of public policy, a model should be open source, along with the data used to feed it and the history of any preprocessing done on that data. Moreover, it should be documented, not only at the detailed code-flow level but also at a level which will allow non-expert citizens and politicians to grasp some idea of its assumptions. In the case of climate models, for example: what are the assumptions about CO2 promotion of vegetation growth, and capture of CO2 as a function of that growth? How are solar cycles factored in? And lots more.

It's interesting: the first programmable electronic computer, the ENIAC, was designed for the simulation of artillery and bomb trajectories. The machine was also used to simulate the ignition of the hydrogen bomb, a task which was more than a stretch for its capabilities. Nevertheless, Edward Teller argued that the results demonstrated the workability of his proposed ignition approach. Another scientist, Stan Ulam, countered that the approach would not in fact work, and the results should not be used to 'prove' that it did. Ulam turned out to be right.

Sam L. said...

As I see it, it runs from ZERO to NONE AT ALL... Your mileage may differ.

And as I keep saying, the climate has been changing since our planet first had a climate. It's certainly better than when Britain pretty much froze up, 2-300 years ago...

markedup2 said...

Let's see if Blogger allows <img> tags: Nope.
Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed: IMG

You will have to <a href=">go look for yourself</a>.

markedup2 said...

And then I do it wrong. Sigh. Try clicking on this, instead.