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« Teaching solar power | Main | The green agenda »
Wednesday
Oct102012

The survey that wasn't

After my posting on climate sensitivity and policy attracted so much attention, I thought it would be interesting to see whether my arguments on the priority of empirical measurement over theory for policy purposes carried any weight with mainstream scientists.

I therefore set up a very short survey and emailed it around a bunch of mainstream scientists and a few journalists. The questions essentially sought a single value for climate sensitivity and a range of values that the respondents thought should inform policymakers.

Unfortunately, almost nobody seems to want to respond. I've had four so far, one of which was Richard Tol telling me the questions were badly formulated and another was Chris Hope entering the Stern values as a baseline. Roger Pielke Sr pointed out his distaste (if that's the right word) for global temperature (and therefore climate sensitivity) as a metric.

As you can see the responses have come from those who are not particularly antagonistic to my own views. One shouldn't read into this that those invited were similarly inclined.

I'm not sure whether the lack of interest is a reflection on me or a reflection on those invited or something else altogether. Nevertheless it remains an interesting question and one that I think needs to be discussed in mainstream climate circles.

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Reader Comments (33)

Come off it Bish., do you really think these turkeys will vote for Christmas?

[Explanation - they all know that it's a scam and are jockeying for position as the leader of the survivors.]

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

If there is no funding in it....why stick your neck out? The lack of response is perfectly understandable post Lewandowsky.

Gotta love Roger Pielke Snr., though!

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Why should they respond to you if your goal is to destroy their work?

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias

Nice one Luis.

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Climate sensitivity is not a constant. If it was we would not be swapping messages about climate sensitivity. Init

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinhead

Were you looking for..a consensus? You can reach no scientific conclusion by survey. Maybe you can reach a social conclusion, but how would that help? A defender of high sensitivity would only need to express doubt that it MIGHT be high to pull out the precautionary principle and derail any debate on sensible policy.

However, why not post the survey here and see what you get?

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Why not ask Richard Tol to help you produce well formulated questions, and have another bash at it?

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

There's no question about Climate Sensitivity at all. It is laid down in the Warmist Creed, which I append below:

The AGW Creed

appointed to be read at all environmental conferences

I believe in Global Warming,
which will destroy heaven and earth unless we change our ways.
I believe in Al Gore,
Who conceived the Internet
and the hockey-stick graph, born of Professor Mann.
It suffered under McIntyre and McKitrick,
was crucified, disproven, and was buried.
It was cast on the reject pile.
On the third day It rose again.
It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,
and is displayed in a prominent position in all IPCC literature.
It will apply again as soon as global temperatures start rising.
I believe in the CO2 tipping point,
the IPCC Assessment Reports,
a CO2 sensitivity figure of about 3 W/sq M,
the accuracy of GCMS,
an anthropic cause for all climate variation after 1970,
and grants everlasting.

AMEN.

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Richard Tol telling me the questions were badly formulated

Dear Richard...

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Perhaps you ought to have prepared the questionnaire and then got some unknown colleague to randomly e-mail the link to Real Climate and Skeptical Science to see what response you got

/sarc

Oct 10, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

The problem here is that the AGW crowd don't like the debate being framed by climate realists. They think they are being set up. They feel like the climate realists do when they see questions like 'Do you agree that climate change is happening?'; 'Do you agree that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will have a warming effect?'.
In warmist terms, sensitivity is masked by particulate pollution caused by the Chinese burning coal.

Oct 10, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

Could you post the questionnaire as sent? Some of us who know little about climate sensitivity know something about questionnaire design, includng some who discussed the Lewandowsky surveys at length at UWA, SkS, Climate Audit, etc.
Making graphs of climate sensitivity, or estimates of climate sensitivity, or frequency distributions of modes and medians of estimates of climate sensitivity, is a growing business. Stott of the Met had a paper on the subject last year which Monbiot claimed “proved” CAGW.
Lewandowsky went better with four blogs suggesting that the less certain we were of the true value of climate sensitivity, the more likely it was to be high, a contribution to what might be called telekinetic climatology which was defended by James Annan.

Oct 10, 2012 at 11:14 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I think more evidence of the absolute refusal of alarmists to engage in any sort of debate. Proving either that they know they have no case or that they know that the mainstream media (particularly BBC) can be guaranteed to give them all the coverage they want and to censor dissent & thus can benefit from no further coverage, or more likely both.

Oct 10, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

David C: 'In warmist terms, sensitivity is masked by particulate pollution caused by the Chinese burning coal.'

This assumes clouds with smallest mean droplet size 'reflect' more from increased surface area: there is no such physics. In reality, 40% of low level clouds with bimodal droplet size distribution have ~25% higher optical depth than clouds without the larger droplets.

The hemispherical albedo of the latter is limited to ~0.55. Higher albedos, up to ~0.9, are for thunderclouds, rain drops pushed to the top by convection. Venus’ atmosphere has ~0.9 albedo from the same effect, suspended sulphuric acid droplets.

The mistaken aerosol optical physics, adopted for climate modelling in 1973 by Lacis and Hansen, is based on Sagan’s adoption of van der Hulst's work where he used lumped parameterisation to scale albedo - optical depth data to a standard curve without realising there were two processes.

For nearly 40 years, Hansen's climate science has been based on this same false assumption. The real AGW is from Asian aerosol pollution reducing low level cloud albedo by inhibiting droplet coarsening, a self-limiting process with 18 months maximum lifetime. CO2-AGW is effectively aero.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Isnt the sensitivity back to front? Why not CO2 sensitivity to temperature?

Wiki says 'The Neolithic concept of a solar barge, the sun as traversing the sky in a boat, is found in the later myths of ancient Egypt, with Ra and Horus.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_deity

Perhaps our neolithic ancestors had a more rational logical perspective than we do. I like the analogy, with CO2 as just a little dinghy, one of many, daisy-chained together on elastic tow ropes behind the Ra solar barge traversing the sky.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I see a short and highly cite-able peer reviewed paper here: “97% of climate scientists refuse to say what the climate sensitivity is”.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

There is a tendency for some climate scientists to refuse to engage with sceptics. I have certainly experienced this.

They may fear that this is an attempt to catch them out (Luis's comment) - for example the fear that you might emphasize the fact that different people give different answers.

There may also be an increasing realisation among climate scientists that the idea of assigning a single number for climate sensitivity is a misleading oversimplification of the problem.

Oct 10, 2012 at 12:36 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Paul: they really hate it when I say to them that their claimed CO2-AGW doesn't exist because they got the physics horribly wrong, also that we have had AGW from another cause. It drives them insane.

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

This reminds me of a Feynman anecdotethat I found at:-
http://windrince.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/the-emperors-nose/


"The Emperor’s Nose is a story Richard Feynman tells in one of his books, as I remember it, as an illustration of how Governments work. I am paraphrasing from memory so may not get it quite right, but since the importance of stories (and the amount of repeat telling) is not dependant on whether they are true, but whether they ought to be true, this will do for now.

As I have it, at some time in the past in Imperial China a town wished to demonstrate its loyalty to the greater glory of China by erecting a statue of the Emperor. When it came to sculpting the face, however the sculptor was stumped. The Emperor lived in the Forbidden City and no-one from outside was allowed in to see him. Similarly no-one from inside the Forbidden City was allowed out. (The following generalisation was not considered problematically racist when Feynman told the story, but doubtless may be for some as I tell it today, sorry but it’s only a story). The sculptor believed he could make a fair job of the face as Chinese faces tend to similarity, except for the length of the nose. He therefore asked the townsfolk how this could be resolved. Now as we have established, no-one could speak to anyone who had actually seen the Emperor, so the townsfolk decided to ask everybody in the town what they thought was the length of the Emperor’s nose and average the result.

Feynman’s point was that if something isn’t known, just asking a large number of people who don’t know shares the responsibility about should a problem occur, but is unlikely to produce a correct answer except by pure dumb luck."

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterGordon Walker

Forget climate science for a moment; if you received a set of loaded questions from someone who probably doesn't understand the details of your work and who might well misinterpret or misrepresent your replies for his own purposes, would you respond?

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Climate stat of the week:

I see a short and highly cite-able peer reviewed paper here: “97% of climate scientists refuse to say what the climate sensitivity is”.

Thanks Geoff.

Of course constant sensitivity is way too simplified in the face of spatio-temporal chaos or whatever else lurks within. But this is the way the IPCC frames the problem, leading to vast political decision making on the back of models relied by the likes of the Stern Review - all based on this simplistic number.

Keep asking the stupid questions, your Grace. They're not.

Oct 10, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

BB:

Exactly! Probably why none of the readers of the skeptic blogs responded to Lewandosky.

Oct 10, 2012 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterLance Wallace

Lance Wallace: yes indeed (except for the part about understanding their work of course...)

Oct 10, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Does this mean all the activist trash climate scientists associate with, 'understand' their 'work'?

To the point though, climate scientists have always refused to answer this question directly. Or, data that has been collected has been reflective only of small subsamples, and that too, for questions that are broad in nature and those that can be safely answered.

Oreskes didn't collect data from scientists. Doran didn't collect data (enough of it). Anderegg didn't collect data from scientists.

There are studies that have collected data from scientists - Rosenberg et al, Bray and Von Storch, ...there is a new Farnsworth and Lichter. They all ask safe, vague and very general questions, except the Bray and von Storch questions which are detailed and specific.

Oct 10, 2012 at 3:59 PM | Registered Commentershub

(Put your hands on your eyes)

Put your hands on your eyes (Settled Science says)
Place your finger in the air (Settled Science says)
Do it when Science says (Settled Science says)
And you will never be out (Settled Science says)

I'd like to play a game
That is so much fun
And it's not so very hard to do
The name of the game
Is Settled Science Says
And I would like for
You to play it too

Place your finger in the air (Settled Science says)
Shake them to your right (Settled Science says)
Do it when Science says (Settled Science says)
And you will never be out (Settled Science says)

If Settled Science says
Put your hands on your eyes
Let your backbone slip, Science says
Settled Science says
Place your finger in the air
Let your backbone slip, Science says

Put your hands on your eyes (Settled Science says)
Place your finger in the air (Settled Science says)
Shake them to your right (Settled Science says)
Now point them back and forth

Ladies and gentlemen
The Pennsylvania Express
Come on

Put your hands on your eyes (Settled Science says)
Place your finger in the air (Settled Science says)
Shake them to your right (Settled Science says)
Now point them back and forth

Now that we have learned
To play this game with me
You can see it's not so hard to do
Let's try it once again
This time more carefully
And I hope the winner will be you

Clap you hands in the air (Settled Science says)
Do it double time (Settled Science says)
Slow it down like before (Settled Science says)
Ahh you're lookin' fine (Settled Science says)
Jump up high in the air (Settled Science says)
Do it double time (Settled Science says)
Slow it down like before (Settled Science says)
Ahh you're lookin fine (Settled Science says)
Put you hands in the air (Settled Science says)
Shake them all about (Settled Science says)
Do it when Science says (Settled Science says)
And you will never be out (Settled Science says)

Oct 10, 2012 at 8:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

The Geezer's dodgy doxology is faithfully reflected across the pond.

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

I asked this question once of John Nielsen-Gammon, probably at his
http://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/ blog or a predecessor. My recollection is he came in a degree or so lower than the IPCC guesstimate, same range of uncertainty. JNG tried to get his colleague Andy Dessler (also at Texas A&M) interested in the conversation (ims) but Dessler didn't bite.

FWIW I agree with Pielke Sr. about the problems. Nevertheless the CAGW boys have hung a lot on a high number -- with little empirical support sfaict.

Best, Pete Tillman
Professional geologist, amateur climate geek

Oct 11, 2012 at 1:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter D. Tillman

This could be important. Doran and Zimmermann got a 30% response rate to their 2-question mail drop. That’s poor, but they still had results, of a sort. If this survey was simple, well-worded, and addressed to the appropriate respondents, and it gets a 1-2% response rate, well that’s a result too.
Everyone is free to bin a questionnaire, but if 99% of respondents all bin the same questionnaire, they’re clearly not acting as individuals, whether or not their action is concerted.
Such an action would be justified if, say, a known Republican attempted to conduct a survey of Democrats, or a known activist attempted to conduct a survey of climate sceptics contacted via anti-sceptical sites. There would be a general refusal to participate, a low response rate and the results would be considered worthless.
If that is what happens when Montford addresses the climate scientists, then the climate scientists clearly do not see themselves as individuals with valid opinions that they are free to express, in other words as impartial investigators. They are acting as an advocacy group, like members of a sect, or citizens who fear a Mafia-like force.

Oct 11, 2012 at 7:40 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

If I asked a German in 1923 "What is the rate of inflation today?", a reasonable person could have answered "That is not a useful question because by the time I have calculated it, it may well have changed to something else."

A simple number for "climate sensitivity" is almost, but not quite, as useful as that. In the Wiemar Republic people could at least be confident that prices would only go up, not down.

Pielke Sr. is correct and, unusually, I find also myself in agreement with BitBucket when it comes to many survey-invitations.

Oct 11, 2012 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Michael Hart

A simple number for "climate sensitivity" is almost, but not quite, as useful as that
Climate sensitivity is by definition a simple number. Whether it is possible to calculate that number in advance, and whether it is a useful indicator of the bad weather that is supposed to follow rising temperatures, is another matter.
Bitbucket is wrong. There is no suggestion of loaded questions. The question posed by His Grace is clearly relevant, given the immense importance accorded to climate sensitivity by the IPCC and most climate scientists (though not Pielke).
There is no possibility that Montford might “misinterpret or misrepresent [their] replies for his own purposes” since there’s only one question, and there’s nothing he can do with the responses except report them. If climate scientists refuse as a body to answer Montford because they don’t like his views, they are behaving as a sect or secret society. Such behaviour by a body of professional people is corrupt, and they thereby forfeit all right to be heard.

Oct 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers, to explain my points further,,

The concept of climate sensitivity is certainly presented/defined as a 'simple number', but that doesn't mean it is either correct or useful to do so. The epicycles of the Ptolomaic solar system actually worked fairly well by some standards, but few today like the idea of a geo-centric model of the solar system.

Discussions such as might be found on Judith Curry's blog about "transient sensitivity" and "equilibrium sensitivity" implicitly acknowledge the problems of a simple number for climate-sensitivity, while simultaneously introducing more unfounded presuppositions and encouraging a bad mind-set IMO.

More often than not I find myself in complete agreement with Andrew Montford, but that doesn't mean publicly-funded scientists are under any compelling moral, legal or ethical obligation to spend time and effort completing unsolicited surveys arriving in email inboxes from any point on the globe. If they do consider such surveys, they also have a right to criticise them or be suspicious of the motives, intent, or competencies of the originators.

[However, if those same scientists are insisting that, based on their work, $multi-trillion changes be made to the world economies and the lives of billions of humans then it changes the landscape somewhat IMO.]

Oct 11, 2012 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Michael Hart
I agree absolutely with your comparison of climate sensitivity, and attempts to improve it, with the Ptolomaic system. But if climate scientists are going to make it a key concept justifying farreaching political action, they owe it to us to answer questions about it.
Granted, no-one is obliged to answer a survey, even if the time and effort required is minimal. And I think Montford was wrong to have identified his respondents, since it ceases to have any validity as an opinion survey once it ceases to be anonymous. (There was a similar problem with the Lewandowsky survey, due to online discussion among possible respondents).
But, assuming that Montford contacted a reasonable number (100+) of respondents, a 96% refusal rate cannot be attributed to poor survey technique, or personal choice. It looks more like a boycott, or worse, Omerta.
Climate scientists may, as individuals, decline to answer a survey. But if, as a body, (whether or not as a result of concerted action) they decide to refuse to answer such a simple and obviously relevant question, they are acting immorally. If lawyers refused to defend a certain kind of client, or doctors refused to treat a certain type of patient, there would be an outcry. There will be no outcry because climate scientists refuse to answer a key question, apparently because it’s coming from a certain type of questioner. That is a scandal.

Oct 11, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers:

...There is no suggestion of loaded questions. The question posed by His Grace is clearly relevant, given the immense importance ...
...
There is no possibility that Montford might “misinterpret or misrepresent [their] replies for his own purposes” since there’s only one question, and there’s nothing he can do with the responses except report them.

Perhaps I have missed the text of the original question(s) but from what I have read, there was more than one. BH said:

I therefore set up a very short survey and emailed it around a bunch of mainstream scientists and a few journalists. The questions essentially sought a single value for climate sensitivity and a range of values that the respondents thought should inform policymakers.

Without seeing the questions it is impossible to judge whether they are/were loaded. But if the subjects of the questionnaire had heard of AM, they would have known exactly to what purpose their responses would be put. I guess that would be enough to discourage replying.

Perhaps if BH published the questions their nature and quality would be clearer.

Oct 11, 2012 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

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