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Matt Ridley on the IPCC

Matt Ridley: The Perils Of Confirmation Bias. Read it at GWPF [updated at 12.25pm to prevent confusion]

The modus operandi of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has been to accumulate evidence to champion rather than challenge a hypothesis, namely that rising carbon dioxide levels will in future cause dangerous climate change.

A good example is the IPCC’s claim that only models that incorporate high-sensitivity carbon dioxide-induced warming countered by aerosol induced cooling can match (or “hindcast”) the recent upward progress of global average temperatures. The problem with this is that different models use different values of assumed cooling from aerosols. That is to say, the cooling effect of aerosols has been picked so that it fills the gap between observed and expected warming. The modellers are therefore in effect saying: we observe warming of X, we predicted warming of X+5, so there must have been cooling of 5, therefore our prediction is correct.

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Reader Comments (35)

No need to delve into minute examples of IPCC confirmation bias, when the entirety of its December 1988 charter is predicated on the "disastrous effects" and "severe consequences" of climate change and global warming. It does not even remotely approach the objectives or standards of a scientific body or organization, in fact it is quite the opposite:

Oct 9, 2012 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterGary

This is a political poison pill, since it doesn't just apply to aerosols...they're basically saying emissions have saved the world from a disastrous ice age. Cutting them would be tantamount to genocide.

Oct 9, 2012 at 11:31 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

With the first line I was astonished at the reflective self-awareness suddenly exhibited by Ridley:

"The Perils Of Confirmation Bias at GWPF"

but unfortunately it is followed by a completely un-self aware regurgitation of a talking point he finds comforting. Unsurprisingly, the link to the IPCC report does not point to any text that supports the claim made in the quoted passage.

Oct 9, 2012 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I agree with Gary above, this isn't news. On the other hand, because there has been so very little respect among all those pontificating in the climate debates, no one has been listening to anyone but perhaps their favorite writers (wherefore someone needs to talk about the perils of hero worship -- or the imprinting of the newborn intellect upon a parental "leader", whom it then toddles after, closely and comically, afterwards -- rather than confirmation bias), so almost everything has to be resaid for the benefit of sluggards who simply haven't cared enough before to take in the definitive information the first 700 times it was said. How many of the first 700 people who said much the same thing are forgotten? Vincent Gray? Tim Ball? How many? One is tempted to hook up a fire hose and wake up those sluggards the easy way -- but it would only make them sputter, and lose their newfound train of wobbly perceptive thought.

Oct 9, 2012 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Frank says that the link does not support the conclusion. He should read the very next sentences of the report with their two links:

"Or, to quote one of the papers that examined this issue:

“These results explain to a large degree why models with such diverse climate sensitivities can all simulate the global anomaly in surface temperature. The magnitude of applied anthropogenic total forcing compensates for the model sensitivity.”

Once an empirical estimate of aerosol cooling is used instead of an assumption, the models’ performance is poor (see Penner et al 2011)."

Oct 9, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Ridley

As always, a very good article by Matt Ridley. Where he says:

"it is not unreasonable to expect governments to back the partisans of other hypotheses: that man-made climate change may be real but not dangerous because of lack of positive feedbacks; that it may be less powerful than some natural causes of change; or that there are negative feedbacks that reduce the effects of man-made warming."

Could I add the to the list of hypotheses that should be backed, or at least tested: that there may be no man made influence on global climate?

Oct 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGuy Leech


Bob Tisdale's latest blog entry comparing the Models used by IPCC to actual Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies November 1981 through September 2012. Note the Poles. A lot of NH heat is presently escaping through the Arctic Roof of the World, and pretty much everything in SH worth mention has escaped out the Antarctic Sump Pump already. My opine - actual temps are generally falling, or soon will be, worldwide; and the last of bit of the recent Solar Max is at the NPole and going up the chimney.

Oct 9, 2012 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

Hi Matt
Members of IPCC (working groups) have been confronted with similar examples of circular reasoning before. Not to much avail.

One of the central lines of reasoning in the attribution argument of the IPCC is "warming without CO2, warming with CO2' graph. The graph is generated by a computer model which is instructed as to the atmospheric behavioural properties of said CO2 ,,, by us,... as opposed to being an emergent property, Is there any wonder you get what you put in?

You rightly point out mafia logic inherent in fudge factor usage of aerosols - a mysterious substance whose properties are so ill-understood (and useful), as opposed to CO2 properties are known fully. "Give be 10 bucks from your pocket of 100 and make a profit of 89 bucks 'cause if you don't, I will beat to an inch of your life and take all but just one dollar from you".

This was the same logic used when Skepticalscience website recently claimed that greenhouse gases caused greater than 100% of surface warming. (Which the aerosols cooled it down to 100%). You could use this line of reasoning and the 'greenhouse gas warming', which is a directly unmeasurable quantity in and of itself, could be said to cause 200% of warming, 500% of warming, 999% of warming, or just about
percent of warming, which the aerosols could then be said to counter. 'Earth to boil at 1000K. Fortunately, aerosols cool 712K so we are saved.'

Circular reasoning and confirmation bias is sometimes unavoidable, and even useful as shorthand so we don't haggle over the same point forever and hold up our conceptual exploration (and usually is an indicator of our imperfect understanding and that of system complexity). But to put circular reasoning on the pedestal and make it the foundation of 'policymaking' - only the climate catastrophists are capable of such crap.

By the way, the Skepticalscience Team is/was planning a 'Ridley's Riddles' series on you. Only your fantastic reputation is holding them back from the smear-job.

Oct 9, 2012 at 1:15 PM | Registered Commentershub

Bish -
FYI Link for Bob Tisdale's site -

Oct 9, 2012 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

A year ago I worked out that Sagan's aerosol optical physics, the basis of the global dimming idea, is wrong because it fails to take account a major second optical effect. This was separately observed by a US cloud physicist. Like me, his paper has been blocked from publication. In 2004, NASA claimed fake 'surface reflection' physics, the basis of AR4's 'cloud albedo effect' cooling.

In reality, the net 'AIE' is warming, the real AGW. There is no need for CO2-AGW to explain the end of ice ages and CO2-AGW cannot occur anyway. This many be the biggest scientific fraud in history.

Oct 9, 2012 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Matt, I'm a little surprised - you seem to interpret the Penner et al. 2011 paper very differently to Joyce Penner herself.

See for instance While you say model estimates are poor compared to satellite estimates, she says

"The satellite estimates are way too small"


"We found that using satellite data to try to infer how much radiation is reflected today compared to the amount reflected in the pollution-free pre-industrial atmosphere is very inaccurate".

The paper itself, while predictably obtuse, does seem to demonstrate why the satellite methods have underestimated the magnitude of the negative indirect forcing from aerosols. This suggests a higher value of climate sensitivity, not a lower one, because it means aerosols have masked more of the GHG warming to date.


Oct 9, 2012 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered Commentertilting@windmills

AlecM - there is nothing to stop you or you US cloud physicist friend publishing your observations on the web. The crowd-sourcing of peer review seems to work better than pal review anyway. I for one am getting a little weary of seeing the "physics is wrong" being declaimed in oratorical style. Prove it with some numbers.

Oct 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterSebastian Weetabix

Hi Sweetabix: here are the data from the US:

See page 5. Low level clouds with bimodal droplets have 25% greater optical depth than theory predicts. Turn off coarsening and you have the AGW. The climate models use double real optical depth of such clouds to counter the 40% extra energy [Trenberth 2009 Energy Budget]. The extra evaporation causes imaginary positive feedback. It' very simple to see how this scam developed.

Oct 9, 2012 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

@ Shub,

This is the precise point & made to a christor colleague who works for the Wet Office. He laboured the point time & again that the models were built to obey the laws of physics. Yet he couldn't tell me how water vapour & clouds in particular worked as amplifiers of suppressors of warming. Nor could he identify exactly how the Sun affects the Earth insistant that some "uncertainties" were not known fully yet mysteriously allowed for. He sadly had no answer to my point about programming the models to behave the way they want, hence getting the answer out the rear end that they expected & indeed wanted. This is the reall problem, once one heads off into the sunset in the naive belief that computer modelling can predict the future one is doomed to the realms of science fiction & Deep Thought!

Oct 9, 2012 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Matt even understates the case against

One of my interests is the supposed change in ocean pH that is supposedly occurring because of increased atmospheric CO2. Some unscientifically call it 'Ocean Acidification'.

It is one of those things that 'everybody knows' is happening and 'everybody knows' is a Very Bad Thing.

But a sure fire way to annoy an alarmist is to ask him/her for some actual data that this effect is actually occurring at all. The exchanges usually go along these lines

LA : where is the data?

Alarmist: There is piles of it ..everybody knows

LA : But where exactly?

Alarmist: Ignoramus! Read this review article.

LA: I did. It has 100 monthly measurements from Hawaii that night show a pH decline if I look at them with a squint to the left. And mightn't if I squint to the right

Alarmist : You want some more? Why?

LA L It took 30 years and between 10 million and 100 million daily temperature measurements from thousands of sites around the world to establish that the globe was likely warming a little. Why should I take just 100 measurements from one spot to be representative of the whole world?

Alarmist: Get with the programme Anti-Science Denier. Ocean Acidification is here now and it is Very Bad!

LA: But there aren't enough measurements to say one way or another

Alarmist: You are just not taking this seriously. I refuse to play your little game any more you Evil Big Oil Funded Politically Motivated Ideologue and Party Pooper.

My Mummy said that the oceans are really really acid and its ll your fault that I can't go swimming any more. And My Mummy is always right. So there!

LA: Sigh

Notes to non-chemists:

The ocean is not acidic and even if we burnt every last jot of fossilised carbon we know of it will stay that way. The only question is whether there is actually any change in pH from slightly alkaline to a teensy weensy bit less alkaline or not. Many have published their pet theories about why this ought to be happening...none have shown the experimental observations.

Scare stories like 'a 30% increase in acidity' are there precisely to scare you. Whether the ocean has one acidic ion per 10,000,000 other molecules or one for every 7,000,000 others is immaterial to the real chemistry of the ocean.

Oct 9, 2012 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

hii Alan; 'the models were built to obey the laws of physics'. They fail at the first hurdle. it's obvious to any engineer** but only now I have re-established the argument as a breach of Poynting's Theorem are the physicists taking any notice. The problem is they're bamboozled by modelling too.

**The 'Earth's surface is a black body emitter' can never be true because convection and radiation are coupled: . Admit that BB emission isn't possible and you have to explain why and the IPCC modellers have fought this tooth and nail because it blows the ludicrous Aarhenius idea out of the water, also CO2-AGW and positive feedback.

Oct 9, 2012 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Whether the ocean has one acidic ion per 10,000,000 other molecules or one for every 7,000,000 others is immaterial to the real chemistry of the ocean.
As I would submit, m'lud, are the 12 parts of CO2 per million that mankind produces immaterial to the real chemistry of the atmosphere.*

* On the basis that 3% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is anthropogenic, you understand.

Oct 9, 2012 at 4:24 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Matt Ridley: very helpful (and like so many helpful things, very obvious once pointed out) that eugenics was also a scare story about the future. Current pain for projected gain. Thanks a bundle for that.


Like me, his paper has been blocked from publication.

You must think the denizens of Bishop Hill are idiots. Publish on the web, coy genius, as Mt Weetabix says.

Oct 9, 2012 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

"The 'Earth's surface is a black body emitter' can never be true"

It would difficult to find your way home if it was...

Oct 9, 2012 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P


Have you ever done a 'back of an envelope' calculation for how much the pH of the world oceans has changed as a result of man's CO2 release?

Given the relative sizes of the ocean and atmosphere reservoirs, and the (roughly) 50/50 partition suggested by carbon budgets (i.e. that the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 appears to be about half of what human activity releases), even if you discount biological activity (either uptake as organic carbon or as biologically precipitated carbonates - an unrealistic worst-case assumption), I don't see how the change in pH is distinguishable from zero (there might be an effect in about the 4th or 5th decimal place, but that's not sensibly measurable anyway).

That's not to say that some areas of the ocean (especially shallow or restricted basins that aren't reasonably mixed to the bulk ocean) haven't seen some reduction in pH, but even there my strong suspicion is that the effect of dissolution of CO2 from the atmosphere is trivial compared with the effect of other pollutants running off adjacent land.

Oct 9, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

@ian blanchard

The only piece of data that there is that shows even the slightest change in pH is from Hawaii. Those who wish to see it claim that it shows that a change from 8.12 to 8.10 over a period of 20 odd years

Maybe I'm just overcynical, but I am not inclined to invest these graphs with any particular global significance just yet. As and when there are 100 million measurements (not just 100), taken on thousands of locations and they all consistently show the same effect, then perhaps I'll be converted. But not yet.

Oct 9, 2012 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

It could be that, within the next few years, there is going to be a dramatic reduction in global temperatures, with long, cold winters in the northern hemisphere, and brief, cool summers (though there might be hot spells). As the Arctic ice blocks the St Lawrence until late in July – or even into August! – what reaction will we get from the present-day alarmists? I suspect that it will be exactly as it is now: “We told you so! It is all the fault of man-made CO2!” Mind you, with any luck, they might have already disappeared up their own tail-pipes by then.

Oct 9, 2012 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Re the eugenics scare:

Maybe it's well known here, but Richard Lindzen wrote a fascinating essay in 1995 comparing global warming and eugenics:

Oct 9, 2012 at 8:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBebben

Thanks for that wonderful article.

I recently read 'In the name of Eugenics' by Daniel Kevles. The parallels between the history of eugenics and the global warming movement are uncanny.

Oct 9, 2012 at 8:43 PM | Registered Commentershub

New post at Climate Audit is well worth a read! This is a bit of a tangent but not OT I hope (provides some larger context for how and why IPCC adherents have been enthusiasts for re-writing millenial climate history to pretend that recent years are "warmest ever"):

The Afterlife of IPCC 1990 Figure 7.1

The blatant failures of The IPCC Team and the Climategate correspondents to deal honestly and accurately with both paleo records and the IPCC's own history displays comprehensive confirmation biases and a determination to tell a politically convenient narrative.

Oct 9, 2012 at 8:50 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Richard Drake: the G L Stephens' paper which he submitted in 2010 has not, as far as I can tell, been accepted for publication/

My paper, rejected in 48 hours by a major Climate Mag. a record, is being split into a physics' report and a palaeo-climate interpretation paper.I am also writing another report which destroys the CAGW idea of Aahrenius.

Climate science, meanwhile, progresses on the basis of fake physics, claiming it is peer reviewed.


Oct 9, 2012 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

@Alec M,
Like other commenters have said: publish on the web. If you are interested in publishing your papers you could do worse than submit to Principia Scientific International (PSI). They are very willing to consider any papers that appear to be blocked by other journals for political reasons. Just google PSI and drop them a line.

Oct 9, 2012 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn O'Sullivan

Oct 9, 2012 at 3:44 PM | Alan the Brit
[ ... ] He sadly had no answer to my point about programming the models to behave the way they want, hence getting the answer out the rear end that they expected & indeed wanted. [ ... ]

I get exactly the same response from my dog ... if I feed in a piece of lettuce, I can be assured that the same piece of lettuce will emerge from the other end, intact, a short time later.

Oct 9, 2012 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

AlecM: someone also needs to put some real meat behind the flawed "positive feedback" notion alarmists depend upon (without ever actually demonstrating an understanding of feedback nor how one could deduce complex feedback mechanisms simply by observing only the output and input). Oh, that and the "CO2 lags temperature because of positive feedback" in the ice record meme. Argh. It makes my head want to explode in place.


Oct 10, 2012 at 3:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark T

In the paper Matt says:

"Climate scientists deny the charge, saying they are properly sceptical about their own hypotheses. Actually, a much stronger argument they could use is that they are behaving no differently from other scientists. Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is a long catalogue of carefully selected facts in support of natural selection. Bohr, Einstein, Wegener, Mendel, Rutherford and Hawking all won great scientific renown while pushing, rather than trying to falsify, an idea." My emphasis.

The analogy with other scientists is not correct. There is a difference between individual scientists pushing for acceptance of their idea and the whole community ganging together to push for the same idea. In the case of Darwin his book was the fruit of decades of discussions with other scientists sceptical of his ideas. There are also examples of scientists pushing a plausible idea only for it to be rejected: for example Fred Hoyle and the 'Big Bang'

Oct 10, 2012 at 5:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRon

AlecM: delighted to hear you are publishing on the web. How soon?

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard; I have submitted a paper. it's being split into two. The first part shows where Sagan went wrong. Because this affects key aspects of astronomy, particularly his explanation of the Venusian atmosphere, it might take some time to get it established!

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

"They are very willing to consider any papers that appear to be blocked by other journals for political reasons.

Oct 9, 2012 at 11:51 PM | " John O'Sullivan

To a first approximation, the italicized pseudobarrister , ( Under no circumstances to be confused with the late William F. Buckley's editorial colleague , John O'Sullivan OBE) is 'Principia Scientific'

It is his fantasy, no more a scientifc publishing house than he is a member of the bar.

Oct 10, 2012 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

If you bothered to check the list of published members of PSI you will see it is an association of more than 50 highly-accredited specialists, very many with PhD's. Why the ad hom? Can't you stand the truth that PSI has proven the GHE is junk science? Not only that our chairman, Dr Tim Ball is on the brink of defeating climate fraudster Michael Mann in the biggest science court case since the Scopes Monkey Trial. Moreover, FYI the 33 degrees of so-called GHE warming is the product of James Hansen's bungled equation whereby he fatally mixed a scalar value with a vector. Utterly bogus! But I guess actual cutting edge scientific debate is not your thing.

Oct 10, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn O'Sullivan

There are over 100 academic research libraries in the greater Boston area, which subscribe to close to 100,000 learned journals. How many currently have paid subscirptions to PSI journals?

What is the number of PSI journals that appear in Citation Indices ?

What is the overall citation impact factor of PSI journals ?

Oct 12, 2012 at 3:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

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