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« Sceptics' impact on climate science | Main | Quote of the day, recycling edition »

Puffed rice

Here's an interesting wrinkle in climate science that I hadn't thought about before. It came up in a thread at Ken Rice's place, underneath an article about carbon dioxide reductions.

The specific claim of interest was that "the amount of warming depends almost linearly on cumulative emissions". This is a claim that you hear quite often, with the corollary being that even if we halt carbon dioxide emissions, temperatures are going to remain high for centuries. However, it seems that the scientific veracity of the statement is not exactly set in stone, as Nic Lewis points out in the comments.

For the record, whilst this may be true for simulations by most current Earth system models, it is an entirely model dependent result. So please don’t present it as if a fact. If one builds a model with a low ECS, and moderate climate-cycle feedbacks, warming peaks immediately if emissions cease and declines quite rapidly thereafter. Which would happen in the real climate system is not as yet known, of course.

Encouragingly, Dr Rice fully accepted Nic's case: an encouraging example of consensus emerging among colleagues. Indeed, I'm sure I sense him trying very hard to enhance the atmosphere of collegiality:

Yes, I realise it is not a fact. So, for clarity, our current understanding is that it depends almost linearly on temperature.

However, given the sites, and organisation, that you associate with, the idea that you can come here and tone troll me is utterly amazing. What the hell are you playing at? Do you have no self-awareness whatsoever? Do you really not get the irony of you writing appallingly dishonest posts at Climate Audit, commenting at Bishop Hill, and writing reports for a pseudo-denial organisation like the GWPF, and then coming here and suggesting that maybe I should have qualified myself a bit more carefully than I did. You really do need to look at how you present and defend your own work before coming here and tone trolling me. Seriously; WTF!!!!!

In fact, a thoughtful and decent response might actually be in order, because I really cannot believe that someone like yourself, who seems completely unwilling to acknowledge possible issues with your own work, can have just done what you’ve done.

He is trying isn't he?

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Reader Comments (183)


Oct 6, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Just saw this quote which seems apropos:

The essential feature of this disorder is a pervasive and unwarranted tendency . . . to interpret the actions of people as deliberately demeaning or threatening. Almost invariably, there is a general expectation of being exploited or harmed by others in some way. . . . The person may read hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events. . . . Often these people are easily slighted and quick to react with anger or counterattack; they may bear grudges for a long time, and never forgive slights, insults or injuries. . . . They tend to avoid blame even when it is warranted. . . . They intensely and narrowly search for confirmation of their expectations, with no appreciation of the total context. Their final conclusion is usually precisely what they expected in the first place.

-- A summary of the DSM entry on 'Paranoid Personality Disorder' from Matt Labash's The Cocked Fist Culture

Oct 6, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterlonetown

John Shade

That sounds about right to me! The original Walter Mitty film, with Danny Kaye, is well worth a watch, too.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Maybe I'm just being simplistic but doesn't the fact that climate model 'projections' diverge so significantly from empirical/real-world data provide a very strong hint that some significant component and/or interaction is either missing or poorly defined within them?

What that missing or poorly defined component/interaction is (e.g. clouds, soil, sun) and how to improve it is surely the most important question in climate science because, while climate model uncertainties/errors remain significant, mitigating policy based upon their projections is likely to cause more problems than it solves... especially if it attempts to change global energy policy.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

I must admit that I am disappointed. I hadn't taken you for someone who would apparently misrepresent what I said as badly as you have. Others I expected to do so; you, not so much. I did not say we should not look, or shouldn't consider it, or should ignore it completely. My exact words were

Yes, but the possibility that something we don't yet know about - or understand - might exist, is not a good reason for assuming that it will, or that it is probable.

I suspect that I really am now wasting my time. It's perfectly reasonable and scientific to consider all sorts of possibilities and to investigate if they exist or are possible. That, however, does not mean that we should consider things that we have no evidence for at the moment, as being probable, or even likely. I think this is a trivial point and I would have expected you to get this.

We don't assume that it will. We don't assume that it won't. We don't know.

Yes, but this is a trivial trueism. It carries virtually no relevant information.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics


Your excellent comment prompted me to look for the origin of the quotation, "everything that can be invented has been invented".

Apparently, this is often misattributed to the US Patent Office commissioner, Charles Duell, who actually said (in 1899): "In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold."

Patent Office work clearly gets the brain synapses working...

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:18 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


"That .. does not mean that we should consider things that we have no evidence for at the moment, as being probable, or even likely."


Oct 6, 2015 at 1:22 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"It's perfectly reasonable and scientific to consider all sorts of possibilities and to investigate if they exist or are possible. That, however, does not mean that we should consider things that we have no evidence for at the moment, as being probable, or even likely. I think this is a trivial point and I would have expected you to get this."

It isn't a trivial point - I'm hoping you can at least consider the possibility that there's a valid point of view to understand, here.

Take the easiest example - is it 'probable' that there will be new scientific discoveries in future?

We obviously can't specify what they will be. We don't have any direct evidence for them yet, either. But we can be pretty certain that there will be some, partly because of the pattern of past history, partly because we can see a lot of effects for which we cannot yet provide precise causes. We're in a darkened room stumbling over furniture. We know from past experience that the other rooms were full of furniture, so why not this one? We know that there's a lot of unexplored dark spaces in here, for furniture to lurk in. It's pretty certain that there will be some.

I agree that we shouldn't postulate specific details without evidence - the universe generally defies our expectations.

Albert Michelson (who was no idiot) said in 1894:

While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice. It is here that the science of measurement shows its importance — where quantitative work is more to be desired than qualitative work. An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.

That was just a few years before his own experiments triggered the discovery of relativity, which led in turn to quantum mechanics. How wrong he was!

But every generation of scientists does the same thing, because it's human nature.

I think that when a scientist says of his work that the number of assumptions, unknowns, and speculative guesses involved mean it is "rather illustrative than predictive", he means exactly what he says. It's an illustrative extrapolation into the unknown, and the best we can do for the moment, but you can't make predictions with it yet. Not about the next hundred years, let alone the next ten thousand.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNullius in Verba


Are you referring to Otto & al as an "other team," Nic? Sounds like double accounting to me.

Yes, I am. I was one of 17 authors of Otto et al. (2013); apart from the lead author and his spouse, all of them were key lead authors of parts of IPCC AR5 WG1 relevant to estimating climate sensitivity. This was their project, which I was invited to participate in.

Oct 6, 2015 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

Thank goodness for people like aTTP (aka Ken Rice). Hectoring, bombastic, rude, arrogant. Just like RealClimate. RealClimate has probably done more to open the eyes of neutrals and steer them towards the voice of reasonableness in the form of healthy scepticism of the more hysterical AGW claims than any other site on the internet. And Ken appears to be a chip off the same block.

As for Ken's patronising statements about misinformation from BH, WUWT, CA etc. Well Ken, I have news for you. You are not the only person on the internet with a degree or higher, in earth sciences or otherwise. Many people here, at WUWT, at CA are very well educated graduates or post-graduates, in relevant disciplines, with experience and knowledge. What's more, we are more than capable of reading something, independently researching for ourselves and forming our own opinions. I've been doing it successfully as a professional geophysicist and geostatistician for over 30 years, so I don't need you to act as my net nanny and tell me where truth lies in AGW debate.

But keep it up. The more people see of the aTTP that, when presented with an accurate and politely worded criticism from Nic Lewis, hurl their toys out of the pram and start throwing around ad homs the better. Try playing the man and not the ball next time and maybe intelligent people from WUWT, BH and CA will come and engage with you at your blog. Then you might get your technical point across. Carry on the way you are and intelligent people might start thinking that your argument is rather thin and can only be carried by hectoring and bullying. Still, suits me if that's the way you want to play it. From where I am sitting it sure is entertaining to watch as you shoot yourself in the foot time after time.

Oct 6, 2015 at 2:04 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Nullius in Verba (Oct 6, 2015 at 1:37 PM), I think the key point here is that the 'Scientific Method' is the only tool that enables us to explore our universe in the face of such an overwhelming number of unknowns. More importantly, it enables us to determine when our assumptions are either wrong or too simplistic.

As climate models claim to represent the summation of our current understanding of Earth's climatic elements and their interactions, the fact that their 'projections' appear to tally so poorly with real-world data is surely clear evidence of some missing or misunderstood element/interaction.

Oct 6, 2015 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

Well said, thinkingscientist... I couldn't agree with you more!

Oct 6, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

thinking scientist:
When you wrote "Try playing the man and not the ball next time", did you mean the other way round?

Oct 6, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

As climate models claim to represent the summation of our current understanding of Earth's climatic elements and their interactions...
Oct 6, 2015 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

No climate model has been validated in the sense normally used in system modelling (notwithstanding the Met Office's claim to be able to reproduce the training data). As has been pointed out many times, an unvalidated model is no more than an illustration of somebody's hypothesis.

"For the record, whilst this may be true for simulations by most current Earth system models, it is an entirely model dependent result." (NL)

"Yes, I realise it is not a fact. So, for clarity, our current understanding is that it depends almost linearly on temperature (??CO2??)." (KR)

Should be corrected as. "Yes, I realise it is not a fact. So, for clarity, our current understanding hypothesis is that it depends almost linearly on temperature (??CO2??)."

Oct 6, 2015 at 3:30 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

> Yes, I am. I was one of 17 authors of Otto et al. (2013) [...]

Counting a paper of which you are a co-author as "another team" might not be the best way to contradict James' claim, Nic. In any case, it seems to me that his point pertains more to the fact that your criteria excludes almost every studies published except a handful of them, some (half?) of which you co-authored or authored.

What would be your estimate of the number of papers your criteria excludes? I just want a scale.


Speaking of scale, I have no idea why you would dispute my claim "that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long while is basic science." I had Harvey Lam's calculation in mind, which fits in four pages:

Unless you can come up with a plausible way to tweak these numbers that would contradict that CO2 stays for a long while, e.g. 5 years?

Maybe it's a vocabulary thing.


As to your disputation of my usage of "basic science," perhaps this old ClimateBall exchange can help:

[Judy] Nick, atmospheric residence time is NOT a simple issue of physical chemistry!

[Nick] The elementary physical chemistry concept involved is dynamic equilibrium.


It seems to me that there are two views on the same problem. One focuses on accounting. One prioritizes understanding. I duly submit that science is more about understanding than accounting.

Again, maybe it's a vocabulary thing.

Oct 6, 2015 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterwillard


Harvey Lamb simply assumes that the IPCC models estimate the CO2 residence time correctly! There is no basic science in his paper.

Oct 6, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

> There is no basic science in his paper.

Lam presents an emulator of it, Nullius. At best you could argue that it's basic accounting of relationships that are said to be well "understood." While you can dispute the accounting, I don't think you can dispute the understanding underlying it without appealing to our indefinite ignorance, just like you tried to do with AT.

Can you get a plausible result of that emulator that would not be "a long while"?

Oct 6, 2015 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterwillard


"This Geological carbon cycle model suggest otherwise: 560ppm to 350ppm takes about 650 years. Can you explain why you think it might not, because - as I understand it - few who work on this think that it would not take several hundred years."

It is easy to construct a fairly simple carbon cycle model that obey basic science (ocean chemistry, in particular) but where a drop from 560 to 350 ppm takes circa one hundred years. I doubt that understanding of the carbon cycle is good enough yet to say for definite that one is right and the other wrong. However, it is well known that CMIP5 earth system models have consistently overpredicted the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Oct 6, 2015 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis


Indeed, that is what I meant to write. I stand corrected, and much appreciate your polite and well meaning comment!


Oct 6, 2015 at 4:46 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Willard - are you saying that understanding the process is equivalent to giving it a name such as "dynamic equilibrium" and that this is more important than putting numbers and quantifying it? It occurs to me that the former is a basic kind of understanding and the latter is the more sophisticated approach we would expect from climate custodians. You appear to hold the inverse viewpoint. Is this a fair summary?

Oct 6, 2015 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

> [A]re you saying that understanding the process is equivalent to giving it a name [...]

The vocabulary things are not mine, Deambulating One. What I'm pointing out is that the main goal of science is understanding, not accounting. Promoting (in a technical sense, as the Auditor might say) "fairly simply" ways to lower the bounds of justified disingenuousness belongs to the auditing sciences. Creative accounting as art form, so to speak. Just imagine what's possible if we include what we don't know, e.g.

You query what negative feedback I envision that might not be included in any model physics. I do not go along with attempts to reverse the burden of proof. When the results of a model that is known to be imperfect disagree with observational evidence, the scientific default position is that the model needs to be modified. If the modellers claim that their model is correct and observational evidence is at fault then it is incumbent on them to prove so. It is not up to someone who accepts the observational evidence that the model is not a good representation of the real world to show where and how it misrepresents the real world.

Taken together, the two emphasized claims are quite impressive. When queried about the preferred accounting which makes him exclude almost all the studies except his own, Nic shifts the onus on his interlocutor to prove him wrong, because observations. As if we were dealing with adamant observations or something. As if Nic never heard about epistemological holism. Better, as if his choices did not exclude data:

From Steve Schwartz: “The exclusion of the data sets from my further analysis was based on the fact that they did not fit the model relating forcing and observation, but I would not use even that to exclude such forcing histories from the realm of possibility; we need to evaluate forcing independently from its implications on response. Try to maintain a firewall. Otherwise it becomes circular reasoning.”

Nic's response:

I agree with Steve Schwartz that excluding forcing data sets on the basis that they do not fit the model used is not ideal.

Even AT has yet to master this kind of understatement.


The point about firewalls might explain the reason why we read "because, observations" and "because, Bernardo" or something along these lines. Nic's mere contradiction in a previous comment ("Contrary to your claim, my reasoning [...] is not circular") inspires little confidence. Requiring a contrarian-proof accounting of a problem with lots of possibilities to inject creative accounting has very little to do with understanding.

Hence the importance of James' question, and Nic's dodge. "But it's more than one" is yet another response that has more to do with accounting than understanding.

In any case, thank you for asking.


Oct 6, 2015 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterwillard


Ah! The primacy of a beautiful theory over an inconvenient fact! Wonderful stuff!

I couldn't have put the difference between our respective philosophies better.

Oct 6, 2015 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterNullius in Verba

I think some bunnies might think that Willard does not know what he is talking about

Oct 6, 2015 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

"Willard does not know what he is talking about"

Who does?

Oct 7, 2015 at 12:07 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Nic's observations were not his own since he shared them them with at least 17 other people, probably more.

Are you simply trying to say that no climate scientist has a verifiable understanding of the whole ambit of climate science?

If so,I would agree with you.

But you do not do agreement, do you.

Oct 7, 2015 at 12:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Nic Lewis, willard,

In this discussion you both refer to "basic science". I'd like to know what you mean by it. Which would you substitute for "basic": "easily understood", "uncontested", "assumed correct for the purpose of argument"? Something else? I'd really welcome an explanation.

I admit I do harp on about this, but it seems to me that physics only gets to basics by abstracting away the rest of the universe; when applied in the real world it's no longer physics and nothing is basic (e.g. the Mpemba effect). Am I wrong?

Oct 7, 2015 at 1:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Swan

> The primacy of a beautiful theory over an inconvenient fact! Wonderful stuff!

Are you suggesting that lukewarm libertarianism is refuted by one single bankruptcy based on creative accounting, Nullius?

Don’t present data as fact, and don't conflate theories with teh modulz, pretty please with sugar on it.

Oct 7, 2015 at 1:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterwillard

Is Willard channelling Oscar Wilde..?

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."

Oct 7, 2015 at 2:40 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I guess that Willard thinks he has a gotcha but is it really so surprising that Lewis favours studies that approach the problem from a standpoint with which he empathises? Is this not trivial stuff which the whirligig of Willard's rhetoric obscures?

Oct 7, 2015 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

> I guess that Willard thinks [...]

Thank you for probing my mind, August Cynic.

I rather think it's time to bring the same closure James did on that "Dialogue" thread:

I don’t think that any politicians in the UK, or for that matter Japan (where I lived and worked until recently) is paying much attention to the arcane debate in the literature about climate sensitivity. There are of course pressure groups who tend to distort the science as an alternative to debating honestly about policy choices, but thankfully they don’t seem to have much influence.

There are other trumps to be played (e.g. can a formal relationship be a fact?), but that can wait. The carcass is getting lukewarm already.

Thanks for playing,


Oct 8, 2015 at 2:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterwillard


That quote you give is about as far from the truth as its possible to get. If one accepts that CO2 is a GHG (which I do) then THE question to ask is what happens to the climate when the concentration is increased in the atmosphere. IF the response of the real atmosphere is "not much" due to interactions and other, complex, coupled behaviour then no action is required to mitigate.

Climate sensitivity IS the basis of policy. Its not an arcane matter, its the root of the argument as to whether you need to act or not.

As for pressure groups distorting the science, I think reality is steadily pushing the AGW meme towards the low sensitivity, little harm, adaption is better policy. And not due to "pressure groups" "distorting the science". Due to people with common sense and good bullshit filters who can see that, as the climate model predictions diverge ever further from reality and real harm is done to poor people due to stupid climate policy, the alarmists got it wrong. No politician will want to be on the losing side. And the losing side is alarmism, and common sense and rational behaviour will return. And the sky is not going to fall in.

Oct 8, 2015 at 8:16 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Climate Sensitivity IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be the basis of policy since it is impossible to calculate. The basis of policy should be the facts and not the theories.

Oct 9, 2015 at 4:33 PM | Registered CommenterDung

This episode illustrates what is becoming Rice's modus operandi. Saying reasonable and correct things (at his blog) that he doesn't like is equated with vague sins of thought, such as spreading doubt or in Nic's case, having disreputable associations. It really is just juvenal school yard stuff. What is really dishonest however is manipulating comments to prevent appropriate responses by those accused by Rice or his anonymous inquisitors. This is the behavior of a propagandist. When he appears at others blogs, he behaves differently, because he is unable to manipulate the discussion to omit inconvenient bits. However, there is a down side to appearing here. It is like a squirrel coming down out of the trees and attacking at ground level, a tactical error in Climateball and as a public relations man, Rice should know better. Squirrel hunters have more modern and scientifically validated methods of defense especially at ground level.

Instead of puffed rice, I suggest the moniker, Rice a Roni, the San Francisco treat. Certainly squirrels like it.

Oct 11, 2015 at 11:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Young

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