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SciAm's climate sensitivity car crash

When the climate alarmist is struggling to make his case, he tends to reach for either the ad-hominem argument or some other rhetorical technique from the depths of the propagandist armoury.

Readers will recall the Bjorn Stevens paper on aerosols, which I suggested at the time gave alarmism "one helluva beating", as indeed it does. My headline seemed to amuse others and it was echoed by James Delingpole at Breitbart, his article later reproduced at Fox News.

The inevitable response was a statement by Stevens that sought to calm the troubled waters, suggesting that unidentified parties were claiming that it was the end of the global warming hypothesis. This was a fairly obvious straw man argument, but one that was sufficiently robust for Scientific American, which has now picked up the story in rather embarrassing fashion.

The guts of the article, by Gayathri Vaidyanathan, is an attempt to discredit Lewis by implying he has misinterpreted the study:

The misinterpretation of Stevens' paper began with Nic Lewis, an independent climate scientist. In a blog post for Climate Audit, a prominent climate skeptic blog, he used Stevens' study to suggest that as CO2 levels double in the atmosphere, global temperatures would rise by only 1.2 to 1.8 degrees Celsius. The measure is called "climate sensitivity."

It then suggests that Stevens has criticised Lewis:

[Stevens] took the unusual step, for a climate scientist, of issuing a press release to correct the misconceptions. Lewis had used an extremely rudimentary, some would even say flawed, climate model to derive his estimates, Stevens said.

I think it's fair to say that the misconceptions are all in the head of the article's author.*  The "flawed" and "rudimentary" model has of course been endorsed and used by almost every important scientist working in the area of climate sensitivity. Sure it's simple, but for models that is generally a good thing. In fact a glance at the author list for the famous Otto et al climate sensitivity paper reveals the presence of one B. Stevens! There is no doubt in my mind that Ms Vaidyanathan has been doing some rather ugly twisting of Steven's words here.

And as if to emphasise that she doesn't know what she is talking about either, we have her startling statement about the scientific evidence on climate sensitivity.

When scientists use temperature records from the 20th century to constrain sensitivity, they get low values. When they use records stretching many millenia, painstakingly assembled from trees and other proxies that contain imprints of past climates, they get values toward the higher end of the IPCC range of 1.5 to 4.5 C.

A cursory glance at the IPCC's figures for paleo studies shows that they span the range from 1-6°C, and it goes without saying that there is not mention of the fact that the IPCC also noted that climate sensitivity estimates based on conditions over recent millennia may well not reflect the value of climate sensitivity in today's climate.

What a shambles. What an indictment of "Scientific" American.

[* corrected]

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Reader Comments (38)

The misinterpretation of Stevens' paper began with Nic Lewis ...
[who] ... had used an extremely rudimentary, some would even say flawed, climate model to derive his estimates, Stevens said.
Oh, that's all right then. Stevens didn't say what the deniers said he said and everything is as it was before.
Job done! Blinder played! Everyone keep calm and carry on. The gravy train is still on the rails.
Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts!

Apr 23, 2015 at 4:43 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Scientifish American, always smells a little off to me.

Apr 23, 2015 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Norman

Meemo to SciAm: the super-sensitive climate your article tries to imagine is non-existent this century.

Apr 23, 2015 at 5:09 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldbrew

The Greens are paranoid. *They don't know what facet of climate reality would be spun by the skeptics to disrupt Paris* - thus they anticipate. What other reasonable explanation is possible for this over-reaction? They pretend at putting out fires before they rage out of control. That's why the rapid response team, urging to participate in Twitter discussions and jumping at shadows in blog-land.

Apr 23, 2015 at 5:09 PM | Registered Commentershub

Hey, Scientific American, heard of 'The Internet'?

Well, guess what? In twenty years when people Google 'Gayathri Vaidyanathan' they're going to read you said this and laugh their asses off!

Apr 23, 2015 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I note that SciAm ran a special edition in 2002 to rebut Lomberg's first book (The Skeptical Environmentalist), so they have form on this sort of thing (i.e. zealously supporting the 'consensus')... as if anyone needed reminding.

Apr 23, 2015 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

"Once word leaks out that a Climate Scientist has gone soft, people begin to disobey you and then it’s nothing but work, work, work, all the time."

-The Dread Pirate Roberts


Apr 23, 2015 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

Weird - the SciAm article provides a link to the Stevens press release where anyone can see that nothing they claim about it was actually in it.

Contrarily, Stevens in the press release praised the recent conference he had organised on sensitivity, where Nic was one of the presenters!

Apr 23, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

>Lewis had used an extremely rudimentary, some would even say flawed, climate model to derive his estimates, Stevens said.

Nowhere in Stevens's statement is there anything like this.

Apr 23, 2015 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

Being able to read the headlines of "Scientific American" is the baseline qualification, to be described a "Climate Scientist".. To be an "Expert Climate Scientist", you have to get paid by someone else, to colour it in.

Apr 23, 2015 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

SciAm went down the John years ago.


Apr 23, 2015 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Well, I still chuckle over the picture of Graeme Stephens at Ringberg scratching the back of his head as he ran out of time and blackboard space trying to chalk out the cloud feedbacks.

The spell is near broken; now we have to put back together all the broken careers and beliefs.

Apr 23, 2015 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Loose lips say that Bjorn Stevens vetted Nic Lewis's Climate Audit post.

I am dying laughing. I hope it's just a near death experience.

Apr 23, 2015 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

... the SciAm article provides a link to the Stevens press release where anyone can see that nothing they claim about it was actually in it.
Which kind of reinforces the point I was making in my opening comment.
This article had nothing to do with factual accuracy. It was a brief Papal Encyclical designed to restore confidence among the faithful who might have been led astray by the idea that things are perhaps not quite as bad as the Gospels say it is.
The apostate Nic Lewis claimed that Stevens, one of the priests of the global warming religion, had called into question a tenet of the faith. This has now been shown to be not so. At least to the satisfaction of the unquestioning faithful who will simply take this at face value since it appeared in one of the church newsletters.
Those who do choose to question it are heathens and to be ignored anyway.

Apr 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The author screwed up badly by letting slip that sensitivity calculations constrained by observations come in on the low side. How could she sin so grievously? And when and where the penance?

Apr 23, 2015 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Has reddi megawa nk, an ex minister responsible for all those windmill scams frauds, already enlightened us of the environmental benefits of having 2 kitchens ??

Apr 23, 2015 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

"The spell is near broken;"


I don't know about that, but let's hope so. They aren't getting any new converts, that's for sure. Except for maybe freshly indoctrinated children. But what good are those right now? ;)


Apr 23, 2015 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

Bad And, I think Ringberg let the cat out of the bag, the genie out of the bottle, opened Pandora's box. The elite are now aware of the problem, and are scuttling like mad for cover.

Apr 23, 2015 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Judith Curry posted (yesterday) on the fallout from this and the other paper Dr Stevens just published which supports Prof. Lindzen's iris effect. It seems there are a few people trying the "he didn't say what you said he said" line and Stevens is having to justify himself rather more than he imagined.

I sense another Team member is about to be thrown off the bus - I hope he can maintain his position when his funding dries up as Judith has done.....

Apr 23, 2015 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

With an article titled "How to Misinterpret Climate Change Research" I think she did a very good job of misrepresenting Climate Change Research.

Apr 23, 2015 at 8:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterandre

Gayathri Vaidyanathan has form in her environmental reporting as this article on US methane emissions, also in Once-Was-Scientific American illustrates:

The efforts she went through to misrepresent the data are explained by ExxonMobil in its Perspectives Blog:

By adding together two categories (oil and gas), while omitting to total the three agricultural categories, she got the total for oil + gas to exceed the flatulent emissions from cows! She also states that the decline in fracking emissions was due to stronger regulation, whereas in fact it's mainly due to improving industry practice resulting from relentless innovation and the pursuit of efficiency. This is acknowledged by the EPA in their report, which noted that the decrease in emissions owes much to voluntary efforts on the parts of oil and natural gas producers, despite surging production.

Apr 23, 2015 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterwellers

Just read the Sci Scam article again, and it refers to "human caused global warming".

Is the American side of the globe still warming, whereas the EU side is just suffering climate change?

Could this provoke unpredented changes in the weather?

Is this one of the consequences of the Gulf Stream not slowing, as reported by Mann recently?

Or am I getting confused by pointless semantics in climatostrophes?

Apr 23, 2015 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

A must-read article for the alarmist wavering at the point of disbelief.

Apr 23, 2015 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterbullocky

GV has some horrible articles to her credit. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember an article from her on the Himalayan Glacier IPCC debacle. Reliable.

Apr 23, 2015 at 11:10 PM | Registered Commentershub

A case can be made that climate sensitivity is actually zero. It follows from the fact that we are now living in the middle of a so-called "hiatus" or absence of global warming. While atmospheric carbon dioxide is constantly increasing as the Keeling curve tells us, the alleged greenhouse warming it should generate according to the greenhouse theory of Arrhenius is absent. This is is an unequivalently false prediction and it falsifies the Arrhenius greenhouse theory currently in use by IPCC. This theory belongs in the waste basket of history, right next to phlogiston, another false theory of warming that took thermodynamics to put down. The correct greenhouse theory to use now is the Miskolczi greenhouse theory, MGT. It came out in 2007 and was promptly blacklisted by the global warming establishment. It tells it like it is: addition of carbon dioxide to air will not warm the air. It differs from Arrhenius in being able to handle more than one GHG at the same time. Arrhenius can handle only one, carbon dioxide. Even the IPCC requirement that presence of water vapor triples the amount of greenhouse warming that carbon dioxide alone will produce needs to be added to it as an ad hoc amendment. According to MGT, carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere form a joint optimal absorption window in the infrared whose optical thickness is 1.87, determined by Miskolczi from first principles. If you now add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere it will start to absorb in the IR, just as Arrhenius says. But this will increase the optical thickness. And as soon as this happens, water vapor will start to diminish, rain out, and the original optical thickness is restored. The added carbon dioxide will of course keep absorbing but the removal of water vapor keeps total absorption constant and no warming is possible. This is the end of the IPCC-promoted greenhouse warming and this is why we have the hiatus now. Since greenhouse warming is alleged to be the cause of AGW, anthropogenic global warming, AGW dies with it. But this is not the end of the story of hiatus.The present hiatus is not the first but the second one we know of. The first one happened in the eighties and nineties and it also lasted for eighteen years. Figure 15 in the book shows it clearly. Exactly the same thing happened then as is happening now: atmospheric carbon dioxide increased but there was no warming at all for 18 years. The fake warming that covers it up in official temperature curves now amounts to 0.1 degrees Celsius in the interval from 1979 to 1987. Its presence has distorted the temperature region that used ro be called the "late twentieth century warming." This distortion is found in all official temperature curves, including those used in AR5. I discovered this while doing research for my book [1] in 2009. I even put a warning about it into the preface of the book but nothing happened. In their effort make their data sources uniform the three data sources mentioned used computer processing. Unbeknownst to them, the computer left traces of its work on all three publicly available temperature curves. They are comprised of sharp upward spikes near the ends of years, in precisely the same locations in all three data sets. The most conspicuous of these sits right on top of the super El Nino of 1998. Satellite data are free of this and I advise using satellite data whenever available.

Arno Arrak, "What Warming? Satellite view of global temperature change" (CreateSpace, 2010)

Apr 24, 2015 at 1:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterArno Arrak

"A case can be made that climate sensitivity is actually zero."

I suggest you submit your paper to, the same blog that Nic Lewis posted to in regards to Dr. Bjorn Stevens' paper and the one he is currently submitting his own presentation from Ringberg to public scrutiny (and praise).

By the way, if John Casey, with his book Dark Winter feel they have a case climate variability is mostly the result of solar cycles he can present there as well. I believe Steve McIntyre, proprietor of, (who along with Ross McKitrick, debunked MBH 1998 Nature, Dr. Michael Mann's "Hockey Stick paper and many others) will provide a fair and balanced forum. If it has a kernel of good science it would be praised and publicized. Otherwise, if it is not good science it does not help anyone.

Apr 24, 2015 at 3:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterRon Graf

"When scientists use temperature records from the 20th century to constrain sensitivity, they get low values. When they use records stretching many millenia, painstakingly assembled from trees and other proxies that contain imprints of past climates, they get values toward the higher end of the IPCC range of 1.5 to 4.5 C."

An answer to the contradiction is readily apparent, if you are to trust both analyses on their own merits. That is, that the paleo-reconstructions are over longer time periods and thus are giving the full 500 or 1,000 year response to the CO2 forcing, while the instrumental record is over shorter time periods, namely 70 years of CO2 forcing and ~130 years of temperature record. I believe that simple discrepancy, time periods, is something that few climate scientists or the IPCC notice. And while skeptics focus on feedbacks (and the flaws in IPCC claims there), the miss the obvious 'shell game' - the IPCC has made 500-year-level ECS analyses (from paleo records) and applied them to claim temperature rises in the next 70 years.

If CO2 doubles from 2015 to 2090, then the temperature in 2090 will be the TCR ('transient climate response'). And yet if you look at Appendix I, Physical Climate Projections, A.1.3 apparently is using the ECS to curve-fit estimates of ECS derived from other models, with the 83rd percentile at soething like 4.9C. Figure A.3 for RCP 8.5, a slightly more than doubling in 70 years, shows a mean temperature increase of 3.5C by 2090, and 90th percentile at 5.5C. This appendix developed and ensemble model from IPCC models to derive its numbers. This is the source of alarmism - a 10% *chance* of 5.5C rise by 2100.

TCR is used to represent the 'transient' response, and its defined as the response at year 70 to a 70-year doubling. TCR's value would be the exact answer you want to the question "What will the temperature be in 2090 if we double CO2 from 2015 to 2090?

Any rational TCR is bound below 2C (Nic Lewis had it at 1.3C with likely range 1.0 - 1.8C), thus scenarios of 5C or more would be impossible - EVEN IF ECS WAS HIGH. Rather, the response to high ECS would be far into the future, in the next 500 years, as the cliate gradually gets pulled up by the change. Intuitively, the fact that oceans have been absorbing heat for the past 18 years of haitus, at a rate that has warmed the ocean a whole 0.03C, meaning it would take 500 years or more to get it to stabilize another 0.7C higher, suggests a long lag time before we get to the "ECS" response temperature.

There are two possibilities with the IPCC estimates. First, the IPCC models are running with TCRs above 3C or so. Or second, they are pushing ECS numbers into the trends that should be dictated by TCR, not properly accounting for the timeframe in the response.

In either case, using paleo-reconstructions to derive an ECS that is overly high, and then cast that into a model that imposes that trend/response into a 70 year window, it to apply a paleo result in a way that never happened in nature. I think 'timeframes for response' is one more area where IPCC may be getting things wrong, but where as far as I know, the skeptics have not take much notice (except to call on corrections to TCR based on instrumental record).

Apr 24, 2015 at 6:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterPat McGuinness

Hereafter known as Scientivist American.

Apr 24, 2015 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterTuppence

@steveta_uk good observation I added a comment to the article requesting a link to the quote.

- I guess GV is just a good little deacon doing her work to protect the Church of CAGW Panic.

Oh someone has already done a Yahoo Answers page mentioning your point
and adds extra info
"Even some non-skeptics seem to acknowledge the same.
"Overall, Stevens' study skews sensitivity toward the lower end of the IPCC range, Dessler said. "
"even if we are lucky and (as my work seems to suggest) the most catastrophic warming scenarios are a bit less likely."
by shear coincidence I noticed that one of the latest Tweets from GV was this
"‏@gayathriv Apr 20
@AndrewDessler possible to chat with you for a story? I've sent you an email. Thanks!"

BTW @Baccheus points out earlier in the article she quotes "Stevens said, was speaking on a train en route to the Netherlands." so he guesses that is where the lines are actually from \\The lack of quote marks tells you the the magazine is paraphrasing Stevens' remarks. //

Apr 24, 2015 at 10:14 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The press release does seem to mention the general issue she mentions in the paragraph before
"All sorts of schoolteachers were contacting me, and they were all worried that EVERYTHING they'd learned was wrong,"
You'd expect it would mention the new issue she introduces next in the same paragraph,
\\Lewis had used an extremely rudimentary, some would even say flawed, climate model to derive his estimates, Stevens said.//
but it does not.

I guess her title of the article "How to Misinterpret Climate Change Research" is projection ?

- Jose Duarte has a deconstruction

Apr 24, 2015 at 10:39 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"To be an "Expert Climate Scientist", you have to get paid by someone else, to colour it in."

Matt works for Josh ? Who Knew?

Apr 24, 2015 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

In my post of April 24th (1:49 AM) I refer to three official databases whose names unfortunately were left out. They are GISS, NCDC, and HadCRUT. Originally I traced the fakery to HadCRUT3 as figure 24 in the book shows. The other two became implicated later when I discovered the traces of their common computer adjustments. For five years I have periodically called attention to this and been ignored. Finally one brave soul admitted that yes, adjustments were done in the normal course of operations, and gave me a pile of numerical data to pore through. I have no institutional backing and cannot do anything with that pile of numbers. Admission that data were changed is sufficient for me to make my point. We need an official investigation into how and why such changes have been and are being made. It should not be a sweetheart investigation like the cover-up of Climategate was. Conclusions drawn from temperature curves whose shape has been changed are invalid and can influence our understanding of how the climate is behaving.

Apr 24, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterArno Arrak

For Ron Graf Apr 24, 2015 at 3:39 AM. Thaks for the suggestion, Ron. They do have a big spread on the SciAm article that needs to be further developed. As regards the Casey theory you mention, I am not convinced that solar cycles are controlling the climate. I looked up the sunspot data for the last century and could not see any correlation with climate change. And forget about Mann. What he did by substituting instrumental data to hide the decline is a scientific fraud and his paper should be withdrawn. Instead there was a whitewash and a cushy job was arranged for him. The whole thing smells bad and I suspect the work of Climategate co-conspirators. To talk of a "fair and balanced" forum here is dumb. I want scientific truth, not journalistic babble. Facts are facts. Whether they are "fair" or "balanced" is irrelevant, you simply have to get used to them.

Apr 24, 2015 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterArno Arrak

Arno Arrak: "We need an official investigation into how and why such changes have been and are being made. "

I would go to and look for a commentor named Steven Mosher. He is involved with Berkeley Earth and would open to your suggestions about how to make adjustments to historical temp record more transparent.

Arno Arrak: "To talk of a "fair and balanced" forum here is dumb. I want scientific truth, not journalistic babble."

I think you would find scientific truth is a long hard slog that is much aided by "fair and balanced" forums and climate science in particular. will give you a fair hearing where you can immediately answer questions and critics in real time in a permanently archived record. It's a scientific gem.

Apr 24, 2015 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon Graf

Iceland watchers can often see the tremors produced when the Orkuveita Reykjavíkur geothermal plants do some water pumping since the IMO earthquake monitoring site lights up very nicely.

Apr 25, 2015 at 1:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce of Newcastle

that Sci-am article is based on a article from (Climate Wire), I can't see comments cos it's paywalled ( Scientist's theory doesn't fail; nonetheless, skeptics give him a 'beating')

- She seems to issue a dodgy climate propaganda every weeklist of titles (open link)

- On Sci-Ams FB page they have a discussion on the article ..all the posts say "Fox Bews is evil ra ra ra"

Apr 25, 2015 at 6:34 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

link doesn't work directly
..just put Gayathri+Vaidyanathan in that pages searchbox
to see the list of titles .."She seems to issue a dodgy climate propaganda every week"

Apr 25, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

It happens during the climate wise, for example in winter season the car get crash because of snow and cold weather.

Sep 16, 2015 at 8:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony D.

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