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HH Lamb's scepticism confirmed

A new paper (£) in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change caught my eye on the Twitter feed this morning. With a title of "Ways of knowing climate: Hubert H. Lamb and climate research in the UK" Janet Martin-Nielsen's paper sounded as if it was going to be a direct response to Bernie Lewin's GWPF report on Lamb's work, but a look at the paper suggests that to the extent that it is such a riposte it is so feeble as to hardly warrant the description.

Certainly it covers precisely the same ground as Bernie's paper, documenting Lamb's career step by step, describing his focus on natural variability and his distrust of computer models and even featuring many of the same excerpts from Lamb's books that Bernie used. The riposte to the sceptics, such as it is, comes in the closing section, which opens with a quote from a piece that Bernie wrote for BH about how Lamb should be seen as a proto-sceptic, follows up with a claim that allegations about the misdeeds of CRU have been shown to be "wrong" (based on the Oxburgh report!!), before heading onward to the meat of the case:

Lamb’s name is increasingly prominent in discussions of climate change, used by doubters, skeptics, and critics of global warming to support their case. In books, at think-tanks and in the blogosphere, Lamb is held up as an important early skeptic of global warming and anthropogenic climate change...

...I sense there's a "but" here...

Lamb’s position on anthropogenic climate change cannot be fully understood without taking into account his views of climatology as a discipline, his relationship with numerical modelling, and his struggles to gain funding for the Climatic Research Unit in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Uh huh...and this context was...?

[Lamb was concerned about] the imbalance of funding for different types of climate research and the growing hegemony of numerical modelling. By excluding alternative ways of thinking about climate, and specifically the study of natural climatic variations, Lamb thought that climate research was on the wrong path.

And in essence that's it. There is lots of stuff about Lamb's struggles for money but the conclusions are that Lamb was indeed a sceptic, but a "complex" one...

Ultimately, Lamb opposed what he saw as the identification of climate research as practiced by numerical modelers with anthropogenic global warming—and, in parallel, the way in which numerical modelling grew to supersede other ways of knowing climate. Lamb’s skeptical comments toward anthropogenic global warming need to be understood in this broader context: his was a complex skepticism, deeply entangled a vision of climatology that called for changes to funding and research directions and emphasis.

I'm not sure this is adding to the total of human knowledge in any particular way - Bernie descibed the funding issues in his GWPF paper - but I suppose we should welcome the fact that the peer-reviewed literature has now caught up somewhat.

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Reader Comments (24)

conclusions are that Lamb was indeed a sceptic, but a "complex" one...

So Lamb was a sceptic in the same mold as the rest of us.

Jul 15, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

What I liked about Lamb was that he thought that you needed to know what the climate had been like previously before you could say there had been a change. That sort of basic logic eludes most climatologists these days.

Mann attempted a follow up to that reasoning with his hockey stick but the general view seems to be that you don't actually need to know what the climate was like previously. Just believe that it is worse now and that we are causing it.

Jul 15, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

Lamb's books are essential reading for anybody interested in (real) climate science; also, they are also mostly perfectly intelligible to a lay person such as myself. I'm yet to find a believer in the One True Faith who has read him, indeed, many I know have no idea who he was.

Jul 15, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

So, Lamb wasn't a Climate Skeptic, just VERY VERY skeptical about computer modelling – which also happens to be one of the two* main things modern skeptics are skeptical about.

*The other being political and economic actions caused by following – you guessed it – the computer model predictions.


Jul 15, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Some Sceptics are complex?
Seems reasonable. Most people are complex.

But what does a Simple Sceptic look like?
And would a Simple Sceptic recognise themself?

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Congratulations your grace, you have highlighted the views of a man who did not think much of climate models, just a little more effort and we might get you out of the lukewarming camp and back to true skepticism ^.^

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Hands up whose climate scepticism ISN'T complex. A big part of my early scepticism was the announcment that the issue was simple and solved. It immediately said that the people issuing such a thing were either stupid or lying, neither of which is a good starting point.

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Lamb opposed what he saw as the identification of climate research as practiced by numerical modelers ...
Oh dear! English not her first language, then.

As to the extracts here, I must say it's a bit much for Janet Martin-Nielsen to try and characterise the man as a 'sulk' because (allegedly) he didn't understand/like numerical models - so he must be a Luddite and not worth listening to. Of course, Newton, Faraday, Watt, et al, never had access to computers so their discoveries and theories need to be re-appraised in that light.

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

It was my understanding that Lamb established that the climate warmed and cooled, but was sceptical about human impact.

His summary of climate history included the accepted knowledge and existence of the Medieval Warm Period, which skewered the anthropogenic global warming theory, hence Mann's Hockey Stick Mission to get rid of it, and the alarmists continued crusade to trash anything with a hint of Lamb.

I am very sceptical about the motives of anyone trying to rewrite history, in the absence of new and reliable evidence.

Whether roast, curried, skewered or tagined, Oxburgh remains unfit for consumption.

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I'm certain that the views on funding have been expressed by others, notably Dr Curry who I would also suggest could be described as a 'complex sceptic' .

Nothing new revealed by the Martin-Nielsen's paper just a statement of the bleedin obvious. I await the terminology of 'complex denier' so much more refined than a 'simple denier'.

Jul 15, 2015 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook, should they be referred to as "simple climate alarmists', or 'complex, money grubbing, deluded, political failures'?

Jul 15, 2015 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

A 'complex sceptic' who much preferred the relative simplicity of gathering and analysing empirical past and present climate data to make informed, scientifically based assessments of future changes. I guess you have to be simple to put your faith in very complex climate models!

Jul 15, 2015 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJaime Jessop

I recently came across The Current Trend of World Climate - a Report on the Early 1970’s and a Perspective written by Lamb in 1974.
It's about "the global cooling since 1945" and the associated droughts and food shortages etc - amusing reading in the light of today's fears of exactly the same effects due to warming.

I think this is probably one of the factors behind Lambs AGW scepticism - his promotion of the cooling scare. I can't see behind the paywall but I would guess that Janet Martin-Nielsen doesn't mention this.

Jul 15, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Lamb thought one should first know how the climate system works before trying to model it.

He was aware that the then models were not up to the job.

They still aren't, partly because Lamb's work was not followed through once models based on the radiative theory came to the fore.

Some of us still believe that understanding the climate system comes first and once that is done then better models will follow.

Jul 15, 2015 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Wilde

"follows up with a claim that allegations about the misdeeds of CRU have been shown to be "wrong" (based on the Oxburgh report!!),"

"Shown" to be wrong but seen to be right!

Jul 15, 2015 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered Commentersunderlandsteve

I think she's got it.

Jul 15, 2015 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

C'mon, enough of this 'complex' stuff. Skeptics are wicked in the sense of ...well, you know, I really don't have to explain it all, do I?

Jul 15, 2015 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

gold charlie

"and the alarmists continued crusade to trash anything with a hint of Lamb."

You can not have Lamb without a hint of mint :P

Jul 15, 2015 at 5:00 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Why bother with science when playing computer games is so much easier? Plus you don't need erasers or typpex fluid to cover up mistakes, or rewrite history.

Jul 15, 2015 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dung, fresh mint sauce is good, some of the manufactured stuff, is like climate science, a bit acidic, and leaves a bad taste.

If only climate science cooks would reveal the secret ingredients to their sources, because a lot of their fans do pay loads of other peoples money to enjoy them.

The All New Celebrity Climate Science Cook Book is due for release in the run up to Christmas. Parisian Chefs like serving turkeys at that time of year.

Jul 15, 2015 at 5:25 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Before the referendum, which, let us not forget, the Nats lost, Scottish prosperity was all going to be coming out of the North Sea. What's so bad about it now that it's heading out of the ground?

Jul 15, 2015 at 10:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Golf Charlie

Both, the former you find down the pub and generally on blogs, the latter lead the former by the nose in a ponzi pyramid scheme fashion for their own benefit.

Jul 16, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook, the problem with thieving Greens, is that when they think, it is to assume we are thicker than they are.

Jul 16, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

If you want to know why planetary surface temperatures are what they are, then read my three comments starting here and feel free to discuss.

Jul 18, 2015 at 5:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterD o u g

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