Lindzen: point by point
Filed under:

    * Climate Science
    * Reporting on climate

— group @ 4:46 pm

Daniel Kirk-Davidoff (U. Maryland and one-time Lindzen co-author)
provided a more detailed rebuttal of Lindzen's argument in the
comments to our previous post. It deserves to be more widely seen, so
here it is again.

    Here's an effort at a point by point rebuttal. I would say that
the central flaw in the op-ed is a logical one: if you're trying to
stifle dissent, then you want less funding for climate research, not
more. If you're trying to stop global warming, then you want more
money for carbon sequestration research, and you don't care how much
is spent on climate research. On the other hand if you just love
climate research as a really interesting intellectual pursuit, that's
when you've got an interest in shedding doubt on the reigning view
that CO2-induced climate change is a serious policy program, requiring
action. Twenty-five years ago, when global warming wasn't a big public
worry, one might expect climate change researchers to hype the
problem. In 2006, when public opinion mostly accepts that there's a
problem, scientists who want research money should be emphasizing

    In the opening paragraph, Lindzen states that others have claimed
that there are connections between recent rare weather events and
global warming, and asks where they would possibly get such an idea.
It's not clear where his astonishment comes from though. Heat waves
and increased lake effect snows seem like very reasonable expectations
for a warmer world. Of course, attribution of any individual such
event to presently observed global temperature change can only be
fractional, but it's completely reasonable to say that events like the
heat wave of 2003 will be more likely when the mean annual temperature
of Europe is a few degrees warmer- this assumes only that the scatter
of summer time temperature under global warming won't be much smaller
than it is now.

    In his second paragraph, Lindzen makes the uncontroversial claim
that society sometimes funds science to address phenomena that seem to
offer a threat of harm. Using the passive voice, he asserts a feedback
cycle between scientific funding and scientific alarm. This seems
really odd: the publlc demand made by scientists who are most alarmed
by global warming is precisely not that more money go into reasearch,
but rather that money go into research to increase fuel efficiency to
develope carbon-emission-free fuel sources. In fact Lindzen himself in
his final paragraph seems to be calling for increased funding to
address the question of climate sensitivity!

    The third paragraph about drying up of funding for dissenting
science has been addressed by others. I agree that I just don't see
it. The particular anecdotes I have heard about political influence on
the federal grant making process go in the other direction, where
people are told that they should not pubish findings supporting large
climate sensitvity, at least until after some election.

    The fourth paragraph is another weird one. He starts by promissing
an opportunity to grasp the "complex underlying scientific issues",
but never really discusses anything complex- I take this as an effort
to flatter the WSJ readers on their grasp of these erudite points,
bolstering their confidence when they take on the tree-huggers at the
water cooler. His rhetorical tactic here is to severely shrink the
list of agreed-upon truths to those that we've known since 1980, while
neglecting the fact that human responsibility for the 20th century
warming of global temperature is quite well-established, and that
various causes for alarm (for example, substantially reduced water
availability in places that depend on snow-pack for their dry-season
water) are also very well established. Then he moves the discussion to
"outlandish" claims that contradict the "models". This is the first
use of the word "models" in the article, and gets no explanation,
which is a little odd for a discussion in a newspaper. He doesn't
explain what the outlandish claims are, so we're left to wait for the
next paragraph.

    Here we discover that the outlandish claims involve something
about more "excitation" of extratropical storms. I'm not sure where
he's getting this- when I go to, for instance, Ross Gelbspan's
website, the only references to storms I see is to tropical storms,
and to more intense rainfall generally. Both are well supported by
empirical studies. The increase in rainfall intensity (shift in
distribution of rain from more light events to fewer heavy events) as
a consequence of global warming is a robust feature of GCMs.

    Okay, that's all I've got time for. It'd be nice if Lindzen gave
his reader some way of checking the claims he makes about persecution-
was Tennekes dismissed because he questioned the scientific
underpinnings of global warming, or just after? In what context did
Bert Bolin "tar" Aksel Winn-Nielsen? I think Alfonso Sutera's recent
work on baroclinic neutralization is really interesting... is there
some missing strand of his research that Lindzen thinks ought to be
taken up again? It's hard to guess.

    About the IRIS paper- I really can't see what he's complaining
about. The paper was published, depite some rather "outlandish
claims." For instance, in the IRIS paper, Lindzen argues that tropical
surface temperature and polar surface temperature should be assumed to
vary in exactly the same way as CO2 concentrations increase. This is
based on the idea that baroclinic neutralization maintains a
particular critical temperature gradient, an idea that had a brief
period of fashionability in 1978. In any case, there's certainly been
a lively debate about the paper, and if it's widely viewed as
"discredited", then that's the judgement of the climate dynamics
community. If we're a bunch of dummies, history will judge us harshly,
but we can only do our best.

    I see a lot of science in our community that's being driven by
curiosity. At the recent European Geophysical Union conference, there
were posters on banner clouds on the Zugspitze, the role of cubic ice
crystals in high cirrus formation, and the role of global cooling in
the fall of the Neanderthals. Some of this research is being driven by
claims that it will address climate change. So maybe this helps to
solve the riddle of what Lindzen is really concerned about. People who
are really concerned about climate change don't agitate for more
funding for our field- they agitate for funding for fuel efficiency
research and carbon sequestration. It's the people who like
curiosity-driven research in climate dynamics who have the real
incentive to argue that there's a lot of uncertainty, because
uncertainty allows people with strong intellectual curiosity to make
the case that there's at least some tangential benefit of their work
to the climate sensitivity problem.

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> 
See what's inside the new Yahoo! Groups email.

To subscribe, send a message to:

Or go to:
and click 'Join This Group!' 
Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

Reply via email to