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Is the Global Warming Theory Scientific?

A long article has been released with many quotes from the core group of global warming alarmist 'scientists'. Why do I quote that word? - because so far none of them have told us, the intelligent public, a full, proper, scientifically argued case giving evidence of four things:

  1. dangerous,
  2. human-emitted,
  3. carbon-dioxide-caused,
  4. global warming is taking place.

In other words, there are four propositions that must all be substantiated with credible evidence before a scientific theory exists that there is anything to fear from carbon dioxide. My take on the status of these four is: (1) is certainly false, (2) uncertain, (3) most likely largely false, and (4) most likely true, but not as large as it has been represented. But this post is not about the correctness of the theory, but the more basic question whether it is a scientific theory at all.

I think most people know of the concept that scientific theories must be falsifiable. There are a lot of subtleties around that idea that need not concern us now, but we can use it as a rough test for good science. Remember, good science doesn't have to be correct - a theory proposed, tested properly, and rejected for making incorrect predictions is still an exercise in good science, even if it failed to come up with an advance. And contrariwise, a wild guess shoved down people's throats by force without any attempt to test against reality is bad science, even if by some chance the guess happened to be correct.

So we see that the question of whether this is good science is not the same as the question whether it is correct (although the two are obviously related).

So how does the CAGW theory stack up?

The article I want to reference is behind a paywall, so I'll use passages quoted in Roger Pielke Sr's blog.

Firstly, Kevin Trenberth tells us:

Until 2003, scientists had a reasonable understanding where the sun’s trapped heat was going; it was reflected in rising sea levels and temperatures. Since then, however, heat in the upper ocean has barely increased and the rate of sea level rise slowed, while data from a satellite monitoring incoming and outgoing heat — the Earth’s energy budget — found that an ever increasing amount of energy should be trapped on the planet. (Some scientists question relying on this satellite data too heavily, since the observed energy must be drastically revised downward, guided by climate models.) Given this budget ostensibly included the solar cycle and aerosols, something was missing.

There are some odd things right here. What does Trenberth think the word "understand" means? It seems that what happened was: until 2003 things did what 'scientists' expected, but afterwards, not so. In other words, the predictions they made from their theory (understanding) turned out to be false. That means that 'scientists' didn't understand the pre-2003 processes either: mere coincidence of expectations and results doesn't constitute understanding!

Next, we must surely be mystified by the remark "the observed energy must be drastically revised downward, guided by climate models." Words fail: the observations are our best knowledge of reality. Observations are the data with which we test our theories; the theories, as embodied in computer models, are not a gold standard by which we ignore reality and believe something our eyes are not showing us. Furthermore, if 'scientists' want to use their theory to alter observations, it stands to reason that those observations cannot be evidence for the theory, or else the reasoning is circular. So in that case, once again, where is the evidence for the CAGW theory?

At this point we might note that the cause of all this is (from the title of the original article) "Provoked scientists try to explain lag in global warming". It asks “Why, despite steadily accumulating greenhouse gases, did the rise of the planet’s temperature stall for the past decade?” The only argument in favour of the CAGW theory is the computer models: the world, so the claim goes, has been warming in such a way that only the CO2-primed computer models can explain. But if these models now disagree with reality, then obviously reality is not doing something that the models explain, so the models lose all credibility. If there were some other reason to believe the theory, we might suggest that the theory is true and other factors, such as climate variability, are responsible for the lack of warming. But if the theory's only support is its claimed superior prediction of the climate, then if climate deviates, there is no longer any evidence for the theory. To insist that the theory is true, even worse, that skeptics are "deniers" and should be put on trial (as some supporters do) is not being scientific.

Then we have, from Susan Solomon:

“What’s really been exciting to me about this last 10-year period is that it has made people think about decadal variability much more carefully than they probably have before.”

But hang on: wasn't the science supposed to have been settled? Isn't the settled nature of the 'science' the reason the likes of Prime Minister Gillard are introducing a carbon tax that will pull billions out of Australia's productive economy? Strange how this 'science' is settled when it's convenient, and it isn't settled when they are faced with contradictory evidence.

These revelations are prompting the science’s biggest names to change their views.

Indeed, the most important outcome from the energy hunt may be that researchers are chronically underestimating air pollution’s reflective effect, said NASA’s James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Again, so much for 'settled science'. But talking about air pollution...

Anyone remember the phrase "pea souper"? Or watched a Sherlock Holmes dramatisation where London is shrouded in thick, choking fog? Or how 4,000 people died, forcing Britain to pass the Clean Air Act? Or seen pictures of the terrible environmental pollution of the Soviet Union or present-day China? Yes Virginia, there really was pollution before the year 2000, so hand waving about this causing a pause in temperature rise just isn't good enough. Nor does it explain the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is paralleling the Northern in the temperature slow-down - if not slowing down even faster, as the Antarctic sea ice buildup would indicate.

Then there's this:

For a decade, that’s exactly what happened. Skeptics made exaggerated claims about “global cooling,” pointing to 1998. (For one representative example, two years ago columnist George Will referred to 1998 as warming’s “apogee.”) Scientists had to play defense, said Ben Santer, a climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Pardon me, but a scientist whingeing about "having to play defence" is a contradiction in terms. The goal of any true scientist is to lay out their theory in public for anyone and everyone to take their best shots at. That is the true nature of science. Now you know why I put the word in scare quotes when I am referring to this bunch. And by the way, how can skeptics have been making claims "for a decade" about cooling since 1998? That means they started making claims in 2001. But in 2001 no one knew that temperatures would decline for a decade, and they certainly weren't crowing about a mere three years, because that kind of wobble happens all the time.

Climate models failed to reflect the sun’s cyclical influence on the climate and “that has led to a sense that the sun isn’t a player,” [Judith] Lean said. “And that they have to absolutely prove that it’s not a player.”

That's right! Go and Google how many 'scientists' insulted and disparaged anyone who claimed the Sun had influence. Lean is testifying, whether she realises it or not, once again how confused and 'unsettled' the 'science' is. But at the end some good news:

According to Lean, the combination of multiple La Niñas and the solar minimum, bottoming out for an unusually extended time in 2008 from its peak in 2001, are all that’s needed to cancel out the increased warming from rising greenhouse gases. Now that the sun has begun to gain in activity again, Lean suspects that temperatures will rise in parallel as the sun peaks around 2014.

This consistent trend has prompted Lean to take a rare step for a climate scientist: She’s made a short-term prediction. By 2014, she projects global surface temperatures to increase by 0.14 degrees Celsius, she says, driven by human warming and the sun.

Finally! A prediction! Are we at last in the presence of a scientist (rather than a 'scientist') who will change her theory if it fails to predict reality? Let's hope so.

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