Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Has the greenhouse effect been falsified?

Reduced image from A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation, by G. W. Petty.

My latest blog is a guest blog at the excellent site Skeptical Science, by John Cook.

My contribution is now one of the collection of pages showing what the science actually says about some of the arguments used by so-called climate skeptics. It can be found at Has the greenhouse effect been falsified?

The main source of this claim is the paper by Gerlich and Tscheuschner, uploaded at arxiv in 2007 and then, incredibly, published in a physics journal in 2009 as an invited review paper.

Now in fact, this is not a particularly common skeptic argument. It has been picked up by a few people who will latch on to any argument, however ridiculous, if it can be seen as a way to combat the science behind the discovery and study of global warming. But its spread has been rather limited, since the argument has been quietly ignored by most skeptics with any background in science.

More sophisticated critics of conventional science tend to recognize that there is such a thing as a greenhouse effect, and then take some other line of denial, such as to dispute the existence of positive feedbacks in the impact of a changing greenhouse house effect, or the contribution of carbon dioxide to the effect, or something else.

My essay dives in head first to scrape from the bottom of the barrel of climate denial, and then simply holds up for comparison what the science actually says on the subject. I'm very happy with the end result, and encourage any readers I might have to take a look at the new page on Skeptical Science, and if you are new to that site then have a look around the rest of it as well! It is an excellent resource.

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Saturday, 8 May 2010

Published rebuttal to Gerlich and Tscheuschner 2009

Early in 2009, an unusual paper appeared in the International Journal of Modern Physics (B), claiming to falsify the atmospheric greenhouse effect using physics. The authors are Gerhard Gerlich, of the Technical University Carolo-Wilhelmina in Braunschweig (Germany), and his colleague Ralf Tscheuschner. Amongst other things, it claimed that a violation of the second law of thermodynamics was required in conventional descriptions of the atmospheric greenhouse effect.

The paper had little impact in the world of science, although there has been a lot of discussion at various blogs.

In response to this, a number of people, led by Joshua Halpern of Howard University, have submitted a rebuttal. The rebuttal, and a reply from the authors of the original paper, Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf Tscheuschner, has now appeared in the April 20, 2010 issue of the journal. The papers are, unfortunately, behind a paywall. However, you can can see the original paper on arxiv at arXiv:0707.1161v4. The abstracts for the rebuttal and reply can be found online at the pages for IJMP(B), Vol 24, Iss 10, Apr 20, 2010.

I am one of the co-authors of the rebuttal, under my own name of Chris Ho-Stuart, so I am deeply involved in this.

I expect there will be a lot of of discussion on this in various places around the net. I have opened up a thread at the new Climate Physics Forums discussion board. This may be a good place for discussions to occur. The board aims to maintain high standards of courtesy and substance, while allowing robust criticism of ideas.

You may find the discussion thread at Published comment, and reply, on Gerlich and Tscheuschner 2009. I would very much prefer people to discuss this post at the board. You will be required to register in order to comment, but the process is painless. However, I am also leaving comments open here for the time being.

The board has no formal policy on correct views of climate, and so criticism or skeptics of conventional climate science are very welcome. My views are not board policy.

Since I am the moderator of the board at present, I have a conflict of interest, and so I will be particularly careful to be fair in applying the board guidelines consistently, and being open to criticism of any moderation decisions that are necessary. The board is also advertised at my previous blog post Climate Physics Forums now going public!


I am collecting other links to discussions of this.

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Climate Physics Forums now going public!

Climate is a hot issue these days. There's lots of people involved in talking about it and explaining various aspects from all kinds of perspectives.

There is a niche here for a place online where people can talk about it. I offer to those interested such a place: Climate Physics Forums.

There are already many ways in which discussions occur. Blogs are a form of discussion; and the comment streams have many exchanges going on all the time. Many bulletin boards exist which support discussions on climate as well. Having a range of venues is a good thing, and I think the new forum will be a useful addition.

I am planning to have a formal launch in late June, and will have more details about that as it approaches, but there is no need to wait until then. The board is open for business now, and now is the time to help join in and give suggestions for its direction and seed it with initial content.

The bulletin board format is a good one for managing threads of discussion. There's also scope for better and more efficient oversight, and lots of scope for supporting a range of parallel discussions of different kinds.

Climate Physics Forums is intended to work with two primary principles.

  • Courtesy for all contributors.

  • Focus on what is going on with working science.

(1) Courtesy

Climate discussions get very heated. Often there are strong mutual accusations of bad faith flying around. And indeed, there is a place for strident militancy in a flawed world. But that place is not going to be this bulletin board.

This is intended to serve as a safe haven for people to talk and express disagreements, family friendly, with young people welcome and encouraged. Taking a line from wikipedia, I ask people joining in to assume that everyone there is in good faith trying to be constructive. Even if they aren't, we still assume the unlikely and engage as if they are there in good faith. Pejorative speculations about other people's ethics or motives or intelligence are unwelcome; no matter who they are directed against.

Tear apart ideas by all means; but distinguish that from tearing up the person.

(2) Substance

This is not intended to be open to any old idea presented as if it was a credible scientific notion. The idea here is to support learning and investigation of what is going on in the world of science, and that means basically what gets published in the scientific literature.

This still allows for a huge range of topics and competing ideas. We often talk about "consensus" in climate, but this is not going to be a requirement. Science thrives on dissent and a range of views, and so if it gets published in legitimate scientific outlets, then we can consider it. This means, of course, a lot of claims that are incorrect can be raised and argued in the forum; since the literature is no assurance of correctness.

Scientific peer review does not establish ideas as settled and correct; it rather establishes then as worthy of consideration by the scientific community (ideally...). That's the way it is taken at Climate Physics Forums; what has been reviewed and published becomes worthy of discussion.

Hence, Climate Physics Forums is not a place to develop your own personal theories, or to reform the world of science. It's a place to consider what scientists are publishing, good or bad alike.

Regardless of my own views, the board has no policy on correct answers. Only on how issues are to be addressed. Neither is it presumed that there has to be a balance between opposing views. Some views are just wrong, and the idea of debate is to help sort out what's what. But the board does not declare as policy any of the acceptable answers, and it is expected that members will continue to disagree with each other, and hence that some members will be actually wrong about some things. No problem; you are still welcome!

(3) Moderation

The moderation policies are still being sorted out, but the underlying philosophy is this.

Moderation is there as a service to the community, not as a privilege to moderators. Moderation actions are never seen as "punishments". All moderation actions should be geared to helping people use the forum effectively.

Banning of members should be thought of as a case where the moderators have failed. They have been unable to help someone use the forum. It means that the workload of moderation has become too great, and time can no longer be allocated to helping that person. Normally, the way of managing members who need a bit of extra guidance will be to apply a moderation filter.

By default, anyone can register freely and post immediately; inappropriate posts can be reported and staff may choose to put some members on a filter so that their posts will be checked before appearing.

Feedback and suggestions will be very welcome, especially at this early stage.

Ideas for things we can do at the formal launch would be great. But for the next few weeks the board is up and being tested out as we see how it might all work.

I have deliberately refrained from adding all the features or forums or ideas that could be possible. It is best to start small, and add features with the help and the input of members. That's you, I hope!

I have found it is a very useful way to learn about a topic to practice explaining it for others! So I'd love to have people join in and try out their hand at explaining some topic or issue or question, in line with the guidelines. You can do this at any level you like. I hope you will get practice in explaining things, and take that experience away with you into the wider world. I hope you will get useful feedback and ideas for what responses you can expect.

I invite people interested to have a look, checkout the guidelines, and start to have an input. I engage there as the board owner, with user name "sylas".

The image associated with this post is the NOAA-19 satellite, the latest of this series of sophisticated monitoring instruments which is now helping gather data that helps sort out how the physics of our climate works. It an artists's impression used with the kind permission of Lockheed-Martin, who developed the satellite.

So, come one, come all. Climate Physics Forums is open for business and looking for content and ideas.
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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The littlest skepchick

De niece — she of the story I've seen a scientist — is my new hero. She blew me away with this latest effort. The scientist must have had an impact.

Recently she lost a tooth, and she knows the tooth fairy will give money for a tooth under the pillow. However: she’s a skeptic (at age 5). She was talking to me about the big event recently, and mentioned that she wasn’t sure if there really was a tooth fairy. I was interested to hear more, and asked her what she thought.

I swear to you, people; she then came up with this, right there and then, all by herself. An idea to test her theory. She decided to count all Mum and Dad's money. Then, the next morning, she could tell if that was where the money came from.

Woah! I was impressed with that. But I just said that sounded like a very clever idea. With that small encouragement, she put the plan into practice. She told her Mum and Dad what she wanted to do. (I shall have to teach her about experimental control protocols later on, I guess.) They also were impressed, and in line with their own feelings on such things, they decided to be completely fair with her on this one. They are quite happy to play the games of childhood and magical beings, but faced with a small and trusting scientist, the path was clear. They told her nothing, but helped her find and count all the money.

The next morning, she had her brand new two dollar coin, as usual. And she went ahead and counted all Mum and Dad’s money. No cheating had taken place, although to make life a bit difficult it had been a pocket money day, and there was deduction to make. But de niece has her uncle's genes, and numbers are no problem. She ran all the calculations and sure enough, Mum and Dad had two dollars missing; a confirmed prediction and falsification of the null hypothesis.

So now she knows: and she is pleased as punch at having figured it out. She asked Mum point blank if Mum was the tooth fairy, and Mum had to confess the truth. The excitement of discovery far outweighed any disappointment at loss of the story. The problem, however, was explaining to her that she couldn’t go ahead and tell all her friends at school.

Basically, however, she got it in the end. This is a game that parents play with their children, and now she’s in on the game too, and she shouldn’t spoil the game for other children. She now knows there’s a tooth fairy — and knows also who the fairy actually is! And it’s a secret, which other children will find out in time from their own parents. So when teacher asked her if the tooth fairy came, she was able to answer yes, and then later on in private explained to her teacher that now she knew the tooth's fairy's alter ego.

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