Published by paulmacrae on 01 May 2012

Alarmist climate science as a textbook example of groupthink

By Paul MacRae

A while ago, I received an email from a friend who asked:

How can many, many respected, competitive, independent science folks be so wrong about [global warming] (if your [skeptical] premise is correct). I don’t think it could be a conspiracy, or incompetence. …  Has there ever been another case when so many ‘leading’ scientific minds got it so wrong?

The answer to the second part of my friend’s question—“Has there ever been another case where so many ‘leading’ scientific minds got it so wrong?”—is easy. Yes, there are many such cases, both within and outside climate science. In fact, the graveyard of science is littered with the bones of theories that were once thought “certain” (e.g., that the continents can’t “drift,” that Newton’s laws were immutable, and hundreds if not thousands of others). Science progresses by the overturning of theories once thought “certain.”

And so, Carl Sagan has written: “Even a succession of professional scientists—including famous astronomers who had made other discoveries that are confirmed and now justly celebrated—can make serious, even profound errors in pattern recognition.”[1] There is no reason to believe that climate scientists (alarmist or skeptic) are exempt from this possibility.

That leaves the first question, which is how so many “respected, competitive, independent science folks [could] be so wrong” about the causes and dangers of global warming, assuming they are wrong. And here, I confess that after five years of research into climate fears, this question still baffles me.

 Climate certainty is baffling

It is not baffling that so many scientists believe humanity might be to blame for global warming. If carbon dioxide causes warming, additional CO2 should produce additional warming. But it’s baffling that alarmist climate scientists are so certain that additional carbon dioxide will produce a climate disaster, even though there is little empirical evidence to support this view, and much evidence against it, including a decade of non-warming. This dogmatism makes it clear, at least to those outside the alarmist climate paradigm, that something is very wrong with the state of “consensus” climate science.

There are many possible reasons for this scientific blindness, including sheer financial and career self-interest: scientists who don’t accept the alarmist paradigm will lose research grants and career doors will be closed to them. But one psychological diagnosis fits alarmist climate science like a glove: groupthink. With groupthink, we get the best explanation of “how can many, many respected, competitive, independent science folks be so wrong.” Continue Reading »

Published by paulmacrae on 16 Aug 2011

Climate science’s decade of deception

In order for a democracy to function well, the public needs to be honestly informed.

—James E. Hansen(1)



By Paul MacRae

A recent Rasmussen U.S. poll found that 69 per cent of 1,000 respondents believed it at least “somewhat likely” that climate scientists had falsified their research data to support the case for catastrophic human-caused global warming (CAGW). A full 40 per cent of respondents said falsification of research data was “very likely.” Only 22 per cent were confident that climate scientists wouldn’t falsify data.(2)

This is an astonishing poll result. Is it possible that, in their passion for the CAGW hypothesis, prominent climate scientists would knowingly fudge their data to mislead the public? Surely the 69 per cent in the Rasmussen poll were innocent dupes of what global-warming activists call the “denial industry.”

Unhappily, as I discovered during more than two years of research for my book False Alarm: Global Warming—Facts Versus Fears, the 69 per cent have got it right. Over the past decade alarmist climate scientists—including the top figures in the field—have been deliberately misleading the public on many climate issues. One might even say alarmist climate scientists have developed a culture of deception, a culture that is very clear in the “Climategate” emails.

Blatant dishonesty


Among many deceptions—too many to deal with here—one is particularly blatant. For more than a decade, the public has been bombarded by claims that the planet was not just warming but experiencing “accelerated”, “unequivocal,” “unprecedented” and “dangerous” warming. Yet the actual temperature record shows that during the past decade, on average, there has been little or no warming.

Only recently, faced with a gap between the climate reality  and alarmist theory that was too great to ignore, has official climate science begun to admit the facts to the public.

And so, in June, the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published a peer-reviewed article that began: “Data for global surface temperature indicate little warming between 1998 and 2008. Furthermore, global surface temperature declines 0.2 °C between 2005 and 2008.”(3) (As we will see below, the cooling trend has continued past 2008 despite a warm, El Nino-influenced 2010.)

Early in August, a press release from the British Meteorological Office admitted there had been no warming—the Met delicately called it “a pause in the warming”—in the upper 700 metres of the world’s oceans since, get this, 2003.(4) Yet, for the past eight years, the Met has warned the public about a dangerous heating up of the oceans. Continue Reading »

Published by paulmacrae on 08 Jun 2011

Alarmist climate science and the principle of exclusion

In 1837, Charles Darwin presented a paper to the British Geological Society arguing that coral atolls were formed not on submerged volcanic craters, as argued by pioneering geologist Charles Lyell, but on the subsidence of mountain chains.

The problem, as Darwin saw it, was that corals can not live more than about 30 feet below the surface and therefore they could not have formed of themselves from the ocean floor. They needed a raised platform to build upon.

Charles Darwin as a young man

However, the volcanic crater hypothesis didn’t satisfy Darwin; he thought the atoll shape was too regular to have been the craters of old volcanos. There were no atoll formations on land, Darwin reasoned; why would there be such in the ocean? Therefore, Darwin proposed that corals were building upon eroded mountains, an hypothesis that, he wrote happily, “solves every difficulty.”

Darwin also argued, in 1839, that curious geological formations—what appeared to be parallel tracks—in the Glen Roy valley of Scotland were the result of an uplifted sea bed.

Darwin didn’t have any actual physical evidence to support these two hypotheses: he arrived at them deductively, through the principle of exclusion. A deductive conclusion is reached through theory—if X, then logically Y must be so—as opposed to induction, which builds a theory out of empirical data. The principle of exclusion works from the premise that “there is no other way of accounting for the phenomenon.”[1] Continue Reading »

Published by on 27 Nov 2010

The ‘accelerated’ warming that wasn’t….

In 2008, IPCC president Rajendra Pachauri told an audience in Australia:  “We’re at a stage where warming is taking place at a much faster rate [than before].” Globe and Mail columnist Geoffrey Simpson wrote in 2009: “Climate-warming predictions of three or four years ago are already out of date. New science suggests an even faster warming than had been thought possible.” [italics added in both cases]

This week (Nov. 25, 2010), Vicky Pope of the British Meteorological Office announced: “There’s a very clear warming trend but it’s not as rapid as it was before.” [italics added] She said that while the average temperature had been rising at about 0.16 degrees per decade since the 1970s, the rate through the 2000s had been from 0.05 to 0.13 degrees.

The figure of 0.05 to 0.13° Celsius is also suspect. The figures from the Met Office’s Hadley Institute show nothing of the kind (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: HadCrut temperatures 2000-2010
Figure 1: HadCrut temperatures 2000-2010

The increase shown here is about .01°C. Extrapolated over the rest of the century, the temperature increase (aka “global warming” or “climate disruption”) would be .1°C, or one-sixth the .6°C increase claimed for the 20th century.

As part of her announcement, Pope also said the Met Office is planning to review the way it reports temperatures. It seems the temperature record isn’t showing the warming the Met expects and wants, so it’s planning to move the goal-posts, as it were, by arbitrarily raising the temperatures for the past decade.

There’s an easier way to go: Accept that the HadCrut temperatures are correct, or as correct as humanly possible, and that the last decade hasn’t warmed as predicted by the anthropogenci global warming hypothesis. Real scientists accept the facts when the facts don’t match the hypothesis; they don’t change their measurement of the data to conform to the hypothesis….

… As the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen’s personal fiefdom, does with its figures. Figure 2 is GISS’s estimate of temperatures over the past decade. The figures are clearly inflated (the technical term is “adjusted”) to match the hypothesis of increased, “accelerated” warming. In other words, the Met Office admits warming hasn’t accelerated, while exaggerating (“adjusting”) the tiny bit of warming that its thermometers said did occur, while GISS wildly exaggerates to get accelerated warming. Neither can be trusted.

Figure 2: GISS temperatures 2000-2010
Figure 2: GISS temperatures 2000-2010

Published by on 01 Nov 2010

Why the cooling of 1945-75? Response to a reader III

Two recent posts (here and here) have dealt with a comment by sTeve on my blog on NOAA’s claim that the temperature had increased by .2° Celsius in the past decade. As I showed, this claim is based on one of the four climate monitoring agencies, the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, headed by arch-warming alarmist James Hansen and therefore so politicized as to be of little credibility. The other three agencies, as I’ve written, show little (“statistically insignificant”, to quote Climatic Research Unit head Phil Jones) warming since 1998.

This lack of warming for the decade was not predicted by the IPCC’s climate models, yet if the models were correct the past decade would have warmed by the suggested .2°C. This failure suggests that natural factors, particularly the oceans and sun are more powerful than human activities in causing warming, or in not causing warming. This should not be a surprise, given that the sun and oceans have always been the main causes of climate change-are at least, they were until alarmist climatology came into being. Continue Reading »

Published by on 02 Oct 2010

Polar bears: Maybe the prospects aren’t so gloomy

The Oasis nature channel is presenting a series of programs entitled Extinctions, about creatures threatened with extinction due to geological changes, including global warming. The first of the series was about polar bears, which have been called the canaries in the global-warming coal mine, even though polar bear numbers are actually the highest on record.

Surprisingly, since most programs like this offer misanthropic global warming propaganda (humans are evil carbon-spewers who are going to destroy the planet), the polar bear program was remarkably even-handed.

Polar bears survived the previous interglacial. They will survive this one, too.

For a start, not once did the program suggest that humans were causing global warming, although we definitely are responsible for some of the other evils afflicting Arctic populations, including toxic pollution and habitat loss, and we may be contributing, slightly, to warming that would otherwise be occurring anyway. That is, this documentary stayed away from sermonizing and tried to stick to the facts.

To that end, the program went out of its way (at least compared to most recent nature documentaries) to get some sort of balance. And so, along with scientists who believe the bears are severely threatened, the producers also interviewed Mitch Taylor, a Canadian expert on polar bears who doesn’t believe the bears are endangered (he says only two of the 19 polar bear populations are in decline; the program itself said half are in decline) and doesn’t believe global warming is primarily human-caused or potentially catastrophic.

The program also mentioned another fact that is almost always ignored by global warming catastrophists: during the last interglacial 125,000 years ago, called the Eemian, the Arctic also melted pretty much completely, as may be happening now. No humans were involved in that previous global warming; modern humans hadn’t even evolved yet. This interglacial fact is usually ignored because it pretty much destroys the hypothesis that warming and sea-level rise are primarily human caused, rather than natural in an interglacial period. Continue Reading »

Published by on 26 Sep 2010

The past decade: warmer or cooler? Response to a reader II

This is the second of several posts responding to a reader, sTeve, who commented on my NOAA blog article (to read the first post, click here).  sTeve wrote, in part:

You offer the cherry-picked denier meme of the earth “cooling since 1998″, yet you already know that that argument has no merit, as it has been debunked countless times. You don’t mention the very strong El Nino of 1998, which had a major impact on global temps; perhaps you should read the papers written on that subject. Here’s a link to get you started: www .

You already are aware that 1998 is no longer the warmest year on record, having been surpassed by both 2005 and, so far, 2010, yes?

When I first read this from sTeve, I was astonished, just as I was astonished by NOAA’s recent announcement that the planet had warmed .2° Celsius in the decade 2000-2009. Where had sTeve gotten this data? 2005 and 2010 warmer than 1998? Fortunately, a post by Steve Goddard on Anthony Watt’s Watt’s Up With That? site provided the answer.

Temperature estimates

Figure 1 is the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) estimate of temperatures from 1880 to 2010 and, sure enough, in the upper right corner, the temperatures for 2005 and 2010 are shown as higher than 1998—considerably higher, actually.

Figure 1: GISS temperature estimate 1880-2010

However, the temperature estimates from the other three major climate monitoring agencies—the Hadley Meteorological Centre (HadCrut), University of Huntsville at Alabama (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS)—all show temperatures for the last decade considerably lower than the GISS estimate. In fact, they even show some cooling. The latter two agencies, UAH and RSS, rely on satellite data, which many regard as more reliable than ground temperature estimates. The  UAH reading is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: UAH temperatures

Figure 3 shows the two satellite-based agencies combined:

Figure 3: UAH and RSS temperature estimates

Neither UAH nor RSS shows 2000-2010 temperatures as higher than 1998. In fact, the last decade’s temperatures are considerably lower. Continue Reading »

Published by on 26 Sep 2010

Is climate science “certain”? Response to a reader I

In the next few posts, I respond in detail to a comment from a reader, sTeve, of the NOAA article in my False Alarm blog. I am grateful when people take the time to comment and, yes, criticize, but I also think this writer oversells the certainty we should feel about alarmist climate science and its conclusions. Perhaps this response will allow readers to judge for themselves, and I will publish sTeve’s response, should he choose to do so.

sTeve writes:

I enjoy reading your writing; you post with eloquence and offer cogent and thoughtful argument. You are, however, dead wrong on all counts, and this greatly disappoints me. Your candidness and intellect would greatly serve our species, yet you have chosen a “closed-minded perspective”.

You offer the cherry-picked denier meme of the earth “cooling since 1998″, yet you already know that that argument has no merit, as it has been debunked countless times. You don’t mention the very strong El Nino of 1998, which had a major impact on global temps; perhaps you should read the papers written on that subject. Here’s a link to get you started: www .

You already are aware that 1998 is no longer the warmest year on record, having been surpassed by both 2005 and, so far, 2010, yes?

You mention the alleged controversy of “Climategate”, yet four investigations have revealed no wrong doing, and in fact those investigations point to the strength of the science of the study of AGW.

You mention “The planet also cooled from 1945-75″. Did you not also find that the Clean Air Act of 1975 had a major impact on global temps by removing particulates from the atmosphere, thus removing a masking effect on global heating? Our industrial processes during the period 1945 – 1975 were overwhelming the warming of the planet due to the air pollution we were producing. The particulate matter in the pollution acted to reflect the suns warming of the planet. Once the Nixon Administration passed the Clean Air Act, the next 5 – 10 years saw a demonstrable decrease of air pollution, and we now know that global temps began to rise significantly. This is what has our scientists so very worried!

You write: “And, speaking of short periods of time on which to be drawing conclusions: the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, correlating carbon dioxide increases with temperature increases, is based on only about 23 years-1975-1998. This is hardly a long enough period of time to be drawing long-term conclusions that might well wreck industrial civilization with poorly thought-out carbon curbs. Correlation, as you well know, doesn’t equal causation.”

Sounds plausible…until we look at the facts. “The SCIENCE says that temperatures did not rise from the mid-30s to the mid-70s because of sulfate aerosols in fossil fuels. And what happened in the mid-70s? Clean-air legislation, and more importantly the phasing out of sulfur-rich fuels.”

I find it difficult at best to comprehend your position on human-induced climate change, given the fact that every science academy across the globe, including the NAS, AAAS, AMA, AMS, AGU, and countless other scientific bodies, ALL agree that AGW is happening, it is already bad, it is going to get worse, and we should be doing everything in our power to cut down our emissions of greenhouse gases and pollution in general.

What would it take to convince you, Paul?

How ‘certain’ is alarmist climate science?

Starting at the beginning:

I enjoy reading your writing; you post with eloquence and offer cogent and thoughtful argument. You are, however, dead wrong on all counts, and this greatly disappoints me. Your candidness and intellect would greatly serve our species, yet you have chosen a “closed-minded perspective”.

To call “dead wrong on all counts” a reasonably held, scientifically based albeit skeptical position (as I hope to demonstrate below) betrays a black and white mentality that is not conducive to good science and implies a certainty that most scientific disciplines avoid. For example, physicist Richard Feynman has written: “A scientist is never certain.” And yet, many alarmist climatologists and lay followers are certain, completely certain, or say they are. Continue Reading »

Published by on 05 Aug 2010

NOAA’s magic wand waves away 2000-2009 cooling

By Paul MacRae, August 5, 2010

The recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claims that surface temperatures have increased in the past decade. In fact, the NOAA report, “State of the Climate in 2009,” says 2000-2009 was 0.2° Celsius [1]  warmer than the decade previous. However, the report’s summary, as shown in Figure 1 below, shows a decadal increase of only .2° Fahrenheit (.11°C) based on 20th century temperatures.

The press release was so splashy it made the front page of Toronto’s Globe and Mail with the headline: “Signs of warming earth ‘unmistakable’.”

Of course, given that the planet is in an interglacial period, we would expect “unmistakable” signs of warming, including melting glaciers and Arctic ice, rising temperatures, and rising sea levels. That’s what the planet does during an interglacial.

Furthermore, we’re nowhere near the peak reached by the interglacial of 125,000 years ago, when temperatures were 1-3°C higher than today and sea levels up to 20 feet higher, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself. In other words, the Globe might as well have had a headline reading “Signs of changing weather ‘unmistakable’.”

Similarly, the NOAA report laments: “People have spent thousands of years building society for one climate and now a new one is being created – one that’s warmer and more extreme.” The implication is that we can somehow freeze-dry the climate we’ve got to last forever, which is absurd.

Sea levels have risen 400 feet in the past 15,000 years, causing all kinds of inconvenience for humanity in the process-and all quite naturally. As the interglacial continues, sea levels will rise and temperatures will increase-until the interglacial reaches its peak, at which point the planet will again move toward glacial conditions. To think that we can somehow stop this process is insane.

Even die-hard alarmists admitted 2000-2009 cooling

But what about the NOAA claim that the surface temperature increased .2°C during 2000-2009? Although they did everything possible to hide this information from the public, media, politicians, and even fellow scientists, by the late 2000s even die-hard alarmists were eventually forced to accept that the surface temperature record showed no warming as of the late 1990s, and some cooling as of about 2002. In other words, overall, for the first decade of the 21st century, there was no warming and even some cooling. Continue Reading »

Published by on 21 Jul 2010

Comment on Dr. Stephen Schneider

Climatologist Dr. Stephen Schneider died this week. Although he was one of the leading promoters of climate change fears (in the 1970s he warned against global cooling[1], more recently against global warming), Schneider could also be remarkably candid about what was going on behind the scenes of what is supposed to be a “settled” science.

He is famous for noting that climate scientists will exaggerate if the truth isn’t “scary” enough: 

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change.

To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.[2] [italics ad

Is climate science based on “overwhelming” empirical evidence, as the public is told? Not if you believe Schneider, who wrote: “Computer modeling is our only available tool to perform what-if experiments such as the human impact on the future.”[3] [italics added]  In other words, climate science is only as good as its models, models that weren’t accurate enough to predict the non-warming of the past 10 years.

It was Schneider who noted during a debate with Bjorn Lomborg that, in climate science, “We end up with a maddening degree of uncertainty. We end up with scenarios which, if we’re lucky, give us mild outcomes and we end up with scenarios that, if we’re unlucky, give us catastrophic outcomes.”[4] [italics added]

In a similar vein, Schneider wrote in Scientific American as part of an attack on Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist: “Uncertainties so infuse the issue of climate change that it is still impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes.”[5] [italics added]

A “maddening degree of uncertainty”? “Impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes”? “Infused with uncertainties”? But isn’t the public told the science on climate change is settled, certain, beyond question, and that we’re heading for catastrophe?

Or are we being bombarded by “scary scenarios” that exist only in computer models?

Based on Schneider’s own words, the answer is obvious.


[1] In his 1976 book The Genesis Strategy (p. 66), Schneider wrote: “Today there are few people much concerned by the approach of the next ice age. And since ice ages take thousands of years to develop, why should we worry? There are several reasons to worry.”

[2] Laboratory Earth, 1997, p. 67.

[3] Quoted in Jonathan Schell, “Our Fragile Earth.” Discover, October, 1989, pp. 45-48.

[4] Earthbeat, “Skeptical Environmentalist Debates Critics,” Australian Broadcasting Corp., Oct. 10, 2001.

[5]  Stephen Schneider, “Global Warming: Neglecting the Complexities.” Scientific American, January, 2002.

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