January 18, 2010
Climategate: The Truth Hurts When It Hits You in the Head
By Dexter Wright
The joke on the internet these days is "What do Tiger Woods and Phil Jones of East Anglia University in Britain have in common? They both got hit in the head by a model."
In 2007, Professors David Douglass, John Christy, Benjamin Pearson, and Fred Singer wrote a scientific paper in the International Journal of Climatology, which compared Global Climate Models (GCMs) with real observed data. GCMs were theoretically designed to forecast how greenhouse gases (GHGs) are warming the planet.
There are certain rules that must be followed in scientific investigations in order to ensure that the results and conclusions are not erroneous. Basically, the process requires an investigator to operate under multiple hypotheses so that he is not blinded to facts that might contradict one of his hypotheses and leave him with a dead end. An investigator should start by working from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, and always bend the theory to fit the facts -- not the other way around. This is exactly how the four scholars led by Professor Douglass conducted their investigation into the accuracy of the GCMs.
The GCMs were touted by the now-discredited Dr. Jones as accurate predictions of how the planet is responding to GHGs, but no serious published work had been done to compare these GCMs with real observations to find out if the theoretical models agreed with the established facts. The results of these comparisons done by Prof. Douglass and his team were found to be significantly divergent. The paper states the following:
Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean.
In English, that says that the models could not be trusted. This news publicly enraged the gang led by Dr. Jones. They fired off more than 29 e-mails concerning this one paper. But the real story is that these findings did not surprise them. In one of the recently uncovered Climategate e-mails from Dr. Fred Pearce to Dr. Keith Briffa, dated the 13th of October, 1996, Dr. Pearce delivers the bad news that the data does not agree with the models.
The models' error was not, perhaps, too surprising. As Barnett points out, they do not include vital "forcing" mechanisms that alter temperature, such as solar cycles and volcanic eruptions. Nor can they yet mimic the strength of the largest year-on-year variability in the natural system, the El Nino oscillation in the Pacific Ocean, which has a global impact on climate.
This statement means that as far back as 1996, the Jones Gang knew that the GCMs were producing significant errors and problems. This resulted an inability to reconcile the forecasts with reality. They seemingly knew that specifically excluding solar and El Niño influences would cause the forecast to be untrustworthy. But apparently they wished to keep these problems a secret. So to accomplish this, they chose to deal with the problem in a surprising way, as the e-mail further states:
Of course we don't have to believe the proxy data.
So now are they suggesting that they alter or ignore the data rather than bend their theory to fit the facts? In other words, are they completely disregarding the scientific method?