Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Wooden Stake in Newsweek's Global Cooling Heart

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William Connolley claims imminent global cooling was never predicted by the scientific community in the 70's. He has documented this on his website and reiterated this on as well.

Despite all of this, Senator Inhofe has been waving around a 1975 Newsweek article titled "A cooling world" which claimed scientists thought we were heading for a "little ice age". Inhofe used this to discredit the scientific community. These actions seem to have prompted Newsweek to re-examine their old article. In this self-review they reference Connolley:
The point to remember, says Connolley, is that predictions of global cooling never approached the kind of widespread scientific consensus that supports the greenhouse effect today. And for good reason: the tools scientists have at their disposal now—vastly more data, incomparably faster computers and infinitely more sophisticated mathematical models—render any forecasts from 1975 as inoperative as the predictions being made around the same time about the inevitable triumph of communism.
That makes it seem like Newsweek was trying to imply that scientists were making predictions about imminent global cooling. Yet they dismiss this mishap by saying the technology just wasn't very good back then and the consensus wasn't very strong so those predictions couldn't be trusted. Yet somehow we should forget all of those "mistakes" and trust the current predictions. Newsweek continued to defend themselves by saying: In fact, the [1975] story wasn't "wrong" in the journalistic sense of "inaccurate". Well here we have a problem. The website that Newsweek links to actually conflicts with their defense. Also, the author of that website William Connelly, responded to the most recent Newsweek article by telling us "not to take your science stories from the mass media". Given this conflict, I decided to buy the 1975 National Academy of Sciences report and see for myself. The report is titled "Understanding Climatic Change, A Program for action" and is featured in the picture above. A picture that I took with my very own camera. The ISBN# is 0-309-02323-8.

So what does it say inside?

At the bottom of page V of the forward it says:
Unfortunately, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines it's course. Without this fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate-neither in short-term variations nor in any in its larger long-term changes.
Wow. It says we "can't predict climate". So what does it say we need to do? What actions are needed? Lets skip to page 9 which is the beginning of the chapter titled Summary of Principle Conclusions and Recommendations. It lists 6 recommendations. They are:

1) Adopt a national program to study the climate
2) Analyze climate data from conventional instruments, satellites, etc.
3) Develop a program to monitor and index all climate data.
4) Accelerate research on climate.
5) Adopt an international program to study climate. (same as #1 but just international)
6) Try to reconstruct the history of the earths pre-industrial climate via tree rings, fossils, etc.

There is no doom and gloom, no national emergency, there are no dire predictions of the world coming to an end. It's just a bunch of scientists saying there might be a problem but we don't know because nobody has studied this crap. So please exercise some common sense and hire someone to study the earth. In short, it is exactly how William Connelley describes it on his website.

So where did Newsweek get their information to claim their story was accurate? Who made those predictions? I don't know. In 1975 Newsweek said "Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the little ice age" but they never said who those "Others" were. Considering the National Academy of Sciences is the premier authority on this subject, and both Science and Nature are devoid of gloom and doom, I'm not sure their source matters. Were there scientists back then that were worried? Sure, there will always be someone that fears the unknown. Is that fear in any shape or form comparable to current models or projections? Well since that fear never made it into either peer review or the national policy recommendations via the NAS, there seems to be a clear distinction between the two.

Newsweek should stand up and admit their mistakes. Maybe after they do that the industry shills will stop using Newsweek's error to discredit the entire scientific community.

Scans of the NAS book's forward:
Page V
Page VI


Alastair said...

Hi Wacki,

You are making a fundamental mistake. You are confusing the spoutings of scientists with science. All science is the spouting of a scientist, but all spoutings of scientists are not science. Only those which have been proved to be true become scientific theories. Science is true by definition. The scientists who get to add to science are lucky.

Just because the Dr Connelley has said that there was no climate scare in the 1970s does not make it true, no matter how firmly he believes that. It is based on his belief that all science it true, and that since this prediction that the climate would cool proved false, then scientists could not have predicted it. But the history of science is littered with false trails - think of phlostigen, aether, neptunism, and Geosyncline Theory.

Of course these ideas are not heard of today, because they have been proved wrong, but they were widely believed by scientists in their time.

Scientists are supposed to be sceptical. It is time you too were sceptical of what William Connelley says. You have to realise that he is convinced that he is right. As Planck said "Old theories only die with their professors." So there is no prospect of him giving up his theory, but you should not allow yourself to fall for the fallacy of appeal to authority.


Cheers, Alastair.

M.J. S. - (Wacki) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
M.J. S. - (Wacki) said...

Thanks for the response,

Neptunism lost mainstream scientific support in the early 19th century. That was long before Karl Popper wrote his papers and modern peer review became widespread. There is a significant difference between the way science was performed back then and the way science was carried out after Karl Popper's recommendations on scientific methodology became widespread.

I also cover plate tectonics here:

Flat Earth Consensus

Although that Planck quote is good and I think I will use that.

Was there a scare? I don't doubt it at all. I even admit it in the blog post. How widespread was it? I don't know as it was never strong enough to be well documented. So all I have to rely on is the conflicting memories of a few scientists that were working back then. The thing is I'm not sure the scare matters as the scare never made it into Science, Nature, or policy recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences. It is that clear distinction I'm trying to draw.

Here is a question for you. Lets pretend every single scientist on the planet is scared of the Yellowstone super volcano exploding. And lets also pretend that there is no time constraint on getting papers published via Science, Nature or the NAS. That process takes hours instead of weeks or months.

If all the scientists are scared, yet there isn't enough data to support the publication of a paper or even policy recommendations of evacuation via the NAS, should the US government start evacuating the mid-west?

Do you see the difference? That being said I think an interesting exercise would be to get a list of all the scientists that were scared and analyze their papers to see if it influenced their work. As of right now I haven't seen a single paper that shows their work was influence by this scare, and neither has Connolley. It is that distinction I'm trying to draw.

Alastair said...

Well you may admit that there was a minior scare in the 1970s, but will William Connelley post such a message on his web site saying "I was wrong, there was a scare!".

However, that is not really the point or an answer to your question which was: do I see the difference?

I am afraid I do not even see the relevance. My point is that sometimes scientists make mistakes, and sometimes all of them make mistakes. They are just human. That means that some or all of them are making mistakes now. People do not change, and there is a herd instinct. If the leader makes a mistake then they all follow.

There is a classic case of this today. There was a conference in Birmingham last week about rapid climate change. Each of the four themes concentrated on the halting of the thermohaline circulation. But Broecker had already published a paper in Global and Planetary Change showing that abrupt climate change is caused by sea ice, not the THC. It is sea ice which switches the THC, not the THC that causes the sea ice. All that came out of that conference was that the THC is not slowing down, and perhaps, one or two delagtes realising that the £10M RAPID program had been a complete waste of money.

The same applies to the climate models. They are obviously wrong. Each month Pierrehumbert posts a new item on the RealClimate blog explaining why despite the facts the models are correct.

The models can't get the tropical lapse rate right, they cannot explain the surface temperture of Venus, they can't explain Philpona's results which show the European backradiation climbing, and they cannot explain the Ordovician glaciation during a period of high CO2 levels. They cannot even get climate sensitivity right to within 50%

And the error is obvious - the source function used in the radiation models is wrong. Even William Connolley admitted that Planck's blackbody radiation function for continuous radiation was inappropriate for the line emissions from greenhouse gas molecules.

When Agassiz said there had been an ice age no one believed him, when Wegener said there had been continetal drift no one believed him, when Barringer said a meteor had struck the earth no one beleived him, and when Coope said that the Younger Dryas had started in less than 50 years no one believed him. It is not surprising then when I say that the the computer models are wrong, then no one believes me.

What I am saying to you is that the true sceptic would doubt the scientific establishment, not whether it had made a trivial mistake in the past.

In the past the maverick has eventually been proved right, but if I am right there is not much time.

Do you see what I am getting at?

M.J. S. - (Wacki) said...

I see what you are getting at but I'm not sure it applies to what I'm trying to say.

but will William Connelley post such a message on his web site saying "I was wrong, there was a scare!".

I'm not saying there wasn't as scare. And to be honest I'm sure Connelley is denying the scare either. I'm saying three things:

1) Newsweek said scientists predicted imminent global cooling in the 1970's. Those predictions never made it into peer review. This is a fact that Newsweek failed to mention.
2) Current predictions made by the National Academy of Sciences can't be debunked by the 1975 predictions. This is because the NAS was saying predictions were impossible back then. Newsweek failed to mention the NAS book. A book which is considered the leading authority on the topic. Newsweek fails to mention the NAS never flip flopped on it's stance regarding the climate.
3) Newsweek also failed to mention that in 1975 leading scientists were openly stating we lacked a fundamental understanding of our climate system. To withhold this declaration is to severely misrepresent the quality of any 'predictions' that might have been made back then.

Do scientists make mistakes? Sure. But do you really think that article was well written? Do you disagree with any of my three major points? Don't you think that those facts are pretty important for Newsweek to include in their article?

Alastair said...

No, what I need is WMC to say that he was wrong, not that that a scare happened. In fact if you were to say that you are wrong, that would probably be enough to disprove my theory. My thesis is that no-one, not even a professional scientist, will admit he is wrong. It requires losing too much face. Se Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", first published in the 1930s.

Of course, if WMC did admit his error it would be fairly cathartic, and make him a better scientist. He would then have proved that he can apply scepticism to his own ideas not just his opponents. That would raise him above other scientists such as Gavin Schmidt who wrote "So, while many contrarians pay lip service to the legacy of Russell (or even Pyrrho), forgive me if I remain a little sceptical..." In other words Gavin's scepticism is reserved for the ideas of his opponents.

So it is highly unlikely that I will convince WMC that he is wrong. In the past, as new evidence has been presented, he has modified his proposal in order to avoid admitting that he was wrong. First he said there was no scare, then that it did not appear in scientific journals, and now, it seems, he is claiming that is wasn't widely held in scientic circles. No doubt if a rebuff the three points you make he will then further weaken his thesis to avoid admitting defeat. Let's consider them and see.

The first point conatins two errors IMHO. First, there was a paper in Science by Schneider predicting cooling, and the report of gathering of scientist who also came to the conclusion appeared in Science. But even is you discount that, and it seems you do, then that does not prove there was no warning from scientists. Scientists do not communicate with the public via the peer reviewed literature. They do it through press releases. Perhaps WMC is unaware of that, but Newsweek would not be.

The second point is where WMC is so wrong. It is true that the scientists were working with incomplete evidence, but what evidence they did have pointed to a possible rapid cooling. WMC does not seem to be able to accept that rapid climate change is possible. That feature was already emerging in the 1970s, and has since been confirmed by ice cores. The climate in the 1970s was cooling and so it was only a matter of putting two and two together to get four. Rapid events and a cooling climate point to the start of a new ice age. WMC had already been told this by Nigel Calder.

Scientists are still saying that there are unknowns. See "Broadly Misleading" for a list of the paleoclimatic features which still cannot be explained, or the comment by Ray Pierrehumbert that "Maybe there's something wrong with the data, or maybe there are currently unknown amplification mechanisms that make the switch from a moderate Holocene type climate to a hothouse more catastrophically sensitive to CO2."

I am writing this while the Remembrance Service is being broadcast on the BBC. That is about reminding people of the most stupid adventure that the civilised western world has embarked upon: the First World War. The concensus then was it would be over by Christmas. Now the consensus is that global warming will be something that will affect our grandchildren. We do not learn from our mistakes. The First World War was followed by the Second World War. And as Newsweek are hinting, the mistakes of miscalling the global cooling in the 1970s, are being repeated now with the scientists predicting a mild warming from AGW using incomplete science yet again.

Preparing this essay has been a distraction from the assignment in which I should be engaged. I fear I will not be able to give you such a full reply in the future. Moreover this debate is pointless, since WMC will not admit he is wrong. However, there is a consolation for me. If he does not, then I will not have to admit that I am wrong either!

M.J. S. - (Wacki) said...

You said:
First, there was a paper in Science by Schneider predicting cooling, and the report of gathering of scientist who also came to the conclusion appeared in Science.

well here is a nice quote from Schneider:
...we just don't know enough to chose definitely at this stage whether we are in for warming or cooling--or when. - Nature Vol. 270 22/29 December 1977

And what is the gathering report? If it's the one that I think you are thinking of don't they admit that they have no clue how the weather machine operates?

Anonymous said...


You seem to be drawing the conclusion that because GCMs are imperfect and imprecise, they are then absolutely wrong. This is a logical error known as false dilemma or the fallacy of the excluded middle. The fact that there may be some few number of black swans does not negate the fact that the vast majority of swans are white. Show us how you are the better man and admit your mistake.

Anonymous said...

The Newsweek article was one page. The other most cited articles are on the order of a column. For me, a "scare" requires that the media actually focus their attention on it. There was a billion times more attention on shark attacks in 2001 than there was on "Global Cooling" during all of the '70s.

Secondly, the most cited paper, Rasool and Schneider, said that it would take particulate loading 4 times the (then) current levels to cause the cooling they were talking about. Sulfates, the primary cooling aerosol, never got more than 20% higher than 1970 levels, and has since decreased. Even if their science was correct (and it wasn't), we wouldn't be seeing an ice age, because aerosols got no where near what was required.

And regarding the NAS report, the "skeptics" portrayal is even worse than it is being described here. On the section on CO2, it predicted (based on work done by Mitchell) that we were due for another 0.5 degree rise by the end of the century. The rise was actually about 0.45 degrees. Mitchell was predicting net warming up to the mid 21st century, and then net cooling afterwards, based on increasing levels of both CO2 and particulates. Those predictions relied on both of them increasing at about the same rate that they were at that time. The implication is that the direct linear effect of aerosols would someday overcome the logarithmic effect of CO2. The cooling aerosols have dropped off and the CO2 increases have continued. In other words, significant net warming.

Sparrow (in the coal mine) said...

cce, thank you very much for the response. You've been most helpful. I'll scan the CO2 section (page 43) and post it up tonight.

Anonymous said...

Not to drag this up again, but could you scan the pages from Appendix A that talk about the "finite probability" of cooling within the next 100 years? Connelley quotes these on his site, but I neglected to copy them when I went to the library. I want to get the actual pages for a presentation I'm working on, and it would save me another arduous journey to a library.

If you could do that, thanks!

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Don Robertson said...

Just been reading articles about the ice age scare from the seventies. The headlines are often scary, but the stories are likely to be inconclusive. eg St. Petersburg Times - Pollution Could Cause Ice Age, Agency Reports (

"Doubling the carbon dioxide content of the air, which would take about 400 years at the present rate, would raise the Earth's surface temperature 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit"

Scare yes. Science no.