Wednesday, 30 September 2015

UK global warming policy foundation (GWPF) not interested in my slanted questions

Mitigation sceptics like to complain that climate scientists do not want to debate them, but actually I do not get many informed questions about station data quality at my blog and when I come to them my comments are regularly snipped. Watts Up With That (WUWT) is a prominent blog of the mitigation sceptical movement in the US and the hobby of its host, Anthony Watts, is the quality of station measurements. He even set up a project to make pictures of weather stations. One might expect him to be thrilled to talk to me, but Watts hardly ever answers. In fact last year he tweeted: "To be honest, I forgot Victor Venema even existed." I already had the impression that Watts does not read science blogs that often, not even about this own main topic.

Two years ago Matt Ridley, adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), published an erroneous post on WUWT about the work of two Greek colleagues, Steirou and Koutsoyiannis. I had already explained the errors in a three year old blog post and thus wanted to point the WUWT readers to this mistake in a polite comment. This comment got snipped and replaced with:
[sorry, but we aren't interested in your slanted opinion - mod]
Interesting. I think such a response tells you a lot about a political movement and whether they believe themselves that they are a scientific movement.

Now the same happened on the homepage of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

To make accurate estimates of how much the climate has changed, scientists need to remove other changes from the observations. For example, a century ago thermometers were not protected as well against (solar) radiation as they are nowadays and the observed land station temperatures were thus a little too high. In the same period the sea surface temperature was measured by taking a bucket of water out of the sea. While the measurement was going on, the water cooled by evaporation and the measured temperature was a little too low. Removing such changes makes the land temperature trend 0.2°C per century stronger in the NOAA dataset, while removing such changes from the sea surface temperature makes this trend smaller by about the same amount. Because the oceans are larger, the global mean trend is thus made smaller by climatologists.

Selecting two regions where upward land surface temperature adjustments were relatively large, Christopher Booker accused scientists of fiddling with the data. In these two Telegraph articles he naturally did not explain his readers how large the effect is globally, nor why it is necessary, nor how this is done. That would have made his conspiracy theory less convincing.

That was the start for the review of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Christopher Booker wrote:
Paul [Homewood], I thought you were far too self-effacing in your post on the launching of this high-powered GWPF inquiry into surface temperature adjustments, It was entirely prompted by the two articles I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph on 24n January and 7 February, which as I made clear at the time were directly inspired by your own spectacular work on South America and the Arctic.
Not a good birth and Stoat is less impressed by the higher powers of the GWPF.

This failed birth resulted in a troubled childhood by giving the review team a list of silly loaded questions.

This troubled childhood was followed by an adolescence in disarray. The Policy Foundation asked everyone to send them responses to the silly loaded questions. I have no idea why. A review team should know the scientific literature themselves. It is a good custom to ask colleagues for advice on the manuscript, but a review team normally has the expertise to write a first draft themselves.

I was surprised that there were people willing to submit something to this organization. Stoat found two submissions. If Earth First! would make a review on the environmental impact of coal power plants, I would also not expect many submissions from respected sources.

When you ask people to help you and they invest their precious life time into writing responses for you, the least you can do is read the submissions carefully, give them your time, publish them and give a serious response. The Policy Foundation promised: "After review by the panel, all submissions will be published and can be examined and commented upon by anyone who is interested."

Nick Stokes submitted a report in June and recently found out the the Policy Foundation had wimped out and had changed their plans in July:
"The team has decided that its principal output will be peer-reviewed papers rather than a report.
Further announcements will follow in due course."
To which Stokes replied on his blog:
" report! So what happens to the terms of reference? The submissions? How do they interact with "peer-reviewed papers"?"
The review team of the Policy Foundation now walked back. Its chairman, Terence Kealey a British biochemist, wrote this Tuesday:
"The panel has decided that its primary output should be in the form of peer-reviewed papers rather than a non-peer reviewed report. Work is ongoing on a number of subprojects, each of which the panel hopes will result in a peer reviewed paper.
One of our projects is an analysis of the numerous submissions made to the panel by members of the public. We anticipate that the submissions themselves will be published as an appendix to that analysis when it is published."
That sounded good. The review panel focussing on doing something useful, rather than answering their ordained silly loaded questions. And they would still take the submission somewhat seriously. Right? The text is a bit vague so I asked in the comments:
"How many are "numerous submissions"?
Any timeline for when these submissions will be published?"
I thought that was reasonably politely formulated. But these questions were removed within minutes. Nick Stokes happened to have see them. Expecting this kind of behaviour by now, after a few years in this childish climate "debate", I naturally made the screen shot below.

Interesting. I think such a response tells you a lot about a political movement and whether they believe themselves that they are a scientific movement.

[UPDATE. Reminder to self: next time look in spam folder before publishing a blog post.

Yesterday evening, I got a friendly mail by the administrator of the GWPF review homepage, Andrew Montford, better known to most as the administrator of the UK mitigation sceptical blog Bishop Hill. A blog where people think it is hilarious to remove the V from my last name.

He wrote that the GWPF newspage was not supposed to have comments, that my comment was therefore (?) removed. Montford was also so kind to answer my questions:
1. Thirty-five.
2. This depends on the progress on the paper in question. Work is currently at an early stage.

Still a pity that the people interested in this review cannot read this answer on their homepage. No timeline.

[UPDATE 2019: The GWPF seems to have stopped paying for their PR page about their "review", It now hosts Chinese advertisements for pills. I am not aware of anything coming out of the "review", no report, no summary of the submitted comments written by volunteers in their free time for the GWPF, no article. If you thought this was a PR move to attack science from the start, you may have had a point.]

Related reading

Moyhu: GWPF wimps out

And Then There's Physics: Some advice for the Global Warming Policy Foundation

Stoat: What if you gave a review and nobody came?


  1. Watts does that to everyone sooner or later whether sceptic or not - and I know how he feels, because he could certainly get a much better job with far less hassle.

    And you are clearly swallowing the lies about us sceptics because the GWPF isn't some massive organisation which has time to do anything other that prepare stories for the press and run a few seminars to get funding.

    So, I never expect to get a reply from them, as it's largely one person who no doubt gets hundreds or even thousands of emails and all they can really manage to do is to delete those that aren't helpful.

  2. The "they're only one person and they're so busy" argument doesn't explain them going to the EXTRA work of deleting VV's post, does it?

  3. I think you are a bit too generous with Watts and the comments was perfectly polite and just provided a link to more information.

    To be honest, I do not care how large the Policy Foundation is. You should do what you promise. Especially when you generate a lot of work for other people.

    If William M. Connolley is right, the Policy Foundation is also not exactly poor: "That's not entirely true. The GWPF has ~£250k / year funding (or did in 2013 when it last published accounts, IIRC) and was spending £160 k / year on salaries for 4 people at that point."

    Coming from a modest background, I see that as a decent amount of money. You naturally have to make tough choices, whether to invest that in quality or spin.

  4. Your comments generally strike me as being polite, fair-minded and informative. As for Watts' cheap shot, as a native speaker of English I can assure you that a name like Victor Venema is not one that is easily forgotten.

  5. Now don't you start with that Enema thing as well!! :-)

    If that is the most informed insult they can think of, that means that they are not attacking me, but some imaginary enemy in their own head.

  6. Its also somewhat curious that AM is now, apparently, acting as secretary to the inquiry, or in somesuch similar role. Or as you call him, "the administrator of the GWPF review homepage". Has that been announced? I would have thought it rather tainted the impartiality of the inquiry.

  7. No, not that at all - it would be related to 'venom' or 'vengeance'. There was a time when Marvel and DC comics liked alliteration, with their villains and heroes having first and last names beginning with the same letter, as well as an element of foreshadowing (e.g., Victor von Doom, Stephen Strange, etc.). A surprising number were Ph.D.s as well.

    This is something of a silly discursion, but Watts is of that generation and some things, once learned, aren't forgotten.

  8. :-) Victor von Doom. Now that is a name. I will complain with my mother that she married the wrong man. I could have started the blog the science of doom.

    I do have a liking for alliteration. Always wondered if that has to do with my name. That the blog is called Variable Variability is pure coincidence, though. Only noticed the double VV, when someone spoke of VV and I was wondering if he pointed to me or my blog.

  9. Tom Fuller likes to call you "Venemous Victor". I am quite sure he means it as an insult, but in reality it is just a description of what you are to those who don't quite have the facts on their side: you are venomous to them, coming with facts and all that nasty stuff that may make them go over to the light side.

  10. Humans are remarkable creatures.

    On the one hand thinking scientifically does not come easy to us. It is much easier to take a position you like, which your peers like, and then to have some rationalisations to justify it.

    On the other hand we like to think of ourselves as rational beings and of our positions as consistent with each other and our values. The cognitive dissonance among the mitigation sceptics must be huge, they must lead a miserable life, which likely makes them so disagreeable.

    I am reasonably optimistic about climate change. It is a solvable problem and we will soon be at a tipping point where politics could not stop the energy transition any more if they wanted to.

    What thus worries me most is the strong anti-science attitude in the US climate "debate" and the pure existence of something like Fox "News" and hate radio. America is a powerful nation, that it is so dysfunctional cannot be good for the world.

    Not sure what to do about that. But one obvious contribution would be to get money out of politics.

  11. You know Victor, it's not the observations, it's the Malthusian onedimensional extrapolations that bother me as a lukewarmer. Carefully stretched to a time frame so no current scientist will be living to verify.

  12. Hans,
    You could almost say the same of those who would rather we didn't do anything. If they're wrong to argue that, then few will be around to realise their error.

  13. The Policy Foundation does think it is the observations. So you disagree with the GWPF?

    And you agree with nearly all of climate science? Interesting. And interesting how you change the topic. That is something mitigation sceptics like to do. Normally without acknowledging whether they agree or disagree with the previous topic, so that they can start the same discussion later elsewhere in the hope of finding someone less knowledgeable.

    I have never made any projections, I just try to understand the quality of station observations. Whether we do this well can be tested and is tested. That was up to now my main job, to test how well the work of my colleagues is. Likewise for my colleagues. Nearly all the work is on understanding the climatic changes we have seen in the past up to now.

    The projections (extrapolations) are just the application of our best understanding gained from studying the past to give people an idea of what could happen if we do not do much or if we change the energy system. They are not predictions, we do not know how humans behave in a century.

    Even if we knew the emissions perfectly, I am quite sure the projections would still turn out to be wrong, we are taking the climate system out of the state we know well and perform a massive experiment with it. Things are bound to happen, we did not think of. Some might be nice, more likely the surprises will not be nice. That is my main reason as citizen to want to solve this problem. If we had perfect climate and weather predictions, climate change would be a much smaller problem.


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