Sunday 30 April 2017

Red Cheeks Team

The idea has been simmering a few years, but now that their president is in office, the mitigation sceptical movement is increasingly pushing the idea of a "Red Team". In the last "hearing" of Lamar Smith in US House of Representatives, John Christy and Judith Curry repeated the claim that climate science needs a "Red Team". Roger Pielke Sr. contributes some tweets. In Murdoch's Wall Street Journal also Steven Koonin made this call on the opinion pages (pay-walled). This is the part of the newspaper the journalists of the news section are embarrassed by.

The [[Red Team]] should aim to destroy the results of climate science. This idea comes from the military and corporations. Monolithic strongly hierarchical organisations where dissent is normally not appreciated and there is thus a need to break this culture by explicitly ordering a group to show that plans may not work out. Many mitigation sceptics work in such organisations and this seems to guide their erroneous thinking of how science works.

Red Teams galore

Science is organised in thousands of Red Teams already. Every national weather service is independent. Some countries even have multiple ones. That makes about 200 Red Teams. I do not know of any weather service that does not find it is warming.

If you are a conspiracy theorist, thinking they are making up the warming, these 200 Red Teams would have to coordinate intensively to make sure that the weather variability is smoothly correlated from one country to its neighbours, that the climate modes (El Nino, North Atlantic Oscillation, etc.) look similar in a region, including [[teleconnections]] to other continents, including modes and teleconnections not known at the time, and make sure that the spatial pattern of the long-term warming fits to the physics and all the other observed variables.

Proof of how devious climatologists are is that no communications were intercepted showing this biggest coordination project in human history. Scientists may be too stupid to fool WUWT, but they are at least smarter than the NSA and HCSQ.

In Germany alone there are easily over a hundred university groups and research institutes (partially) working on climate and climate change. There are close collaborations with related fields, from statistics and physics to geography and economics. Also counting these there could be hundreds of Red Teams in a medium-sized country like Germany already.

Scientific progress

Every single of these groups would love to be the one to show there is a problem that needs attention. That is why scientists become scientist. No one has ever gotten funding saying: my field has solved all problems, but I would like to keep on doing what I have always done.

Many of these groups only partially work on climate change. Meteorology is a much larger field than climatology; Meteorology is directly needed to save lives and avoid economic damages, while climatology "only" produces politically inconvenient results about the future.

Thus for many of these groups it would be no problem whatsoever if they showed evidence for the most extreme case that the world is not warming or humans are not responsible. On the contrary, that would be an enormous boost to their reputations and they can use that social capital to work on related problems.

Explicit Red Teams are for organisation working like planning economies. Science is a free market system.

Climate “sceptics” sometimes give the impression that they think that a single study will vindicate their political battle and settle it once and for all. Reality is that there are many different lines of evidence that it should be warming, that it is warming (see graph below), and that we are creating the increase in atmospheric CO2 (see also additional arguments by Richard Alley) and the warming.

A challenge to one of these lines of evidence will have to refute a lot of evidence and this will normally take years. It would not be enough to disproof one line of evidence, but all of them should fall. Not only the instrumental temperature record would need to be wrong, but the melting of glaciers, the sea level rise, the start of spring, the decrease in Arctic sea ice and so on.

If I had the winning idea that something is fundamentally flawed, it would take decades of research until we again have a consensus on how the climate is (not) changing, just like our current understanding of climate change took decades to centuries to develop.

Science or PR?

John Christy:
One way to aid congress in understanding more of the climate issue than what is produced by biased “official” panels of the climate establishment is to organize and fund credible “Red Teams” that look at issues such as natural variability, the failure of climate models and the huge benefits to society from affordable energy, carbon-based and otherwise. I would expect such a team would offer to congress some very different conclusions regarding the human impacts on climate.
The benefits from affordable energy do not change the human impacts on climate. That kind of sloppy thinking hints at the Red Team being intended as a PR shop.

As an aside, the benefits of energy are naturally large and the energy sector used to be substantial, but it is nowadays just a few percent of the economy. Even if another energy source would be a lot more expensive that would nowadays hardly change the economy.

The idea that climatology does not study natural variability is ludicrous. I used to think I was not a climatologist because I had never computed an empirical orthogonal function ([[EOF]]) to study the North Atlantic Oscillation. The biggest group in the World Climate Research Program is CliVar, studying, hold it: Climate variability. What the mitigation sceptical movement knows about natural variability, from El Nino to the QBO, they know from the scientific community.

The "failure of climate models" presupposes models failed. If we assume they failed and cannot be used to assess the quagmire we are in, the uncertainties would be even larger. We would still have a lot of physics and observations of the (deep) past to make clear that climate change is real. Uncertainties can go both ways and mean higher risks. This should thus be a topic the Red Team should avoid.

The suggestion to only study the "failure of climate models" is a strange way of doing science. Normal science would be to study what the main discrepancies between models and observations are, try to understand what the causes are and then try to fix this. Sounds like Christy is more interested in the first step than in understanding and fixing.

This fits to his approach to his UAH tropospheric temperature dataset. Already in the 1990s when the UAH dataset still showed cooling and contained major errors (did not take the change of the orbit of the satellites into account, had a minus wrong in the software, etc.) he blamed models for the differences without first trying to understand the reasons.

Chinese calligraphy with water on a stone floor. Do not dig in, but let your position flow with the evidence.
The main reason for the discrepancy is that there is an amplification of temperature changes in the tropical upper troposphere. The stronger long-term warming this causes in models is called the "tropical hotspot". Christy's UAH temperature trends do not show it. It is seen in the stronger response to El Nino in the tropospheric temperatures, both in models and in observations. The hotspot is observed in the radiosonde winds and in a recent carefully homogenized radiosonde temperature dataset.

Christy seems to be happy with claiming that the models failed. I would not ignore the possibility that there are remaining errors in the UAH estimates, especially after all the errors that have already been found. Had I been Christy I would have tried to make my claim that the models are the problem stronger by trying to understand the reasons. Which processes are wrong in the models that produce this hotspot, but should not? That would then need to be something that does produce the hotspot signs in the winds and also shows the amplification for El Nino on shorter time scales. That sounds hard to me, but Christy had a few decades to study it.

A similar audit Red Team gave us the Berkeley Earth initiative, funded by the Heartland Institute funded by the Koch Brothers. Judith Curry was part of that, but got out before the politically inconvenient result was published. Anthony Watts, the host of the mitigation sceptical blog WUWT, claimed he would accept the results no matter what. That vow lasted until Berkeley Earth found the same result as any other global temperature dataset. Call me sceptical that this Red Team hullabaloo will have any impact on the US climate "debate".

I am sure it is a coincidence that the terms Red Team and Blue Team fit to the political configuration of country were the climate "debate" takes place, the United States of America. A country were the elite stays in power by pitting the Red Team and the Blue Team against each other. The main reason to support the Red Team is to at least not be the Blue Team. In Georgia the Republicans courted voters with the slogan: Make a liberal cry. Just the thing the coal and oil oligarchs would love to promote in the US climate "debate". Just the thing science should not want to replicate.

Scientists are humans, one of the main biases a scientists needs to fight against is not dig in and defend your own old studies, claims, methods or datasets. I respect scientists that developed good homogenisation methods and talk about their downsides and the strengths of other methods. I respect that because it is hard and promotes scientific progress. To force a scientist to take the Red or Blue position strengthens defensiveness and thus hurts progress. It is political thinking. In science the evidence determines your position. It is the end, not the start.

At least John Christy seems to mostly think of doing research, Judith Curry and Steven Koonin want to make jet another audit or report. This would an alternative IPCC report, following the example of the NIPCC report, the Nonsense IPCC, an embarrassing regurgitation of zombie WUWT myths authored by tobacco stooge Fred Singer. The NIPCC report is clearly PR. If the Red Team advocates think they have a scientific case, one would expect them to seek funding for science that would convince scientists, rather than bypassing the scientific literature and going straight to the public.

Red and Blue Team framing not only contributes to the politicization of science, it also promotes the false-balance media narrative of two equal groups. Judith Curry, John Christy and Steven Koonin should be debating Peter Wadhams, Guy McPherson and Reddit Collapse.

An important political strategy of the mitigation sceptical movement is to pretend that the science is not in yet. That is why they keep on claiming there is no scientific consensus, provoking consensus studies that find that nearly all scientists and articles agree on the basics. (And then complain that consensus exists.)

Once people understand that scientists agree there is a problem, they want solutions. Some extremists in the mitigation sceptical movement may claim that solar and wind energy spell the end of civilization, but that is a hard sell. Sun and wind have enormous and bipartisan support in the USA.

The 97% of climate scientists who agree on the basics include many conservative scientists. That there is a problem is not a partisan issue. How to solve it, that is politics. The Paris climate agreement was signed by nearly 200 countries and thus many conservative governments. They accept that climate change is a real problem. European conservative parties may be less active, but do not deny there is a problem.

In Europe only Trumpian racist parties deny there is a problem. That the climate "debate" is mostly an American problem shows that the problem is not conservative versus liberal, that it is not a lack of scientific evidence, it is not a problem of the communication of science. The problem is the corrupting influence of money in US politics and media. A Red Team will not solve this.

There is PLENTY of ROOM within the climate science to hold extreme views, both about the science and policy. However, there is no room for the lunacies of unicorns, for sun nuts, for folks who don't get chaos, for radiative physics deniers
Steve Mosher

Details please

ATTP asks very good questions on how this exercise should be organised. "Who would make up the team/teams?" Who are the organisers, the arbiters? Who selects them? What are the criteria? How do they want to prevent normal scientists from joining the Red Team? Scientists normally determine themselves what they work on. Should they be forced to waste their time on this? "How would this work be funded?" Is special funding needed because Red Team ideas do not have sufficient merit to be funded normally? "How would the programme be assessed?"

With all those Red Teams in science, I am curious how the Red Team advocates want to make sure their Red Team will be on their political side and stay there. Writing explicitly into the funding conditions that the applicant has to have a history of deceiving the public in the media and producing bullshit blog posts would probably be too much honesty.

Who would be in the Red Teams? Will they fund conspiracy theorists like Tim Ball and Christopher Monckton and corporate smoking shills like Fred Singer and Steven Milloy? That honesty would be a great sight.


The tension is clear when John Christy writes:
Decisions regarding funding for “Red Teams” should not be placed in the hands of the current “establishment” but in panels populated by credentialed scientists who have experience in examining these issues.
The people with experience and credentials are the "establishment" in science.

The mitigation sceptical movement could maybe organise a Red Team Blue Team exercise themselves and in that way figure out what their position is beyond the only thing they agree on: that climate science is wrong. That way they can demonstrate how enormously valuable this new scientific method is and it would have the added benefit that they waste their own time. I am curious whether they can come to an agreement about whether the Earth is warming or cooling and whether the greenhouse exists and CO2 can produce warming.

I look forward to a detailed proposal for Red Team research and would expect that it will demonstrate how ludicrous the idea is.

There is no real need for government funding of Red Teams whatsoever. Every large oil and coal corporation has a huge incentive to show climate science wrong. If they thought that there was a chance of one in a million that climate science was wrong, they would pour millions into studying that rather than in PR misinformation campaigns by networks of thoughtless tanks.

If John Christy was making the case that science funding should not only be based on scientific merit, but that part of the funding should also be based on what is politically important he may have a case. Already a considerable part of the funding goes to studies that inform (local) governments and companies on how to adapt to climate change. This is mostly a service to society and scientifically less inspiring. If it weren’t so hard to do, this would be a task for engineering firms.

Similarly, it would be politically important to study the tropospheric temperature trend in more detail for its importance in the American climate “debate”. It has nearly no scientific value because the tropospheric temperature series is so short and buggy. Each update there are huge changes in the trend estimates and the two available series show large differences, although they both try to take into account the currently known problems of the raw data. There is also no societal need for this dataset; no one lives in the tropical troposphere. Consequently only a few people at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and at Remote Sensing system work on these datasets once in a while. Occasionally there is some help in finding the problems with this data from external scientists.

More independent research in this field, leading to the development of new high quality tropospheric temperature datasets would be politically valuable. Maybe that should also be a funding consideration.

Related reading

The Trump administration wants to bail out failed contrarian climate scientists. A climate “red team” is just a polite way to describe bailing out scientific losers.

How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief. Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ.

And Then There's Physics: Red Team vs Blue Team

Stoat on Red teams: The East is Red

Benjamin Santer, Kerry Emanuel and Naomi Oreskes in the Washington Post: Attention Scott Pruitt: Red teams and blue teams are no way to conduct climate science

The killer Rabbet: The Squeegee Kid Returns or Steve Koonin on Team B

The Blue Team at Daily Kos: Deniers Calling for a Red Team to Create Debate on Climate Science

Why doesn't Big Oil fund alternative climate research?

* Top photo with birds, shame by Tiago Almeida used with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

* Black and white photo of boy, shame, by Lee Carson used with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

* Photo of "Taoist monk" by Antoine Taveneaux - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

* Photo of ashamed woman by Naika Lieva used with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.


  1. Very nice post-. I've liked Richard Alley's "what drives scientists?" short, punchy talk since I first saw it about two years ago.

    And the point you make again, "Every large oil and coal corporation has a huge incentive to show climate science wrong" is so blindingly obvious that it shows just how hard deniers have to work to peddle their nonsense.

  2. Dear "co2isnotevil", you comment is just a barrage of conspiracy theories and which you address magmacc, you do not respond to any of magmacc's arguments, nor any of the arguments in my post. Thus I prefer not to publish it.

    P.S. Pro tip: If you are pleading for better science, better not use a moniker placing the debate in religious terms.

  3. Excellent post, although a little long.

    One endeavor where Christy did trigger a sharp and immediate scientific response was when he sought to demonstrate that irrigation in California's San Joaquin Valley had resulted in warming of temperatures here. It's as if he had never watered his lawn on a hot day. The refuting paper got featured on the front page of Eos, which clearly was intended to be a hint. He did drop the subject, but without admitting error.

    Hmm, evil. That reminds me that the other day I was venting at mt about his (and Revkin's, and Hulme's) liking for the term "wicked" as applied to climate. I have a large vocabulary and love word play, but I think a common word adapted for scientific purposes shouldn't be applied in a manner at odds with its dictionary meaning(s), or to the extent that's sometimes necessary should at least avoid sowing confusion. But "climate change is a wicked problem" is so much sexier-sounding than "climate change is a problem requiring a system dynamical understanding." Anyway, way off topic, sorry.

  4. Hello. First time commenter. You might remember me from potholer54's videos, where I comment as "Atomsk's Sanakan".

    You mentioned Christy's claims regarding the hot spot. I have a question about Christy's testimony, and haven't had anyone answer it for me adequately yet.

    Please see pages 24 and 25 of Christy's report:

    Christy presents "tropical stratospheric" temperature data at a pressure of 150mb, with no cooling trend. But that pressure level is for the tropical tropopause, not the stratosphere, as shown in:
    "Tropical Tropopause Layer" [doi:10.1029/2008RG000267]

    So in order to avoid addressing stratospheric cooling (one of the hallmarks of CO2-induced global warming), Christy tries to pass off tropopause temperature as being stratospheric temperature. Isn't that misleading?

  5. Noctambulant Joycean, Sorry, forgot this comment.

    The tropical "hotspot" (a very cold place, where the warming large) is in the upper troposphere (between 300 and 200 hPa), while the stratospheric cooling is at higher levels starting above 100 hPa. So they are two difference phenomena. It looks as if that pdf file by James P. Wallace III,
    John R. Christy and Joseph S. D’Aleo selected a height in the middle where not much is happening.

    The pdf talks about the "Tropical Stratospheric 150 mb Balloon Data". That is not particularly stratospheric, that is in the transition zone, where not much is happening.

    (What they call a jump in 1977 could just as well be a long-term warming trends. Based on that figure one can probably not determine which is true. If there is a preference I would expect it to be for a trend model because it has less degrees of freedom (2) rather than three for the step model (level before and after and date of jump) and may thus well be preferred.)

    A problem with the temperature estimates using microwave radiometry like UAH does is that the estimated temperature comes from a large range of height levels. In what they call the temperature of the troposphere there is thus also some influence of the cooling stratosphere.

    When comparing this with models this needs to be carefully taking into account. And there is also stratospheric cooling due to the thinning of the ozone layer, so the comparison would need to be with a model that also takes ozone chemistry into account.


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