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Monday, September 16, 2013

Wondering Willis Eschenbach visits Dunning Kruger Land and adopts his own Gaia hypothesis

Sou | 12:14 AM Go to the first of 3 comments. Add a comment

Update: There's still more from Willis in the comments - see below

As climate hawks know, every time there is a new report from the IPCC or other important event relating to climate change, the denialati go a bit crazy.  We've seen silliness from David Rose  - here and here, Matt Ridley, Anthony Watts and others.  Now Willis Eschenbach has joined the party exhibiting an advanced case of Dunning Kruger Effect. (Archived here with the latest update here, still more archived here.)

Wondering Willis (he who thinks that rare landings on a remote airstrip has caused global warming) sets the scene writing this:
You see, back around 1980, about 33 years ago, we got the first estimate from the computer models of the “equilibrium climate sensitivity” (ECS). This is the estimate of how much the world will warm if CO2 doubles. At that time, the range was said to be from 1.5° to 4.5°.
I think Willis is probably referring to what is known as Charney sensitivity which, according to Gavin Schmidt assumes the land surface, ice sheets and atmospheric composition (chemistry and aerosols) stay the same. (There are many different meanings to "climate sensitivity".)

Broadly speaking, regardless of what is being referred to, the ranges for climate sensitivity are fairly well accepted - depending on the context: the upper and lower limits for a doubling of CO2 are between about 1.5 degrees and 6 degrees and most likely between 2 and 4.5 degrees, although the upper limit is considerably less certain than the lower limit in regard to equilibrium climate sensitivity.  It's not thought to be, for example, from 20 to 25 degrees or from minus 10 to minus 20 degrees.

Deniers claim to want greater precision - but they really don't.  If there were greater precision it would have to be in a very specific context - and deniers would both disregard the context (it's a habit of theirs) and still complain it's not been specified to two decimal places.  Deniers (as opposed to disinformers) don't understand climate science or climate sensitivity - and I doubt that any greater precision would have any meaning for them.  (Many deniers, for example, think that an increase in global surface temperature of two degrees means only that the temperatures where they live will be two degrees warmer - and that's it! They cannot comprehend the notion of an average global surface temperature anomaly or what it signifies.)

Having said that the range of climate sensitivity hasn't changed much over the years, Willis goes on to write:
Can anyone name any other scientific field that has made so little progress in the last third of a century? Anyone? Because I can’t.
Making such a dumb statement goes to prove what any regular reader here knows already - Willis doesn't read science.  He thinks that climate science is only about narrowing the range of climate sensitivity.  (Wondering Willis, you might recall, also thought that excel spreadsheets should be included in papers published in Science.  No, he didn't mean published as supplementary information - he meant that it should form part of the published paper itself!)

To prove his ignorance, Willis writes this (my bold italics):
The wrong path is the ludicrous idea that the change in global temperature is a simple function of the change in the “forcings”, which is climatespeak for the amount of downward radiation at the top of the atmosphere. The canonical (incorrect) equation is: ∆T = lambda ∆F
Willis has taken a simplified equation and assumed that is what climate scientists use to model climate.  I have no idea where he got this notion from.  It's not from the literature.  Maybe he read, or should I say half-read, Wikipedia and decided "that'll do me. I'll adapt the equation for a simple energy model and mis-portray that as being what's used for earth system models."  (I mentioned a good general interest article on climate models in ArsTechnica.  Page one of that provides a conceptual diagram of earth system models.)
Willis wanders around a second hand car yard, talking about gas (petrol) and cruise control and arguing that when cruise control is on that there is no longer any relationship between the speed of the vehicle and petrol consumption.  (He doesn't know my car.)  After that, Willis wanders off onto his favourite topic of thunderstorms and ends up with something strikingly similar to the popularised concept of Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis (which deniers love to mock).
The exact same thing is going on with the climate. It is governed by a variety of emergent climate phenomena such as thunderstorms, the El Nino/La Lina warm water pump, and the PDO. And as a result, the change in global temperature is totally decoupled from the changes in forcings. This is why it is so hard to find traces of e.g. solar and volcano forcings in the temperature record. We know that both of those change the forcings … but the temperatures do not change correspondingly.
To me, that’s the Occam’s Razor explanation of why, after thirty years, millions of dollars, millions of man-hours, and millions of lines of code, the computer models have not improved the estimation of “climate sensitivity” in the slightest. They do not contain or model any of the emergent phenomena that govern the climate, the phenomena that decouple the temperature from the forcing and render the entire idea of “climate sensitivity” meaningless.

From the comments on WUWT

Does anyone take Wondering Willis seriously?  Here are some responses to his article (archived here, updated archive here, and here and here).  I notice that some of the commenters saw what I did - but I wrote the above before reading any of the comments.  I hope that doesn't mean I've been spending too much time in WUWT's Dunning Kruger Land :(

Update (16 Sept 13): I've added the latest archive.  Willis' article now has 275 comments and if anyone is studying cognitive science there are some great examples of the Dunning Kruger effect, cognitive bias, mental models etc in the thread.  Plus in layman's terms, Willis' reaction to critique is to bluff and bluster and get quite angry.  Given he doesn't have the necessary knowledge to properly respond to the arguments posed, that's not an abnormal reaction from certain types of characters.  His other choice would have been to acknowledge his lack of expertise and the greater expertise of others.  But that isn't Willis' style.  He's displays what I believe is termed passive-aggressive behaviour (as he did here).

RoyFOMR also thinks that speed and petrol consumption are unrelated and says:
September 15, 2013 at 4:17 am
Your cruise control analogy is excellent.

However Bloke down the pub doesn't accept Willis' cruise control analogy and says:
September 15, 2013 at 4:19 am
But suppose we turn on the governor, which in a car is called the cruise control. At that point, the relationship between speed and gas consumption disappears entirely—gas consumption goes up and down, but the speed basically doesn’t change.
I don’t think this is a suitable example Willis, as the cruise control controls the speed by controlling the flow of petrol. Admittedly an automatic gearbox would also play a part but that’s a separate issue.

Bob Young also saw similarities with Lovelock's Gaia, though he calls him "Lovelace" and says:
September 15, 2013 at 4:20 am
I seem to recall Jame Lovelace making the same point in his book ‘GAIA’ that the Earth’s climate is governed by a control system. This is a concept that is second nature to any engineer. A well designed process control system (using proportional, integral and derivative drivers) will tamp down any process upsets and adjust the process to maintain a consistent output from the process. When I read the book in the late 80′s/early 90′s, that one point was so obvious to me. In the absence of a massive process upset (asteroid strike, CME), the Earth will regulate itself with its own control system to maintain a consistent temperature.

Nick Stokes says:
September 15, 2013 at 4:27 am
“The wrong path is the ludicrous idea that the change in global temperature is a simple function of the change in the “forcings”, which is climatespeak for the amount of downward radiation at the top of the atmosphere. The canonical (incorrect) equation is:
Δ T = lambda ΔF
where T is temperature, F is forcing, lambda is the climate sensitivity, and Δ means “the change in”.”
You’ve said this before, but again not quoting anyone. Whose ludicrous idea is it? Whose canonical equation? What did they say?
There’s a proposition that if CO2 is doubled, then one can try to quantify the eventual rise in temperature. That’s very different from your “canonical” equation. And the range that you ridicule is partly a recognition that the relation is indeed complex.

Julian in Wales says:
September 15, 2013 at 4:46 am
“This is why it is so hard to find traces of e.g. solar and volcano forcings in the temperature record. We know that both of those change the forcings … but the temperatures do not change correspondingly.”
Does that mean that you are optimist that the present state of the sun will not produce another cold period like the ones we experienced during the Maunder and Dalton minimums. I fear another cooling period far more than warming, I would like to be optimistic that it will not re-occur in my lifetime. The thought of mass starvation and food shortages during my old age is something I do not want to see.

lemiere jacques hasn't ever read an IPCC report either, and "guesses":
September 15, 2013 at 4:48 am
well, computer speed or memory doesn’t help much, they are still unable to give an error bar… as a result you just don’t know if a “newer ” simulation with much greater number of cells and so on is closer to reality than an “older” one….It is newer, more complex may be more sexy but…you just don’t know if it is more “real”..
It may be possible estmate error bar can be estimated .but i guess that the complexity of the estimation of error bar is one order of magnitude greater than the complexity of simulation. But it is only a guessing.

KevinM says, of Willis' complaint that no progress has been made in climate science (in regard to climate sensitivity):
September 15, 2013 at 5:23 am
One would expect the same result if they were right the first time. A million variable monte carlo simulation of the apple and the tree would not have much effect on gravity.

AlecMM has probably lived in Dunning Kruger Land for many years and says:
September 15, 2013 at 5:42 am
Climate Alchemy is not a science because the models, based on wildly incorrect physics are the same as the old alchemists repeating an experiment time after time in the faint hope that they will find the philosopher’s stone. It’s lunacy on a gargantuan basis and corrupt politicians are paying them our money to do it.

Okay - that's enough.  The rest are pretty well all in the same vein.  If you want more, they are archived here, latest archive here and later still here and here.

There is more...

One last next to last comment to illustrate the extent of Willis' ignorance - which he's demonstrated in the past. He describes his "model" and how he mistakenly thinks "GCMs" are constructed (my bold italics):
It seems to me that you’ve missed the point of my model. It does not have any independent predictive values. It just shows the limitations of the GCMs, which turn out to be very simplistic. They just take the inputs, scale them, and lag them … bozo, huh? Millions of lines of code and the output can be totally emulated by a one-line equation. Go figure. September 15, 2013 at 8:50 am

I can't help myself, Willis keeps on giving.  Here is an exchange between Willis and Pamela Gray who, if I recall correctly, is another science denier.  In this instance she is acting more like a sceptic than a fake sceptic.

Pamela Gray directs Willis to specific sections of the IPCC AR4 report in which models are discussed and says:
September 15, 2013 at 10:01 am
Richard I draw your attention to AR4 chapter 8. Their description of climate models appears to differ from both yours and Willis’. It may be useful to read it and to speculate on what this section may look like in AR5.
I'll point out that the Chapter 8 Pamela refers to is devoted to climate models.  It's called: Climate Models and Their Evaluation

Willis Eschenbach replies basically says that he can't be bothered following links to read the description - he says:
Huh? What is my “description of climate models”? Some specificity would be very useful, at present I haven’t a clue what “description” you’re talking about.
PS—Citing an entire Chapter of an IPCC report? Is that your idea of a proper citation? My high-school chemistry teacher would have thumped me with her red pencil if I tried that nonsense. If you have a point you wish to back up, you need to cite chapter and verse.
As it stands, you’re no better than the Bible-thumpers of my childhood, who would stand up in the tent and when someone asked a question would hold up the Bible and shout “The answer’s right here” … perhaps the answer is somewhere in the entire chapter you just cited, but I’m not going to try to guess just which paragraph you’re talking about. September 15, 2013 at 10:13 am

So Anthony Watts isn't the only person with a bad memory.  I'll repeat Willis' description of climate models, since he's forgotten what he wrote in the same thread less than one and a half hours earlier (my bold italics):
It just shows the limitations of the GCMs, which turn out to be very simplistic. They just take the inputs, scale them, and lag them … bozo, huh? September 15, 2013 at 8:50 am

Appendix: Climate sensitivity

There are some good articles on on climate sensitivity - Part 1 and Part 2 and many more.  And here is just some of what is in the different IPCC reports:

Progress since the TAR enables an assessment that climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range of 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values. {WGI 8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2, SPM}
And here:
Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C with a most likely value of about 3°C, based upon multiple observational and modelling constraints. It is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. {8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2}
The transient climate response is better constrained than the equilibrium climate sensitivity. It is very likely larger than 1°C and very unlikely greater than 3°C. {10.5}

From IPCC TAR (Third Assessment Report)
Climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range of 1.5 to 4.5°C. This estimate is unchanged from the first IPCC Assessment Report in 1990 and the SAR. The climate sensitivity is the equilibrium response of global surface temperature to a doubling of equivalent CO2 concentration. The range of estimates arises from uncertainties in the climate models and their internal feedbacks, particularly those related to clouds and related processes. Used for the first time in this IPCC report is the Transient Climate Response (TCR). The TCR is defined as the globally averaged surface air temperature change, at the time of doubling of CO2, in a 1%/yr CO2-increase experiment. This rate of CO2 increase is assumed to represent the radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. The TCR combines elements of model sensitivity and factors that affect response (e.g., ocean heat uptake). The range of the TCR for current AOGCMs is 1.1 to 3.1°C.


  1. "Charney sensitivity which ....assumes the land surface, ice sheets and atmospheric composition stay the same."

    Since the Arctic ice sheet in particular is rapidly going tits-up, and other supposedly long-term effects are happening faster than expected, perhaps we should abandon it and use a more realistic approach.

    400ppm of CO2 represents half a doubling, and the last time it was that high, 3-4 million years ago the temperature was 3-4 degrees higher. 30-40 million years ago it was 1000ppm (about two doublings) and the world was about 15 degrees warmer. Both of these suggest that the sensitivity is about 8 degrees per doubling in the longer term.

    No doubt this would caause the ostriches to dig their heads even deeper in the sand, but what the hell?

    1. I don't think the typical denier has any understanding of what is meant by the various climate sensitivities. They also have a very short term view.

      I haven't come across anyone among the denialist crowd who has expressed concern for future generations looking ahead only 100 years, let alone one or several thousand years ahead. I don't think they are capable of it and/or it's not part of their value system.

      In the same way the typical denier has no concept of time. They don't seem to be aware of how rapidly we are changing the climate. There is no parallel in the past (that I know of) to the speed/direction at which we are changing earth.

  2. You may find this interesting,

    Who is Willis Eschenbach?

    As of 2012 Mr. Eschenbach has been employed as a House Carpenter.

    He is not a "computer modeler", he is not an "engineer" and he is certainly not a "scientist" (despite all ridiculous claims to the contrary).
    "A final question, one asked on Judith Curry's blog a year ago by a real scientist, Willis Eschenbach..."


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