Friday, November 29, 2013

Energy accumulation - plus testing Tisdale pseudo-science null hypothesis at WUWT

Sou | 3:07 AM Go to the first of 17 comments. Add a comment
Update - see below where I may have been was wrong :)

First let's lay out the null hypothesis - that Bob Tisdale does not practice pseudo-science.

Pseudo-scientists like Bob Tisdale go out of their way to reject science.  They don't simply make up stuff out of thin air, they misrepresent actual science as well.  We may not be able to prove this in all situations but let's test out the null hypothesis.  That Bob Tisdale does not practice pseudo-science.  (The alternative hypothesis is that Bob Tisdale does practice pseudo-science.)

Tests for Null Hypothesis

On Quackwatch, Rory Coker has laid out a list of attributes to watch out for to determine if something is pseudo-science.  I've picked out ten of the items to test the null hypothesis:
  1. Pseudoscience displays an indifference to facts.
  2. Pseudoscience "research" is invariably sloppy.
  3. Pseudoscience begins with a hypothesis—usually one which is appealing emotionally, and spectacularly implausible—and then looks only for items which appear to support it.
  4. Pseudoscience is indifferent to criteria of valid evidence. 
  5. Pseudoscience always avoids putting its claims to a meaningful test. 
  6. Pseudoscientists invent their own vocabulary in which many terms lack precise or unambiguous definitions, and some have no definition at all.
  7. Pseudoscience attempts to persuade with rhetoric, propaganda, and misrepresentation rather than valid evidence (which presumably does not exist).
  8. Pseudoscience appeals to false authority, to emotion, sentiment, or distrust of established fact. 
  9. Pseudoscience makes extraordinary claims and advances fantastic theories that contradict what is known about nature. 
  10. And finally, the pseudo-scientist generally earns some or all of his living by selling questionable products (such as books, courses, and dietary supplements) and/or pseudoscientific services (such as horoscopes, character readings, spirit messages, and predictions).

The Test - A Video by Bob Tisdale

Take yesterday, for example.  Bob Tisdale made a video and posted it an a WUWT article (archived here and if you have a burning desire to see the video, it's here on YouTube). It was a video protesting a new widget from Skeptical Science.  But mainly it was a video in which Bob misrepresented a scientific paper.

For a good take on Anthony Watts' reaction to the skepticalscience.com widget, read Collin Maessen's article at his realsceptic blog.  Anthony once again shows his double standards!

Perennially Puzzled Bob Tisdale typically goes to great lengths in his efforts to reject science.  And I mean lengths.  Long lengths.  Very long lengths.  However this time around, instead of just making his usual very long very lengthy statement along the lines of "all the science is wrong and I'll prove it by writing long tedious posts full of copies and pastes from the pseudoscience in all my other long tedious posts", Bob decided to misrepresent a scientific paper in a six minute video.

Earth is building up energy

What Bob Tisdale did was refer to this paper by Stephens et al that was published last year in Nature Geoscience.  Bob put up Figure 1 from Stephens12 (see below) and said:
The sum of the downward shortwave and longwave radiation at the surface is 533.6 watts per square meter. That means the radiative imbalance is only one tenth of one per cent of the sum of the sunlight and infrared radiation at the surface.  

He's wrong.  It's about one tenth of the sum of only the incoming short wave and the long wave radiation that is directed downward at the surface.  Maybe I'm picking nits, but Bob said "at the surface".  Not downward radiation at the surface.  He omits the short wave and long wave radiation leaving the surface as well as the sensible and latent heat fluxes.

Null Hypothesis: Fail using test 1 (indifference to facts), test 2 (sloppiness) and, as you'll see below as well, test 7 (misrepresentation).

Bob continues:
Now that's not too scary  is it. One-tenth of 1 per cent of the sunlight and infrared radiation. Or to make it sound even less scary the sum of the downward shortwave and longwave radiation reaching the surface every day is about 890 times the hypothetical radiative imbalance.

Note how Bob is appealing to emotion?  The emotion in this case is fear.  He is urging  his readers to believe that accumulating 0.6 watts m-2 is "not too scary".  His use of the word "hypothetical" is designed to introduce doubt about the science.  This is, as we'll see later, is a misrepresentation and comes under test 7 above.

Null Hypothesis: Fail using test 8 (appeal to emotion) and test 7 (misrepresentation).

Here is the diagram that Bob uses in his video.  It's Figure 1 from Stephens12.

Source: Figure 1 Stephens12

Let's looks at Bob's numbers just for the hell of it.  He added 188 to 345.6 and got 533.6 watts m-2 reaching the surface.  He said this was about 890 times larger than the 0.6 watts m-2 being accumulated. It's actually 889.33 but we won't quibble.  Bob also said it was 1/10 of 1%.  It's actually 0.112% but again let's not quibble.

One of Bob's biggest mistakes is to compare the radiative imbalance with the sum of the downward short wave and long wave radiation, without deducting the upward radiation.  That's double-counting.  If he had wanted to make any meaningful comparison he could have compared the additional energy being accumulated with the energy coming in (or with the energy going out).  And he'd do that at the top of the atmosphere.  For one thing it's at the top of the atmosphere that we see the energy imbalance of the entire Earth system and can measure it more precisely using instrumentation on satellites.

If Bob had done that, he would have compared the 0.6 watts m-2 with the 240 watts m-2 being the net incoming solar radiation.  For radiative equilibrium, earth needs to balance the net incoming radiation (240 watts m-2) with the net outgoing radiation.  But the outgoing radiation falls short by 0.6 watts m-2.

240 is 400 times larger than 0.6, a lot less than the 890 times bigger that Bob Tisdale was claiming. (See update - I should be using 340, which is 534 times larger than 0.6.)

Null Hypothesis: Fail using test 1 (indifference to facts), test 2 (sloppiness) and test 7 (misrepresentation).

Accumulating weight over a lifetime

Let's do an analogy.  Think back (or forward) to when you were twenty years of age and we'll project forward 70 years.  (The time scale is comparable to many climate science projections.  If you were twenty years old today, you'd be 90 years old in 2083, which is far enough ahead for many of the climate science projections to emerge, assuming we don't cut emissions sufficiently.)

Let's say you weigh a healthy enough 60 kg (132 lb) at twenty years of age.

Now let's say that each day you are consuming just a little bit more energy than you are using.  You are putting on a miniscule amount of weight each day.  Not much weight, mind you.  You don't notice it on a day to day or week to week basis.

Assumptions: To balance your weight, let's assume you need to eat the dietary equivalent of 10,000 kJ a day.  Let's also assume that if you consumed an additional 2,500 kJ, you'd gain weight at the rate of 1 kg a week. And let's also assume that this holds throughout your lifetime until you reach 90 years of age, no matter what your weight.  (This is a simplification and only used to illustrate a point.)

Instead of consuming 10,000 kJ, you eat that much each day plus an extra 1/400 of 10,000 kJ or an addition 25 kJ a day.  That's like taking an extra bite of a small snack each day.  Or having an extra tablespoon of cereal for breakfast.

Now that's not too scary is it.

After 70 years at the age of 90, instead of weighing 60 kg (132 lb) you would weigh 96.5 kg (213 lb).  You'd have added more than 60% to your original weight.  There's probably enough weight gain along the way to prevent you from reaching 90 years of age.

Remember - in this analogy there is no way that you can stop this.  You can't say "oh I'll burn it off easily".  Or "oh, I'll just eat a little less tomorrow".  You're stuck with the input because there is no way to stop the equivalent of the sun from shining.  It's out of your control.  You're stuck with the weight gain because the equivalent of that CO2 in the air isn't getting any less - in fact we're adding more all the time.

So that 60% weight gain is the minimum.  And all that from an equivalent, in food intake terms, of adding 0.6 watts m-2 on earth.


It's been suggested I should have used 340 instead of 240 watts m-2 and Sisi is probably right.  Though I'd love to argue, I was just having a dig at Bob.  More importantly, I've read that a sign of a pseudo skeptic is that they never admit a mistake, so I'd better at least admit the high possibility/probability of one :)

Using 340 watts m-2 the weight gain is 26 kg or 43%.

Another bit of Tisdale Trickery

Bob decides to trick his readers some more.  He writes:
Let's return to the illustration from the paper by Stevens and others and we'll zoom in on the bottom line. Note the uncertainty is a +/-17 watts per square meter.  We've been told the carbon dioxide from man-made emissions has been accumulating for decades and centuries and it has created an energy imbalance of six-tenths of one watt per square meter. But the uncertainty is +/-17 watts per square meter.

No, Bob.  You're trying to trick us.  That's only the uncertainty at the surface and has to be read in conjunction with the uncertainties relating to all the components at the surface - the various short and long wave fluxes.  The uncertainty relating to how much the net radiative imbalance for the system as a whole is shown at the top of Figure 1 above.  It is only +/-0.4 watts m-2.

Allowing for uncertainty, the radiative imbalance is between 0.2 and 1 watt m-2.  And given the danger if it is at the upper end of the range, that's the one to watch.  (If you repeated the weight gain analogy for the equivalent of 1 watt m-2, you'd have doubled your weight by the time you reached 90 years of age.)

Null Hypothesis: Fail using test 1 (indifference to facts), test 2 (sloppiness) and test 7 (misrepresentation).

And what's that about "accumulating for decades and centuries"?  Energy has been accumulating in any quantity for around a century at most, not multiples of centuries.  Look at the ocean heat content chart for example. The heat started ramping up in earnest in the 1970s.

Data Source: NODC NOAA

Or look at ocean heat, sea level, surface temperature and melting ice.  The surface temperature chart is the longest and it shows the earth warming since around the turn of the twentieth century.

Data sources: NODC NOAA, NASA GISS, PIOMAS, U Colorado

Bob had the cheek to say:
In other words the radiative imbalance might exist or it might not.
Oh yeah?  Just look at the charts above and tell us how, by every measurable parameter, surface temperature, ocean heat content, sea ice and sea level - the earth is warming and yet Bob says a radiative imbalance might not exist?  What other possible explanation could he offer to explain the sudden rapid accumulation of energy?  Hobgoblins?

Bob's hypothesis is that there might or might not be a radiative imbalance.

Null Hypothesis: Fail using test 1 (indifference to facts), test 3 (implausible hypothesis), test 4 (indifferent to criteria of valid evidence), test 5 (no meaningful test), test 7 (misrepresentation).

Bob redefines "hypothesis"

To prove he does pseudo-science not real science, Bob finishes with this gem:
Keep in mind that human-induced global warming is only a hypothesis. Hypothesis is a fancy word for a premise, a supposition, an assumption.
A hypothesis could at a pinch be described as a premise or a supposition.  Under no stretch of the imagination could it be equated with an assumption.

And human-induced global warming isn't a hypothesis nor is it a theory.  It's a plain, unadulterated fact.  We are heating up the earth.

The greenhouse effect can be described as a scientific theory.  A scientific theory is as close to a "fact" as you'll get in science.  It's an explanation of how the universe works.  Climate science is grounded in numerous scientific theories.

Null Hypothesis: Fail using a variation of test 6 (inventing vocabulary - redefining terminology)

Rejecting the Null Hypothesis

The null hypothesis that that Bob Tisdale does not practice pseudo-science is rejected.

The null hypothesis has failed numerous times.  And there is more.  At the end of the video Bob puts up an image of his pseudo-science books that he's got for sale.  In these books he advances fantastic theories (the earth is warmed by the oceans, not greenhouse gases), thereby failing the test 9 as well as the final test 10 above:
The pseudo-scientist generally earns some or all of his living by selling questionable products (such as books, courses, and dietary supplements) and/or pseudoscientific services (such as horoscopes, character readings, spirit messages, and predictions)

Null hypothesis fail: In total, the null hypothesis has failed 10 of the 10 tests (or 9½ out of ten if you want to be picky about test 6).

The evidence suggests that Bob Tisdale does indeed practice pseudo-science.

From the WUWT comments

Here are some of the comments to Bob's article (archived here). Most WUWT visitors are fake sceptics of one sort or another.  As such they love pseudo-science, which is why they flock to WUWT.

Anthony Watts pops in to give his imprimatur to pseudo-science and thank him for maintaining WUWT's low reputation and says:
November 27, 2013 at 8:33 am
Thanks Bob, nicely done.

Rhoda R is one of many willing fake sceptics to buy Bob Tisdale's pseudo-science and says:
November 27, 2013 at 11:46 am
EXCELLENT video Mr. Tisdale. I love the real kicker at the end – where the uncertainty is something like 30 times higher that the ‘imbalance’.

James Strom commits the logical fallacy of personal incredulity when he says:
November 27, 2013 at 7:24 am
Like many others, I suppose, I doubt that we can measure the actual energy flows with the degree of accuracy implied by the 0.6 figure. However, if we take the warming over a long period, such as the 20th century, assume that it’s all due to an energy imbalance, and convert it to watts/m^2, how close is the result to SkS’s bombs-per-second figure? 
Snotrocket doesn't like the video and says:
November 27, 2013 at 7:25 am
I’m sorry Anthony. I’ve read much about this ridiculous metric and really want realists to succeed in defeating the lies beneath it’s scary cloak. However, I gave up on the video because the voice-over was so amateur and of such a depressing tone [sigh].
For a start, it seemed to me that the narrator had not rehearsed the script too well, stumbling at critical moments and so changing the emphasis (say) of what he was trying to get across. It would have helped if you’d had auditions for the voice-over. Remember, it needs to be slicker than Gore (which, I guess, sounds like a measure of some kind of slimy viscosity: sorry.)

Bob Tisdale talks about lack of understanding but in the process shows that it's he who doesn't understand simple science.  He doesn't understand the difference between the energy balance for the earth system as a whole and the energy flux at earth's surface when he shouts (excerpt):
November 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm
Sisi says: “Do you realise that the radiative imbalance of the earth system has nothing to do with an energy imbalance at the surface?
Really? Are your sure, Sisi? What is plainly obvious (and easy for me and everyone else reading this thread to realize) is that you haven’t bothered to try to read the paper I presented as reference. The second sentence in the abstract reads (my caps): “As a result, the GLOBAL BALANCE OF ENERGY FLUXES within the atmosphere or AT THE EARTH’S SURFACE cannot be derived directly from measured fluxes, and is therefore uncertain.”
That was immediately before the sentence that quoted for you earlier.
Seems to me that (1) you don’t understand the topic at hand or (2) you’re making up stuff as you’re going along or (3) both of the above.

rogerknights gives a backhanded compliment and says:
November 27, 2013 at 4:37 pm
I like Bob’s easy-going, thorough style of presentation. It’s lack of slickness is a benefit.

Sensorman says he wants some real science, not pseudo-science (I don't think he knows what he is asking. MinutePhysics would demolish Bob Tisdale's disinformation):
November 28, 2013 at 5:32 am
would love to see this video redone by MinutePhysics!

Stephens, G. L., Li, J., Wild, M., Clayson, C. A., Loeb, N., Kato, S., ... & Andrews, T. (2012). An update on Earth's energy balance in light of the latest global observations. Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo1580


  1. and of course the youtube video doesn't allow comments

    why are these deniers such cowards?

  2. Thanks for that rigorous analysis, Sou!


  3. Thanks for the mention. :)

    It was indeed a surprise that the Hiroshima bomb comparison is used on his website. And without any indication from Watts that he disapproves of the usage of the comparison.

    I have to admit that I didn't notice the error that Tisdale was using the wrong uncertainty range. I did notice he was making a few statements that aren't that easy to defend about uncertainty ranges, but the incorrect usage slipped past me during the first quick reading that I did.

    1. Yours was a terrific article, Collin. I'd not noticed before that Anthony has used Hiroshima himself in his articles - without blinking.

  4. "I don't think he knows what he is asking. MinutePhysics would demolish Bob Tisdale's disinformation"

    empirical evidence suggests that Sensorman probably wouldn't like MinutePhysics' take on the subject...

  5. Sou,

    I think you have to compare 0.6 watts with 340 watts, not 240 watts. Otherwise great write-up!


    1. I wondered about that myself, Sisi. The reason I settled on 240 was because greenhouse gases are what's causing the imbalance and that's the LW radiation. So I netted the SW.

      I took it that the reflected SW radiation is from albedo and, although that will change as the ice melts and clouds change, it's not the same as the inhibition of LW leaving the surface caused by the extra GHGs. Which is why things are out of kilter now.

    2. At the top of the atmosphere 340.2 is coming in, 339.7 is going out. That means energy imbalance of 0.6 (probably some rounding issue somewhere). This is the basic calculation of the earth energy budget. When considering Hiroshima numbers, one should compare with those numbers to find out if the 4 Hiros per second make sense (whatever one's opinion on using Hiro's). I don't think it has anything to do with radiation being LW or SW or greenhouse gasses, ice melts, cloud changes or whatever basically.


    3. I think there's an argument for both approaches. (I wasn't discussing the Hiros, which unlike my analogy, only rely on the difference not the amounts of ins and outs in any case.)

    4. Hmm..I've thought it through using diet and digestion as an analogy and now accept that you are correct, Sisi :) Thanks. I've updated the post accordingly.

    5. I know you were not discussing Hiros. But Bob was, and that was the reason I tried to highlight his glaring error on WUWT.

      Anyway, you provide a fine example why I trust one side of the 'debate' more than the other. You are willing to acknowledge that you may have been wrong. If only Bob would be that gracious...


  6. I've just watched Bob's video. Firstly, I've no idea why he thinks the atmosphere is not part of our climate system. What's of interest is the TOA imbalance, not the surface one. However, what's always confused me (and I'm hoping someone here can help) is why the uncertainty in the surface imbalance is so large. Is that because of variability (i.e., the surface clearly warms faster than expected at times and slower than expected at times - as now) or is it something else?

    1. I can't help you out much, Wotts. Or no more than the paper itself.

      The paper discusses a number of factors, including precipitation, aerosols and many others. I expect it's because there are so many things that need to be taken into account at the surface and between the surface and atmosphere and lots of different surfaces, too :) (Land, ocean, vegetation, ice and snow plus the variation within and under etc).

      The top of atmosphere is a much cleaner "surface". The paper says that most of the uncertainty at the TOA is instrumentation. On the surface I expect it's all sorts of things.

    2. Yes, my understanding of the TOA was that it was mostly instrumental. In fact, I believe that they only get an error 0.4 W/m^2 by constraining it using the ocean heat content data. I had assumed that the uncertainty in the surface flux was related to the surface warming at different rates at different times. Hence, it's not instrumental but reflects real variability. Someone once indicated that that wasn't correct, but I haven't yet had a good explanation for where this uncertainty comes from.

  7. Tisdale is an amateur with no apparent scientific knowledge base or aptitude for quantitative thought. As such, he doesn't bother me all that greatly (ref. Hanlon's Razor).

    Note the contrast with Curry and Lindzen. Not knowing what you're talking about isn't culpable. Deliberately and knowingly attempting to deceive is.

  8. I notice on your site Sou that to put up a post one needs to decipher a few wobbly characters. If a random mathematical or scientific question was used e.g. solve a simple differential equation or integrate a simple function. If wuwt used this they would never get a post from the peanut gallery. My background is in Physics and Molecular Biology (retired) and I still do not fully understand all the current knowledge on climate science even after reading all I could access. The nuances like most of science are counter intuitive. Bert from Eltham

  9. Sou further to my last post (Bert) I have been following your blog for some time and found it enlightening as to what passes for comment at wuwt. I can no longer stomach the place as it only adds to Anthony's hit count.

    What I find even more remarkable is your meticulously accurate dissection of the carcase that passes for a live discussion at wuwt.

    I am still learning. Bert from Eltham (Aus)


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