Saturday, January 17, 2015

Heat-addled brains and a competition: Judith Curry vs Phil Plait

Sou | 4:56 PM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment

It shouldn't surprise anyone. It happens every time there's a hottest year on record. Deniers go barmy. Crazy, Round the twist. Barking mad. The heat addles their brains.

One person that may surprise, though, is Judith Curry. It won't be news to you that she's been behaving more and more like a science disinformer/denier. You know that already. No what is surprising is just how far into denial she's sunk and how far she's moved away from science of late.

You may have noticed Judith's decline over the years. It hasn't happened smoothly. It coincided with her all but ceasing scientific research. Apart from adding her name to the papers from other people, she's published almost no scientific papers as lead author. There have only been one or two - except for what she might describe as philosophical papers. (Others would more accurately describe her ramblings as pseudo-philosophy.)

Judith's decline has been in fits and starts. She'll have a sudden burst of frenzied denial (like endorsing the Wegman atrocity, at Keith Kloor's place) then wander around on a steady plateau for a bit. Then she'll take another sharp drop down further into the denial abyss. Even admitting it, saying she's a 7/10 on a scale of denialism.  (Actually, she said she'd dropped to a 3/10 on a scale of "sceptical" science IIRC, which on a bipolar scale is the same thing.)

Judith's decline has been a bit like surface temperature in that way, but in the opposite direction. A hiatus followed by a sharp drop into denialism.

After her incomprehensible foray a couple of days ago, claiming that falsely alleging fraud isn't defamatory, and touting her commitment to free speech, she has now gone back to selective censoring on her blog. Which is fine with me. The more pro-science types she gets rid of, the nuttier her blog appears.

Today she's parroting denialist memes of the day. I mean she can't even think for herself any longer.

Models, models...

First, here is what she allowed to be published by Jason Samenow of the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. It stands out like a sore thumb among the comments from other people, many of whom are still practicing science. She said:
“With 2014 essentially tied with 2005 and 2010 for hottest year, this implies that there has been essentially no trend in warming over the past decade. This ‘almost’ record year does not help the growing discrepancy between the climate model projections and the surface temperature observations.”

Judith fails arithmetic with that one, doesn't she. At least this time (for a change) she's not claiming "it's cooling". I wonder how much it would have helped her discrepancy if last year had been the coldest on record?

You might be interested to compare Judith's denial with what has actually happened to global surface temperatures over Judith's "past decade". It sure doesn't look like "no trend in warming" to me!

Data Source: NASA

B..b..but it was almost an El Niño year

Here's another one from Judith's own blog, this time (archived here). It's a strawman. She wrote, after saying there was an almost El Niño:
So, is it El Niño? Not quite, according to some conventional indices, but a broader physical definition might be needed to capture the different flavors of El Nino.  A number of scientists are calling for modernizing the ENSO identification system. So I’m not sure how this event might eventually be identified, but for many practical purposes (i.e. weather forecasting), this event is behaving in many ways like an El Nino.
What does this mean for interpreting the ‘almost warmest year’?  Well not much; I think it is erroneous to infer that ‘it must be AGW since 2014 wasn’t even an El Nino year’ is useful reasoning here.

Two things. It wasn't an "almost warmest year", it was the warmest year. No almost about it. Secondly, even had there been a full blown El Niño, if not for global warming then there's no reason to think it would have been a "warmest year". She's wrong if she thinks El Niños are causing global warming. ENSO and other internal variations happen on top of global warming. Here, let me show you what I mean with a chart I did a while ago. The El Nino years are red and the La Nina years are blue. You can see that each ENSO event of the same type is hotter than the one before, with the exception of the year after Pinatubo (which caused temporary cooling). That's because ENSO events are happening against the backdrop of increasing temperatures - not because they are causing global warming.

Data Sources: NASA and WMO


Judith seems to have swung away from her protégé's stadium wave. I haven't seen her mention it in a while now - although I'm not a regular reader of her particular brand of denialism. Anyway, this time she's being led by the nose down denier paths that have signposts pointing "models" and "pause". It's the same path that Perennially Puzzled Bob Tisdale walks.

Judith doesn't bother with niceties like the fact that climate models didn't include observed forcings after 2006. Therefore they didn't factor in less incoming solar radiation, or the increase in volcanic aerosols. Nor small details like the fact that the oceans have been shoring up a lot of heat and releasing very little. Nor the fact that the ice hasn't stopped melting, seas haven't stopped rising etc etc. She's behaving like a dumb denier of the WUWT kind.

If you doubt me, take a look at how she hitches onto to the coattails of some denier politician, Ted Cruz from the USA (where denier politicians are a dime a dozen). Ted Cruz is reported to have said:
The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that—that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn't happened. 

Now you and I know that is just plain dumb. Look at what's been happening over the past fifteen years - and this is just surface temperature:

Data Source: NASA

What the heck is the "lower atmosphere surface"?

Anyway, Judith decides to re-interpret what Ted Cruz said in her own unique way and then make a false allegation of her own - tit for tat style in the manner of deniers. All bluster no substance. She wrote:
So, what is wrong with Cruz’s statement?  Well, assuming that by ‘recorded warming’, he means the satellite-derived lower atmospheric surface temperatures his statement is absolutely correct.  If he is referring to globally averaged surface temperatures since 2000, there is only a very small amount of warming; this small amount of warming is indeed contrary to the theory of AGW

Why would he mean the "satellite-derived lower atmosphere surface temperatures"? And what the heck are the "satellite-derived lower atmosphere surface temperatures" anyway?

If Judith is talking about the lower troposphere temperatures, then they aren't surface temperatures, they are measuring the temperature in a band up to around 3km above the surface.  In any case, let's see what's happened at the surface and up in the lower troposphere:

Data Sources: NASA and UAH and RSS

The "theory of AGW" - seriously?

One thing that will pop out at you is that Judith Curry, a past climate scientist (and still being paid as one) - has written the words: the theory of AGW!

What "theory of AGW" would that be? Is there a "theory of AGW" that is somehow unique and distinct from any theories underpinning climate science in general? I'm familiar with some of the theories associated with the greenhouse effect for example. But a "theory of AGW" is not something I'd have expected a climate scientist to write.  (Then again, Judith did write about the lower atmosphere surface!)

I figure it's part of the disinformer's push to make it seem as if there is some theory of climate unique to human-caused global warming. Thing is, whether it was us using the air as a rubbish dump for waste CO2, or whether all the volcanoes in the world started belching CO2 to the air - the result would be the same. Global warming caused by an increase in greenhouse gases.

It's not contrary - and only warmed a little bit?  duh!

Next, of course, is her repetition of "very small amount of warming", and "this small amount of warming" and "is indeed contrary" to what she calls a "theory of AGW". Well, no it isn't. She's supposed to be a scientist who knows about climate. Doesn't she know that surface temperature can go up and down in the short term while the long term trend is up? Doesn't she know that the oceans are absorbing more than 90% of the extra heat? Doesn't she know that sometimes the air and land surfaces warm faster and sometimes they warm more slowly? Has she read nothing but denier blogs these past several years?

In keeping with the denier motto: "allege but don't explain", Judith alleged that Phil Plait made more incorrect statements than Ted Cruz did:
Bottom line:  There is nothing irrational or particularly incorrect about Senator Cruz’s statement.  Phil Plait (Bad Astronomer) who wrote the Slate piece made more incorrect statements than did Cruz.

Competition: Judith Curry vs Phil Plait

Here's a competition for you, in two parts. Read the article by Phil Plait at Slate and then say:
  1. What if anything did Phil Plait write that was an incorrect statement and why?
  2. What statement of Phil Plait's would Judith Curry claim was incorrect, and why?  


  1. Early onset is my best guess.

  2. I've found something. Plait writes:

    "Yes, the Earth has warmed over the past 15 years, and the science is incredibly, unequivocally clear about that."

    1.Plait's use of 'incredibly' as a modifier of 'unequivocally' is redundant and inelegant.

    2. Judith LowAtmosSurface Curry would be offended because she treasures elegance.

    Do I win Sou?

    1. No, because the comma makes incredibly a modifier of clear, not of unequivocally?

  3. "satellite-derived lower atmospheric surface temperatures"

    I think the deniers are catching on that the satellites don't measure the surface temperatures, but they are now redefining what 'surface' is. The surface now includes the atmosphere AND the surface.

    So we all know that the lower troposphere and the surface is not an apples for apples comparison, so lets now also redefine what an orange is. An orange is now a oranple. So now you can compare an apple with an oranple, So for instance, the price of apples might have risen sharply, and the price of oranges (sorry, oranple's) has remained stable, the price of apples HASN'T risen, as the price of oranples hasn't That's denier logic for you. (I know, it's really confusing and muddled isn't it, but then again, when has denier logic ever made actual sense)

    1. My lecturers in Physics always emphasised that definitions of words terms and units were not interchangeable but defined so we were all on the same page.These denialists just make it up as they go along. Not only do they cherry pick data but now they redefine terminology. Now the surface is up in the stratosphere and it will not be long before water is redefined as ice as it it close to freezing! Bert

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  5. Thank you for publishing this, Sou. As you know I had commented on Curry's latest effort in your previous post, but I must admit I had failed to spot this lower atmosphere surface howler. Likewise I also thought that she had deleted a cartoon posted by one of her acolytes of a naked Mike Mann with wads of paper money shoved into his anus: I was wrong and it's still there forming part of a grotesque "je suis Charlie" exercise that Curry and friends decided to stage in solidarity with those who have defamed Mike Mann.

    I would say that, as someone who attended the Lisbon meeting at which Curry and various "skeptics" were present back in in 2011, I would dispute some of your version of the history of Curry's decline. However, maybe all this is irrelevant in the light of how severe this decline now is.

    1. Thanks, Bill. I only went by what she did - back in whenever at Keith Kloor's blog and realclimate (and climateprogress articles). It was an eyeopener to me. I recall being very surprised that a senior climate scientist would say the things she said and behave the way she did back then. It was not pretty. I'd not come across Judith before that, so what I've observed is most likely not the whole picture.

  6. I think the public expects a moderately complex "theory of AGW" and it's okay to use it as a framework for discussing what's going on. It's then interesting to see what some people leave out of it. Some don't include radiative physics because they want to rely on correlations (the "hasn't warmed for X years (using RSS)" crowd). Others ignore that it is a *planetary* heat budget, i.e., oceans and land surface matter. But a good "theory of AGW" is a good start to discussions with Joe and Jane Public.

    I also don't think "hasn't published as first author for a while" is a useful meme. Senior effective scientists often get to this point, motivating a good group of younger scientists. It doesn't mean that the senior scientist has run out of ideas. Sometimes it is the opposite; too many ideas for the time.

    None of this is to defend Dr Curry. Her behavior towards other climate scientists is disgusting.

  7. So the 'pause' seems to have moved from 1998+ to 2005+. Have the deniers explained to us all how it warmed from 1998 to 2005 when this - they were telling us - was a period of no warming?

  8. Judith Curry likely does not know physics all that well. As an example, in her latest textbook on clouds, she claims that cloud nucleation dynamics, both for water droplets and ice crystals, is governed by Bose-Einstein statistics. For anybody that understands statistical mechanics in physics, this is a howler of immense proportions. One usually doesn't make this kind of mistake as it doesn't pass any kind of elementary sanity check. Bose-Eistein statistics only applies at very low absolute temperatures, which is well below the temperatures that occur under the atmospheric conditions that cloud droplets and ice crystals nucleate.

    Of course when confronted with this information, Curry put up defenses that involved creating blog posts and getting her denizens to rally behind her and attack the physics. That is typical denier mode -- to attack the science and physics.

    The problem is that never works because physics always wins out.

    1. I mentioned this issue to my husband. Luckily he was already in a lounge chair, otherwise he might have lost his balance. I wasn't really on top of it from what you'd said, I understood about the temperature, but not the subject matter.

      What I hadn't gathered was that it's much more specific than that. It applies only to bosons. Bosons! Bosons??!!!?

      Judy didn't even need to ask a physicist. It's all quite plain (for her purposes) from the wiki entry. Totally irrelevant if you're dealing with the very ordinary material world of atoms and molecules. Nothing at all to do with her topics.

      Howler is right.

    2. My modern physics days are far behind me, but IIRC, at Judy's place they didn't just try to attack the science, they launched an all out attack on you personally, WHT. Which is more typical of deniers. (One of them even tried to carry the attack over to HW.)

  9. 'The theory of AGW', That just has to be one that will weigh her down from now on, it is on a par with one of the ignorati at Climate Progress who insists on repeating that 'the climate model theory' is broken or other words to that effect.

    This curious character also claims that Florida, where he lives near one of those waterways at a guess from other words he has used, real estate prices are on the up.

    1. Sounds like someone who's selling his house.

      Whenever I hear of Florida real estate I'm reminded of


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