Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Alec Rawls uncovers an Eemian climate conspiracy @wattsupwiththat

An infrequent guest at Anthony Watts climate conspiracy blog is a bloke called Alec Rawls. He's a climate conspiracy theorist and, going by his articles, he's quite possibly a general conspiracy theorist too. He sees nefarious intent in every bit of science.

Muddled denier thinking

If you've ever visited a denier blog (like WUWT), one thing you may have noticed is that some science deniers call on science to prove that the science they call on is "wrong". Yes, if that's confusing so are deniers. Conspiracy theorising science deniers will often do the same thing. They'll say that the scientists are hiding something, then "prove" it by referring to science, showing that scientists do in fact say what they claim scientists do not say.

Still confused?

Here's an example from WUWT. Alec Rawls is claiming that scientists are hiding the fact that it was warm in much of the world during the Eemian. To support his claim he refers to science that states that it was warm in much of the world during the Eemian. In fact, virtually every scientific paper about the climate of the Eemian shows that it was warm in much of the world during the Eemian.

It's a conspiracy - "they" didn't say it was warmer

In yesterday's WUWT article (archived here), Alec reckons that PBS (a television channel in the USA) is in on the climate hoax with makers of a television series about early humans, going back 200,000 years or so. So are the authors of a paper in PLOS One.

What is this hoax that all these players are inflicting on the ignorant masses who watch PBS documentaries? Apparently they didn't tell anyone that it was warm during the Eemian. I'll let Alec tell why they didn't:
Like the dog that didn’t bark in Conan Doyle’s Silver Blaze, a warming-alarm-dog will never bark at its master, or its paymaster. There is a lot of funding available for academic experts on climate-driven human migrations. So says the primary climate change funding guide. ...
...But that funding is only available to those who toe the “consensus” line that human activity is causing dangerous amounts of global warming. Telling the world that mankind’s big climate break came when global temperatures were several degrees higher than today would needlessly put a paleoanthropologist’s academic and television career at risk.
Much wiser to just leave that inconvenient truth out, and who wants to give ammunition to those nasty science deniers anyway? They’ll just spread the truth to even more people.

That's classic conspiracy thinking: "something must be wrong" combined with "nefarious intent". Alec doesn't go into much detail of just how he knows for sure that it was warm during the Eemian. Could it be that he read some science from climate scientists? How could that be since he also simultaneously believes that climate scientists are hiding the "truth" from him and other deniers? Believing two contradictory things at the same time is one of the marks of a conspiracy theorist.

I'll point out that the paper Alec complains doesn't mention high temperatures is not about global surface temperature, it's about water flows in the region of the Sahara and human migration. Tom J. Coulthard and colleagues were testing "the hypothesis that under wetter climates c.100,000 years ago major river systems ran north across the Sahara to the Mediterranean, creating viable migration routes."

The Eemian warm period

Alec let on that he found a press release about a 2013 paper by Dahl-Jensen and co, about an ice core from the NEEM site in Greenland, so obviously not all scientists are sticking to his script and neither are all funding bodies, or the work would never have been done.  That paper is discussed by Eric Steig at realclimate.org (more evidence that scientists don't hide the data) and provided some important insights into the behaviour of the Greenland ice sheet (and sea level) during the Eemian.

What if Alec had read other scientific papers? Well, there is a GRL paper by Henning A. Bauch and co from 2012, which would have suited. The press release about it demonstrates that not all scientists who study the Eemian can't get research funds:
An epoch which is often regarded suitable for such an undertaking is the Eemian warm period, which began around 125,000 years ago following the Saalian ice age. For about 10,000 years, average temperatures on Earth in the Eemian were rather enhanced -- probably several degrees above today's level. This seems to be well documented in both ice cores as well as terrestrial records from land vegetation. Substantial parts of the Greenland ice had melted, and global sea level was higher than today.

Incidentally, that 2012 paper (Bauch et al) points to differences between the Eemian and the Holocene in northern waters. The Arctic seas were warm, as expected, during the Eemian, but the Nordic seas were comparatively cold.

There is a new paper by Karin Helmens et al in Quaternary Science Reviews, which indicates climate instability in the Eemian, suggesting it could happen again. It also shows that not all scientists who study the Eemian can't get funding. From sciencedaily.com:
The investigated time interval, called the Eemian, occurred before the last Ice Age and was characterized by warmer-than-present temperatures in large parts of the globe. The Eemian climate evolution can therefore serve as an analogue for a future warmer climate.
The study of fossil remains, such as plants and insects, preserved in geological deposits in northern Finland revealed an abrupt climatic cooling event that happened in an otherwise warmer climate. During this event the temperatures dropped 2-4°C and remained low for a period of 500-1000 years. Comparison with seafloor sediment records from the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic indicates that the rapid cooling was associated with a sudden slowdown in North Atlantic deep water formation and a reduction in the northward extension of the Gulf Stream that transports heat to northern Europe.
The new evidence shows that the last time when temperatures were significantly warmer than today, climate instability occurred.
"This may have been caused by melt water coming from the Greenland Ice Sheet, disrupting the North Atlantic Ocean circulation. While the exact mechanism behind the sudden cooling still remains uncertain, the study illustrates the potential for major climatic instability in and around the North Atlantic regionunder future global warming," says Karin Helmens at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University. 

Denier memes

The odd thing about conspiracy theorists like Alec Rawls is that in trying to prove the scientists are wrong they refer to science, which shows the scientists are right.  Deniers can't avoid this dilemma. If they are to prove the science is wrong, they have to go to science. In doing so their argument that scientists are hiding something falls apart. The same science can't be both right and wrong at the same time. It can't be both hiding stuff and publishing it at the same time. The one consistency of conspiracy theorists is that they are consistently inconsistent.

The underlying logical fallacy is that if something caused warming in the past then that very same thing must be causing warming now. Or the converse - if warming now is caused by an accumulation of greenhouse gases, then how could something else be attributed to warming in the past. In the mind of deniers there can only ever be one same cause for every same effect, which is nonsense.

From the WUWT comments

MikeB pulls the rug from under Alec's gripe that scientists are hiding a warm Eemian:
July 6, 2015 at 5:16 am (excerpt)
It is generally acknowledged that the previous interglacial, the Eemian, was warmer than today. Even the IPCC admits that in its Arctic Impact Assessment Report (2005)

gymnosperm writes about CO2:
July 6, 2015 at 7:21 am
Careful, CO2 is much higher today than than the Emian. This is actually the one compelling argument that the atmospheric increase is substantially human. 

mebbe points out that water is often a limiting factor to plant growth:
July 6, 2015 at 11:43 am
I bet you can’t find 3,000 publications that say CO2 turns brown areas green. Water does that.
CO2 makes green stuff bigger. 

Bruce Cobb gasps and writes that the tv show and paper, about something quite different, didn't talk about the cause of the warm Eemian (being largely attributed to orbital forcing):
July 6, 2015 at 6:24 am
Amazingly, they also managed not to mention the trumpeting elephant that CO2 levels were apparently much lower (around 280 ppm) then meaning, gasp, that something else caused temperatures to surpass current warming by several degrees. The bonus elephant being that today, we have the best of both worlds; a period of relative warmth (not quite equal to the MWP, but we’ll take it) in addition to an increase in CO2, which is in large part responsible for a greening planet. 

Gary Pearse decides that not talking about global surface temperature in a paper about localised hydrology is "egregious":
July 6, 2015 at 8:50 am
In the archeology paper, is there a corresponding author who can be emailed for answers or can one write to the journal with a criticism that the temperature conditions in the Eemian should have been mentioned in such a scientific paper – such an omission is egregious.

This comment by Ferdinand Engelbeen includes a typical climate conspiracy theory, that scientists will not just distort facts but will deliberately delete them from the record. Yet it's scientists that teach deniers what little deniers know about climate. (Ferdinand is sometimes mistaken for a normal person at WUWT. I expect he's just reasserting his conspiracy theorising denier credentials.)
July 6, 2015 at 2:35 pm
Thanks tty,
Always nice to see that someone has better information than Wiki… Even so it is quite a miracle that the Wiki article was already admitting that it was (at least partly) warmer than now and wasn’t “corrected” by William Connolley…

Adam strayed onto WUWT, maybe mistaking it (briefly) for a climate blog. Looks as if he is waking up to the fact that it's a denier's blog for conspiracy nutters:
July 6, 2015 at 3:17 pm
This article fails on many levels. As any good researcher will tell you, you have to look in the past to understand the future! The issue today is: Accelerated global warming/climate change as a result of the increased use of unsustainable fossil fuels and the destruction of the very thing that mitigates poor air quality at alarming rates.
I’m not sure who funds this article but in my honest opinion it is a poor reflection on the main issues facing biodiversity on the blue planet.

References and further reading

Tom J. Coulthard, Jorge A. Ramirez, Nick Barton, Mike Rogerson, Tim Brücher. "Were Rivers Flowing across the Sahara During the Last Interglacial? Implications for Human Migration through Africa." PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e74834 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074834 (open access)

Henning A. Bauch, Evguenia S. Kandiano, Jan P. Helmke. "Contrasting ocean changes between the subpolar and polar North Atlantic during the past 135 ka." Geophysical Research Letters, 2012; 39 (11) DOI: 10.1029/2012GL051800 (open access)

D. Dahl-Jensen et al, "Eemian interglacial reconstructed from a Greenland folded ice core", Nature, vol. 493, pp. 489-494, 2013. doi:10.1038/nature11789

Karin F. Helmens, J. Sakari Salonen, Anna Plikk, Stefan Engels, Minna Väliranta, Malin Kylander, Jo Brendryen, Hans Renssen. "Major Cooling Intersecting Peak Eemian Interglacial Warmth in Northern Europe." Quaternary Science Reviews, June 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.05.018

From HotWhopper archives


  1. Next Mr Rawls will claim doctors in their journals never ever mention that heart failure leads to death.

    Rawls' rant is a perfect example of why Science is best left to Scientists. Clearly, what is 'bloody obvious' to experts in any field may come as a great surprise to a Dunning-Krüger suffering self-taught 'expert with a blog'.

  2. I assume you do realise that Rawls is a proper, certifiable conspiracy nut of the very highest order?

    "Not just a mosque, but a terrorist memorial mosque."


    See also


    1. Thanks. I knew he promoted wacky climate conspiracy theories. So I was right that it's not just climate conspiracies - he's a generalist rather than a specialist :)

    2. As well as a nutcase, Rawls appears to be a thoroughly unpleasant individual.

      “When members of the Families of Flight 93 began receiving letters and phone calls from Mr. Rawls at their private residences in 2006, they were deeply disturbed, if not angry, over his efforts to invade their privacy”


  3. "...But that funding is only available to those who toe the “consensus” line "

    This is the sort of bullshit that really ticks me off. Where is the evidence that funding in any scientific field is given only to those "who toe the “consensus” line "? That has never been my experience on any grant review committee. A grant application that proposes to re-examine what has already been done stands little chance of success in today's funding environment unless the proposed hypothesis conflicts with established dogma.

    1. The evidence is that so much of the science indicates what he KNOWS to be untrue, that AGW is real and CO2 is the culprit. How else could they all come to that conclusion?

    2. I find it amazing that a grant review committee can predict the outcome of research before it is completed in order to deny the funding because the results aren't going to conform to the consensus.


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