Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Anatomy of Tim Ball's conspiratorial pseudo-science at WUWT

Sou | 3:50 AM Go to the first of 17 comments. Add a comment
I'm perpetually puzzled by Anthony Watts who at time shows signs that he yearns for respectability, giving voice to Tim Ball, who is by any benchmark an utter nutter loon and conspiracy freak.

Tim Ball in almost every article shows he hasn't left the 1970s. Today he's barely entered it. In the manner of religious fundamentalists, Tim doesn't accept any scientific knowledge that was developed after 1970, and he doesn't accept most science that was developed before then either. He makes up his own from fragments of books written by people he took a fancy to up until he was in his early 30s. (Tim was born in November 1938. Any science done after 1970 doesn't exist in Tim's mind, and most done before 1970 is wrong - in Tim's mind.) Like Peter Pan Tim didn't grow up. He exists in a dark fantasy of his own creation where ogres roam. Tim's ogres include Maurice Strong, an oil industrialist who was Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in the early 1970s, and was the first executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. If there is one type of person that Tim can't abide (apart from Jews and scientists), it is anyone who thinks it's important to protect our natural world. The list of ogres who roam Tim's nightmares is too long to list here but it includes climate scientists Tom Wigley, Michael Mann, and Andrew Weaver. Tim's heroes include Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden.

I found today's article (archived here) so unreal that for a moment there I imagined that Tim Ball himself was nothing but a fantastic creation of someone with a warped sense of humour. I briefly wondered if anyone had seen Tim's birth certificate? Did he really exist? Is his supposed son David Ball (who pops up at WUWT when Tim does) real or just a persona dreamed up to pretend familial solidarity? I wondered how someone so dissociated from the real world could survive outside of padded walls.

I'm not just wondering, I'm wandering. So let me come back to another question that remains open. What hold does Tim Ball (he really does exist) have over Anthony Watts? Is there some deep dark secret Tim threatens to expose unless Anthony continues to post his lunatic conspiracy theories and weird pseudo-science on his blog day after day, week after week, year after year? Remember Timothy Ball is a grand sky dragon slayer. He doesn't "believe in" the greenhouse effect. He was the author of the first chapter of the Slaying the Sky Dragon book. Anthony Watts when he yearns for respectability makes the point that he does "believe in" the greenhouse effect, though only a little bit. He said so again just a day or so ago in another very strange thread, mostly empty of critical reading. (He also said there are some people crazier than Sou. Who knew!) Incidentally that was in reply to Tim's son David, who indicated he is a greenhouse effect denier just like his dad.

Tim can't tell science from politics

If you want to know what caused my mind to wander about like this, here is some of what Tim Ball wrote this time. He started off saying that practically all climate science of the past 30 years is politics posing as science. His actual words were:
This article examines the entire Holocene and illustrates the history that influenced the studies. There are two distinct parts to the studies, the pre and post Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The former is a genuine scientific struggle with issues of terminology and reconstruction, and the latter a scientific struggle to impose a political perspective regardless of the evidence. Because of the damage done to climatology by the proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), both parts require explanation.

Tim's pseudo-science with a dash of balder

He then went on to make some claims about warming of the late twentieth century. Yes, he got as far as the year 2000 but no further. Even then he got it wrong by getting lost on the summit of an ice sheet in the middle of Greenland. That's despite the fact that an article to which he linked was written in 2007 and was about the temperatures of the early twenty-first century. (It was Steve McIntyre complaining about a paper Dr James Hansen co-authored in 2006, where Steve quoted from a 2004 article at realclimate.org. Scientists figured the Holocene climatic optimum was "probably warmer than today, but only in summer and only in the extratropics of the Northern Hemisphere".)

The science "hoax" goes way back (in Tim's wacked out brain)

In one paragraph Tim Ball showed a rather amazing depth of ignorance (can ignorance be deep?). He wrote:
The problem is human history covers a few million years, and there is no evidence the Pleistocene is ended.
Human history covers a few million years? Really? The first time we humans are thought to have evolved was around 200,000 years ago. I gather from the entire paragraph that Tim doesn't like the the term Holocene, let alone the Anthropocene. The full paragraph, if anyone wants to try to decipher it is (my emphasis):
The term Holocene means most recent and was first suggested by Geologist Charles Lyell whose work influenced Darwin. He anticipated the modern environmental activists because he suggested it marked the human era. The problem is human history covers a few million years, and there is no evidence the Pleistocene is ended. Although Lyell’s claim was unjustified, the idea continues today as some call the Holocene The Age of Man. Regardless, there is no doubt we are in an interglacial but is it just that, and attempts to define shorter periods only part of the political game of blaming humans for all change.
Notice the conspiratorial thinking in his depiction of Charles Lyell and the Holocene. (Another person he has objected to on previous occasions was Charles Darwin.)

Tim continues with his conspiratorial thinking and his wrong claims:
The game continues with the proposal to name the most recent portion of the Holocene the Anthropocene. The definition underscores the politicization of science. However, it requires reassessment because what occurred during the period contradicts the claims for the Anthropocene defined as.

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”

This is false if we accept the IPCC conclusion, the human influence on climate is discernible only after 1950.
That last sentence is wrong. That is not the IPCC conclusion. Of course Tim doesn't quote the IPCC because it would show he was wrong. It is after 1950 that probably all of the warming can be attributed to human activity.  That is not the same as no climate change before 1950 could be attributed to human activity. Some of it was because of us.

Tim refuses reality

Tim continues to weave his fantasy. He wrote:
Weather and climate conditions through the Anthropocene are normal; that is, they are well within the range of all previous weather and climate variations. Despite official and media claims to the contrary, there are no dramatic increases in temperature, precipitation, hurricanes, tornadoes, or any other severe weather. The climate is changing just as it always has and always will, and the rate of change is perfectly normal. Of course, that is not what the government, environmentalists, or the media promote and as a result most of the public believe. The misconception is deliberate and central to the exploitation of global warming and climate change as the vehicle for a political agenda.
He hasn't been noticing the weather around the world these past few weeks, has he, where floods have had disastrous consequences from the USA to China and in between. Nor has he looked at a temperature chart lately:

Figure 1 | Global mean surface temperature anomaly for the 12 months to June each year. The base period is 1951-1980. Data source: GISS NASA

Tim's weird and wacky notions

There's more. As I hinted earlier, Tim got lost in Greenland. He did a Denier Don Easterbrook and faked the 1855 temperature (95 years before 1950) on the summit in Greenland saying it was the temperature today. I mean - sheesh. But there's still more. Tim took the Greenland ice sheet temperature (which only goes to 1855), and pretended it was the average global surface temperature. You'd have thought he would twig that the average temperature of the whole world is more than minus 30 degrees Celsius, wouldn't you. Tim's not very smart. He wrote:
Other important points from Figures 1, 2 and 3 expose the lies and distortions about the last 120 years being anomalous include,
  • Current temperatures are proclaimed as the warmest on record. In fact, the world was warmer than today for 97 percent of the last 10,000 years.
  • The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) just 1000 years ago was 2°C warmer than today. The public is told that a similar warming will be catastrophic.
  • The Minoan warm period approximately 3500 years ago was 4°C warmer than today.
  • We are told the amount and rate of temperature increase in the last 100 years is abnormal. Compare the slope with any of the previous increases in Figure 2.
Where he got the "warmer than today for 97%" from was because his "today" was not far from the low point of the Little Ice Age. It was the temperature from around 1855.

Below is Tim's chart of Greenland temperatures, with my annotations:

Figure 2 | Tim Ball's fantasy of global temperature changes, with HotWhopper annotations. The chart is of surface temperatures at the GISP2 site in central Greenland. Tim's annotations are very wrong. Source: WUWT

Notice the time scale at the bottom of the chart. The zero is actually 1855. He's placed the Little Ice Age around 900 AD instead of 1300 to 1870. He's placed the medieval period at around 400 AD when it should be from around 950 AD to 1250 AD. Not only that, his notion of "present temperature" is way out. For the decade from 2001 t0 2010, the average temperature at the site was -29.9 C, which I've roughly marked as a dashed purple line. The temperature in 2010 was off the chart (way above, that is).

Now don't spoil Tim's fantasy by pointing out to him that Greenland isn't a good proxy for the world as a whole. The chart below is from Marcott13. I've adjusted it to the 1951-1980 baseline and added the recent temperature observations from thermometers around the world (GISTemp). That's the orange line at the left. The 2015 average temperature is the dark line across the top.

Figure 3 | Global mean surface temperature anomaly for the past 11,000 years or so. The base period is 1951-1980. Data sources: Marcott13 and GISS NASA

The temperatures as assessed in Marcott13 are on a coarser scale (not annual). Even so, it would be hard to argue that it was hotter at any time in the past 11,000 years than it has been lately.

About that CO2

I've probably already spent too much time on Tim's pseudo-quackery. There is one more chart he put up that's worth mentioning. It was a chart of atmospheric CO2 changes of the past 11,000 years or so that he said was from EPICA in Antarctica, but probably came from a number of different locations in Antarctica. What he wrote was:
Figure 3 shows the CO2 trend over the Holocene. CO2 rose as temperature declined over the last 8000 years.
Here is a chart showing CO2 going back a little further in time, so you can see how CO2 rose when the earth as a whole warmed (compare with Figure 3 above):

Figure 4 | Atmospheric CO2 of the past 15,000 years from a composite CO2 record. Data source: NOAA

It does look as if CO2 rose by just under 20 ppmv between 6,000 years ago and 2,000 years ago. All that says is that there can be other things that can also affect global surface temperature.

If you're in any doubt about why it's been so hot lately, below is atmospheric CO2 of the past two thousand years.
Figure 4 | Atmospheric CO2 for the past 2,000 years from Mauna Loa from late 1950s and South Pole prior. Data source: Scripps CO2 program

Tim is upset that Milankovitch cycles aren't more prominent in the IPCC reports. The topic is discussed, however the IPCC reports are focused more on what is happening in our time frame. Tim quoted from a WUWT article that quoted from Michael Bender's book, Paleoclimate:
The orientation of Earth’s spin axis has changed over the past 10 Kyr so that northern summers now occur when Earth is farthest from the sun, whereas at 10 Ka [10,000 BP] they occurred when Earth was closest to the sun. Northern summertime insolation reached a maximum at about 10 Ka and has declined to the present, when it is near the minimum
He should have read the book himself, then he might have come across passages like this one (compare it with Figure 4):
There seem to have been two requirements for the  development of agriculture. The first was the development of the necessary level of intelligence. It seems reasonable to speculate that, by about 30 Ka, anatomically  modern humans had evolved the capabilities for the  task. The second was the rise of atmospheric CO2  to the  preindustrial level; this occurred by about 10 Ka. This  change may have been essential for agriculture to become sustainable. The growth of plants can be limited by  the availability of CO2  in the atmosphere. The crop yield  might have allowed farming to compete with hunting  and gathering only when CO2  had risen to preindustrial  levels. Subsequently, advances in agriculture allowed  larger and larger political entities to develop, leading to  the modern world. 

Tim's a bit of a throwback I'd say. He might not have reached the intelligence of men and women of 30,000 years ago going by his WUWT articles.

From the WUWT comments

Nobody seemed to mind that Tim got the dates for the medieval climate anomaly and little ice age so wrong. There were one or two comments criticising some of what he wrote, but in the main the deniers were good little fake sceptics.

lsvalgaard didn't like the explanation of precession from Dr Bender and wrote:
July 31, 2016 at 12:43 pm
The orientation of Earth’s spin axis has changed over the past 10 Kyr so that northern summers now occur when Earth is farthest from the sun
The orientation of the spin axis has nothing to do with the shape of the orbit, so this ‘explanation’ is nonsense.
This is the diagram from the book, which Michael Bender was talking about:

tomwys1 says he might have misunderstood:
July 31, 2016 at 1:12 pm
I think you are misinterpreting the comment. Precession of the equinoxes doesn’t alter the shape of Earth’s orbit. It merely changes the Hemisphere that receives the most Solar insolation in that part of the orbit closest to the sun.

A lot of people joined in the discussion about this quote. I won't bother with that any further.

Pop Piasa noticed that Tim Ball didn't show current CO2 levels:
July 31, 2016 at 1:31 pm
Dr, Ball, Thanks for the great cartoon to add to my wall decoration. I’m concerned that someone might question the CO2 graph though, as it does not appear to reflect the current 400 ppm.

gnomish is exactly the sort of fake sceptic that Anthony Watts is trying to attract:
July 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm
great scholarship and another excellent article.
in an age sorely lacking for real heroes, he is a man who never broke down and never gave up.
i still think there should be a gold coin minted with dr ball on it.
then you could get whatever you wanted if you had the balls.

buckwheaton has all those climate scientists sussed:
July 31, 2016 at 2:52 pm
The constant in climate change is that the remedial solutions that progressives demand all converge on bigger government, less personal liberty and less prosperity. Every action, demand, study and slogan is an excuse to that achieve end goal. 

Tom Dayton has Tim Ball sussed:
July 31, 2016 at 2:55 pm
Tim Ball knows perfectly well that the “Present” he’s marked on the temperature graphs is 1855, not 2016: http://www.skepticalscience.com/10000-years-warmer.htm. He also knows perfectly well that those measurements are from a single spot in Greenland, and therefore not reasonably representative even of the Northern Hemisphere let alone the entire globe:http://www.skepticalscience.com/the-two-epochs-of-marcott.html

Steve McIntyre pontificates and is woefully wrong, as usual - he's another Dunning-Krugerite. For one thing, he declined to mention that 21st century values at the GISP2 site are very much elevated. For another thing he still refuses to read Marcott13, where the authors themselves say that the most recent datapoints are unreliable. Steve doesn't consider the main findings of Marcott13 - the main portion of the Holocene. It doesn't suit his denial:
July 31, 2016 at 3:20 pm
Use of the Cuffey-Clow GISP2 series ought to be discouraged. However, SKS’s account is much worse. While the Cuffey-Clow series ends in 1855, GISP2 d18O data comes to 1987 and does not show elevated late 20th century values. Nor does the limited other d18O data available from Greenland – which is execrably archived.
I agree that one cannot rely on Greenland for a Holocene perspective, but there is convincing evidence of early Holocene warmth in the Southern Hemisphere as well – a topic very poorly discussed by IPCC.
The actual situation is not what SKS portrayed. In particular, the hockey stick portion of Marcott is invalid. Marcott’s work should have been retracted and the failure to do so is highly unethical in my opinion,

Denier Don Easterbrook  is about to publish something or the other. Can hardly wait!
July 31, 2016 at 4:32 pm
Steve, the GISP2 ice core data correlate remarkably well with glacial fluctuations globally and there is excellent correlation with the CET record. Comparison of these is about to be published in the new Elsevier volume with relevant data. These data suggest that your criticism of GISP2 is not well founded.

ulriclyons  offered this up for digestion:
July 31, 2016 at 3:16 pm
Figure 1 shows one reconstruction of the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere derived from Greenland ice cores.”
No it does not, it shows a temperature proxy for Greenland, which is largely in the inverse of the mid latitude temperatures.
The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) just 1000 years ago was 2°C warmer than today. The public is told that a similar warming will be catastrophic.”
The warmest part of the Medieval Warm Period for Europe, was in the 8th century, where the GISP2 proxy is at its second coldest for the Holocene. And of course Greenland temperature changes are larger than for the mid latitudes.
“The Minoan warm period approximately 3500 years ago was 4°C warmer than today.”
Calling that very warm spike on GISP2 at ~1350-1150 BC the Minoan Warm Period, is one of the greatest errors ever made in climate science. The Minoans, as did many other cultures worldwide, expanded and prospered from around 2700 BC, where GISP2 is at its third coldest in the Holocene, their demise along with several other cultures was around centered around 1200 BC. Because that was a very cold-dry period for the mid latitudes, one of the worst through the Holocene.
And I bet there is evidence for a brief warm period in the mid latitudes at the 8.2Kyr event. 

Nick Stokes pointed out that the data Tim used ended in 1855:
July 31, 2016 at 5:09 pm
” Since then it has been bounced around the internet and used by others.”
Yes, misleadingly, as in this post. There is a big arrow saying “Present global warming”. And a green line saying “Present temperature”. But, as Steve McIntyre notes above, and have also many others, the GISP2 data ends in 1855. 

Steve McIntyre chose to disagree, while agreeing with Nick. He seems to be wanting to reassert his denial and his antipathy toward the mildmannered Nick Stokes (and all scientists - he's jealous I think):
July 31, 2016 at 6:34 pm
As too often, Nick Stokes misrepresents what I said and provides incorrect information. It is not true that GISP2 data ends in 1855 or that I “noted this above”. GISP2 data is available until 1987, as I observed. It is ludicrous that Stokes should claim that GISP2 data ends in 1855.
As I actually observed, it is the Cuffey-Clow temperature reconstruction from GISP2 that ends in 1855. The Cuffey-Clow version has been widely used in “skeptic” articles, but there is really no need to use it since isotope data is available to 1987 and use of the Cuffey-Clow version permits cheap responses such as Stokes. 

Nick Stokes didn't let Steve get away with it, which is good:
July 31, 2016 at 7:02 pm
“It is not true that GISP2 data ends in 1855”
I said “the GISP2 data”. The data used in that plot. Which Prof Easterbrook sourced: ” a graph I plotted from data in Cuffy and Clow (1997) and Alley (2000)”. That data ended in 1855, as you said. So that graph is misleading. 

And it's way past my bedtime - so that's enough from me.

References and further reading

Affidavits in Michael Mann Libel Suit Reveal Astonishing Facts … - article by Greg Laden on his blog, February 2014

Andrew Weaver Sues Tim Ball for Libel - article by Richard Littlemore at DesmogBlog, February 2011

Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Ken Lo, David W. Lea, and Martin Medina-Elizade. "Global temperature change." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, no. 39 (2006): 14288-14293.

Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum - article at realclimate.org November 2004

Marcott, Shaun A., Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark, and Alan C. Mix. "A reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years." science 339, no. 6124 (2013): 1198-1201. DOI: 10.1126/science.1228026 (pdf here)

Bender, Michael L.. Paleoclimate (Princeton Primers in Climate). Princeton University Press. 2013. (see here)


  1. "Human history covers a few million years? Really? The first time we humans are thought to have evolved was around 200,000 years ago."

    Oh, a pet peeve of mine. Human history (and there really is no other kind because writing hasn't been practised by other species) covers a few thousand years. Most of our species' time on earth is prehistoric.

    1. Written history of animals that interact with humans covers a few thousand as well!

      But "history" is broader than written history; we talk of the history of the Earth for instance.

    2. We do, but its "the data are" and "the data is" again.

    3. The 'past' is not the same as 'history', although common usage confuses the two.

      But yeah, for me to insist on a pedantic definition of 'history' when Ball is pretending that temperatures on Greenland ice in 1855 are global temperatures in 2016 is rather missing the point.

  2. Ah, that zombie chart rises! Tonight we're going to party like it's... 1855! It has a *cough* noble lineage.

    Tim Ball is so delusional he might as well be working for the Trump campaign. What's truly remarkable (actually, it isn't, considering) is that none of the rusted-on credulous nongs at WUWT was the wit or recollection to go 'hang on, that bloody graph? We've been burned by this before...'

  3. Hell may have froze over...
    WUWT concedes 2016 as warmest year


  4. I commented on the thread, and yes there is a wealth of stuff "wrong" with it (well ALL of it) - however I limited myself to supporting Nick Stokes in slapping them (Ball, Easterbrook and McIntyre) about the "graph". It's one of those that has taken mythical status amongst Deniers and this must be the 4th time I've chimed in with a link to Watts' own "disputed graphs" page about it.
    In reply to more evasion from Easterbrook I've just posted this....
    "Then don’t keep publishing a graph on here that states “modern warming period” at the point it hasn’t yet begun ….. for a place on Earth that is 10,000 ft amsl in the Arctic as EVIDENCE that the world as a whole is not warming.
    As I said, that’s “deceptive” my friend (to put it kindly)."

    1. Then remembered it's Ball's article ....
      "By that I mean “defend” a graph on here (as it is Ball’s “article” )."

    2. It is strange that Anthony (luminary that he is) puts so much effort into the scrutiny of temperature data from genuine climate scientists while he allows such a massive error from Tim Ball to pass without comment. Its almost as if 'errors' that are sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry get a free pass.

      And the inmates lap it up.

    3. Yes Millicent ... I use the analogy of King Canute .. trying to stop the tide coming in ... with variation.
      It's merely shooting each wave as it rolls up on the beach in the sure knowledge that, of course, another, then another, then another .... will follow. At least there is a certain satisfaction in killing one of them.

  5. You just gotta love the way McIntyre will do everything in his power to never admit he was even the teensiest bit wrong about anything. So what if there is a GISP2 dataset that goes all the way to 1987? The dataset that was used to produce the diagram in Tim Ball's article ends in 1855. End of story.

    McI's feeble protestations deserve no more than a simple two-word response, and the first word begins with...

    1. Yes, like the episode of Happy Days - when the Fonz could not physically say he was "wrong"

      Laughable - they act worse than petulant children

  6. Well observed, Sou..this bit of Ball is indeed of key importance to understanding him:

    "This article examines the entire Holocene and illustrates the history that influenced the studies. There are two distinct parts to the studies, the pre and post Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The former is a genuine scientific struggle with issues of terminology and reconstruction, and the latter a scientific struggle to impose a political perspective regardless of the evidence. Because of the damage done to climatology by the proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), both parts require explanation."

    Ball's framing is so revealing of his personal self -obliviousness.
    The date he contrives to contort climate science into a pre and post IPCC framing is the date he stopped learning.

  7. I have a strong svguspicion that Ball and others are showing what happens when dementia interacts with incompetence or motivated denial.

    Keep an eye on Richard Lindzen in coming years.

    1. suspicion

      Why does my mobile automatically 'correct' properly spelled words but miss obvious errors? I blame climate scientists.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Here is another graph faux pas that you might like. A while back, I tried to find data-based conclusions on CO2 and atmosphere in a science paper by T. Ball, and found only this one: Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics 42(2): pages 212-214 (July 1994), where he says CO2 and climate are unrelated, and the proof is (quoted from the journal article): “Atmospheric carbon dioxide readings plummeted at Mauna Loa in the last two years. Why?” People interested in actual scientific claims will check the graphs of CO2 at the station he refers to and look for that plummet. Wow, impressive. I am going to step away to get a magnifying glass.


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