Science Friday’s One Sided Global Warming Debate

This was the equivalent of inviting Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo to debate whether Churchill was a statesman!

The radio was on in the bathroom as I got ready for work this afternoon. It was Ira Flatow and Science Friday on NPR. I’m a regular listener. I’ve even written to Ira asking if I might fill-in when he’s on vacation–a request never answered.

But I digress.

As I listened this afternoon I steamed. The topic was “Weathercasters and Climate Change.” The panel was Ira and three proponents of the theory that links humans to global warming. There were no on-camera/on-mic meteorologists. No skeptics! Only adherents.

This was the equivalent of inviting Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo to debate whether Churchill was a statesman!

Hello? Where’s the balance?

If you’ve read this blog any length of time you know I’m one of those meteorologists today’s panelists were scorning. That might be a surprise because my political leanings, how I feel about our environment and my thoughts on our dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuel are decidedly liberal and environmentally oriented. I don’t fit the anti-global warming mold.

Among my non-meteorologist friends I’m the outlier. Most of my forecaster friends, who run the political spectrum from right-to-left, agree with me.

“How can you feel that way?” is a question I’ve been asked more than once. It’s always asked with disdain by a person who has the Earth’s best interests at heart.

It begins with my inherent mistrust of any long range computer modeling. I use models all the time and always with some trepidation. Without computer modeling forecasts would be back where forecasts were in the fifties! Weather prediction is much more accurate now and having computers do much of the heavy lifting is one reason why.

As computer models crunch the numbers they use their earlier forecasts as a basis for later ones. Over time it’s a forecast of a forecast of a forecast. Errors thrown in early in the process, even small errors, multiply through time.

There are surely errors also introduced early on in global climate modeling. The atmosphere is incredibly complex. The models must take shortcuts. That’s not a dig. The numbers are just too large without taking some assumptions.

For instance, let’s say it warms up a little. Now more moisture is evaporated into the atmosphere where it can trap additional heat. The additional moisture also leads to additional clouds. The clouds have a high albedo and reflect some incoming solar radiation back into space which off course leads to cooling.

How much warming? How much cooling? No one knows for certain. Maybe the forecasts are mostly right, but as I said small errors multiple over time.

I can’t trust my models more than a few days out and the ones I use manipulate a more dense grid of observations with shorter time steps! I certainly don’t trust the global models that run over periods of years.

There’s one more little problem that makes me instantly suspicious the whole global warming tumult has become too politicized. Advocates of human induced global warming theories only talk about potential negative impacts. For every inch of a Pacific Island destroyed by rising water how many people living in more temperate climates will survive longer because they’re no longer subjected to the brutality of extreme winter? I’ve never heard that discussed. In real science we should hear everything good and bad.

The global warming advocates say the science is done. I’m not so sure.

Socially it would be easier for me to buy into the conventional wisdom that we humans are destroying our planet. I just can’t. Science says when I have doubts I must raise questions.

7 thoughts on “Science Friday’s One Sided Global Warming Debate”

  1. colbert last week had on exactly what you are asking for. all too brief, of course, but it was a meterologist v. climatologist head to head. at least someone is acknowledging the basic argument.
    my view is , whether you buy the global warming thing or not, there are many good reasons to move toward the technologies that the global warming camp espouse for geo-political reasons at the very least. time to become cleaner and more energy self sufficient if for no other reason than to free ourselves from the influence of folks who , history tells us, do not have our best interests in mind.

    1. Rick – I could not agree more and that is my moral dilemma. I buy into most of the solutions offered for totally altruistic reasons, not because I’m fearful of the Earth’s climate spinning out-of-control. That still doesn’t stop me from calling out those whose scientific arguments seem a little too hyperbolic.

  2. you’re an honorable and thoughtful man. to that i can stipulate. the honest questions should be tested and tested again. the problem ,for me, is those who,for their own selfish interests, use honest debate to forestall addressing the changes upon which good folk on both sides can agree .

  3. Geoff,

    First, thanks for listening to the show. I enjoy your weathercasts.

    Now to comment on your comments. Your comparison to our panelist to Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini against Churchill is as unfair as for me to invite one global warming denier to debate with one climate change scientists. To be a “fair and balanced” panel, as you would have liked it, would have required me to invited 99 “pro” global warming scientists to your “1 anti” global warming spokes person, because in reality, that is the real ratio. For a great majority of scientists, climate change is a “done deal,” and not really open to debate. You can look that up yourself and not take my word for it, as that is how I do my research: not what my own gut or experience tells, but what the great majority of scientists believe in.

    It’s not that I don’t believe in listening to alternative theories. I’ve been one of the few science journalists that has given airtime to – and continues to do so – to cold fusion.

    But your arguments about the inability to predict the weather, which I agree with, don’t hold up very well when we talk about climate. They are two very different sciences and depend on very different kind of data. Weather forecasting for tomorrow or the rest of the week doesn’t rely on tree ring cores, air samples from a hundred thousand years ago, or drilling miles below Antarctic or Greenland ice.

    You are right about “how much warming or how much cooling.” No one does know “for certain.” But that doesn’t mean the science isn’t sound. Science is never exact, but merely takes a picture of what we know to be true now. And what we know, according to science, is that global warming is real and our planet is going through climate change.

    I’m sure you could find folks who deny the earth is round and that believe evolution is a bunch of hooey, too. But I would never give them equal time with the overwhelming number of scientists who don’t agree. That would be a disservice to my audience, too.

    Hoping all your forecasts come true, thanks again for listening.

    I. Flatow

    1. Ira –

      Thank you for your comment. Here is my reply which is posted below your comment.

      Simply put this whole argument has turned into zealotry pitting the political right versus left. I find myself uncomfortably siding with the right. I am certifiably liberal in nearly every measure of the word. So lets get away from the politics and hyperbole and head to the science.

      That means 99:1 ratio claims can’t be used unless you can back them up. It just clouds the science and vilifies doubters. You probably didn’t mean it as a cheap shot, but it is.

      The problem with the purloined East Anglia info isn’t the emails. It’s the lack of verifiable data and the computer code. It’s stuff like this:

      Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!
      2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ;
      fudge factor
      if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,’Oooops!’

      Not sure how computer savvy you are, but everything past a semicolon is a comment. That’s not me saying “fudge factor.” It’s in the code that produces parts of the output.

      Others who’ve analyzed it say it ‘massages’ data to produce a result quite different from what the raw data shows: It’s a huge adjustment to numbers that are actually reasonably close. It is one of many examples. It’s not bad science. It’s horrific science.

      Ira, as a scientist this should upset you. It upsets me.

      Now it seems much of the original supporting observation data has disappeared! Conveniently or tragically it’s just no longer available. It makes questioning the conclusions much more difficult and obfuscating the methodology much easier.

      My suspicion is what we’ve seen from the Global Warming zealots is what operational forecasters refer to as ‘wishcasting,’ It’s a well meaning forecast where the forecaster continues to make choices and err on the side of the result they’re expecting. Remember, in any model there will be empirical decisions. Not every calculation is pure physics. The code attached above is a perfect example.

      I don’t wishcast because I’ve been on the wrong side of a critical forecast more than once and tasted public scorn. It’s quite humbling. Alas, it’s not an experience most climatologists share with operational forecasters. I wish they did. I suspect the zealotry would be dialed down.

      I also worry when scientists only give one side of global warming’s implications. Is every implication bad or are only bad implications publicized since they fit the scenario? Good science demands all truths convenient and inconvenient.

      I am an honorable man Ira. I have a family. I don’t want to screw our planet. However, I am also a scientist. There is too much at stake to blindly buy into theories that haven’t been independently confirmed, which can’t be replicated and are shrouded in secrecy.

      All the best,

      PS – I really do listen. “Flora Lichtman.” Is knowing that name proof enough? Hell I even watched Newton’s Apple.

  4. Geoff,

    Just for the record, I’m not a scientist. But I do keep track of what those “Global Warming zealots” are saying. And here is some breaking news, from those “wish casters,” who seem to be spread out all over the world!

    1. Wet spells getting longer in Europe

    As the world’s climate changes, precipitation patterns are changing as well. Previous studies have found that in Europe, the amount of precipitation has been increasing, and a new study shows an increase in the duration of wet periods, potentially affecting the frequency of catastrophic floods. Using daily rain gauge data from nearly 700 rain gauges in Europe covering the period 1950-2008, Zolina et al. study changes in the duration of wet spells, defined as consecutive days with significant precipitation (more than 1 millimeter/day: 0.04 inches/day). The authors find that although the total number of wet days has not changed significantly over the past 60 years, the duration of wet periods has been increasing and short rain events have regrouped into longer rainy spells. In addition, heavy precipitation events are now more commonly part of prolonged periods of rain and have become more intense. Because flooding depends not only on the amount of rain but also on the duration of rainfall, the changing duration of rainy periods could alter the frequency and intensity of floods, which could affect large populations in Europe.

    Title: Changing structure of European precipitation: Longer wet periods leading to more abundant rainfalls

    Authors: Olga Zolina: Meteorologisches Institut, Universitaet Bonn, Bonn, Germany, and P. P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Moscow, Russia;

    Clemens Simmer, Stefan Kollet: Meteorologisches Institut, Universitaet Bonn, Bonn, Germany;

    Sergey K. Gulev: P. P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Moscow, Russia;

    Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2010GL042468, 2010

    2. Greenland ice loss spreading northwest

    The Greenland ice sheet has been losing mass at a significant rate during the past several years, contributing to global sea level rise. Recent studies show dramatic ice loss along the southeastern coast. Khan et al. combine Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements with measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite to determine that the ice mass loss is accelerating and also spreading into northwestern Greenland. The GRACE satellite, launched in 2002, measures changes in Earth’s gravity field and can detect the motions of the Earth’s crust that occur when ice melts. GRACE detects this uplift over large regions, while long-term observations from permanent GPS stations can be used to monitor uplift on smaller scales. Acceleration of ice mass loss on the northwestern coast likely started in late 2005, the researchers find. In addition to documenting the spread of ice loss, the results also confirm the consistency between GRACE and GPS measurements, showing that the combination of the two types of measurements provides a useful new approach for scientists studying ongoing ice loss.

    See previous press release at:

    Title: Spread of ice mass loss into northwest Greenland observed by GRACE and GPS

    Authors: Shfaqat Abbas Khan: DTU Space, Department of Geodesy, National Space Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark;

    John Wahr: Department of Physics and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA;

    Michael Bevis, Eric Kendrick: School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA;

    Isabella Velicogna: Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.

    Source: Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) paper 10.1029/2010GL042460, 2010

    So much for “wish casting.” Looks like this is more of a “reality check.” Hey Geoff: I dare ya’ to mention any of this on your weather report.

    Isn’t these peer reviewed papers better than that unsubstantiated, unproven, unresearched, unsourced, unattributed, snippet of computer code that probably was never published anywhere? Do your viewers a favor and give them some REAL science. Here’s your opportunity to show some real leadership. They trust you.

    My best,


    (a website technical error kept this comment from appearing immediately when sent)

    1. Ira, this is anecdotal evidence. It is as meaningful and valid as

      On TV we often report unusual weather but we are careful not to ascribe it to global warming. On this I agree with the WMO.

      “I think we have to be careful not to interpret any single event as a proof of either warming or the fact that warming has stopped,” he said. “When scientists look at the global warming, they take into account many, many old possible available evidence. So, we cannot explain any single phenomenon by one single cause.” – Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud.

      I think we have both lost sight of my original post. My upset is that your panel was biased. The deck was stacked. There was only one point of view presented while the opposing point of view and it’s adherents were ridiculed. There was no one to defend mischaracterizations and misstatements. Even the honorific “meteorologist” was replaced by weathercaster as if the training the vast majority of us have is meaningless.

      If the science is so decided… if the arguments are so well made… having people who dispute the IPCC conclusions would have only strengthened your point. Your 99:1 ratio statement is part of the mindset that keeps this a political and not scientific argument.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *