Four days ago I posted an article publicising one by Christopher Monckton at WattsUpWithThat because the first salvo of comments at WUWT made me despair that the comment thread there would produce any enlightenment. I was wrong. Though Monckton very kindly came to my article at Cliscep to try and clear up my confusion, and ATTP and Geronimo expressed their views in some detail, the discussion never really took off here.
On the other hand, a real dialogue on a fundamental point of climate science has broken out under the Monckton article at WUWT leading to an intense debate between sceptics and, er, sceptics.
I advise everyone to go there and look at the comments by Ristvan, Scottish Sceptic, Nick Stokes, ferdperple, and …and then there’s physics, among others. The thread is the length of a short novel, with 800+ comments, so I’ll try to provide a “best of..” in the following paragraphs.
A useful point to start is with Scottish Sceptic (March 19, 2018 at 12:23 pm) who claims that “it’s not reasonable to use an absolute temperature for a differential feedback.” Nick Stokes agrees and does the maths. Monckton replies at length and is supported by ferdperple. Alan Tomalty objects to Monckton’s formulation that a temperature (which is a measurement, not an entity) can create a feedback, but generally supports Monckton’s argument, providing a fascinating short 4 billion history of the atmosphere.
Some other objections (e.g. Mike Jonas March 19, 2018 at 12:39 pm) point out that Monckton is not justified in using exact numbers. Monckton points out, correctly, that his examples are illustrative, using the assumptions in the literature, and don’t have to be numerically precise to make his point. (The idea that an illustrative example has scientific value even if the figures are woolly seems to be one that engineers and computer people have difficulty in accepting.)
Roy W. Spencer (March 19, 2018 at 1:18 pm) makes what I think is the same point as Scottish Sceptic when he says:“The effective radiating temperature of the atmosphere (~255 K) is not a ‘forcing‘ and so cannot have a ‘feedback‘.” And Nick Stokes comes back to the fray with: “The objection is that 255K is not an input. In the electrical analogy, it is the DC, or bias voltage. It isn’t a signal.” Roy W. Spencer (March 19, 2018 at 2:02 pm) makes the same kind of objection as Mike Jonazs when he says: “But you still have to use equations. If you can’t quantify it, you don’t really understand it.”
ferdberple (March 19, 2018 at 9:22 pm) takes the debate on to a philosophical plane with his observation that: “the problem lies in the use of the word “forcing”. It is a nonsense word invented for climate science to try and hide the fact that mathematics is not their strong suit.”
A second useful discussion breaks out halfway down the thread, following the comment by Monckton of Brenchley (March 19, 2018 at 4:00 pm) in reply to …and then there’s physics, involving Kurt, Nick Stokes, ferdperple, Serge Wright etc.
There’s much less of scientific interest in the second 400-odd comments, though there are interesting additions by Michael Gronemeyer (March 20, 2018 at 4:24 am) Peter Langlee (March 20, 2018 at 6:35 am) and BobG (March 20, 2018 at 12:21 pm). (There’s a lot of interesting comments also on the court case, and the strategy for sceptics to adopt, and here too Monckton provides valuable replies.)
Here’s the first important finding. Practically all the comments from the warmist side have been disruptive ones, from e.g. Chedder, Rob Bradley and Frank. (The ONLY sensible objections from warmists I’ve seen were from ..and then there’s physics, may his name be praised.) Though the trolls are annoying, they have been useful, since Monckton takes time to reply to them fully, ands his reformulations can be enlightening. (Monckton even replies politely to a spambot.)The trolls also provoked this comment from phil salmon (March 21, 2018 at 12:27 pm)
Monckton’s article has forced some warmists (painful though it must be for them) to actually say the word “nonlinear”. That at least is progress of a sort. Would they be able to go still further from their comfort zone and say “chaos”?
A profound disagreement about the meaning of key terms in climate science has broken out, with intelligent opinions trenchantly expressed on both sides, and the representatives of “the science” are nowhere to be seen.
As Monckton never tires of pointing out, the question at stake is a very simple one. Either he and his coauthors, or the whole of climate science, have made a very basic error. Nick Stokes and Roy Spencer think it’s Monckton. Others are not so sure, and some even change their mind in the course of the discussion:
ferdberple (March 19, 2018 at 8:54 pm)
Nic [Stokes] (and Monckton): I’ve gone through the arguments and after a long walk with the dog to think things through I believe Monckton is correct, with a small quibble…
The discussion gets very technical, particularly when the analogy with feedback in electronic circuitry is involved. But at the core is a fundamental debate about the meaning of “forcing” “feedback” ”signal” etc. with Stokes, Spencer etc. accusing Monckton of wanting to redefine terms, and Monckton insisting that his interpretation of the meaning is the only correct one, and that the experiments set up by his engineer colleagues provide empirical support for this claim. This is of course a matter of key importance, since at the very least, even if Monckton is wrong, he’s demonstrated that climate science has been conducted for forty odd years on a very shaky theoretical basis, since no-one has bothered to examine the meaning of key concepts.
If there was anyone in the world seriously interested in the philosophy of science, they’d be following this debate with dropped jaws, (to borrow Monckton’s image) but there isn’t, so they aren’t. (Or, as Aristotle would have it, they aren’t, therefore there isn’t.)
The fact that Monckton replies to almost every objection means that you get the same argument reformulated dozens of times, which can help understanding greatly (or, as a cognitive psychologist would put it: provide positive reinforcement for one’s cognitive biases.) The process recalls Plato’s dialogues, in which Socrates comes back time and time again to the same point, with different analogies or examples. (The fact that people sometimes actually change their minds after listening to the argument provides another similarity to Plato.)
Which brings me to the second important finding, which I’ll leave to Monckton to explain in a reply to Pierre DM (March 21, 2018 at 10:28 pm) who was defending Monckton against the charge that he’d accepted too many of the unwarranted assumptions of climate science:
Pierre DM March 21, 2018 at 10:28 pm
Wow, over 700 responses with only a handful of replies addressing Monckton of Brenchley’s real question. The argument is ingeniously framed to accept all the junk science the warmest have to offer with the disagreement coming down to one assumption that introduces a large irreconcilable error. By accepting all junk science there is little wiggle room for the warmest’s obfuscating the argument…
Monckton of Brenchley March 22, 2018 at 4:36 am
Pierre DM sums up my own feelings exactly […]
The virtue of our discovery (after years of searching) is that at root it is very simple. The only reason why the head posting is as long as it is is to nail shut the rat-holes by which the usual suspects would otherwise gallop away and escape. Because I have adopted the approach of holding my nose and accepting for the sake of argument various elements in the official climate-change case, several of the trolls have begun attacking that case because it seems to be the only way to avoid having to deal with the argument in front of them. To them I have replied that the concept of accepting many – if not most – of the other side’s premises for the sake of argument (albeit without warranty) is a long-established method in disputation.
Finally, perhaps the dopiest of all the arguments against what we have discovered is that it is simple. One of the many problems arising from the abandonment of universal Classical education is that most people no longer know any of the philosophy of thought. Occam’s Razor says “essentia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” – there’s no need to bolt on complexities unless they are really necessary. The truth is that the error we have discovered right at the heart of climatological physics, which arose because feedback math had been borrowed from control theory but without understanding it, is a simple error. And therein lies not its defect but its merit. A far larger number of the commenters here than I expected have grasped the nature of the error. They have understood it. More than this: they have recognized the not always honest attempts of certain parties here to derail it by frankly unscientific methods as the flannel they are.
Does this mean we are right for certain? Well, science does not often allow its practitioners to declare that they are right beyond all doubt. All that can be said at this stage is that we think we are right and that nothing in this thread has led us to think otherwise. But my mind remains open, and we shall see what the formal peer reviews have to say.
I can’t judge whether Monckton is right or not, but, like Humpty Dumpty, I know a nice knock-down argument when I see one.