Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Reading University, has issued a strict edict on Twitter regarding the rules of engagement for critics of his research:
What that basically says is don’t engage with me if you have any criticism of my studies because I will block you if you do. Which is odd for a winner of the Royal Meteorological Society’s Michael Hunt Award who “has a sustained and extensive record of engagement with the public and their concerns over weather and climate” and “is just the sort of person worthy of recognition and encouragement from the Society in the area of increasing the understanding of meteorology among members of the general public”. But then again, maybe it’s not that surprising: Mann and Hayhoe have both won awards for science communication. In climate science, the more censorious you are of critics it seems, the greater your chance of picking up an award for engaging with the public.
I don’t doubt that Williams puts up with his fair share of insults and unfair criticism on social media. Everyone does; it’s par for the course. He has been the subject of some silly name calling in the past:
But he’s a public figure, with a public profile and he shares the results of his research on Twitter, so he’s responsible for responding to questions and to valid criticism of his work, especially with regard to climate change and its impacts, which we, the public, are being asked (nay, forced) to pay trillions for, in taxes and for the purchase and subsidising of new, low carbon technology to replace perfectly working ‘old’ technology which is a lot cheaper and more effective. That gives the public the right to question him, not via peer-review, but on social media and elsewhere online, wherever commenting on articles is enabled. Articles, for instance, like this latest Conversation piece where he and a fellow author explain why Climate change means longer take-offs and fewer passengers per aeroplane.
Paul has in the past been highly critical of Williams’s research when the Prof previously demonstrated a ‘significant’ increase (1 minute 18 secs) in travel time of a 12 hour transatlantic flight – due to projected changes in the jet stream caused by climate change. Ken Rice, bless him, defended Williams to the hilt, saying that the blog post made Paul “seem like a nasty, intolerant piece of work who simply likes to smear anyone who presents anything with which you happen disagree”. But of course it was not simply disagreeing with Williams, it was criticising his absurd claims in the Guardian article where he was quoted as saying:
“The aviation industry is facing pressure to reduce its environmental impacts, but this study shows a new way in which aviation is itself susceptible to the effects of climate change,” Williams said. “This effect will increase the fuel costs to airlines, potentially raising ticket prices, and it will worsen the environmental impacts of aviation.” Fuel costs are a critical factor in the competitiveness of airlines.
“The jet stream does not just live in the Atlantic, it goes all the way around the world and there is another one in the southern hemisphere too,” Williams said. “So it is plausible that similar flight routes around the world will be affected and when you look at those numbers, it is just enormous.”
An increase in flight time of of a six hour flight from London to New York of 5 minutes 18 secs and a decrese in flight time of 4 minutes on the return, making a net increase of 1 min 18 secs on a 12 hour flight has ‘enormous’ implications for global air travel according to Williams. Paul called it out as bullshit and Ken didn’t like that; neither, I suspect did Williams but like all good climate communicators, he did not appear in the comments to defend the integrity of his research.
Now he’s claiming another ‘significant’ impact of climate change on airline flights – an increase in take off distance. I quote:
“Our new research suggests that higher temperatures and weaker winds are making take-off more difficult. In the long run, this means that airlines are delivering fewer passengers and cargo for the same amount of fuel.
We have been recording the weather at ten Greek airports since 1955. For each year, we took the average wind and overnight minimum temperatures, and then plugged that into performance graphs. These are used to calculate the safe runway lengths and aeroplane weights that are needed to ensure that airlines can carry their passengers safely.
We found that in every case the conditions had changed over the 62 years to make aeroplane take-off more difficult. Safety regulations ensure that aeroplanes are never allowed to take off without enough runway, but on the longer runways we studied, the take-off distances necessary to get a large jet plane into the air had increased by about 1.5% every decade, and about 1% for a smaller turboprop airliner.”
Finally, Williams and his co-author are quoted on the seemingly ‘terrible consequences’ of climate change on airline flights worldwide:
“That could mean that airlines must reduce the numbers of passengers they carry on flights, or search for ways to lengthen their runways. In some extreme cases, it could become impossible for some aeroplanes to use some airports altogether. This is another reminder of how rapidly and extensively human actions are transforming the world around us, and how ill equipped we are to deal with the consequences.”
I read the study and I commented at the Conversation thus:
Paul and John Ridgway have also commented and Williams responded to Paul with a cynical short reply, but he has not bothered to answer my points, so I am calling bullshit once again at Cliscep on this latest research which purports to demonstrate the significant negative impacts of climate change™ on airline flights, but doesn’t do that because it cannot quantitatively attribute the changes in temperature and windspeed at the test locations to the mean global increase in surface temperature over the periods in question. This is regardless of whether you think a 1-1.5% increase in take-off length per decade is significant or not.
This is not just a dig at Professor Paul Williams. I have noticed that climate and other scientists contributing to climate change research are becomingly increasingly thin-skinned and defensive on social media in respect of any public criticism of their work. Why? When the public are being required to make such huge sacrifices to mitigate climate change and its projected impacts, they should surely be engaging ever more frequently and enthusiastically to convince the public of the validity of the science which supposedly demonstrates the magnitude of that change and the nature of those impacts. It seems to me to be the complete opposite. They are retreating into the bunker.