Digging into the Climate Models

My article this week at Forbes.com digs into some fundamental flaws of climate models

When I looked at historic temperature and CO2 levels, it was impossible for me to see how they could be in any way consistent with the high climate sensitivities that were coming out of the IPCC models.  Even if all past warming were attributed to CO2  (a heroic acertion in and of itself) the temperature increases we have seen in the past imply a climate sensitivity closer to 1 rather than 3 or 5 or even 10  (I show this analysis in more depth in this video).

My skepticism was increased when several skeptics pointed out a problem that should have been obvious.  The ten or twelve IPCC climate models all had very different climate sensitivities — how, if they have different climate sensitivities, do they all nearly exactly model past temperatures?  If each embodies a correct model of the climate, and each has a different climate sensitivity, only one (at most) should replicate observed data.  But they all do.  It is like someone saying she has ten clocks all showing a different time but asserting that all are correct (or worse, as the IPCC does, claiming that the average must be the right time).

The answer to this paradox came in a 2007 study by climate modeler Jeffrey Kiehl.  To understand his findings, we need to understand a bit of background on aerosols.  Aerosols are man-made pollutants, mainly combustion products, that are thought to have the effect of cooling the Earth’s climate.

What Kiehl demonstrated was that these aerosols are likely the answer to my old question about how models with high sensitivities are able to accurately model historic temperatures.  When simulating history, scientists add aerosols to their high-sensitivity models in sufficient quantities to cool them to match historic temperatures.  Then, since such aerosols are much easier to eliminate as combustion products than is CO2, they assume these aerosols go away in the future, allowing their models to produce enormous amounts of future warming.

Specifically, when he looked at the climate models used by the IPCC, Kiehl found they all used very different assumptions for aerosol cooling and, most significantly, he found that each of these varying assumptions were exactly what was required to combine with that model’s unique sensitivity assumptions to reproduce historical temperatures.  In my terminology, aerosol cooling was the plug variable.


  1. Dr. T:

    I am baffled. The 2004 IPCC report contained the results of 25 climate models. Not one of the models was accurate enough to meet the IPCC's fairly liberal acceptance criteria. So, which "ten or twelve climate models" are the focus of the Forbes column? All of the models did worse than simple predictions based solely on twenty-year average temperatures, all of them overstated the warming effects of carbon dioxide, all of them completely omitted clouds and the related effects of evaporative cooling and albedo changes, and all of them used fudge factors (plug variables). This horse was dead before it was dragged to the starting gate. No additional beating is needed.

  2. steve:

    The problem is not the whether the models are true or false but rather what they seem to say. "Politicians should have more control." Politicians like to here this so the funding continues.

    Let's just hope the physicists(sp?) building big expensive colliders don't catch onto this funding strategy or we might need to devote a third of the worlds resources to build a giant collider on the moon to find out if that brane is about to crush us.

  3. tehag:


    "Accretion" is spelled with two Cs, and also transpose the R and E.

  4. Matt:

    'Acertion' => 'Assertion'

  5. Jerry:

    Another aspect I find "interesting" is that I've read a number of reports by paleoclimatologists that the CO2 levels have been much higher in the past, as much as an order of magnitude higher & more depending on whose analysis you subscribe to, and, if anything we currently have a "carbon deficit" in the atmosphere. My observation is that science of modeling complex systems like climate is in its' infancy and we are several generations away from having the computing power necessary to run the analysis. In the case of climate studies, our ability to accurately measure climatalogical changes is little more than a century old. Volume of measurements cannot substitute for time. We are probably centuries away from having the data necessary to do such analyses.

    Steve described the situation best with opportunistic politicians using science to cover their lust for power. Science would be far better served telling the politicians to get stuffed and going back to the lab.

  6. Ignoramus:

    It should be called Climate Studies, not Climate Science because it diverges so much from the Scientific Method.

    AGW theory is based on the use of models with assumed feedback loops, etc. To me, models are a basis for formulating a hypothesis. Where’s the experiment?

    Physicists are getting into this more. Sunspots drive solar wind. The physicists at CERN believe that when the resulting gamma particles hit the oceans they increase water vapor and clouds. This drives a natural cycle, which along with other natural cycles gives us the bigger pattern over time. Any year now we’re going to start a long, slow move into the next Ice Age — does anyone doubt that?

    The CERN hypothesis fits their observed facts. They say that they believe they’re on to something promising but need to do more work. Real scientists say things like that. They’re now working on replicating the actual phenomenon at the molecular level in their lab. Real scientists do things like that.

    When you look at centuries of data — as well as 100s of thousands of years of data — AGW theory doesn’t fit. It only fits suspect data sets from the 20th Century. It also assumes that CO2 is this fantastic "lever" even though it's only a trace gas. ps we've had much higher levels of CO2 in the past -- it just doesn't compute.

    Thus, I conclude that AGW is bullshit faux science. We should call it out for what it is.

    I’ve hypothesized that our tearing down trees to build heat-absorbing asphalt roads has done more to heat up Earth than man-made increased CO2. I want a Nobel Prize and an Oscar.

  7. caseyboy:

    Dr T, unfortunately this horse needs a little more public beating. Recently Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he concurred with the "scientific consensus" that the earth was warming and that it was probably due to man. He made that statement in "green' friendly New Hampshire. As his statement gets greater play I think we can put Mr. Romney in the also ran category.

    I'm not that impressed with Science now days. It seems to have been corrupted beyond repair by the chase for grant money. Agenda driven science is an unfortunate development. We expect agendas in business and politics, but science? There aught to be a law.

  8. Roy:

    What leads people to ignore reality and think science ever has not been agenda driven? (Cf for a healthy correction to that historically erroneous view: 1) "Revolutions in Scientific Thought", Thomas Kuhn, one of top 100 books in many such lists re 20th C; 2) "The Discoverers", Daniel Boorstin, multiple places but esp sections about, believe it or not, Isaac Newton, or sections about Harvey and the blood circulatory system; 3)Current mega (or is it giga) bucks spent on LHC in Cern vis a vis string theory, cf "Not Even Wrong" (including a website by that title), Peter Woit; 4) The evasion and denial by both sides (!) of scientific fact (ie, something which is duplicatable by a declared process) in the creation vs evolution debate.)

    Science always involves paradigm. Hence science never features absolute neutrality. Thus we ought expect people to misuse science. We especially ought expect some politicians to misuse science. After all, most politicians will misuse any and every tool that gains or protects political power. The common knowledge of exceptions to that rule, by virtue of recognizing that the exceptions are exceptions, proves that rule.

    Thus, btw, I love caseyboy's "aught (zero, rather than ought=should) to be a law". Whether intentional or not, great word play probably tracking back to language development.

    Further thus, we should expect a need for public horse beating. We should smack that horse with vigor. Preferably by pointed, clear observations humbly written in a way that leads everybody, including those with mistaken views, to laughter (my response rather than despair when I *enjoy* the obvious conclusions of Coyote's comments on climate).

  9. caseyboy:

    Thank you Roy. I wish I could claim witty word play.

  10. caseyboy:

    Roy, another example of flawed science that was promoted so as to be able to beat creationists back into the closest is carbon dating.

    Gregory Brennecka of Arizona State University and colleagues measured the relative amounts of Uranium 238 to Uranium 235 from several samples taken from the large Allende meteorite, named for the village in Mexico near where it landed in 1969. With the more sensitive instrument, they detected small differences in isotope ratios from different inclusions within the same meteorite.1 Isotopes are versions of an element with differing nuclear components. The full technical report appeared in the January 22, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

  11. caseyboy:

    Continuation - The differing amounts of material that were found in separate samplings of the same meteorite were unexpected. The varying quantities of these isotopes call into question the calculated age of the solar system, since “one of the equation’s assumptions — that certain kinds of uranium always appear in the same relative quantities in meteorites — is wrong.” Gerald Wasserburg, emeritus professor of geology at Caltech, commented, “Everybody was sitting on this two-legged stool claiming it was very stable, but it turns out it’s not.

    For years, creation researchers have published ample data to refute the assumed reliability of nuclear decay clocks in general, as well as specifically for Lead. For example, in 1979, John Woodmorappe catalogued scores of discordant dates “determined” by isotope decay systems, all published in secular literature.4 In 2003, Andrew Snelling published more discordant “ages,” taken from isotope measurements at Australia’s Somerset Dam.5 Another study tested the reliability of ages based on radioisotope systems from Grand Canyon and other formations. It found disagreeing “ages” from different isotope systems for the same rock."

    Those "consensus" scientists never gave the research conducted by the those "flat earth, skeptic creationists" a second look.

  12. Quizikle:

    I was at a CO2 team meeting last week where the lead "scientist" informed us the truth was expressed by the atmospheric model - after all, the scientist had spent several months developing the software. The discussion addressed the methodology necessary to fit the (non-fitting) data to the model predictions.

    It would involve a quite detailed technical discussion to go into the "tweaking" methods applied if one used "professional" language (1st-order approximation, averaging, linear interpolation, etc). "Cut-and-file until the numbers fit" expresses the same process more clearly.

    Policy and funding decisions are made on these presentations.

  13. Dr. T:

    Caseboy: Most climatologists are not scientists. Unfortunately, many people with master's degrees or PhDs in all scientific disciplines are not scientists. They are pretenders who don't understand and practice the scientific method. This isn't surprising: all fields contain mediocre people, and real science is difficult. The problem is that pseudoscientists can gain more credence than real scientists when the media, politicians, special interest groups, and/or grant reviewers like what the pseudoscientists proclaim. The media mostly yawned when some climatologists in the 1970s and early 1980s predicted global cooling and a possible ice age. But, when some climatologists in the 1980s and later raised the issue of CO2-based global warming, the enviroidiots, big government leeches, mainstream media, and politicians begged for more of the same. Thus, biased or altered data, fudged models, unsupported conclusions, and absurd predictions became the norm for climatology.

  14. caseyboy:

    Well said Dr T. I'll admit that a scientific paper written by someone with PhD after their name gets attention and perhaps even unwarranted merit. How to remove the noise so that true science prevails and agenda science receives it just reward, bird cage flooring.

    A while back there was talk of a legal action against one of the climagegate scientists after the email bugaboo. Virginia I think? I recall this site had an extension discussion on the topic with most in favor or some type of civil reprimand. Concern for "chilling" the pursuit of science may have stalled that action, but I think the ramifications of not having something stiffer than losing professional status is warranted when the science could cost trillions of dollars.

  15. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >> Real scientists do things like that.

    Indeed. Now if only we can get some real scientists in the field of climate study, instead of the two-bit demagogues (OK, Gore is a "big time" demagogue), quacks, and charlatans that make up 99% of its current population...

  16. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    Caseyboy, not to get off-topic, but "creationism" is not science, and never has been. It's based at its core on an utterly untestable criteria, that the universe can't exist without God (or whatever name you wish to give to this "Director of Processes", a rose is a rose).

    Attempting to use scientific arguments to prove or disprove its ideas are wrongheaded and blatantly defective. Especially when a certain logical consideration makes it self-evident that it is, at its heart, essentially flawed if one actually is to have ANY faith in that being usually referred to as "God".

    Given that God is omniscient and omnipotent, Creationism inherently denies both of those claims. Creationism is an argument for God the Incompetent.

    To wit:
    1) God clearly does not want us to have "proof" of His existence. This is a prima-facie requirement for Faith, since clearly if God wanted us to KNOW He existed, then He would open up the sky, bitch-slap a few clouds to wake us up and get our full attention, and give us all the grandest of all shout-outs, "Hey ya big dummies, I'M HERE!"
    Q.E.D. -- he does not, ergo, he does not want to be "proven".
    2) From 1, it's inherently clear that God MUST have created the universe, assuming He did, with an alternative completely functional scientific explanation available to explain its existence without requiring Him to be there to do the job. Anything less is to say He wasn't competent enough to put these alternative clues in-place, and to anticipate each and every possible test we were capable of making to evaluate the notion.
    Q.E.D -- God IS competent: therefore there MUST be another explanation for the universe which does not require Him for it to exist.

    As you should be able to see -- when you argue that failures and flaws of evolution and most other current theories in some way Prove or at least Indicate, God's existence, you're actually proving He's a halfwit idiot who can't even accomplish one of His most basic goals for His creation, or at least Man's part in it.

    Me, I have adequate Faith in both -- Science, and God's plan for it in the mind of man to stick with the flawed but testable ideas as Unfinished Science (Science is never "finished" -- another clue the AGW d***heads aren't scientists), and leave the religious concepts -- including where the universe came from outside of our testable ideas for it -- where they belong, as matters of Faith.

    Creationism has no business being taught as "Science" -- it's even more flawed and foundationless than AGW is, and that's not easy.

  17. Allen:

    It seems a little too convenient that they've found a variable for which they can give a different degree of effect and come out with very similar predictions on future changes.

  18. Roy:

    Igot, Contra your 1),take a look at a couple places where the God you deny speaks to exactly the arguments you advance. See Psalm 19, especially the first half, and Romans 1 especially the middle portion and particularly verses 19-21. That people deny proof does not mean the proof isn't there. Contra your 2): Putting what you wrote a little differently,God don't make junk. Or, again a bit differently put, of course an internally consistent, completely functional science exists. However, in distinction to what you wrote, a consistent, honest science admits its suppositions rather than denying them while using them. Honest science acknowledges, rather than denies, that its practice rests upon faith assumptions. EG: one may not honestly assert the ultimacy of chance and simultaneously insist on the repeatability inherent to the scientific method. One may not honestly insist upon the ultimacy of chance and simultaneously conclude that anyone can derive morality.

    Back to Coyote's point: not only software engineers use kludges. Fudge factors show up frequently in lots of other engineering disciplines. For example, I could show in detail how ASME VIII, associated ANSI standards, Crane 410 handbook differ from foundational flow mechanics physics in slight of hand engineering twists used to gain manageable approximations. The test for kludges, for fudge factors, isn't to deny they exist. Instead one must clearly recognize the limits they place on the models that involve them. The contradictions of models built from the same data doesn't, I suggest, so much falsify the models as declare that neither the fudge factors nor the limits have gotten appropriate prominence. Putting this succinctly by taking part of the Coyote's penultimate sentence,"...each of these varying assumptions were exactly what was required to combine with that model’s unique sensitivity assumptions to reproduce historical temperatures." Or, in layman's terms, "They cheated."

  19. caseyboy:

    Igotbupkis, my point wasn't so much to declare the accuracy of creation science, but to point out an instance of scientific bias that blocked out critical research of carbon dating because the source of that research happened to be believers.

    I love the closed end logic of scientism, only believe what can be proven scientifically. Scientism is too narrow a theory of knowledge development. Not all knowledge is the result of the scientific method. We know some things by rational intuition. Science is permeated with assumptions that cannot be scientifically proven. For example, the principle of induction cannot be scientifically justified. Just because A has always been succeeded by B in the past is no guarantee for inferring that it will do so in the future. We could be at the beginning of a chaotic series of As and Bs whose initial segment is ordered ABABAB. So trying to provide “a good inductive argument for scientism” is hopeless, since it must presuppose the validity of inductive reasoning. Darwin’s theory is full of inductive reasoning and presupposes cause and outcomes not evident in data.

    Sometimes intuition mixed with a little circumstantial evidence can yield a valid result. Shortly after Osama was killed one of Obama's intelligence officials was on Meet The Press. Gregory was pressing him about whether Pakistan knew Osama was living in the country. The official said he had no evidence that the government knew? Really, no evidence? Open your eyes and observe the wonders around you.

    One final point. Most scientists want to do their work in the world made up of energy and matter. Now they have to factor in another dimension, “information – facts, data : the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects” This is becoming an information equation. Man’s work in cognitive engineering (creating machines and systems with the ability to adapt/mutate) may prove that information cannot exist without a “Creator”.

    Information cannot mutate into something else. A program can be programmed to mutate, but that requires a "programmer".

    God Bless