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Is this the fastest rebuttal of a denier study in history?

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"Is this the fastest rebuttal of a denier study in history?"

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The deniers have been trumpeting an atrocious study that made it into the July 23 edition of Journal of Geophysical Research, “Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature.”  The top anti-scientific blog, WattsUpWithThat crowed, “Surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean”:

A new peer-reviewed climate study is presenting a head on challenge to man-made global warming claims.

But let’s not waste time quoting that “atrocious paper,” as RealClimate puts it, with a couple of debunking links here.  The occasional atrocious denier paper sometimes makes it through the peer-reviewed process.  What’s truly remarkable here is that some of the top climate scientists in the country already have a response submitted for publication in JGR — see full article here.

Last year saw “A new Olympic record for retraction of a denier talking point,” but this would seem to be some sort of a world record for scientific rebuttal.

The 9 (!) rebuttal authors span the globe from Japan to the UK to New Zealand to Colorado and New York, reading like a who’s who of global climate science:  G. Foster, J. D. Annan, P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, B. Mullan, J. Renwick, J. Salinger, G. A. Schmidt, and K. E. Trenberth.  Here’s the abstract:

McLean et al. [2009] (henceforth MFC09) claim that the El Ni±o/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), as represented by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), accounts for as much as 72% of the global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA) and an even higher 81% of this anomaly in the tropics. They conclude that the SOI is a “dominant and consistent influence on mean global temperatures,” “and perhaps recent trends in global temperatures”. However, their analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and greatly overstates the influence of ENSO on the climate system. This comment first briefly reviews what is understood about the influence of ENSO on global temperatures, then goes on to show that the analysis of MFC09 severely overestimates the correlation between temperature anomalies and the SOI by inflating the power in the 2-6 year time window while filtering out variability on longer and shorter time scales. It is only because of this faulty analysis that they are able to claim such extremely high correlations. The suggestion in their conclusions that ENSO may be a major contributor to recent trends in global temperature is not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in that paper, especially as the analysis method itself eliminates the influence of trends on the purported correlations.

Ouch!  One wonders how MFC09 made it through peer review in the first place.  JGR really, really screwed up.  Here is the conclusion of Foster et al.:

It has been well known for many years that ENSO is associated with significant variability in global mean temperatures on interannual timescales. However, this relationship (which, contrary to the claim of MFC09, is simulated by global climate models, e.g. Santer et al. [2001]) cannot explain temperature trends on decadal and longer time scales. The analysis of MFC09 grossly overstates the influence of ENSO, primarily by filtering out any signal on decadal and longer time scales. Their method of analysis is a priori incapable of addressing the question of causes of long-term climate change. In fact, the general rise in temperatures over the 2nd half of the 20th century is very likely predominantly due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases [IPCC, 2007].

Doh.  Or is that Duh?

Either way, this won’t silence the deniers — since they are not persuadable by evidence (see “Can you PROVE to me that global warming is being caused by mankind?”*).  But everyone else can rest assured that the scientific process works itself out, 99 peer-reviewed papers out of 100 make clear humans are already changing the climate, and, tragically, the threat to the health and well-being of the next 50 generations posed by human-generated emissions of GHGs remains unabated.

Very big hat tip to Andy Revkin (his twitter comments are here) for sending me the link to Foster et al.

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17 Responses to Is this the fastest rebuttal of a denier study in history?

  1. bobham says:

    It is really sad that this blog has to spend so much time refuting the deniers. The only thing sadder is the increasingly frightening scientific data demonstrating how bad things are going to get even if we get our acts together…

  2. MarkB says:

    I think this rebuttal has only been submitted, as indicated on Trenberth’s page:

    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/

    but it seems very likely to be accepted. Even so, the PR effect for contrarians is already out there, and like most of their debunked claims, it will continue to persist.

    [JR: You are correct and I fixed that.]

    It’s also notable that the study itself doesn’t support the “ENSO causes most of the warming trend”. There’s only a passing comment in their conclusion – something like it “may contribute” to the trend. It was Bob Carter (one of the study’s authors), along with the denialsphere, who took it much further than anything suggested in the study, which I think reveals much about Carter’s integrity. So if it wasn’t for the passing comment in the conclusion, a reviewer might find that part of the rebuttal irrelevant.

    The “trend” statement aside, the study itself is rather sloppy and the comment exposes several other errors.

    I want to point out a comment on Tamino’s blog – a message apparently from the editors of the journal in question.

    “A message on behalf of the editors of JGR Atmospheres: as editors, we do not discuss the details of the peer review process and we will also not do that in this case. We will say that despite all the hard efforts made by reviewers and editors, the peer review process is not perfect. Occasionally, papers that contain errors or controversial statements without adequate discussion do get accepted for publication. In these cases, JGR Atmospheres encourages the scientific community to submit comments and discuss these papers in the peer-reviewed literature.”

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/old-news/#comment-33870

    It could be interpreted as a subtle admission that they screwed up. I don’t think one needs that much expertise to spot some of the key errors.

  3. dhogaza says:

    It was Bob Carter (one of the study’s authors), along with the denialsphere, who took it much further than anything suggested in the study, which I think reveals much about Carter’s integrity.

    McLean has done the same …

  4. jorleh says:

    Funny deniers: one peer reviewed paper is of utmost importance when at the same time 99 papers are of no consequence.

    And this one paper is debunked just at birth as rubbish.

    The utmost reverence deniers have for peer reviewed papers…

    And now their only star is shot down!

  5. Gambar Lucah says:

    Interesting article.

  6. Philip H. says:

    UGH! Does this mean we’re now about to an explosion of “balancing both side of an arguement” in peer reviewed literature like we see in daily news coverage? Is JGR jsut trying to foment an controversy to get noticed?

  7. Mike#22 says:

    “It is really sad that this blog has to spend so much time refuting the deniers” As JR has said previously, someone has to do it, if only for the search engines.

    Climate Progress is doing a remarkable job improving the (historical?) record on how the denialsphere is operating. The snapshot presented above of “that atrocious paper” will show up alongside all the denier crowing in future internet searches. A lonely signpost pointing to the facts, amid a sea of Wattsonian grotesques.

  8. caerbannog says:


    UGH! Does this mean we’re now about to an explosion of “balancing both side of an arguement” in peer reviewed literature like we see in daily news coverage? Is JGR jsut trying to foment an controversy to get noticed?

    Actually, JGR has an editorial policy that allows authors to “nominate” reviewers for their articles. For multidisciplinary journals like JGR, there are some obvious advantages — editors may not know whom to send the paper to for review, especially if the paper is way outside the editors’ area of expertise.

    But as was pointed out over at http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2009/07/editorial-standards-at-agu-journals.html, this policy can be “gamed” by those with ulterior motives. And that’s exactly what happened here: The reviewers nominated by the authors of “Influence of the Southern Oscillation…” were none other than Willie Soon and Sonja Christiansen (editor of E&E!).

    It’s unlikely that JGR was looking for controversy here — more likely, some naive editors were taken advantage of by scientific “grifters”.

  9. Richard Steckis says:

    “more likely, some naive editors were taken advantage of by scientific “grifters”.”

    Crap.

  10. Paul K says:

    All three authors went over the edge in the press release announcing publication of their “research”.

    I went over to Watts’ site, and tried to post comments on the two posts there dealing with the MFC09 paper. I was especially motivated since Mr. Watts so helpfully highlighted in bold the most grievous mistakes (ggg). Here are a few clips from the press release that accompanied this erroneous paper, with the highlighted portions that Mr. Watts felt were especially important (but later proved to be wrong). Of course, my comments were completely censored out of each thread. Here is the WUWT excerpt from the press release, with Anthony Watts’ bolding of important findings from the study:

    The research, by Chris de Freitas, a climate scientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, John McLean (Melbourne) and Bob Carter (James Cook University), finds that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a key indicator of global atmospheric temperatures seven months later. As an additional influence, intermittent volcanic activity injects cooling aerosols into the atmosphere and produces significant cooling.

    “The surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean that made warming El Niño conditions more likely than they were over the previous 30 years and cooling La Niña conditions less likely” says corresponding author de Freitas.

    “We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century. It may even be more if the period of influence of major volcanoes can be more clearly identified and the corresponding data excluded from the analysis.”

    Climate researchers have long been aware that ENSO events influence global temperature, for example causing a high temperature spike in 1998 and a subsequent fall as conditions moved to La Niña. It is also well known that volcanic activity has a cooling influence, and as is well documented by the effects of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption.

    The new paper draws these two strands of climate control together and shows, by demonstrating a strong relationship between the Southern Oscillation and lower-atmospheric temperature, that ENSO has been a major temperature influence since continuous measurement of lower-atmospheric temperature first began in 1958.

    According to the three researchers, ENSO-related warming during El Niño conditions is caused by a stronger Hadley Cell circulation moving warm tropical air into the mid-latitudes. During La Niña conditions the Pacific Ocean is cooler and the Walker circulation, west to east in the upper atmosphere along the equator, dominates.

    “When climate models failed to retrospectively produce the temperatures since 1950 the modellers added some estimated influences of carbon dioxide to make up the shortfall,” says McLean.

    “The IPCC acknowledges in its 4th Assessment Report that ENSO conditions cannot be predicted more than about 12 months ahead, so the output of climate models that could not predict ENSO conditions were being compared to temperatures during a period that was dominated by those influences. It’s no wonder that model outputs have been so inaccurate, and it is clear that future modelling must incorporate the ENSO effect if it is to be meaningful.”

    Bob Carter, one of four scientists who has recently questioned the justification for the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme, says that this paper has significant consequences for public climate policy.

    “The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions. The available data indicate that future global temperatures will continue to change primarily in response to ENSO cycling, volcanic activity and solar changes.”

    “Our paper confirms what many scientists already know: which is that no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation, and that, irrespective of the severity of the cuts proposed, ETS (emission trading scheme) will exert no measurable effect on future climate.”

  11. Harold Brooks says:

    Actually, JGR has an editorial policy that allows authors to “nominate” reviewers for their articles. For multidisciplinary journals like JGR, there are some obvious advantages — editors may not know whom to send the paper to for review, especially if the paper is way outside the editors’ area of expertise.

    But as was pointed out over at http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/ 2009/ 07/ editorial-standards-at-agu-journals.html, this policy can be “gamed” by those with ulterior motives. And that’s exactly what happened here: The reviewers nominated by the authors of “Influence of the Southern Oscillation…” were none other than Willie Soon and Sonja Christiansen (editor of E&E!).

    The paper is truly execrable, but I’ve got a question on this last sentence.

    Where did the information that Soon and Christiansen were nominated come from? I know that they reviewed a 2002 Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology paper by de Freitas, but I haven’t seen anything about this paper and, unless one of the authors of the JGR paper has revealed this information, I’m not sure how it would get out.

    In any event, when I was a journal editor, frequently authors would suggest reviewers even though we had no policy about. Most of the time, the suggestions included pretty obvious people. Sometimes, I would use one of them. Our policy was to have three reviewers, so, if the subject was outside of my comfort zone, I’d take one from the author’s list and track down a couple on my own, often using the author’s list as a starting point to find relevant papers and authors.

    The real challenge comes when, as many papers do, you need a variety of subject matter covered in the reviews. When I first arrived at a new place of employment, I reviewed a paper internally that had excellent observational descriptions but some large theoretical holes in it, and the author was resistant to taking care of them. I found out he had gotten essentially the same internal reviews over the course of the previous couple of years from other staff members and kept shopping the paper around with cosmetic changes. He viewed it as a dispute between scientists and the the other staff members were blocking his publication. His manager didn’t really understand what was going on and the author used the need to “revise the paper” to avoid doing new work. It was a bad situation and I got to propose that he send it out for formal review, under the assumption that it would get shot down. Either the editor didn’t get an adequate theoretician to review it or the theoretician had a bad day reviewing it and it sailed into publication with almost no changes. The three of us who had done the critical internal reviews were acknowledged for our “helpful reviews” even though they had been ignored. Needless to say, we wrote a rather sharp comment that was essentially our internal reviews.

    In some sense, this current process has worked well (assuming the Foster et al. comment gets published, which looks like a lock to me.) The crowd that whines that the “scientific establishment” won’t let them publish their revelations of truth now has gotten a paper into a significant journal and it’s going to get blasted out of the water in comments. Comments aren’t used as often as they should be. I had a case where a reviewer thought I had made a bad decision on a paper and I strongly encouraged him to reformat the major comments from his review, perhaps add a figure from an example he talked about in the review and submit to the journal. I thought it would have been a wonderful contribution and would have given advice on how future work like the one I accepted could have been improved, but the reviewer didn’t take me up on it.

  12. Paul K says:

    Reading the excerpt from the press release simply makes my blood boil. After seeing the attacks on climate scientists who dared to speak out on the regulatory constraints needed to reduce carbon emissions, then these scientists being pilloried for being “too political”, Bob Carter’s last statement above is infuriating.

    “Our paper confirms what many scientists already know: which is that no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation, and that, irrespective of the severity of the cuts proposed, ETS (emission trading scheme) will exert no measurable effect on future climate.”

    This doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Bob Carter has helped get a fabricated result published, then extrapolates to an attack on any efforts to reduce GHGs. This is one of the most unethical series of actions I have ever seen.

  13. dhogaza says:

    “more likely, some naive editors were taken advantage of by scientific “grifters”.”

    Crap.

    OK, Steckis, what’s your hypothesis? That the editorial staff is as unethical as the authors?

  14. tamino says:

    The comment available online has been changed for the sole purpose of clarifying that it has been submitted to JGR, but not yet accepted or published. The updated version is here.

    You may wish to update the link in your post.

  15. caerbannog says:


    #
    Richard Steckis says:
    August 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

    “more likely, some naive editors were taken advantage of by scientific “grifters”.”

    Crap.
    #

    A google-search on “Richard Steckis” “global warming” will unleash a geyser of stupidity.

  16. Deep Climate says:

    #8

    The reviewers nominated by the authors of “Influence of the Southern Oscillation…” were none other than Willie Soon and Sonja Christiansen (editor of E&E!).

    I don’t think we know the identity of the reviewers in this case, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they had reviwed it.

    But I did comment in a couple of places that in a previous paper by de Freitas, published back by the Canadian Bulletin of Petroleum Geology in 2002, the reviewers had been Willie Soon and Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen. Perhaps, then, there is some confusion on that point.

    My overview on MFC 2009 explains that “gaming the system” incident, and also gives an account of the organizations that have promoted this pseudo science, chiefly the so-called New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, and its big brother the International Climate Science Coalition.

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/07/30/is-enso-responsible-for-recent-global-warming-no/

    Here’s the summary:

    * The McLean, de Freitas and Carter paper presented unsubstantiated conclusions that are contradicted by a cursory analysis of the very data presented.

    * There is widespread agreement among climate scientists that this paper should not have passed review and should not have been accepted for publication.

    * The authors actively participated in a deceptive public relations campaign that trumpeted and exaggerated the paper’s claims, a campaign that even substituted a press release headline for the true title of the paper.

    * The authors permitted an egregious breach of copyright in the dissemination of the paper in its published form at the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition website.

    What more is needed to prod the AGU and the Journal of Geophysical Research to do the right thing? The paper should be withdrawn, and the editor responsible disciplined. Now.

  17. Deep Climate says:

    Of course, now that MFC 2009 has been thoroughly debunked, some attention should also be paid as to who is behind the deceitful campaign to promote this pseudo-scientific nonsense.

    Meet Alan Gibbs, builder of amphibious HumVees and “climate science” coalitions:

    http://deepclimate.org/2009/08/01/meet-alan-gibbs-builder-of-amphibious-humvees-and-climate-science-coalitions/

    There’s more to come on this at deepclimate.org – stay tuned.