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MIT’s Richard Lindzen & Physicist David Douglass: Muller’s findings of warming are ‘nothing remarkable’ — BEST study does not alter Climategate’s ‘serious breaches of ethics’

Richard Lindzen has given Climate Depot permission to publish this analysis.

The below commentary was written by MIT’s Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, an Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and and Dr. David H. Douglass, Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester

By Richard Lindzen & David Douglass – October 23, 2011

The [October 21, 2011 Christian Science Monitor] article “Koch brothers accidentally fund study that proves global warming” is innocent enough.

Existing land based records of temperature, showing a small net warming since 1950, are probably correct (at least within the unreported uncertainty limits). As to whether estimates over the oceans (which cover 70% of the earth) are reliable is left open.

While Muller carefully avoided any claims concerning attribution, even attribution is not the main issue. What was left unsaid was that the observed warming is entirely consistent with there being very little problem. Concerns focus on climate sensitivity. Some current models predict much more warming than the modest warming that increasing CO2 would result in. This is because water vapor and clouds (both far more important greenhouse substances than CO2) in these models act as powerful positive feedbacks. Such models can be brought into agreement with past behavior by invoking aerosols. But, as the IPCC acknowledges, these are essentially unknown, and, indeed, each modeling group chooses a different value according to the amount of warming they need to cancel.

Unfortunately, although the article is innocent enough, the title of the article and the one sentence summary seem designed to mislead the reader. Part of the problem stems from a semantic issue: ‘warming’ is ambiguous in that it can be passive or active. If one is simply referring to whether the global mean temperature anomaly has been increasing a bit since 1950, as Muller is showing, there is nothing remarkable; if it refers to the active version wherein something is causing warming, it could be somewhat more serious (especially with the claim of ‘proof’), but the title leaves matters ambiguous.

Similarly, the reference to the Koch brothers suggests that their support was contingent on expectations of a different result. In point of fact, there is not the least evidence that this was the case. The Koch brothers support many things ranging from the restoration of the Lincoln Center Theater, to an exhibit on evolution, to a major cancer center at MIT. They also give some support to libertarian think tanks whose views are frequently different from what are commonly claimed to be right wing views. To be sure, the Koch brothers are frequently demonized by the left as a counterpoint to the right wing demonization of George Soros. It is only the fact that the Koch brothers are relatively unknown that allows such demonization to gain traction.

The summary sentence completely misrepresents ‘climategate.’ This refers to the release of thousands of emails, commented code, etc. from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The land based instrumental temperature record was not the primary focus of the problems revealed in these documents. Rather, the explicit evidence of the manipulation of proxy records used in paleoclimate reconstructions, suppression of other viewpoints, manipulation of the IPCC process, and intimidation of journal editors were all evidence of serious breaches of ethics. Muller’s findings hardly alters these findings.

Richard S. Lindzen
Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences
Cambridge, Mass

David H. Douglass (PhD MIT)
Professor of Physics

University of Rochester

[Climate Depot note: For more on Muller see here and here.]