Looking for Bigfoot

To the Editor:

My personal troll Marion Mohri quotes me correctly from 2013, but then takes her stand on the totally unscientific proposition that, whenever somebody comes up with a purported fact, theory or discovery, it’s a scientist’s responsibility to prove the negative.

If somebody came to Ms. Mohri and said there’s a seven foot tall hairy humanoid called “Bigfoot” roaming Wheelock Mountain, it is not Ms. Mohri’s responsibility to send out search parties to produce evidence. It’s the responsibility of the proponent to produce evidence – photos, footprints, hair, scats, witnesses, something that would at least justify further investigation.

Put in scientific terms, the null hypothesis in the climate debate is: “Human emission of carbon dioxide makes no detectable contribution to rising global temperatures.” The climate scientist’s job is to disprove that hypothesis, by detecting a contribution.

The organizations that Ms. Mohri so totally trusts have tried mightily to disprove that hypothesis. Their tool is the General Circulation Model – huge computer programs that attempt to model the planet’s climate. Here’s what those scientists (the IPCC) told the world in 2001: “In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. (IPCC AR3 Sec. ) (The IPCC’s non-scientist political flacks later changed the scientists’ “not possible” to “limited”, presumably on the grounds that if it’s impossible to model the system, they won’t be able to squeeze out more billions of tax dollars trying to do it.)

Actually computer models are not observations. They tell us nothing about the real world, but if a model’s output actually tracks some observable phenomenon, like tropical mid-troposphere temperature data, it can have heuristic value. However the 102 GCM results from the 1990s showed the planet heating at more than twice the rate that the measurements showed. Either something is wrong with the planet, or something is wrong with the models.

In a scientific paper that has undoubtedly escaped Ms. Mohri’s attention, Dr. John Christy, an IPCC scientist who co-designed and manages NASA’s microwave satellite sensing system, published a paper in 2017 showing that the IPCC-modeled (AR5, 2014) tropical vertical temperature profile was way off base – but when the IPCC scientists removed their postulated human-caused warming contribution, the profile tracked quite well with the observations.

According to Dr. Christy, the IPCC was intent on burying this awkward fact, but he personally got it included in the Supplement to the AR5 report (Fig.10SM.1), which wasn’t released until months after the usual scary headlines.

This explanation may baffle readers with little scientific training, so let me sum it up. The climate change debate will be better off when Ms. Mohri goes up Wheelock Mountain looking for Bigfoot.

John McClaughry

Kirby, Vermont


(1) comment


From The Guardian:

"Perhaps the darlings of the denialist community are two researchers out of Alabama (John Christy and Roy Spencer). They rose to public attention in the mid-1990s when they reportedly showed that the atmosphere was not warming and was actually cooling. It turns out they had made some pretty significant errors and when other researchers identified those errors, the new results showed a warming."

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