Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Monday, February 10, 2014

What is climate science?

One of my minor ambitions has been to settle on a promising area of climate science and study it in depth. Downloading papers, data, plotting my own graphs and calculating my own stats – that kind of depth. However a problem arose.

What to study?

The more I look at the climate sciences, the more convinced I become that we are not even close to articulating the main climate drivers with their timescales and uncertainties. Well maybe we are getting to know more and more about the uncertainties, but that's the problem.

Although we are accustomed to speak and write of climate science and climate scientist, there are no such beasts. We use the terms as established norms of verbal behaviour, but in my view they do more harm than good. Our global climate is far too complex to be studied within a single discipline and it's time we acknowledged it.

In much the same way we speak of chemistry and chemists when what we really have are specialist chemists working in related areas we place under the umbrella of chemical science.

Unfortunately, sticking with the chemistry analogy, climate science has yet to discover its periodic table. Without something of the kind, some overall theory to justify the term climate science, there is not enough coherence to stitch the various climate sciences together. It is also possible that some climate sciences such as dendroclimatology may become obsolete.

I think a good deal of confusion has arisen from a perception that the climate is a cluster of known scientific laws so the stitching together is already done by those laws. There seems to be a largely covert assumption that all will become clear if only climate scientists select the appropriate data and build models to encapsulate known scientific laws.

This is essentially philosophical assumption – that it must be possible to resolve climate behaviour into known physics. However, with numerous failed climate predictions and the current warming hiatus, it is obviously not so. The current state of the game is that climate behaviour cannot be resolved into known physical laws.

So I haven’t found an area promising enough to be worth studying in depth because so far there isn’t one. That may be one reason why the public domain is saturated with embarrassing falsehoods, emotional rhetoric and appeals to authority. For those who must persuade and those who must be persuaded, there is nothing else on which to base the arts of persuasion.

The climate is fiendishly complex on all timescales. We need much more data and a huge flash of inspiration, but in any event there are no experts with a grasp of the whole subject.

As yet there is no such thing as climate science.

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6 comments:

Paddington said...

AK - do me a favour and watch this series of videos. The author is a science jounralist, who carefully references the original sources.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - I don't see a link to the videos.

Paddington said...

My sincere apologies. Here is a link to the first, with the later ones in the sidebar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52KLGqDSAjo&list=PL82yk73N8eoX-Xobr_TfHsWPfAIyI7VAP&feature=c4-overview-vl

A K Haart said...

Paddington - thanks, I'll bookmark it and take a look.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - interesting video in that it dates from 2008. I wonder if he’d follow the same “raft of evidence” approach today?

Since climategate and the temperature hiatus it seems to have gone out of fashion, being too easy to pick apart. Such as

His faith in computer models and tipping points.

His claim that believers believe “climate change is being driven by man-made causes” with the implication that sceptics don’t.

His claim that “so-called greenhouse gases, two of them have been produced by human activity, so it would be more accurate to describe these as carbon gases.”

The science as he presents it is superficial, partly because of he tries to cram far too much into ten minutes. So uncertainties and dubious claims are glossed over in an urbane and confident manner, but no sceptic is likely to take him seriously.

I don't know the guy, but I don't think he'd use the same approach today.

Paddington said...

The videos are in chronological order. The ones on Monckton are particularly interesting.