A lovely futility

Ben Santer, Matthew England, Ed Hawkins, Michael Mann, Gerald Meehl, Yu Kosaka, and Shang-Ping Xie sent a polite and informative letter to Lamar Smith. Smith had misused a paper they had published to claim that there was a global warming “pause”, and to claim that their work had somehow invalidated the observations of another climate research group — it was a crude attempt to pit two groups with subtle differences in interpretation against one another to cast doubt where there is none.

What’s nice about the letter is that it carefully explains that scientists can disagree about some things without losing respect for one another, if the work is done well, and that they can agree completely on issues that Lamar Smith does not like.

Finally, we would like to emphasize that Karl et al. and Fyfe et al. agree on the most important scientific points. We agree that human influence on climate is real, is large, and is ongoing. We agree that this influence is primarily due to fossil fuel burning, and to the resulting human-caused changes in atmospheric levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. We agree that human-caused changes in greenhouse gases should lead – and do lead – to global-scale warming of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land surface. We agree that we have identified large global warming signals in the observed surface temperature changes from the late 19th century to the present, in the satellite atmospheric temperature data that have featured prominently in recent Congressional hearings, and in ocean heat content measurements.

And we agree with Karl et al. that on top of the underlying global-scale warming trend over the past 150 years, we should see – and do see – natural, decade-to-decade ups and downs caused by internal variability, volcanic activity, and changes in the Sun’s energy output. These decade-to-decade fluctuations in warming are not a scientific surprise. They have been discussed at length in every national and international assessment of climate science. Sometimes the “ups” act in the same direction as human influences, leading to accelerated warming. Sometimes the “downs” lead to a short-term decrease in warming. Our disagreement with Karl et al. about the size of the most recent short-term fluctuation does not call into question the reality of long-term human-caused warming.

Unfortunately, this case is being made to Lamar Smith, darling of the Heartland Institute, a lawyer with zero training in science who wants to redefine the scientific method, who has demonstrated his impenetrability to science over and over again. It’s important to continue to try and educate our Republican dingleberries as well as possible, but I have no confidence at all that this approach will sink in.

Maybe the rest of us can learn from the letter, though.


  1. dhabecker says

    Will Lamar Smith:
    A. Beg forgiveness for his past stupidity.
    B. Accentuate the minor disagreement to validate his position.
    C. Ignore the letter and keep on being an ignoramus.

  2. weylguy says

    Smith may not even be aware of the letter, as his handlers know he wouldn’t read it anyway.

    It’s all hindsight now, I know, but I wish Obama and the Democrats had dealt brutally with the Republican Party from the start, instead of all that bullshit about looking forward and not backward. The ring-kissing and genuflecting by Obama and Clinton during the inaugural made me want to throw up. Obama seems to have never realized the the Republicans always viewed him not as a Kenyan socialist usurper, but as an accidental nigger president. Look where we are now.

    Every day brings another new revelation about the declining state of my country that simply takes my breath away.

  3. Ed Seedhouse says

    I had a conversation with someone yesterday and the subject of climate change came up. He was under the strange impression that the scientists thought that there was no such thing as natural climate change, which of course is nonsense, scientists know that natural climate change has been happening for many millions of years.

    I think I finally got through to him on that point, and he fell back on admitting that the recent extreme climate changes might have a human cost (that was after I explained to him how the composition of carbon isotopes in our atmosphere today present an unambiguous signal), but he took refuge in the “well, I am not a scientist” meme as an excuse not to be in favour of anything that might delay the impending disaster.

    Education is a slow and painful exercise with some people.

  4. Doc Bill says

    Lamar ain’t gonna change, no way, no how, not now, not never, not ever! Lamar has no shits to give about science. He’s an ideologue through and through. Oh, and a little authoritarian bully, too. He’s gonna cut down those liberal, egghead, atheist scientists and show them who’s boss.

    Seriously, though, the barbarians are well and truly at the gate. It is not a matter of education (except to the public) as much as it is politics and money. Control those and you’ll control Lamar and his ilk.

  5. peptron says

    He won’t change his views.
    I don’t remember who said that, but you cannot make somebody understand something when his livinghood depends on him not understanding it.

  6. imback says

    @peptron #5:
    Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Scott Walker:

    I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year-you know the rotation of the earth, Wagner, a York County state senator, said, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania. We’re moving closer to the sun.http://www.pennlive.com/capitol-notebook/2017/03/scott_wagner_explains_climate.html
    [alerted by BadAstronomer, Phil Plait]
    Amazing how these doofusses keep convincing intelligent voters to vote for them. *puke*

  8. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @7
    blockquote borked, ends at the end of the Walker quote.

  9. robro says

    He’s a Christian Scientist, a oxymoron on par with “Reality TV.” A perfect example of the Orwellian use of language to twist reality and befuddle the rubes…there is nothing scientific about Christian Science.

  10. michaelwbusch says

    Unfortunately, this case is being made to Lamar Smith, darling of the Heartland Institute, a lawyer with zero training in science who wants to redefine the scientific method, who has demonstrated his impenetrability to science over and over again.

    Smith is not entirely impenetrable to science. He’s been an advocate for certain fields of science – e.g. exploration of Europa; while spreading horrifically dangerous disinformation about other fields of science – e.g. climate change – and wanting to exercise authoritarian control over scientists.

    So it’s not that Smith can’t or doesn’t understand science. It’s that he is deliberately lying about and trying to block scientific research that he finds inconvenient to preserving his own power / to preserving the financial self-interest of some of his primary supporters.

  11. robro says

    nichaelwbusch — “Exercising authoritarian control over scientists” suggests that Smith doesn’t understand science at a fundamental level. The fact that he may support some scientific projects doesn’t excuse him. I’m willing to bet that his support for Europa missions has more to do with his or his backers self-interest than an interest in science.

  12. wzrd1 says

    @dhabecker #1
    D. Do whatever his employers want him to do, which is likely C.

    I’m reminded of some Congressional testimony, where a paid mouthpiece blathered on about how CO2 is plant food.
    I also recall thinking, “OK, how about I lock you inside of an air tight room with a tank of CO2, a plant and a flashlight?”.

  13. robro says

    wzrd1 — Schrödinger’s mouthpiece? Thanks to a scientist’s insights, we won’t know if the mouthpiece is dead or alive until we open the door. I love a mystery, so keep the door shut.

  14. DanDare says

    As with all such public communications the audience is more important than the recipient.