John Mitchell and Simon Singh at the RMetS AGM

I went along to the Royal Meteorological Society‘s AGM yesterday. I realise this sounds pretty dull but they have a couple of talks before the AGM proper, which were very interesting. (I’m also ashamed to admit that I left the meeting before they got down to the AGM business as I was giving a talk in Guildford that evening.)

The meeting was held at the Bank of England Museum and Mervyn King, who is apparently a bit of a weather geek, gave a short introduction looking at the links between the Bank and meteorology. I thought the most interesting story was on the historical importance of wind to Bank – available credit would have to be increased when easterlies prevailed as ships could sail up the Thames and then decreased again as westerlies returned. Naturally, he also mentioned climatic impacts on the economy.

The first proper talk was by Prof. John Mitchell from the Met Office. He was being awarded the society’s Symons Gold Medal (congratulations John!) so his talk was a celebration of that.

His presentation – “What we know and what we don’t know about global warming” – was based around a series of basic questions, similar to the style of Skeptical Science. He covered topics like: Is CO2 increasing? Is the increase down to humans? Does CO2 affect climate? Is the climate changing? Why is the climate changing? What might future changes look like? Are global temperatures changing as models showed? All interesting stuff, particularly the last point where John showed some updated work from a 2000 paper by Myles Allen where the observed 2009 global temperature was in the middle of the range projected in 1996.

The point that really caught my eye, though, was on recent temperature changes. I think it was some work by Peter Stott that John was showing on the difference between 50 and 10 year temperature trend distributions in model runs forced by natural factors and a 0.2K/decade forcing (I could be wrong about this last point, I can’t remember the setups and didn’t jot them down). Anyway, whilst the 50 year trend distributions where almost completely distinct for the two types of run, the 10 year trend distributions had a considerable overlap, which is pretty interesting given what global temperatures have been doing over the last 10 years or so and what that says about global warming (i.e. possibly nothing you wouldn’t expect from a climate being forced in the way Earth’s climate is being forced).

The second speaker was Simon Singh, who spoke about Science and the Media.

There was a little time spent on climate change; Simon showed a brief email exchange he had with Martin Durkin after the broadcast of the Great Global Warming Swindle in 2007. It seems that Martin’s responses to polite criticism are as sophisticated as his documentaries. Indeed, the presentation of Martin’s emails could also be the first time that c**k and f**k have been used at a RMetS AGM. This, I think, is progress.

There was also an interesting question for Simon about the similarities between the “hide the decline” episode and an edit Simon showed us that he had made to one of his own documentaries (substituting “primes” with “numbers” in an interview with a mathematician to make it understandable for a wider audience). Simon argued that they were quite different situations as the removal of unreliable proxy data was done for scientific reasons whereas his edit was done for communication reasons. I wonder if there isn’t more of an overlap, though. I’m not sure we’ve properly acknowledged the needs of different audiences and how scientists decide to summarise their work for them.

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20 Responses to “John Mitchell and Simon Singh at the RMetS AGM”

  1. omnologos Says:

    What a silly analogy…the more Singh talks of Climategate the less I respect him. Isn’t there any chiropractor left in the world?

    • andyrussell Says:

      The “hide the decline”/interview edit analogy came from the audience, not Simon.

      Either way, why is it silly? They’re both edits to improve understanding.

      • omnologos Says:

        presenting the evidence by hiding the evidence rationalised away because inconsistent with the rest is not the same as changing a word into something the audience is more familiar with.

        ps so it’s the audience of those meetings I should have low esteem of 🙂

        pps who would defend the statement “all primes are odd” after hiding the number 2?

      • andyrussell Says:

        No-one said they were “the same”. They’re quite clearly not the same. But there are similarlities (something has been changed in both cases because of the audience). I thought that was interesting and might be worth thinking about.

  2. Peter Risdon Says:

    “They’re both edits to improve understanding.”

    Hardly. ‘Hide the decline’ is the removal of inconvenient data from results presented to a scientific audience.

    [No, it refers to a WMO report which was for more general consumption – AR]

    From the way you’re framing it, an uninformed reader would think the full results had been published and this was just a simplification for a non-technical audience.

    [The full results have been published and the divergence discussed in the scientific literature e.g. here – AR]

    Instead, the truth of this has had to be dragged out from people determined to hide it from the scientific community, and we only learned about it fully from the Climategate leak. Here’s how transparent they were: it’s just been discovered that data at the start of that proxy series was also excluded because it didn’t fit the narrative.

    In other words, they just spliced in a bit from the middle where it happened to show the curve they wanted to find.

    [Are you referring to the Climate Audit post about the Perspectives piece (a commentary piece) in Science? I only had a quick look but it seemed to me that they excluded the initial part of that record in the Perspectives article and then analysed the full data in a later paper, I didn’t follow it any further – AR]

  3. diogenes Says:

    it’s the argument from authority – the bloke in Whitehall knows best thing….

    Times have changed. These days, a lot more of the population is university educated and is less inclined to be patronised by people in white coats. Every time that Singh opens his mouth on the subject of climate change, my opinion of him tumbles. For all the scorched earth tactics of “Sceptical Science”, intent on denying that there are limits to our knowledge of climate, raw data is out there, being analysed by clever people such as on Lucia’s Blackboard, showing quite clearly that things are happening that do not agree with what “sceptical science” calls “the physics”.

  4. Vadim Says:

    Dear Andy, I am not a climate scientist like you so please help me understand. If global warming is man-made why did it stop in 1998? I don’t mean to make fun or ridicule. I seriously would like an answer.

  5. omnologos Says:

    SS is the refuge of the lazy AGWer

  6. Peter Risdon Says:

    [No, it refers to a WMO report which was for more general consumption – AR]

    Briffa and Osborn 1999 and Jones et al 1999 use these truncated data without explanation. While the post 1960 divergence problem had been discussed, the deleted data from pre 1650(? from memory) was not, so far as I know, and was only identified from examination of computer code and an earlier 1998 Briffa paper. The explanations offered for the later deletion (human industrial activity had affected tree growth in some areas) can hardly apply to the earlier period and I’m not aware of any explanation for this earlier part of the data – can you supply a reference?

    So while you’re right that this was used without explanation in publications intended for more of a lay audience, it was also used without explanation in peer reviewed papers presented to a scientific audience, as I said.

    [The full results have been published and the divergence discussed in the scientific literature e.g. here – AR]

    If I’m right above – and I know I might not be, as I’ve said earlier this isn’t my field – then this isn’t so.

    [Are you referring to the Climate Audit post about the Perspectives piece…]

    So far as I am aware this relates to unexplained discrepancies between Briffa papers from 1998 and 1999.

  7. Green Sand Says:

    [The full results have been published and the divergence discussed in the scientific literature e.g. here – AR]

    Sir, “and the divergence discussed in the scientific literature”. I do not understand what this comment is trying to portray. Surely “the divergence” needs a falsifiable scientific explanation or it does not exist?

    Being aware of, and discussing, an issue as fundamental as this for some 15 or so years is hardly a worthy explanation.

    Briffa has a project running “The Dendroclimatic Divergence Phenomenon: reassessment of causes and implications for climate reconstruction”

    Timescale 12/09 to 05/12

    Maybe next year the “Phenomenon” will become clearer?

  8. Peter Risdon Says:

    Incidentally, there is a comparison here with your last post, which had an air critical of Watts despite reporting that he had the integrity to publish findings that, by your account, might be inconvenient to him.

    Given that he went to some trouble to get these findings published, he’s either a wrong-headed or a dispassionate researcher, but either way he has kept to the scientific method and published his findings. Unlike the topic under suggestion here, there isn’t even a hint that he has manipulated data to suit his preconceptions.

    I’ve always thought the condition of some of the stations he surveyed were a cause for concern for any dispassionate observer or researcher in the field, that he’s done a service by conducting this survey, that it has been completely transparent throughout with publication as he went along of all materials relating to the surveyed stations, especially photographic. Quite way he is the target of such vitriol and even cyber-stalking is beyond me.

    However, I’m grateful to the people who have behaved like that. Before I noticed their antics, which are completely incompatible with honest enquiry, I had given no thought to whether the global warming hypothesis might be wrong.

    • andyrussell Says:

      I don’t know anything about the “cyber-stalking” you mention but what I didn’t like about the surfacestations episode was that he was talking up the results for a long time before publication. When the paper finally came out it bore no resemblance to the way he’d been describing it.

      • omnologos Says:

        Yes! A proper climatologist should FIRST publish, THEN pump up the findings beyond recognition! Shrinking Scottish sheep spring to s-mind…

  9. Bishop Hill Says:

    “All interesting stuff, particularly the last point where John showed some updated work from a 2000 paper by Myles Allen where the observed 2009 global temperature was in the middle of the range projected in 1996.”

    Is there a typo here. How did he know about the observed 2009 global temp in 2000?

  10. Bishop Hill Says:

    Sorry, should have seen that. Is there a link to the update?

  11. diogenes Says:

    am puzzled on account of this analysis at the blackboard

    the models agree on the extent of the anomalies…but do not agree on the temperatures. Someone like Singh, or someone working at Sceptical Science,com (I prefer the English spelling) should be able to assure me that the physics are well understood. meanwhile the modelled anomalies are also going outside the error bands of observation.

    The climate scientist now directs an attack on my funding by BIG OIL. Or else calls in John Mashey says I am plagiarising someone irrelevant.

    The, for want-of-a-better-description, warmists need a better response.

  12. omnologos Says:

    here’s a better analogy: “hide the decline” and “extinction debt”.

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