Tuesday, February 7, 2012

'The Trenberth letter is little more than an appeal to authority masquerading as a scientific argument'

Letters to the editor published today in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal:
Sixteen scientists claim that there is "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27). This prompted Kevin Trenberth and 37 other scientists to respond with a letter (Feb. 1) claiming that the skeptics are unqualified to have an opinion about global warming because they are not climate specialists. After all, Mr. Trenberth writes, if you have a heart condition, you should consult a heart surgeon, not a dentist.
The group of skeptics does in fact include climate scientists like Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT, and William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. More significantly, Mr. Trenberth makes an argument from authority, rather than addressing the valid claims in the op-ed. Arguments about climate should appeal to science and not the academic pedigrees of those involved.
As for Mr. Trenberth's heart-surgeon analogy: You might be better off consulting an intelligent generalist, probably not a dentist, but a primary-care physician who could recommend exercise and diet change before undergoing unnecessary and potentially dangerous surgery. Heart surgeons tend to recommend surgery more often than nonsurgeons because specialists are easily biased by their specialization. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The political decision to undertake a massive and destructive decarbonization of the world's economy isn't something that should be left to climate scientists who stand to gain power, money and prestige.
Peter Wilson
Cambridge, Mass.

The letter from Kevin Trenberth and his colleagues is straight out of the Saul Alinsky playbook: Marginalize your opponents by demeaning them ("dentists practicing cardiology"); state your position without definitive support ("observations show unequivocally" and computer models show); explain away statements that compromise your position by claiming they were taken out of context; restate your position in such a manner that it looks as if the issue is settled, even when it isn't ("the science is clear: The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible") and then restate it again because if you say it often enough, people just might believe it ("climate change is real and human caused"); and, finally; call for federal funding to remedy the apparent impending crisis ("investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy . . . [is] just what the doctor ordered"). No thanks. I'm glad we got a second opinion, even if it was from a dentist.
David W. Preston
Kansas City, Mo.

Kevin Trenberth writes that climate change is real and human caused. Even if this were true, the global-warming argument rests and falls on a much broader set of assumptions: quantitatively serious global warming is in fact taking place and will continue to take place; global warming is a bad thing; it is entirely or mostly human caused; it is within "our" (the U.S. and Western Europe but not India or China's) technological capabilities to substantially fix the problem; and, it can be fixed cost-effectively. Every one of these assumptions is very much open to questio, and if any one of them is answered in the negative, the whole global-warming enterprise falls apart.
Irwin Romaner
Suffern, N.Y.

We are told once again that we must suspend critical reasoning and defer to the high priests of climate science. Only those whose careers, grants, tenure, opportunities to publish, etc., depend on the looming climate catastrophe can be trusted to opine on the subject. You'd think we'd learned something from Climategate but, sadly, arrogant orthodoxy has been with us forever. Ask Galileo. But Mr. Trenberth gives the game away when he pronounces that a transition to a low-carbon economy will drive decades of economic growth. Only climate scientists are qualified to opine on climate, but somehow they are also qualified to explain global economics and political strategy.
Thomas H. Lauer
Wellesley, Mass.

Kevin Trenberth and 37 other scientists miss the point well made by Claude Allegre and 15 others in the Journal, which is that the rise in surface temperature is clearly below the values first forecast by the United Nations in 1990. The core (unsettled) issue in climate science is the "sensitivity" of temperature to carbon dioxide, and there are several independent lines of evidence, including the surface temperature history, that argue that it has been substantially overestimated.
In global warming, it isn't the heat, it's the sensitivity.
Patrick J. Michaels, Ph.D.
Cato Institute

The Trenberth letter is little more than an appeal to authority masquerading as a scientific argument. It casts no light, therefore, on the actual substance of the issues, particularly given the corruption of the peer-review process made clear by the East Anglia University emails. The most revealing sentence in the Trenberth letter is the statement that computer models show that smaller increases in surface temperatures are accompanied by warming "elsewhere in the climate system." Sorry, computer models do not "show" anything. They make predictions that must be tested against the evidence, which in the global-warming context is deeply problematic. Mr. Trenberth's models may be a magnet for government grants, but their usefulness for policy is far from clear.
Benjamin Zycher
American Enterprise Institute

Whatever their views about climate change, few economists (outside the Obama administration) believe that constraining the use of fossil fuels will promote economic growth.
Fred S. Hoffman
Los Angeles

1 comment:

  1. more Trenberth nonsense: