Posted by: Barry Bickmore | March 27, 2012

Will Happer is Truth-Challenged

A few months ago, I gave a talk at Utah Valley University entitled, “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” (click here for video).  In the talk, I introduced the concept of “truth-challenged individuals”–people who are better than the rest of us at ignoring evidence that contradicts what we want to believe–and gave a few examples.  Well, it’s time to add another such individual to the list–Prof. Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton.

In 2010, Prof. Happer testified before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, “Over the past ten years there has been no statistically [significant] global warming. This is not at all what was predicted by the IPCC computer models.”  The problem was that the IPCC models DO predict there will be whole decades of less rapid warming or even some cooling as the temperature gradually rises.  But since the weather is “chaotic” in the short term, exactly WHEN these short-term dips in the temperature trend will occur is hard to predict, so different models (or even the same models run with slightly different starting conditions) will project the dips at different times.  This FACT is clearly evident in the following graph, taken from Fig. 10.5 of the IPCC AR4 Working Group 1 Report.   It shows climate model temperature projections for the A2 emissions scenario, with the individual lines representing individual models or averaged groups of models.  Just look at some of the more squiggly lines, which represent individual models.  They go up for several years, then they go down for several years, but in the long term the trend is up.

IPCC AR4 model projections for the A2 scenario. Individual lines represent output from individual models or groups of models. The output is subjected to a 3-year running average.

Oh, I’m certainly not the first one to point this out about Happer’s false testimony.  Ben Santer and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research last year, in which they showed, “Claims that minimal warming over a single decade undermine findings of a slowly-evolving externally-forced warming signal [e.g., as in Investor’s Business Daily, 2008; Happer, 2010] are simply incorrect.”  (Click here for a free pre-publication version of Santer’s paper.)

Well, now Happer has made the same claim again in the Wall Street Journal.

If anyone can point out where Prof. Happer has dealt with Santer’s refutation of his (obviously) false testimony, please do so in the comments.  To me, it looks like he’s simply ignoring it.

[UPDATE:  In 2011, Happer apparently wrote an article making similar claims in First Things.  Climate scientist Mike McCracken did a point-by-point rebuttal here.]

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Responses

  1. Barry,

    ” The problem was that the IPCC models DO predict there will be whole decades of less rapid warming or even some cooling as the temperature gradually rises. ” [decades = 20yrs or more]

    “If anyone can point out where Prof. Happer has dealt with Santer’s refutation of his (obviously) false testimony, please do so in the comments. To me, it looks like he’s simply ignoring it.”

    My response:

    a) I can’t discern any individual models in the graph that show ~2000 to ~2010 with no net increase in temperature. Which ones show “whole decades” (20 yrs or more)? Can you find a blown up graph from 2000 to 2030.

    b) You do agree the actual last 10 yrs are below the ensemble average?

    c) Based on this data calling Dr. Happer “Truth-Challenged” seems a bit of a stretch don’t you think?

    • Charles,

      As I used it, the word “decades” implies multiple instances of individual decades with minimal warming or slight cooling. It’s hard to see within the densely packed spaghetti in 2000-2010, but it’s easy to see a number of instances where single decades are like that in the models. Better yet, read Ben Santer’s paper, where he actually reported doing the trend calculations.

      And since Happer was obviously talking about a single decade, why are you suddenly trying to move the goalposts to 20-year periods?

      • Barry,

        a) I started talking about 20yrs because I misunderstood your talking about “whole decades”.

        b) It seems Santer is simply saying the long term trend is still possible even though in the short term the models on average don’t track actual temp trends precisely. Fair enough. The is consistent with the comment by Dr. Robert Brown, Duke University Physics Department.

        “Look, here’s how you can tell — to get back to your question. You compare the predictions of their “catastrophic” theory five, ten, twenty years back to the actual data. If there is good agreement, it is at least possible that they are correct. The greater the deviation between observed reality and their predictions, the more likely it is that their result is at least incorrect if not actual bullshit. That’s all. Accurately predicting the future isn’t proof that they are right, but failing to predict it is pretty strong evidence that they are wrong.”

        c) I disagree with your characterization of Happer’s comments. He emphasized the glass is half empty for CAGW believers rather than the half full part. Would you apply a similar characterization to those who emphasize the half full part and don’t acknowledge the half empty part?

        Charles

        • Hi Charles,

          The difference is not about optimism vs. pessimism.

          First, Happer said that a decade of no statistically significant warming “is not at all what was predicted by the IPCC computer models.” This is flatly untrue. Can you agree about that, at least?

          Brown, even in that quote you just pasted, also seems to me to be saying that the models failed to predict a flat decade. This is, again, flatly untrue.

          Second, even if Happer and Brown were being honest about what models predict, their statistics would be a bit funny, in my opinion. What they would essentially be doing is saying that the null hypothesis should ALWAYS be that the trend is zero. The more sensible alternative is to adopt a null hypothesis that the trend is the same as what it has been for the past several decades. In that case, you assume the trend has stayed the same, unless there is a statistically significant deviation from that.

          Let me restate this. Which shows more bias–always assuming there has been no change, unless proven otherwise, or always assuming there has been a change, unless proven otherwise?

          • Barry,

            a) Regarding the null hypothesis: Seems to me one should assume most of the last half last century warming is natural since something similar happened in the first half century (when co2 emissions were much lower).

            b) Would you regard this assessment fair and balanced?

            “No Global Warming For 15 Years

            The graph shows the global annual average temperature since 1997. No statistically significant trend can be discerned from the data. The only statistically acceptable conclusion to be drawn from the HadCRUT4 data is that between 1997 – 2011 it has remained constant, with a global temperature of 14.44 +/- 0.16 deg C (2 standard deviations.)

            The important question is whether 15 years is a sufficient length of time from which to draw climatic conclusions that are usually considered over 30 years, as well as its implications for climate projections.

            The IPCC states that anthropogenic influences on the climate dominated natural ones sometime between 1960 – 80.The recent episode of global warming that occurred after that transition began in 1980. The world has warmed by about 0.4 deg C in this time. Whilst we live in the warmest decade of the instrumental era of global temperature measurement (post-1880), and the 90s were warmer than the 80s, the world has not got any warmer in the last 15 years.

            In 2001 and 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (and here) estimated that the world would warm at a rate of 0.2 deg C per decade in the future due to greenhouse gas forcing. Since those predictions were made it has become clear that the world has not been warming at that rate. Some scientists retrospectively revised their forecasts saying that the 0.2 deg C figure is an average one. Larger or smaller rates of warming are possible as short-term variations.

            Global warming simulations, some carried out by the UK Met Office (here, here and here), have been able to reproduce “standstills” in global warming of a decade or so while still maintaining the long-term 0.2 deg C per decade average. These decadal standstills occur about once every eight decades. However, such climate simulations have not been able to reproduce a 15-year standstill:

            “Near-zero and even negative trends are common for intervals of a decade or less in the simulations, due to the model’s internal climate variability. The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate” (NOAA 2008).
            We also note a comment in an email sent by Professor Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit: “Bottom line – the no upward trend has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.”

            Whether the global temperature standstill of the past 15 years continues or is replaced by warming, as the IPCC predicts, only future data will tell. In the meantime the length of the standstill means that the challenge it offers for models of future climate prediction, and explanations for past warming, cannot be ignored.”

            Dr David Whitehouse, science editor of the GWPF, said:

            “We are at the point where the temperature standstill is becoming the dominant feature of the post-1980 warming, and as such cannot be dismissed as being unimportant even when viewed over 30 years.”
            “It is time that the scientific community in general and the IPCC in particular acknowledged the reality of the global temperature standstill and the very real challenge it implies for our understanding of climate change and estimates of its future effects.”
            “It is a demonstration that the science is not settled, and that there are great uncertainties in our understanding of the real-world greenhouse effect when combined with anthropogenic and natural factors.”

            http://thegwpf.org/press-releases/5360-no-global-warming-for-15-years.html

            • Hi Charles,

              You keep shifting the goalposts, here. I don’t know your background, so I’m not saying that you necessarily realize that’s what you’re doing. Let me explain.

              A “null hypothesis” is something that you are attempting to disprove by a specific statistical test. So when I was talking about trends in the temperature data I said that the normal thing to do when there has been several decades with a pretty consistent trend would be to assume a null hypothesis that the last decade’s trend isn’t any different than it has been.

              Let’s do that. I downloaded the latest GISTEMP global mean annual temperature data from NASA and put it into MATLAB. I then calculated the slopes through 2011 from all the other years since 1880, along with the 95% confidence intervals for the slopes. I calculate a trend for 2002-2011 of 0.00 +/- 0.16 °C/decade. That means I am 95% confident that the true trend (if we could get rid of all the random noise) is somewhere between -0.16 and 0.16. I also calculate a trend for 1979-2011 of 0.16 +/- 0.04 °C/decade, so I’m 95% sure the true trend is between 0.12 and 0.20. Notice how the error bars on both trends overlap each other, indicating that we can’t differentiate the two slopes at the 95% confidence level. In other words, we will have to say that we can’t yet disprove the null hypothesis that the slope has remained the same as the long-term slope.

              But wait–why shouldn’t we assume a null hypothesis that the trend is zero? Sure, whatever. The trend from 2002-2011 is between -0.16 and+ 0.16, which obviously overlaps with zero, so we can’t reject that null hypothesis, either.

              You see, we couldn’t reject EITHER null hypothesis. Why? Because the long-term trend is about 0.16 °C/decade, and the random inter-annual variations are about +/- 0.2 °C. So the “noise” is bigger than the signal if you do a trend over a single decade, and the error bars on the calculated slope over such a short period are almost always going to be huge.

              Now let me explain why I said you are shifting the goalposts. You say, “Seems to me one should assume most of the last half last century warming is natural since something similar happened in the first half century (when co2 emissions were much lower).” But that is a different question altogether. In that case, we would have to look at the correlation between different factors known to drive the climate and the temperature. In the first half of the 20th century, there was decent correlation between solar activity and the temperature, but in the second half there was not. People like Roy Spencer want to blame ocean circulation, but since both the ocean and the atmosphere have been heating up, it seems unlikely that we can blame it on that. Do you have any other likely candidates for driving the temperature change in the last half of the 20th century?

              In fact, people HAVE used “it was natural” as a “null hypothesis” for modeling, and have had to reject it, because they can’t reproduce the warming over the last several decades.

              More about your GWPF quotation next.

              That brings me to your cut-and-past from the GWPF.

            • The GWPF quote is wrong for similar reasons. They say the climate models don’t predict flat temperatures for periods of 15 years. Ok, fine. They also say there has been no “statistically significant” warming since 1997 (15 years). I also agree with that. Does this mean that the models have now been disproven?

              Here’s the key to their deception. When we say there has been “no statistically significant warming” in the last 15 years, what we mean is that if you calculate a trend with a 95% confidence interval, the error bars will overlap with zero. From the GISTEMP data I calculate a trend from 1997-2011 of 0.10 +/- 0.11 °C/decade. That is, we are 95% confident the true trend is between -0.01 and +0.21 °C/decade. See? It overlaps with zero. But the calculated trend was positive– +0.10 °C/decade, to be exact–so saying that the trend is “flat” and that it is “not statistically significant” are two completely different things. In this case, the trend is positive, but since the time period is still pretty short (only 15 years), the error bars are still pretty large and overlap with BOTH zero and 0.20 °C/decade. In other words, the time period is too short to statistically tell whether the 15-yr slope is significantly different than either the average model projection or zero. Right now it appears you need only do the slope over 16 years to show that it’s statistically significant.

              I hope I have made this understandable. What the GWPF is doing is either incompetent or dishonest, because this is seriously Stats 101 stuff.

            • However, you can’t say “it was natural”. There must be an agent.

              The apple doesn’t fall down because “it was natural”. It falls down because there’s a force exerted upon it by the earth, the largest massive body nearby.

              So, what “natural” cause is causing the climate change?

              CO2 changes naturally cause climate change.

              We’re causing a change.

              The null hypothesis is “there is no correlation between anthropogenic concentrations of CO2 and climate average temperature”.

              This has been tested.

              And found to be untenable to well beyond the 95% level.

    • And BTW, yes, the trend for the last decade is below the ensemble average. So what? The whole reason for using model ensembles is to map out a range of probable behavior.

      No, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Happer “truth-challenged”. He made a false statement. The statement was clearly shown to be false by Ben Santer. Happer continues to ignore that demonstration, and keeps making the same false statement. I could call him a “liar,” but the fact is that I don’t know whether he really believes what he’s saying. I just know that he can’t seem to deal with the contrary evidence.

      • We all know about “truth-challenged” individuals in this neck of the woods.

        http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/carbon-price-implemented-in-australia/

        • Yes, col.

          It would be you.

          • What’s the chance of seeing any support for that claim Wow?

            • It’s seen in your first post here, Colin.

              In fact more than half your posts prove it.

            • Just as I thought….nil.

            • Yes, you’ve provided no proof of your incompetence, ever.

              :eyeroll:

    • “I can’t discern any individual models in the graph that show ~2000 to ~2010 with no net increase in temperature.”

      That’s OK, that’s why Barry said, and I quote:

      “But since the weather is “chaotic” in the short term, exactly WHEN these short-term dips in the temperature trend will occur is hard to predict”

      Since you don’t seem to know this, those graphs you’re looking at were PREDICTIONS.

      Given what Barry said about predictions, what does that say about your reading skills?

      “You do agree the actual last 10 yrs are below the ensemble average?”

      You do agree that that fact doesn’t disprove the models?

      “Based on this data calling Dr. Happer “Truth-Challenged” seems a bit of a stretch don’t you think?”

      Based on Dr Happer saying that the models were wrong and this proved hit, do you agree that it wasn’t a stretch?

  2. [...] Barry Bickmore: A few months ago, I gave a talk at Utah Valley University entitled, “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” (click here for video).  In the talk, I introduced the concept of “truth-challenged individuals”–people who are better than the rest of us at ignoring evidence that contradicts what we want to believe–and gave a few examples.  Well, it’s time to add another such individual to the list–Prof. Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton. [...]

  3. Charles, 2000-2010 isn’t the only period on the collected graphs where the spaghetti gets tangled and overlaid. So I took a simple screenshot and blew it up a bit.

    I found a couple of candidate decades which would need more than my rather tired eyecrometer to verify as declines/steady for a whole ten years. And one quite obvious period of more than a decade with near flat first five years and decline for the balance – in fact that particular line doesn’t exceed its initial ‘high’ point for 15 years. (By eyecrometer again, but it’s pretty clear.)

    But it does exceed it, and it keeps on rising until 2100. It just happens not to be this decade just past.

    If you think this past decade shows anything significant, you should have a good look at Foster and Rahmstorf. A nice overview by one of the authors is here. http://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/the-real-global-warming-signal/

  4. [...] [...]

  5. Suggest you present global warming as a heat capacity problem.

    Over the last 130 years the atmospheric gases have had ample opportunity to mix. Given the heat capacity of these gases an increase of 1.4 Fahrenheit (0.8 Celsius) amounts to several hundred quads Btu remaining in the atmosphere.

    The United States uses around 100 quads Btu per year. Several hundred quads Btu is a significant amount of energy to park in the atmosphere.

    • The problem is that for those who maintain they still don’t get it, the issue isn’t that they don’t understand what global warming is. The problem is they don’t like the consequences.

      In some cases, from the start, mainly because it was all about the environment and humans being to blame for some.

      And the two groups who immediately refused to accept it were:

      1) Those who see environmental issue == Greenie Hippies == ALWAYS WRONG

      2) Those who WILL NEVER accept blame for ANYTHING. Quite often complaining about a report of starving kids in Africa for example, going “I guess that’s MY fault too!”

  6. [...] likes of Princeton’s Will Happer. Believe me, if I was seeking a Stalinist revolution, such truth-challenged people (a Barry Bickmore has called them) really would be first on my trains to re-education camps [...]

  7. […] is a semi-prominent and professional “expert” denier who has testified to Congress about how excess carbon dioxide will be just peachy; he currently chairs the George C. Marshall […]


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