Roy Spencer

Roy Spencer is one of the few climate contrarians with real credentials.  That doesn’t stop him from propagating some real whoppers, however.  Here I’ve collected links to critiques of Roy’s work.  I’m starting with the posts I’ve made on my blog, including my 3-part review of his new book, The Great Global Warming Blunder:  How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists.

Christy and Spencer’s Satellite Temperature Record Mistake

1. Andy Revkin writes about the episode in the New York Times.

Dr. Spencer Goes to Salt Lake City

1. Politicizing Science.  Roy Spencer testified before a committee of the Utah House of Representatives.  Read all about what he said, and the response of local scientists and politicians.

The Great Global Warming Blunder

1. Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 1.  In his latest book, The Great Global Warming Blunder, Roy Spencer lashes out at the rest of the climate science community for either ignoring or suppressing publication of his research.  This research, he claims, virtually proves that the climate models used by the IPCC respond much too sensitively to external “forcing” due to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations, variations in solar radiation, and so on.  Instead, Spencer believes most climate change is caused by chaotic, natural variations in cloud cover.  He and a colleague published a peer-reviewed paper in which they used a simple climate model to show that these chaotic variations could cause patterns in satellite data that would lead climatologists to believe the climate is significantly more sensitive to external forcing than it really is.  Spencer admits, however, that his results may only apply to very short timescales.  Since the publication of his book, furthermore, other scientists (including one that initially gave Spencer’s paper a favorable review) have shown that Spencer was only able to obtain this result by assuming unrealistic values for various model parameters.

2. Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 2.  Roy Spencer repeatedly claims that most of the rest of the climate science community deliberately ignores natural sources of climate variation, but then contradicts himself by launching an inept attack on the standard explanation for climate change during the glacial-interglacial cycles of the last million years (i.e., they are initiated by Milankovitch cycles).  The problems Spencer identifies are either red herrings or have been resolved, however, and he proposes no other explanation to take the place of the standard one.  In fact, climate scientists have used paleoclimate data such as that for the ice ages to show that climate sensitivity is likely to be close to the range the IPCC favors.  Therefore, it appears Roy Spencer is the one who wants to sweep established sources of natural climate variation under the rug.

3. Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 3.  Roy Spencer posits that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is linked to chaotic variations in global cloud cover over multi-decadal timescales, and thus has been the major driver of climate change over the 20th century.  To test this hypothesis, he fit the output of a simple climate model, driven by the PDO, to temperature anomaly data for the 20th century.  He found he could obtain a reasonable fit, but to do so he had to use five (he says four) adjustable parameters.  The values he obtained for these parameters fit well with his overall hypothesis, but in fact, other values that are both more physically plausible and go against his hypothesis would give equally good results.  Spencer only reported the values that agreed with his hypothesis, however.  Roy Spencer has established a clear track record of throwing out acutely insufficient evidence for his ideas, and then complaining that his colleagues are intellectually lazy and biased when they are not immediately convinced.

Blog Posts

1. Roy Spencer’s Non-Response.  Many of Roy’s readers were asking him to respond to my 3-part review of The Great Global Warming Blunder, which Roy said he wrote because he couldn’t get some of his work published in the peer-reviewed literature.  (Due to foul play, naturally.)  Now he says he won’t waste time responding to blog critiques, because he’s too busy trying to get his work published in the peer-reviewed literature.

2. Roy Spencer’s Latest Silver Bullet.  Roy Spencer has come up with yet another “silver bullet” to show that climate sensitivity is lower than IPCC estimates.  I.e., he fits a simple 1-box climate model to the net flux of heat into the upper 700 m of the ocean, and infers a climate sensitivity of only about 1 °C (2x CO2).  There are several flaws in his methods–inconsistent  initial conditions, failure to use the appropriate data, and failure to account for ocean heating deeper than 700 m.  (He fixed the last one in an update.)  All of these flaws pushed his model to produce a lower climate sensitivity estimate.  When the flaws are corrected, the model estimates climate sensitivities of at least 3 °C, which is the IPCC’s central estimate.  In any case, a simple 1-box climate model does not appear to be adequate for this kind of analysis over only a few decades.  But while Spencer’s latest effort doesn’t really do any damage to the consensus position, it turns out that it does directly contradict the work he promoted in The Great Global Warming Blunder.

3. Just Put the Model Down, Roy.  Roy Spencer’s wild and crazy curve-fitting adventures never seem to end!  The following excerpt from my critique says it all.  “Well, give me more than 30 parameters, and I can fit a trans-dimensional lizard-goat and make rainbow monkeys shoot out its rear end.”

L’Affaire Spencer

1. Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedback (RealClimate.org).  Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell published a paper in which they once again botched their statistics in an attempt to show that the climate sensitivities of standard climate models are too high.  This created a media bubble, with some media outlets claiming a “gaping hole” had been blown in global warming “alarmism”.  Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo took it apart on the RealClimate blog.

2. Remote Sensing Editor Resigns Over Spencer/Braswell Paper.  The editor of S&B’s paper figured out that the criticisms of the paper were devastating, and that S&B had ignored previously published research that they should have addressed in their paper.  Given the big media frenzy, the editor decided to resign (probably to save his journal from a reputation for publishing anything submitted.)

3. Roy Spencer Persecuted by Own Data.  Roy Spencer’s latest paper, published in Remote Sensing, supposedly “blew a gaping hole” in the standard theory of climate change.  A new paper by Andrew Dessler shows that this is just another in a long string of Roy’s faulty claims to prove that climate sensitivity is lower than previously thought.  The main problem in all of these attempts has been rampant abuse of statistics.  Typically, Roy would brush off such criticisms, relying on the statistical naïveté of his core audience and the media, and claim he is being persecuted by the “IPCC gatekeepers”.  In this case, one of Dessler’s figures shows very clearly how Spencer and his co-author Danny Braswell left out of their analysis all the data that didn’t fit with their hypothesis.  It’s so clear that even people who don’t know much about statistics can see the problem.  There is no running from this one–no claiming that Spencer is being persecuted–unless he wants us to believe he’s being persecuted by his own data.

4. Roy Spencer Responds With More Excuses.  Spencer responded to Dessler’s criticisms by misconstruing some of the arguments and sweeping away the statistical concept of “error bars” with a wave of his hand.  He also couldn’t understand why he needed to report all that missing data.

5. Remote Sensing Publishes Rebuttal.  Remote Sensing published a rebuttal to Spencer and Braswell’s paper.  The rebuttal, written by Kevin Trenberth, John Fasullo, and John Abraham, is mostly based on an earlier RealClimate post by Trenberth and Fasullo, but tidied up and updated for publication.

Responses

  1. [...] some other critiques at Climate Progress and Barry Bickmore. Anthony Watts and right-wing blogs such as “The American [un]Thinker” offer gullible [...]

  2. You are a lying, fraudulent punk.

  3. Actually….that was meant for Mr. Roy Spencer!

  4. [...] Roy Spencer [...]

  5. What a load of dumb biased bull **** [deleted by moderator].
    No other comment is releven.

  6. [...] Roy Spencer [...]

  7. Barry

    Re your point (1). The link to the Revkin piece in the NY Times is broken.

    I think this is the correct link now:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/12/science/earth/12climate.long.html

  8. [...] vid Brigham Younguniversitetet vid namn Barry Bickmore. Denne har en särskild avdelning på sin egen webbsajt för att häckla Roy Spencer som har uppmärksammats inte minst på svenska mindre seriösa [...]

  9. [...] Roy Spencer [...]

  10. [...] and he’s mostly backed down from his ideas when they were thoroughly refuted. The same cannot necessarily be said for Spencer. Spencer and Christy have had to make at multiple significant corrections to their satellite [...]

  11. […] Roy Spencer […]

  12. Bravo, bravo, bravo, and *thank you* for your epic and well-researched and thorough take-down on Spencer’s woo woo. His papers are classic examples of “pathological science,” as defined by Irving Langmuir, especially the first two symptoms:

    Pathological science, as defined by Langmuir, is a psychological process in which a scientist, originally conforming to the scientific method, unconsciously veers from that method, and begins a pathological process of wishful data interpretation (see the Observer-expectancy effect, and cognitive bias). Some characteristics of pathological science are:

    The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.

    The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results.

    There are claims of great accuracy.

    Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.

    Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses.

    The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to oblivion.

    Langmuir never intended the term to be rigorously defined; it was simply the title of his talk on some examples of “weird science”. As with any attempt to define the scientific endeavor, examples and counterexamples can always be found.”

    The final symptom cannot appear too soon. Again, thank you. This post is one for the “tool chest.”

    With best wishes,
    Steve Goodheart

  13. Excellent review. Very useful

  14. […] his apparent rejection of the observed hockey stick(s), his thoughts on Climategate, and his use of oversimplified climate models, among other things, indicate that Spencer is closer to being a denier of industrial climate […]

  15. “Here I’ve collected links to critiques of Roy’s work.”

    It’s not a good idea to link to a post written in a foreign language you evidently don’t understand based on the assumption that it supports your argument.

    http://www.klimatupplysningen.se/2011/12/30/tillbakablick-pa-2011-spencers-och-braswells-fasplansanalyser/

    In this case it doesn’t. Klimatupplysningen (Climate Information) is a Swedish denier blog,
    and this particular post criticizes you for not paying due respect to Spencer and Braswell’s phase plane analyses (?).

    “De utsätts för en tendentiös kritik som går ut på hårda angrepp på allt som kan tänkas vara felaktigt i deras publicerade artiklar. Samtidigt förbigås deras banbrytande arbete om fasplansanalyser av strålningsdata från satelliter från 2010, som antyder låg klimatkänslighet, med tystnad.”

    “They are subjected to tendentious criticism that directs hard attacks on everything in their published articles that can be wrong. At the same time, their ground-breaking work on phase plane analyses (?) of radiative flux (?) satellite data from 2010, which suggests low climate sensitivity, is ignored.”

    I don’t have a scientific background so a couple of terms may not be correctly translated, but the passage on low climate sensitivity is correctly reproduced. This isn’t exactly a “critique of Roy’s work,” and should not be labeled as such.

    • cosmicomics,

      That is an automatic “pingback”. If some other blog links to mine, it shows up as a comment in mine so someone can click on the link and see what whoever it was said about this post. If you want to look at the links I was actually talking about, look in the blog post itself, not in the comments.

  16. […] remember that the place where scientists debate is in the scientific literature. It is a venue that has not been kind to Dr. Spencer in the past decade or so. We published our latest work in an open-source journal […]

  17. What a tool and a fraud. Spencer proves that you can have “real credentials” and still be a giant fart bag.

  18. […] remember that the place where scientists debate is in the scientific literature. It is a venue that has not been kind to Dr. Spencer in the past decade or so. We published our latest work in an open-source journal […]

  19. […] Spencer has produced yet another shoddy study shouldn’t be that surprising. This is because he is notorious for being half the […]


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