Karl Finds No Smoking Gun
Tom Karl, probably one of the nations most respected
climatologists, has received a lot of press recently because he has become convinced that
there is now a human fingerprint on the atmosphere. But
his personal feelings arent quite so apocalyptic as the global warming story that
has been portrayed in the press. Commenting
on the Sept. 25 Diane Rehm Show, National Public
Radios required hour for Washington Wonks, he said he found no smoking
gun and that any climate change was very subtle.
Indeed. Much is being made of Karls finding that the
frequency of days with rainfall of two inches or more has increased in the United States. After Karls results were presented to the
Vice President (and long before they were published in the refereed scientific
literature), Mr. Gore used them to spice his annual Earth Day speech. Torrential rains have increased in the
summer during agricultural growing seasons, he told the nation last March.
In fact, what Karl found is that
there is an even chance of one more day in every two
years on which the rainfall is two inches or more.
Thats one in 730 days. There is surely no way this would be apparent
to anyone but the most committed computer.
But even Tom tried the negative spin
on Dianes show. When it was pointed out that no one remembers the last 730 days of
weather, he said the percentage of the nations rain resulting from two-inch (or
more) rainfalls has risen from 9% in the early part of this century to 12% today. Thats a 33% increase! Tom told
Were also interested in the
Veeps statement vaunting increases in torrential rains. Apparently an increase in 0.136% (thats
1/730) of days in which it rains more than two inches is noteworthy. The most frequent category of rains greater than
two inches is in fact merely between two and three inches in 24 hours. Is that torrential, or is all of this
Or is it really the greenhouse
effect? Our plot, taken from Karls
paper, shows the history of the increasing summer frequency of two-inch or more rainfalls
in 24 hours about which the Vice President has expressed such concern. The largest increase occurred from 1925 to 1945,
before there was much of a greenhouse change. Since
thenconcurrent with the increase in the greenhouse effecttheres been
very little change, and no trend at all since the mid-1970s, or for the last 20 years.
Figure 1. Change in percentage of total precipitation
falling from rainstorms of two inches or more in 24 hours.
The biggest rise occurred before the greenhouse effect changed very much.
Were currently looking very
closely at this rainfall data to get to the bottom of this story. Watch for
Karl, T.R., R.W.
Knight, and N. Plummer (1995). Trends in
high-frequency climate variability in the twentieth century. Nature,
Climate Policy of the
Anointed: The Avoidance of Peer
Beginning Sunday, Sept. 10, and over the following 16 days, the New York Times published five articles (two
front-page) on an unreleased draft report from the United Nations
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Not for citation or reproduction). The IPCC claims to represent the consensus of
scientists on the global warming and climate change issue.
Thomas Sowell, in his recent book The Vision of the Anointed, outlines the process by
which small cliques of self-appointed experts (the Anointed) set national
policy without the inconvenience of having their ideas independently analyzed and
critiqued. Sowell identifies of this process:
STAGE 1. The Crisis. Some
situation exists that bothers some people. (Global
Warming will destroy our planet.)
STAGE 2. The Solution. The
Anointed promulgate policies to end the Crisis. (A carbon tax.)
STAGE 3. The Results. These policies
produce some unanticipated detrimental results. (Unemployment,
economic decline, and the like.)
STAGE 4. The Response. Those who
criticize the Solution are dismissed by the Anointed for their
oversimplification of the issue. The Anointed
claim things would be even worse if not for the
policies instituted in STAGE 2. The Anointed have
no responsibility to justify their positions based upon empirical data.
Of course, nothing like this could
happen in science, where detailed reviews by independent scholars determine the validity
of hypotheses. Or could it? Unfortunately, the applicability of Sowells
arguments to the global warming issue is striking. This
is especially troubling since, in an ideal world, policies related to scientific issues
should be driven entirely by good science.
The new U.N. report on climate
change* is supposed to represent the state of the science on greenhouse
gasinduced climate changea compendium produced by the top climate scientists
in the world summarizing their current understanding of the issues. It follows that the report is a hot political
document, since it will be used by world governments for economic planning. It will serve as the Climate Bible for
years to come (or at least until the next IPCC report is issued).
Heres how the IPCC review
process works. A handful of experts is
assigned to write each chapter. These chapter
editors solicit short summary reports (two pages) from contributors on their
unique areas of expertise. The reports are
compiled (i.e., included, revised, or ignored) by the editors into the 13 chapters of the
report. Once written, the entire draft report
is submitted to the contributors and to others for peer review.
Independent peer review is sacred in
science: it is the process by which new ideas are advanced, altered, or discounted. Without proper peer review, scientific hypotheses
can be proposed willy-nilly with no burden of proof.
Thus, in the most respected technical journals, publication criteria are strictfull documentation of
sources must be included. The sources cited
must be from other peer-reviewed publications that have withstood the test of scientific
scrutiny. Little or no value is given to
publications in the gray literatureabstracts and proceedings papers from
conferences or workshops, in-house technical reports, transcriptions of lectures,
unpublished theses and dissertations, articles in newsletters (with the obvious exception
of this one), and personal communications.
In many journals, these citations cannot be used unless they represent the
origination of an idea.
Climate Report editors were among the hundreds of contributors and peer-reviewers of
the IPCC report. During our reviews, we found
numerous scientific statements in the text that hadnt been published in the refereed
literature. In fact, to our astonishment,
some apparently hadnt yet been written! So,
in the interest of good science, we did the following investigation.
Every citation in the References
section of each chapter was checked for suitability and tallied (Figure 1). Overall, a shocking 648 of the 1,969 references
(or 33%) are improperbased on the standards used by top-ranking scientific journals.
Figure 1. Total percentage of citations contained in the
IPCC manuscript that do not meet the standards of top-ranking scientific journals. Acceptable references make up the remainder.
Papers listed as in press
were unavailable to the reviewers, so their validity or impact could not be scrutinized. Publications in the gray literature are not only
difficult to find but have not been subjected to peer review. Each chapter included submitted papers and
manuscripts to be submitted or in preparation.
We also included citations of
previous IPCC reports in our counts since, based on this document, the track record is not
the greatest. Some citations contained only
the authors name followed by a question mark. And
some more humorous examples included almost accepted, submitted?
(sic), and our personal favoriteunpublished.
Critics will argue that most of these
citations are appropriate since climate research is progressing so rapidlyowing to
the urgency of the issuethat important new findings are uncovered every day. This is classic STAGE 4 thinkingthe results of climates Anointed dont
require peer review (Translation: I
know Im right, so youll have to trust me).
But theres a name for ideas
whose acceptance is based on trusting the messenger: religion. So, is the most important climate report of the
century really based on science, or does it represent the beliefs of the Anointed experts
with the imprimatur of the worlds leading climate researchers?
To be fair, only one-third of the
report couldnt properly be reviewed. Should
we therefore question one-third of the conclusions, or are all of the conclusions off by a
factor of one-third? On the other hand,
its possible that the text would be unchanged with the exclusion of these improper
references. If so, then why were they
Over the next year or two, the
scientific literature will no doubt be replete with papers finally answering many of the
key unresolved questions on climate change (since they are all in press, submitted for
publication, or have recently been presented at conferences or workshops). Only a cynic would think that all of these results
are not worthy of publication in the peer-reviewed literature.
To some this may seem like much ado
about nothing. But when peer-reviewing a
document as potentially influential as this, it is a responsibility not to be taken
lightly. Upon the reports official
release, the global press will wax poetic that a consensus of scientists from all across
our threatened, dying planet has united in a statement about the dangers of current and
future climate trends (STAGE 1). So what are we
going to do about it (STAGE 2)? The IPCC
proposes The Solution.
readers now know the rest of the story. Reviewers
of the report (active climate researchers) were asked to complete their work without
access to a sizeable portion of the information on which the report itself is based. Thus, climates Anointed have avoided proper
peer review while giving the impression of thorough review and the production of a
In the conclusion of his book, Thomas
In order that this relatively small group of people can believe
themselves wiser and nobler than the common herd, we have adopted policies which impose
heavy costs on millions of other human beings, not only in taxes but also in lost jobs,
social disintegration, and a loss of personal safety.
Seldom have so few cost so much to so many.
(1995). The Vision of the Anointed: Self Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy. Basic Books, New York, 305 pp.
Postscript: As a contributing author and reviewer of the U.N.
document, the Report editor was intrigued that the model the IPCC said tracked the
climate best (and also forecast much reduced warming) appeared still to produce too much
warming in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.
But, without the internal workings of this new model output in hand, it was
impossible to fully analyze this important work. When
that output was requesteda normal thing in any scientific reviewit was
refused. Not once, not twice, but five times.