Joanne Nova speaks – well – what about her science?

Joanne Nova addressed a public rally in WA in March 2011. This is a good opportunity to examine the  “science” that Nova often refers to and highlight the problems in her arguments.

Having spent many hours debating on Nova’s forums I have become quite familiar with the science Nova uses when trying to debunk climate science.

As usual I steer clear of the political side of this debate. My wish is to look at Nova’s “science” and understand why it is misleading the general public.

I wish for people to look at the carbon tax issue with a proper understanding of the science behind it, rather than simply swallow what is on offer from Nova without question. That is not being sceptical, that’s being gullible.

The science Nova promotes is sometimes flawed or often incomplete; that is she’s not telling you the full story. Let’s examine the science in her speech in detail …

@0:20 Nova says how she cares for our environment. I’m not convinced. Nova makes no mention throughout the entire speech of ocean acidification, nor does she on her website. How does someone so concerned overlook such a large and relevant issue?

Perhaps this needs more attention in the media before Nova will find some obscure research to cherry pick.

@0:30 Nova says “solar cells on roofs are not going to stop the soil from being washed down to the sea”

This is the first of many strawman arguments Nova makes – she makes a statement as if this is something climate scientists expect, even though it’s obvious that the statement is incorrect. The problem with her argument is that no climate scientist, nor the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest putting solar cells on roofs will  stop soil erosion.

Solar cells produce electricity. Better land and waterway management will reduce soil erosion. Solar cells can help reduce global warming by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Less warming means less severe flooding which would mean less soil erosion, but soil erosion is caused by more than just the amount of flooding so stopping severe floods isn’t enough to stop erosion. You would have to address all causes of soil erosion in order to stop it.

For anyone interested in reading more about the causes of soil erosion, this is a good place to start.

@2:15 she states that plant/crop yields over the past century are attributed to the extra warming and extra CO2.

This is interesting. Whilst I have no doubt our crop yields have improved for various reasons over the past 100 years, it is interesting to have Nova say that warming is partly the cause. Later in her speech she tries to convince us that there has been no warming because some thermometers are poorly cited, adjustments are made and because the government is corrupt.

This is the first of many contradiction Nova makes.

The other problem with Nova’s argument  is that she suggests that CO2 is plant food and therefore it is good for our environment. That because some plants do much better in high concentrations of CO2 that it is therefore beneficial in all circumstances. Sadly Nova’s example is oversimplified and misses out on a number of key points.

CO2 might be good for some plants in isolated well controlled greenhouse environments, but there are massive differences between that and the crops we grow today.

  • Some weeds also thrive on more CO2.
  • Some plants do not well under higher CO2 levels for various reasons.
  • As temperatures rise the soil becomes drier making it more difficult for some plants to grow.
  • As already pointed out above, ocean acidification will continue to worsen as the levels of atmospheric CO2 climb. The collapse of entire ocean ecosystems are at risk.

Nova’s view is overly simplistic.

For more information and peer-reviewed science on this topic see …

@2:28 Nova says “Australia’s the largest exporter of coal in the world, but did they say that China digs up nearly 10 times as much as we do?” – cue the cheer of the crowd.

Well yes Joanne, production and consumption figures are readily available to everyone capable of googling for them.

China 2971Mt, Australia 335Mt

@2:57 Nova refers to the  “CO2 rises 800 years after temperature. Temperatures drive carbon.”

Yes, it does and has in all previous interglacials. As the temperature rises (because of the change in solar forcing from our orbit changes – see Milankovitch cycles) the oceans start to emit CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn causes more temperature rise. The peer-reviewed science Nova speaks about not only mentions the 800 year lag, but also explains that the temperature change in these periods cannot be accounted for by solar forcing alone.

The temperature record only makes sense if you also take into account the additional heat captured by the additional CO2. The greenhouse gas makes the planet slightly warmer than it would otherwise be using only the changes in solar.

Here’s a video presentation by climatologist Richard Alley explaining the lag

Nova still fails to grasp why CO2 lags Temperature rise and still is eager to share her lack of knowledge with everyone, whilst still ignoring the known reason for the lag.

This has been explained to Nova in her own forums and she refuses to enter the discussion. Ironic that she accuses Gore of not letting the public know the full story behind the CO2/Temperature graph, to only then commit the same mistake herself, even when the climate science on the matter has been brought repeatedly to her attention.

@3:32 Nova says: “Global warming has stopped”

No it hasn’t. The recent decade has been the warmest on record according to all sources of surface temperature records.

To try and show a downward slope in temperature records you need to pick a small timeframe so that the short term variability (caused mostly by heat mixing in and out of the ocean) overwhelms the long term trend.

Nova’s handbook used to claim that there’s been no warming since 2001. As time passes and it becomes clearer that the warming is continuing, Nova has dropped this claim from her latest handbook.

After a rapid amount of warming in the years from 1980 to 2000, there’s been a levelling off of surface temperatures. There is not a scientist in the world can claim this is proof that global warming has ended. The variability in surfaces temperature from year to year is so high that you need around 30 years worth of data before mathematically significant trends become statistically significant.

@3:35 “None of the models predicted that would happen”

Model’s come up with forecasts by making thousands of different “Runs”, each Run being a possibly outcome for our climate. There is a lot of randomness in weather, but over the long term this randomness tends to even out. Climate models make thousands of “Runs” in order to try and even out the randomness and come up with a projection of climate that is most likely. A model produces a graph showing a range of possible outcomes, with the most likely one usually the line you see on forecast graphs.

I doubt Nova has access to all of the individual results that went into deciding what was most likely, so it’s probably impossible for her to claim that no model ever forecast a reduced rate of warming. Feel free Nova to post the results of all models in order to prove me wrong.

In addition to that, model forecasts never expected the solar to be so low, nor do they predict volcanic activity and the known cooling effect they have. No one can yet know for sure what the solar forcing, volcanic aerosol or even our own emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols will be. Expecting a model to match perfectly year to year changes in surface temperatures is wrong to begin with. Climate scientists use the models to examine what might happen under particular scenarios. They also use them to see how accurately they hindcast into the past. They are not perfect and never will be, the climate, our planet, is far too complex.

For more on what models can achieve I recommend … … and …

@3:36 Nova says “Endless droughts, ended”

Another strawman argument – no climate scientists is saying there’d be an “endless drought”.

Droughts are expected to worsen in some regions. Here’s the IPCC report on Floods and Droughts.

@3:40 “global storms last year hit a low, a low for 30 years”.

As a scientist one must ask why does Nova single out only one years worth of data and ignore long term trends? That is not good scientific practice, you should examine ALL data, not just one years worth. And what about the obvious question, why single out last year and ignore the record number of intense cyclones this year? That’s called cherry picking data, singling out small bits of data that support your theory whilst ignoring the rest.

We should probably look at what the IPCC says about storms.

A number of recent studies suggest that cyclone activity over both hemispheres has changed over the second half of the 20th century. General features include a poleward shift in storm track location, increased storm intensity, but a decrease in total storm numbers (e.g., Simmonds and Keay, 2000; Gulev et al., 2001; McCabe et al., 2001).

So storm numbers are expected to decrease anyway? Nova was trying to disagree with the IPCC, but even then her cherry picking of data actually supports their findings – I doubt that was her intentions and I’m assuming the public attending the rally didn’t know either way.

@3:45 Nova says “And you have to wonder, 90% of thermometers in the US are too close to artificial heat sources.”

What she didn’t go on to tell you is that none of these thermometers are the ones used for climate science. Nova also fails to mention that if you look at the trends in the poorly sited thermometers, the trend in temperature change over time is almost identical to the well-cited thermometers; the errors almost cancel each other out. The important thing for climate research is how much an individual thermometer might change over time. If it’s been sitting next to concrete for 30 years and overestimating the temperature by 5 degrees that may not necessarily affect the climate reading. We’re interested in how much it changes over time. If it read 28 instead of 23 and now it reads 29 instead of 24, then the climate change of 1 degree is still valid even though the actual reading is distorted.

Climatologists realised this is a potential problem so now only use well-cited thermometers for climate purposes. So what does Nova think of that …

@4:30 “Who knew that 75% of the thermometers used around the world in the 1980’s are being ignored now that we have all that extra money to do all that climate research.”

Yes, as stated just a moment ago, many of the thermometers are poorly cited and so using only well-cited will produce more accurate results. Nova is not happy with using poorly-cited thermometers, then upset again if they are not used.

Also if you recall earlier, a few minutes ago Nova said the warming helped our crop yields increase. Now she seems intent on convincing us that it’s not warming and that instead the thermometers are all dodgy and wrong adjustments are being made.

@5:00 Nova says “Did you know that 3,000 ocean buoys looked and couldn’t find the missing heat, most of that missing heat is supposed to be stored in the water somewhere.”

Nova is referring to the Argo fleet of buoys that started being deployed in 2000 and have now grown to number over 3,300. But there’s a few things Nova doesn’t tell you.

  • the ocean is on average 3,700 meters deep and that the buoys only go to a maximum of 2,000 meters.
  • the ocean is so large that one buoy is measuring about 1 million cubic meters of water, and that the buoy floats with the currents thereby measuring the one place over and over again.
  • the buoys are not evenly distributed so that there are massive open expanses of water not examined.
  • the buoys can’t travel under sea ice and so thereby miss out on all of the water under the north pole, a place where, because of the albedo feedback, is affected more than the rest of the planet.

For these reasons the Argo team that designed the buoys state on their website

The global Argo dataset is not yet long enough to observe global change signals. Seasonal and interannual variability dominate the present 6-year globally-averaged time series.

Nova doesn’t tell you that other studies using different methods DO find some of the “missing heat” (heat tracked by satellites that has been detected entering our planet, but not detected leaving it).

She also doesn’t appear to be up to date with a recent study showing how the heat can be transported to depths where Argo floats don’t look.

@5:11 Nova says “6,000 boreholes told us that the world was warmer a 1,000 years ago.”

It appears Nova is referring to one of her older posts where she shows a graph from peer-reviewed research, “Huang and Pollack 1997”. Firstly I congratulate her for using peer-reviewed research; having gone through a peer review process and then published in a respected journal makes the science more likely to be right. In addition she gives supporting evidence from a website called CO2Science, more on them in a moment.

For starters, let’s consider if it matter if the climate was hotter or colder 1,000 years ago. We know the climate changes, most scientists agree the planet in the distant past has been much warmer than today. Even 6,000 years ago it seems the evidence show it being warmer, so why all the fuss about 1,000 years ago (the Medieval Warm Period – MWP)? Well as Nova might tell you, if it were warmer back then naturally, then we have nothing to fear and today’s warming could just be natural.

There are two problems here, warming and cooling by natural forces cannot explain why we are warming now, especially when you look at the past 30 years of warming whilst solar forcing has been decreasing. Secondly, even though it may have been warmer, that doesn’t change the science behind how and why CO2 warms the atmosphere. We have a high concentration of CO2 now, unlike anything we’ve had in the past 2 million years. There is no known mechanism for quickly undoing the effect that we’ve committed to by emitting Greenhouse gases (GHG).

Another problem for Nova, in wishing that the MWP was warmer she unwittingly also supports the idea that the climate sensitivity value is high; that due to small changes in radiative forcing, large changes in temperature will result. This contradicts the concept of a low sensitivity value that she presents in other topics as I will show more clearly in another post.

Now let’s look at Huang and Pollack. Right away the alarms bells go off in my head. Nova was just chastising Gore for his climate work, now she’s presenting Pollack as evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). For those that aren’t aware, Pollack shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Gore. Pollack has also been outspoken in favour of AGW and seen in various youtube clips here and here so how is it Nova uses his evidence in support of her argument? Well she uses older research and ignores newer research, even when it is done by the same people.

Here’s the more recent work of S. P. Huang H. N. Pollack and P.Y. Shen 2008.

These reconstructions show the warming from the last glacial maximum, the occurrence of a mid-Holocene warm episode, a Medieval Warm Period (MWP), a Little Ice Age (LIA), and the rapid warming of the 20th century. The reconstructions show the temperatures of the mid-Holocene warm episode some 1–2 K above the reference level, the maximum of the MWP at or slightly below the reference level, the minimum of the LIA about 1 K below the reference level, and end-of-20th century temperatures about 0.5 K above the reference level.

Despite being fully aware that the research had been redone a decade later with better knowledge and improved techniques, Nova refuses to use the later work of the authors because it doesn’t support her argument.

Now for the website CO2Science where Nova directs us to a collection of proxy data that suggests the MWP was warmer. Sadly this is not peer-reviewed research but just a website created by one family, the Idso’s who seem to have financial backing of Exxon. I’ll leave conspiracy theories and corruption accusations for others to ponder and focus on the science they deliver – although only briefly, in the future I’ll shall dedicate an entire post to their poor work.

For now lets take a quick look at how they examine the MWP. The website splits other people’s peer reviewed work into three categories, 1. The MWP warmer than Now, 2. The MWP colder than Now, 3. The MWP about the same as now. Then they simply tally how many of each category there are and arrive at the conclusion that the MWP was warmer.

The are a few very obvious problems with their method, hence why they have never attempted to publish these results on anything but their own website.

Firstly they change for what period of time the MWP actually represent in order to highlight the warmer section of data in their graphs. For example in this graph the MWP is on 900AD, yet in this graph the MWP is around the 1,100AD mark. They shift what section they like to call the MWP in order to avoid the colder parts and highlight the warmer parts. They are inconsistent with the labelling of the MWP throughout almost all of their graphs. The world does not warm/cool evenly. Some parts of the world will heat up more than other as ocean and atmospheric currents change over time. CO2Science makes no consideration for this, instead just cherry picking “any” warm moment from the data.

Secondly, they do not grid their data globally.  They simply tally the number of papers, rather than actually calculate what the average global temperature would be if they overlaid all available data and took into account the locality. If Europe was warmer and has 50 papers showing so, whilst New Zealand was colder and only had one paper, it would be poor science to therefore assume that globally we warmer just because we have more papers. Southern hemisphere data is extremely limited by CO2Science make no attempt to account for this.

Thirdly some of their graphing is so obviously wrong that I find it laughable anyone takes them seriously. Here’s a graph that apparently shows the entire last 2000 years were warmer than today. Not only that, the year 2,000 was, according to their redline, 0.5 of a degree warmer than today!

They need to revise their methods before publishing. But let’s face it, there are so many problems with their analysis it seems more likely they’ll stick to promoting the science on the internet rather than through peer-review. I doubt this stops Nova from swallowing and then regurgitating their results without question to anyone who cares to listen.

So what do reconstruction from numerous different peer-reviewed sources arrive at …

@5:22 Nova says “And the models predicted a hotspot and 28 million radiosondes, 28 million weather balloons couldn’t find it.”

Nova is suggesting that the models are wrong because the hotspot, a relatively warm area of the atmosphere over the tropics, should appear according to the models and 28 million weather balloons do not detect it.

This is a difficult subject to explain or understand and it’s already been done ad-nauseum in other blogs.

I have nothing more that I can add so I will only summarise what the science tells us.

  • A missing hotspot would mean there is a problem with our understand of the moist adiabatic lapse rate, not of the effect CO2 has on capturing heat. The hotspot should occur whether the warming is from the sun or from GHGs.
  • Weather balloons were not designed for picking up the hotspot.
  • The weather balloon data does not discount the existence of the hotspot.
  • Other methods of detecting the hotspot show it could well exist.

As a side note, whilst looking at this data, it is interesting to note that the warming occurs not from the top of the atmosphere downwards, as you’d expect if the sun were doing the warming, but from the ground upwards as you’d expect from GHG warming.

Finally, like the “warmer MWP” argument, this is yet another example of Nova contradicting herself in an attempt to show how wrong AGW is. The hotspot acts as a negative feedback for the climate, arguing for its non-existence is akin to arguing for a higher climate sensitivity figure. Don’t you hate it when a “scientist” like Nova disagrees with herself.

@5:30 Nova says “And they call us the deniers.”

Scientists are by their very nature sceptical and will not discard evidence just because it doesn’t suit their theory. A good scientist will adjust their viewpoint when it becomes obvious that more data contradicts their theory. A good scientist will discard their old views and adopt new positions when new data and methods provide more accurate results. Unlike Nova, who wishes to use Huang and Pollack 97 even when the authors themselves have, a decade later, provided updated research.

The weather balloon doesn’t confirm nor deny the existence of a hotspot. Other evidence does show a slight hotspot. Further time and observation will give a clearer understanding.

If in the end the hotspot does not appear and the models are wrong, this would not destroy AGW as Nova claims; it means the models are wrong about the hotspot. It says nothing about the basic radiative forcing of CO2 which remains well understood.

@5:50 Nova says “31,000 scientists don’t think we need a carbon tax because they don’t think there is any problem coming with carbon.” … “There’s never been a partition like this, it’s been done twice.”

An old but completely unsupported claim.

They never validated the list nor did you require a science degree, let alone knowledge of climate science. Of the 32,000 on the list, only 39 said they were climatologists.

Names included Hawkeye Pierce, Ginger Spice and Michael J Fox. Yet Nova takes this list seriously.

@6:52 onwards Nova says “And of course they forgot to mention that for every dollar paid to a skeptic 3,500 dollars were paid by big government to people who believe in the theory of man-made global warming”

The theory of GHG warming the planet was established long before the governments funding.

Nova enters a barrage of conspiracy/government statements which I think best left for others to “analyse”.

@8:17 Nova says “They tell us there will be endless droughts and then when people drown in floods they say ‘we told you the rain was coming'”

Another strawman argument. Neither an endless drought nor any single flood is attributed to climate change alone.

The IPCC report say the weather patterns will change. We will get more rain because a warmer atmosphere holds more H2O which when it cools, will produce more snow and rain.

We also know that the warmer weather means that the water that does fall will dry up faster than before, so droughts will become more common in places.

@8:45 Nova says “Isn’t it one of the most basic about the free market that we are free to choose if we want to buy it.”

I assume she is referring to a carbon tax here. Does she also think we are free to decide not to pay income tax?

We’ve been getting away without paying the real price of using CO2 for many years. Slowly over many decades the coal-produced power has emitted CO2 into the atmosphere. Now the effects of climate change and ocean acidification are starting to become clearer.

If BP or Exxon slowly dumped oil into our rivers would we expect them to clean it up? Why is it when power companies dump CO2 into the atmosphere that we don’t hold them accountable? A carbon tax goes someways towards that goal.

@9:00 onwards Nova just goes on a political scare campaign. I won’t follow, or try to debate her points from here onwards. I’ll leave the politics for others to debate.

What I will point out is that she is canvassing her politics based on the viewpoint that CO2 in the atmosphere is harmless, when indeed that is far from the truth as you see when you take more time to examine the science.

Scientists have shown that we are adding more CO2 into the atmosphere, that the planet is getting warmer and that damage will be caused for hundreds of years into the future, or thousands if we don’t care to act.

Real scientists doing real work in their field of expertise show that the effects of CO2 are real.

Nova, by contrast has a degree in molecular biology after which she spent 5 years touring in the Questacon circus. I’m not making this up, it’s in her biography!


4 Responses to “Joanne Nova speaks – well – what about her science?”

  1. Spatch Says:

    That was an excellent expose of Nova’s moronic campaign of misinformation. Well done and more of the same please!

  2. John Brookes Says:

    Fantastic! Thanks.

  3. Nice One Says:

    Nova has rebutted Nova regarding the Boreholes.

  4. Blissful Ignorance & the Bastardisation of Science for Fun & Profit « THE PUB Says:

    […] […]

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