Poptech’s list of Confusion

800 papers disputing the theory of climate change!! Can it be true, or is this an over-reaction?


Joanna Nova, known for her hatred of anyone on her website calling deniers a denier, invokes the use of this term for anyone willing to question a list of papers.

This is also another strawman argument, no one needs to deny the existence of these papers, because quite obviously they do exist, but they don’t destroy AGW as some people might be fooled into thinking.

Nova’s words

Who are the deniers now? 800 Peer Reviewed Papers in support of skepticism of AGW or the negative environmental or economic effects of AGW.

Seeing this list people might be fooled into thinking these papers somehow rebut the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Nova seems fooled into thinking we need to “deny” them all. In fact as we’ll see, the author of these papers likes to categorise this list in his unique way, thus making it appear there are a lot of papers that dispute the science of AGW.

“Merchant of doubt” Nova blindly promotes the list in several of her posts, but misses out on one of the nuances of Poptech’s criteria, ALARM! Poptech will list papers if HE decides they rebut an alarming claim made by “someone” on the internet. A paper doesn’t have to dispute the mainstream climate science found in the IPCC report in order to be included.

We can’t really blame Nova for not noticing the subtle difference; originally Poptech listed this list as “450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of “Man-Made” Global Warming” as seen in numerous blogger websites (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Poptech’s ALARM was added later when he realised his mistake in listing certain papers.

Poptech has a “rebuttal” (of kind) where he claims I lie because …

… the list is explicitly titled, “Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarm”.

If I am lying, then why is it we find numerous blogger sites repeating his title without the word ALARM? More importantly, why is it we find multiple posts by Poptech himself where he has created the thread without the word ALARM?



It seems Poptech doesn’t mind making the occasional lie himself.

Poptech’s Purpose

Poptech defines the purpose of this list as …

To provide a resource for peer-reviewed papers that support skepticism of AGW or AGW Alarm and to prove that these papers exist contrary to widely held beliefs.

Poptech lists three people that seem to hold such a view, 2 politicians and one commentator at RealClimate.org. Yep, that’s right, three people are enough for a claim to be said to be “widely held”. Is he really suggesting that climate science is never critically looked at; that other climate scientists simply accept what others say?

Within the scientific community we know there is plenty of uncertainty and room for better understanding, especially of climate feedbacks. Over time there have been plenty of studies examining the sun, cosmic rays, natural cycles, all casting a “sceptical” eye on the cause of climate change. The scientific consensus is the result of thousands of papers on the topic with many of Poptech’s papers the casualties.

Gullible people that don’t take the time to study Poptech’s list may be fooled into thinking it represents coordinated science that proposes an alternative theory to AGW. Lets find out why this is not the case, and why Poptech even agrees.

Poptech’s Vague Criteria

From numerous discussions in Nova’s forums with the list’s collator, Poptech, it became apparent that the papers get added to the list according to a flimsy set of criteria. His loose definition allows all kinds of papers to be included in the list, remarkably even when they supported AGW theory! The list is a collection of poor science, irrelevant papers, and a mixed bag of contradicting theories. Let’s look closer.

The following is not the criteria Poptech uses, instead it is various examples of circumstances that arise because of the loose definition. Paper’s can be added to the list even under the following circumstances:

  1. The author may disagree with having his paper on Poptech’s list.
  2. The paper can agree with the IPCC and mainstream climate science but disagree, even if only slightly, with some aspect of CAGW as defined by anyone, even a newspaper or internet article.
  3. The paper may confirm fundamental properties of AGW.
  4. The paper may be alarming, but somehow still make the list.
  5. The papers on the list can hold completely opposing views with each other.
  6. The paper can be seriously flawed.
  7. Peer-reviewing yourself is acceptable
  8. Old incorrect research is okay
  9. The author of the paper may have subsequently admitted the science was flawed, but Poptech will continue to list the paper.
  10. The paper doesn’t have to be from a climate scientist, political views are ok.
  11. Dozens of the papers support high climate sensitivity.
  12. The paper may not be peer-reviewed.
  13. The “paper” can be just a “letter” of no significant importance.
  14. Poptech, doesn’t have to agree with the findings of the paper.

1. The author may disagree with having his paper on Poptech’s list.

Some authors have made it clear their paper does not support Poptech’s claim, hence why Poptech needed to loosen his criteria for inclusion.

Roger Pielke Jr. says

My attention has just be called to a list of “450 Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of “Man-Made” Global Warming.” A quick count shows that they have 21 papers on the list by me and/or my father. Assuming that these are Hypothesis 1 type bloggers they’d better change that to 429 papers, as their list doesn’t represent what they think it does.

Harold E. Brooks says

I just noticed I’m the lead author on one of the papers on the list. I have absolutely no idea how that paper could be construed as “skeptical of man-made global warming.” I have no idea how it could be construed as saying anything at all about man-made global warming.

2. The paper can agree with the IPCC and mainstream climate science but disagree, even if only slightly, with some aspect of CAGW as defined by anyone, even a newspaper or internet article.

It seems Poptech can add almost any paper according to his rule. If the paper rebuts an “alarming claim” made by an independent website (as opposed to by a climate scientist or the IPCC) then it can be added to his list.

For example this report …

Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?
(Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 36, November 2009) – Wolfgang Knorr

… finds results that are almost identical to the IPCC’s findings.

Knorr found …

It is shown that with those uncertainties, the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has been 0.7 ± 1.4% per decade, i.e. close to and not significantly different from zero.

The IPCC found …

There is yet no statistically significant trend in the CO2 growth rate since 1958 …. This ‘airborne fraction’ has shown little variation over this period

So even though Knorr agrees with the IPCC, Poptech lists this paper because a website claimed the oceans would at some point reduce their uptake of CO2 in an alarming manner – which one? Well only recently Poptech gave us a clue by saying Climate Progress.

This gets worse. Let’s take a look at what Climate Progress actually said.


The research, by Wolfgang Knorr, had a title that tried to do too much in too few words:  “Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?“   And so when the American Geophysical Union published this interesting-if-true study, it issued a press release with the catastrophically wrong headline, “No rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide fraction in past 160 years.”

Climate Progress are trying to STOP misinterpretation because of a misleading title. The rate of uptake by the ocean is what has not changed, but the title in the press release that Climate Progress complain about is misleading because people would think this refers to the atmospheric percentage which has risen from a pre-industrial amount of 280ppm to 390ppm. Climate Progress then goes on to look at the difference between Knorr and other studies that do show changes in the uptake rate. This is not alarmist, this is reporting the results of the studies.

So the question remains, even with Poptech’s dodgy definition, how does this paper make it’s way onto the list?

3. The paper may confirm fundamental properties of AGW.

Since Poptech will list any paper that rebuts an alarmist claim, he doesn’t mind one bit if the paper also confirms many of the features of AGW theory, nor does he mind if it also rebuts other “denialist” theories such as “It’s the sun”.

For instance, one of Poptech’s papers, (Phenomenological solar signature in 400 years of reconstructed Northern Hemisphere temperature record – Scafetta & West 2006) say:

During the 20th one continues to observe a significant correlation between the solar and temperature patterns: both records show an increase from 1900 to 1950, a decrease from 1950 to 1970, and again an increase from 1970 to 2000. However, a divergence in the upward trend of the two records is also evident. A comparison between the curves indicates that the sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the total global surface warming since 1900 [Scafetta and West, 2006]. Since 1975 global warming has occurred much faster than could reasonably be expected from the sun alone.

Similarly they also confirm the existence of greenhouse gas feedbacks, responsible for the lag between temperature and CO2 levels in the interglacial periods – something Nova continues to deny in her attempt to argue against all climate theory.

Scafetta and West say:

In conclusion, a solar change might significantly alter climate. It might trigger several climate feedbacks and alter the GHG (H2O, CO2, CH4, etc.) concentration, as 420,000 years of Antarctic ice core data would also suggest [Petit et al., 1999].

The IPCC report and AGW theory uses thousands of scientific papers that combine multiple lines of evidence together to build the theory of AGW. By contrast Poptech’s list is a collection of papers that not only disagree with each other, but also support many aspects of AGW at the same time.

Poptech counters by saying “The list is not meant to be a single unified theory” – and I agree 100%. That is exactly my point.

4. The paper may be alarming, but will somehow still make the list.

Poptech must have some strange reason for including Steig et al. 2009, Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. I expect it’s because he didn’t read it, perhaps he only read the first two lines.

They say that whilst previous changes in temperature in the Antarctic were blamed upon changes in circumpolar westerlies, their research showed that only when combined with warmer sea temps could it explain the enhanced warming in Antarctica.

Here’s the full abstract …

Assessments of Antarctic temperature change have emphasized the contrast between strong warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and slight cooling of the Antarctic continental interior in recent decades. This pattern of temperature change has been attributed to the increased strength of the circumpolar westerlies, largely in response to changes in stratospheric ozone. This picture, however, is substantially incomplete owing to the sparseness and short duration of the observations. Here we show that significant warming extends well beyond the Antarctic Peninsula to cover most of West Antarctica, an area of warming much larger than previously reported. West Antarctic warming exceeds 0.1°C per decade over the past 50 years, and is strongest in winter and spring. Although this is partly offset by autumn cooling in East Antarctica, the continent-wide average near-surface temperature trend is positive. Simulations using a general circulation model reproduce the essential features of the spatial pattern and the long-term trend, and we suggest that neither can be attributed directly to increases in the strength of the westerlies. Instead, regional changes in atmospheric circulation and associated changes in sea surface temperature and sea ice are required to explain the enhanced warming in West Antarctica.

5. The papers on the list can hold completely opposing views with each other.

Since Poptech’s aim is not to show how AGW theory is wrong, but simply to show that there is peer-reviewed science holding an opposing view, it opens up the possibility for different papers on his list to disagree with each other. Such is the case with two papers on Poptech’s list, both having opposite views on whether the greenhouse effect exists.

Extraordinary as it might sound, there is one paper Gerlich that suggests there is no greenhouse effect. This is in stark contrast to other climatologists views and, for what it’s worth Nova as well.

Gerlich says …

According to the second law of thermodynamics, such a planetary machine can never exist.

This is in contrast to another paper on Poptech’s list which we’ve already mentioned, Scafetta & West 2006, who agree there is a greenhouse effect.

Nova also realises the stupidity of arguing about the general basic greenhouse effect, see Why greenhouse gas warming doesn’t break the second law of thermodynamics (although I suspect she doesn’t realises her support of Poptech’s list contradicts her own view).

Once again Poptech counters argues by saying “The list is not meant to be a single unified theory” – and again I agree 100%. That is exactly my point, his list does not constitute a scientific theory that debunks AGW – there is no significant paper, or set of papers in his list that impacts on our understanding of AGW.

6. The paper can be seriously flawed.

The peer-reviewed scientific method often has papers that disagree with each other, that’s how science progresses. New research can build upon previous research, or it can bring to light previously unknown phenomenon. Eventually, over time the experts examine each others work and will confirm the new science or discover flaws, write rebuttals or simply perform newer research that eventually becomes accepted by their peers as better research. Some obsolete research won’t even get time devoted to them in order to rebut them, peers accept that the research was flawed and move on without spending valuable time writing a rebuttal.

Hence science that works eventually gets accepted and cited by more experts. Climate denialists, instead of accepting the consensus will pick out old papers that science forgets and shout in their forums “See, there’s no rebuttal so it must be right!” whilst ignoring all other studies that suggest otherwise. Such is the case for Idso 1998 which repeats his earlier attempts to measure a most elusive figure, Climate Sensitivity.

Climate sensitivity is defined as “a measure of how responsive the temperature of the climate system is to a change in the radiative forcing”. There are several types of climate sensitivity calculated, the most common one mentioned in debate is equilibrium, where after several decades at a specific level of CO2 the temperature would regulate to a new average. This is of intense debate within the climate world because a low value would mean that temperatures will not change much with a doubling of CO2, a high value would mean the temperatures can change a lot. The IPCC reports use a number of different independent studies to conclude that a most likely figure is 3 degrees, but with the possibility of it being lower or much higher as expressed by a probability curve. This is for an equilibrium value, a theoretical increase in temperatures that would be reached after several decades at a static CO2 level.

Denialists at Nova’s forums like to cite one person in particular above all others in their desire for a low climate sensitivity value, Idso, probably because he comes up with the lowest value of all studies, much lower than almost all other climatologists. In 1980 Idso published his findings which contained many different experiments all arriving at a very precise and low figure. In contrast to all other climatologists that express using the probability curve the range of possible values, Idso claims to calculate it to a very exact figure.

Unfortunately for denialists, Idso and the fate of our planet, Idso’s work was flawed. His work was rebutted on several occasions (http://www.springerlink.com/content/p774t26218367vl5/ , http://www.springerlink.com/content/h41u42t104411870/ and http://www.sciencemag.org/content/217/4560/620.full.pdf ) yet Idso remained elusive on answering those criticisms. Instead he has republished his earlier results, without addressing the earlier criticisms, in a 1998 paper through the controversial Inter-Research Science Center which has a very questionable review process. Since then no climatologist has bothered furthering Idso’s work, a clear vote of no confidence for his methods.

The Nova forum fans choose to ignore the a large amount of science trying to establish a more precise figure for climate sensitivity . No climatologist today, other than Idso, uses his methods or accepts his calculations. When asked why Nova devotees discard other climate sensitivity estimates, the response is “it is a pity that most of those estimates are plucked from the nether regions of those who supply them.” rather than any analytical or scientific rebuttal.

Poptech claimed Idso rebuts the criticisms,  but when asked to cite exactly where in the paper this occurs, Poptech goes silent, then eventually admitted to not having read the paper at all. To this day Poptech still claims Idso answered his critics in CLIMATIC CHANGE, Volume 10, Number 1, 87-95, but upon checking this you’ll see Idso cites a 1984 paper (Cess & Potter) whereas Idso’s critics (Potter, Kiehl & Cess) cite Idso 1987.

More on Idso here.

For more examples of science Poptech likes but has been shown to be flawed, visit http://agwobserver.wordpress.com/anti-agw-papers-debunked/ .

7. Peer-reviewing yourself is acceptable

More recently Poptech has claimed that Idso is right … wait for it … because Idso says so.

The fact that Idso continued to cite his papers is clear evidence he did not accept their arguments.

That’s right folks, you don’t need other scientists to confirm your research is correct, you can just ignore what other people say and self-critique!!

8. Old incorrect research is okay

Poptech lists a paper, Has the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere Changed Significantly Since the Beginning of the Twentieth Century?, written in 1955 and in the the author questions whether or not atmospheric levels of CO2 are increasing. They say …

Is the C02 increasing? Much seems to depend on the objectivity of Callendar’s decisions as to which data to keep. … Instead, the subject remains open, either until another chemist critically evaluates the accuracy of the existing data, or else until more and better-organized data are available.
All this does not refute Callendar’s thesis. The available data merely fail to conikm it. The positive evidence tha t the C02 ha s increased is inconclusive, but seems strong enough t o reward further study, and the time seems ripe for new research.

This may have been a valid question back then when data was limited. Since then however, we have exceptionally good data showing that Co2 levels are increasing and isotopic evidence demonstrate that our emissions are to blame. Data has been collected from many different sites around the globe and all show an increase in CO2 levels and you can view that data here.

Somehow, Poptech still justifies this paper for the list, even though it is beyond doubt that CO2 levels are indeed rising.

9. The author of the paper may have subsequently admitted the science was flawed, but Poptech will continue to list the paper.

Even if a paper has been found to be flawed AND that flaw was conceded by the author, Poptech will continue to list it.

Idso produced papers in 1980 and 1982 which  he since conceded were incorrect. In a later paper Idso states:

Beyond this point, however, Cess and Potter (1984) additionally suggest that most of Climatic Change the natural experiments which I have used to quantify the Earth’s surface air temperature response function employ “non-equilibrium observations and as such are inappropriate for the determination of an equilibrium response”. I have previously acquiesced to this criticism (Idso, 1984c, d) to the extent that I agreed that all of my non-equilibrium natural experiments did not directly yield a proper value for the equilibrium surface air temperature response function of Earth’s atmosphere, as I had previously claimed (Idso, 1982b, c); but I have subsequently gone on to show how they can be used in concert with still other non-equilibrium natural experiments to ultimately evaluate that most elusive parameter.

Whether or not Idso does indeed go one to provide useful climate sensitivity figures is very debatable (since no one cites his work for further climate sensitivity studies – see point 5), but also irrelevant for this point – Poptech still includes his older, flawed work on the list.

10. The paper doesn’t have to be from a climate scientist, political views are ok.

There are many articles that are about the politics of action against climate change. If Poptech can’t get the science right, what hope do we have that action based on “Poptech science” is going to be well directed?

Nova’s fan a political statements based upon her flawed science – It’s advisable to get the facts right on the science before suggesting carbon tax is a waste of money.

11. Dozens of the papers support high climate sensitivity

High climate sensitivity would suggest that the climate responds (warms) a lot to a given amount of radiative forcing; this is the opposite of what “skeptics” argue for. Determining climate sensitivity is one of the real uncertainties in climate science.

One popular theme amongst “skeptics” is to highlight papers that show, at least in some parts of the world, that the climate has previously naturally warmed. The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) being widely cited as why climate can change significantly all by itself.

But climate scientists already know this!

The fact that climate can, and has changed all by itself is not news. What’s not shown in the papers on the MWP is what forces caused the change and more importantly, how they are affecting us today. Science shows us the natural forces that we know of are not causing the warming, whilst man-made changes do.

IF, the MWP was global in extent (the jury is still out on this one with poor data for the southern hemisphere and mixed data for the northern) and if it was caused by subtle solar or volcanic forcings, then this suggests that the climate is more responsive to changes in forcing than “skeptics” believe.

Any paper for a warm, global MWP is more cause for ALARM.

12. The paper may not be peer-reviewed.

Poptech appears to be taking liberty with his claim that all the papers are peer-reviewed. As seen in this discussion Poptech is listing many papers as peer-reviewed and then expecting others to prove that they are not. One thing is for sure, he’s incapable of proving that they are.

There are quite a few papers on Poptech list that are published via Energy & Environment, a journal known for poor publishing standards and who’s editor, sceptic Boehmer-Christiansen says “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway. But isn’t that the right of the editor?”. Not the kind of comment you expect from an impartial science editor. Boehmer-Christiansen also appears multiple times on Poptech’s list. Peer-review information for Poptech’s papers is not available, so we never know for sure if anything from Energy & Environment is peer-reviewed, but if they are, then I expect they get their sympathetic pals rather than anyone with a critical eye.

One thing in E&E’s favour is that they recently were listed in ISI (peer-reviewed) but looking at their Coverage, it’s for “Social Sciences Citation Index” & “Current Contents – Social & Behavioral Sciences”.

13. The “paper” can be just a “letter” of no significant importance.

Poptech’s list also contains “Letters” rather than “Articles”. Per the Nature Journal’s definition, Letters are:

short reports of original research focused on an outstanding finding whose importance means that it will be of interest to scientists in other fields

whereas an Article is:

original reports whose conclusions represent a substantial advance in understanding of an important problem and have immediate, far-reaching implications.

Poptech’s list has many examples, such as this letter. They may advance science a little, but they are not overturning the findings of the original papers.

14. Poptech, doesn’t have to agree with the findings of the paper.

Poptech doesn’t have any formal training in climate science and so in his defence he can plead ignorance. Of course with Poptech not having a background education in climate science does not really put you in good stead for determining if a paper is for or against AGW, but at least he avoids the conflict of point 4 and still dispute (albeit based on ignorance) point 3.

Even when an author has explicitly said that Poptech is misusing their work, Poptech refuses to budge in his own amateur belief that he is right. That’s denialistic web-science for you!

For further reading … http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/04/900-papers-part-two-using-our-paper-is-misleading

Who’s supporting anti-AGW science?

Perhaps worth considering is what organisations fund the “skeptics” who’s papers appear on Poptech’s list. Whilst looking at various discussions about this list I came across this link.

9 out of top 10 authors linked to ExxonMobil

Whilst I would never discount science based upon the source of its funding, it does provide insight into possible motivation for some scientists to continue arguing old “sceptical” arguments time and time again even though they have been well refuted.


A scientific theory like AGW is built up with more and more evidence adding over time amounting to higher confidence in the theory. We’ve multiple lines of evidence for the warming, oceans are warming,  land is warming, ecosystems are migrating polewards, glaciers and sea ice are melting and that melt is accelerating.  Greenhouse gases have been shown in experiments to absorb and re-emit longwave radiation, satellites show more radiation being absorbed at wavelengths that CO2 absorb. There are hundreds of thousands of papers on climate change.

Poptech resorts to his own strange classification method in order to list a few hundred. Of the papers on Poptech’s list, many have been debunked, many are not disputing claims against AGW but instead “Alarmist” claims from “someone” on the internet, many contradict each other and many may not be peer-reviewed. Not very convincing Poptech, but quite deceptive.


6 Responses to “Poptech’s list of Confusion”

  1. Stank Says:

    Thankyou for taking the time to post this. It certainly shows what lengths Poptech goes to in order to make a case against AGW. If only he could formulate them into a theory of some kind rather than a bunch of contradicting papers.

  2. Michael Says:

    Thank you for a great analysis of the list. On the surface poptechs list looks convincing, but like most denialist arguments if you into them they crumble. Poptechs list will fool those that only take a superficial glance. Seeing these criticisms highlights how useless his list is and how desperate he is to claim support.

  3. Shane Greenup Says:

    Nice work. This rebuttal has been added to rbutr: http://rbutr.com/rbutr/WebsiteServlet?requestType=showLink&linkId=2169

    I would normally just tweet this with your handle in it, but you haven’t provided any contact details etc, so I thought a comment would have to do.

    Also, could you email or tweet to me please? I would like to talk a little more 🙂

  4. Rattus Norvegicus Says:

    That letter, well actually paper, in point 13 is actually a paper. In Nature, the sort of communication you are thinking of is called correspondence. In most other journals correspondence would be called a letter.

  5. Whirlwind Says:

    You could just say that very little of what poptech lists counters the IPCC report.

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