Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bill Gray won't bet on cooling

As you may recall, a couple of months ago Bill Gray appeared in front of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to testify on his area of expertise, hurricane prediction. Unfortunately he didn't restrict himself to things he knew about. Much of his testimony focussed on the obviously bogus line of argument:
How can we trust climate forecasts 50 and 100 years into the future (that can’t be verified in our lifetime) when they are not able to make shorter seasonal or yearly forecasts that could be verified?
This is standard septic drivel that is easily disposed of (and if you want more technical details, my own work demonstrates some ideas about how to do it in practice). Note: this does not in itself prove that the models are right, it merely illustrates why Gray's line of reasoning is garbage. But anyway, this isn't really my main point. You won't find it in his written statement, but in the video of the proceedings, he clearly says:
I predict, now I think I know as much as anybody, I'll take on any scientist in this field to talk about this, I predict in the next 5 or 8 years or so the globe is going to begin to cool as it did in the middle 40's.
I emailed him some time asking if he will back up this statement with a bet. William Connolley and Brian Schmidt at least have done the same. None of us (to my knowledge) has had the courtesy of a reply. Given his statement above, I do not believe it is too much to expect that he should at least quantify his prediction in terms of his confidence (what odds he would place on his prediction being provved correct). To not do so seems to be clearly misleading the Senate Committee hearing.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that something which is so obviously a circus has a few clowns present...


Anonymous said...

I found the part of Gray's testimony on water vapour to be rather strange as well. For example:

"This positive water vapor feedback assumption allows the small initial warming due to human-induced greenhouse gases to be unrealistically multiplied 8-10 times."

I'm no expert, but I thought the water vapour feedback was actually much smaller than this- about a factor of 1.7. Also:

"Energy budget studies indicate that if atmospheric water vapor and the rate of condensation were held fixed, a doubling of carbon dioxide would cause only a small (~ 0.2 - 0.3 degree C) global warming."

I'm not sure which studies he is referring to, but a simple argument based on Stefan-Boltzmann without feedbacks gives about 1 degree C. He also doesn't give a reference for his claim that "Observation of middle tropospheric water vapor over the last few decades shows that water vapor has in fact been undergoing a small decrease" - I was under the impression that it was increasing so it would be interesting to know where he got this.

Brian said...

I emailed Gray twice about a bet, and never heard anything from him.

On the betting front, I remain always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

James Annan said...

Yes, he seems to have quite lost the plot. Shame, as he was reputed to have been a bright spark some time ago. He seems a clear exemplar of the maxim that new ideas in science are adopted only as the older generation dies out. It certainly looks to me like most of the septics (at least those with bona-fide scientific backgrounds) are the old emeritus types, with very few coming through the ranks to take their places.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

James - He seems a clear exemplar of the maxim that new ideas in science are adopted only as the older generation dies out.

Not to be too touchy, but could you be a bit less eager about that? And remember, when we've all died off you'll be getting old too.

Bill being 70 something, he might not be too confident of being around to collect. Bet with Lubos - he's young, brash, and opinionated.

James Annan said...

Sorry CIP,

I merely say it as I see it. The remaining septics with scientific backgrounds seem to consist of old reactionaries who bet wrong 20 years ago and have been trying to defend their prejudices ever since. I don't think there is any way that a reasonably intelligent and honest junior researcher coming into the field could possibly adopt the same attitudes.

Sure, we all risk going the same way eventually. I hope when my time comes I get put out to grass (or put down humanely) rather than wheeled out in front of committees to make a fool of myself.

Lubos may bluster but he's not a complete idiot. He offered a bet of about 8:1 (eg discussion here), but only on single-year values a decade apart - no smoothing to reduce the impact of interannual variability. His offer is probably reasonably fair, but certainly not at all sceptical.

LuboŇ° Motl said...

Dear James,

thank you for your nice words and interesting comment on my blog that I had to erase to avoid escalating the heat. I am sure that you understand my peaceful nature! :-)

The reason why I am not a science-hater because of the climate issues is that our side actually has very serious, productive scientists doing their job right - and better than most of your alarmist colleagues - such as Steve McIntyre and perhaps others. I am not calling for destruction of science; just for the propagation of those who - I believe - are doing it better. ;-)

Richard Lindzen is also great, of course. But I wanted to mention the currently active mathematical big shots in the climate and McIntyre simply comes to my mind, and two of us secretly know that you definitely understand where I am coming from. ;-)

Nevertheless, your great point is appreciated. I have to finish two kid talks for tonight and tomorrow morning.

You simply can't compare Krauss' low-brow bitter criticism with McIntyre's fruitful explosion of graphs, principal components, and correlation coefficients that most of you can't follow in time. :-)

All the best

James Annan said...


My comment was aimed at you, not M+M or Lindzen or anyone else.

(for those who are wondering what this is about, Lubos posted a whinge here about how someone who criticised string theory was a "science-hater". I merely pointed out that such an epithet was entirely appropriate for Lubos himself given his comments on climate change. Of course I should have realised that any criticism of Lubos is outlawed on his blog.)

LuboŇ° Motl said...

Dear James,

I understand very well that you attempted to attack me personally ;-), not just M&M and Lindzen, but it is much less obvious whether you think that you actually have a justification for the attack?

If you want to know why even you could be classified as a science-hater, read the scientific climate blog

I like the variation of Newton's quote on the top of your blog.

All the best

James Annan said...

I like the variation of Newton's quote on the top of your blog.

Thanks, I hope it serves as a reminder to all that science does not consist of a cosy bunch all sitting around deciding what "consensus" they are trying to prove. Instead, we are all kicking away at own pet corners, and what is left standing is the unassailable core. In my particular field of probabilistic estimation there are at least two substantive points of disagreement between people working in this area, but it is on the whole a friendly dispute with constructive dialogue which pushes forward our knowledge - of course I expect my views to prevail, and perhaps a few toes will be trodden on in the process :-) The science-haters, in contrast, simply seek to throw up a smokescreen of bullshit and denial with no attempt to increase our level of understanding.

EliRabett said...

Hmm, kind of like string theory. The Nile is a large river running through the landscape. Yes. This is a troll.

Brian said...

Removing any last doubt, I called Bill Gray and he won't bet. I posted details at

Anonymous said...

brian j expressed curiosity about the basis of some of Dr. Gray's testimony. In a 2002 article [William M. Gray, "The Errors of Chicken Little Thinking", FORUM for Applied Research and Public Policy 16(4):52-56, Summer 2002], he references V. Ramanathan, "The Role of Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions in the CO2 Climate Problem", Journal of Atmospheric Science 38 (1981), pp. 918-930 in his discussion of the large positive feedback hypothesized in GCMs. The reference note comes right after the statement that "Instead, if atmospheric upper-level water vapor and cirrus cloudiness were constant, or were slightly reduced -- for a doubling of human-induced greenhouse gases -- only a small global warming of less than 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius would occur."

Unknown said...

I like to bet Gray as well. That would be some easy money.

Francis T. Manns, Ph.D. said...

The disgusting browbeating of Professor Gray by Barbara Boxer in committee is a perfect example of the Gestapo tactics of a Liberal politician. She is not qualified to hold his diploma. Her impatience might fool you but to a scientist it's pure bullying. I guess we allow that in science and politics these days. Your analysis is sophomoric and your comments are largely ad hominem.

James Annan said...

Ah, the inimitable Francis Manns. What a pleasure to hear from you. Do feel free to add some non-sophomoric analysis.