Pielke the Elder and Chris Colose-The Merits of Models

Pielke the Elder, a climate scientist who’s blog I follow regularly has a new post E-mail Interaction with Chris Colose which revolves mostly around the issue the statistical skill of current and past generations of computer models as predictors of multi-decadal trends in climate.

Pielke the Elder is one of my go-to-guys for climate science because of his reasonableness and fairness in his dealing with critic, the general excellence of his work, and his demonstrated willingness to correct himself where necessary.   There is also an issue of his age and experience, he has been a workbench scientist long enough to have actually witnessed a couple of multi-decadal trends go by in his life and career, something I think is important in that it helps keep one’s work grounded in reality and not lost in the creode generated by your work.

His Main Conclusions about how difficult it is to draw long term conclusion about a system as complex and chaotic as Earth’s climate system, and that other important variables and effects on the local and regional scale are being overlooked due to the Carbon Goggles many people seem to have fixed to their heads at all times.

In particular he concludes.

Humans are significantly altering the global climate, but in a variety of diverse ways beyond the radiative effect of carbon dioxide. The IPCC assessments have been too conservative in recognizing the importance of these human climate forcings as they alter regional and global climate. These assessments have also not communicated the inability of the models to accurately forecast the spread of possibilities of future climate. The forecasts, therefore, do not provide any skill in quantifying the impact of different mitigation strategies on the actual climate response
that would occur.

Chris Colose I haven’t really followed that much, he as appeared on my radar screen as an actor in a number of different controversies, but I haven’t previously formed an opinion about him or his work.  Here he seems to engage the discussion civilly and to the point.

What was fascinating to watch in the exchange, which was polite and professional throughout, is how incredibly difficult it was for two professional scientists, who were committed to a civil discussion [and largely succeeding], to believe they were being understood and having their questions answered directly or completely.  Wow.

It was also fascinating to watch my own mental process unfolding as I was reading, particularly my own cognitive bias to favor Pielke’s positions and monitor emotional charges building up.  So, for me reading the exchange was a more or less sentence by sentence exercise in maintaining detachment and reading the post as information rather than positioning.  It is actually quite hard work [for me anyway] to maintain a truly open mind and to watch certain parts of my brain straining to create connections, where maybe none are warranted – actively lifting the phonograph needle out of the groove and putting back on its rest each time the little robotic arm tries to restart that same old song.

In the aftermath I remembered this particular bit from my favorite source of wisdom.  Pielke the Elder doesn’t accept comments on his blog so I passed it along to his son Pielke the Younger hoping it would be sent to his father.  Well have to see what happens.

We model, but we also fall in love with these models, and it is the falling in love with the model that then turns it into an agenda where it was not a free form projection of a flow of facts towards a conclusion, but then it becomes instead an agenda, a synthetic creode, high walls down which you expect to see a process poured and confined.

~Terence Mckenna, History ends in Green, side B, Mystic Fire, 1990

Here is further evidence that Uncle Terrence was indeed twenty years ahead of his time.

I sure do miss the man.

And that’s the report


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