Monday, 10 February 2014

What is climate science?

One of my minor ambitions has been to settle on a promising area of climate science and study it in depth. Downloading papers, data, plotting my own graphs and calculating my own stats – that kind of depth. However a problem arose.

What to study?

The more I look at the climate sciences, the more convinced I become that we are not even close to articulating the main climate drivers with their timescales and uncertainties. Well maybe we are getting to know more and more about the uncertainties, but that's the problem.

Although we are accustomed to speak and write of climate science and climate scientist, there are no such beasts. We use the terms as established norms of verbal behaviour, but in my view they do more harm than good. Our global climate is far too complex to be studied within a single discipline and it's time we acknowledged it.

In much the same way we speak of chemistry and chemists when what we really have are specialist chemists working in related areas we place under the umbrella of chemical science.

Unfortunately, sticking with the chemistry analogy, climate science has yet to discover its periodic table. Without something of the kind, some overall theory to justify the term climate science, there is not enough coherence to stitch the various climate sciences together. It is also possible that some climate sciences such as dendroclimatology may become obsolete.

I think a good deal of confusion has arisen from a perception that the climate is a cluster of known scientific laws so the stitching together is already done by those laws. There seems to be a largely covert assumption that all will become clear if only climate scientists select the appropriate data and build models to encapsulate known scientific laws.

This is essentially philosophical assumption – that it must be possible to resolve climate behaviour into known physics. However, with numerous failed climate predictions and the current warming hiatus, it is obviously not so. The current state of the game is that climate behaviour cannot be resolved into known physical laws.

So I haven’t found an area promising enough to be worth studying in depth because so far there isn’t one. That may be one reason why the public domain is saturated with embarrassing falsehoods, emotional rhetoric and appeals to authority. For those who must persuade and those who must be persuaded, there is nothing else on which to base the arts of persuasion.

The climate is fiendishly complex on all timescales. We need much more data and a huge flash of inspiration, but in any event there are no experts with a grasp of the whole subject.

As yet there is no such thing as climate science.


Michael said...

Directly you invent a science that can be measured, with real facts, there will be politicians and other cleverer people making money out of it!

Forget loonies like that ridiculous Monbiot bloke, or anyone on 'The Guradian', (it's nature which they can't abide).

If I asked you to prepare a spreadsheet of your findings, you'd go mad, so let's enjoy the discomfort of politicians while it lasts, as there are no winners here!

Good, thoughtful post here, Mr H!

Michael said...

(Buqqer - it's me, Scrobs really...)!

A K Haart said...

Scrobs - I know it's you! I just tend to reply to whatever moniker you use.

I agree - the only sensible thing to do is watch the fun.

lilith said...

Spot on Mr Haart!

Bob Tisdale is an oceanographer and always an interesting read. Stay away from the ramblings of Michael Mann, Paul Ehrlich, Dame Julia Slingo, James Hanson and the blog Skeptical Science if you value your sanity and moderate blood pressure levels.

A K Haart said...

Lilith - yes I've read Bob's material and somehow I trust him.

It's his obvious passion for the truth which the crew you mention wouldn't recognise if it fell on them, which I hope one day it will!