Debunking Joanne Nova's 'Skeptics Handbook' part 3: The Climate Models Have it Right

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This is my final posting debunking professional climate denier Joanne Nova’s “The Skeptics Handbook.”

Nova’s final pseudo-scientific arguments is greenhouse signature.

The greenhouse signature argument boils down to the following:

Because weather balloons haven’t yet been able to locate the “hot spot” – a patch of air above the tropics that should show signs of greenhouse gas-induced warming (hence, the greenhouse “signature”) – there must be something else causing the warming. This was somehow also proof that the models had it all wrong – since they had predicted that, in the tropics, the warming of the troposphere should have been larger than that of the surface.

For a relatively straightforward explanation of why this view is flawed, check out this helpful fact sheet written by several Real Climate bloggers and their colleagues (also, read this post). In addition to debunking many of Nova’s arguments about the supposed fallibilities of climate models, it also shows that there is “no fundamental discrepancy between modeled and observed tropical temperature trends when one account for: 1) the (currently large uncertainties in observations; 2) the statistical uncertainties in estimating trends from observations.”

Let’s say you don’t buy the climate model explanation; there is still another, arguably better, way of measuring tropospheric temperature changes in the tropics: using thermal winds (which, not surprisingly, Nova dismisses as simply using “windgauges to measure the temperature”). Here are some of the advantages of using this approach, as laid out by P.W. Thorne in a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience (sub. required):

“In order to gauge upper air temperature change in the tropics in a fundamentally different way, Allen and Sherwood exploit the thermal wind relationship, in which vertical gradients in wind are linked to horizontal gradients in temperature. At first glance this seems a rather convoluted way of measuring temperature change, but on closer inspection this methodology may have some compelling advantages. In particular, whereas temperature measurements have relied on an ever-evolving technology, wind measurements are supported by ground-tracking and, more recently, global positioning satellites. The up shot? There are approximately ten times fewer discontinuities in the wind records than the temperature records, making wind measurements a potentially more reliable indicator of long-term trends than temperature measurements.”

While there are also some clear disadvantages – the wind-temperature relation tends to break down near the equator and winds don’t tell us anything about absolute temperature trends, for example – thermal wind measurements are a good bet for multi-decadal climate timescales. And, indeed, they have already helped explain the supposed greenhouse “signature” conundrum:

“So are we any closer to resolving the riddle of tropospheric temperature change? It seems we’re getting there. Allen and Sherwood give evidence for a strong warming in the tropical upper troposphere, providing long-awaited experimental verification of model predictions. Furthermore, the warming they observe reaches its maximum just below the tropical tropopause. Such amplification of surface warming is expected on theoretical grounds, and is indeed found on monthly to inter-annual timescales by both models and observational estimates. However, it has been absent in almost all observational estimates on decadal timescales — upon which non-climatic artefacts project most strongly. The new analysis adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that these discrepancies are most likely the result of inaccuracies in the observed temperature record rather than fundamental model errors.”

That should about do it for Nova’s four supposedly unassailable points – the “only 4 points that matter,” as she puts it. In most cases, I’ve only touched on the surface of the science; for more, you should head over to Grist, Real Climate, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) website and (the many) others who are more well-versed in the specifics than I.

As for Nova’s list of believers turned skeptics, I’ll defer to Andrew Dessler and Joe Romm, who have already done such a great job of dismantling Sen. James Inhofe’s list of “400 (or more) skeptics.” For the sake of argument, allow me to highlight just one dubious “quote”: Joanna Simpson’s.

Here’s the excerpt Nova included: “Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly.” Nova goes on to note that Dr. Simpson, an accomplished atmospheric scientist, used to be part of NASA and authored over 190 studies. Fair enough. But is that all she actually said?

If you could have seen her quote in its entirety, this is what you would have read:

Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly. What should we as a nation do? Decisions have to be made on incomplete information. In this case, we must act on the recommendations of Gore and the IPCC because if we do not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and the climate models are right, the planet as we know it will in this century become unsustainable. But as a scientist I remain skeptical.”

What a difference a few extra sentences can make.

Read Part One of Debunking the ‘Skeptics Handbook’: More CO2 Does Worsen Climate Change

Read Part Two of Debunking Joanne Nova’s ‘Skeptics Handbook’ part 2: Yes, Global Warming is Real and it’s Still Happening

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unfortunately, the beat goes on.  There is a column in today’s Telegraph by Christopher Booker titled: “2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved.”  The comments stream is a steady flow of bravo’s.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Some climate denier mistaken blogged her as “Joanna” but her name is Joanne. She’s an awesome experimentalist and meteorologist and scientist overall. She’s not a computer geek and I can understand why she thinks climate modeling suspect. Her major point is that the TRMM satellite – she was project scientist – has rainfall data that can be used to see if heavy rains have increased. This is a prediction of climate theory if the air warms up.

Certainly rain has increased dramatically in the last several years in New Hampshire where I live, way above my youth 60 years ago, and high in the weather records. But the current excess rain is still in the ‘weather’ category, rather than ‘climate’. I suspect TRMM rainfall data will show an world-wide increase in recent years.

Note: I am posting this on behalf of Leo, as he was having technical issues with logging on to DeSmogBlog. If anyone else has been having troubles, please send me an email at: [email protected]

- Kevin


Thanks for an excellent synopsis of the disinformation and misrepresentation of climate science in Joanne Nova’s Skeptics handbook. The cartoons and superficial arguments clearly indicate that Nova’s work is aimed at taking advantage of young people’s scientific naïveté. As scientifically poor as Nova’s work is, it’s also a useful example for use in the science education classroom to demonstrate how faulty reasoning and uncritical-unscientific thinking can be used as a tool of propaganda.
 It’s critically important that all teachers take every opportunity to help students understand how scientific language can be used to distort and selectively misrepresent science while promoting an ideology.

However, the misrepresentation may not be limited to talking about climate science, on Fred Singer’s infamous SEPP website
Nova’s work is attributed to a “Joanne Nova, a Ph.D. in meteorology”. A search for her academic work comes up with no scientific publications whatsoever or any other indication that she genuinely possesses this qualification. Nova has also been described as a spokesperson for the “International Climate Science Coalition”, another source of junkscience based in New Zealand.

Although Nova proclaims to be a “science educator”, in reality she is a theatrical polemicist. Nova was apparently the ‘brain’ behind the goofy climate denier publicity stunt at the Bali 13th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks. The notorious ‘Heartland Institute’ apparently helped fund her Bali trip.
The website of another Heartland front group called “The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow”  explains:

“The idea for what form this protest would take came from Dr. Joanne Nova of Australia, who suggested showcasing the seven scientists present in the team, along with Lord Monckton, all sporting lab coats and sunglasses and carrying a banner stating their opposition to formulation of a heavy-handed Kyoto 2.”

Nova’s theatrical Bali stunt reflects the simple fact that she apparently doesn’t understand the difference between genuine peer-reviewed science and the denier’s superficial ‘junk’ versions. Her ‘Skeptics Handbook’ is simply the print equivalent of dressing up as stereotypical scientists for the media as she, David Evans, Lord Monckton and her Heartland Institute funded ‘Team Bali’ did. Both are a sham attempting to deceive and misrepresent the truth concerning climate change.

Keep up the great work!

Leo Elshof

Thanks for filling in that Simpson quote. She calls for reducing emmissions, but not out of certainty. Rather she refers to incomplete information and calls for action just in case the carbon emmissions are as bad as advertised. Seems like a reasonable way to think. On the other hand,  absolute certainty often expressed  about climate comes across as unreasonable.