Monday, 19 September 2011

John O'Sullivan: Look Ma, no brain!

This is a guest post by Captain Pithart

John O'Sullivan is the driving force behind the physics-denying group "Slaying the Sky Dragon" (aka Principia Scientific International, chairman: Tim Ball), a group so deeply rooted in denialist Fantasia that even Christopher Monckton denounced their first book as unscientific nonsense.

O'Sullivan may not be the brightest bulb in the climate denialist sideshow, but he sure is well-connected and industrious. According to his LinkedIn entry, in 2010 he "established himself as the world's most popular Internet writer on the greenhouse gas theory of climate change (Google)", with highlights such as "Shock News: Disgraced Climategate Scientist Made Top UN Weatherman" (didn't notice the source was five years old), "Carbon Dioxide Not a Well Mixed Gas and Can’t Cause Global Warming" ("School Children Prove Carbon Dioxide is Heavier than Air"), or "Solar Ovens Prove Greenhouse Gas Theory is cooked" (don't even ask).

O'Sullivan Makes a List

O'Sullivan recently posted a list of "Fifty IPCC Experts Expos[ing] Washington Post Global Warming Lies". In it he proves that he is capable of cutting and pasting up to 50 names and quotes without having to resort to his, or anybody other's brain. Well done, John :)

He lists people that he somehow associates with the IPCC (he does not mention how), combined with quotes that in his mind demonstrate their criticism of the IPCC. Some of them worked on IPCC reports, and are quoted out of context; others are so-called "Expert Reviewers for the IPCC", which means they requested to look at the IPCC report before publication, which anybody interested in it can do. As you need no qualifications for being one, the title is only used by people trying to buy authority they don't have.

IPCC Expert Reviewers

Here are the "Expert Reviewers" on the list (those that use the "title" themselves are daggered):

O'Sullivan missed only one climate contrarian "Expert Reviewer" that I was able to find: Ross McKitrick, Steven McIntyre's economist sidekick. Good work, John :)

So that's fourteen. Most of the other people O'Sullivan lists are promoted as experts on the IPCC mostly because they contributed critical quotes that bolster his world view. I suspect he got many of them from mining Marc Morano's report More Than 1000 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims. But what about the handful of real IPCC contributors on the list?

The O'Sullitaj Chimera

Lučka Bogataj is an established Slovenian scientist working on climate issues, and contributed to IPCC AR4 Working Group II, "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability". O'Sullivan quotes her:

Rising levels of airborne carbon dioxide don't cause global temperatures to rise.... temperature changed first and some 700 years later a change in aerial content of carbon dioxide followed.
The second part of this quote was compress-pasted from an earlier O'Sullivan post, where Bogataj said:

A detailed comparison of temperature data and the quantity of carbon dioxide captured in the ice shows, that sometimes it warmed up first and then the concentration of carbon dioxide increased, and sometimes vice versa, but on average the temperature changed first and some 700 years later a change in aerial content of carbon dioxide followed.
Wow, that's true! And forest fires, too, are sometimes from natural causes and sometimes due to arsonists. So it turns out that Dr. Bogataj is right in agreeing with established science.

But what about the first part of the new quote? It's actually a compress-pasted version of O'Sullivan's own words from the old post he started with

Dr. Lucka Kajfež Bogataj left cold clear water between herself and her former UN shipmates by declaring that rising levels of airborne carbon dioxide probably don’t cause global temperatures to rise.
Which is most likely the result of O'Sullivan misunderstanding the real Bogataj quote in the first place. Greenfyre's had some fun with the story back in November 2010.

Watch a video of Lučka Bogataj stating how urgent the climate problem is.

More AGW-convinced IPCC contributors

About the others on the list that were involved in the IPCC reports:

Here's a quote by Andrew A. Lacis of NASA GISS:

The bottom line is that CO2 is absolutely, positively, and without question, the single most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It acts very much like a control knob that determines the overall strength of the Earth’s greenhouse effect. Failure to control atmospheric CO2 is a bad way to run a business, and a surefire ticket to climatic disaster.
The quote run by O'Sullivan is a commentary on an early draft of the report, which was much improved in later revisions.

Mike Hulme issued clarifications after it became clear that his words were misinterpreted and lauded in the denialosphere.

Oliver Frauenfeld is quoted out of context too, as detailed by Deltoid back when Morano used the same quote.

Martin R. Manning was vice-chair of Working Group II. I could not find the source of the quote O'Sullivan attributes to him, and without the context it could just as likely refer to governments watering down scientific findings. Here's Manning talking about the pressing issues that have to be tackled on a warming planet. He also contributed to the 2008 Scientific American article "The Physical Science behind Climate Change", subtitled "Why are climatologists so highly confident that human activities are dangerously warming Earth?".

IPCC contributors really unconvinced of AGW

The list contains two metallurgists that participated in AR4: Philip Lloyd and Tom Tripp. What does a metallurgist know about climate variability? Not necessarily much, it turns out, even when he contributed to IPCC AR4 Working Group III, helping to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from magnesium production operations.

John Christy is one of the more than 600 scientists that contributed to IPCC AR4 Working Group 1 (the one concerned with the actual physical climate science). In fact, together with his frequent collaborator Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen (who also once was an IPCC contributor), he forms the trinity of established climate scientists that peddle climate science denial. He also sat on satellite temperature data for a decade (together with Spencer), claiming that the warming from the other scientists' datasets was faulty, until it was found that the error was in their measurements.

Rosa Compagnucci is a member of the IPCC Working Group II for the Chapter on Latin America, and specialist on the "El Niño" phenomenon. It seems that she thinks the global temperature change is due to changes in solar activity. It turns out it's not.

IPCC lead author John T. Everett (Fisheries, Polar Regions, Oceans and Coastal Zones) thinks the Earth might be cooling. It's not.

Richard Tol was an economic lead author for Working Group II. He is of the Bjørn Lomborg school of thought, that mitigation should only be approached when it's cheap enough.

Christopher Landsea, a contributing author and hurricane expert, says that global warming might not lead to more hurricanes. The science in this area is indeed not very conclusive yet, but it seems that they might not become more frequent, but stronger.

Aynsley Kellow, a contributing author on environmental policy, wants to tackle other greenhouse gasses first.

Harry F. Lins was IPCC co-chair during the first report (1990), and contributed to the second and third. The quote attributed to him by O'Sullivan is not his own words, but at least from the text of a 2009 petition to Barack Obama, organized by the fossil-fueled Cato Institute, which he signed together with a colorful mix of about one hundred others. But that's another story.

No Consensus?

What do we learn from this? Although, like mostly anything, the IPCC has its faults, it managed to produce a pretty solid report on the state of climate science, even when a huge and diverse group of people contributed to it, some of which don't understand all aspects of it, and some of which disagree for different reasons. How many? Considering more than 450 lead authors and more than 800 contributing authors were involved in the 2007 report (with more than 2500 Expert Reviewers), the fraction is somewhere clearly below the 3% of established climate scientists that disagree that global warming is mostly man-made and is going to be a problem. This won't stop people like O'Sullivan from gleefully pasting together lists of make-believe authorities; but it should stop people from listening to the newspaper clipping artists.

John O'Sullivan: Comic relief from the denialosphere

I must admit that I am, in a twisted way, a fan of John O'Sullivan's works; he holds a special place in my denier panorama, never ceasing to entertain with his antics, which he trumpets into the world with a childlike pride the size of a planet.

I just hope that the people that made him the world's most popular Internet writer on the greenhouse gas theory of climate change (Google) did so for the same reasons.

Oh, one more: You might wonder what the "Galileo Movement" is that O'Sullivan tips his hat to in his recent article. Here's their newest contribution to climate science.