The Eternal Return or: The Unbearable Wrongness of Spencer and Braswell

There is a concept in philosophy that posits that the universe will repeat itself, in an endless cycle of recurrence. This means that everything in your life will be repeated again and again and again… All your hard work trying to arrive at some vestige of truth, some facts you can rely on, some firm foundation for action — trashed by this endless cycle  so that you end up back to the drawing board only to start all over again.

Here’s Nietzsche, writing in The Gay Science:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?…

Nietzsche doesn’t actually believe that we specks of dust are condemned to the eternal replay of our meagre existences, but you have to admit he makes a good point, especially when one thinks of the recent round of skeptic debunking and imagine having to live through it over and over and over.

Wait a minute — we already have!

This latest round of bunking and debunking of Spencer and Braswell had me feeling somewhat like the ant caught in a Mobius strip…

I’m not saying that this is a waste of time — not totally. Bunk demands debunking. It’s just that I doubt this is over because to deniers, the evidence is only a means to a political end and can be manufactured, cherry-picked, denied, skirted and just plain ignored.

Spencer and Lindzen  —  the dynamic duo of climate science denial — and their various co-authors will be at it again, publishing their dreck in whatever journal will let them and when they lack a peer-reviewed journal as mouthpiece, they’ll spout it on their blogs and their bunk will be spread far and wide by willing denier news orgs and blogs.

For those not familiar with the Drs Spencer and Lindzen, Roy Spencer is a well-known participant in the climate wars who considers himself a skeptic of the consensus science, one with a bona fide science background (PhD meteorology).

As for Spencer, this is his view of his role:

I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

Lindzen is another scientist with credentials who has received money as an advocate for the oil and gas industry. You can read him debunked at Real Climate.

Neither lets good science get in the way of fighting for their causes, whether it is Spencer’s protection of taxpayers or Lindzen’s protection of oil barons. Neither accept the consensus science on the causes of global warming or the potential threat.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

It’s all good.


Spencer is a signatory of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a group with ties to the fossil fuel industry that supports a free-market approach to managing the environment and believes that God would never let us destroy the environment!

We can burn without concern – God is our insurance policy.

The Cornwall Alliance is an openly denialist movement, as the points below illustrate:

  1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
  2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.
  3. We deny that carbon dioxide—essential to all plant growth—is a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits.

Over the years, Spencer has published a number of papers that attempt to deny the consensus science on global warming. He argues that warming is not caused by fossil fuel emissions and that us piddly ‘ol humans could hardly be expected to affect something as huge as the global climate! Besides, it’s just too complicated for us to understand. Nothing to see here — move along.

He also argues that any warming that has occurred is natural, and will be minimal — after all, God would never let us humans down by letting our burning of fossil fuels disrupt the climate! Any warming that has occurred is the result of the end of the little ice age and due to increased cloud cover.

And just so you don’t think Lindzen is above whinging, here’s his take on why his paper was rejected at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So back to the current bunk-debunk cycle. Recently, we had Spencer and Braswell’s much vaunted paper published in the journal Remote Sensing in 2011, which Spencer, on his webpage, calls a “Refutation of Dessler 2010″:

Well, our paper entitled On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance which refutes Dessler’s claim, has just been accepted for publication. In it we show clear evidence that cloud changes DO cause a large amount of temperature variability during the satellite period of record, which then obscures the identification of temperature-causing-cloud changes (cloud feedback).

Along with that evidence, we also show the large discrepancy between the satellite observations and IPCC models in their co-variations between radiation and temperature:

This, along with some whinging about the mean old big boys in the peer review system keeping him down, shows how Spencer is spinning his work as a refutation not only of Dessler, but of the whole of consensus climate science.

You can read a thorough critique from Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo at Real Climate: “Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedback“.

One might be tempted to think that this is science at its best and that we are witnessing the expected back and forth that is the hallmark of science — scientists publish paper, peers review and comment, other scientists try to replicate or do new research that has different findings, ideas are refined, jettisoned or forgotten, and science moves on.

Except that climate science is inconvenient. Its findings suggest we must change our form of energy if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Put it simply, the vested interests in the continued exploitation of fossil fuels and the political vested interests in “free market solutions to everything” (AKA libertarian right wingnuts) don’t like it.

Hence, the science occurs in a highly politicized environment. The media and political front groups spin the bogus findings produced by ‘skeptics’ and use them to support political agendas and prevent action, rather than build the body of scientific knowledge. The despicable way that the Spencer Braswell 2011 paper was spun is a case in point, and one of the reason why the editor of Remote Sensing, that published the paper, resigned.

Here’s Wagner:

The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature (cf. [7]), a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal. This regrettably brought me to the decision to resign as Editor-in-Chief―to make clear that the journal Remote Sensing takes the review process very seriously.

The skeptics aren’t having it. Pielke Sr. writes that the proper response to this is in the peer review literature, not by an editor resignation. Ross McKitrick says over at the Hot Air Vent (Jeff Id) that Wagner is a “grovelling, terrified coward”.

Now, we have a new paper by Prof. Andrew Dessler, published in Geophysical Research Letters, titled Cloud Variations and Earth’s Energy Budget.

Basically, it claims that clouds are not causing climate change, that observations are not in disagreement with models on this point and finally, that previous work (aka S&B) is flawed.

I’m not a scientist so you’re far better off reading a summary of Dessler’s new work from those who are. I’ll post the analyses as they come. For a start, you can read a thorough analysis at Skeptical ScienceScott Mandia’s Blog, and now at Real Climate.

Sigh. While I welcome Dessler’s paper, I am saddened that Spencer and Lindzen have such an effect on the perception of where the science stands. We should be talking about mitigation and adaptation, not going over yet again the bogus claims of climate science deniers who are out to push their political and economic agendas. Instead, we are pretty much where we started previously — clouds have not caused the warming we’ve seen. Plain and simple, the so-called skeptics are wrong. They were wrong before. They’re wrong now. They will be wrong again.

In the meantime, take your Pepto Bismol and hope that the spinning in your head from this deja vu all over again stops and that Nietzsche was really just jive talking.

About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

26 Responses to “The Eternal Return or: The Unbearable Wrongness of Spencer and Braswell”

  1. You are missing the point. As long as there is no debunking the Spencers and Lindzens live and play in a dual world. Debunking that shows what nonsense they are publishing and how they are using it in the public sphere takes away their free pass to play scientist.

    • Fair enough, but as John N-G informed us, some have tried to disencourage Dessler to write these papers, as they’d rather see him solve REAL issues, not the continuous nonsense sprouted by Spencer and Lindzen.

      And in the public these debunkings have little impact, because they are not the papers getting all the headlines. They are lovely blog-fodder.

  2. Perhaps my point was not clear enough.

    There has to be a debunking of bunk. I said that in the post. Twice.

    My point is that there is too much traction given to denialists like Spencer and Lindzen in the first place, necessitating yet another round of debunking on the part of climate scientists.

    Leading us back to where we were to start — clouds have not caused global warming.

    Lots of work has already been done on this. Just look at Dessler’s reference list or the IPCC reports for attribution. This is not under dispute except amongst denialists and so-called skeptics.

    There will be yet another attempt to refute Dessler 2011, by either Spencer and Braswell or one of the other skeptics. The denialosphere will find reason to reject Dessler, either claiming that it went too fast through the peer review system as Pielke Sr. and folks over at the Hot Air Vent and others at Bishop Hill are already claiming, or some other bunkish point, producing some other useful bunk – useful for denialists — that will be trumpeted in the blogosphere and in Faux News.

    Which will in turn necessitate more debunking.

    Do you really think this is the end of the debate? Of course not.

    Never surrender. For climate deniers, this is not science. This is war.

  3. “air vent” is Jeff Id’s (=Patrick Condon) blog. Bishop Hill is Andrew Montford.


  4. I’m thinking that perhaps there needs to be a compendium kept of all of the “final nails in the global warming theory’s coffin” that can be trotted out for media on a regular basis. That should be of some help with the mainstream media. Nothing to be done about the ones that are directly allied with the fossil fuel companies.

    • Agreed — those allied with the fossil fuel industry and its political lackeys are lost causes and will spin whatever dreck the skeptics pump out, no matter how inconsequential or wrong. It’s the messaging that counts, not its factual basis.

      • Oh, let’s not forget their ties to the tobacco industry. All though in order to sleep at night I’m sure they’ve convinced themselves that tobacco really is harmless, that banning DDT really did cause millions of deaths, that ozone hole wasn’t an issue, and the AGW is just a communist scam.

  5. I think I’ve been here before. Damn, I’m not even on the skeptic blogroll. Shame.

    I wonder if you can describe the differences between Spencers paper and the Dressler reply in your own words? Don’t read science? Just talk?


  6. Eli and Susan’s point about debunking is correct – they should not be allowed to play at being scientists, when all they are really doing is producing glorified press releases to be circulated as memes by legions of interwebz trolls.

    But the sad truth is the Murdoch Hate Machine and Watts will ensure this dross is pushed into the public consciousness.

    The irony of signing the praises of Spencer/Lindzen’s “peer reviewed” piece of fluff is completely lost on the deniers. On the one hand they claim the peer review system is “broken”. On the other, the moment they publish something it signals a scientific revolution.

    • Yes, I was thinking something similar. Right now it is the CERN paper on cosmic rays and cloud formation that is being hailed as the final (final … final … final–damn, that global warming stuff is as hard as a vampire to kill) refutation of the science supporting AGW, even though it’s pretty clear that it does no such thing. I gather that the ability to wave around a high-prestige name like CERN trumps the deniers’ normal aversion to mainstream science.

  7. Paul Daniel Ash :The use of polysyllabic words is yet another conspiracy foisted upon us by Teh Climate Mafia™.

    Damn those elites with dem bigger words and fancy matha-mat-tical cal-cu-lat-tionz! Far better to go with gut feeling and personal politics.

  8. A religious take on the issue –

    Devil: …you can have wealth and power beyond imagining by using these substances created in the deep furnaces of the Earth.
    Sucker: What did you make them from?
    Devil: mumble, mumble …Dead stuff. Lots and lots and lots of dead stuff. The oceans died to make that oil and it still contains the essential energy that was in that life. God did that, not me!You wouldn’t want to be hung upside down in a vat of it, let me tell you. And that coal can have a tad of brimstone smell. Did I mention it can be used to power Great War Machines to smite enemies?
    Sucker: There’s a catch, right? Besides being smelly and toxic.
    Devil: A very small change to the world’s energy balance and that’s only if you burn billions of tons a year for decades – that’s more than could be dug by all the people in all the civilised world! Even if you could do that it would only be a few degrees change at most.
    Sucker: Hang on a minute – what did you just say-
    Devil: A very small change to the heat budget-
    Sucker: Not that! What was that you said about war machines to smite enemies?
    Devil: Ahh. Let me just tell you about some of those. Amazing things….

    I have to register my astonishment that it’s a seriously held religious truth that God would not let us wreck our environment. Wouldn’t it be a test of our superior, non animal nature to be given forethought and to face struggles that require humanity to co-operate to mutual benefit, to respect and treasure and husband God’s creation, to live within the limits of the world He/She gave us? And give us both the intellect to understand those limits as well as the freedom to not give a shit about them?

    Not my own religious views above – just saying.

  9. I always thought McIntyre was smarter than this. Stick to niggly side issues and paleo that resolves itself slowly and stay away from atmospheric physics which is hostage to real time events and liable to attract far more attention than some mini bit of paleo. Fair enough he is now right in the mix and not off on a side show.

    And on another point its good to see our new direction, early 2000s it was “satellites show cooling”, then its was “its the sun”, when the bottom fell out of the TSI it moved to “PDO AMO” but that has not really gotten much support so now we are back to clouds. I reckon there is at least a year or two of ‘internal variability’ and clouds before the next meme.

    • At Skeptical Science, top of the pops is now ” Climate’s changed before”. “It’s the sun” is fuming / sulking in the second place-getter’s corner.

  10. Moshpit’s been sidling up to RC lately doing his unctious passive-aggressive routine on their thread about the Spencer – Dessler papers.

    It’s almost as if he’s forgotten what a vile entity he is.
    It’s rather like if you were sitting on a park bench and a pool of black slime, fizzing with AIDS, cholera and necrotising halitosis oozed over to you, tapped you on the ankle and said it wanted to be your fwend. And anyway you made it the way it is.



  1. Roy Spencer Wants You to Believe the Magician Really Cuts Her Body in Half « Global Warming: Man or Myth? - September 6, 2011

    […] The Eternal Return or: The Unbearable Wrongness of Spencer and Braswell – The Policy Lass […]

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