William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Why Global Warming Models Are Hot And Bothered

Everybody remembers what happened when Lord Christopher Monckton, Willie Soon, David Legates and I published our (what is physics is called) toy model of the climate. Global warming increased! Caused by apoplexy, over-heating, fuming, and ranting by the usual crowd of dimwits.

It reached the point where one incompetent or malevolent—there is no third choice—United States Senator calling on skeptics like myself to be prosecuted by the RICO act (see also this). Because why? Because tobacco, or something. The man is an ass.

In the frenzy, the world’s mean IQ dropped a full ten points. Only one group of actual scientists tried to take on the paper. Mark Richardson, Zeke Hausfather, Dana Nuccitelli, Ken Rice, and John Abraham wrote the response “Misdiagnosis of Earth climate sensitivity based on energy balance model results” and published it in the same journal our original paper appeared. We were allowed a rebuttal, which is the usual process, and which was (again, as usual) supposed to be published simultaneously with Richardson et al.

Well, you know how these things go. The Science Bulletin—the journal took a lot of heat for publishing us—put up Richardson et al. but misplaced our rebuttal, which will now show later. (Or you can download it here, in draft form, now; but, shhhh, don’t tell anybody where you got it. It’s a, the Lord be merciful, Word doc.)

Anyway the publishing, um, mishap allowed The Guardian to pee its pants: “Research downplaying impending global warming is overturned: A new study finds Monckton et al. (2015) riddled with errors.”

The author, Nuccitelli, like many, fails to distinguish between model fit and model predictions. (To be fair, Nuccitelli likely did not write the hyperbolic headline.)

Sure, GCMs can fit past data, more or less well. Any model can be made to fit past data! But you don’t show that fit and then claim the model works, that would be foolish. Right!?

Oh, wait. You do. That’s what classical statistics is all about: showing how well some data can be squeezed into a model, much like how the bodies of certain women in June (after a long winter) are squeezed into last year’s bathing suits. The thing can be done, but it doesn’t mean the results are good.

Thousands upon thousands—oh, some damnably large number—of papers showing how data can be squeezed into models are published yearly. How many of these models would make good predictions? Ask it another way: how many models are good, since the only test of true goodness is how well models make predictions of data never seen before?

Not too many, that’s how many.

Particularly compare the picture Nuccitelli has in the Guardian with the one displayed in the tweet above (or at this link). One shows fit, the other forecast. See how easy it is to fool yourself? (We discuss Nuccitelli’s picture in our rebuttal.)

Tell the truth, I’m sick of this whole business. I’m thisclose to never saying another word about climatology. What a dismal science, filled with untrained civilians (which includes sociologists, economists, etc.), all of whom have stronger opinions on the subject than any scientist, cowardly scientists, many of whom know damn well what is happening but who keep their mouths shut, bottom-feeding immoral politicians, whose only concern is self-aggrandizement, activists, unhinged, every mother-loving one of them, reporters, the worst of the bunch, because each thinks himself a crusading genius. The damage done to thought by this preposterous situation is incalculable.

Over twenty years I’ve made maybe a couple of thousand dollars from this field, but I’ve lost much, much more (my retirement “plan” consists in investing in lottery tickets). The work I’ve done has given me only grief. Try finding a job once you’re labeled a “denier”. The ignoramus who thought that one up needs to be first in line for the series of blanket parties which are long overdue our nation’s intellectuals.

Us skeptics are supposed to be awash in oil money. The next nitwit that says that to me better have a good dental plan. For decades I’ve had my hand out to oil companies—I have no compunction taking their money—but never a cent have I received. Not from them, and not from any company affiliated with them.

The monks—the only group which has a chance of surviving—who write the history of this period will never stop laughing.

Update We heard from the reviewers why our rebuttal wasn’t printed. There are “errors” we have to fix. Here is a sample they noticed.

Page 2 Line 46: “Appropriate caveats about the limitations ” is undefined and vague language. The crux of [13] is that the limitations reduce the accuracy beyond applicability, while [6] maintains strong conclusions drawn from this model. “Appropriate” is a matter of opinion in this case, and should not be included without merited justification.

Page 2 Line 50-52: The claim that global temperature measurements are only accurate after 1979 is unsubstantiated. Please provide a citation.

Page 3 Line 11: “Perform satisfactorily” is vague. Please refrain from subjective language.

All niggling (are we still allowed to use this word?) details, mostly copy editing. Because of the back-and-forth, don’t look to see official version of the paper above for a least a month.


  1. “Because why?” Because there’s no other option. There’s no way to prove humans are causing global warming at the moment, other than appeal to authority, and Mr. Senator doesn’t like you folks for disagreeing with his ideas. So bring out RICO.

    Walmart shipping illustrates how to make a model fit past data, using a 20 roll pack of TP and putting it in a box sized for 12. Perfect fit!

    Lottery tickets? Are you sure you’re a statistician? Or did you mean investments in the stock market and this is code? 🙂

    The history of this era should be preserved by monks, ones that have never seen an electronic device. All else will fall by the wayside.

    I’m guessing you had no idea of the animosity that awaited you in climate change. Having come into climate blogging much later, I knew and made a calculated decision to go into the mess. Probably insanity, but someone has to do it. The more, the better.

  2. Are problems with modelling the only reason you do not believe pollution is causing climate change?


  3. Otherwise, I don’t recall anyone here saying particulates and aerosols can’t effect climate. That’s a separate issue from the models being broken, unless you are referring to the guesstimates used in models because real data is not available at the resolution of the models.

  4. I fully get Briggs’ frustration. As someone with a science education and who worked in science for the first 10 years of my career (I’ve since been in software and consulting the past 20), it’s enormously depressing to see the state of “science” these days. It’s even worse to see trained scientists acting like middle schoolers with their name-calling and deceptive tactics. It’s a sad state of things.

    But, throwing in the towel is exactly what the other side is looking for. They’re looking to wear down those who exhibit skepticism and contrarian thoughts. Much like when my wife wears over time me down into believing we need to spend $20K for new landscaping for our home… I never really buy into her same belief, but I cave nonetheless, simply to keep the peace. She wins. The warmist crowd is aimed at doing the same thing. Just with dirtier tactics. They win by getting good scientists to give up their public stance or fight. These good scientists don’t change their beliefs… they’ll just shut up – in a way, to keep the peace too. But in doing so, the bad guys win. Not because they’re right (and I’m open enough to say that there is the possibility that they may someday indeed be proven right), but because they’re nasty folks who have done science a massive disservice.

    I am convinced that there is not a single person or finding that would throw this train off its tracks anytime soon. Clearly, the temperatures of the past 18 years have not done so. I don’t think even a fairly dramatic 10 year downturn in temps would do anything either. They’d simply find ways to rationalize this data, or change the narrative, or continue to “re-adjust” past temperatures.

  5. … much like how the bodies of certain women in June (after a long winter) are squeezed into last year’s bathing suits …


    This is why we want more carbon pollution and higher global temperatures so women can look their best all year round

  6. Briggs,
    Only a remnant see the promised land. Recall Gal 6:9.

    The persecuting Senator happens to be one of my two. The other is just as bad but less obviously idiotic. Not my fault. I vote contrary to 75% of my fellow citizens. What are you gonna do when local “culture” lets the blue party dominate since 1937 by favoring their friends (unions), relatives, and undocumenteds while marginalizing their opponents (whose redness is deeply purple just to survive)?

    The monks did it once (http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/22708/how-the-irish-saved-civilization-by-thomas-cahill/9780385418492) so why not again?

  7. JMJ, you never bring logic or evidence to your claims, just assertions. That’s why the other commentators in this blog don’t give you any credit.

  8. Sen. Whitehouse (a suspicious name) invoking RICO is much like a similar effort to uncover the Communist invasion of the movie industry. Fortunately, the First Amendment still holds despite the attempt to use RICO to attack those one disagrees with. Not sure what power the senator has over the Justice Department so this may be just political posturing — like Hansen’s death trains.

  9. JMJ,
    I’m thinking that most of the people that frequent this blog would welcome more nuclear energy. Does that apply to you too?

  10. JMJ,

    My skepticism is mostly because the models don’t match reality. There are other reasons as well like the way the models work, and regional vs global temperatures and common sense!

  11. As a follow up to my earlier comment… well, this certainly didn’t take long: http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/4/8727459/global-warming-hiatus-never-happened-study

  12. But what about the other evidence? Briggs often argues for a smartly conservative analysis of statistics and poo poos climate modelling in general. He then uses these unreliable devices to prove the climate is not changing.

    In his last post he suggested the recent spike in global sea ice proves it is not diminishing, ignoring the fact that the ice is coming from dramatically receding glaciers and the North Pole cap. That’s either complete ignorance of the subject, which is hard to believe, or intentionally misleading.

    This all just seems disingenuous at this point. You guys are not helping your reputation with this issue at all.


  13. Briggs

    June 4, 2015 at 3:14 pm


    Apropos: Why climate change is good for the world

    Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 4, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Are problems with modelling the only reason you do not believe pollution is causing climate change?

    Well, back in the 1970s, the pollution was supposedly making things cooler. Sure and it’s a wonderful cause when it can account for anything that happens.

    Of course no one back then had thought of calling a vital chemical like CO2 a “pollutant.”

  15. He then uses these unreliable devices to prove the climate is not changing

    Don;t think he ever said climate wasn’t changing.

    ice is coming from dramatically receding glaciers and the North Pole cap

    North Pole cap is nothing but sea ice. The major process behind glacier recession is sublimation — no runoff; the ice just vanishes. If you meant calving, that happens when more ice is pushed into the sea from behind. That wouldn’t happen if the glacier was melting.

  16. It’s official science –Lysenkoism– the other complex Eisenhower warned us about.

  17. I guess I’m one of those “dimwits” that Dr. Briggs talks about, because I can make no sense of this rebuttal paragraph:

    “2.8 Values of the transience fraction rt In [13] it is argued that the choice of rt = 1 in [6] was “equivalent to an instantaneous response”, but that “this is only true if the heat capacity of Earth is zero”. Here, the authors of [13] have misunderstood the definition of the transience fraction. In [6], the transience fraction was defined as “the fraction of equilibrium sensitivity expected to be attained over t years”, but, in the discussion of this variable, it was made plain that its purpose was to allow for non-linearities specifically arising from the action of temperature feedbacks over different timescales. There are indeed, therefore, response lags in the climate object caused by the immense thermal inertia of the ocean, for instance: but the simple model concerns itself only with anthropogenic influences on temperature. Thermal inertia is not an anthropogenic influence.”

    Look at their Fig. 4, from which the Table 2 r_t values were obtained, and tell me you really think the passage above is a fair description of the r_t values (or that they capture nonlinearities at all).

    Personally, I would find Monckton et al.’s conclusions congenial if any reasoning backed it up. But if that paper’s incoherence is what passes for reasoning among scientists, I’m glad I’m a “civilian.”

    Be honest. Can anyone really reconcile that statement with the way the r_t values were purportedly “derived” from the Roe paper?

  18. Even if the values in Table 4 were pulled out of thin air, do you deny that those in Table 1 are accurate or that the authors’ model does not perform better than the GCMs? If so, who cares how it came about? The point was that it does.

  19. “But what about the other evidence?”

    There is no other evidence. Glaciers have been receding for tens of thousands of years. They are receding no faster nor no slower than they have done in the past. The planet has warmed for 300 years.

    You have to be unusually ignorant to grasp that warming is not evidence that humans have caused the warming. The only evidence that is rational is evidence that humans have done X and X has caused the rate of temperature rise to increase.

    People can surely not be so ignorant that they cannot grasp something as simple? Apparently not.

  20. “…do you deny that those in Table 1 are accurate or that the authors’ model does not perform better than the GCMs?”

    I do. You meant to say, which model fits better. Who cares? You can fit a model in endless different ways. Fitting a model doesn’t say much that’s useful. (Although climate science papers get routinely published containing models that can’t even do that. That’s largely why I contend the field is largely junk science.)

    We’re not going to know which type of model does better for another 10-30 years, most likely. And after we wait that long we’ll likely find out they were all bad.

  21. Of course warmer is better. Warmer means more rain, longer growing seasons, more bio-productivity, more bio-diversity, more LIFE. Colder means the opposite; ice is death.

    The climate alarmism is based on a counterfactual. For the last 240 million years the Earth has almost always been warmer than now. The exceptions are the glacial stadial periods of the last 1.8 million years. Warmer is the normative condition for this planet. When it was warmer, life was abundant; when it was colder, life was harshly limited.

    Today the most bio-abundant regions are the tropics, the least the poles. Humans are tropical animals (in origin). Most of our food is tropical (in origin). Most people live in warm regions today.

    The dire report of the climate hysterics is an imaginary hobgoblin — even if the Earth was to grow warmer, which it is not doing (at least not for the last 20 years), it would be a good thing because warmer is better.

    The agents of censorship and other authoritarian punishments are thrice misguided: fascism is a lousy way to run a society, warmer is better, and the earth is not warming in any case (sadly).

    On a personal note, congratulations on the excellent paper. I’m sorry you have to experience blowback from fatheads. I respect and admire your perseverance in pursuit of Truth, despite the adversity. Thank you and KUTGW.

  22. DAV: “Even if the values in Table 4 were pulled out of thin air, do you deny that those in Table 1 are accurate or that the authors’ model does not perform better than the GCMs? If so, who cares how it came about? The point was that it does.”

    Hardly; I could come up with a model that hindcasts better than either of them, and so can you.

    The authors could have just said two things.

    First: If we apply the IPCC’s values for doubled-concentration forcing, static feedback, and open-loop static gain (“Planck parameter”) to the conventional formula for closed-loop static gain, AR4 ECS estimate is inconsistent with the AR5 static-feedback estimates and therefore should have been updated in AR5.

    Second: We won’t divulge exactly what forcing variance we assign to the last 800 millennia, but our gestalt approach to divining static-feedback range from that period’s climate, various papers, the hyperbola that conventionally relates closed-loop gain to loop gain, our famous “process engineers’ design limit,” and other things too complicated for you to comprehend yields a loop-gain range probability-density function symmetrical within a range of -0.5 to +0.1 and therefore a feedback range of -1.60 to +0.1 W/m^2 per kelvin with a median of -0.64. Although that range’s central value results in a temperature trend less than HadCRUT4’s for the last 67 years even when we apply it to a forcing trend half again what was experienced during that period and assume a memoryless system, we think that’s comparatively good, because the GCMs are really bad.

    They could have said that. It wouldn’t have been very impressive, but it would have been an honest description of their work.

    Instead, they sexed it up with their “irreducibly simple climate model, which is pseudomath that will make unwary users think the models they’re studying work much differently from what they really do. The wildly inaccurate results in their worked examples with non-unity r_t values show that.

    That’s why I care. But, then, maybe your standards are different.

  23. We don’t have a good grasp of the drivers of natural variability. We can’t explain the medieval warm period or the Roman warm period, for example. So we know there are unknowns. We don’t know what role the unknowns play in modern temperature trends. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that any model that perfectly hindcast the past would therefore be overfitting. (But by how much, again we don’t know.) We can reasonably surmise that if a model is doing a fair job, it will oscillate around the trend. IPCC models don’t do that. They are crappy models. They are popular for other reasons.

  24. I could come up with a model that hindcasts better than either of them, and so can you.

    Sure but hindcasting is showing fit to training data. It has little to do with predictive power. Hindcasts are at best useful for pre-evaluating potential models but in the end they tend to inflate confidence in the model. Why bring it up?

    The wildly inaccurate results in their worked examples with non-unity r_t values show that.

    Yeah so what? The purpose was to produce a simpler model than the GCMs which does as well or better. They have succeeded as far as I can tell.

    Your going on about how it’s not the model you would choose is strange. Complaining about the form of the model is as silly as criticizing the style of shoe I might have worn when demonstrating I can walk faster than your car if I were able to do so.

  25. Thank you for this post. It is important to understand why the models demand scrutiny. These numerical abstractions are being used for policy change, economic and social, for entire nations, with the aim of eventual climate policy control for the entire planet. This puts the models firmly in mission or life critical software territory.

    Since AGW adherents believe that lives are at stake, some objective, repeatable verification and validation standards are in order. A good starting point may be the DO-178B/ED-12B standards, “Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification.” This may delay the adoption of models as a policy tool, but after all, lives are at stake. You can’t have it both ways; time to show your work.

  26. Re your update: This is odd. I thought that rebuttals under these circumstances wouldn’t be reviewed.

  27. I’m sympathetic, however, the lack of error bars in the plot


    makes it rather uninformative.

    How can one determine if the difference between the models average and the measured data is significant or not?

  28. swordfishtrombone

    June 5, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Joe Born: “I could come up with a model that hindcasts better than either of them,”

    Go on then, brainiac.

  29. Mollie Norris

    June 5, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Does anyone out there know why CFACT’s petition against scientific censorship has had a ‘500-internal server error’ when submitted for at least a week?
    Maybe this just a personal problem, but I’m starting to feel pretty idiotic whether I post this question or ignore the issue, and what I’d really like to do is sign the petition along with everyone else in the world, and I don’t know if the form submission is working for other people.

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