The (un)principled sceptic

By Gareth Renowden 08/06/2011


Over at Treadgold’s emporium, the owner is mining a rich vein of nonsense: he’s posting the letters to the editor the newspapers won’t print. One that caught my eye is from Professor Mike Kelly, a Cambridge nanotechnologist and climate sceptic who happens to hail from New Plymouth. Professor Kelly makes a good start:

It is perfectly possible to adopt a position, as I have, of ‘a principled climate science scepticism’.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But a bit later on, in attempting to adduce evidence in support of his position he writes:

She [the author of the piece he’s complaining about] might like to look at the recent analysis by Pat Franks (sic) which tightens the conclusion that the anthropogenic contribution is at most 0.3°C per century. This concludes that it is rising temperatures that are increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide, not the other way round.

Oh dear.

Treadgold helpfully supplies the link to Frank’s “analysis”, published and lauded at µWatts. The piece does indeed claim to arrive at a low figure for humanity’s contribution to current and future warming. Unfortunately, Frank’s work has been dissected by someone who understands the statistics of climate, and found to be little better than “mathturbation“. Tamino (for it is he) concludes in Frankly, Not:

Frank’s model has no physical basis. It ignores the known physics of climate including greenhouse gases, sulfate aerosols (both man-made and natural), solar variations. It fails the simplest test of predictive skill, miserably. It fails comparison to a ridiculously simple multiple-lines model, miserably. His use of results to estimate climate sensitivity is, not to put too fine a point on it, laughable.

You might think that the Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics at the University of Cambridge, being a principled sceptic, would take care to ensure that he used only evidence that meets the highest standards when arguing his case. Instead, he joins the ranks of the Carters and Leylands of this world, happy to rely on any old rubbish as long as it comes from someone defined as being on their side. For Carter, it’s the “work” of EG Beck, for Leyland it’s the cooling predicted by John McLean. Kelly’s eye has fallen for Frank. It’s clearly a marriage of minds.