Charlie Brown and the football

by John Q on February 14, 2007

I’ve been struck by the eagerness of the usual crowd to jump on the latest story casting doubt on the reality of anthropogenic global warming, in this case the cosmic ray story being pushed by Svensmark and Calder. You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.

At the very least, in this age of Google, you’d think they might check whether the story is actually a new one. In fact, like most such claims, the cosmic ray idea has been around for quite a while. It’s been taken to pieces many times (William Connolley covers the story as Revenge of the killer cosmic rays from hell). It even got batted about on Oz blogs a few years back. Of course, the cosmic ray theory might pan out, but looking at the mountain of evidence pointing the other way, and the failure of so many previous efforts in this direction, you wouldn’t want to bet your credibility on it, assuming you had any.

At this point, I can’t help but be reminded of the running joke in Peanuts where Lucy promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown* can kick it. Every time, she tells him, it will be different from all the previous times. Every time, Charlie falls for it. And every time, she pulls the ball away at the last minute.

* Pop culture reference corrected thanks to Paul G Brown – I had remembered Linus as the kicker.



gr 02.14.07 at 11:21 am

I think this is unfair to Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown, it appears, has an unlimited willingness to trust others. It seems rather honorable to maintain this faith in the goodness of humanity even in the case of repeated, painful failure. More honorable, in any case, than to grasp at straws so you can continue a shouting match that makes you feel good about yourself.


Tim Worstall 02.14.07 at 12:01 pm

“…that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see…”

As that’s been my reaction to it does that finally make me sensible?


Jacob Christensen 02.14.07 at 12:03 pm

This may be stretching the argument, but the Danish translator of Peanuts changed Linus’s name to Thomas, after the skeptical (hmm – this has an tricky connotation in this context) or doubting disciple.

Linus/Thomas certainly would never have rushed at the ball voluntarily – but it is quite likely that Lucy would have used her big-sisterly authority to coerce her baby brother into the enterprise.

(Can we make anything out of the fact that Lucy also changed name? She is Trine – short for Katrine – in Danish).

Anyway, you are working on the assumption that political arguments are based on empirical evidence.

What we should remember is that modern conservatives are in fact true post-modernists: If the conservative discourse says that cosmic rays (or a group of sinister Martians or the guys on Spaceship Enterprise) cause global warming, and the conservative discourse manages to establish itself as the dominant discourse, then cosmic rays (or a group of sinister Martians or the guys on Spaceship Enterprise) cause global warming.


Raymond 02.14.07 at 12:12 pm

Right on, man!!!

The natural leadership caste must reassert control over the peasantry, especially america’s middle class. We started losing control after those pesky serfs caught a break with the black death and the end of those pesky viking raids (mustn’t wonder about what caused all the viking stuff).

Socialism hasn’t worked out as a tool for controlling the masses and we must pull together as this may be our last best hope. I mean lets be serious, global warming is a fraud, we all know it. Would Al Gore really buy a mansion with his google money if global warming were real? Of course not! He would have bought a small house to minimize his carbon footprint, wouldn’t he?

After gw gets debunked, the masses will never fall for another scientically initiated control mechanism. That’s why we must push forward and use this to really put our feet on the throats of the peasantry.


bubba 02.14.07 at 2:37 pm

sensible rightwingers

Google can’t find this. Does it exist?

What I wonder is will AEI cut them separate 10K checks or must they share the booty?


Barry 02.14.07 at 2:54 pm

Comparing these right-wingers to Charlie Brown does them a service; they are Lucy.


Matt Kuzma 02.14.07 at 3:43 pm

Courtesy of the fabulous The Parking Lot is Full


Matt Kuzma 02.14.07 at 4:06 pm

Oh, apparently replies can’t contain images. There’s a fantastic comic from the early days of The Parking Lot is Full located here that is tangentially of interest.


aaron 02.14.07 at 4:13 pm

You mean mountains of rhetoric.


aaron 02.14.07 at 4:17 pm

Cosmic rays cause global cooling (cause changes in the climate that reduce solar forcing), not warming.


aaron 02.14.07 at 4:40 pm

I’m behind on my studies, where’s the proof that recent temp change is driven by CO2. Why is temp change better correlated with solar activity than CO2? It seems most recent temperature change is wrongly attributed to GHGs. The science seems to suggest that less than half of the change in forcing over the years is due to GHG concentrations, and the portion due to anthro-emmissions is even smaller.


aaron 02.14.07 at 5:57 pm

Sorry, “Most” is an exageration, and “and the portion due to anthro-emmissions is even smaller,” isn’t very clear. The effect anthro-warming is greater than known natural warming, but both are very small compared to unattributable warming.


Jim Harrison 02.14.07 at 6:46 pm

Since an increase in CO2 tends to warm the Earth by a well-known mechanism, a rational skeptic would have to explain why the Earth isn’t getting warmed by increasing cocentrations of CO2 if the observed warming is indeed attributable to cosmic rays, sun spots, polar wobbles, or the increasing popularity of garden gnomes. There is, after all, no question that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been trending upwards for a long time; and it is equally clear that you can indeed grow cucumbers in cucumber frames. One could devise a story in which the tendency of CO2 to warm things up were counteracted by some paradoxical natural effect. One could, but nobody does.


aaron 02.14.07 at 7:09 pm

The mechanism accounts for less than 10% of the actual change.


John Quiggin 02.14.07 at 7:45 pm

Keep the faith Aaron (and raymond). She really will hold the football this time.

As Tim W. points out, Bubba, sensible rightwingers do exist, and even (I can never quite get my head around this) write for Tech Central Station.


Tim Worstall 02.14.07 at 8:14 pm

“As Tim W. points out, Bubba, sensible rightwingers do exist, and even (I can never quite get my head around this) write for Tech Central Station.”

As I’ve said before, know any other editors?

What might really damage this budding relationship of mutual admiration though is that I’ve been asked to join a blog for (and agreed, on the subject of climate change)….well, I’ll let you guess, see if you can think of a place you like even less.


aaron 02.14.07 at 8:29 pm

John, the arguments you present against a solar relationship also apply equally to the attribution of CO2 to global warming. The fact is that we know very, very little.


John Quiggin 02.14.07 at 9:55 pm

Oh Tim, not Climate Audit?

As regards my acquaintance with TCS, I know Glassman from the good old days of Dow 36000. And Sallie Baliunas is the main climate change authority AFAIK. Arnold Kling is good on some points, but I’ve been unimpressed by everything he’s written on climate change (he returns the compliment). Then there’s Glenn Reynolds. Who am I missing?

Of course, part of the original TCS shtick was to commission independent articles on issues of no concern to the backers, to enhance the appeal of the lobbyist stuff, so you do find some stuff that’s pretty good.


Jonathan Goldberg 02.14.07 at 11:47 pm

It’s breathtaking how non-specialists can sum up the science on something as complicated as global warming in a sentence or two, all predicated on the idea that the IPCC is collectively ignorant, stupid, corrupt, or some combination. While they, on the other hand…

Bad as some of the comments here are, the ones linked to in the main post above are worse.

The IPCC took over a decade before it was even prepared to admit that an anthrogenic signature on climate change had been established with reasonable certainty. Since then they apparently have been taken over by a bunch of hysterical ninnies. If you believe some people, anyway.


aaron 02.14.07 at 11:52 pm

Hey John, do you know how can I get some actual data sets of global temperatures going back atleast 100,000 years (i’m looking for a high resolution). I’m tired of looking at smoothed graphs. Same for CO2, CH4, and maybe aerosols?

Right now I’m most interested in looking at historical temperature changes.

Internet searches are too watered down politics and junk.

I’d also like to see estimates of anthro CO2 output, natural CO2 emission, and historic data on CO2 concentrations.



Eli Rabett 02.15.07 at 2:00 am

Hey Aaron, first you need a clue. The first clue is that your ignorance coupled to your arrogance is your problem. You don’t even know how at ask a sensible question.

A good introduction to the subject is Spencer Weart’s the Discovery of Global Warming. There are any number of good books on climate science, for example Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Change by Brasseur Orlando and Tyndall. You might read the IPCC Third Assessment Report which is available on line while you wait for the new WGI report reviewing climate science will be available in May

And, here are some links to > 100KY ice core records. I fully expect you to try and blather about how if one doesn’t know everything one doesn’t know anything. If you don’t get 100 on the test you fail then. Been there. Heard that. It still is a pile of cod’s wallop.


Tim Worstall 02.15.07 at 8:45 am

John, no, not Climate Audit. I have to admit I don’t read them (or real climate etc), I get my scientific news (on cc) from William Connelly and James Annan mostly. I’m well aware that if there is something wrong with the IPCC science (which I doubt is so) I’m not one qualified to go find out what it is.
I’m much more interested in roughly what Lomborg has been saying for years: it’s happening, it’s us (both fossil fuels and land use chages) so, what do we do now?
The unholy mess that is the US ethanol program makes me even more cynical than I already was about government intervention.

As to the TCS methodology, well I write for The Times occasionally and it’s easy enough reading the comment sections of the main UK papers to see which pieces have an agenda and which are “independent articles on issues of no concern to the backers, to enhance the appeal of the lobbyist stuff, so you do find some stuff that’s pretty good.”


Barry 02.15.07 at 6:25 pm

Aaron, the theme of this posting and thread are that people like don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. You’re not an honest seeker of truth.


aaron 02.15.07 at 6:36 pm

Actually no, barry. The theme of the post is that many people are too willing to believe people people who are not honest truth seekers. And it goes both ways, there is more bad information out in support of AGW than the is against it. And you obviously don’t have insight into me. I am honest to a fault.


aaron 02.15.07 at 6:50 pm

Heh. And to explore the analogy further, it is more that the dishonest are the ones taking away the ball. Way to much science that casts doubt on how much of GW we cause is wrongly dismissed. We are way less certain of our share of GW than popular culture leads us to believe. The idea that we know half of recent warming is AGW is a flat out lie, theory can only explain about a 10th of it, the rest is speculation based on an observed correlation, which also doesn’t hold if we look further back in time.


jre 02.15.07 at 7:33 pm

Oh, Lord. Look, aaron, when you follow

I am honest to a fault.


Way [too] much science that casts doubt on how much of GW we cause is wrongly dismissed.

you cause serious cognitive dissonance headaches among those of us who are trying (for reasons unknown) to follow your argument. When you have offered an example of credible research that supports your position and explained how it was “wrongly dismissed” then you may be taken more seriously. At the moment, all you have generated is gas.


aaron 02.15.07 at 8:27 pm


aaron 02.15.07 at 8:37 pm

more recent analysis, which includes: (a) Corrections to the temperature reconstruction due to ocean pH variations, and (b) more empirical comparisons between actual temperature variations and changes in the radiative budget further constrain the global sensitivity to about 1-1.5°C change for CO2 doubling (as compared with the 1.5-4.5°C with the “commonly accepted range” of the IPCC, obtained from global circulation models).

Nir Shaviv


aaron 02.15.07 at 9:17 pm

CO2 increase lags temp increase Of course, I don’t know if this study observed other GHGs.

And of course, you can always take a quick look at temperature and GHG concentrations to see that there are large fluctuations in temperature that don’t correspond to GHGs. Especially going back over 1000 years.


jre 02.15.07 at 11:26 pm

Yep, you really are going to get to kick the football this time, arentcha, aaron?

I fail to see how Stott et al’s paper helps your case, much less how it was “wrongly dismissed”, but hey — if you want to bring up Peter Stott’s modeling work, including more recent publications, be my guest.
That’s OK. Dust yourself off and try again. I’m sure Shaviv and Veizer will hold the football for you. Ouch.
One more try. Get a running start. This time that ol’ football is going right through the CO2 – temperature phase lag goalposts.
Well, you get points for persistence, anyway.


aaron 02.16.07 at 2:52 pm

Ummm… The recent Stott article isn’t about GHGs. Dumbass.

The STEFAN RAHMSTORF reply adresses the certainty of Shaviv’s conclusions, he determines that it is not conclusive, but the data still suggests that it is likely. Also, if you read the reply, he reaffirms that greenhouse gases have not been drivers of climate change historically.

Ignoring that Realclimate is not a credible source, the article also does nothing to confirm CO2 as a climate driver or address the fact that there are more stong climate driver that we simply don’t understand. The argument is simply that CO2 reinforces warming. No disagreement there. But it does nothing to tell us the extent to which it does.

Now, how much does the historical data consistantly suggest that CO2 increases forcing. What is the least amount of warming we get from high concentrations of GHGs? No where near .6C in 30 years.


aaron 02.16.07 at 2:54 pm

The Realclimate argument is basically, “Just because it doesn’t always, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.” Very true, but not a very solid case.


aaron 02.16.07 at 3:30 pm



aaron 02.16.07 at 7:24 pm


jre 02.17.07 at 4:09 am

Well, I guess this exchange does serve to underline John’s point, aaron. You are presently lying on your back, studying the sky after having fallen on your ass three times, and you don’t seem to know how it happened. Read the references Eli kindly supplied, and you will be able to add more to the debate. As a bonus, you will be able to avoid embarrassments like this one.


aaron 02.18.07 at 2:57 pm

Now, has JQ dusted himself off, or does he even notice when he falls over?


Eric H 02.18.07 at 7:25 pm

All of this back-patting is not that impressive. Back when there were more questions than answers, there were plenty of people like Mr. Quiggin here who wanted to dismiss the data in favor of the theory (by accusing people like John Christy of outright charlatanism, etc.). It could have gone either way, but they were ready to go to the mat for what they *felt* was correct, denigrating anyone who dared ask questions. The most laughable of their defenses was – and still is – that all skeptics must be in the pay of Enron, while completely overlooking the fact that this ad hominem works far more strongly against them (the corporate ties are not that strong, but all non-skeptics are definitely in the pay of some gov’t bureau, which are at least as likely to politicize as corporations, who may sometimes change position if they see a benefit to it, e.g. DuPont and the Montreal Protocol).

I wonder how many of those currently signed up for “AGW is definitely happening, definitely a threat, and definitely requires strong central planning” also signed on to the “Premature Ice Age is coming”, “England won’t exist in 2000”, “mass starvation in 1980”, “saccharin causes cancer”, “plastics are causing a drop in our ability to procreate”, “silicon breast implants cause disease”, and “Y2K means the end of civilization” scares? My take is that the skeptics have been far more data-driven than the enthusiasts, with people like Lomborg and Bailey showing more intellectual honesty than people who were ready to believe it the first day they heard of it.

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but it’s no justification for that clock’s hubris.


Eric H 02.18.07 at 7:36 pm

I wish to emphasize that I don’t know whether John Quiggin himself was guilty of favoring theory over data or making claims about John Christy; call it a series of unfortunate grammatical choices. Some of his fellow travelers definitely did so, but I do not wish to find Quiggin guilty by association any more than I wish to be associated with the .. ah, … “more strident” skeptics. Apologies for any confusion that may arise on that count, John.


bi 02.19.07 at 5:01 am

Is Eric H concocting straw men out of thin air? Then they’ll be thin-air men.

The main thrust of Quiggin’s opening post isn’t even anywhere near an ad hominem. Quiggin is simply saying that the “latest story casting doubt on the reality of anthropogenic global warming” is, in fact, an old and discredited one.

“Skeptic” in this case is just a euphemism for “person who responds to evidence with ‘nyah nyah nyah!'”… that is, “denialist”.


John Quiggin 02.19.07 at 11:29 am

Just for your info, Eric H, I wrote a string of opinion pieces in 1999 pointing out that Y2K was a load of nonsense – since most of the other alleged scares you mention are ex post fabrications I didn’t comment on them, but you can easily Google me on Y2K.

If you want to tell me what “H” stands for, I’ll happily return the favour and report the results.

Comments on this entry are closed.