Dr Richard Lindzen is a respected member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He has led a distinguished career since the 1960's, publishing hundreds of peer-reviewed articles studying and modeling Earth's atmosphere, receiving numerous awards and being selected for membership in the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. As a professor of meteorology and particularly with the studies of radiative and dynamical atmospheric processes that he has conducted, he certainly qualifies as an eminent climate scientist. He is also well-known as being skeptical about climate "alarmism", arguing that feedback effects are much smaller than most other scientists have assessed. At #136 on Jim Prall's list of most cited authors on climate change he is the third-highest-rated of the "skeptics" (after Roger Pielke Sr. and Freeman Dyson).
All of that is fine. While 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are responsible for significant climate change, there are still those 3% who disagree. [UPDATE The exact survey wording on the question was "Has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures" - which is a slightly different emphasis than my paraphrase (but is it "significant"?), and I apologize for any confusion caused]. Their arguments to the extent they are logical and have any scientific merit should be heard. Lindzen continues to publish in scientific journals, and while some of his recent papers have been greatly flawed, at least he's continuing to actively try to put forth his position in a logical and scientific manner.
But he also has other ambitions. Lindzen's current publication list includes two 2006 Wall Street Journal opinion pieces - "Climate of Fear" from April 2006, and "There is no ‘consensus’ on global warming" from June of that year. This past December Lindzen returned to the Wall Street Journal with The Climate Science Isn't Settled, and now celebrating Earth Day, April 22, 2010 we find Climate Science in Denial (subscription required). Both of these opinion pieces are filled with egregious misrepresentations of the facts, statements I find shocking coming from such a respected scientist. From his latest piece one can only conclude that either Lindzen has descended into the epistemic closure of paranoia and conspiracy theories that has become far too prevalent among some Americans lately or, worse, that he is consciously participating in the malicious disinformation campaign on climate that has recently been extensively documented by Greenpeace and elsewhere.
Either way, given that Penn State was forced to investigate complaints about Michael Mann's scientific work, continued congressional attacks on climate scientists, and the several investigations in England over the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, I want to know when MIT will initiate an investigation of Richard Lindzen's recent output, and whether he is, inadvertently or deliberately, dragging the good name of that institution through the mud.
And I would also like to know when, for balance, the Wall Street Journal plans to run the over 100 op-ed pieces it owes to the 97% of climate scientists who understand the impact of humans on our planet, given these 4 pieces it has already run by Lindzen. I'm not going to hold my breath for Rupert Murdoch though.
I recently commented on a proposed "commentary" from the American Physical Society on their climate change statement - what I didn't note there was that many of the worst confusions in the proposed commentary echo some of the claims by Lindzen - and Lindzen was one of the four or five respected scientists who APS asked to help come up with that commentary. The final version of the commentary is much improved - but it still includes the range "1 C to 3 C" for the sensitivity of climate to doubling of CO2, when the actual consensus range from the IPCC is 2 to 4.5 C. Chopping the lower bound in half (and also dramatically lowering the upper limit - but with at least a verbal caveat) is completely scientifically indefensible, and I can only conclude that Richard Lindzen continued to play a role in the re-drafting process. Given his extreme message in the Wall Street Journal articles, it looks like a major scientific society has (in perhaps a small but significant way) fallen prey to something between a crank and outright duplicity. [Update: note Steve Bloom's comment below - I may have misinterpreted the current version of the commentary - which shows that it is not exactly the clarifying document it claims to be, but at least perhaps it is not as egregiously wrong now as I had thought.]
Detailed commentary on Lindzen's Wall Street Journal claims, both scientific and otherwise, are provided below. As to motive, SourceWatch indicates Lindzen has received some money from fossil fuel interests in the past but his research has been government-funded. He is associated with a number of right-wing "think tanks", particularly the "Annapolis Center" and has been personally associated with many of the other skeptics one way or another. But suggesting he is doing this for money or associations likely has cause and effect reversed. His motivation is most likely simply from long ago intellectually committing to the "low-climate-sensitivity" position. At close to 70 years old now he's just resolved not to change, despite all contrary evidence. It's not an uncommon problem in science - Thomas Kuhn noted Max Planck's commentary on this:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grow up that is familiar with it.
While Planck's comment is heavily exaggerated (most scientists are quite persuadable given good evidence) it is a very common problem among the "older set", and I've indirectly run into it at least twice in my own scientific career. It's sad when one of the old guard does his darndest to stymie progress - but far worse when egged on by others for their own selfish reasons. The damage from this particular instance will be with us for thousands of years if action is too long delayed.
Lindzen's two recent WSJ opinion pieces came after the release of the "Climategate" emails; in the first he refers to them obliquely:
Several of the emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) that have caused such a public ruckus dealt with how to do this [nudge temperature data a few tenths of a degree] so as to maximize apparent changes. [...]
What does all this have to do with climate catastrophe? The answer brings us to a scandal that is, in my opinion, considerably greater than that implied in the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (though perhaps not as bad as their destruction of raw data): namely the suggestion that the very existence of warming or of the greenhouse effect is tantamount to catastrophe. This is the grossest of "bait and switch" scams. It is only such a scam that lends importance to the machinations in the emails designed to nudge temperatures a few tenths of a degree.
I'll get back to the "greater scandal" in a minute. But there was no "destruction of raw data" and no "machinations in the emails" to nudge temperatures - and no evidence of any other offense in any degree other than a certain disorder in record-keeping and hostility to outsiders normal in a rather small research group, as the actual investigation found. That all of the over-hyped fuss about these emails was a damp squib with absolutely no underlying substance seems to have completely passed Lindzen by - so that in his latest piece he's calling the investigations a "whitewash", and greatly magnified his claims about what was to be found in the emails:
the emails [...] provided a view into the world of climate research that was revealing and even startling. In what has come to be known as "climategate," one could see unambiguous evidence of the unethical suppression of information and opposing viewpoints, and even data manipulation. [...] the emails showed ample collusion with other prominent researchers in the United States and elsewhere.
One might have thought the revelations would discredit the allegedly settled science underlying currently proposed global warming policy, and, indeed, the revelations may have played some role in the failure of last December's Copenhagen climate conference to agree on new carbon emissions limits. [...] investigations were brief, thoroughly lacking in depth, and conducted, for the most part, by individuals already publicly committed to the popular view of climate alarm. The results were whitewashes that are quite incredible given the actual data.
Note that his original accusation of "destruction of raw data" has disappeared; now it's "unethical suppression of information and opposing viewpoints". If information is being suppressed, show the evidence! He seems to fail to see the irony of his own continued success in publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals and that his complaint comes in this, his fourth op-ed in the Wall Street Journal! And "nudging" temperatures has become "data manipulation" - but there is absolutely no evidence in the emails or elsewhere that any published result was "nudged" or "manipulated" in a manner inconsistent with standard scientific analyses. Recent reanalyses of the raw data show the standard manipulations on the whole decrease recent warming, not increase it. Lindzen's standards for "unambiguous evidence" seem to be horrendously low, going by what he writes here.
And note the claim of "collusion". Yes the "climategate" emails show normal scientific collegial exchanges between many researchers over the 20 years of the purloined collection. But what does Lindzen mean by "collusion"? He is explicitly going into conspiracy theory territory here:
[...] with the political momentum behind policy proposals and billions in research funding at stake, the impact of the emails appears to have been small. The general approach of the official scientific community (at least in the United States and the United Kingdom) has been to see whether people will bother to look at the files in detail (for the most part they have not), and to wait until time diffuses the initial impressions in order to reassert the original message of a climate catastrophe that must be fought with a huge measure of carbon control. This reassertion, however, continues to be suffused by illogic, nastiness and outright dishonesty.
and in his previous piece he amplifies on the "greater scandal", also implying some vague conspiracy:
The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate. Many disasters associated with warming are simply normal occurrences whose existence is falsely claimed to be evidence of warming. And all these examples involve phenomena that are dependent on the confluence of many factors.
Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways (as epitomized by our carbon footprint). All of these phenomena depend on the confluence of multiple factors as well.
Note the passive voice - I wonder who he thinks is making these "false claims", "taking as omens", etc? In the Earth day piece passive voice has been replaced by a mysterious "those":
[...] none of this matters any longer to those replacing reason with assertions of authority. [...] the proposed policies are likely to cause severe problems for the world economy [...] But it is unwise to assume that those who have carved out agendas to exploit the issue will simply let go without a battle. One can only hope that the climate alarmists will lose so that we can go back to dealing with real science and real environmental problems such as assuring clean air and water.
Are "those" of the conspiracy just "climate alarmists"? Lindzen specifically names the presidents of the U.S. National Academy of Science and the Royal Society (Ralph Cicerone and Martin Rees, respectively), and quotes the conclusion of a letter they wrote as evidence of conspiracy:
"Our academies will provide the scientific backdrop for the political and business leaders who must create effective policies to steer the world toward a low-carbon economy." In other words, the answer is settled even if the science is not.
Well. Just as with Solipsism, conspiracy theories can be self-consistent views of reality. On occasion perhaps the paranoid among us are even right. But consider what it would require for Lindzen's claims to be true:
What evidence does he have on his side? Oh yes, the "climategate" emails! They must show the scientists conspiring, or "colluding" as Lindzen put it, to greatly magnify this "catastrophe" to the public, corresponding with their thought leaders on how best to manipulate their data, expressing glee at how they have put over their falsifications to the public, planning how they will run their fiefdoms in the carbon-controlled economy, and so forth?
But there is no sign of any such collusion or talk of that sort at all in the emails (which were clearly selected from millions of originals for maximal damage). Nothing remotely close to the conspiracy Lindzen's claimed mode of thinking would require. The evidence is not there, by any stretch of the imagination at all.
The remainder of Lindzen's arguments in both pieces are somewhat based on the science - but they include egregious misrepresentations in themselves. Essentially all boil down to his claim that sensitivity is low, for example in the latest piece:
There are, however, some things left unmentioned about the IPCC claims. For example, the observations are consistent with models only if emissions include arbitrary amounts of reflecting aerosols particles (arising, for example, from industrial sulfates) which are used to cancel much of the warming predicted by the models. The observations themselves, without such adjustments, are consistent with there being sufficiently little warming as to not constitute a problem worth worrying very much about.
First of all, human-emitted aerosol particles such as industrial sulfates are not hypothetical entities that are added in "arbitrary" amounts, they are observed, and can be quantitatively measured by satellite to some degree. There is considerable uncertainty, but Lindzen's claim on warming "without such adjustments" applies only if he can be certain that the effect of the aerosols is exactly zero. Aerosols having zero effect on temperatures is highly unlikely - particularly to those who are proposing deliberate aerosol emissions as a geoengineering solution to climate change! In very rough measure, IPCC's estimates of radiative forcing showed the change in aerosols to this point roughly canceling the radiative effect of all the non-CO2 greenhouse gases, so comparing observed temperature to observed CO2 rise is a reasonably good modern-day measure of the sensitivity. Do that and you find a transient sensitivity of 2 C, exactly what the IPCC concludes, and much greater than Lindzen's "no worries" number.
Beyond that, though, our confidence in high climate sensitivity comes from far more than the recent observations and statistical fits of that sort. Physics-based climate models that look at the actual expected response of water vapor and other factors (clouds being a tricky one, but still they are modeled) show there are definite positive feedback effects. Knutti and Hegerl's recent review paper details those lines of evidence, as well as evidence from studies of ancient climate and some other sources to reach the consensus conclusion of reasonably high climate sensitivity, with a very low likelihood of sensitivity less than 1.5 C to doubling. Why does Lindzen ignore these major reviews of many different sources of evidence on the matter?
Perhaps he is simply not as well-versed in climate science as he claims? His previous op-ed contained some points that communicate real confusion about the field - does he share this confusion? For example, he starts by talking about:
the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA),
and the entire article focuses on global average temperature, but there are far more measures of climate change than that: the heat balance and particularly warming of the oceans, which can continue even while air surface temperatures cool for a bit; melting of glaciers and icesheets and sea ice; sea level rise; cooling of the stratosphere; earlier spring, etc. etc. Every one of these measures points in the same direction - toward a warmer planet thanks to greenhouse gas changes. His "GATA" is just one (convenient) metric among them.
All do show acceleration from the early 20th century to the last decade, while Lindzen states "Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre." What's bizarre is that he could get away with saying that in a major outlet like the Wall Street Journal! Of course recent acceleration would contradict his later statement implying the cause for warming is the end of the Little Ice Age of a few centuries ago. More bizarreness - I have never seen a real climate scientist try to claim that before; the temporal pattern of warming (the infamous "hockey stick", verified repeatedly) is completely backwards for that to work.
The main statement publicized after the last IPCC Scientific Assessment two years ago was that it was likely that most of the warming since 1957 (a point of anomalous cold) was due to man.
This is just an outright misrepresentation. What the IPCC stated precisely was:
Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
I don't see 1957 there, do you? And "very likely" is different from "likely", particularly with the precise likelihood terminology IPCC specified. He follows by making unfounded claims about the way the models were built and used. He explicitly, bizarrely, states that:
Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.
because of "internal variability" - but all "internal variability" is "weather", i.e. short-term variation that averages out when you talk about climate. So if the late 20th century warming through 2005 or so included in the 2007 IPCC report was from internal variability as Lindzen implies, then in following years temperatures should have headed back to normal. But he is writing this near the end of 2009, once again one of the warmest years on record. Internal variability cannot explain this - but Lindzen is throwing stuff out to create confusion, not explanation.
Even more bizarrely, Lindzen goes into scientific details on feedback concerns in his December 2009 Wall Street Journal piece:
current climate models predict much higher sensitivities. They do so because in these models, the main greenhouse substances (water vapor and clouds) act to amplify anything that CO2 does. This is referred to as positive feedback. But as the IPCC notes, clouds continue to be a source of major uncertainty in current models. Since clouds and water vapor are intimately related, the IPCC claim that they are more confident about water vapor is quite implausible. [...] the question remains as to whether water vapor and clouds have positive or negative feedbacks.
"clouds and water vapor are intimately related"? The uncertainty in water vapor changes and forcing has to be tied to the uncertainty in clouds? This is rhetoric, not science. It's like saying because bunny rabbits and vegetation are intimately related (without vegetation there would be no bunnies) that variation in vegetation color must be related to variation in rabbit fur color, or something along those lines. There's no causal or logical link between the two uncertainties of feedback rates in the water/clouds case. Just completely disconnected. In reality the water vapor (plus negative lapse rate) feedback is very tightly constrained by modeling, and is strongly positive on the order of 20 sigmas from zero. Lindzen is either being deliberately confusing on the water vapor feedback issue here, or he simply does not understand the science himself. That he is making such claims in such a public place is really, truly, bizarre.
And even clouds, in models, generally show positive feedbacks, though only a couple of sigmas from zero. Lindzen has tried to put together his own models with negative cloud feedbacks, but they just don't make any physical sense.
But bizarrest of all is this statement, indicating Lindzen has a fundamental misunderstanding himself (or else is really deliberately being extremely obfuscatory):
The notion that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks is intuitively implausible,
Remember the quote from Max Planck up above? Earth's climate is and always has been dominated by the strong negative "Planck" feedback that increases radiative emissions greatly when temperature increases, quickly restoring energy balance on perturbation. Given that usually unacknowledged negative feedback (not mentioned at all by Lindzen), intuition on what other feedbacks do is hardly an issue for "plausibility" discussion. In fact, the rather disturbing pattern of temperatures for the past few million years is "intuitively" more suggestive of instability than stability!
Lindzen concludes this article with some claims about the climate of Earth billions of years ago - given his arguments about even recent data, that he can base any reasonable scientific argument on such a distant epoch for which our data on the sun, planet, and atmosphere is so obviously uncertain is, frankly, what else can I say, bizarre...
Summing up, the science in these two Wall Street Journal pieces is, in all material respects, badly wrong, skewed, or irrelevant to present climate matters. The opinion is not just verging on, but consists of outright conspiracy-mongering, accusing leaders of the world's most prestigious scientific bodies and thousands of other people of being involved in falsely promoting a "catastrophe" story so they can, for some other nefarious reason, "control carbon". And presumably get rich on their generous scientist salaries.
So, I ask again, when will MIT begin its investigation of Lindzen? I'd like to read some of his emails!