The Right Opinion

Can an AGW Climatologist Be Truly Objective?

By Joe Bastardi · Oct. 19, 2013

I would love to debate Dr. Michael Mann. He’s a professor at Pennsylvania State University, and I’m a Penn. State Grad (Meteo. 1978). Enough people know me, as well as him, so we could charge a modest admission, fill Eisenhower Auditorium at PSU, and give all the money back to the PSU meteorology department whom I still love dearly in spite of my outcast status on the anthropogenic global warming issue.

But Dr. Mann would probably want no part of debating me on the main drivers of weather and climate given I have no higher degrees. C'mon, a BS in meteorology from PSU against this:

Education: A.B. applied mathematics and physics (1989)
MS physics (1991)
MPhil physics (1991)
MPhil geology (1993)
PhD geology & geophysics (1998)

Alma mater: University of California, Berkeley, Yale University

This would be a blow out. What chance would I have?

Let me be clear: Dr. Mann’s résumé, along with anyone who receives a PhD in the physical sciences, impresses me. I’ve read almost everything Dr. Mann has written and, because of that, I understand where he’s coming from. But there are things that are lacking if one is pursuing the right answer, and that’s the methodology one learns in putting together a forecast, as to how to weigh factors in determining what’s going to happen. One has to examine all of what his opponent has, not close his eyes to anything that might challenge his ideas.

For instance, while I’ve read almost everything Dr. Mann has written, how many times has he had hands on experience in making a forecast that has to verify? It’s laughable to think, as a private sector meteorologist whose livelihood depends on being right, that one can separate climate from weather. I realized a long time ago that being able to recognize current patterns from understanding the past (it was drilled into me by my father, a degreed meteorologist) was essential to making a good forecast. The fact many climatologists downplay the relationship, or say they’re different, shows me they don’t know what they’re talking about. In other words, I do what they do, but they don’t do what I do. I read what they write, but they won’t stop to look at the other side.

Perhaps it’s like something we sometimes see in sports – the curse of talent. Most of these people are very smart. I went to school with future PhDS and could see that in the classroom, they were like my wrestling coaches at PSU – guys that were great doing what came natural to them. However, my wrestling coach used to stress that when you’re used to having everything come to you, it’s very hard to change and step up your level. Consequently, you’ll get beat on your weakest point and what you don’t know, and that’s where the methodology in forecasting comes in to the climate debate.

You see, in what I do, one must weigh factors and decide which ones are most important. Additionally, one gets used to challenges that can never really be seen in research. How so? Suppose someone gives you a grant to study global warming. Can you come back and say, “My research says there’s no global warming”? You have been given a grant to produce a result; how can you possibly justify that result if it’s the result that would cost nothing to come up with in the first place?

In my line of work, getting paid (having clients) depends on the correct result. The client doesn’t say, “I want a cold winter, here’s the money, forecast it.” The client asks for a forecast that gives him an edge. If you are right, the client renews; if not, it’s bye bye. But there’s no up front money that looks for a set result. This means the forecaster does not care whether it’s warm or cold, just that he gets the right answer, whatever that may be. This is not the case in the AGW branch of academia. Research grants come with the cause du jour – just try getting a grant to disprove global warming (actually, you don’t need one; it’s easy to refute it just by understanding what’s happened before).

That said, regarding the climate debate, what factors am I looking at to come up with my conclusion? To me, this is a big forecast, and the simple answer is: It’s hard to fathom that CO2 can cause anything beyond its assigned “boxed in” value to temperatures because of all that’s around it. It comes down to the sun, the oceans and stochastic events over a long period of time with action and reaction, versus a compound comprising .04% of the atmosphere and 1/100th of greenhouse gasses.

But unless you work every day in a situation where you are reminded you can be wrong, you don’t have appreciation for the methodology of challenge and response you need to be right!

Then there’s another big problem: What if you have all this knowledge, you’ve taken a stand on this, and it’s your whole life – how can you possibly be objective? The climate debate and past weather events are needed building blocks for my product. That product involves a challenge each day. In the case of a PhD on the AGW side, they believe the idea is the product. Destroy the idea, you destroy the product; destroy the product, you destroy the person. Therefore, it’s personal. Your whole life – all the fawning students, the rock star status – is all gone. I would hate to be in that position. Each day I get up, and there it is – the weather challenging me. The answer is the fruit of my labor, not the object of it. Because of that, you’ll look for anything to come up with the correct answer, not just a predetermined one where your self-esteem depends on it.

So these giants of science have a fundamental problem, and it runs contrary to their nature. In the end, the very talent and brilliance of a lot of these people may be what blinds them to what it takes to truly pursue the truth.

Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm.

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