Allegedly “Unsettled Science” by Steven Koonin et al.

In our recent article about the forthcoming G7 Summit in Cornwall we suggested that:

Climate change is top of the G7 agenda along with Covid-19, and you can rest assured that vested interests will not miss any opportunity to promote those interests over the next two months and beyond.

That has indeed proved to be the case! Let us count the ways.

Steven Koonin’s new book “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” is being promoted (left?), right and centre by a veritable cornucopia of the usual suspects. In an endeavour to explain (to the mythical (wo)man in the street?) the ways in which “A lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on” I’ve performed a Google search for the phrase “climate science has drifted so far out of touch with the actual science as to be absurdly demonstrably false” by way of a demonstration:

65 “demonstrably false” clones of the WSJ article, and counting……

[Edit – April 24th]

This morning’s update on my “demonstration” Google search.

There are now 241 “demonstrably false” Kooninism clones, and counting……

In yet more “Shock News!!!” The Australian, one of the usual suspects, has recently joined the fray, and is currently #1 in the rankings.

By way of contrast, a search based on the title and author of Mr. Koonin’s forthcoming book reveals our G7 Summit article on page 6. Hopefully we can move up to page 1 over the coming days and weeks?!

This search also revealed that yet another “usual suspect”, The Times of London, is also waxing lyrical about “Unsettled, etc.”. In an article entitled “Britain needs to go green but not at any price” Iain Martin suggests that:

As we race to set expensive carbon targets a distinguished physicist points out that climate science is far from settled.

In 2014, the distinguished scientist Steven Koonin assembled 11 of his colleagues. This group of experts wanted to stress-test the science that was being used to make big claims by governments and the UN about warming of the Earth and the need for radical action.

Where was the data poor, they asked, or the assumptions weakly supported? How reliable were the models likely to be in describing the past and in making projections about the future? They concluded that the deficiencies in climate data made it difficult to untangle human influences and poorly understood natural changes. The science, they concluded, was often insufficient to make useful projections.

The computer models on climate change conflict with each other, a messy reality that is perhaps too nuanced for widespread public consumption when leaders want a simple message to sell. Governments and the UN regularly produce press releases that do not accurately reflect the reports, Koonin says. On this basis, potentially questionable policy is made. This is the starting point for Koonin’s essential new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters, out next month.

Koonin is not a denialist. He worked in the US energy department for the Obama administration and before that was employed at BP in renewable energy when the oil behemoth was in its “Beyond Petroleum” phase. Attached to the California Institute of Technology for three decades, he served for a time as its provost.

This is a physicist and a pragmatist who says: “The globe is warming and humans are exerting a warming influence upon it.” But as he explains, climate science is relatively new, highly complex and deeply contested.

It sounds very much as though “Planet Earth is warming, but the science is not settled” is going to be an oft repeated “skeptical” theme in the lead up to the G7 Summit and then the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow.

[Edit – April 27th]

Yet another one of the “usual suspects”, Anthony Watts, has posted a glowing review of the new book by Dr. Koonin, as one of Tony’s denizens insists he should be titled. Here’s an extract from the introduction:

Professor Koonin sent me a near final draft to read and comment on in November and I nitpicked it a bit, but the draft was in good shape even then. It is better now. I received a signed early copy a couple of weeks ago…

This is an important book, not only because Koonin is a brilliant and famous physicist, but also because of the content. It is a good overview of the science, but also important philosophically.

Here too is a quote from the book itself:

It’s easy to be seduced by the notion that we can just feed the present state of the atmosphere and oceans into a computer, make some assumptions about future human and natural influences, and so accurately predict the climate decades into the future. Unfortunately, that’s just a fantasy, as you might infer from weather forecasts, which can be accurate out to two weeks or so.

Hopefully you get the idea by now? I cannot help but wonder when (if?) my recent comment on Andy May’s article will see the light of day over at WUWT?

N.B. I am delighted to discover that my comment “Awaiting for approval” earlier today has now somehow slipped past Anthony’s eagle eyed mods and emerged into the cold light of day at WUWT!

Sadly, however, two other comments of mine remain firmly fixed to the Watts Up With That cutting room floor:

[Edit – April 28th]

Who’d’ve thunk it? In the latest “Shock News!!” from the Twitterverse Judith Curry is promoting a New York Post article about Steve Koonin’s “Unsettled science” book:

[Edit – April 29th]

Judith Curry still hasn’t responded to the Arctic gauntlet I threw in her direction a couple of days ago. It seems that in her professional opinion the alleged “brief hiatus” in global surface temperatures continues ad infinitum. Apart from a bit of a blip!

[Edit – May 1st]

Still no reply from Judith Curry, although a variety of her “denizens” have pitched in. Meanwhile here’s the latest update on my Google search for references to a phrase from Holman Jenkins’ Wall Street Journal review of “Unsettled…”

As you can see yet another one of the usual suspects, Forbes magazine, has jumped on the Koonin bandwagon. They even had the nerve to entitle Tilak Joshi’s article “Let’s Work For Science With Integrity“!

The Height of Hubris

One of the key contributions of Koonin’s book is its detailed account of how the climate change message gets distorted as it goes through successive filters as the research literature gets converted to assessment reports and report summaries which are then subject to alarmist and apocalyptic media coverage and politicians’ soundbites. It is up to scientists to put forward facts without an agenda or a pre-existing narrative, but it is not easy. Koonin says, “I should know, that used to be my job”.

He finds it the height of hubris when scientists believe that they should exaggerate or even lie for a higher cause and there could be no higher cause than “saving the planet”. For a scientist with integrity, there is no dilemma between being effective and being honest.

Scroll up and/or see the comments below for plenty of evidence for Kooninistic “apocalyptic media coverage and politicians’ soundbites”.

[Edit – May 2nd]

I tried a somewhat more generalised Google search for Steve Koonin’s “Unsettled Science” book this morning (UTC). Below all the advertisements for the book, we’re now up to page 5!

What is more Google’s ranking engine even puts us ahead of Skeptical Science!

[Edit – May 5th]

Climate Feedback has taken a look at Mark Mills April 25th review of Steven Koonin’s new book in the Wall Street Journal. The 12 scientists who examined the claims in the article:

Estimate its overall scientific credibility to be very low.

Scientists who reviewed the article found that it builds on a collection of misleading and false claims. For instance, Koonin states that “Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago”. Contrary to the claim, scientific studies using airborne and satellite altimetry observations show considerable thinning has occurred along the margin of the Greenland ice sheet since 2003…

Koonin also claims that “the rate of sea-level rise has not accelerated”. Contrary to the claim, scientific studies show that rates of global sea level rise have changed over time and accelerated, notably since the 1990s, primarily due to glacial ice melting and the expansion of seawater as it warms…

Moreover, the WSJ article repeats a series of misrepresentations about the expected consequences of climate change using a technique known as a straw man argument. For instance, when stating that “tornado frequency and severity are not trending up”, the author of the article presents an assumption that climate change was expected to increase the frequency and severity of tornadoes and then refutes it, however climate science did not forecast that tornadoes should have increased already as a result of climate change…

etc. etc.

Meanwhile these lies are flying around the world in by now familiar fashion:

The small silver lining in the mass of dark clouds is that Google currently have the Climate Feedback article in first place in their rankings for this particular phrase.

[Edit – May 6th]

Trying the “generalised search” referred to above again today from here in the UK reveals that this article has now risen to page 2 of the Google results, just behind some more famous names:

[Edit – May 16th]

Somewhat belatedly the Washington Post has published an “Opinion” piece entitled “An Obama scientist debunks the climate doom-mongers” by Marc A. Thiessen, in which he reviews Steve Koonin’s new book. Allegedly Mr. Thiessen is a “columnist focusing on foreign and domestic policy, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor”.

Perhaps the fact that Marc is evidently not a scientist explains why he apparently fails to comprehend the scientific shortcomings of “Unsettled”? He asserts:

[John] Kerry is right about one thing: He is not a scientist. So here are a few climate facts that Kerry failed to mention in his testimony, marshaled by one of the Obama administration’s top scientists, Steven E. Koonin. All are based on official assessments published by the U.S. government or United Nations:

Perhaps Marc would like to show me where in his cited reference that phrase can be found. Failing that perhaps he’d prefer to show me where it says words to that effect. Failing that perhaps Steve Koonin himself could rise to the challenge?

Or perhaps not? I cannot help but wonder if Marc and Steve have previously seen this graph?

Global mean sea level (GMSL) trend in mm per year from 1900 to 2015, based on data from tide gauges and satellites. From Dangendorf et al. (2019)

Watch this space!

21 thoughts on “Allegedly “Unsettled Science” by Steven Koonin et al.

  1. Hey Great White Con!
    I see you are studying ideias other than your own about the climate, that is really good and an example for other people.

    I will comment on this post because that is a little tricky to understand as there are many catcha’s and gotcha’s

    But really, we should be studying the Sun if we are to understand Climate Change (and the Pacific ocean). Mrs Zarkhova has a very beautiful work on Solar Cycles and it seems Earth will get warmer at least until 2800, however there are many Solar cycles on top of each other so that is not going to be a linear increase. We believe we shall have a cold spell beginning soon, in about 2 years when the current 12-year solar cycle starts to lose power. The problem is that this time, solar activity will decline more than what is common for 12-year solar cycles because of Sun internals. That spell should last until 2050.

    While that will be bad for agriculture (they are planning for a warmer climate, not a colder one), this event will make science thinking straight again. I reckon that this human-made global warming story will have its own natural ending.

    The following paper from Mrs Zarkhova is good, however it was retracted by Nature because it contradicts a lot of common opinions:
    “Oscillations of the baseline of solar magnetic field and solar irradiance on a millennial timescale”

    However, there are other papers by her group which explain more or less the same thing. For lighter reading and initiation, there is Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. He explains some aspects of global warming but I have been told his work is only science fiction, so I cannot even begin arguing with this kind of people.. New understandings regarding solar cycles have been developed since his book was published (circa 2004), but Crichton is mostly right in his writings.

    This message is intended to be record for other visitors here, so they can think for themselves and get to their own conclusions.

    Ok, Mr Great White Con, wish you the best health! Keep surfing!

    1. Thanks for your kind words.

      However please see this article from Retraction Watch:

      Heavily criticized paper blaming the sun for global warming is retracted

      The 2019 article, “Oscillations of the baseline of solar magnetic field and solar irradiance on a millennial timescale,” appeared in Scientific Reports and was written by a group of authors from the UK, Russia and Azerbaijan. The first author was Valentina Zharkova, a mathematician/astrophysicist at Northumbria University, whose group reported having received funding for the work from the U.S. Air Force and the Russian Science Foundation.

      The paper purported to find that fluctuations in the sun’s magnetic field are making the earth hotter…

      Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, criticised the paper for an “elementary” mistake about celestial mechanics. “It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he says. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the sun and the Earth.”

  2. Ken Rice (op cit.) has also been critical of Dr. Koonin’s excursions into climate science in the past. See for example “Steve Koonin and the small percentage fallacy” from 2015:

    Steve Koonin had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a while ago called Climate science is not settled. He was also involved in initial attempts by the American Physical Society to draft a statement on climate science that Judith Curry discussed in a post a day or so ago. Judith seemed to think that his departure from the committee drafting the statement meant noone left understood things properly.

    I pointed out that this seemed unlikely given how poor his article was. What I highlighted was the following.

    “For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.”

    Interestingly, Steve Koonin has now authored a guest post on Judith’s blog, trying to explain what he meant. It all seems a little odd to me.

    Read the rest of Ken’s article to discover precisely how odd.

    1. Read the article, Jim. Rice does not come off well. He begins by stating that temps are expected to be up 1.5 to 2.5C by mid century. We are currently on track to be up by 0.7C from the beginning of the century until then. Starting with such a fallacious assumption really negates the rest of his comments. However, I did enjoy the discussion between Koonin and the other scientists, a calm and rationale interchange between people who have different views. Nobel Laureate (sic) Mikey Mann could learn something from them.

      1. Here’s the section of Ken Rice’s article you refer to:

        Typically the natural greenhouse effect is regarded as increasing effective surface temperatures by 33K, or producing a radiative forcing of 120Wm-2 (or 150Wm-2 depending on how you measure it). By the middle of the 21st century, temperatures will be expected to have risen by between 1.5oC and 2.5oC, and the net change in radiative forcings plus feedbacks will be between 6.5Wm-2 and 9.5Wm-2. So, by a standard measure the enhanced greenhouse effect will have amplified the natural greenhouse effect by between 4.5% and 7.5%, much more than the 1% to 2% claimed by Koonin.

        It’s not 2050 yet, so perhaps we might compare notes again in 30 years or so? Meanwhile perhaps you would care to provide some evidence for your thus far unsupported assertion that “We are currently on track to be up by 0.7C from the beginning of the century until then”?

        What do you make of this calm and rational interchange between Dr. Koonin and two other scientists, shamelessly plagiarised from Prof. Rice’s article op cit.?

        DR. KOONIN: If you take a given model, one of the ones in the middle of the pack, and start doing the linear study on one or several of the forces, start cranking up the solar constant or the aerosol loading or CO2, does it behave in a linear way?

        DR. HELD: Yes.

        DR. KOONIN: Over the range of what we are talking about?

        DR. HELD: A lot of people looked at that. It’s very linear.

        DR. COLLINS: Yes, it is very linear.

        N.B. See also “Unsettled – The Movie”

        1. Jim,
          Re:‘on track for 0.7C by mid-century’: that is a straight extrapolation of the past 40 years linear trend of 0.14C/decade. I know of no proof it will get any faster, and 0.14 x 5 = 0.7 where I went to school. This despite Rice’s hand wave about ‘amplification’ which I would like to see proven to exist.

          1. So you’re postulating a continuation of this sort of linear trend?

            Doesn’t the end result by 2050 depend upon which “concentration pathway” humanity follows for the next few decades?

          2. Jim,
            I noticed that you used GIStemp in your example. I would have expected you to be loyal to HadCRUT, but since GIS is the most aggressive on warming, given their treatment of the Arctic, let’s go with that. The 40 year trend you show is roughly .165C/decade, for a 50 year gain of a bit over 0.8C. UAH (which I used) extrapolates to 0.7C. Neither trend is anywhere near Rice’s minimum of 1.5C. So net,net Rice is counting on some hitherto unmeasured amplification, and I’m not buying it.

            BTW, projections of temps do rely on which RCP is used, and most alarmists like to use RCP8.5, which has been widely discredited, since it significantly deviates from reality. The world is currently tracking below RCP4.5, and there are no real signs that emissions are going to exceed that scenario. Models run with 4.5 don’t produce dangerous warming, and that assumes you don’t believe they run hot, which they do.

          3. Good afternoon Taylor (UTC),

            My understanding is that Steven Koonin is a resident of the United States, not the United Kingdom?

            It also sounds as though you are unfamiliar with this passage from his new book, on page 22 of my Kindle edition?

            The assessment reports literally define The Science for non-experts. Given the intensive authoring and review processes, any reader would naturally expect that their assessments and summaries of the research literature are complete, objective, and transparent — the “gold standard.” In my experience, the reports largely do meet that expectation, and so much of the detail in the first part of this book, the science story, is drawn from them.

            Perhaps we should therefore start our discussion with what the IPCC has to say on the matter, rather than on what you do or do not “buy”, or even on what Prof. Rice has to say on his blog?

  3. Jim,
    Hate to burst the bubble here, but anybody who believes that Google search rankings have anything to do with the actual popularity of articles on climate change skepticism is in for a rude disappointment – I’d be happy to point you to articles about their manipulation of results. As for the “refutation” of Koonin’s Greenland ice comments, Climate Feedback makes their own “straw man” argument. Koonin says ice is shrinking no more today than 80 years ago (late 1930’s, early 40’s). Climate Feedback counters with a comment about ice shrinking since 2003. Completely false equivalency, but you fell for it. Late 30s was a very warm period, source of many US all time record highs, so I’m willing to believe a lot of ice was being shed, unlike 2003, which was a recent low point after the 1998-99 El Niño spike.

    Koonin is not the only prominent scientist with skeptical views of climate alarmism. A wider reading of the literature would help you understand their position.

    1. Mornin’ Taylor (UTC),

      Who said anything about “actual popularity”? Please feel free to point me to articles alleging “Google manipulation” of their search results.

      Presumably you are aware that the US doesn’t cover the entire surface of planet Earth? And what has what you “are prepared to believe” got to do with the facts of the matter?

      I pop into Judy’s place on a regular basis (and even “Steve’s” and Anthony’s occasionally!). Presumably ex Prof. Curry qualifies as “prominent scientist with skeptical views of climate alarmism”?

      And I didn’t “fall for” anything. I did however publish extracts from the Climate Feedback article.

  4. Here’s an update on our initial Mark Twain inspired Google search:

    There’s now well over 600 “clone” articles propagating porky pies around the planet. Plus this one.

  5. I cannot be bothered to go through the catalogue of how to debunk climate denial myths in order to rebut the trash people like Koonin shovel out.

    Much more interesting is to wonder what Koonin is trying to get out of it. He has not written the book as a gift to humanity, that’s for sure.

    Just looking for a quick buck?
    Looking for a job with Fox News, Heritage Foundation, the Republican party?

    Here is a graph I knocked up from NASA data – an agency not well known for cooking the climate data books.

    1. Thanks Matthew,

      What “polynomial” did you fit to produce those curves?

      Expanding on “temperature” has now reached the top of the GWC Kooninism TODO list. Of course for some strange reason Steve Koonin neglected to explicitly mention Arctic temperatures, largely confining himself to the United States for some reason. A bit more digging in that direction to be done at this end!

  6. I have looked at dozens of tide gauge sea level graphs and have not found any trend of recent acceleration . could you please list a few long running tide gauge graphs which show acceleration ?

    1. Hello again Jeff,

      You seem to be entirely missing my point, which as far as the Greenland ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level rise is concerned is outlined in greater detail here:

      Perhaps we might continue this conversation in the appropriate place? However to keep you going until then I’ve recently been engaged in earnest discussion about this sort of thing over on Twitter. FYI:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 8 MB. You can upload: image. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.