Unsettling Koonin Critiques Continue

We have previously mentioned assorted reviews of Steven Koonin‘s new book “Unsettled”, but today we bring news of a novel variation on that theme. In an article on the Union of Concerned Scientists web site Ben Santer writes:

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has invited Professor Steven Koonin to give a seminar on May 27, 2021. Professor Koonin’s seminar will cover material contained in a book he published on May 4. His book is entitled “Unsettled”. Its basic thesis is that climate science is not trustworthy.

Professor Koonin is not a climate scientist. I am. I have worked at LLNL since 1992. My primary job is to evaluate computer models of the climate system. I also seek to improve understanding of human and natural influences on climate.

Please read Ben’s article in full, but I expect you can already see what’s coming?

It is of concern to me that Professor Koonin will be speaking at LLNL. He is not an authoritative voice on climate science. LLNL climate scientists have devoted their careers to measuring, modeling, and understanding changes in the climate system. Professor Koonin has not.

The decision to invite Professor Koonin will not help LLNL to attract and retain the best and brightest climate scientists. More importantly, LLNL is participating in the dissemination of Professor Koonin’s incorrect views on climate science. This makes it more difficult for US citizens to reach informed, science-based decisions on appropriate responses to climate change.

We live in a democracy. Free speech is important. It is important to hear diverse perspectives on issues of societal concern. It is equally important for US citizens to receive the best-available scientific information on the reality and seriousness of climate change. The National Laboratories should be providing this information. When they provide inaccurate and misleading information, there should be ample opportunity for actual climate scientists to set the record straight.

I conveyed to LLNL management my concerns about the decision to invite Professor Koonin to speak at Livermore. I do not believe my concerns were adequately addressed. I therefore decided that I will no longer have any affiliation with LLNL after I retire on September 30, 2021. There is no personal satisfaction in this decision.

Hidden behind a link in the body of the article is this Santer, Mears, Schmidt et al. paper from 2013:

Human and natural influences on the changing thermal structure of the atmosphere

The conclusions are that:

Our analysis of the latest satellite datasets and model simulations reveals that a model-predicted anthropogenic fingerprint pattern is consistently identifiable, with high statistical confidence, in the changing thermal structure of the atmosphere. Multidecadal tropospheric warming and lower stratospheric cooling are the main features of this fingerprint. Tests against combined solar and volcanic forcing only (NAT) and past 1,000 years (P1000) “total” natural variability (VTOT) demonstrate that observed temperature changes are not simply a recovery from the El Chichón and Pinatubo events, and/or a response to variations in solar irradiance. The significance testing framework used here is highly conservative—the NAT and P1000 estimates of (VTOTinclude volcanic eruptions and solar irradiance changes much larger than those observed over the satellite era. Our results are robust to current uncertainties in models and observations, and underscore the dominant role human activities have played in recent climate change.

Here too is a 2017 video of Ben Santer discussing Steven Koonin’s “Climate red team/blue team” suggestions with Peter Sinclair:

In other news Yale Climate Connections has just published a rather more conventional review of Professor Koonin’s new book by Mark Boslough, entitled “A critical review of Steven Koonin’s ‘Unsettled’“. Once again please do read Mark’s article in full, but here is his introduction :

I would normally ignore a book by a non-climate scientist promising “the truth about climate science that you aren’t getting elsewhere.” Such language is a red flag. But I’ve known the author of “Unsettled” since I took his quantum mechanics course as a Ph.D. student at Caltech in the 1970s. He’s smart and I like him, so I’m inclined to give his book a chance.

But smart scientists aren’t always right, and nice guys are still prone to biases – especially if they listen to the wrong people. In an apparent quest for fairness when he led a committee of the American Physical Society (one of my professional organizations) to assess its statement on climate change, he recruited three scientists to represent the 97% consensus, and three contrarians, presumably to speak for the other 3%. The lack of proportionate representation amplified the contrary opinions that he heard, and only in one direction. He completely ignored another, equally unfounded, contrary view. The position sometimes referred to as “doomism” (the belief that the worst-case is inevitable and it is too late to prevent it) was not represented.

The three contrarians had a long and well-documented history of engaging in ad hominem attacks on mainstream climate scientists and misrepresenting their work. Most of the technical mistakes and misrepresentations in “Unsettled” may simply be attributable to Koonin’s trust of those advisors and lack of rigorous independent verification.

Note that “The three contrarians” Mark refers to are John Christy, Judith Curry, and Richard Lindzen.

Mark doesn’t go into great detail about all those “technical mistakes and misrepresentations”, although we have covered some of them here. However he does emphasise Professor Koonin’s frequent “use of biased language” and “strawman arguments”. Here are his conclusions:

Koonin implies throughout the book that climate scientists have conspired to downplay uncertainty and exaggerate the risk, apparently unaware of the fact that increased uncertainty means increased risks. Nowhere does he mention that climate sensitivity is described in the scientific literature by a probability density function that is highly skewed, with a long high-sensitivity tail that we cannot discount with certainty. Risk is the integrated product of probability and consequences. It’s hard to argue that the consequences of climate change don’t get worse with sensitivity.

If a pilot isn’t sure about having enough fuel to get you to your destination, if an astronomer isn’t sure that an incoming asteroid will miss the Earth, if your doctor isn’t sure if you have a terminal disease, if you’re not sure you turned the stove off: In each of these cases, the uncertainty is unsettling. Why does Koonin think that unsettled questions in climate science are any kind of comfort when the consequences of doing nothing can be catastrophic? “Unsettled” should leave serious scientists feeling unsettled.

Readers would do well to see crankyuncle.com for information about logical fallacies used by climate change deniers.

Here’s an informative infographic from the Cranky Uncle:

Unsettling, is it not?

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