Unfruitful Twitter Interactions with Climate Scientists

Talking with climate scientists on Twitter has never been a very enlightening or productive experience – due in no short measure to the particular limitations of the media. However, I have found it informative and worthwhile in the past, with at least some willing to engage on the science and the issues surrounding it. But these past few weeks have been particularly frustrating and unproductive and unless it’s down to me being somewhat more impolite than I have previously been – which I don’t think is the case – I do now detect a definite reluctance to engage positively, for whatever reason.

So I’ll list off a number of particularly unproductive ‘conversations’ (in many cases consisting of me tweeting and being ignored) to illustrate my point. First, and most recently, Gavin Schmidt’s tweet about the AMOC graph posted by Ed Hawkins, which shows a definite negative trend since 2004:

My response:

I linked to the actual University of Southampton et al study which produced this graph and pointed out to Gavin that they did not think the trend was ‘insignificant’ On the contrary. I quote from the paper (my emphasis):

“Model simulations predict a decrease of the AMOC in the 21st century in response to increasing greenhouse gases of the order of one half a Sverdrup per decade (IPCC, 2007). Our observations indicate that the actual change over the last decade is much greater. The magnitude of the observed changes suggests that they are a part of a cyclical change rather than being directly linked to the projected anthropogenic AMOC decrease . . . . . We have shown that there was a slowdown in the AMOC transport between 2004 and 2012 amounting to an average of 0.54 Sv yr (95 % c.i. 0.08 to 0.99 Sv yr) at 26◦N, and that this was primarily due to a strengthening of the southward flow in the upper 1100 m and a reduction of the southward transport of NADW below 3000 m. This trend is an order of magnitude larger than that predicted by climate models associated with global climate change scenarios, suggesting that this decrease represents decadal variability in theAMOC system rather than a response to climate change.”

I have yet to receive any tweet in response from Gavin or Ed Hawkins.

On the subject of ‘Europe’s warmest ever year’ and the cyclical AMO this time, Andie Mac responds to climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck’s link to the Guardian showing that European annual temperature this year is heading for a record.

John Kennedy replies and does give credit to the AMO for maybe being partly responsible for the big jump in temperatures in Europe:

Andie questions Kennedy further and then I post two tweets to Jonathan Overpeck and John Kennedy at the end of the conversation:

I have not received any response to either.

Next Prof. Iain Stewart. OK, he’s not a climate scientist, he’s a geologist, so still an earth scientist as strongly wedded to the failing CAGW hypothesis as he is to his employers, the BBC. He pointed out that the Met Office, although they accept the pause in global surface temperatures, are nevertheless at pains to stress that global warming has not stopped and there is good scientific evidence of its continuance:

I checked his link which gave a further link to this study released by the Met Office, which basically claims that the observational evidence for the continuation of CO2 climate forcing throughout the pause consists mainly of the continued downward trend of Arctic sea-ice, rising ocean heat content (OHC) and declining Northern hemisphere snow cover:

Click to access Paper1_Observing_changes_in_the_climate_system.PDF

So, naturally, I tweeted to Prof. Stewart the following:

Which was polite and to the point. No reply. However, I note he engages with the very much less polite Crock of Socialists:

(click on date for entire twitter conversation)

Gavin Cawley is also not a climate scientist, but I’m sure he would like his audience to think that he is qualified to be one. In fact he is senior lecturer in the School of Computing Science at UEA with an interest in anthropogenic CO2 residency times. He says that sceptics seek an excuse for avoiding discussing the science:

So I thought I would try to discuss the science a little with him:

You can see how the conversation went with me asking GC to show a paper that predicted pause lengths of 15+ years:

He did (kind of) but when I challenged him on the probability of this ‘predicted’ 15 year + pause actually happening, he got irate and finally discontinued the conversation with this Tweet:

Now Mark Maslin is a climate scientist – at least that is what he claims. He is employed as Head of the Department of Geography at UCL. The following attempts to engage him in debate about climate science came a week or so before he declared his public intention not to debate the science of climate change with ‘deniers’. Here is our discussion (click on date):

A little later, Maslin produced a graph on Twitter and ignored a simple question I put to him about this graph:

He did have another go at convincing me that the earth is warming with another very silly graph:

Lastly, I phrased a straightforward question to Richard Betts, Doug McNeall and the Met Office re. FAR (Fraction of Attributable Risk) models; basically enquiring what range of transient climate response these models incorporated:

I didn’t get a reply so I answered my own question as best I could.  It is likely that the models the Met Office uses to state the probability of an extreme weather or climate event happening with and without CO2 forcing are based on assumptions of the value of TCR which are considerably in excess of the much lower estimates coming out of recent studies. But that doesn’t stop the Met Office and others ‘anthropogenically fingerprinting’ extreme weather and climate variability.

So there you have it. I’m sure that climate scientists are becoming a lot more cautious about who they interact with online and what conversations they become involved in; more so than they were a year or two ago.


  1. Jaime, I admire your fortitude in the twitter-verse. My own – admittedly limited – experiences there strongly suggest that one learns far more from that to which one’s “discussant” (for want of a better word!) does not respond than from that to which s/he does!


  2. Gavin Cawley is ‘albatross’, a long-time Skepticalscience.com insider. He partly hid his credentials arising from Climategate. It is unlikely open discussion of science would be possible with him.


  3. Climate deniers invariably fail to understand the level of competence required to discuss academic research in what is a highly-specialised field.

    The limits of what one can reasonably claim about matters of science are defined by the set of published papers which have not yet been refuted. That’s it. All that a layperson can do is ensure that they do not make any claims which are not supported in the literature. You may mention arguments made in the literature but you may not attempt to criticise them if you lack competence in the specific field(s) of science in question.

    We’re not just talking about a physics A-level or a degree in engineering. Competence means you are a published scientist with professional experience as a researcher in the relevant field.

    This is the fundamental problem with online climate denial. Stubbornly attempting to insert your own ignorance into a highly-specialised academic discussion is not very fair to the scientists you attempt to challenge.


    1. Did you actually read my post? What level of ‘scientific competence’ do you need e.g. to link to an actual study on AMOC which clearly states that the slowdown in AMOC is an order of magnitude greater than that predicted by AGW modeling, which is therefore likely to be natural in origin, but which an ‘expert’ climate scientist dismisses on Twitter as not significant? What level of ‘expertise’ do you need to survey the scientific literature to find that the climate models only ‘predicted’ an hiatus lasting greater than 10 years with a very, very small probability, thus putting into perspective a computer science lecturer’s unqualified claim that the models DID predict pauses longer than a decade?
      Stop claiming that ‘deniers’can’t possibly be in a position to challenge unassailable ‘climate experts’. It’s just a convenient and indefensible excuse to deflect valid criticism. Many of us ‘deniers’ clearly are in that position and the points on which we are challenging them do not require a post-doctoral qualification in meteorology, atmospheric physics, climatology etc., merely an eye for detail and knowledge of the existing scientific literature.


  4. Hello Jaime

    Sorry I didn’t see that particular tweet of yours – I do try to respond, but these days I sometimes simply get too many tweets to spot them all (notification overload, as I think you yourself said to me the other day!)

    It’s a good question though, and the answer probably is ‘yes’ at least for the studies I am most familiar with. eg. Pall et al (2012) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v470/n7334/full/nature09762.html used an atmosphere-only model driven by prescribed SSTs in two cases – present day (from observations) and ‘the world that might have been’ ie: an estimate of what SSTs would have been in the absence of anthropogenic warming. That estimate comes from a climate model – or rather, 4 models with a range of climate sensitivities. The models were HadCM3, GFDLR30, NCARPCM1 and MIROC3.2, and the climate sensitivities can be found in the IPCC AR4 WG1 chapter on model evaluation http://ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch8s8-6-2-3.html

    The ECS of the models used there ranged from 2.1 (the lowest of any of the CMIP3 models listed) to 3.3 or 3.4 (depending on exactly which GFDL model it was – I’m not sure).

    These ECS values are not given as inputs to the GCMs though – they emerge from the GCMs as a result of what happens with water vapour feedbacks, clouds, etc etc. So at that level the climate sensitivity is not assumed – but when these get used in the Pall study then it is assumed, but they explored a range of assumptions.

    I think I’d have had difficulty fitting that into a tweet anyway 😉




    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for taking the time to give a comprehensive reply. I can understand how your Twitter feed must be overwhelming at times, so apologies for the implication that my question was ignored. From the links you provided it looks like I wasn’t too far out in assuming a mean value of TCR of 1.8, which is in excess of a number of recent lower estimates.


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