Peer review for epicycles

This is how it is done, people. How you fight the propaganda war for anthropogenic global warming: publish before peer review is in, obtain slavish peer reviews, and line up your acolytes in the media.

You may recall the big fact that has to be “explained” is why Antarctic sea ice is expanding rather than contracting.

James Hansen is the noted climate doomist, formerly of NASA. His latest paper was released before peer review was completed, says Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the Week.. The reason, says Mr. Sinclair, is as he describes:

The study, as yet unpublished in a peer reviewed journal, was deliberately released early, so as to become part of the public discussion prior to the important climate talks scheduled in Paris for the end of the year.

In short, in time for maximum propaganda effect.

Now this is one of the peer reviews, also published before the main article was completely reviewed:

This is another Hansen masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications. The main thrust of the paper, the part getting all the press, arises from the confluence of several recent developments in glaciology. First is the identification of a runaway condition in outflow glaciers of the West Antarctic ice sheet that makes the IPCC prediction for year-2100 sea level rise clearly obsolete.

Naturally the global warming catastrophist press was ready with its own blow-job in the Washington Post by fan-boy Chris Mooney on the same as yet ‘unpublished’ published Hansen article:

According to Hansen’s thinking, expanding Antarctic sea ice is precisely what you would expect to see if the Antarctic continent itself is losing a lot of ice mass from its vast ice sheet, adding to sea level rise.

The thinking goes like this: As ice shelves melt, and more inland ice slides towards the sea, a gigantic volume of cold, fresh water enters the ocean. This freshwater pulse, the researchers continue, promotes ocean “stratification,” in which a cold surface layer lies atop a subsurface warmer layer. The cold surface layer promotes more sea ice growth atop open water, while the warm lower layer sneaks beneath that ice and continues to melt submerged ice shelves, which plunge deep into the water at the fringes of the continent.

The fundamental physical reason for the expansion of sea ice in this scenario is that cold, fresh water is less dense than warmer, salty water. Or as the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains:

As deep ocean temperatures around Antarctic rise, they increase ice shelf melt, according to a study led by Richard Bintanja. This meltwater is creating a cool layer near the surface of the ocean that promotes sea ice production. In addition, the meltwater is fresh, or much less salty and dense than surrounding saline ocean layers. So fresher meltwater floats upward, mixing with the cold surface layer, lowering its density. As this fresh layer expands, it forms a stable puddle on top of the ocean that makes it easier to produce and retain sea ice.

In this sense, expanding Antarctic sea ice might be anything but good news.

So, nothing refutes man-caused global warming, and everything confirms it. This is not science, this is religion.

It is quite possible that Hansen is correct, and that fresh water is having the effects he describes. The reason I doubt it has to do with the enormous politicization of science that Matt Ridley has written about here.

Ridley cites Ian Plimer:

Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

“Analytical procedures are treated as evidence” – I hope you caught that.


These explanations of Hansen are like the epicycles that had to be invented to explain the anomalous movements  of planets in the geo-centric model of the world. Planets rotating about the earth did not keep an even pace with the stars, as anyone can observe who watches the night sky over months. Epi-cycles (smaller loop-backs) were used to explain why Jupiter would appear to slow against the cosmic background stars, as it did a loop-back before looping forward to resume its normal course around the earth. The system of epicycles made quite accurate predictions, so in that sense was scientific, but collapsed when astronomers began to use telescopes and were able to see the moons of Jupiter rotating about the gas giant. Goodbye Ptolemaic system; goodbye supremacy of Aristotle.


Aristotle’s simple universe collapses into complication when the movements of the planets are observed, and looks more like this. [Aristotle and the Greeks in general were not into actual observation very much, relative to the superiority of theorizing].





Epicycles, phlogiston, cholesterol: bad science never stops.


And may I say a word for Aristotle. He did so much in so many fields of human thought: biology, ethics, physics, metaphysics, logic, theories of art, politics, and epistemology, that his one large error (cosmology) has overshadowed his stunning achievements. But he too suffered from the same thing that will doom Hansen, Trenberth, Michael Mann and the other catastrophists: he came to represent an orthodoxy – albeit 2000 years after his death. We all remember Galileo and  his fight with the Papacy. The Roman church made the mistake of making Aristotle their official scientist. The modern liberal commentariat has made the doomists their official scientists. The same collapse of moral authority awaits them as awaited the scientific reputation of the Catholic church after Galileo.

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Ken Moore

Go easy on Aristotle. His cosmology was a best fit to observations using the tools available to think about them. (Example, zero as a placeholder, hadn’t been invented in mathematics.) In our day, atoms explained everything until quarks explained atomic particles and now maybe strings explain the quarks. The corollary of a good theory is testable hypothesis. Eliminating Apollo’s chariot of the sun and replacing it with orderly motion of a class of objects is brilliant and gives an opening for meaningful tests.

Ken Moore

A third kick at the can, from Wikipedia: “On the specific description of the heavens, Aristotle created a complex system containing 55 spheres(!) which, despite it complexity, had the virtue of explaining and predicting most of the observed motions of the stars and planets. Thus, despite all the bad publicity it has received, this model had all the characteristics of a scientific theory (see Sect. 1.2.1): starting from the hypothesis that heavenly bodies move in spheres around the Earth, Aristotle painstakingly modified this idea, matching it to the observations, until all data could be accurately explained. He then used this theory to make predictions (such as where will Mars be a year from now) which were confirmed by subsequent observations. “


exactly, Ken.
Aristotle’s fall occurred 2000 years or thereabouts after his death. It was occasioned by the fact that new science, in the form of Galileo, was prosecuted by the Inquisition, because the implications of his findings threatened the supremacy of Aristotle’s theories. When science is made “official”, and backed by the state, it hinders error correction.

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