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Did the American Physical Society reverse its stance on global warming?

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 19, 2008

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

Does the APS now question global warming? Not really, but you wouldn't know it by what you read on the right

The right wing blogosphere has been all atwitter the past couple of days over a blog post by Michael Asher at DailyTech alleging that the American Physical Society (APS) had reversed its previous position that human activity was fueling global warming.

“The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming “incontrovertible.”

In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,”There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.”

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity — the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause — has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.”

The APS is the second largest organization of scientists in the world and one of the most prestigious. It publishes over a dozen scientific journals with Physical Review and Physical Review Letters among them, as well as organizing over twenty scientific meetings a year. So if the APS issues a statement that it doesn’t think anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real, then the world has good cause to sit up and take notice. “Deathly news for the religion of Global Warming,” as one right wing pundit put it.

Except that’s not what happened.

Asher’s blog post was updated with the following message:

“After publication of this story, the APS responded with a statement that its Physics and Society Forum is merely one unit within the APS, and its views do not reflect those of the Society at large.”

And the APS posted this notice on their front page:

“The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007:

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.”

An article at odds with this statement recently appeared in an online newsletter of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, one of 39 units of APS.  The header of this newsletter carries the statement that “Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum.”  This newsletter is not a journal of the APS and it is not peer reviewed.”

Well now, that’s hardly the APS reversing itself on AGW. Additionally, Asher did some selective quoting of Jeffrey Marque’s Editor’s Comments in the APS’s Physics and Society Forum newsletter (Asher misattributes this as the APS’s forum too, but we’ll let that slide). Reading Marque’s actual comments we find that the APC’s Physics and Society Forum invited several people to contribute papers arguing either for or against the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) conclusions. Christopher Monckton supplied the anti-AGW argument while David Hafemeister and Peter Schwartz from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo provided a paper supporting the IPCC’s conclusions.

I think it also bears mentioning who exactly Christopher Monckton is. He is a former journalist and an arch Conservative British politician, having been a policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Monckton is a member of many private-public Conservative think tanks including The Heartland Institute which aggressively campaigns against global warming science (and for “smokers’ rights”, receiving large donations from Phillip-Morris). He had a successful business consultancy and invented the Eternity Puzzle, a popular puzzle toy that carried a £1,000,000 prize for its solution.

Monckton is also something of a notorious crank. He is an Euroskeptic; opposed to European integration. In a 2007 interview with The Independent he is quoted as saying that he would (bolding mine),

“… leave the European Union, close down 90 per cent of government services and shift power away from the atheistic, humanistic government and into the hands of families and individuals.”

Monckton maintains similarly eclectic views on HIV/AIDS as well. In a 1987 article for The American Spectator he argued that the only way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS was to blood test every single person once a month and forcibly quarantine anyone found to have or be carrying the disease.

Monckton has also been known to employ creative expansion of the facts to suit his needs. For instance, he claimed that he had to sell his house pay the Eternity Puzzle prize but later admitted that wasn’t true. In a letter to Senators Snowe and Rockefeller he claimed to be a member of the Upper House of the UK legislature when, in fact, he is not a member of the House of Lords.

All of that being so, perhaps the most important thing that has been left unsaid is what Mockton is not. For the plain and simple fact is that Christopher Monckton is not a scientist.

Now you might accuse me, and rightfully so, of arguing ad hominem. However, I think Monckton’s history and character are important for assessing his credibleness, especially if one isn’t a climate scientist their self. After all, if a person holds several views contrary to experts in their respective fields and has a history of being less than forthright then perhaps we should view any claims that person makes as suspect.

Still, Monckton’s history of credulousness doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. Nor does the fact that he isn’t a scientist rule out the possibility that he has something to contribute to science. Sadly though, Monckton walks a well-worn path he has trod many times before. For instance, his claim that cosmic rays are behind warming trends in recent decades has been thoroughly refuted and George Monbiot handily debunked many of Monckton’s other claims. Finally, Tim Lambert dispenses with Monckton’s claims of the IPCC’s overstatement of climate sensitivity, again noting Monckton’s spurious reasoning.

“Did you spot what he just did? If you assume that there is no delay in warming (which is wrong) and McKitrick is right (which is also wrong), then you get a low value of sensitivity. If you also assume that the IPCC values for ΔF2x and f are correct, then their value of κ must be too high — Monckton comes up with a number 20% less. But in the previous section Monckton argued that the IPCC value of ΔF2x was too high by a factor of three. If instead you use Monckton’s number, the IPCC value of κ is too low.

What Monckton is doing is double counting his (dubious) evidence that sensitivity is lower than the IPCC number. If he had two pieces of evidence that sensitivity is half the IPCC number he would multiply them together to claim that sensitivity is one quarter the IPCC number. This is not correct.

Too put it another way, in this case, by making some unrealistic assumptions he came up with a sensitivity estimate 20% less than the IPCC number i.e. 2.4K. Logically he should have stopped there — he has an estimate of sensitivity. Instead he uses this estimate of sensitivity in a chain of reasoning that leads him to conclude that sensitivity is 0.58K.”

What it all comes down to is that Monckton is simply wrong; wrong about it all. And the vast majority of respectable scientists across the many fields comprising climate science still think that humans are responsible for global warming.

The whole affair appears as an almost textbook exercise in critical thinking. Taken at face value Monckton’s claims even pass the sniff test with lots of scientific looking language, charts and graphs. On the other hand we have sensationalized and less-than-honestly reported claims from a crackpot fringe politico stumping for his pet cause with, seemingly, religious and political motivations. Contrasted with Monckton’s claims are those of thousands of scientists doing real work in the field of climatology whose work is subject to the scrutiny of their peers. Who would you  believe?


6 Responses to “Did the American Physical Society reverse its stance on global warming?”

  1. […] Note: This post was originally written for Freethought Fort Wayne. […]

  2. Keely said

    The Heartland Institute does not receive funds from Philip-Morris. For more information about the Heartland Institute , please check out the “Truth Squad” page on the Heartland website.

  3. neuralgourmet said


    I realize that Heartland says that Sourcewatch isn’t correct, but can you specifically contradict the referenced claims of Philip-Morris contributions on Sourcewatch’s Heartland page?

  4. Morris said

    So what you are saying is that what the actual members of the society say doesn’t matter becasue the “governing board” of the society still says that global warming is happening This farther goes to prove what this degreed Physicist has said for the last 5 years – “Global Warming is a political and not a scientific idea.” BTW – the political guys hand out the funds. You can’t fund significant research unless you are a) independently wealthy, or “B” have funding. Q.E.D. – if the politicians says that we have global warming, then it MUST be real.

  5. Oh Morris, your logic is… well… non-existent. Let’s see how long your logic takes to find it ridiculous.


    A member of the APS thinks global warming isn’t real therefore the scientific community knows it’s not real.

    Substituting something a little more inflamatory

    I hve met a Christian who thinks blacks are subhuman therefore all Christians think blacks are subhuman.

    Oh look! 1-step to ridiculousness.

    And in case I’m attacked for being unfair (which I’m not) and overly condescending (which I am) your post

    a) says nothing about the validity of the underlying scientific basis for this dissenting member of the APS, which neural has more than explained to have a decidedly suspect basis

    b) immediately accuse the (non-existent) Scientific Establishment for being a political institution which oppresses research. The only one playing politics here are the opponents with their very dubious and easily debunked math.

  6. […] # 10 Did the American Physical Society reverse its stance on global warming? […]

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