Monday, November 27, 2006

Jan Laštovička: the sky is falling

The added focus of this blog on topics related to Czechia is natural. The newest article on RealClimate.ORG is about an article by a Prague climate scientist RNDr. Jan Laštovička and his team. The article in Science is called
  • The sky IS falling.

More precisely, this is how Gavin Schmidt has translated the original boring title to satisfy the intellectual, emotional, and religious demands of his readers. The original boring title was:

But Gavin's title sounds more progressive, doesn't it? ;-) And it is more or less equivalent, isn't it? Let me mention that "Jan" means "John" while "Laštovička" means a "small swallow".

It should really be spelled "Vlaštovička" but the typo is common enough so that it has been incorporated into the surnames. ;-)

More seriously, the paper argues that the cooling of the upper atmosphere (stratosphere plus ionosphere above it - i.e. everything that is higher than 20 km or so) is "exactly" as predicted by the greenhouse effect and it makes various layers of ions (called the "sky" by Gavin) to "fall". Many comments about the timescale and the numbers seem to be deliberately vague and non-quantitative. We will look at some aspects of the claims and ignore others: for example, I won't discuss strange claims about the "increasing geomagnetic activity".

Disclaimer: the sentence "the sky is falling" doesn't mean that there is anything wrong going on and the reader should try not to be confused by this deliberately ambiguous terminology of Dr. Schmidt.

Gavin Schmidt explains that the Czech work is very new and very important because it contains the same statements and material that were already written down by Jarvis et al. in 1998 and by the Nude Socialist in 1999. As far as I can see, we can indeed call the work a "timely review".

Update: I received a reply from RNDr. Laštovička.

He argues that Dr. Schmidt whom [I] cite seems to be kind of confused. [They] don't study stratosphere at all. They're focusing on the atmosphere above 50 km. The team of 5 people is international - from 4 countries. The claims that [their] results reproduce Jarvis et al. have nothing to do with reality either. The main application of our work are estimates of the lifetime of satellites. ;-)

Note that one expects the upper parts of the atmosphere to cool down because the tropopause - the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere above it - should be moved higher if the troposphere heats up. If it is higher, then it should be cooler.

Note that the climate guys won't agree about the reason of the cooling: there's a complete consensus except that no one knows what the consensus even says - this consensus used to be called Emperor's new clothes.

Also, just like the carbon dioxide increases the infrared absorption in the troposphere, its increased concentration in the higher layer, the stratosphere, is - on the contrary - expected to increase the ability of this layer to emit energy and to cool down. Maybe.

I hope that it is not difficult for the reader to understand that the global warming theory actually predicts cooling for most of the volume of the atmosphere. There's really no serious catch here. ;-)

That's a very cute and important contribution to the global warming consensus - or a "timely perspective article" as Gavin Schmidt calls it in the first sentence, making his motivation and the source of his excitement rather easy to look through - except that the stratospheric temperature has been constant at least since 1994, while the previous peaks can be attributed to known natural causes: see this graph.

Yes, in the last 12 years, the years of the highest CO2 concentrations and their highest growth, the predicted and celebrated cooling effect doesn't seem to exist. That's not a problem: if an effect doesn't exist for 12 years, it is just a natural fluke. On the other hand, if the effect did exist, it would have to be included as a clear evidence for the Gore theory and those who would say that it is a natural fluke should be burned at stake. A progressive scientist must be a politically correct perfectionist and only include effects that lead to the results that agree with the consensus and that Al Gore will appreciate.

More seriously, the situation is much like the surface global warming that stopped in 1998. We've been forced to say "Yes, yes, I don't question that the planet has become warmer in the last 100 years" but this likely fact kind of doesn't mean that it would continue to get warmer after we say this sentence: a subtlety that too many people don't seem to realize. Many of us have said this sentence in 1998 but we couldn't repeat it for the period 1998-2006 because there has been no warming since 1998. The Southern hemisphere has seen no warming for the last 25 years.

Moreover, there exists another part of the atmosphere, namely the upper troposphere, where the greenhouse theory predicts a significantly stronger warming than for the surface temperatures - because this is where the greenhouse effect really takes place - while the observations seem to lead to the opposite conclusion, despite some recent corrections of the satellite data. One half of the predictions seems to have been wrong for decades and the other half seems to start to be incorrect in the last 10 years and no details seem to fit really well.

Climate and stocks

Imagine that there are similar questions about a decision that is usually decided rationally: you want to buy stocks for $50,000. You're told by a woman who agrees with hundreds of other women and with an unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate that you should buy a stock of Surface Ltd. because its price has been going up for the last century and it will continue to do so, the price of a stock of Upper Troposphere Inc. included in the first one would also go up, and a third stock of a competing company Ionosphere Inc. would always go down. The person who sells you the stock tells you that she has some insider information that promotes this simple description of the price dynamics into a law of Nature.

When you actually look what's going on, you see that the first two stocks went up in most of the decades of the last 100 years but one of them was flat and the other went down in the last 10 years, while the competing stock has been flat for 12 years, too. Roughly one half of the predictions that the woman was trying to convince you about are wrong and those that seem to be correct are apparently correct because of very different reasons than she has been saying.

But at least, she can repeat her opinion 8 years later without any modification of her theory and without any improvements of its agreement with reality: she just says some things in a more vague fashion so that one can't see any sharp contradictions. The debate was already over 8 years ago anyway, so there is no longer a reason to try to improve the theories even though 1/2 of their predictions are wrong. Al Gore himself is already a perfect Prophet of the truth and who disagrees is an oil industry shill. Well, I think that most rational people wouldn't follow the advise of that woman - or of those women.

Fine. Our example was about a lot of money, namely $50,000, so it was natural that people would try to act rationally. In the case of the climate regulation, we talk about trillions of dollars of investments, something that can swallow most of the GDP growth or change it into recession. A trillion is

  • $1,000,000,000,000

As you can see, it is a large number and therefore the rational reasoning should already be suppressed, right? ;-) Mathematics and thinking can't work for such large numbers, can they? It's just like the landscape: if the number 10^{350} appears anywhere in your theory, it proves that mathematics is inconsistent and not even wrong and everyone must return to the pre-scientific era, the enemies of physics argue, and work on the dogmas of the confused 17th century philosophers instead of high-energy physics.

In the context of the weather and the climate, because the amount of money that is at stake is so large, all of us should act like wild animals, like the defenders of the global warming theory that has already been settled even though 1/2 of its predictions are rather clearly falsified by observations.

I was brought up to believe, and I still believe, that natural science is an experimental enterprise. With the data above, is the mainstream research of the climate a science or a religion? Haven't some people lost their mind? We report, you decide...

Holography and climate

Finally, let me describe how theoretical physics would look like if it followed the template of climate science.

In late 1997 or early 1998, Maldacena wouldn't be as accurate as the real Maldacena so he would discover the de Sitter / asymptotically free (DS/AF) correspondence. It's very important that the beta function of the field theory is negative, he would write, and it corresponds to the positive cosmological constant of the de Sitter space.

That's a nice conjecture. In the real case, the 5,000 followups confirmed the real Maldacena's conjecture. In the climate case, roughly 40% of the papers would find discrepancies. Most of the authors who have found discrepancies would be identified as oil industry puppets because they don't support the asymptotic freedom that is so important to match the de Sitter space. The remaining 60% of physicists would announce that 100% of them agree with the consensus. The debate is over. In other words, the physicists wouldn't give up: there has been a consensus about this holography since 1998.

In 2006, someone would write a new paper that would summarize, once again, Maldacena's arguments but all arguments that were contradicted by the oil industry puppets would be written in a more vague form so that everything still looks marginally fine. A whole industry of papers that are unconstrained by the results of the previous papers would explode. The only thing that these papers would have to share are the assumptions that holography must always have a de Sitter space on one side and an asymptotically free, discrete theory on the other side: the non-zero beta function and the discreteness is so important. No one would ever propose the shameful conjecture backed by the oil industry that the beta function should cancel to give the AdS space instead of the dS space. Such a cancellation wouldn't be progressive and it would violate the background independence. But otherwise, everything goes.

Well, I should stop these speculations at this moment, in order to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit from an author who is dreaming about "physics" done more or less exactly in this way. ;-)

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