52 Pickup

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 8.15.49 PM52 PICKUP

According to Wikipedia, the game 52 Pickup requires at least one player who is familiar with the game and one player who wants to be initiated into the game. The first player, as “dealer”, throws the entire deck into the air so the cards land strewn on the floor. The other player must then pick them up. Other card games sometimes transpose into this game. For an example, a child falling behind in Go Fish or Crazy Eights, or bored by a never-ending game of War, may simply declare “52 Pickup!” and sweep all the cards off the table.

So it is interesting how, on the Watts Up site, a list of 52 highly miscellaneous climate-related statements related to “the hiatus” are strewn about randomly, as if by a petulant child losing a game. Your correspondent dutifully picks them up, but only because a prominent scientist appears to have been misled by this trick among others, and is in turn misleading others.


The spreadsheet I was keeping while plowing through this mess is available for your perusal.


In an op-ed on climate for the Wall Street Journal, Steven E. Koonin demonstrates some understanding of where climate scientists sit in this awkward moment:

My training as a computational physicist—together with a 40-year career of scientific research, advising and management in academia, government and the private sector—has afforded me an extended, up-close perspective on climate science. Detailed technical discussions during the past year with leading climate scientists have given me an even better sense of what we know, and don’t know, about climate. I have come to appreciate the daunting scientific challenge of answering the questions that policy makers and the public are asking.

The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Well, that last sentence tends to stretch matters a bit. A number of things are going on that are downright unusual, and there’s no two ways about that anymore. However, it certainly depends where you direct your eyes.

And it appears that Koonin has been directing his eyes at dubious sources for aspects of science outside the strictly computational. Look at the carefully chosen litany of half-truths that follow: the hiatus, Antarctic sea ice, the tropical “hot spot” in the upper troposphere.

His conclusion is reasonable enough taken literally:

Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about “believing” or “denying” the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity’s deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.

but he doesn’t acknowledge how far what we are doing today is from reasonable, which, obviously, is a problem, and his approach is clearly intended to succor those who are far from inclined to take some policy risks toward a solution.

One might have guessed his insouciance from his focus on classic denier red herrings (although there are legitimate concerns about models he raises – his concerns are certainly not ill-informed on that score – but that’s for another essay, hopefully).

That all said, I was especially struck by this assertion Koonin made:

Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. 

The usual sort of response starts bubbling into my brain, “er, I suppose… sort of.. but…”

And then I find myself startled. “Wait, what?”

Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered”???

Where did this come from?

I believe it came from no less than diligent Blog Science specialist HockeySchtick, by way of Tony Watts in an article entitled “List of excuses for ‘the pause’ in global warming is now up to 52” (archived here)

According to HockeySchtick, there are no less than 52 “excuses” for the hiatus. But as we will see, an “excuse” does not rise to what an actual scientist like Koonin ought to take for an explanation.


Yes, I looked at every one of them, and it was something of a slog. The intention is to test the claim that “dozens of hypotheses” have been offered.

Not Science

Let’s start by eliminating the ones which aren’t science at all. That amounts to 20 of the 52.

The Dot Earth Piece

No less than  of the 52 “excuses” come from a single “Dot Earth” blog entry by Andy Revkin, and basically amount to things scientists say in passing that HockeySchtick is unable to put into context. Or, in the case of Karl Wunsch, that almost nobody can put into context.

(If I had a chance for a New Rule, it might well be Karl Wunsch Does Not Talk to Reporters. Sheesh.)

It’s not a terrible article but it’s not very enlightening either. Just a grab bag of comments. That’s almost a fifth of HS’s stock of “excuses”. He’s off to a bad start and I won’t examine them in detail. 

For a telling instance, consider  “Ultimately, the challenge is to come up with the parsimonious theory [of the ‘pause’] that fits all of the data” (Andrew Dessler)

Does that sound to you like an “excuse”?

The Revkin piece alone spawns points 40, 42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49 and 50 (but not 41);  all are casual observations by researchers, not explanations for anything.

Miscellaneous Journalism

There are a few more in a similar vein, random snatches of science-speak mockable by, um, people who like to mock that sort of thing.

  • # 13 (A Guardian Piece, on data)
  • #23 (Comments by Pauchari to Press Conference)
  • # 31 (A Justin Gillis NYT piece, ruing in passing a failed observation satellite launch)
  • #19, and
  • #22 op-eds at different ends of the spectrum
  • # 35 (A humdrum report of a scientist talk in a small local paper) quoted so-called excuse: “to look at our models and observations and ask questions”. The temerity of that evasion!

Blog Science and Think Tank Noise

# 20 #21 #27 # 29

Relevant Science

So, let’s see. Maybe there aren’t 52. We’ve eliminated 20 off the bat. But are there really 32 peer reviewed theories of the hiatus?
Well, what could the hiatus be? It’s either internal variation (how the system behaves) or forcing (what environment the system faces).

Forcing Ideas

1,3,4,6,7,11,18, 39

Candidate forcings are:

  • Solar activity (decreasing)
  • Combustion-related aerosol (increasing)
  • (CFCs decreasing, but this forcing is already modeled)
  • Stratospheric water vapor
  • (VOCs from pine forests might increase with temperature – speculation in press release, not supported by research, small)
  • (Global clear-sky “brightening/dimming” – subsumed in other theories)
  • Vulcanism (increasing)

The CFC one and the pine forest one have little explanatory power. The global brightening one is eliminated as a variant on the stratospheric water vapor.  (The pine forest one is merely posited as a modest feedback, and not on hiatus timescales, and in the press release, not in the actual study.) So we have really got four theories.

Also (sort of) in this category is #41, which argues that the cause of the hiatus is NOT aerosols, which hardly counts as an excuse, does it?

Internal Variability Ideas

If it’s not forcing, it must be some sloshing around within the system. For the most part it’s fairly literal sloshing – the parts of the system that have the right time scales are all in the ocean.

Much of the variability is in the equatorial zone, for reasons a bit too complicated to get into here. So there are a number of overlapping and somewhat competing papers attempting to analyze and report on what the equatorial and tropical ocean is doing. It is here that the dataset is relatively weak, and the physics relatively complex. When people complain in the press about inadequate data or too much complexity, they are referring to identifying the internal temperature and salinity structure of the ocean, and extrapolating it.

Papers on this turf which HS refers to are:
2, 8, 16, 17, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 33, and 38.

Needless to say there is much overlap and contention here, but these are all aspects of the same issue. On ocean variability, the physics is well-known, but the data to set up the initial values are poorly known and the simulations are expensive. So there are no real conceptual issues here. And I would call these all facets of the same problem. But there’s enough argument here that offhand we may have to give credit for two or three theories being active. So generously that brings us to an “excuse” count of seven.

Related Science, Tangential Science, and Attempted Science

Model Initialization Ideas

Especially mockable (” We forgot to cherry-pick models in tune with natural variability” is HS’s summary of one of these) are #15, #36 and #51, but in my opinion these are the most scientifically exciting papers kicked off by the hiatus.

So much of the stumbling block is in the ocean not because we don’t understand the ocean but because we don’t measure it very well. But the observed history does give information about the internal state. So we can go back and put that information into the models. At that point they aren’t pure climate models. Rather, they are more like weather models of the deep ocean. We want to see if the models COULD capture the variation that we see if we DO use hindsight. What’s more, that hindsight can help us set up our models for future projections.

So while we may be at the edge of the uninitialized ensemble, it remains plausible that with better initial data the models would have performed well. Again, I think this is the most exciting aspect of computational climatology today, and rather than scaring people off with harassment, we want to be attracting the young Karl Wunsches out there to pick this problem to focus on.

I suppose, though not a theory, you could count this as an “excuse”. (eight) Call it the data travesty. (That word has a longish history in this regard, you know.)

I can’t resist noting that we’d be further along in this line of investigation if a sensible amount were expended on collecting the data.

Is this an “excuse” for the hiatus? Well, you can see how they’d think that, though I don’t think of it that way. It brings the models into agreement with observations. Let’s be generous and award it on a close decision. Eight.

Time Series Analysis

Some people love to play around with climate statistics, and not all of them are bloggers, so we have some peer reviewed papers that do that. Whatever they say (and some of them seem to me to be badly wrong) they can’t really be considered explanations or excuses. They’re just, right or wrong, analyses.
These are #9, #12, #14, #34 and #52.

Of these, I think only #12 (Lovejoy) is worthy of attention, unless you really want to see how awful Judith Curry’s actual work is, in which case I’d commend your careful attention to #9.

But even in the case of #12, it has no, and pretends to no, explanatory power regarding climate phenomenology. The rest of them fill in the gap between the science and the nonsense, roughly straddling the line. So for the list of “explanations”? Zero additions here.

Data Correction

A distinct category needs to be reserved for #5, Cowtan and Way, which carefully examines averaging over the rapidly warming Arctic, providing a correction that removes some of the hiatus. And we’ll give them that one as an “excuse”. Nine.


The remaining papers attempt to balance all the other phenomena into an inclusive theory. In the case of Gavin Schmidt’s #10: the use of the word “coincidence” is mocked. An easy shot, but in fact, it seems likely that several cooling forcings are at work; they coincide. There’s also #32 (and arguably #3 and #39, already accounted for) that attempt to parcel out the forcing to various phenomena. Still nine “excuses”


Last but not least, I special mention for #37, which refers to exactly the same paper as #31. And the final count is nine.


There’s much to say on this. For now let me be brief while I try to get this gruesome taxonomy off my plate.

Well, there are several forcings, and they vary. So sometimes (about half the time) they’ll be predominantly in a cooling state. If they are, then that would move the global temperature trajectory a bit cooler. Occasionally substantially so. And that does appear to be the case, not just from the global temperature record, but from direct study of the forcings.

And there is the second part, which is commonly called internal variability, which on this time scale refers to ocean dynamics. Indeed we haven’t had a major El Nino since 1998, which can in a very elementary sense be seen to bring the trend line down a bit.

Why this is happening is a complicated question. The connection to climate change may or may not be important. Unlike the atmosphere, the ocean is relatively data-poor. But we know it played a role just by separating out the El Nino signal in various ways, and some of our best scientists are parsing through the details and finding useful ways to put the models to work.

And then there is the fact that the active deniers pick the ugliest way of comparing data and models, yielding a misleading picture of how far they have diverged.

It still seems more than likely that this divergence is not only smaller than is made out by carefully selected records, but also impermanent. Even if we didn’t have the evidence of ice melting, sea level rising, ocean acidification, and shifts in weather patterns, it’s really too early to take solace in the earth’s slow change in temperature, and certainly not to gloat at the failures of science, because uncertainty is not our friend.

Being generous, the number of distinct “excuses”, that is, arguments proffered by the scientific community, that the hiatus is not a refutation of climate science, among the fifty-two candidates, is something like nine, of which very few pairs are mutually contradictory.

The number of actual hypotheses in play is best described as four distinct variations in forcing plus a tangle of ocean dynamics ideas. The ocean theories are not all mutually compatible but the forcing ones can all be happening at the same time. “Coincidence”, that is, in the literal sense of coinciding.

That is, we’ve identified five possible sources for a slowdown, one of them with complex and contested details, and we have eliminated none of them from play at present.

More to the point, in the grand scheme of things, this hiatus, while big enough to require explanation, is far from big enough to send us back to the drawing board. The very success of weather modeling demonstrates that we know what we are talking about.

HockeySchtick’s sloppy, incoherent list proves, on the other hand, that he’s willing to read a great deal of material without ever bothering to pull it together into some sort of coherent understanding. It only took me a few hours to categorize it and boil it down.

The muddle, I suspect, is “not a bug but a feature”.

The sense of overwhelming complexity is what the denier hobbyist wants; somewhere in that confusion perhaps one could imagine that heat causes CO2, and therefore the CO2 continues rising, but it isn’t heating any more. Or something.


You can’t say a science is incoherent on the basis of trying to present it as incoherently as possible.

I commend, to Watts and HockeySchtick, the Principle of Charity. Without it, they will make no progress in understanding the material.

But let’s be fair. A handful of explanations may not make a deck of cards, but they are more than we are used to. But they aren’t mutually contradictory.

The defense says “He wasn’t there. Even if he was there, he didn’t do it. And even if he did do it, it was an accident. And even if it was deliberate, it was self-defense.” These are inconsistent theories. The prosecution says “He was there, he did it, purposefully and unprovoked.” These are consistent. That doesn’t make them right, but it’s no grounds for mockery if they hold together.


It sure looks like it. I presume that this list is Koonin’s source for the “dozens of theories” point? Is there any other source making this claim?

It this half-baked, poorly thought-ought, childish nonsense something for a major scientist to be advocating in a major press outlet?

I would say it’s obviously not.

UPDATE 9/26/14: See also http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/weather-and-climate-at-reading/2014/has-global-warming-taken-a-holiday/



  1. Thanks for the exegesis. The 52 have been going the rounds, but for somebody with even as little technical chops as me who has been paying attention, they don't parse. What is difficult is the proliferation and multiplication, aka repetition, but that's nothing new either. Like mosquitoes, we learn to live with them.

    Knowing that heat has been accumulating, it has been interesting to track the studies about where it goes, but one must stretch the imagination to assume the evidence has gone missing.

    Meanwhile, the Pacific ocean heat is quite a study; why people don't note that cyclonic activity is a venting process beats me. It's just a matter of paying attention.

    Sad about Koonin, bad news. Doesn't matter that, for example, Dr. Curry dodges and weaves, she has standing and provides a bulwark for counterfactuals.

  2. Michael, I'll be the judge of what I find readable 8^D! Your piece followed a clear logical progression to an ineluctable conclusion, and made it clear that what climate scientists regard as an interesting problem to be solved, deniers have grasped as a straw in a flood.

    As for intelligent conversation, what else is there to say?

  3. Well, that's why I like to write stuff that's more confounding. I like nothing more than a good argument.

    The main trouble with the deniers, from my self-indulgent point of view, is how thoroughly they lack one.

    Shooting fish in a barrel. No sport in it anymore.

  4. Well, I can add some more, purely speculative:

    Start with sulfates (aerosols and sulfated aerosols) produced by oxidation of dimethylsulphide (DMS). This was proposed in 1987 by Charlson et al.: Oceanic phytoplankton, atmospheric sulphur, cloud albedo and climate

    A more recent review is Stefels et al. (2007) Environmental constraints on the production and removal of the climatically active gas dimethylsulphide (DMS) and implications for ecosystem modelling

    My list starts with changes to sulfate behavior: amount and timing. The latter is important because, AFAIK, if released during the day DMS will quickly oxidize to sulfite/sulfate due to solar UV, while at night it would presumably be able to migrate to much higher altitudes (depending on convection activity) before being oxidized. It goes on from there to other items, any of which, AFAIK, could have changed averages over the last couple decades.

    •     Changes to amount/timing of DMS production resulting from ecosystem changes due to whaling/overfishing

    •     Changes to amount/timing of DMS production resulting from ecosystem changes due to changes in atmospheric pCO2

    •     Changes to amount/timing of DMS production resulting from ecosystem changes due to changes in dust production (fertilization)

    •     Changes in cloud behavior (including albedo) due to changes in dust production

    The two lines involving changes in dust production, in turn need a cross-product with the following:

    •     Changes in dust production due to changes in atmospheric pCO2 (via vegetation changes)

    •     Changes in dust production due to changes in precipitation

    •     Changes in dust production due to anthropogenic land-use changes

    •     Changes in dust production due to eco-system destabilization due to invasive species (usually anthropogenic)

    I can dig up more refs, if you need them, and care.

  5. I can't dismiss this immediately. The importance of this cycle was Lovelock's idea wasn't it?

    I think any science minded person with an interest in climate would be happy to know of recent research, especially if it can be calibrated in watts per square meter, especially if something changed in the mid-90s.

  6. I can't dismiss this immediately. The importance of this cycle was Lovelock's idea wasn't it?

    If you say so. He's second author on the first paper I linked, and that paper (at a different URL) was the first item when I googled "Lovelock DMS". I don't claim to be all that connected with the "who's who" of science, I prefer to just look at the papers and ref's, not authors.

    I'll try to dig up the items I've seen while searching on other topics. I will say that AFAIK there isn't any research on correlations involving the speculations I listed, I've never run across any, IIRC, and I've done extensive searching on this subject. That's why I labeled my list "purely speculative".

    But I'll try to recover papers I've seen on, for instance, Biological Soil Crusts. Quoting from my comment at Climate Etc. (in the 2nd thread on Khvorostyanov & Curry 2014):

    With disturbance, lichens and mosses are replaced by cyanobacteria. recovery of the lichen and moss component can take decades to centuries ([refs.]) This decrease in crust cover and change in species composition will have direct effects on rates of soil erosion [...] [my bold, an excerpt from the book linked above]

    Thus producing a substantial, and well-evolved “memory” to the overall eco-climate system. Biological innovations, both anthropogenic and otherwise, combine in potentially highly nonlinear ways with local climate changes to produce extensive changes to aerosol production: both amount and type. And the progress of those changes can cover “decades to centuries” of differences in response to annual weather variations.

    IMO correlations involving these factors are highly important subjects for research. Thus, if my conclusion is correct that little or no research has been done on these subjects, perhaps it should be.

  7. "Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself."

    Mike, presumably you do not agree with this statement, but it is true! The problem is that we have taken up positions and refuse to change them despite the evidence. E.g. the evidence is there is a hiatus, but many scientists refuse to accept that this does not fit with the science.

    What is required is for scientists to find out what is going wrong with their models and stop wasting their time arguing against the deniers who are not going to change their minds even if presented with good evidence. But then the scientists are not going to change their minds either 🙁

  8. "Compared to the long term warming trend, hiatus periods of fifteen years are common in the surface temperature record. The term is currently used to refer to the period since the exceptionally warm year of 1998." Wikipedia

    Deniers have an obvious motivation for starting this hiatus early, in the anomalously warm (record two-sigma El Nino) year of 1998. But why do AGWers?

    The running temperature average would still be increasing then, and for several years thereafter. Until peaking in the warmest years globally of 2005 and 2010..

    So why do we warmists accept their definition? Wouldn't the hiatus be more realistically discussed, as having started circa 2003?

  9. Because "we warmists" are too stupid to simply look at the surface temp data (starting ca. 1970) and see the trend line for the noise. And who knows to handle a ruler nowadays and apply it to the printout. The stupid of the nonexisting hiatus can apparently be only grasped by PhD statisticians. E.g. it took Tamino several posts to mathematically exorcise and thoroughly ridiculize it, but to no avail for mortal warmists. /rant

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