An Example Of The Dissemination Of Incorrect Climate Science Information To Young Scientists

There is an article in the April 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

McNeeley, Shannon M., and Coauthors, 2012: Catalyzing Frontiers in Water-Climate-Society Research: A View from Early Career Scientists and Junior Faculty. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 477–484. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00221.1

which includes informative text and recommendations, but also has a really major misstatement of climate science. The overarching view of the article is presented by referring to a quote by Roger Pulwarty Director of NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System to the NCAR Jr. Faculty Forum on July 2010 that

“We have to ask ourselves, are we doing the right thing? Or are we using scientific information to do the wrong thing more precisely?”

This question is directly related to what we reported on in our article with respect to multi-decadal climate predictions.

Pielke Sr., R.A., and R.L. Wilby, 2012: Regional climate downscaling – what’s the point? Eos Forum,  93, No. 5, 52-53, doi:10.1029/2012EO050008.

The McNeeley et al 2012 article has an effective overview of the importance of water to society, but has an obsession with “climate change” as the major risk. They write [highlight added]

The anticipated hydrological, ecological, and societal impacts from climate change challenge a number of long-held assumptions in water resource management. Climate change science teaches us that long-term planning (e.g., decadal or longer) can no longer rely on the past as a primary predictor of future conditions (i.e., assumptions of stationarity must be replaced with considerations of nonstationarity). We are likely to see climatic and hydrologic conditions that are outside of our range of direct experience, even for short-term planning (e.g., days, months, a year, 5–10 years), and could ultimately shift to a new “normal” or baseline state.

Rather than recognize that climate of the past does provide essential information to plan for the future, the article makes the erroneous assumption that climate was stationary in the past. Climate has never been stationary. For example, as we documented  in

Rial, J., R.A. Pielke Sr., M. Beniston, M. Claussen, J. Canadell, P. Cox,  H. Held, N. de Noblet-Ducoudre, R. Prinn, J. Reynolds, and J.D. Salas,  2004: Nonlinearities, feedbacks and critical thresholds within the Earth’s  climate system. Climatic Change, 65, 11-38.

The Earth’s climate system is highly nonlinear: inputs and outputs are not proportional, change is often episodic and abrupt, rather than slow and gradual, and multiple equilibria are the norm.

There is also no evidence as stated in the McNeeley that “we can no longer rely on the past as a primary predictor of future conditions“. This really quite an absurd claim as it assumes that changes in climate statistics as they affect water and other environmental and social resources are going to fall outside of what happened in the past. In other words, that climate change is so large as to change completely the climate of a region.

A more inclusive approach is what we have recommended in our article

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing  with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and  Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press

that

With respect to weather patterns, for the downscaling regional (and global) models to add value over and beyond what is available from the historical, recent paleo-record, and worse case sequence of days, however, they must be able to skillfully predict the changes in the regional weather statistics. There is only value for predicting climate change if they could skillfully predict the changes in the statistics of the weather and other aspects of the climate system. There is no evidence, however, that the models can predict changes in these climate statistics even in hindcast.

The statement in McNeeley et al 2012 that

We are likely to see climatic and hydrologic conditions that are outside of our range of direct experience, even for short-term planning (e.g., days, months, a year, 5–10 years), and could ultimately shift to a new “normal” or baseline state.

has no basis in science. It is more of the misinformation that is given to not only policymakers, but also now young scientists. In answer to the question posed by Roger Pulwarty

“We have to ask ourselves, are we doing the right thing? Or are we using scientific information to do the wrong thing more precisely?”

the answer is clearly No.  Scientific information is being misused as represented by the text I extracted from the McNeeley et al 2012 paper.

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