The mid-20th century scientist H H Lamb seems above criticism. Defenders of the CRU avoid criticizing their founder, while their opponents refuse to let go of the “Medieval Warm Period” sketch that he made, that made it into the first IPCC report (without attribution) on the basis of authority. There’s little doubt that Lamb was one of the founders of climatology, but to put that in perspective, my wife assures me that serious psychologists don’t take Freud seriously anymore either. I actually read a fair chunk of Lamb’s magnum opus, and here’s some commentary I made on it in 1995 in a “scientists used to predict global cooling” thread on usenet.
It is important to note exactly who made those predictions, (or more
properly, who expressed those worries) about an imminent ice age, and
who is now predicting rapid global warming. By and large these are not
the same people. The first group was essentially the observational
paleoclimatologists. Bryson still claims that “the proper tool of the
climatologist is the shovel”. The compendium by Lamb which Tom Moore
takes as his primary reference was essentially the pinnacle of achievement
in that field.
With all due respect (I mean this quite seriously – the erudition and
breadth of knowledge of these people, Lamb in particular – is enormously
impressive) to that group, their grasp of mathematics and statistics
was weak, and of physics weaker still.
For instance, Lamb’s prediction in particular of imminent and rapid
cooling was based on, essentially, a crude Fourier analysis (best fits
of sinusoidal curves to his record). Since one of the dominant features
was a rapid rise over the last century, the *presumption* of a cyclical
nature of the record forced a prediction of a rapid cooling *precisely
because there had been a recent rapid warming*. And although the niceties
of periodograms had all been worked out by that time, Lamb seemed blissfully
ignorant of the need to take particular care when fitting sinusoids to
a record with significant information at its termination.
In the 1970s, a separate discipline of physical climatology was just
emerging from an infancy at the peripheries of mathematics and astrophysics.
Since the 1890s, physical climatologists or their precursors have always
asserted that the anthropogenic cooling of the human volcano was
counterbalanced and probably outweighed by anthropogenic warming of
the human greenhouse.
The groups making the assertions were essentially distinct, the group
asserting warming was making far more specific and testable predictions,
and the reasoning behind the assertions was far more clearly based in
established and demonstrated results in physical science.
While Bryson’s warnings about global cooling were intuitive (“the human volcano”), Lamb’s were dressed up in harmonic theory. Unfortunately, harmonic theory clearly doesn’t apply even were the system largely unforced. In a forced system where you look only at the system behavior and not at the inputs, and apply harmonic analysis blindly (I doubt Lamb was aware of Tukey) you’ll basically end up predicting that a rapid cooling is imminent for two reasons: first, the assumption that there is no trend, and second, the emphasis of the FFT on the edges of the record (hence “windowing”).
Note: in the linked usenet article I express doubts that Schneider ever expected cooling, but that is incorrect; he was coauthor of a paper with Rasool in the 70s that compared the forcings and expected aerosol cooling to dominate. He didn’t hold that position long. I have not seen a proper statement of what’s wrong with that paper.
The basic idea of empiricism, which I see implicit in everything Curry is saying, by the way, is that the data “speak for themselves” and no context is necessary. This is silly, since it amounts to a presumption that sightings of cousin Albrecht wearing a baseball cap and carrying a feather duster wading in a pond are as likely as a duck (regular readers need not follow the link; they know where it goes).
The empiricist view has never entirely faded from climatology, as, I think, we see from Curry. But it’s essentially useless in examining climate change. Under its precepts, the only thing that is predictable is stasis. Once things start changing, empirical science closes the books and goes home. At that point you need to bring some physics into your reasoning.
More to follow.