Willie Soon at Heartland: “The sun is big”

Dr Willie Soon is in the news again. His recent paper with Monckton et al ended with the conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

A statement seeming at odds with his long and well-documented industry funding. Well, one thing led to another, and now the New York Times has taken an interest in Soon’s activities and his funding sources have been exposed (again). The agreements with the Southern Company Services contains a clause forbidding naming the funder in any publications and demanding advanced written copy of publications. These are both dubious, no reputable funder would impose these clauses (and no sensible institution would agree to them).

Soon lists his publications and presentations in his final reports to funders. I suppose they were part of the service offered. If the funders wanted uncertainty and doubt, Soon delivers. But on the off chance that they were really interested in the science, did they get their money’s worth?

Time to look at Soon’s presentation at the Heartland mock climate conference in July last year, which followed on from two other solar-climate presentations. He was also awarded a prize – I haven’t watched that presentation yet.

Soon begins his presentation with the observation that “the sun is big” [0:36] ensuring that his presentation includes at least one true statement.

He spends over three minutes [1:33 – 4.48] of his 16 minute presentation discussing the absolute calibration of total solar irradiance (TSI). Different satellites have measured TSI but the measurement time series don’t all overlap and there is instrumental drift, so there is some uncertainty (basically 1365±5 Wm-2). Soon objects to the IPCC AR5 WG1 statement However, the few tenths of a percent bias in the absolute TSI value has minimal consequences for climate simulations

but neglects to complete the sentence

because the larger uncertainties in cloud properties have a greater effect of the radiative balance.”

He complains at length that “nobody is making any attempt to tell me where is the absolute exact value” while showing various attempts to determine the value (which like all measurements will always have some uncertainty).

Why does the uncertainty in TSI matter? Soon claims that it “allows climate modellers to adjust their climatology” [3.10]. He seems to think that modellers are adjusting TSI in their model until the model produces the correct answer. And what evidence does he provide?

He offers Barsugli et al (2005) [4.48] who vary the insolation in their model between 260 and 340 Wm-2 (multiply by four to get TSI) and find that at 340 Wm-2 the mean global temperature is 35 °C. Only when the insolation was reduced to 260Wm-2 does the mean global temperature resemble the 15 deg C of Earth. So Soon alleges that modellers reduce insolation  by 90-100 Wm-2 to match climatology. What he omits to mention is that Barsugli et al 2005 are studying an aqua-planet with a slab ocean to study the impact of varying insolation on tropical climates. There is no claim in the paper that this planet represents Earth, and the high temperatures are explained by the low albedo and lack of ocean heat transport of the watery planet. The value of TSI that modellers actually use is easily checked, for example GISS model E uses 1367 Wm-2.

If the audience was not already confused by Soon’s account of Barsugli et al, his claim that if they had included the land the temperature would be 38 °C, will have done it. There is no land on an aqua-planet.

Next, Soon shows [5:58] a long pre-industrial climate model control run Liang et al (2013) that has a strong 11-year cycle. Soon alleges that this cycle is

of course artificially imposed. It is a terrible thing that these people are playing with their model in that way.

He offers no evidence to support this claim. Liang et al do not discuss this cycle, they are more interested in the amount of low frequency variability.

A video of Gavin Schmidt (who is a far, far better presenter) discussing the skill of climate models follows [6:48], which Soon describes as “arrogance” [7:39].

Soon’s counter example is the proxy-model comparison of Jiang et al (2012) which shows a large mismatch for winter temperatures with climate models suggesting it was cooler and palaeoecological evidence suggesting is was 5-8 °C warmer.

Soon assumes that this discrepancy means that the models must be wrong. He does not consider the alternative hypothesis that the palaeoecological evidence might be wrong. I have previously argued that the palaeoecological evidence for large winter warming in China is not robust and the model result is not unreasonable given the orbital and greenhouse gas forcing.

The use of the mid-Holocene pollen-based reconstruction from Bartlein et al (2011) by the IPCC is discussed next [9:32], and dismissed as bogus because there are “no data in China” (actually there is at least one site). This analysis is of the northern extratropics, China is not so large that the relative lack of data from there will hugely bias the results.

Soon now returns to his main research focus of astronomy and leaves my area of understanding.

At [10:15] he declares that he is “very bothered” by a statement in IPCC WG1 AR5

Concerning the uncertainty range, in AR4 the upper limit corresponded  to the reconstruction of Lean (2000), based on the reduced brightness of non-cycling Sun-like stars assumed typical of a Maunder minimum (MM) state. The use of such stellar analogues was based on the work of Baliunas and Jastrow (1990), but more recent surveys have not reproduced their results and suggest that the selection of the original set was flawed (Hall and Lockwood, 2004; Wright, 2004); the lower limit from 1750 to present in AR4 was due to the assumed increase in the amplitude of the 11-year cycle only.

Soon, who has piled on the crowd-pleasing invective throughout his presentation (the IPCC is “gangster science”, “misrepresenting results”, “misleading everybody” “anti-scientific”, and includes “bogus results” and “pseudo-scientific claims”) now gets upset that the IPCC “suggests” that Baliunas and Jastrow’s work was “flawed”. “Very strong words”, he moans, a “matter of really amazing injustice”, before labelling the IPCC statement as “pseudo-scientific”.

I didn’t understand much of the argument that followed. As this was supposed to be a talk to a non-scientific audience, you can be fairly certain that few, if any, of the audience understood it either. Soon is really not a good science communicator. Perhaps he doesn’t aim to be.

Soon had apparently run out of science to mangle at [14.26] so played a clip of Larry the Cable Guy making lame jokes about climate change for the last 90 seconds of his presentation.


About richard telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
This entry was posted in Fake climate sceptics, Silliness, solar variability and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Willie Soon at Heartland: “The sun is big”

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    Soon worked with/for both Baliunas and Jastrow. Jastrow was Baliunas’ doctoral advisor. Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg founded the George Marshall Institute. Thin bench over there

  2. Pingback: There is no land on an aqua-planet – Stoat

  3. Pingback: It’s Not the Sun, Stupid: Willie Soon’s Bogus Science | Climate Denial Crock of the Week

  4. John Mashey says:

    Thanks. I’;d linked to that, but hadn’t had time too watch it. I assume the DDP version of the same name was an hour long, but that doesn’t seem to be online.

    I hope you publish a similar debunk of Soon’s ocean talk. I’d be happy to update my DeSmog piece to link to it.

  5. Pingback: Willie Soon's Deliverables - Real Skeptic

  6. Pingback: Climate Scientists: Coal-funded #Fakexpert Willie Soon was Never Credible

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