The most interesting part of Murry Salby’s lecture

I watched Murry Salby’s London lecture: it was awful. Salby addresses what he calls the core issue of climate change (0:2:30) “Why is atmospheric CO2 increasing?” The answer is obvious – because of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and land-use changes – but Salby does not like the answer so repeats oft rebutted fallacies in a hopeless attempt to prove the increase is almost all natural.

First he shows that the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is correlated to temperature. This is the well-known effect of El Niño which induces global temperature increases, drought over south-east Asia and changes in Pacific Ocean productivity. this relationship explains the year-to-year variability in the increase in atmospheric CO2, not the trend. This is not a novel error.

Salby’s second argument is that the atmospheric life-time of a CO2 molecule is short, less than five years. This is true but irrelevant. What matters is how long a pulse of CO2 stays in the atmosphere, even though the individual molecules may be exchanged between the atmosphere and ocean or vegetation. This crucial difference has been explained many times: Salby is wantonly ignoring facts that refute his mad hypothesis, or hope that his audience is ignorant.

This brings me to the interesting part of the lecture – the first questions from the audience (1:13:57) and its answer. Our favourite Viscount, Christopher Monckton, offers this fulsome praise, demonstrating that he either does not realise or does not care that the lecture was nonsense.

Professor Salby, I think we all want to start by just saying thank you. You are one of a tiny band of immensely courageous genuine scientists who have had their livelihood and their professional career stolen from them, not because their science was bad, but because it was socially inconvenient, politically uncongenial, and financially unprofitable to the governing class. Your bravery with persisting with your research for so many years after this was done to you is commendable. The clarity, breadth and depth of your presentation, which has grown since I last saw it only a year ago, and grown exponentially , is breath-taking, and my question therefore is this: when are you going to publish in a journal that they cannot ignore?

Salby replies

Thank you for your gracious remarks. I am not worthy of them, but thank you nonetheless. The immediate answer to your question is that this material will not be published, until the material from which it is derived is published. That won’t be published until I have recovered my research files and been reinstated in the field.

If Salby really believed that his work proved that CO2 emissions were natural, he would rush to publish, saving the world from unnecessary action to abate climate change, and receive the accolades not only of a lunatic lord but the entire population. A Nobel Prize awaits.

Yet it would seem that Salby prefers to play the martyr to a tiny audience of climate sceptics (perhaps 12) than to submit his research to scrutiny. His conditions for publication are pathetic. He does not need his research files. None of the material Salby presented was based on his own data: the atmospheric CO2 concentration, global temperature and other datasets he used can all be downloaded within an hour. None of the analyses Salby presented were complicated: it should be possible to repeat them within a few days. He also does not need to be reinstated: if his research is valid he would not want for employment at any institute of his choice.

By refusing to publish, does Salby believe he is holding the World to ransom to get his job back or is he too embarrassed to face the reality that his errors are not even novel?


About richard telford

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

22 Responses to The most interesting part of Murry Salby’s lecture

  1. Good post. I agree, it’s a very odd attitude.

    I made the mistake of trying to explain why this was nonsense on Bishop-Hill. That the rise in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic really does seem like the one thing about which we can be absolutely certain and about which we should all agree, and yet there are still those who dispute it. If you don’t mind, I’ll repeat what Gavin Cawley said on BH, as I think it directly addressing the flaw in Murry Salby’s analysis (bolds are mine).

    The mathematical flaw in Salby’s argument is pretty easy to see, for anyone with a good grasp of calculus and statistics. Salby notes there is a correlation between temperature and the growth rate of atmospheric CO2. However, correlations are completely insensitive to constant offsets in the signals on which they are computed. The long term rise in atmospheric CO2 is due to the mean value of the growth rate, which is a constant offset. This means that the correlation he has observed is mathematically incapable of explaining any of the long term rise in atmospheric CO2.

    Interesting, Gavin and I added comments to the youtube video of Murry Salby’s London lecture. After a day or so, these were deleted and the comments were disabled.

  2. dikranmarsupial says:

    Ironically at about 7:00 in Prof. Salby’s video he has a slide with the equation

    CO2 growth rate = source_human + sum_natural sources – sum_natural sinks

    Using a slightly less cumbersome notation, let dC be the CO2 growth rate, Ea (anthropogenic emissions) be human sources, En be the sum from natural sources and Un be the sum of natural sinks (natural uptake) then:

    dC = Ea + En – Un

    which along can be used to show that Prof. Salby’s theory is contradicted by the observations. Subtracting Ea from both sides:

    dC – Ea = En – Un

    Then if the LHS is negative (i.e. Ea > dC) then the RHS must be negative as well (i.e. Un > En). In other words if the observed growth rate is less than anthropogenic emissions (which is what we observe) then natural uptake must be greater than natural emissions and the natural environment is actively opposing the rise in CO2, rather than causing it.

    This is nothing new, the first IPCC WG1 report has a subsection (1.2.5) entitled “Evidence that the Contemporary Carbon Dioxide Increase is Anthropogenic” (you have to struggle through to page 14 to find it), which says:

    “Since the start of atmospheric monitoring in 1958, the annual atmospheric increase is has been smaller each year than the fossil CO2 input, Thus the oceans and biota together must have been a global sink rather than a source during all these years”

    It also gives several other lines of evidence, but it does show that the IPCC agree with Prof. Salby’s equation, it is just that Prof. Salby has missed the obvious corollary.

    Of course this has been explained repeatedly on blogs (Ferdinand Engelbeen deserves a lot of credit for this).

    There is a more detailed explanation of why the correlation between temperature and the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 does not imply that the long term rise in CO2 is a natural phenomenon here:

  3. jeffollerton says:

    Monckton refers to Salby as “Professor” which is incorrect given that he has no academic position and (as far as I’m aware) no emeritus one either. A minor point but a telling one that shows how little Monckton understands about the academic environment, never mind research.

    • K Lunsen says:

      Salby became an associate professor in 1985 and full professor in 1991, gaining tenure in 1997.

      • No-one doubts that Salby was a professor. But is he still a professor? If the title comes with the position, and the position is lost, is the title not lost too?

      • jeffollerton says:

        Further to Richard’s comment, in the UK system “Professor” is a job title, not a qualification. A retired or jobless professor loses that title unless they are made emeritus/emerita, or have a visiting position elsewhere.

  4. dikranmarsupial says:


    Monckton of Brenchley
    June 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    There are three blockbuster papers coming from Professor Salby.

    • Nick Stokes says:

      “There are three blockbuster papers coming from Professor Salby.”

      Well, Back in 2011 it was rather definite:

      “The up and coming paper with all the graphs will be released in about six weeks. It has passed peer review, and sounds like it has been a long time coming. Salby says he sat on the results for six months wondering if there was any other interpretation he could arrive at, and then, when he invited scientists he trusted and admired to comment on the paper, they also sat on it for half a year. His speech created waves at the IUGG conference, and word is spreading.”

      AFAIK, after 4 years there is only the spoken word. Nothing written that is accessible. Not even a blog post.

      • Marco says:

        Isn’t (at least some of) it in his book “Physics of the Atmosphere and Climate”, 2nd edition?

        This is what I understood from Gavin Cawley, at least.

      • If you read John Mashey’s review, it would seem to suggest that some of it is in the most recent edition of his book.

      • John Mashey says:

        I did a page-by-page review of the second book, and compared sections with the previous book. There’s not only CO2 junk … bu
        Within 10-20 pages Salby repeats 13 well-known anti-science memes:
        Sks # 5, 6, 7, 11, 20, 26, 29, 38, 58, 90, 107, 188, 189.

        The “waves” at the IUGG conferencc:
        a) He did a bait-and-switch, replacing the accepted Antarctic ozone talk with completely different talk on his CO2 ideas. People unfamiliar with conferences might ask some who are how program committees are likely to view that.

        b) John N-G attended: and later in thread at RC:
        ★★ “82 John N-G says 5 Aug 2011 at 12:59 PM = John Nielsen-Gammon 131
        I was lucky enough to attend Murray Salby’s talk at the IUGG conference
        in Melbourne. The thesis is not quite so simple as a correlation between CO2
        rise and short-term temperature variations, because he found corroborating
        evidence in the change of CO2 slope over time. This made the argument not so
        easy to dismiss out of hand, although Salby was extremely careful not to
        draw any conclusions in his public presentation.132
        It was quite good sport to play “spot the flaw” in real time. Fortunately, the
        talk was the last of the session, and both Alan Plumb and myself chatted with
        him right afterwards. Aside from whether a statistical argument makes physical
        sense, it also must hold water statistically by being applicable beyond the time
        frame of model development. In discussing what his model would mean for
        past variations of temperature and CO2, it eventually became clear that he
        believed all paleoclimate data that supported his statistical analysis and
        disregarded all paleoclimate data that countered his statistical analysis,
        even though the latter collection was much larger than the former.
        Eventually I realized that if 0.8 C of warming is sufficient to produce an
        increase of 120ppb CO2, as Salby asserted, then the converse would also
        have to be true. During the last glacial maximum, when global
        temperatures were indisputably several degrees cooler than today, the
        atmospheric CO2 concentration must have been negative.
        That was enough for me. “

  5. John Mashey says:

    SO, he visited the PSI “slayers” in London.
    Before that, he spoke in Essen, probably for EIKE:
    That offers amazing praise.

    I think I heard he was going on to Paris, but I haven’t found antyhing yet on that.

  6. Magma says:

    Pressed for time, I skipped through to the questions. Apart from Moncton and the speaker who introduced Salby, I counted nine attendees, only two who might have been on the younger side of fifty. Judging from the questions asked (a majority did so), it would be fair to describe most of the members of the audience as cranks.

    And judging from Salby’s occasionally stumbling answers to those gently pitched questions, I don’t think he’d fare well at an actual scientific conference.

    • You cannot really blame Salby for failing to answer why the press does not cover the idea that global warming is a scam promoted by the Club of Rome to further the UN Agenda 21 wilderness programme. How could he answer honestly without telling the questioner that he was a conspiracy-mongering crank.

    • John Mashey says:

      He didn’t, at AU conference in 2011, when this started, had an abstract accepted on Antarctic ozone, and with no warning, substituted the first round of his CO2 stuff. John Nielsen-Gammon was there and talked to him, commented at RealClimate.

      He gave a talk in Hamburg in 2013, via EIKE (video) then at Cambridge, where his ice core nonsense ran into Eric Wolff, who then wrote a little piece, a polite evisceration.

  7. Pingback: Dissembling with graphs: Murry Salby edition | Musings on Quantitative Palaeoecology

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