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I sometimes wonder at the shameless way deniers boast about their ignorance, particularly their lack of understanding of basic science. Willis Eschenbach is a prime example. He doesn’t understand science and doesn’t make any real effort to understand it. He balks at reading a basic textbook and I doubt he could bring himself to read a science website let alone scientific papers. Yet every now and then he’ll decide he’s come up with some brand spanking new notion that none of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve studied a subject in depth have ever thought of.

Some time ago he figured out what every student (and interested layperson) knew long ago, that storms carry heat from the surface upwards into the atmosphere, thereby cooling the surface; his thunderstorm theory.

This week he’s decided there are three what he calls “theories” to the greenhouse effect, demonstrating that he doesn’t understand that radiation is the emission or transmission of energy. He was trying to attack a tweet thread by Gavin Schmidt and his attack was laughable (and very very longwinded).

After 1,149 words of what is presumably meant to be an introduction, Willis finally gets down to business and “starts”,

Let me start by saying he is badly conflating three very separate and distinct theories.

  • Theory 1) Increasing CO2 increases atmospheric absorption, which affects the overall temperature of the various layers of the atmosphere, and increases downwelling so-called “greenhouse” radiation.
  • Theory 2) In the short term, large changes in downwelling radiation change the surface temperature.
  • Theory 3) In the long term, small continuing increases in downwelling radiation lead to corresponding small continuing increases in global surface temperature.

Here the spoiler alert: I think that the first two of these are true (with caveats), but we have virtually no evidence that the third one is either true or untrue.

The “he” is Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Dr Schmidt understands more about climate than Willis could ever hope to learn. As you can tell, Willis doesn’t even understand what radiation is or he’d never have split the above into “very separate and distinct theories”.

In Theory 1, I wonder what Willis thinks is being absorbed by the atmosphere. Whatever it is, he decides it’s “affecting” the overall temperature but he doesn’t say how. Is it raising the temperature or lowering it? The words he uses are odd: “and increases downwelling so-called “greenhouse” radiation”. Does he know what that means? I’d say not because he says that his Theory 2 is quite “separate and distinct” from his Theory 1.

His Theory 2 is that if radiation is transmitted downward it changes the surface temperature. Yet that’s a corollary of his Theory 1, not a separate notion. He’s already said that Theory 1 includes downwelling of radiation, so how can Theory 1 be separate and distinct from Theory 2. I can only conclude that Willis doesn’t know what radiation is.

Going on to his Theory 3, the only difference between that and his Theory 2 is time. What he’s saying is that after whatever his “short term” time has elapsed, physics stops working. That is, increases in downwelling radiation no longer warm the surface.

Being of a curious nature, I held my nose and dived into the article further, to see where his self-acclaimed brilliance led him. Well, after a lot more verbiage, Willis finally grandly announces his own notion. He claims the climate is stable. He goes even further and writes:

My theory, on the other hand, arose from my being interested in a totally different question about climate—why is the temperature so stable? For example, over the 20th Century, the temperature only varied by ± 0.3°C. 

It’s clear that Willis hasn’t ever looked at what’s been happening on this planet. Here’s a chart of temperature change over the twentieth century, and I’ve included the temperature change for the entire record from NASA GISS, right up to the end of last year:
Anyone who tries to portray that as “stable” is pulling your leg, making a joke. Anyone who portrays an increase of 0.7 C as varying “by ± 0.3°C” is misleading you. (I can imagine the yarn he tells to his “gorgeous ex-fiancee” when she asks where $20,000 disappeared to. He’ll just say – oh, no problem. Our savings just varied by ± $10,000 in the last year. Happens all the time.)

Willis says the climate is stable (huh? No ice ages, no hothouses?) because of what he calls “emergent phenomena“. Basically, he’s claiming that the planet can’t get hot even if less energy leaves the system. He doesn’t “believe in” physics. Instead he boasts how he’s invented “how the climate works”, and points to his “40 or so posts” at the self-same climate conspiracy blog WUWT. I’ve commented on quite a number of those 40.

The last 670 words could have a heading “ode to Willis”, where he argues for why he’s a genius, despite being a college dropout, and why he’s God’s gift to climate science. He ends up with these gems:

I have great confidence in what I’ve written about my theory, for a simple reason. Watts Up With That is the premier spot on the web for public peer-review of scientific theories and ideas about climate. This doesn’t mean that it only publishes things known to be valid and true. Instead, it is a place to find out if what is published actually is valid and true. There are a lot of wicked-smart folks reading what I write, and plenty of them would love to find errors in my work.

So when those smart folks can’t find errors in what I’ve written, I know that I have a theory that at least stands a chance of becoming a mainstream view.

Ha ha ha – “the premier spot on the web for public peer-review” – oh my! It’s a damn conspiracy theory blog, Willis. It’s got nothing to do with peer review or science. The fans are scientifically illiterate. Most of them regard WUWT as nothing but their personal notice board on which to randomly pin their various crazed ideas, and which have no relevance to the article above their pinned notion.

Despite their illiteracy, in the past there were quite a few WUWT fans who didn’t like Willis much. They might have left by now. Lots of people, even at WUWT, have pointed to flaws in his “40 or so posts” and all he does is spit the dummy. Very rarely he’ll acknowledge an error, but mostly he just gets irate.

From the WUWT comments

I decided to see how deniers react to him effectively saying the climate never changes, when one of their favourite rallying cries is “the climate is always changing”. I was disappointed. Nobody picked him up on that one. I have only scanned the comments and, as some of you have noticed, the quality is declining. (Yes, what you thought was impossible is in fact possible.) There was little discussion of Willis’ article. Mostly it was used as an excuse to post various conspiracy theories, silly attacks on scientists and the usual denier nonsense.

There was one chap who calls him or herself Burl Henry, who wrote a novel notion (at least I’ve not come across it before). Instead of “it’s the sun” he reckons “it’s SO2”:

I have yet to find any large change, either increase or decrease, which is not related to changing levels of SO2 in the atmosphere, and this is documented in the reference cited.

Nick Stokes found another problem with Willis’ article (here) and politely pointed it out. Willis didn’t take kindly to that and went off the rails in his usual style. Willis didn’t and couldn’t deny they were a problem for him. I doubt he understood.

Further reading from the HotWhopper archives

If you want more about Willis’ grand theories and other wonderings, there are plenty of HotWhopper articles to choose from.

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