Now out in BAMS: The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus

My paper with Tom Peterson and John Fleck (trailed here) is out in BAMS; you can get it now (for free! [Update: also direct from BAMS]. Pffft, linkrot. Try here instead).

Nice, isn’t it:


And thats just the first page!

For those who weren’t paying attention, you may wish to read:

See-also: Exploding myth of 1970s global cooling “consensus”

And: Nurture

And’consensus’_of_1970s_never_was. Note that Robock is misquoted.

23 thoughts on “Now out in BAMS: The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus”

  1. Congratulations to all involved. It’s nice to have your work on the global cooling consensus myth brought together in one place.
    I love the Crichton quote on the second page. It was hilarious to see him pretend that global cooling would not have been a crisis – or would not have been scientifically interesting (had it taken place). At the same time he tries to pretend the notion of global warming arose because it ‘… creates a crisis, a call to action’ , rather than because the evidence indicated it.


  2. Define “consensus”. Yeah, we can’t today either. However, global cooling was certainly of as much media interest then as much as global warming is today. However, even today, we can’t define the effect necessarily as “consensus”, but “of interest to the media”.

    [Don’t believe you. Every day, there is something in the papers about GW. For every mention of GC, there are 1000 mentions of GW. That wasn’t true about GC in the 70’s -W]


  3. Cooling – warming, who cares. The important questions are: Is it the fault of human activity? Can we do anything about it? Do we actually know enough to answer the first 2 questions with any degree of certainty? Sadly, the whole issue is now one of politics broken down along the usual lines. Scientists have allowed the press and the politicians to use them and in doing so have given up their claims to objectivity as well as their moral authority.


  4. Why would any self-respecting scientist link to Wikipedia?

    [Because its useful. Unless you see something on that page thats wrong? There is useful info there that you will struggle to find elsewhere. Science is what works, not your ideology -W]


  5. [Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Replies interleaved -W]

    I’m sure you’re right that there never was a scientific consensus that a new ice age was imminent (I’m somewhat surprised by the quotes in your paper proving that people actually claim that there was such a consensus: I’ve only ever heard people say that individual scientists had championed global cooling) but I still think you are overstating things. In 1977 Stephen Schneider was still saying, in a why-oh-why-oh-why piece in Nature vol. 270 p. 650, that the reality of climatology was that “we just don’t know enough to choose definitely at this stage whether we are in for warming or cooling — or when.”

    [In 1977, I would say that was a fair state of affairs. There was probably a prepoonderance towards warming then, but not strongly so -W]

    Yet you have placed three of his papers from 1974 and 1975 in the “Warming” column of your table.

    [Yes. I don’t see the problem here. I think you want to categorise people into warmers and coolers but that isn’t how it works. One person can produce papers sugggesting either way. There is nothing odd about that -W]

    I haven’t read any of these but it would be odd if Schneider, having been very big on cooling at the beginning of the decade, switched to being a warmist for a few years before heading back to the honourable uncertainty of the middle ground. There’s also the 1972 conference that was written up in Science (vol. 178 pp. 190-202) by GJ Kukla and RK Matthews as “When Will the Present Interglacial End?” (and reported in The Times as “Climate: New ice age is on the way”). I haven’t read this paper either but the conference was also written up in a special edition of Quaternary Research, which you discussed at your old website. There, you quoted a portion of the conference summary that clearly says that major global cooling could be only centuries away and an editorial by Kukla and Matthews saying much the same thing. You dismiss these statements on various grounds but, flawed or not, they did exist and they were reported in both the scientific and the regular press, so why aren’t they in the table?

    [Because they weren’t discussing the coming century, I think. Don’t we say that we’re talking about the century timescale? -W]

    In the paper, you say that most conference literature – presumably including the write-ups of this conference – is not “authoritative enough” for consideration but that you have included a few “prestigious” conference reports. It’s your call and you know your subject top to bottom but, to an outsider, that looks like a less than rigorous approach, one that gives your mythbusting a faint aroma of confirmation bias.

    [I don’t think thats true. It does mean we haven’t provided a set of keywords that you can run through a search engine to replicate our findings; thats just tough. There was a certain element of following leads where they lead. You’ll just have to trust us that we did it honestly -W]

    Re the non-scientific press and 1970s climate change, in 1973 Red Flag, the theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party, threw its weight behind global cooling.(“Marxists are not afraid of heaven, or earth, or ghosts, let alone glaciers. Man has faced glaciers many times, and each time he is the victor, not the vanquished. … The weather may have one bag of tricks, but we have 10 bags of tricks waiting. Come what may, the revolutionary people are equal to any situation.”) This means that at least a quarter of the world’s non-scientists officially believed in an imminent ice age – that’s probably a higher proportion than now believe in the imminence of catastrophic global warming! So you lose, see? πŸ˜‰

    [Ah well, that sounds pretty convincing -W]


  6. Huh? Get a hold of yourself, W. Climate change is real and caused by humans. The something I see wrong on the page is the link to Wikipedia. It’s a pretty poor source and I’m just surprised to see a science blog linking to it.

    [But it isn’t a “pretty poor source”. Its a good source. What makes you think its poor? -W]


  7. Warmers and coolers isn’t how it works? Maybe not, but that’s why it’s fun.

    “Don’t we say that we’re talking about the century timescale?” Yes, you did, but papers “even just discussing an aspect of climate forcing relevant to, time scales from decades to a century” were also admitted – indeed they formed the majority.

    “You’ll just have to trust us that we did it honestly.” I do (and always did) so trust, if doing things honestly means having honest intentions, but … [insert random proverb]


  8. First, very nice paper

    Second, you should make it clear that the paper is open to all to read. Again thanks.

    [Thanks for the thanks. I assumed all would realise it was free; I’ll make it clear though -W]


  9. P. Lewis,

    Indeed. How can we ever tell? πŸ˜‰

    Stoat, any chance these comments could be numbered? Makes replies much easier. πŸ™‚


  10. William,

    Marohasy rarely attacks anyone herself. She provides a platform for others to do that. She likes to present herself as a doubter, not a denialist, although few are convinced, I’m sure. πŸ˜‰

    [Well the first comment on that post is a beaut (as I believe the Colonials say): Is it true that James Hansen wrote the cooling program for a GCM in the ’70s? The rest are fairly std uninformed skeptic fare with the obvious rejoinders; clearly she has some sane readers who are allowed to comment. I added my own, who knows it might appear -W]


  11. William,

    I don’t know if the Marohasy bog is new to you, but there is no way I could exaggerate or parody some of the comments there. There is a whole other parallel universe in there, where even the rules of mathematics and laws of physics are not as we know them! The few sane people there earn my respect but they are on a futile quest.

    [Oh no, I’ve seen it before. The ref to the Cazenve paper is interesting, though. My comment got binned; alas it seems I’m not welcome -W]


  12. William,

    Did your comment contain lots of URLs? If so, try resubbing without (most of) them. Apparently that’s a frequent reason for rejection.

    [If JM can’t be bothered to approve my comment, I can’t be bothered to re-type it -W]


  13. It’s as wrong now as it was before when you posted it here previously and I did a 10-minute search on google scholar and found some other cooling papers you seemed to have missed in your ‘rigorous literature review’. (Where is that link? I can’t recall which ones I posted)


  14. > altithermal
    Yep, ages ago. I noticed they mention treeline moved downhill since 2000-4000 years ago when it was “at least 100m higher” possibly due to a decrease in summer temperature.


    Another mention of the 1970s ice age story is said to have been the first question raised at a journalists’ conference; apparently they have an audio tape

    (tangential mention in the story about the Australian publisher denying he’s a denialist and threatening people).

    —- quote —-
    A bit OT: I understand it was a journalism conference. It’s a pity that journalists these days appear to rely on articles by other journalists rather than doing their own research.

    If you listen to the first question, it asks if an article written 35 years ago in Newsweek has ‘created a scepticism in the journalist profession that has made it harder for journalists to deal with the onset of the science of climate change’

    Apart from 35 years being quite a while back, as I’m sure all the readers of this blog know, that Newsweek article didn’t even contain a quote from a scientist saying the earth was approaching an ice age.

    Why is it that a single article in a business magazine 35 years ago would carry more weight with some journalists, than all the scientific research of the past couple of centuries, particularly the detailed research and evidence of the past few decades?

    Posted by: Sou | November 29, 2010 9:01 AM
    —end quote—-


  15. I have never quite understood the fuss around this. I thought history has shown that the greenhouse effect has a far longer track record and that AGW theory as a practical issue commenced just before and then after WWII.

    By 1978/9 (MacDonald/Charney) it is only really going the warming way.

    As a parochial curiosity I did hear about cooling before warming but that was very early on. I don’t have a date but sometime bewteen Sputnik and Gagarin (1957-61). Then GW became the established popular view and was seemingly unchallenged. The first time I knew of the “controversy” was 1990 with Channel 4’s “The Greenhouse Conspiracy” which I watch from time to time to remind me just how stagnant the debate is and that many of the familiar faces were once so much younger looking.

    There are of course early references to both cooling and warming, mostly because they are the non-boring alternatives. Personally I find counting papers a bit of bizarre metric and citations similarly without counting “me toos”, rebuttals, since our last paper, etc.. In the warming groundswell cooling like every dog had its day. In the 14 year period in which the papers were counted what is of note is how few papers in total compared to this age of drivel.

    Not so long ago I tracked down a complete copy of “Unchained Goddess (1958)” now famous for its reference to CAGW including Miami under 150 foot of water (those were the days!). The rest of the film despite its hugely corny presentation has probably stood up rather well in the essentials of weather science and depicting the turn from pre to post computer forecasting.

    The whole subject has a rich history and rather than debating cooling vs warming totemics by pulling rabbits out of hats it might be better to encourage people to read, watch and listen to the whole process that lead to the 1978/9 watershed.

    MacDonald’s 1968 “HOW TO WRECK THE ENVIRONMENT” is a clasic in that it dealt with amongst other things how to manipulate the weather, climate, etc., for military puposes, and whereas some of it must be seen as pretty crackpot now it does show the interest that the cold warriors had in the climate. Similary the move to nuclear power was mentioned with respect to mitigation sometime in the Kennedy era.

    All I can note is that many aspects of climate manipulation be it warming or cooling were well understood in the 50s, 60s and 70s and saying which was dominant infers that they were rival theories which I think is not really the point or the case. Both types were understood and both types were and are possible and both were and are effecting the climate. Picking winners with any notion that the other view thereby beomes bunkum would seem unworthy and smacks of answering a case that doesn’t need arguing. There is simply no evidence of a “concensus” for cooling or for that matter warming but the principles of both were well known and understood.



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