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CLOUDed judgment
July 20, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

The chief of the world's leading physics lab at CERN in Geneva has prohibited scientists from drawing conclusions from a major experiment. The CLOUD ("Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets") experiment examines the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN, said in an interview: "I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them. That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters."

Additional commentary:

National Review: "A theory proposed by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark — that solar variations affect the flow of cosmic-ray particles into our upper atmosphere, which in turn affect our climate by influencing cloud formation — is currently not accepted by the IPCC because the data is, admittedly, inconclusive. To test Svensmark’s theory, we’d need a series of major studies on how cosmic rays affect cloud formation — like, for example, the one just completed at CERN in Switzerland."

Canada Free Press: "Last year, Denmark’s University of Aarhus did another experiment with a particle accelerator that fully confirmed the Svensmark hypothesis: cosmic rays help to make more clouds and thus could cool the earth."

"The CERN experiment is supposed to be the big test of the Svensmark theory. It’s a tipoff, then, that CERN’s boss, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, has just told the German magazine Die Welt that he has forbidden his researchers to “interpret” the forthcoming test results. In other words, the CERN report will be a stark “just the facts” listing of the findings. Those findings must support Svensmark, or Heuer would never have issued such a stifling order on a major experiment."

In 2008 the BBC reported: Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity.

Professor Sloan's team investigated the link by looking for periods in time and for places on the Earth which had documented weak or strong cosmic ray arrivals, and seeing if that affected the cloudiness observed in those locations or at those times.
posted by thescientificmethhead (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
He probably doesn't want to disrupt CERN's important scientific work by giving politicians and journalists (who are scum, as we all know) any excuse to turn it into material for their low, dark purposes.
posted by atrazine at 1:47 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a scientist or anything, but I'd reckon blowing up the sun as the solution.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:56 PM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm guessing they'll have to rephrase the results in order to present them.

That's interpretation. Not a lot of it. Still interpretation.

So there's likely some specific conclusion that, if stated by Important Science People, would be interpreted (see what I did there) by the rabble to suggest that, I don't know, cosmic rays caused global warming or whatever. And he doesn't want to present that conclusion.

Why, then, is he announcing this beforehand? It would surely be easier to get a publicist to go over the announcement beforehand and adjust the spin.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:56 PM on July 20, 2011


I guess CLOuD sounded better than CLOD.
posted by msbutah at 1:57 PM on July 20, 2011


Call me crazy but possibly there can be more than one single reason for global warming. Which doesn't take anything away from the Greenhouse Effect at all.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:57 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cerngate Cerngate Cerngate.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:00 PM on July 20, 2011


Yeah, but 'science reporting' being what it is, all the researchers have to do is say 'Cosmic particles have an infinitesimal, nigh-undetectable amount of influence on atmospheric temperature levels in certain incredibly specific localized fashions', and the papers start belching forth "Global warming is the sun's fault! Liberals use science funding to find new ways to make your children gay!"
posted by FatherDagon at 2:01 PM on July 20, 2011 [24 favorites]


Call me crazy but possibly there can be more than one single reason for global warming.

You're crazy and a filthy communist who hates America, to boot. Global warming has one reason, and one reason alone.

Ragnarok is coming.
posted by griphus at 2:03 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


The National Review is definitely my go-to resource for up-to-the-minute science reporting.
posted by goethean at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


You're crazy and a filthy communist who hates America, to boot. Global warming has one reason, and one reason alone.

Ragnarok is coming.


Wouldn't "You're crazy and a filthy Frost Giant who hates Asgard, to boot." be more on target.

Although I agree that it's time to get old fashioned religion back into our schools.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Not a scientist or anything, but I'd reckon blowing up the sun as the solution.

And risk freeing General Zod again? No, thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sigh.

"Last year, Denmark’s University of Aarhus did another experiment with a particle accelerator that fully confirmed the Svensmark hypothesis: cosmic rays help to make more clouds and thus could cool the earth."

Which tells us that cosmic rays make clouds in the right atmospheric conditions. The official description of this is "No Shit, Sherlock" -- bubble tanks and cloud chambers were used for decades in particle physics. In fact, he didn't show that they did make clouds, just that they could under certain circumstances.

But, of course, this is basically noise in the signal. There is a vastly larger source of cloud generation nowadays, that was only first created in the 1940s and didn't become prominent until the 1960s. We've generated *massive* amounts of cloud cover via this mechanism, increasing year over year -- and the Earth's average temperature *still* climbs.

Indeed, there was a four day period about a decade ago where this source of clouds was removed over the United States, and most stations showed a spike in temperatures, a dip in cloud cover, and a spike in atmospheric transparency during that period. Obviously, this is one data point, but the experiment is almost impossible -- for economic and political reasons -- to repeat.
posted by eriko at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


... politicians and journalists (who are scum, as we all know) ...

Even the ones who agree with us?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2011


Even the ones who agree with us?

Especially them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:04 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


He probably doesn't want to disrupt CERN's important scientific work by giving politicians and journalists (who are scum, as we all know) any excuse to turn it into material for their low, dark purposes.

Yup. Sounds like a quick and easy way to wind up having everyone's email for this century FOIA'd.
posted by ocschwar at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2011



Indeed, there was a four day period about a decade ago where this source of clouds was removed over the United States, and most stations showed a spike in temperatures, a dip in cloud cover, and a spike in atmospheric transparency during that period. Obviously, this is one data point, but the experiment is almost impossible -- for economic and political reasons -- to repeat.


I wonder if there was a safe way to set up a particle beam and just aim it up to the sky.
posted by ocschwar at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2011


> the data are inconclusive

More, being collected, and more easily available, that will eventually give enough information to assess whether there are effects of the various different kinds of cosmic rays on the many different kinds of clouds and other aerosols -- this isn't a simple 1:1, it's many-maybe-to-many.

Some sources, e.g.

Cosmic Rays (CRIS) instrument

"More instrument datasets coming soon..."

Papers on global cloud cover trends

"... observations of trends in global cloud cover. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated"

Trends in Observed Cloudiness and Earth’s Radiation Budget
What Do We Not Know and What Do We Need to Know?
– Norris & Slingo (2009)
"Previous investigators have documented multidecadal variations in various cloud and radiation parameters, but no conclusive results are yet available. Problems include the lack of global and quantitative surface measurements, the shortness of the available satellite record, the inability to determine correctly cloud and aerosol properties from satellite data, many different kinds of inhomogeneities in the data, and insufficient precision to measure the small changes in cloudiness and radiation that nevertheless can have large impacts on the Earth’s climate."

And, of course, there's more to learn about the known forcings.
posted by hank at 3:21 PM on July 20, 2011


Yeah, but 'science reporting' being what it is,

The Science News Cycle
posted by homunculus at 3:23 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tomorrow will be the start of the Europhysics High Energy Physics Conference, where it is expected that data will be revealed about the Large Hadron Collider search for new phenomena at the Higgs scale. Enough data have been collected that there are strong expectations that 'something very interesting' will be revealed.
Perhaps tentative signs about new physics will show up in the coming days. Perhaps nothing at all.
Right about at this time I expect the Director General of CERN will have to face a lot of scrutiny from funding states about the worth and value of the ependiture on the LHC. I suspect he will be very careful about exposing the organization to any negative influence on the judgment of the value of CERN as a whole in these days.
posted by Catfry at 3:53 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a scientist or anything, but I'd reckon blowing up the sun as the solution.

We're earthlings. Let's blow up earth things.
posted by Crane Shot at 4:00 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, wait, I know the answer to this one!

The influx of cosmic rays correlates strongly with a decrease in piracy!

Cosmic rays == His Noodly Appendages!

*kneels on his prayer tablecloth and bows toward Italy*
posted by pla at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2011


"Previous investigators have documented multidecadal variations in various cloud and radiation parameters, but no conclusive results are yet available.


What the heck do six-toed cats have to do with this?
posted by Redhush at 4:19 PM on July 20, 2011


We're earthlings. Let's blow up earth things.

Dr. Strangelove: The Musical
posted by fleetmouse at 4:27 PM on July 20, 2011


Yes, imposing a gag order will make people who doubt scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change much less suspicious.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm truly annoyed with the way the right-wing climate deniers glom on to any perceived new information that any factors other than greenhouse emissions have an impact on global temperatures.

What is not clear from the links: has this effect already been incorporated in climate change models and, if so, what %age of the observed changes does it explain? That is, isn't model-based interpretation exactly what we need to understand whether this phenomenon has anything to do with the escalation in temperatures we're experiencing?
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:13 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a vastly larger source of cloud generation nowadays, that was only first created in the 1940s and didn't become prominent until the 1960s. We've generated *massive* amounts of cloud cover via this mechanism, increasing year over year -- and the Earth's average temperature *still* climbs.

Yet there's still people pushing for artificial cloud generation via plane-based dispersal as a viable technique for mitigating climate change effects.

"The ability of stratospheric sulfate aerosols to create a global dimming effect has made them a possible candidate for use in geoengineering projects to limit the effect and impact of climate change due to rising levels of greenhouse gases."

"According to estimates by the Council on Foreign Relations, "one kilogram of well placed sulfur in the stratosphere would roughly offset the warming effect of several hundred thousand kilograms of carbon dioxide.""

"In Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming: Mitigation, Adaptation, and the Science Bases conclusion, the N.A.S. found that the most effective global warming mitigation turned out to be the spraying of reflective aerosol compounds into the atmosphere utilizing commercial, military and private aircraft. This preferred mitigation method is designed to create a global atmospheric shield which would increase the planet's albedo (reflectivity) using aerosol compounds of aluminum and barium oxides, and to introduce ozone generating chemicals into the atmosphere."

Council of Foreign Relations transcript: Developing an International Framework for Geoengineering

"On the other hand, the stuff that involves changing the albedo by, for example, putting very fine particles in the stratosphere -- and we can talk a bit more about how you would go about doing that -- could be done at relatively low cost, perhaps a hundredth or less the cost of abating emissions, and could be done by a single state operating within the confines of its national borders."

"Not every experiment that you'd want to do in the atmosphere needs to be a long-term measurement of changes in forcing. I mean, for example, there are serious questions about how would you introduce the material. You may want to introduce it as a -- in a gaseous or liquid form; you may -- and so you need to look at how spray technology works."

Illustration of various geoengineering proposals.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 5:55 PM on July 20, 2011


I think Svensmark's mechanism is quite plausible.

I've been praying for years that the Svensmark Orbiting Linear Accelerator (SOLA -- maybe the Array of Svensmark Orbiting Linear Accelerators, ASOLA, would be better) could save us from ourselves.
posted by jamjam at 6:56 PM on July 20, 2011


It sounds plausible, but the reason for this sort of gag order is to avoid a press release that says something like - "Possible new cloud forming mechanism. Future research could lead to improved climate models", as this will almost certainly lead to "Climate models wrong" headlines. Leading to big sighs and headaches for the director of CERN as he attempts to explain.

Scientifically, from what I understand, this is unlikely to significantly change the results of climate models. The idea that temperature decreases with increased GCR's is not that surprising - given that GCR's increase when the sun is less intense. I'm guessing that climate models pretty consistantly have temperature linked to the intensity of the sun.
posted by kjs4 at 7:08 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So there's likely some specific conclusion that, if stated by Important Science People, would be interpreted (see what I did there) by the rabble to suggest that, I don't know, cosmic rays caused global warming or whatever. And he doesn't want to present that conclusion.

I think this is incorrect in a really important way. The point of the controversial hypothesis is that cosmic rays might play a role in cooling the Earth. That means any warming that's been observed due to AGW was actually less than it might have otherwise been due to the cooling effects of cosmic radiation, if anything. But it doesn't matter anyway. We're seeing warming. Whatever warmth we see is already there from another source; at most, all this cosmic radiation effect could do is obscure the effects of AGW, unless I'm mistaken, but the effect isn't enough to mask it, which means the effect is already even stronger than we thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2011


I have to laugh at the whole sulfate aerosols thing as a way to stop climate change. IANAclimatologist, but the suggestion sounds a bit like getting a dose of morphine in the ER to take care of that pain shooting down your left arm.
posted by Decimask at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


eriko, that is really interesting information. I've never once heard it mentioned in reference to global warming, but is enormously logical.
posted by Buckt at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2011


Climate skeptics are big on clouds. Their ideas have as much substance! Maybe if they got their heads out of the clouds they can start dealing with reality.
posted by stbalbach at 9:24 PM on July 20, 2011


The Register, some guy's blog, the National Review, and the Canadian Free Press? I'm sure this information is reported accurately and without sensationalism or bias!
posted by miyabo at 9:39 PM on July 20, 2011


♪ We're earthlings. Let's blow up earth things. ♫

Dr. Strangelove: The Musical

Even better.
posted by Optamystic at 3:24 AM on July 21, 2011


Oops...let's try that again: Even Better
posted by Optamystic at 3:26 AM on July 21, 2011


The sources of this post are a bit skewed. The Register vigorously opposes the view that humans are responsible for global warming or that global warming exists. The National Review is a very conservative journal ideologically opposed to many of the implications of global warming. The Canada Free Press is another journal at the same side of the ideological spectrum as The National Review. Calder is a long time skeptic of global warming. The only ostensibly non-ideological citation, the BBC, just reports that the argument is ongoing.
posted by TheProudAardvark at 5:51 AM on July 21, 2011


The sources of this post are a bit skewed.

The problem is there's not many other sources reporting on or interpreting this story. I find the notion that the CERN chief is asking researchers to not draw conclusions from their findings fascinating. And the fact that he cites the "politically charged climate change debate" makes it even more interesting. But aside from the Register article the story hasn't received coverage in the English-language press. I made clear in the post that the supplementary links provide commentary on the story, but it's not like I selected only conservative or skeptic sources: there simply hasn't been any commentary from the other end of the spectrum. Also, the supplementary links were provided primarily to give some context to theories and research on possible connections between climate change, cosmic rays, and cloud formation. There's no question that the bloggers linked in the post have strong opinions about climate change research: one refers to their own climate research and opposing views, and this personal/professional investment is precisely why their articles are some of the only commentaries on this story so far and why their take on the CERN prohibition is so intriguing. Clearly they have an obvious ideological slant on the issue, but they present background and hypotheses about the reasoning behind the "interpretation prohibition" that I think are interesting and helpful in getting a handle on the big picture.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2011


From reading the links, as well the original Welt article (I actually read the Google translation), I get a sense of people constructing conspiracies on the basis of very little evidence. Given that people seem to be reading an antagonistic blog about a computer translation of a German interview, there is a possibility that people are reacting to a game of telephone.

There is also the fact that no actual data has been presented, and the computer translation of the article indicates that the experiment wasn't complete at the end of last week. We should probably wait until people have the time to examine the results and publish them before deciding that global warming advocates are trying to hush up the one vital piece of evidence which disproves their theory. It seems entirely reasonable for the director of a major lab to ensure that all experiments are complete and all results checked before releasing data about a politically charged subject.
posted by TheProudAardvark at 10:02 AM on July 21, 2011


I propose that Godwin's Law be extended to bringing Lysenko into the intersection of Science and Politics. Like Hitler and the Nazis, he's of course important and relevant - but not the sole example, and one which generally signals the end of people listening to one another.
posted by freebird at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2011


In other gagged scientist news: The suspicious suspension of a climate scientist: A federally employed scientist is suspended from his Arctic work as oil firms lobby to drill the area
posted by homunculus at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


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