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Ice-Age 3: The Perils of Science and the Media

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 3:54 AM GMT on August 03, 2015

Ice-Age 3: The Perils of Science and the Media

Addendum and Update: Please note that in the comments of this blog, it is quickly revealed that Professor Zharkova has, in fact, made links of her research to the little ice age. The primary reference is to a radio interview. More to follow. I knew this was perilous when I wrote it. Rood 20150803

Links to earlier in series
Ice-Age 1: There’s a Mini-Ice Age Coming? Good Timing!

Ice-Age 2: Weak Sun Will Not Cause Ice Age (from Mike Liemohn)

The Daily Mail held out some bait on global-warming obfuscation, reporting that scientists warning of a mini-Ice Age. I want to explore this article in a number of ways, and I want to see if we can think about how to manage the influence of the article. Links to the previous blogs in the series are above. Thanks for the excellent comments on the previous blogs.

In this entry I want to explore the perils of science and the media. The Daily Mail story relies largely on the research of Professor Valentina Zharkova, and I am going to look in a little more depth at Professor Valentina Zharkova’ work. I am particularly interested in whether Professor Zharkova and her co-authors have, in fact, warned us that “ “the sun will 'go to sleep' in 2030 and could cause temperatures to plummet.” For those who do not read on, I see no evidence that Professor Zharkova made these statements.

The Daily Mail story was motivated by the scientific presentation Heartbeat of the sun derived with principal component analyses and prediction of solar activity on millennium scale. The abstract of this article is reproduced below. There are no mentions of climate, ice, the Earth, or, even, the Maunder minimum in the abstract.

There are a couple of articles about Professor Zharkova’s presentation that I want to mention. The first is a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society, the organization that sponsored the meeting at which the presentation was made. Here is a link to the press release. The press release has the statement, “Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645.” There are two aspects of this statement that are worrisome. First, what is “solar activity?” Presumably sunspot count; however, I could see somebody reading this as the Sun’s energy output dropping by 60%, which would take us far beyond an ice age. (Want to talk about alarmist?) Second, the sentence introduces the “mini ice age.” The introduction and, hence, the association of Zharkova’s paper with the Earth’s climate is apparently the work of a press officer of the Royal Astronomical Society. There are no other mentions of ice age, the Earth, or climate in the article. Professor Zharkova is quoted as saying, “We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’.” Since Zharkova and her co-authors are building a model to simulate sunspot behavior, this is a reasonable statement – something the model is being built to represent. It is, also, a courageous prediction.

The second article I mention comes from Astronomy Now, which bills itself as “The UK’s best astronomy magazine.” In their daily reports from the meeting, the sub-headline states “The two-hearted Sun beckons new ‘mini ice-age’. That sub-headline is the only mention of ice age. The Astronomy Now piece does start to embellish with the “predictions with interesting consequences for Earth.” Otherwise, the article seems to be built around the same quotes as in Royal Astronomical Society press release.

These two press releases/reports start to wrap Professor Zharkova’s paper with the mini ice age and the Earth. There is no evidence that Professor Zharkova made this reach, or link. Therefore, two science-based organizations in their press releases made casual links of this research to the Earth’s climate. As science-based organizations, even if from a press office or a science journalist, there is a mark of approval or distinction by those holding scientific knowledge. Therefore, we have two imprimaturs, science media suggesting science credibility, and mention of Earth’s climate as a relation of this paper to the possibility of an ice age prediction.

These science organizations made it easy for the Daily Mail, a newspaper known for exaggerated headlines and running many stories that are designed to nurture doubt about climate-change science. The Daily Mail article builds, again, directly off of the Royal Astronomical Society press release. There is more embellishment in this statement, “This, they say, will lead to a phenomenon known as the 'Maunder minimum' - which has previously been known as a mini ice age when it hit between 1646 and 1715, even causing London's River Thames to freeze over.” The construct is slight. At least in the press release the quotes from scientists say that the prediction is of a time with the “properties of the Maunder Minimum.” This in contrast to “a phenomenon known as the Maunder Minimum.” The text that follows the dash equates “Maunder Minimum” with mini ice age, and further raises the bar with reference to the Thames River freezing over. There is a nice oil painting showing London Bridge in the frozen Thames, according to the caption, during the Maunder Minimum. We now have an article that is full of little jewels to fuel blogs and radio talk shows. There is no evidence at all that any scientist involved in the original paper on solar physics made a statement about the Earth’s climate. All of the provenance of the link of scientific statements to the Earth’s climate comes from press officers and journalists, and that provenance is completely devoid of scientific method or credibility.

There is another item I want to explore. I have seen in comments on blogs that Professor Zharkova is in the tradition of Russian scientists who study sunspots, and who carry the banner that climate variability is dominated by solar variability. I went to the The Web of Science and searched for the papers and citations of “Zharkova, V.” I did not disambiguate the results of the search, meaning that I did not go through each reference and decide whether or not there was more than one V. Zharkova. There were more than 100 papers, and the recent ones were all in solar physics, plasma physics, and applied mathematics. These are Valentina Zharkova’s declared fields of expertise. The recent papers were associated with the University of Northumbria in the United Kingdom. I, then, repeated the search adding the filter of “climate.” No papers were returned in the search. I can find no evidence that Professor Zharkova is an advocate of any school of thought that maintains that the variability and trends in the Earth’s climate are dominated by solar variability associated with sunspot variability.

My purpose here is to document the constructed and spurious link of this research paper with the mini ice age. I also document any scientist-based statement that this research was predicting a little ice age. There is, as best as I can tell, no evidence that there is a statement with any scientific foundation that we are in peril of a little ice age in the next few years. In this case, linking the little ice age to the paper on solar variability was, first, by two scientific organizations, The Royal Astronomical Society and Astronomy Now. The motivation to mention the little ice age in press, presumably, to draw attention and relevance to the paper by casual, sloppy, non-scientific inference. The Daily Mail can, then, take those press releases, and with defensible writing, work the magic of seeding doubt. Rather than arguing the merits or details of the “science” of the article in the Daily Mail and that which it begot, we should talk about the chain of information, disinformation, and knowledge and their alteration and manipulation from their sources. To argue the science is to take the bait and run with it.


My analysis of Professor Zharkova’s scientific work was to reveal the tactics of those trying to discredit climate-change science. I see no evidence that Professor Zharkova made any reference to the mini ice age. I apologize if I cause any grief for her with this blog.

Of interest:

News about an Imminent Mini Ice Age is Trending – but It Is Not True

In the spirit of scholarship and to support other entries in this series. The Daily Mail story relies largely on the research of Professor Valentina Zharkova. Here is the abstract of the Professor’s Zharkova’s talk at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting 2015. Here is a link to Professor Zharkova’s web page at University of Northumbria in New Castle, U.K.. Professor Zharkova is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (FRAS). I reproduce the abstract of the talk below.

Abstract of the Professor’s Zharkova’s talk

Heartbeat of the sun derived with principal component analyses and prediction of solar activity on millennium scale

In this talk we present new results of principal component analysis of the solar background magnetic field and sunspot magnetic field measured in the cycles 21-24 by Wilcox Solar Observatory and SOHO/MDI. We report a pair of principal components (PCs) of magnetic field waves covering more than 30% of the data variance and attribute these components to dynamo waves generated in two layer dynamo model. We derive mathematical laws describing these dynamo waves and describe their link to the solar activity index of sunspot numbers. Using the derived laws we predict the solar activity backward and forward for two millenniums and reveal close fit to all the observed activity features and the presence of a long-term activity cycle of 320-400 years in addition to the regular 22 year cycle. Preliminary interpretation of the PCA results with the modified Parker's two layer dynamo model accounting for both cycles (22 and 350 years) is also discussed.

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