Deniers R Us – Syun-Ichi Akasofu

Posted on April 1, 2012


Temperature on a trampoline.

About 30 years ago, Dr. Akasofu (born 1930) was the go-to scientist in respect to anything concerning auroras and the magnetosphere.  Much of his fame emanated ultimately from seminal observations he made about these subjects beginning nearly fifty years ago, in the early 1960s.  His importance in his own field can’t be doubted.

Recently, although in his 80s and already several years into his retirement, he decided to try his hand at another career in an unrelated discipline, this time climate science.  Pursuant to his new career he offers us—and the world—the “bounce-back” theory of climate change.  Temperature on a trampoline, if you will.

Akasofu’s argument is basically this.  The climate is not warming because we have pumped ever-accumulating amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, no, sir.  It’s warming, he says, because the climate is bouncing back from the Little Ice Age.

Northern hemisphere temperature reconstructions--Akasofu "bounce-back" line superimposed in black and red

The trouble with this as a scientific explanation is that it is physics- and content-free, which is unfortunate for an argument claiming to explain real-world processes.

Certain questions arise.  How does temperature “bounce-back” anyway?  Is there a temperature the world is supposed to be?  And is the Little Ice Age a trampoline?  Step up here, hit bottom here, spring back there.  Can temperature actually bounce, Dr. Akasofu?

No matter how you look at it, it’s difficult to see what climate mechanism, if any, is actually being referred to.

According to basic physics, energy has to come from somewhere.  Rising temperatures mean that more energy is entering a system than leaving it.  Thus, an explanation for rising temperatures should examine at least three possibilities,

(1) the possibility that something has changed to increase the amount of energy entering the system (for instance, a warmer sun—a possibility which has been ruled out by observational data);

(2) the possibility that no new energy has entered the system but that the energy already there was been distributed differently (also ruled out by observational data—the amount of energy in the system is growing over time–but may have explanatory value for the so-called Medieval Warm Period, etc) and

(3) the possibility that something has changed to prevent energy from leaving the system (for instance, a decline in albedo or an increase in greenhouse gases.)

Climate science carefully tests and answers all these questions, and many more.  Nothing about Akasofu’s theory, if you can even dignify it with such a name, answers any of these questions, addresses anything about energy flow, or even asks why temperatures should rise after the Little Ice Age.

As I said, fundamental to our understanding of physics is that energy has to come from somewhere.  If you haven’t explained where the energy has come from, (and why the world has warmed) you haven’t answered the question yet.

Drawing a line from the coldest of the Little Ice Age to the warmest of now and calling that a bounce-back is about as scientifically useful as lying on your back, drawing a line from your nose to you big toe and calling that Ralph.  It has equal explanatory value.

It doesn’t help, either, if it’s a famous scientist drawing the line, sorry Dr. Akasofu.

Climate Denier Credentials

His former eminence as a scientist is sufficient to gain Dr. Akasofu considerable credence in the climate denier community, despite the complete emptiness of his ideas in the field.  He has been featured in Lawrence Solomon’s National Post series, “The Deniers” and in Solomon’s book of the same name, as well as on Senator James Inhofe’s list of 700 scientists.  He has also attached his name to the Manhattan Declaration (2008), the Copenhagen Climate Challenge (2009) and the Cato Institute-sponsored ad from 2009 urging President Obama not to worry about climate change.

Akasofu has recently been a featured speaker for the Heartland Institute’s Denial-palooza anti-climate science conferences and has also been especially cited by climate denying lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, in respect of the “trampoline theory” discussed above.  GWPF loves the idea, apparently.

See DeSmogBlog and Skeptical Science for much more detail.