Tag Archives: Denialism

Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

Bjørn Lomborg wrote an opinion piece that is offensively wrong

Bjørn Lomborg is the director of the conservative Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is author of two books that seem to recommend inaction in the face of climate change, Cool It, which appears to be both a book and a movie, and “The Skeptical Environmentalist.”

This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
This is apparently the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Consensus Center USA, 262 Middlesex St, Lowell MA .
He is well known as a climate contrarian, though I don’t subscribe to the subcategories that are often used to divide up the denialists. Let’s just say that if governments followed Lomborg’s suggestions for addressing climate change, civilization would not do well. If you think anthropogenic global warming is for real, important, and something we can address, then you won’t like Lomborg’s ideas much. Same with energy. He gets that wrong too.

Lomborg is or was funded by the Kochtopus and its various associates.

Get the facts on climate change straight

Lomborg’s blog is titled “Get the facts straight,” so when I saw him use that phrase in a recent Op Ed at the Wall Street Journal, I spit coffee all over my keyboard. Why? Because Bjørn Lomborg did not get the facts straight. In fact, he got the facts related to the topic of his Op Ed, titled “The Alarming Thing About Climate Alarmism: Exaggerated, worst-case claims result in bad policy and they ignore a wealth of encouraging data” so wrong we are left wondering how he could be so wrong. Is Lomborg very badly informed, or is he making stuff up? And, if the latter, why would he do that?

Anyway, I saw his Op Ed as an opportunity to Fisk, and so Fisk I did.

Climate change models have done a good job estimating future climate change

Lomborg writes:

It is an indisputable fact that carbon emissions are rising—and faster than most scientists predicted.

No they aren’t. They are rising fast, and that is really annoying, and maybe if you go back far enough in time you can find predictions that are way off, but CO2 emissions are rising, unfortunately, pretty much as fast as the very people someone like Bjorn Lomborg might call “alarmists” have been claiming they would. The following graph is from here.


Lomborg continues …

But many climate-change alarmists seem to claim that all climate change is worse than expected.

Dog_Whistle_Dog_Is_AlarmedI love the term “alarmist.” It is a dog whistle. If someone calls a mainstream scientists an “alarmist” you better check your wallet. Anyway, yes, mainstream science, in many areas, has been discovering of late that certain areas of climate change are perhaps worse than expected or happening faster. However, I can’t think of anyone who thinks that “all climate change is worse.”

This ignores …

No, it doesn’t ignore anything because it did’t happen. The premise is false. Anyway…

…that much of the data are actually encouraging. The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.

This is incorrect. The rise in temperature over the last 15 years has been within the expected range. The rate of increase over any given 15 year period of time varies, as expected, but there is nothing like the ten to one ratio of predicted to observed Lomborg claims. According to a Climate Nexus post, responding to Lomborg’s assertion,

The difference between model estimates and observations is completely accounted for by natural variability and fits within the range of modelled uncertainty. The reality is that there is no inherent bias in climate models that make them over-estimate the effects of human activity. A recent study that combined 114 possible 15-year trends since 1900 found there was nothing statistically biased in the way that model data differed from observed global mean surface temperature measurements. According to the study’s co-author, Piers Forster, “cherry picking” the most recent 15-year interval to refute climate change modeling is misleading and obscures the long-term agreement between the models and measurements.

What’s more, short-term variation does nothing to change the fact that we are experiencing a dangerous rate of global warming, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002 and NOAA and NASA officially declaring 2014 the warmest on record. So Lomborg’s insistence that we not worry about climate flies in the face of the record temperatures we’re experiencing.

Bjorn Lomborg, get your facts straight!

Now, returning to Lomborg…

Facts like this are important …

No they aren’t because they are not facts. They are thing you made up. Anyway…

The effects of climate change in the Arctic are more rapid than expected; The Antarctic is also warming faster than the rest of the planet

…because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.

As would be a one sided focus on fabricated best case scenarios, or even a manufactured balance between to sides of a non debate.

Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing.

That is misleading. It seems reasonable to guess that with global warming change would happen in a similar way in both polar regions, but the two ends of the earth are very different from each other. To a person who does not know much about climate or sea ice it makes sense that both poles will experience reduced summer sea ice. But there are many factors that determine sea ice distribution, including factors that might be changed as a result of global warming that increase sea ice as well as those that decrease it. Also, the often cited increase in Antarctic sea ice is often stated without quantification next to a statement about Arctic sea ice decrease, leading to the impression that there is a balance, where the total global sea ice is constant. This is not true, though by omission of proper context, Lomborg’s statement might allow some to think it is. The amount of sea ice added to the Antarctic is smaller than the loss in the Arctic.

Antarctic sea ice increase does not indicate cooling at that end of the earth. Rather, the Southern Continent and the sea and air around it have been warming, rather dramatically, faster than the global rate of warming, as is the case with the Arctic. Yet, the sea ice maximum has increased. From Skeptical Science:

If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). A side-effect is a strengthening of the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).

Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007).

Antarctic sea ice is complex and counter-intuitive. Despite warming waters, complicated factors unique to the Antarctic region have combined to increase sea ice production. The simplistic interpretation that it’s caused by cooling is false.

Recent research has made an even more direct link between Antarctic warming and Antarctic sea ice expansion. “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”” – read this for all the details.

So, Bjorn Lomborg, do try to get your fact straight, which in some cases requires knowing more about the science you are referring to so you don’t make middle-school level mistakes.

The rate of sea level rise is going up

Back to Bjørn…

Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue ofCoastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.

No, the vast majority of research on glacial ice melt shows an increase in rate. Other research shows that there are areas in Antarctic previously thought to be essentially unmeltable to be meltable, eventually.

The first paper Lomborg refers to tries to understand the details of short term variability in sea level rise. It does not say that there is a decline in rate of sea level rise. The paper looks only at changes between 1993 and 2003, not long term trends, so it really couldn’t address that issue. The paper shows rapid changes in the rate of sea level rise over short periods of time. Recently, there was a stark drop in rate because thermal expansion temporarily slowed. There was also a recent stark increase because Australia stopped drinking in rain (an effect of huge global warming induced drought) so the ocean got bigger. Very recently, according to the paper Lomborg cites, there has been “rapid recovery of the rising [sea level] from its dramatic drop during the 2011 La Niña [which] introduced a large uncertainty in the estimation of the sea level trend…” source

The second paper Lomborg refers to states, “Whether the increased sea level trend of approximately 3 mm/year measured by the satellites since the 1990’s is a long-term increase from the 20th Century value of approximately 1.7 mm/year or part of a cycle will require longer records; however, the negative accelerations support some cyclic character.”

Not only is it important to get your facts straight, Bjørn, but also, if you cite a source as saying something, please don’t misrepresent it.

Droughts are more likely, or more severe, with global warming

Back to Bjørn…

We are often being told that we’re seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world’s surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.

Check your wallet. First, the study Lomborg cites does not examine changes in drought over time, so it can’t say what he says it says. The study, rather, looks to develop a “global integrated drought monitoring and prediction system” because, as the authors state, “Each year droughts result in significant socioeconomic losses and ecological damage across the globe. Given the growing population and climate change, water and food security are major challenges facing humanity.”

One can understand that someone who does not know much about drought would make the mistake Lomborg made. The drought situation is complex. The vast majority of the land surface of the earth has not, and probably can not, experience drought, so talking about percentages of the Earth in drought or not in drought is misleading at best. Places like the American Southwest and California are always dry, so when drought occurs in such an area it is very real but hard to identify against the backdrop of large scale and long term climate. If the surface area of the earth in drought is less since 1982, that would be nice. The study Lomborg cites primarily examines data beginning in 1982, so he probably didn’t get that idea there.

Recent papers published in a compendium of the American Meteorological Society included research linking drought to climate change. Climate change has probably had effects that predate the 1980s, so looking at droughts since 1980 may not be valid. Finally, much of the concern we have about drought is about a handful of current problems (i.e, Australia and California) and about future drought. In February 2014, the science advisor to the President of the United States, John Holdren, wrote:

In my recent comments about observed and projected increases in drought in the American West, I mentioned four relatively well understood mechanisms by which climate change can play a role in drought…

The four mechanisms are:
1. In a warming world, a larger fraction of total precipitation falls in downpours, which means a larger fraction is lost to storm runoff (as opposed to being absorbed in soil).
2. In mountain regions that are warming, as most are, a larger fraction of precipitation falls as rain rather than as snow, which means lower stream flows in spring and summer.
3. What snowpack there is melts earlier in a warming world, further reducing flows later in the year.
4. Where temperatures are higher, losses of water from soil and reservoirs due to evaporation are likewise higher than they would otherwise be.


h2>Hurricanes are not decreasing in frequency, and may be increasing in frequency and/or intensity, with global warming

And, back to Bjørn…

Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the “ever worse” trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing—but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900–2013 decreased slightly.

Here Bjorn is referring to the widely discredited work of Roger Pielke Jr. In this case, Pielke has looked only at land falling hurricanes, which is egregious cherry picking. It might seem to make sense to do so, because they are the ones that matter, but in fact, land falling Atlantic Hurricanes are rare so they make for lousy statistics. Also, with climate change, we expect changes in the tropics to involve frequent years with fewer than average Atlantic hurricanes. Globally we generally expect more hurricanes, more energy in storms generally in the tropics and elsewhere, and possibly a greater occurrence of really powerful hurricanes fed by extraordinary ocean heat on surface and within the top 100 meters or so of the surface. Much more research is needed in this area, but to suggest that major storms are less of a problem now or in the future is wrong.

Got to get the facts straight, Bjørn. And Roger.

At the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December, attendees were told that their countries should cut carbon emissions to avoid future damage from storms like typhoon Hagupit, which hit the Philippines during the conference, killing at least 21 people and forcing more than a million into shelters. Yet the trend for landfalling typhoons around the Philippines has actually declined since 1950, according to a study published in 2012 by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Again, we’re told that things are worse than ever, but the facts don’t support this.

Again, Lomborg is cherry picking and using a discredited study.

There are several hurricane basins, several in the Pacific, the Indian ocean, and the Atlantic. One can look at data over several time scales: paleo covering hundreds or thousands of years, historic covering a century or so, and instrumental or recent, covering a century, or decades. One can count the number of hurricanes, use the limited “category” scale to divide up the number or use an overall measurement of energy in hurricanes. Then, these things can be studied by many researchers at various times. If you look across all of those studies examining various basins, time scales, and measures, you will see a range of studies showing increases or decreases in “how much hurricane” there is over time. The studies that take the longer time scales and that look at total energy rather than number of storms (or number of landfalling storms) almost always show increases. Here, Lomborg has picked a specific study that seems to meet his requirements, and ignored a vast literature. In this case, he has gone back to Pielke, whose work on hurricanes and other storm related issues has been widely discreted by actual climate scientists (like Lomborg, Pielke is not a climate scientist).

This is important because if we want to help the poor people who are most threatened by natural disasters, we have to recognize that it is less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.

Oh the poor poor people. If Bjorn Lomborg really cared about poor people why did he mention Hagiput and not mention Hayian/Yolanda, which killed 6,300 people? No. For Bjorn Lomborg seems more about selling oil and coal or serving the 1% or something. For the rest of us, it should be about keeping the Carbon in the ground.

The best way to see this is to look at the world’s deaths from natural disasters over time. In the Oxford University database for death rates from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms, the average in the first part of last century was more than 13 dead every year per 100,000 people. Since then the death rates have dropped 97% to a new low in the 2010s of 0.38 per 100,000 people.

No, that is absolutely incorrect. Morbidity is the wagging tail of the much larger dog of underlying causes. The exact number of people who die because of phenomenon is usually a highly variable and unreliable number. This is the Pielke strategy: identify variables that are likely to have a lot of uncontrolled variation, and see if any of those happen to go the way you want the data to go. Instead of the number of tropical cyclones, look only at the ones that become hurricanes. Instead of hurricanes, look only at the ones that strike land. Instead of looking at land falling hurricanes, look only at the number of people killed per hurricane, and ignore all the other data. Haiyan vs. Hagiput provide an example. The former was a much more severe storm but the latter was not a walk in the park, maybe only half as strong. But the number killed in the two storms, 6,300 vs. a couple of dozen, is dramatically different. No Bjorn, the best way to track the effects of climate change is not to look at deaths over time. That is the worst way to do it.

Also, the preparation and mitigation argument is a red herring. Disasters get less disastrous over time because we either move out of the way (as the coasts of much of New England have been abandoned since the 1970s because of the storms), predict bad events more accurately, implement evacuation plans, or but extra nails in the roof so it is less likely to blow off. We spend enormous amounts of money and expend considerable effort in reducing deaths through storms. See this for an example of the difference between the deadly effects of storms in New England and how that changed over time with the ability to predict bad storms and close roads and require people to go home and chill rather than stay out and die. That has nothing to do with changes in storm frequency or intensity under global warming. Bjorn Lomborg is asking you to believe that these investments will solve any climate crisis that develops in the future.

The dramatic decline is mostly due to economic development that helps nations withstand catastrophes. If you’re rich like Florida, a major hurricane might cause plenty of damage to expensive buildings, but it kills few people and causes a temporary dent in economic output. If a similar hurricane hits a poorer country like the Philippines or Guatemala, it kills many more and can devastate the economy.

Rich like Florida? When a hurricane hits the US coast it is far more likely to hit an area in poverty than one that is wealthy. With the US south largely in the grip of conservative politicians who are put in place to preserve or increase wealth disparity, that situation is only going to get worse. We are experiencing rapid climate change. There is no chance that preparation for disaster will keep up, there is no change that we can gentrify the world’s poor regions at a rate sufficient that they are living in the equivalent of the rich part of Miami. The coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is very vulnerable to severe hurricanes, and is in a major “First World” country, but is just loaded with poor people living in inadequate housing with crumbling infrastructure. So, no. We should certainly do what we can do to spread the wealth and bring people out of poverty but it won’t be enough and it won’t be quick.

In short, climate change is not worse than we thought. Some indicators are worse, but some are better. That doesn’t mean global warming is not a reality or not a problem. It definitely is. But the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism, which prevents us from focusing on smart solutions.

Yes, generally, it is. And may effects may be coming faster than thought. Is “narrative” becoming another dog whistle?

A well-meaning environmentalist might argue that, because climate change is a reality, why not ramp up the rhetoric and focus on the bad news to make sure the public understands its importance.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 2.52.33 AMHardly anybody is doing that. All the activists and communicators I know try to be reasonable. The breathless argument that the argument of others is breathless is made of straw.

But isn’t that what has been done for the past 20 years?

A statement with no facts behind it, that one.

The public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines and apocalyptic photos of climate change and its consequences. Yet despite endless successions of climate summits, carbon emissions continue to rise, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, China and many African nations.

Ah, now we are talking about the press, not “environmentalists” and scientists, etc. Nice bait and switch there. The press probably has been bombarding with headlines, but half of those headlines are like the Op Ed Lomborg wrote for the Wall Street Journal; foundation-less appeals to the non existent “other side” of the argument, full of irrelevant citations, facts that are not true, wrapped in a cloak of faux skeptical scholarship, in service of a false balance that probably sells papers.

Alarmism has encouraged the pursuit of a one-sided climate policy of trying to cut carbon emissions by subsidizing wind farms and solar panels. Yet today, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. And even with exceptionally optimistic assumptions about future deployment of wind and solar, the IEA expects that these energy forms will provide a minuscule 2.2% of the world’s energy by 2040.

In other words, for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy, including new battery technology to better store and discharge solar and wind energy and lower its costs. We also need to invest in and promote growth in the world’s poorest nations, which suffer the most from natural disasters.

I see your fossil fuel based entity and raise you one. The American Petroleum Institute says:

Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.

But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.

According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the United States installed an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year — a 42 percent increase over 2013 — making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.

Today, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States — or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey — with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015–2016.

Additionally, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, a report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.

So. Let’s do two things. Start ignoring Bjorn Lomborg (and the Wall Street Journal) and start doing more to keep the Carbon in the ground.

Willie Soon, will he soon be fired?

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 8.12.15 AM

Who is Willie Soon?”

(ADDED: Since there have been so many wonderful questions about the controversial research and related issues, let me point you to this post, which is essentially a link farm to myriad resources for you to read and enjoy.)

According to DeSmogBlog, Willie Wei Hock “Soon is a prominent climate change skeptic who has received much of his research funding from the oil and gas industry.” He thinks the sun causes the climate change we’ve been observing over the last few decades: Continue reading Willie Soon, will he soon be fired?

How to lie with graphs. Looking at YOU, Sen Inhofe

Years ago before there was a lot of paleo climate data, there were some rather simplistic graphs of ancient climate used to make basic points like “around this time it was warmer than around this other time when it was cooler. Maybe. One of those graphs depicts the now debunked “Medieval Warm Period.” (We now call this the Medieval Climate Anomaly, which included both warm zones and cool zones, was on average, globally, kind of warm, but not as warm as today.)

One of those graphs is shown here, but I’ve carefully labeled it so it will not be misunderstood:


This graph was shown on the Senate Floor by James Inhofe, the famous climate science denier from Oklahoma. This graph has been long discredited. Senator Inhofe should be censured for this.

You should know that this graph has a long and interesting history … Continue reading How to lie with graphs. Looking at YOU, Sen Inhofe

NOAA Paraguay Data Accusation

A video by Kevin Cowtan about Christopher Booker‘s accusations of data tampering.

A quick response to an article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph.

The video features a prototype tool for investigating the global temperature record. This tool will be made available with the upcoming MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial (http://gci.uq.edu.au/mooc), where we will interactively debunk myths regarding surface temperature records.

How can such a moron be in the Senate? (Jim Inhofe)

Climate Change Hoax Guru Jim Inhofe
Gets his science from the Bible, invented the term “climate change hoax”.
He’s paid for by big oil, he takes up hours of the Senate’s time going on and on with the most senseless drivel ever heard in that building (see video below) and he has single handedly probably done more to stop action in this country on climate change. That clearly makes him one of the worst people in the world. I’m rather pissed off at the people of Oklahoma. They sent him there. They should be ashamed.

Emily Atkin has an update on Jim The Moron Inhofe’s latest ranting about the “climate change hoax”.

Continue reading How can such a moron be in the Senate? (Jim Inhofe)

New York Times Puts AGW Above The Fold, But …

The New York Times put the news of 2014 being the warmest year on their front page, in the precious space known as “Above The Fold.” But, the venerable paper of record continues to give credence to science denialists by calling them “skeptics,” and continues to imply that there really is a debate between consensus based science and politically motivated denial of science. To underscore this point I created the above graphic.

I would also like to congratulate the Washington Post for putting this piece by Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney on the front of section A1.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 1.43.47 PM

And, TIME has also placed the latest AGW news in a prominent place, and explicitly puts deniers in their place: A Bad Day for Climate Change Deniers … And the Planet. (Hat tip: Paul Douglas)

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.29.17 PM

Merchants of Doubt Trailer

A new documentary you’ll want to see.

An eye-opening documentary exploring the tactics of climate change deniers.

An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that global warming caused by human activity is one of the most critical dangers our planet faces. But a well-organised band of professional spinners and obfuscators toil in the shadows to pretend there is a genuine debate on the subject. That’s the argument put forward by this provocative new documentary from Robert Kenner, director of the Oscar nominated food industry expose, ‘Food, Inc’. Adapted from the book of the same title by Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, the film begins by exploring how the tobacco industry spent decades trying to camouflage the dangers of smoking. It then moves on to reveal how climate change deniers now a use similar approach. Their intention, it’s claimed, is not to win the argument but to frustrate action by sowing the seeds of doubt.

Global warming’s dangers stare us in face: Op Ed by Michael Mann

The Providence Journal has published an Op Ed by climate scientist Michael Mann. You should read the whole thing, but I found the following paragraphs to be one of the better written descriptions of the situation we are in:

Here’s what my fellow scientists and I know: Thermometers and satellites all point to the fact that the world is rapidly warming. Glaciers are shrinking, the ocean is heating and expanding, precipitation is falling in heavier doses, and we’re watching the Arctic icecap shrink away.

Why the rapid warming? Heat-trapping carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased about 40 percent since pre-industrial times. It comes from major industries that extract and burn coal and oil, as well as tropical deforestation.

Now, climate risks are staring us in the face….

Mann reminds us that those who support climate science denialism such as Dennis Slonk, who had previously written for the Journal, insist that denialists are merely asking legitimate questions of scientists and the science. Mann then asks, if this is so, why have deniers in Congress called for criminal investigations of the scientists, and why would someone send a climate scientist a package of mysterious white powder, which, even if the powder is inert (as it turned out to be) is probably a terrorist act.

I recommend reading this Op Ed, it is quite enlightening.

Michael Mann also has an Op Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, HERE.

Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist

Matt Ridley is a British journalist whom some in the science community are now quietly referring to as an “anti-science writer.” He has taken up the cause of denying the widely held and deep scientific consensus on climate change. He has a recent blog post he seems to have been compelled to write in response to a new study on the use of tree rings as a proxyindicator for past temperatures. I’ll be writing about that research in a day or two. Ridley’s post is embarrassing, and especially annoying to me because for several years I used his book on evolutionary biology as a recommended (or sometimes required) reading in my courses on human evolution. Here, I’d like to present a simple Fisking of his post. He begins,

As somebody who has championed science all his career, carrying a lot of water for the profession against its critics on many issues, I am losing faith.

Any time I hear someone identify themselves as a champion of science, I check my wallet. Self proclaiming one’s position on an imagined high ground is often the prelude to anti science yammering. Let’s see if that is the case here. He goes on,

Recent examples of bias and corruption in science are bad enough. What’s worse is the reluctance of scientific leaders to criticise the bad apples. Science as a philosophy is in good health; science as an institution increasingly stinks.

This assumes facts not in evidence. Ridley’s assertion looking at science from the outside is that there are bad apples. But his examples of bad apples are bad examples.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report last week that found evidence of scientists increasingly “employing less rigorous research methods” in response to funding pressures. A 2009 survey found that almost 2 per cent of scientists admitting that they have fabricated results; 14 per cent say that their colleagues have done so.

Remember, Ridley is ultimately speaking here of climate science. But over 83% of the respondents in that survey done by an institution that looks at biomedical ethics were in biomedical or health related areas. A mere 2% were in geosciences. This study has little do do with climate science research or how it is conducted. A champion of science should really be more careful with the data.

Also, that report notes that

Fifty-eight per cent of survey respondents are aware of scientists feeling tempted or under
pressure to compromise on research integrity and standards, although evidence was not collected on any outcomes associated with this. “

We all would like to see the way research dollars are distributed be evaluated, critiqued, and where possible, improved, but there is a large difference between recognizing pressure and showing it has an effect. But, again, any effects shown in that report are utterly irrelevant to any consideration of climate science. Ridley continues,

This month has seen three egregious examples of poor scientific practice. The most recent was the revelation in The Times last week that scientists appeared to scheme to get neonicotinoid pesticides banned, rather than open-mindedly assessing all the evidence. These were supposedly “independent” scientists, yet they were hand in glove with environmental activists who were receiving huge grants from the European Union to lobby it via supposedly independent reports, and they apparently had their conclusions in mind before they gathered the evidence. Documents that have recently come to light show them blatantly setting out to make policy-based evidence, rather than evidence-based policy.

This is a manufactured controversy, and is not related to climate science. The problem with nicotinoid issue is a case of an industry opposing some researchers findings, and there is a good chance that the sources Ridley relies on did not get the story right. (See this for example.) Ridley’s comments are really just another example of him taking sides in a debate that pits industry interests against researchers.

Second example: last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a supposedly scientific body, issued a press release stating that this is likely to be the warmest year in a century or more, based on surface temperatures. Yet this predicted record would be only one hundredth of a degree above 2010 and two hundredths of a degree above 2005 — with an error range of one tenth of a degree. True scientists would have said: this year is unlikely to be significantly warmer than 2010 or 2005 and left it at that.

No one has suggested that if we have the warmest year it will be by much. The increase in global warming is steady and medium to long term. Also, it is a complicated issue, as pointed out by Ridley. I discuss this in detail here: 2014 will not be the warmest year on record, but global warming is still real.

In any case, the year is not over, so why the announcement now? Oh yes, there’s a political climate summit in Lima this week. The scientists of WMO allowed themselves to be used politically. Not that they were reluctant. To squeeze and cajole the data until they just crossed the line, the WMO “reanalysed” a merger of five data sets. Maybe that was legitimate but, given how the institutions that gather temperature data have twice this year been caught red-handed making poorly justified adjustments to “homogenise” and “in-fill” thermometer records in such a way as to cool down old records and warm up new ones, I have my doubts.

I tend to agree that one should not characterize the global average surface temperature of a year before the year is over, and then some, to allow for proper updates and adjustments to the data. The fact that there has been so much reporting and blogging on this was likely forced by MSM starting to report on “the warmest year”, because MSM tends to finish all their “year events” reporting before the holidays. (Though WMO has regularly come out with commentary this time of year on the meteorological year, which is not the same as the calendar year.) In any event, this is not a problem in science, it is a problem in MSM and other agents. All the climate science based reporting or blogging on the global average surface temp that I have seen post dates CNN and other media breaking the news, which forced everyone’s hand. (Again, see this.)

In one case, in Rutherglen, a town in Victoria, a recorded cooling trend of minus 0.35C became a reported warming trend of plus 1.73C after “homogenisation” by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. It claimed the adjustment was necessary because the thermometer had moved between two fields, but could provide no evidence for this, or for why it necessitated such a drastic adjustment.
Most of the people in charge of collating temperature data are vocal in their views on climate policy, which hardly reassures the rest of us that they leave those prejudices at the laboratory door. Imagine if bankers were in charge of measuring inflation.

Climate science denialists such as Ridley tend to howl about imperfections in data and methodology. They then howl some more when honest attempts are made at making sure the data are good, or efforts are made to improve methodology. This is a pretty run of the mill denialist tactic.

Ridley’s criticism of the ABM vis-a-vis the Rutherglen data has been addressed in Remember the weather at Rutherglen? BoM was right all along, of course!. See also this.

Third example: the Royal Society used to be the gold standard of scientific objectivity. Yet this month it issued a report on resilience to extreme weather that, in its 100-plus pages, could find room for not a single graph to show recent trends in extreme weather. That is because no such graph shows an upward trend in global frequency of droughts, storms or floods. The report did find room for a graph showing the rising cost of damage by extreme weather, which is a function of the increased value of insured property, not a measure of weather.

There have been numerous studies showing trends in extreme weather. Having said that, the nature of the link between climate change and extreme weather is both complex and the subject of mostly very recent research. It will take a while for the dust to settle on this. If anything, the larger scientific societies involved in this work are behind in addressing and incorporating new research. See for example, NOAA Report Misses Link Between California Drought and Human-Caused Climate Change and Explaining Extreme Events of 2013: Limitations of the BAMS Report.

The Royal Society report also carefully omitted what is perhaps the most telling of all statistics about extreme weather: the plummeting death toll. The global probability of being killed by a drought, flood or storm is down by 98 per cent since the 1920s and has never been lower — not because weather is less dangerous but because of improvements in transport, trade, infrastructure, aid and communication.

Asked and answered in the same statement. First, comparing a time before radar, satellites, advanced communication technology, warning systems, and computers to predict weather with recent times is bogus. Second, both property damage and mortality/morbidity resulting from extreme weather events is very likely to drop as pre-event upgrades, which may sometimes be very costly but that are not counted in the cost of a particular storm, are implemented. This of course applies more to industrialized nations than to other areas. This is expected. But, there is probably a limit to what can be done even in industrialize areas. Not much infrastructure improvement has helped with the California Drought, and all the work done since Katrina or currently planned is likely to provide additional mitigation of the effects of the next Katrina in the gulf.

The Royal Society’s decision to cherry-pick its way past such data would be less worrying if its president, Sir Paul Nurse, had not gone on the record as highly partisan on the subject of climate science. He called for those who disagree with him to be “crushed and buried”, hardly the language of Galileo.

I suppose Ridley could not resist a Galileo reference. Also, when one wants to disagree with scientific consensus, in the absence of a scientific argument, it is convenient to declare the issue partisan.

In any event, Nurse was talking about the very problems Ridley, as a Champion of Science, should be concerned with. I asked Dana Nuccitelli, who follows these things, what he thought about Ridley’s comments on Nurse. He pointed out this post, and noted that “Nurse was actually saying that about influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious, or ideological agendas. Nurse did cite those who distort climate science as one example, but he was speaking in general terms about ideologically-based science distortions (he cited GM crops as another example). Ironically, Ridley distorts Nurse’s comments about distorting evidence in order to attack him.”

Three months ago Sir Paul said: “We need to be aware of those who mix up science, based on evidence and rationality, with politics and ideology, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway. We need to be aware of political or ideological lobbyists who do not respect science, cherry-picking data or argument, to support their predetermined positions.”

If he wishes to be consistent, he will therefore condemn the behaviour of the scientists over neonicotinoids and the WMO over temperature records, and chastise his colleagues’ report, for these are prime examples of his point.

That assumes he agrees with Ridley, which he probably doesn’t.

Ridley uses his expertise and experience from the banking industry to criticize climate science and scientist. Is this expertise and experience valuable? Andy Skuce wrote about Ridley’s involvement in the collapse of the British bank, Northern Rock in The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock, in 2011:

Matt Ridley was the non-executive Chairman of Northern Rock, a British bank that, in 2007, was the first in over a century and a half to experience a run on its deposits. British banks had all survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the end of the British Empire, until Northern Rock failed. Ridley had served on the Northern Rock board of directors since 1994 and was appointed Chairman in 2004. …

Northern Rock’s business model was a very aggressive one, centered on rapid growth of its mortgage business. Before 1997, Northern Rock was a building society, a co-operative savings and mortgage institution. Like many other British building societies, it transformed itself into a bank and was listed on the stock exchange. This led to rapid growth for Northern Rock, which grew its assets at an annual rate of more than 23% from 1998 to 2007. Before its crisis, Northern Rock had assets of about $200 billion and was the fifth-largest bank in Britain. The bank’s retail deposits did not grow at the same rate as its mortgage assets; the difference was made up with funding from capital markets. When the credit crisis hit in 2007, Northern Rock saw its funding vanish. Northern Rock’s debts were more than fifty times its shareholder common equity, making the bank an outlier even among the many other highly-levered financial institutions at that time…. The bank was unable to pay its creditors and had to turn to the Bank of England for help in September 2007. These events led to panic among its depositors, who formed huge queues outside its branches to withdraw their savings.

According to Skuce, financial experts and institutions saw the problems that took Norther Rock down, but apparently Ridley did not.

…the events leading to the credit crunch, the bursting of the housing bubble and the collapse of financial markets, were not entirely unforeseen, especially by commentators outside the banking sector. … In 2006, Robert Shiller of Yale University wrote: “there is significant risk of a very bad period, with slow sales, slim commissions, falling prices, rising default and foreclosures, serious trouble in financial markets, and a possible recession sooner than most of us expected.”…

Matt Ridley has been highly critical of the IPCC reports and of the Chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, mainly for the overblown stories about the Himalayan glaciertypo and the poorly-referenced but correct accounts of the Amazon Basin’s vulnerability to drought. Yet for all the accusations that the IPCC has exaggerated impacts of climate change and “sexed-up” summaries for policy makers, its track record is solid compared to the rosy business outlook that Ridley portrayed in the Northern Rock Annual Report 2006, and published in early 2007, just a few months before the company failed.

Two senior officers of Northern Rock—the Deputy Chief Executive and the Managing Credit Director—were heavily fined in April 2010 by the UK Financial Services Authority for hiding the decline in the performance of the company’s mortgage assets in early 2007. There’s no suggestion that Ridley played any role, or, at the time, was even aware of this misrepresentation of important financial data. All the same, the transgressions happened under his watch as Chairman and, as far as I know, he has not since expressed any regret for the incident. Nevertheless, a few months after his former colleagues had been sanctioned, Ridley had the audacity to write an article for the Times in which he referred to the “discredited Dr Pachauri” in “shut-eyed denial”. Yet none of the contributors to Chairman Pachauri’s reports has ever been shown to have deliberately misrepresented any data.

For Ridley, in business as in climate, prudent precautionary measures are rejected as ruinous, whereas warnings that real disasters may be lurking are dismissed. As the Northern Rock experience showed, being dazzled by the power of virtuous circles can blind you to the fact that, if spun too hard, they can quickly turn vicious.

Now, back to Ridley:

I am not hopeful. When a similar scandal blew up in 2009 over the hiding of inconvenient data that appeared to discredit the validity of proxies for past global temperatures based on tree rings (part of “Climategate”), the scientific establishment closed ranks and tried to pretend it did not matter.

This is a key statement by Ridley. After multiple investigations and a thorough raking over of the evidence, it has been clearly established that “climategate” was unfounded. Ridley believing that climategate refers to real nefarious events is all you need to know to pretty much ignore everything else he says. He might as well be talking about chemtrails.

Last week a further instalment of that story came to light, showing that yet more inconvenient data (which discredit bristlecone pine tree rings as temperature proxies) had emerged.

This is an abysmal misreading of the peer reviewed research and an uncritical acceptance of criticism of that research that was very badly done. I’ll be posting something about the tree ring research soon, but for the time being read this post and the comments. I’ll be done with my new post in a day or so, which is probably about the same time you’ll be done reviewing all ~500 comments!

The overwhelming majority of scientists do excellent, objective work, following the evidence wherever it leads.

Yes. Yes, they do.

… It’s hard for champions of science like me to make our case against creationists, homeopaths and other merchants of mysticism if some of those within science also practise pseudo-science.

Ridley declares himself a champion of science (check your wallet!) and in the same breath attempts to link the scientific consensus on climate change with creationism. I’m shocked to see no reference here to Hitler.

In all the millions of scientific careers in Britain over the past few decades, outside medical science there has never been a case of a scientist convicted of malpractice. Not one. Maybe that is because — unlike the police, the church and politics — scientists are all pure as the driven snow. Or maybe it is because science as an institution, like so many other institutions, does not police itself properly.

Or, there could be another reason.

Publishers Remove Climate Change Denialism From Texas Schoolbooks

I just got this press release for the Texas Freedom Nettwork, passing the good news on to you:


Texas State Board of Education must still vote on adopting the revised textbooks

November 17, 2014

Publishers have agreed to correct or remove inaccurate passages promoting climate change denialism from new social studies textbooks proposed for Texas public schools, a coalition of science and education groups announced this afternoon. This news comes as the State Board of Education prepares for a second public hearing on the proposed textbooks and a final vote on which texts to approve for Texas schools. The textbooks will likely be sold in other states as well.

Publishers Pearson Education, WorldView Software and Studies Weekly Publications had already submitted to Texas education officials revisions to textbook passages that included inaccurate information about climate change. The original passages cast doubt on the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that climate change is a real and growing threat and that human activity is the primary driver of the problem. Today publisher McGraw-Hill confirmed to the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) that it will remove a deeply problematic lesson that equated unsupported arguments from a special interest-funded political advocacy group, the Heartland Institute, with data-backed material from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Nobel-winning organization of scientists from around the world.

“We applaud these publishers for responsibly listening to scholars and the tens of thousands of people from across the country who have signed petitions insisting that the textbooks put education and facts ahead of politics,” TFN President Kathy Miller said today. “We hope they will stand firm in their decision and resist pressure from politicians on the state board to lie to students about one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.”

Petitions calling on publishers to correct their textbooks collected more than 116,000 signatures. The petitions were sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Climate Parents, Daily Kos and CREDO Mobilize.

Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director at NCSE, also praised the publishers’ decisions to remove the scientifically inaccurate information from their textbooks.

“Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and other publishers did the right thing by making these changes,” Rosenau said. “They listened to us and the nation’s leading scientific and educational societies, ensuring that students will learn the truth about the greatest challenge they’ll confront as citizens of the 21st century. These publishers should be proud.”

Lisa Hoyos, director of the national organization Climate Parents, noted the importance of telling students the truth about climate change at a time when the science is under political attack across the country.

“There is a dangerous attack on climate science in our country, from Congress to the classroom,” Hoyos said. “We are thrilled that Pearson and McGraw Hill chose to stand with students, and to remove misinformation about the causes of climate change from their texts. These publishers need to resist any pushback from climate deniers on the the Texas State Board of Education and to commit to tell nothing but the truth in the materials they produce for our kids.”

The State Board of Education will hold its second public hearing and take a preliminary vote on the proposed textbooks on Tuesday (November 18). The board is set to take a final vote on Friday. The textbooks will go into classrooms beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

John Coleman, Founder of The Weather Channel On Fox News

… to play the victim. Interestingly, Fox News doesn’t exactly give him a pass at first. Then they threw him an Al Gore softball on Arctic Ice. Watch:

Media Matters for America has a great writeup on this. It is all about false balance. Fox is great at that.

Coleman’s experience in weather forecasting does not make him an expert in climate science — there is an immense difference between a scientist and a weather forecaster. … Disregarding the fact that Coleman never received a formal education in meteorology — his degree was in journalism — his experience predicting the weather does not make him a credible source to debunk the vast majority of scientific literature on climate change.

Coleman also claimed that “9,000 Ph.D.’s and 31 [thousand] scientists” agree with his position on climate change, referring to the widely discredited Oregon Petition Project. Its signatories are mostly engineers with master’s degrees, and it once included the names of fictitious characters and a member of the Spice Girls.

Coleman is not a climate scientist. Neither is Al Gore, actually. But one of them is seriously concerned about climate change and does listen to what climate scientists day. Guess which one.