Roger Pielke Jr. indulges in spin while accusing others of the same, in a peculiar op-ed piece in the Denver Post this morning.
This part is true enough:
Earlier this week, Munich Re, a large German reinsurance company, fueled this debate with a report claiming that it has identified “the first climate change footprint in the data from natural catastrophes” in the damage caused by thunderstorms in the United States since 1980. USA Today put the claim on steroids by announcing on its front page, “Climate change behind rise in weather disasters.”
though in typical newspaper counter-information style no links are provided. The USA Today piece is here (while it lasts; webcite here) . ( Can anyone turn up a copy of the original report, or even a press release? Thanks! )
Of course, this sets RPJr.’s hackles hackling (or whatever it is that hackles do); he is bound and determined to see no climate signal in this sort of data. Now, his claim that there is no trend in tornadic activity is well-enough founded:
But he takes it further:
Researchers have similar conclusions for other phenomena around the world, ranging from typhoons in China, bushfires in Australia, and windstorms in Europe. After adjusting for patterns of development, over the long-term there is no climate change signal — no “footprint” — of increasing damage from extreme events either globally or in particular regions.
What about the United States? Flooding has not increased over the past century, nor have landfalling hurricanes. Remarkably, the U.S. is currently experiencing the longest-ever recorded period with no strikes of a Category 3 or stronger hurricane. The major 2012 drought obscures the fact that the U.S. has seen a decline in drought over the past century.
Okay, now that is weird. Lacking the Munich RE study, we have only Roger’s word to go by, and he says the FIRST attributable trend in damage is in that “caused by thunderstorms in the United States since 1980″. By “first” such attribution, we can conclude that there are no others, presumably. So a litany of inconclusive studies in no way refutes the claim. This is not to say that the claim is or isn’t valid; I await the actual report to even begin thinking about that. It is only to say that Pielke’s counterclaim is of no relevance.
But that is not the worst of it, as it immediately escalates from moot handwaving to baseless claims:
Such scientific findings are so robust that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded earlier this year that over the long-term, damage from extreme events has not been attributed to climate change, whether from natural or human causes.
So if the science is so clear on this subject, why then are companies and campaigners, abetted by a willing media, engaged in spreading misinformation?
Let’s consider carefully, on what subject is the science “so clear”? It is clear that “damage from extreme events has not been attributed”, presumably with the frequentist’s arbitrary 95% likelihood criterion. But a lack of attribution is not the same as a lack of causality! IPCC is saying that the evidence of a connection is not proven to 95% confidence (by the usual experimentalist’s definition). They do NOT claim that the LACK of a connection is proven at all. If there really were clearly no connection, then it would be sensible to say the science is “so clear”. But in fact, “has not been attributed” is very different from “has been refuted”.
Something that has not been attributed can later be attributed, once more or better evidence arrives.
Finally we get to full-blown spin:
It starts with this:
The debate over climate change is well known for excesses on all sides. Those who claim that the issue is a hoax actually have a lot in common with those who see climate change in every weather extreme. The logic behind such tactics is apparently that a sufficiently scared public will support the political program of those doing the scaring.
which is an entirely fair criticism. It really is important not only to say what is scary when political types say it isn’t, but also to say what isn’t scary when political types say it is.
But there is one group that should be very concerned about the spreading of rampant misinformation: the scientific community. It is, of course, thrilling to appear in the media and get caught up in highly politicized debates. But leading scientists and scientific organizations that contribute to a campaign of misinformation — even in pursuit of a worthy goal like responding effectively to climate change — may find that the credibility of science itself is put at risk by supporting scientifically unsupportable claims in pursuit of a political agenda.
is sheer grandstanding. It is not entirely implausible that “leading scientists and scientific organizations …contribute to a campaign of misinformation” but Pielke has shown no evidence that this is the case. I have been following this debate closely for decades do not know of any examples that would fit that bill. There are various campaigns, of course, and some of them aren’t especially closely tied to scientists and occasionally get things wrong. The recent DARA study is an example of dubious alarmism. I am not saying such a thing does not exist. But Pielke has not even shown that his original target, Munich RE, has misinformed, far less that any “leading scientist” or even “scientific organization” has done so. And while I’m not one to claim that the modern academy is a well-designed and well-functioning institution by any means, as far as I know “alarmism” does not rank high among its problems.
Of course this is red meat for the climate confusionist squad and the liars’ league in general. Pielke’s abhorrence of alarmist spin is ironic: let’s see who the “leading scientists” who “contribute to a campaign of misinformation” are and identify their misdeeds. Of course, you do occasionally see Roger Pielke Jr called a “leading climate scientist”. In which case, the Denver Post article itself is the clearest example we have of a leading climate scientist being alarmist: it is alarmist about alarmism.