The Golden Horseshoe Award – Nominees

Basic RGBFollowing on a tradition started by Peter Gleick, this is an attempt to review the most misleading climate stories of 2012. As suggested by Eli, we will rename this from the “Bad Science” (or “BS”) award to the “Golden Horseshoe Award”.

Here we are following in the footsteps of Gavin Schmidt, who recalls this snippet describing a bar called the Golden Horseshoe, from a novel of that name by Dashiell Hammett:

I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:

‘Only genuine pre-war British and American whiskeys served here’

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more …”

I’ve already collected some nominations in email exchanges, some of them suggested by Peter. The last couple of weeks, alas, have seen a burst of denial activity in quasi-response to the IPCC leak. Possibly more than one credible nominee will emerge from those events. But we’re also interested in similar events from earlier in the year.

While a certain amount of snark is surely called for, we aren’t necessarily looking for the silliest blunders passed of as wisdom on climate denier sites. The point is really to identify places where the malign spin has not been corrected well enough, and to try to dislodge the misinformation from the public discourse. In short, we want:

* An objectively wrong and obviously misleading spin on a substantive matter involving climate

* Picked up credulously by the mass media

* Insufficiently corrected in the mass media

Here’s some of the items suggested. Not all of them fit the mold exactly.

The NIPCC website

The 16-year warming hiatus fraud.

Antarctic Ice Expansion red herring

James Taylor at Forbes

Heartland in general

Watts in general, and his post showing “best sites are worst”.

CATO in general

Murdoch press

Harrassment of climate scientists by American Tradition Institute.

The infamous National Assessment “addendum”

To be fair, there is one genuine piece of over-the-top alarmism that the press nibbled at: the DARA report claiming a mortality of 30 million from climate change by 2030, most of which are attributable to old-fashioned air pollution, not to climate or CO2.

Have we missed any? Let us know.

We’ll announce the winners in the first week of 2013. Meanwhile we welcome additional nominees.



  1. I'm guessing Peter Gleick's promulgation of the Heartland strategy memo won't be included? Granted, it's not _obvious_ that he forged it himself and released it as a deliberate act of deception. But I (like a lot of people here, I know) have obsessed over the evidence a lot, and I have a really hard time coming up with any other interpretation that seems more likely.

  2. mt, that's a good starter list, lots of creepy crawlies there.

    This is excess to requirements, but irresistible. Russell Seitz does a nice montage on Dante and Watts, delightful if you like that kind of thing. [OPatrick, this will be my only acknowledgment of your kind effort to clarify, your smiley was intact.] I was checking re Dante but Russell got there first (18th to my 21st):

    He has a line in sarcasm and literacy that is hard to resist if you are inclined to it. [Also OT, I understand (per New Yorker) that he is involved in geoengineering research (mostly the water vapor kind, the least harmful IMHO) at Harvard.]

  3. For me, one of the big stories was that the "Adapt-don't-mitigate" crowd lapsed into a silence of the grave after Sandy, even when everyone was talking about how much money a little flood-defense-building would have saved. This was the big change for Judith Curry et al to stand up on their chairs and plead for the hundreds of billions of dollars to start to adapt to climate change. Instead, silence.

    IDK, it's almost like they are less interested in adaptation (esp when it makes the costs of AGW very real to the public) than they are in discouraging mitigation(*).

    * Lomborg did say something about adaptation, but, typically, it was a bald lie from beginning to end:

  4. The Golden Horseshoe has to go to Rajendra Pachauri for his 250 million Africans exposed to increased water stress by climate change alone by 2020. Not only is this number wholly wrong on three counts (and I might have forgotten one) but the paper the claim was based on has long been superseded, the chap repeating this misrepresented and superseded (and much echoed by the mass media and NGOs) claim is hugely influential, and he has been repeating it in speech after speech for five years and he is *still* repeating it. Deniers - even top-rank US politicans - are marginal figures when compared to the head of the IPCC. Pachauri for the Horseshoe!

  5. Got anything to back that up? 250 million, or roughly a quarter of the population, seems reasonable, especially if the operative claim is "increased water stress" which is not an extreme claim at all. It seems on its face quite reasonable.

  6. It's obvious to me that Peter didn't forge it, so we are stuck on that point. But whatever happened in that event it is not about climate at all, but about certain so-called non-profits and how they are funded.

    Thus it fails the "substantive matter about climate" test as well.

  7. Back up what? The point is not that the claim might not be plausible. It's that, as echoed by Pachauri and his many echoers, the claim, although presented as scientific, multiply misrepresents the science.

    Pachauri got his version of the claim from AR4. This was responsible for much of his wrongness but not, as I recall, his worst wrongnesses - though it's been a while since I looked at this in any detail, and I don't fancy delving too deeply again now, so I'll just point you at Pachauri's ultimate source:

    Can you reconcile that with Pachauri's frequent '250 million' statements? (I'll save you some time. 250 million wasn't in that study. It was erroneously derived from one of the tables by a contributor to AR4. Arnell acknowledged the miscalculation in a communication with the authors of the Dutch report on AR4.)

    More seriously, do you see any indication that Pachauri's Arnell-based 250/220/whatever million was an (upper-bound) estimate for the effects of climate change alone? (It wasn't. It was one of three factors, the others being population growth and economic growth, and was, as I recall, the smallest of the three.)

    Then there's bad-effects-only presented as net effects when the same Arnell study estimated that many millions would find things easier.

    And, finally, 2025 presented as 2020 - an error that was once trivial given the huge uncertainties in Arnell's estimate (which he has acknowledged) but becomes less trivial every time Pachauri speaks at a conference. Years pass, after all. Science with caveats once said that multiple causes might produce a particular effect in 21 years. Three years later, thanks to AR4 21 years suddenly became 17. Not a hugely big deal. Just tidying up, no doubt. But now, another five years later, science says (says Pachauri) that a single cause will produce that effect (variously mangled) in just another 8 years.

    So his oft-repeated 'scientific' claim might be plausible (though I very much doubt that it is) but it most certainly is not scientific.

    Bla bla.

    Happy holidays.

  8. Vinny, I'm trying to follow this up - interesting to know if there are genuine equivalents to the anti-science misinformation on the side of sanity. However, I don't remember hearing anything about it over the year, was it in the news? As Michael says it doesn't seem a notably outlandish statistic so maybe it just didn't stick and maybe that's the point - are we used to exaggeration and so don't notice it? Seems unlikely given there is so little need to exaggerate. I can't imagine that replacing 2025 with 2020, for example, would make anyone act differently, so why would it be done deliberately?

    Also every reference I see when I google it refers to 75-250 million, not 250 million as you implied. This seems a significant difference. Am I missing the important references? The 'no-warming for 16 years' guff is unambiguous. Do you think this is equivalently so?

  9. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, December 23, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  10. OPatrick, was what in the news? The (75 to) 250 million erroneously derived from Arnell 2004? Yes. Frequently - although seldom as a headline. More of a drip, drip, drip of droughty gloom.

    Has its erroneousness been in the news? No. Never, as far as I know.

    Exaggeration? The numbers derived from Arnell 2004 are inflated. They are usually applied in a way that inflates the importance of climate change in any future increase of water stress in sub-Saharan Africa (or, in the case of Christian Aid, the future increase of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa).

    I don't believe, however, that the tables in Arnell 2004 were misrepresented deliberately by whoever inserted the numbers in AR4 or that Pachauri deliberately ascribes AR4's inflated numbers to climate change alone while knowing that other factors are more important. By my usual definition of 'exaggeration', there'd have to be some intent to deceive. I reckon the main factor here is ignorance and a need for a doomy narrative. (Which is not to say that Pachauri is an honest idiot. He's no idiot.)

    The no-warming-for-16-years guff unambiguous? If you're talking about the Daily Mail story, you haven't read it.

  11. David, you need to let it go. Feeding idiots gives them energy. We appreciate all your hard work, but I can't believe you can't find better things to do with some of that energy - maybe just only offer the first one or two ... anyone who can't see the nonsense is not going to be persuaded by a few puny facts. They have their own, and they're sticking with that. (And I need to take my own advice.)

  12. I don't agree. That many people could easily have been affected in Africa by the systemic effects of climate change. The Horn of Africa alone has gone from famine to deep famine. The fact that we can't count doesn't excuse us.

    Pachauri, being from that part of the world, has seen more of this stuff first hand, so it probably bothers him. It's not like he's being paid enough to lie ...

  13. Vinny, what was unambiguous about the no-warming-for-16-years guff was the willingness to deceive or be deceived, the unwillngness to look at the wider context even when it was pointed out. I did read the article in the Mail, yes, and I don't think there is any ambiguity at all about the good faith (there wasn't any) of the author. It was written with the intention to mislead, or at the very least without the intention to lead.

    I'm struggling to make a judgement on your Pachauri exaggeration because I can't find what you are describing, although I haven't spent more than a few minutes googling. Your link to the Arnell paper doesn't work and I can't find an open access version of anything it might be - do you have a working link? The 'drip, drip, drip of droughty gloom' seems plausible, though far from obviously correct from the little I know about it so far - any more specific pointers? But even if it were correct, and as I think you acknowledge, this leaves it a long way from the deliberate deception of Rose and his ilk.

    I'm sceptical of the 'need for a doomy narrative' - there is no need beyond the narrative available in the science, though possibly with an additional emphasis on the conservative nature of that science and a focus on worst-case scenarios which do, and should, have a greater significance in policy making.

  14. Susan, it is something I can do which might help in providing a guide for the perplexed. I doubt I'll make many (if any) converts among the denialists but I'm hoping it aids those with relatively little knowledge.

  15. From the referenced paper:

    "In most cases, climate change reduces the
    global total number of people living in water-stressed
    watersheds (Table 8), because more people move out
    of the stressed category than move in. These people,
    however, are almost entirely in south and east Asia,
    whilst many parts of the world—Europe, around
    the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, southern
    and eastern Africa, North and South America—include
    watersheds which move into the stressed category
    (Fig. 5). Substantially more people in water-stressed
    watersheds experience an increase in water stress
    due to a reduction in runoff, than move into
    the water-stressed category (Table 9). By the 2020s,
    829 million people experience an increase in water
    stress under the A1 world, and between 615 and 1661
    million, 395 million and 508–592 million experience
    increases in stress under the A2, B1 and B2 worlds, respectively"

    "In northern, central and southern Africa, considerably
    more people are adversely affected by climate
    change than see a reduction in stress (Tables 11 and 12).
    In eastern Africa the numbers are more evenly balanced,
    and in western Africa more people experience a reduction
    in stress than an increase."

    "Climate change increases water resources stresses in
    some watersheds, but decreases them in others. If
    the absolute numbers of people living in waterstressed
    watersheds was taken as the indicator of
    water resources stress, then climate change would
    appear to reduce global water resources pressures
    because more watersheds move out of the stressed
    class than move into it. However, this gives a
    misleading indication of the effect of climate change,
    for two reasons. Firstly, the increases in runoff
    generally occur during high flow seasons, and may
    not alleviate dry season problems if this extra water
    is not stored: the extra water may lead to increased
    flooding, rather than reduced water resources
    stresses. Secondly, the watersheds that apparently
    benefit from a reduction in water resources stress are
    in limited, but populous, parts of the world, and
    largely confined to east and southern Asia: areas
    that see an increase in stress are more widely
    distributed. The pattern of the impact of climate
    change is broadly consistent between the climate
    models used to construct the climate change
    scenarios, with some differences in Asia."

    These numbers are really noisy as the authors admit (single realizations for each data point), and they count unprecedented flooding as "reduced stress". I can understand you criticizing the study. It's awfully coarse and getting a bit long in the tooth.

    I would have to see exact quotes from Pachauri. It would also be interesting to look at followup literature since 2004.

    But even if you want to emphasize other aspects of the study (e.g., subtract people getting more moisture in these scenarios from people getting less), this case isn't remotely in a league with "warming stopped in 1998" as misrepresentation with excessive press attention. It's little enough solace for a farmer losing his crops and stock in one country that farmers in an another country are doing well. It's worse still if they are getting flooded.

  16. The idea that vast populations living on the edge can just migrate away from desertification or floods seems arrogant to me. Poverty is ignored in our world, but it hasn't gone away; rather, it is growing.

  17. David, if I could take back a comment that one would be it. More power to you. I still think we both could give ourselves a break but your work is superb and you have the technical knowledge to back it up, which is very helpful.

  18. The Daily Mail story did get a lot of attention, but mostly from people who chose kick up a fuss about the headline ('Global warming stopped 16 years ago ...') while ignoring the several passages in the body of the article that made it clear that this was just a pause and that global warming is real. The article was mostly about a possible Met Office bias towards scariness and about what the hiatus might mean for climate sensitivity. The bias thing was a bit weak - though not necessarily bogus - but the sensitivity thing was, I thought, quite interesting.

    The whole thing was packaged to appeal to the Mail's readership, which, if the stereotypes are true, spans the range from angry denialism to ho-hum-I'd-rather-talk-about-house-prices - but since when was it a bad thing to smuggle a global-warming-is-real message into the consciousness of a hostile or indifferent audience?

    So although the story got a lot of attention, only the headline makes it a plausible candidate for one of 'the most misleading climate stories of 2012', and only if you choose to interpret the headline in a particular way, one that was contradicted by the story itself.

    Pachauri's favourite factoid? OK, I admit it's not a proper candidate. It's certainly very misleading (most egregiously by ascribing the projected increase in water stress to climate change alone) but it's about only one impact for only one part of the globe and it got very little coverage. (Though the drip, drip, drip effect should never be underestimated.)

    Re Arnell 2004 itself, you (MT) said, 'I can understand you criticizing the study'. I'm not criticizing it. It did its best to supply numbers for the regional impacts of climate change on the future availability of fresh water. My only real gripe about the study is that it didn't show its workings, but then it is, as you say, long in the tooth. People did things differently back then.

    As far as I can tell, Arnell 2004 was good science. He's a knowledgeable chap who did his best with the tools he had available.

    How AR4 treated Arnell 2004, however, is a minor scandal. (Numbers miscalculated* from a table about multiple effects deep within a much-caveated study were somehow misrepresented as being about climate change alone and promoted to the AR4 SYR, which should surely be reserved for things that are pretty solid. Not good.) That Pachauri is still parroting such stuff five years later is also a minor scandal and says quite a lot about the IPCC and the nature of its leaders.

    But, no, it's probably not worthy of a Golden Horseshoe.

    Re followup literature - it all says that climate change will be a minor factor compared to population change, even in Africa. (See, for example, the 2012 Elsevier paper by Parish, Kodra, Steinhaeuser and Ganguly.)

    *The upper-bound was 370 million when it was first inserted in AR4. This was changed to 250 million during the review process. After AR4 was published, the proper calculation - if extracting headline numbers from a subsidiary table can ever be proper - was acknowledged to be 220 million.

  19. Can I check that we are talking about the same article?
    This is the one I was assuming we were talking about, but I'm not certain now that I've read your description of it:

  20. According to the World Bank, "More than 17 million people are facing possible starvation in West Africa's Sahel region" and they say Mauritania (population 3,359,185); Niger (population 17,078,839); Mali (population 14,533,511); (population Chad 10,975,648); and Burkina Faso (population 17,275,115); are facing the worst of the crisis. The 2011 drought in East Africa region caused a severe food crisis which affected Somalia (population 10,085,638), Djibouti (population 774,389), Ethiopia (population 93,815,992), Sudan (population 34,206,710), South Sudan (population 10,625,176), Kenya (population 43,013,341), and parts of Uganda (population 35,873,253).

    Thats 292 million "exposed to increased water stress by climate change" already. As usual, actual events have overtaken the "alarmist" projections.

  21. Susan: "The idea that vast populations living on the edge can just migrate away from desertification or floods seems arrogant to me."

    Especially when their neighbors are determined to prevent them from doing so (

  22. Joe Bastardi on August 2012 sea ice recovery

    also see Curry

    But in the mean time, here is highly confident prediction: the Arctic Ocean will NOT be ice free by the end of Sept. In fact, nearly all of thin and loosely consolidated ice has already melted (helped along by the big cyclonic storm in early Aug). The remaining ice is consolidated near Greenland and the Canadian archipelago, and is at high latitudes where the autumnal cooling is well underway. So I would suspect that there will be an earlier than usual sea ice minimum this year, with the minimum not getting much lower.

  23. In that case Vinny I think you are wrong, to be polite, when you say there are "several passages in the body of the article that made it clear that this was just a pause and that global warming is real". There are of course a few brief passages inserted to maintain some semblence of credebility - 'look, Rose says at the end "global warming is real", so how can you criticise what he says, he's agreeing with you' - but if you think this is 'made clear' by his article as a whole then you are not reading it honestly. The narrative screams at you from every word. We could break it down, look at it clause by clause, look at the choice of language, designed to undermine or elevate in importance depending on the subject, but this has been done over and again already elsewhere. If you can't read the article and see it for yourself then no words I or anyone else can write will make it clearer to you.

    It's interesting to note that what started out as "The Golden Horseshoe has to go to Rajendra Pachauri for his 250 million Africans exposed to increased water stress by climate change alone by 2020" has become "Pachauri’s favourite factoid? OK, I admit it’s not a proper candidate." If even the 'best' example dissolves into very little when you are asked to provide evidence for it then it's ever more clear where the balance of credibilty lies in this debate. I am further convinced that the two 'sides' are not equally culpable. I've moved one more step away from Kloority.

  24. Seconding Eli. Joe Bastardi is outstanding. Forget Monckton.

    * Joe Bastardi predicting the 2011 Arctic sea ice minimum:

    * JB explaining it all on Fox News:

    "CO2 cannot cause global warming. I’ll tell you why. It doesn’t mix well with the atmosphere, for one. For two, its specific gravity is 1 1/2 times that of the rest of the atmosphere. It heats and cools much quicker. Its radiative processes are much different. So it cannot — it literally cannot cause global warming."

    See with JB appearing in the comment section.

    * Meteorologist Joe Bastardi Blasts Al Gore’s Claims That Global Warming Caused Hurricane Sandy as “Stunningly Ignorant or Stunningly Deceptive”

    (That one reminds me of that some scientists deserve the Golden Crutch award for lame speaking.)

  25. OPatrick, I stand by my comment that most of the outrage was about the Daily Mail's headline, not the article itself, and I withdrew my Pachauri nomination on a technicality (not sufficiently influential in 2012).

    I could offer something more contestable but amn't in the mood. Happy new yer.

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