(Continuing the Tradition of the Climate BS Awards)
Following 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 …”
Since there are several ways in which Climate BS can interfere with a sane and competent conversation, I decided to categorize the various communicationdisasters into a few categories, with the overall winner getting the Golden Horseshoe Award.
So without further ado, the envelopes please…
THE CHUTZPAH AWARD
– for the most extravagant BS
WINNER – Alec Rawls at wattsupwiththat
THE BS – that IPCC has acknowledged that there is strong evidence that some sort of ineffable magical solar forcing other than energy dominates the recent global temperature record.
CLAIM – Alec Rawls was the person who violated a commitment to confidentiality and released a draft version of the IPCC AR5 First
Working Group report.
His justification was that “As for my personal confidentiality agreement with the IPCC, I regard that as vitiated by the systematic dishonesty of the report”. And as evidence of this systematic dishonesty he points to what he calls “an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission thatcompletely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole”.
(err, right, sure…)
Specifically the statement that “Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system” is taken as “admitting” that there is “strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing beyond total solar irradiance”.
This is an unusually transparent piece of BS, but inasmuch as it was accompanied by a leak of the WGI draft, it received some undue attention as a claim.
First of all, let’s consider that IPCC lets anyone vet its drafts. Pretty much anyone may volunteer to be an IPCC reviewer provided he or she agrees to the embargo on publication of drafts. As evidence in support, consider that Lord Christopher Monckton himself proudly claims “IPCC reviewer” on his resume. Clearly the barriers to entry are not all that difficult to surmount.
The leak itself was arguably (as Eli in his inimitable fashion argues) to be expected and not especially damaging.
As for Rawls’ claim itself, it requires little research to reveal itself as empty. First of all, despite the presumable intense ethical concern regarding violation of the “vitiated” agreement to confidentiality, the claim is transparently ill-thought out. The quoted statement simply says that “many empirical relationships have been reported”. This could easily be taken as scientific diplomacy for “dubious correlations that somehow made it past peer review. Indeed that is what I take it for. You?
The obvious question is whether the empirical relationships could be of exactly the sort that data fishing reliably reveals.
Dana Nuccitelli managed to rip this whole absurd posture to shreds on SkS in remarkably short order (saving the rest of us the trouble).
This was worth the effort because of the high profile of the claim. And it’s worth an award as well on that account. On its own merits but it was a pretty shoddy effort, though, and in the end the result was an”own goal” from the skeptics squad since it is so obviously silly. Dana concludes:
To sum up,
* The leaked IPCC report states that there may be some connection between GCRs and some aspects of the climate system.
* However, the report is also consistent with the body of scientific literature in stating that research indicates GCRs are not effective at seeding clouds and have very little influence on global temperatures.
* Solar activity has been nearly flat and slightly decreasing in recent decades, meaning that if GCRs do amplify solar influences on climate, they are amplifying a cooling effect.
New IPCC bombshell coming next Tuesday. Embargoed for now. Stay tuned.
— Watts Up With That (@wattsupwiththat) January 3, 2013
THE ALFRED E NEUMANN WHAT ME WORRY AWARD
– for obliviousness to defeat
WINNER – Roger Pielke Jr., for confidently and stridently estimating a relatively low impact for Hurricane Sandy just before impact, and then quietly dropping the issue.
Many Roger Pielke Jr tweets show an unaccountable inclination, in the light of the disaster, to try to lowball the estimates of the damage.
It’s rather inexplicable, since a single outlier should not much affect his habitual claim that there is no trend in hurricane damage, and in particular the damage to New York City infrastructure is sui generis and so the dollar amount is not really indicative of a climate signal.
But Roger apparently is inclined against anything that looks like a signal in the damage record, since he has staked out a reverse-scientific territory trumpeting a null result there. (It’s interesting how climate attracts people willing to celebrate and overemphasize null results, unlike other fields which err on the side of burying them. Perhaps this is a clear symptom of post-normalcy?)
Reality bites back.
Alas, no sign of reconsideration from Roger; just a quiet changing of the subject.
A single storm really can never settle the case for climate change be wholly attributed to climate change alone, but Sandy combined several observational trendsconnected with climate change- an empirical increase in area of tropical storms, an an empirical and theoretically expected increase in sea surface temperatures – an empirical andtheoretically expected increase in the meridional extent of ridges and troughs – and the obvious though relatively minor player of increased sea level.
Few single events to date are more easily categorized as climate change related than Sandy.
This does not prove that there is trend to an increase in economic damage potential from Atlantic hurricanes in the US.
That may be an important social measure, and its trend may still be undetectable. Which is to say that Roger has a point, albeit not an enormously important one. That doesn’t mean that Sandy is not a reasonable model for the sorts of unexpected events that climate change will bring. And it certainly doesn’t constitute a reason to try to dismiss the tragic impacts of that event.
THE RUPERT MURDOCH AWARD
for the person or institution who does the most damage overall during the year with Bad Science.
WINNER – The first winner of the Rupert Murdoch award is Rupert Murdoch
“The green energy stuff—I mean, that’s—that’s all a hoax and a fraud based on another hoax and fraud, global warming.” (Fox News Channel, 3/23/12)
“We are in the middle of what you might call a global warming bubble. It is a failure of the global warming theory itself and of the credibility of its advocates…” (Wall Street Journal column, 3/9/2012)
“The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade…” (Wall Street Journal op-ed, 5/27/12)
“I thought we were getting warmer. But in the ‘70s, it was, look out, we’re all going to freeze.” (Fox News Channel, 4/11/12)
The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a white paper about the role of Murdoch’s closely held News Corporation in the climate science debate.
RUNNER UP – Tony Watts, who does much less damage than Murdoch, but tries valiantly.
SECOND RUNNER UP – Marc Morano, who can’t even manage to do as much damage as Watts does, despite generous funding from someplace, probably a 501c3 shell for extracting money from rich old cranks, but who knows.
THE RED HERRING AWARD
for pointless distraction
WINNER – Shared by the whole false-skeptic crowd but let’s single out the particularly horrifying James Taylor (not the singer) of the Heartland Institute.
CLAIM – We can be indifferent to shrinking Arctic sea ice because Antarctic sea ice is setting new records.
NPR failed to mention anywhere in its article that Antarctic sea ice has been growing since satellites first began measuring the ice 33 years ago and the sea ice has been above the 33-year average throughout 2012.
Indeed, none of the mainstream media are covering this important story. A Google News search of the terms Antarctic, sea ice and record turns up not a single article on the Antarctic sea ice record. Amusingly, page after page of Google News results for Antarctic sea ice record show links to news articles breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low.
Sea ice around one pole is shrinking while sea ice around another pole is growing. This sure sounds like a global warming crisis to me.
Most writing on Antarctic sea ice comes from the false skeptic crowd, because while Antarctic seasonal ice is setting modest new maxima, it’s drastically less important than that perennial Arctic ice is likely to vanish altogether in the near future, probably for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years.
I will start off by stealing a nice turn of phrase from Greg Laden:
“One of the most commonly winged-about facts of Earth’s climate change
we hear from science denialists is that sea ice in the Antarctic is
increasing, therefore, there is no global warming”
For one thing, there is progress in explaining how Antarctic sea ice increases fit in to the big picture. Again via Greg Laden, this
NASA press release
“This new research also helps explain why observed changes in the amount of sea ice cover are so different in the two polar regions. The Arctic has experienced dramatic ice losses in recent decades, while the overall ice extent in the Antarctic has increased slightly. However, this small Antarctic increase is actually the result of much larger regional increases and decreases, which are now shown to be caused by wind-driven changes. In places, increased northward winds have caused the sea ice cover to expand outwards from Antarctica. In contrast, the Arctic Ocean is surrounded by land, so changed winds cannot cause Arctic ice to expand in the same way.
“The Antarctic sea ice cover interacts with the global climate system very differently than that of the Arctic, and these results highlight the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice coverage to changes in the strength of the winds around the continent,” said Kwok.
This matters because it feeds on old confusion from back when the growth or shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet was ambiguous. As noted on Skeptical Science:
Skeptic arguments that Antarctica is gaining ice frequently hinge on an error of omission, namely ignoring the difference between land ice and sea ice.
It’s this confusion that gives this particular piece of BS some extra cogency. It revives the genuine uncertainty of a few tears ago about the direction of the change of the Antarctic ice sheet. We now have gravitational data that confirms accelerating Antarctic ice sheet decay, and this is important for sea level. (Taylor’s article refers to a Watts Up article focusing on an outlier study from years ago). The presence or absence of seasonal sea ice in the Antarctic winter is a real component to climate change, but its impact is tiny compared to either perennial Arctic sea ice loss (which impacts the albedo in the brighter seasons and thus climate in middle latitudes in the Northern hemisphere) or Antarctic continental ice mass loss (which impacts sea level.)
THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE
The most brazenly damaging and malign Bad Science of 2013
WINNER – David Rose and the Daily Mail
CLAIM – There is no recent sign of global warming (twice!)
Amazingly, though the first such claim was solidly rebutted by no leass than the UK Met Office in January essentially the same claim was made in October!
The Met Office rejected it yet again, thus:
The linear trend from August 1997 (in the middle of an exceptionally strong El Nino) to August 2012 (coming at the tail end of a double-dip La Nina) is about 0.03°C/decade, amounting to a temperature increase of 0.05°C over that period, but equally we could calculate the linear trend from 1999, during the subsequent La Nina, and show a more substantial warming. As we’ve stressed before, choosing a starting or end point on short-term scales can be very misleading. Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system. If you use a longer period from HadCRUT4 the trend looks very different. For example, 1979 to 2011 shows 0.16°C/decade (or 0.15°C/decade in the NCDC dataset, 0.16°C/decade in GISS). Looking at successive decades over this period, each decade was warmer than the previous – so the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 2000s were warmer than both. Eight of the top ten warmest years have occurred in the last decade. <—-
The MVP for the good guys continues to be Dana Nuccitelli at SkS, republished at the Guardian
Of maybe the MVP is Peter Sinclair! He joined in the fun here:
Look, guys, this is utter bilge. We have explained it to you over and over again. There’s even this really hard-to-argue-with picture, usually called “up-the-down-escalator”, so you can remember it:
Please give it a rest.
WHY THIS IS HORSESHOE-WORTHY
1) It’s disinegenuous and is usually used to bolster claims that are flatly wrong
2) Clear and cogent rebuttals exist and are systematically ignored
3) It was brazenly repeated by the same person (in the same newspaper) despite being corrected by the national meteorological service of his own country to whose data he claimed to refer!
4) It is widely repeated inside the “epistemically closed” circle of climate-change naysayers, has become a matter of faith, and compounds their confusion
5) It was published in a major mass media periodical and this contributes to confusion among the general public
Anyway this piece of persistent BS should be exposed and attacked. Let’s keep it front and center for a while, until we can convince most people it is the arrant nonsense that it is.
Unfortunately, we may have an easier time in the future, since it’s entirely possible that Global Warming will soon have started its latest hiatus in 2013. Honestly, the pleasure of saying “I told ya so” won’t really be all that much compensation.
THANKS FOR INPUT AND IDEAS TO
Peter Gleick, Aaron Huertas, Greg Laden, Dan Moutal, Dana Nucciteli, Eli Rabbet, Joe Romm, Gavin Schmidt, Peter Sinclair, Kevin Trenberth.