Would the New York Times have Bernard Madoff as a business columnist? Only if they hated business.
So why does the NYT let John Tierney write a “science” column? The “founding principles” of his NYT blog are the clearest anti-scientific statement you will ever find by anybody claiming to be covering science (see “here“).
And, of course, Tierney makes up stuff up to smear real scientists (such as John Holdren and Steven Chu), which is only science as practiced by “political” scientists, like, say Roger Pielke, Jr. And that’s my segue.
Why does anyone who cares about science quote Roger Pielke, Jr. on scientific matters? We’ve already seen one major NYT reporter tarnish his reputation by relying on Roger Pielke Jr.’s anti-scientific – and anti-scientist – disinformation (see here).
Pielke has launched what is both the lamest and the most intellectually dishonest attack in his career – on a few innocuous sentences in the terrific new NOAA-led report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. This attack has been pimped by Swift-boat smearer Morano and Tierney. Pielke has one primary mission in his professional career – other than working with his colleagues at The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) to spread disinformation aimed at stopping any serious climate action, of course – and that is to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather.
As we’ll see, Pielke’s obsession on this point is so extreme that he trashes the reputation of any scientist who even suggests that there is the tiniest link whatsoever between climate change and extreme weather – even though he himself has stated such a link exists. Indeed, he has smeared the integrity of many hundreds of the country’s top scientists for merely sitting through a discussion of the issue that doesn’t meet his extreme form of political correctness (see here).
Pielke launches the strongest possible accusation on his blog – “misrepresenting science in a government report” – on the basis of four sentences in this 196-page, 13-agency report:
While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses, these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events.[344,347] For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars. Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations. They also often fail to account for the vagaries of natural cycles and inflation adjustments, or to normalize for countervailing factors such as improved pre- and post-event loss prevention (such as dikes, building codes, and early warning systems).[348,349]
You will note that these sentences don’t actually make any strong scientific statement about the link between climate change and increased insurance-industry losses from weather-related disasters. Indeed, this paragraph is immediately followed by:
What is known with far greater certainty is that future increases in losses will be attributable to climate change as it increases the frequency and intensity of many types of extreme weather, such as severe thunderstorms and heat waves.
So it is impossible to suggest, as Pielke does, that the authors are stating or even implying that there is a high certainty of a very large connection between climate change and insurance losses. Now what is particularly laughable about Pielke’s attack is that he himself told Nature in 2006:
Clearly since 1970 climate change (i.e., defined as by the IPCC to include all sources of change) has shaped the disaster loss record.
Yes, that is what Pielke said. You can look it up yourself (see Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record”).
Can anybody (other than Pielke or his fellow word-torturers at TBI) tell me how Pielke’s 2006 statement is consistent with his harsh assault on the credibility of the climate report and the integrity of the authors? Can anybody tell me who but the most uninformed journalists would rely on anything Pielke says about real science or real scientists.
Pielke is the uber-denier. He denies everything, including that which he himself has said. After his latest smear, no other word fits him.
In fact, here’s an extended excerpt from the 2006 Nature story, “Insurers’ disaster files suggest climate is culprit” (PDF here):
Insurance companies, acutely aware of the dramatic increase in losses caused by natural disasters in recent decades, have been convinced that global warming is partly to blame. Now their data seem to be persuading scientists, too. At a recent meeting of climate and insurance experts, delegates reached a cautious consensus: climate change is helping to drive the upward trend in catastrophes.
The meeting, held near Munich on 25-26 May, was jointly organized by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, and the University of Colorado in Boulder. It brought together climate, atmosphere and weather researchers with economists and insurance experts to discuss what could be behind recent disaster losses, both economic and human….
Delegates seem to have found the record persuasive. Their consensus statement, to be released on 8 June, says there is “evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in global losses”….
“Dissent over the issue is clearly waning,” says Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks department, who co-chaired the workshop with Roger Pielke Jr, director of the University of Colorado’s Center of Science and Technology Policy Research. “Climate change may not be the dominant factor, but it has become clear that a relevant portion of damages can be attributed to global warming.”
Previously sceptical, Pielke says that he is now convinced that at least some of the increased losses can be blamed on climate: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change has shaped the disaster loss record.”
Now remember, the NOAA-led report did not assert climate change was the dominant factor in the recent disaster loss record. In fact, the report merely says that “Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations.”
Ironically, Pielke then proceeds to prove this criticism correct by then focusing in his post on a very highly limited set of hazards – hurricanes. I won’t repeat all of his torturous “logic” – his entire post is the blog equivalent of waterboarding – but you can see how he cleverly leaps from quoting his narrow paper on hurricane damages to the very broad assertion, “The CCSP report however, says the opposite, that these factors do not explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events. To support this claim they provide two citations” [Evan Mills in Science and the 2007 IPCC report].
[Note: Pielke persists in calling it the CCSP report, and while he never defines CCSP, it stands for Climate Change Science Program. But in fact, the CCSP has been replaced/subsumed by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) — see here.]
Now what is doubly ironic about Pielke falling into the exact mistake that the USGCRP report warns against is that in a blog post three days after his post attacking the report, Pielke praises a new article, “Tropical cyclone losses in the USA and the impact of climate change – A trend analysis based on data from a new approach to adjusting storm losses” (subs. req’d), which concludes:
In the period 1971-2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum. This increase must therefore be at least due to the impact of natural climate variability but, more likely than not, also due to anthropogenic forcings.
Yes, you read that right.
Pielke says an article that concludes there is a better than 50% chance that human-emissions are contributing to increased losses from hurricanes since 1971 is “a valuable paper”
Pielke of course dismisses the two citations the USGCRP use for their very mild claim, one of which is the IPCC, that Pielke claims to believe in. The other cite is a 2005 Science paper by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Evan Mills (a report coauthor), “Insurance in a Climate of Change,” which states (PDF here with figures and citations):
Global weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and faster than non-weather-related events….
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment, climate change has played a role in the rising costs of natural disasters. As an illustration of the linkages, the distribution and frequency of lightning strikes is expected to shift under climate change, and insurers indeed observe a notable increase in losses during periods of elevated temperatures.
This is another innocuous paper, used to support a very innocuous statement in the report, but Pielke uses it to smear the entire report and the author, Evan Mills, in the most over-the-top fashion because Mills has done some consulting with the insurance industry:
Imagine if an industry-funded government contractor had a hand in writing a major federal report on climate change. And imagine if that person used his position to misrepresent the science, to cite his own non-peer reviewed work, and to ignore relevant work in the peer-reviewed literature. There would be an outrage, surely….
How can we explain how such a patently bad paragraph full of misrepresentations appeared in a U.S. government report?
… So a person responsible for misrepresenting science in a government report has ties and presumably financial interests with companies that have an interest in climate policy outcomes? No, couldn’t be. Could it?
This is just grotesque.
The paragraph Pielke attacks isn’t filled with misrepresentations. It isn’t filled with a single statement that Pielke or anyone else has disproven. Indeed, the thrust of the paragraph is no different than a statement Pielke himself made in Nature, no different than the conclusion of a journal article Pielke himself has praised.
I have known Evan Mills professionally for almost two decades. He is a world-class scientist, highly regarded in his field. His remarkable resume is here. His response in Science to Pielke’s original critique of his article is here. Unlike Pielke, Mills is trained scientist. While Mills works for one of the preeminent science-based institutions in the world, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and must meet the highest ethical standards, Pielke is a senior fellow for The Breakthrough Institute, which has no ethical standards whatsoever (see “The Breakthrough Institute is lying about Obama, misstating what CBO concluded about Waxman-Markey, and publishing deeply flawed analyses. They have become radioactive – uncitable by any serious journalist or policy analyst“).
Many insurance companies are desperately trying to understand and respond to climate change despite the best efforts of Pielke to smear anyone who suggests there is even the tiniest link between climate change and extreme weather. Obviously, we should encourage our leading insurers to consult with our top scientists.
To Pielke, any scientist who consults with an insurance company is forever tainted. To any serious journalist, anyone associate with TBI should be forever tainted.
I would add that Mills is not the first scientist Pielke has smeared on this issue of a link between climate change and extreme weather/insurance losses due to extreme weather. Pielke said that the 3000 scientists listening to Gore at the AAAS meeting were “willing silent collaborators” to “the misrepresentation of climate science” because they did nothing while Al Gore made the link, albeit with very careful wordchoice (see “Unstaining Al Gore’s good name, Part 1“).
Merely listening to innocuous comments is enough for Pielke to slam your integrity.
In Pielke’s brand of political correctness, there simply is no word choice acceptable to even discuss the link, except of course whatever he feels like saying or blogging on, which is perfectly acceptable.