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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is climate disinformer Ross McKitrick dishonest or dumb?

Sou | 2:44 AM Go to the first of 19 comments. Add a comment

I admit some reluctance in writing this article because I find it hard to believe anyone, even Ross McKitrick, could get it so wrong.  So if anyone finds a flaw in my interpretation, don't hesitate to sing out.  The article I'm writing about is archived here.

Ross McKitrick is an economist who spends time undermining climate science.  As far as I can make out, he sees his job as to try to persuade governments and people to rush headlong off a cliff.  The purpose is not clear. The motives for the immoral behaviour don't really matter.  The fact that it's immoral is enough.

Ross McKitrick is either intellectually challenged when it comes to matters scientific or dishonest.  Since he has an academic background I'll leave it to the reader to make up their own mind.

Today he's written another very silly article and managed to get it published on a very silly Canadian website (archived here).  It's all part of the various attempts by science deniers to get out their denier memes in advance of the IPCC report at the end of this month.

Ross McKitrick's put up a flawed chart from what is said to be an early working draft of the soon-to-be-released first volume of the IPCC report.  The chart shows projections of surface temperature with an overlay of the global surface temperature anomaly.  The chart itself is flawed as Tamino explains:

The flaw is this: all the series (both projections and observations) are aligned at 1990. But observations include random year-to-year fluctuations, whereas the projections do not because the average of multiple models averages those out. Using a single-year baseline (1990) offsets all subsequent years by the fluctuation of that baseline year. Instead, the projections should be aligned to the value due to the existing trend in observations at 1990.
Aligning the projections with a single extra-hot year makes the projections seem too hot, so observations are too cool by comparison. This is indeed a mistake — it would be just as much a mistake to align the projections with a single extra-cool year (like 1992), which would make the projections too cool and observations too hot by comparison.
Reading Tamino further, the projections should start about 0.1 degree lower to be in line with the trend.

Ross McKitrick is trying to tell his readers that the observed temperature is about to pop out of those bounds and therefore there is nothing to worry about.  Ross won't convince anyone but deniers that he's "right" about there being nothing to worry about.  That's why I say he's not doing a very good job.

The reason I say Ross is intellectually challenged when it comes to matter scientific is this.  He writes:
The IPCC graph shows that climate models predicted temperatures should have responded by rising somewhere between about 0.2 and 0.9 degrees C over the same period (from 1990). But the actual temperature change was only about 0.1 degrees, and was within the margin of error around zero. In other words, models significantly over-predicted the warming effect of CO2 emissions for the past 22 years.

First of all, if the observed temperature anomaly was within the margin of error, then the models can't be said to have "significantly over-predicted the warming".  As well as that, here's an animation showing where Ross's "should be" rise of 0.9 degrees from 1990 would put the observations:

The black bar shows the AR4 model range (brown range) for the last year of observations on the chart. I've also indicated where the bottom of the range would be if the modeled projections were properly aligned.  Then I've added where Ross McKitrick says the top range should be, with his 0.9 degrees above the 1990 temperature, which would make it around 1.2 degrees.  As you can see Ross's not just a little bit out, he's out by a huge margin.  Even without aligning the modeled projections properly, Ross's "should be" is much further away from the AR4 mean than the actual observations are.

Ross's 0.2 degrees higher than 1990 would bring the temperature up to plus 0.5 degrees, which is above the mid-point of the AR4 projection without even aligning the models properly - as seen below.  So he's way out with the bottom of his "should be" range as well:  Corrected - thanks to Lars Karlsson :)

Thing is, one has to be careful with using particular data points.  It's the trend that matters. Ross McKitrick should know better.  Either he does know better and he's a paid disinformer or he's stupid.

Anthony hasn't published this one yet.  I wonder if he will.  He must be finding it hard to choose between all the silly attempts by denialists with all their different spins on something that has yet to be finalised and released.

Note: I initially thought the author of the article was Pat Michaels.  It's actually Ross McKitrick.  And no-one noticed - which just goes to show all science deniers look the same.  Hard to tell them apart  :)


  1. It seems to me that you put the +0.2 line at 0.7, and not 0.5.

    1. Oh - I don't know how that one slipped by me. Thanks, Lars. If you refresh the page you'll see I've now made the correction.

      Where do you think the 0.9 came from? It seems a very odd claim to make.

    2. I think 0.9 refers to the upper edge of the FAR scenarios (yellow) in 2015.

    3. That may be so, Lars but it makes no sense at all. That would be inconsistent (not AR4), wrong (not AR4 plus the wrong year) and dishonest - which would at least be consistent for Pat Michaels.

  2. Pat Michaels is many things, dumb is not among them. He knows *exactly* what he is doing.

    1. Michaels works for the Cato Institute in Washington, a self-described libertarian "think tank" that is funded by (among others), the fossil fuels industries. Its founders and chief backers include the infamous Koch brothers who regularly support anti-science causes. Cato used to be well-respected in Washington as a source of non-scientific libertarian theory, but in recent years it has followed the right wing mantra of ignoring facts to pursue its agenda.

      Unfortunately, Michaels has the ear of Republicans in the US Congress who display him before the cameras as a "climate scientist" who can "disprove" global warming. I'll put my money on seeing him on do that with this drivel.


  3. Hey guys, you were supposed to pick up my errors. The article was by Ross McKitrick not Pat Michaels!

    I know, I know - all science deniers look alike :)

  4. McKitrick is just plain dumb.

    Here he is getting degrees and radians mixed up. As Tim Lambert explains
    "If you do calculations and get degrees and radians mixed up, you get the wrong answer. Which is what McKitrick did. His analysis included a variable cosablat, which was supposed to be the cosine of absolute latitude. Trouble is, the software he used expects angles to be measured in radians, his data has latitude in degrees, and he didn’t convert from degrees to radians. Consequently, every single number he calculates is wrong."


    "If you’re new here: In previous postings on Ross McKitrick I have shown how he messed up an analysis of the number of weather stations, showed he knew almost nothing about climate, flunked basic thermodynamics, couldn’t handle missing values correctly and invented his own temperature scale."

    "McKitrick is a signatory to the Cornwall Alliance's Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,[9] which states that "Earth and its ecosystems – created by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence – are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting"."

    In other words AGW is nothing to worry about - God will save us! But if you are a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist you are doomed?

  5. KR

    McKitrick is just dishonest.

    He captioned that figure with tje claim that "The light grey area above and below is not part of the model prediction range." This is nonsense.

    In reality, the various model colored areas in that figure are the range of model means (averaging out variations), while the light gray region represents the 90% expected range around those means due to uncertainties and climate variations, like ENSO. Observations, even with McKitrick's bad baselining, are well within the actual model prediction range - and the original captioning (I'm not going to quote a leaked document, mind you) clearly states that.

    This is egregious misrepresentation (ie a lie) on McKitricks part.

    1. The big thing being missed here, and it harms effective climate change communication and rampant skepticism redress, is that zealotry keeps one from seeing their own deceptions; for to cling to their beliefs, they are deceiving themselves as well as others.

      McKitrick is a zealot who works to continue to reinforce his scientifically ignorant, illogical, and - at least in light of the relevant facts which McKitrick, like many skeptics, is probably immune to - somewhat moronic, beliefs.

  6. Even the guys that come up with the models will tell you they have a high degree of error. You simply can't model our climate. There are far too many variables. Any model is nothing more than a best guess. The planet may warm, or it may cool. We can't predict and to suggest CO2 could drive any changes all by itself, was always pure fantasy.

    1. The "guys" will put a number on the uncertainty. Fake sceptics don't understand the science but still deny it, and they wouldn't know a model if they tripped over it but will keep repeating their mantra.

      And all the while the science has been correct and the models have been remarkably accurate. The world keeps warming as CO2 rises, just as the science predicted more than a century ago.

      Compare the scientific models to predictions from the fake sceptics.

    2. There aren't many variables in climate and it is indeed possible to model it accurately. Climate depends on physical laws, among them thermodynamics, which is why the planet is warming - just as predicted. As we can see from the accuracy of models created decades ago. CO2 is the driving force, of course. Atmospheric CO2 has increased by 40% since humanity started burning fossil fuels on a significant scale. I'm surprised you don't think that would -or even could - have an impact.

  7. The writer seems to have a poor grasp of English. He criticises someone for writing that change was only about 0.1 degrees, and was within the margin of error around zero AND THERFORE models can't be said to have "significantly over-predicted the warming".
    It is not the predicted temp which was in the margin of error but the Actual temp.
    So surely the original write was correst in saying the prediction is way off if the numbers are true?!
    But if IPCC did predict about 0.2 and 0.9 degrees C then they did significantly over-predict the warming effect of CO2 .

  8. As noted, McKitrick is a signatory to the Cornwall alliance and thus has professed based on faith that man cannot cause climate change. The a priori stance precludes performing real climate science. Thus he should be challenged at every opportunity explain how he is anything other than a proselytizer.

  9. For the sake of intellectual honesty, this whole exercise should be called "climate theory", not "climate science". Until the forecasting models can be tested against observations to reliably prove the hypothesis that "At this atmospheric CO2 concentration, global temperatures will be that", consensus or not, this remains only a theory and nothing more.

    1. Gravity is 'just a theory', Eric. So is evolution. And relativity. All 'just a theory'.

    2. @Eric: Science is a method for evaluating theories. The theory that CO2 affects global temperature is a good one: it works, and no-one has proved it wrong.

      What's your theory for why the world is the temperature that it is?

    3. Eric, perhaps you should look up the terminology, because what you are calling for is in fact in support of climate science:

      "A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.
      Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge. This is significantly different from the common usage of the word "theory", which implies that something is a conjecture, hypothesis, or guess (i.e., unsubstantiated and speculative)."

      As it so happens, AGW _is_ referred to as a scientific theory - the evidence is that strong.


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