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Monday, June 2, 2014

Daniel Botkin obediently tells denier Republicans what they want to hear, but who is he?

Sou | 1:01 AM Go to the first of 25 comments. Add a comment

There's not much at WUWT the past couple of days.

In the USA one of the House Committees had another hearing. The Republicans wanted to get a few deniers on record trashing climate science. This time they were wanting to try to discredit the IPCC so they got three people they thought would do the job for them and allowed one person to be nominated by the Democrats. The four people were:

  • Dr. Richard S.J. Tol, Professor of Economics, University of Sussex
  • Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University
  • Dr. Daniel Botkin, Professor Emeritus, Department of  Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., Senior Research Scientist, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University

If you know anything about the parlous state of the Republican Party these days then you should be able to guess which was the Democrats' nominee.

The one name you might not know is Daniel Botkin. These days he's a writer, book reviewer and goes on the public speaking circuit when he's not running eco-tours. Although he's not a climate scientist he has done research on the effects of climate change. Not as much as he would have you think, though.

Anthony Watts didn't think enough of Richard Tol or Roger Pielke Snr to give them any cyberspace. And needless to say he wouldn't grant the most renowned of the witnesses, Dr Michael Oppenheimer from Princeton any room at WUWT.  However he must have rather liked Daniel Botkin, who's another professor who's "gone emeritus". Anthony Watts leads in with a glowing bio (archived here):
Daniel B. Botkin, a world-renowned ecologist, is Professor (Emeritus), Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara, and President of The Center for The Study of The Environment, which provides independent, science-based analyses of complex environmental issues. The New York Times said his book, *Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century* is considered by many ecologists to be the classic text of the [environmental] movement.” His Environmental Science, now in its Sixth Edition, was named 2004′s best textbook by the Textbook and Academic Authors Association.”

"The Center for the Study of The Environment" is probably Daniel's own business, as he's the President - and it doesn't appear in Google anywhere. On one of the few papers he's had published in the last decade or so, Daniel lists that as his affiliation.

Daniel Botkin's contribution to a "political and ideological debate"

Opening his written statement to the US House Committee, Daniel claims:
Since 1968 I have published research on theoretical global warming, its potential ecological effects, and the implications for people and biodiversity. I have spent my career trying to help conserve our environment and its great diversity of species. In doing so I have always attempted to maintain an objective, intellectually honest, scientific approach in the best tradition of scientific endeavor. I have, accordingly, been dismayed and disappointed in recent years that this subject has been converted into a political and ideological debate. 
And then proceeds to help the GOP with their political and ideological debate. He even puts in one of John Christy's fudged charts, in which he makes out the models diverge a lot more than they do in reality. Talk about political.  Most of Daniel's written submission though is nothing more than sound bites for the politicians to use. For example, in his very first point he writes:
I want to state up front that we have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.

In his view this global warming is "not unusual". And a search of the IPCC report I don't find the word "apocalyptic" used once.  Recent studies have found some of the changes we're seeing effectively "irreversible". And I'm not at all sure how Daniel proposes to get atmospheric CO2 back to pre-industrial levels. Maybe his next career move is going to be geoengineering.

Anyway, I bet that the deniers on the Committee breathed a sigh of relief. Their pet "world renowned ecologist" told them that global warming isn't unusual. They'll be able to conclude that therefore we don't need to do anything to stop it. And they've got a New York Times "classic text" writer to prove it, which is better than an also-ran like Roy Spencer or a rather ratty and unreliable economist who isn't even an American, so he wouldn't count for much in the USA, even if he did complain that the IPCC report was "too alarmist".

Daniel has an impression

Daniel gives us a glimpse of his "world view" in his written testimony when he writes, about the IPCC reports:
I regret to say that I was left with the impression that the reports overestimate the danger from human-induced climate change and do not contribute to our ability to solve major environmental problems. I am afraid that an “agenda” permeates the reports, an implication that humans and our activity are necessarily bad and ought to be curtailed
That's not the impression that I took away after reading the reports. On the contrary. If anything the scientific reports downplayed the danger. WGII contributed a great deal to our ability to solve major environmental problems - or the ones that are caused by greenhouse gases at least. As for humans being bad - no. Nowhere in any of the reports that I read was there a hint that humans are essentially bad. The message I got was that we need to act to protect our natural resources and we need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives.

I reckon Daniel suffered a lot of confirmation bias when he read the report. He's been out of circulation too long. In Daniel's testimony he provides a clue as to why he left academia. It's on the last page of his written testimony. He wrote in response to the point: "Among the approaches that would improve climate science":
Return to the former reliance on science done by individuals and small groups with a common specific interest and focus.
I might be reading too much into this but at a guess I'd say that Daniel couldn't cope with the large-scale collaborations and mega-projects that are more common in science today.  He would have quit around the time that collaborations were becoming more commonplace - in lots of different fields, not just climate science. Daniel's examples support my hypothesis. He listed the following as examples of the work that should replace things like, presumably, Antarctic expeditions and global climate modeling collaborations and even literature reviews of science like those done by the IPCC and global change programs in different parts of the world. This is what he listed - I've added links:
  1. NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) - (see here)
  2. Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study - (see here)
  3. Whooping Crane monitoring, e.g. of an endangered species - (see here)
  4. In-place monitoring on carbon flux, being done by the USGS in the Great Cypress Swamp, Florida. (see here) 
  5. Many others. (see here?)
All of those projects are of value - but they are an odd selection given the subject is climate science.  I can understand, given his research interest is primarily ecology, why he picked those particular projects. It's a rather eclectic mix that he proposes and in the main the projects are small scale environmental monitoring rather than climate science as such. I find it strange that he would see these as a replacement for all the scientific work around the world that goes into monitoring and reporting on oceans, ice, land and atmosphere. What about paleo studies? And is he suggesting that agencies quit the international collaborations that allow satellite monitoring?

"As theory they are fundamentally scientifically unproven" - huh?

I have to say that his testimony is not up to the standard of other writing that is attributed to him. It's weak nitpickery at best and all over the place. In some places it can only be described as gobbledegook. Take his point 12 for example:
The two reports assume and/or argue that the climate warming forecast by the global climate models is happening and will continue to happen and grow worse. Currently these predictions are way off the reality (Figure 1). Models, like all scientific theory, have to be tested against real-world observations. Experts in model validation say that the climate models frequently cited in the IPCC report are little if any validated. This means that as theory they are fundamentally scientifically unproven.
First of all there have been three reports, not two. So we have to guess to which two of the three Daniel is referring. He puts up one of John Christy's fudged charts (not the exact one I've discussed here, but one like it), rather than a chart from the IPCC report itself as his "evidence" - of being "way off of the reality" (gulp - he claims to be a writer?).  Then he writes a very awkward sentence about models being "little if any validated" and says "this means that as theory they are fundamentally scientifically unproven" - what the heck does he mean by that? It's the sort of stuff you'd expect a nong like John Christy to come out with. Daniel, though, lays claim to literary skills. His editor must have been on vacation when he wrote that bit of nonsense.

I doubt the Republicans would have cared much. They would have been happy enough if he'd just kept repeating the mantra to dump the IPCC and get scientists to stop telling politicians and the general public about what we're doing to our world.

Who is Daniel Botkin?

Daniel claims to have published research on "theoretical global warming" since 1968. On his twitter feed he claims to have "45 years of research on climate change".  In other various places he also makes the claim that he began "research on possible ecological effects of global warming in 1968."

In finding out what Daniel has published I went to Google. There I discovered he has his very own, very slick-looking website. Oh good, I thought. He's bound to have a CV and a list of publications. But he didn't have either. All I found was a list of books he's written and various tours he leads. These days he earns a crust by book-writing, public speaking and eco-tourism.

On his website, Daniel lists his faculty positions as follows, I've indicated the approximate dates myself - taken from his published papers and Googling various bits and pieces, so it might not be 100% accurate:
  • Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (circa 1968 to 1978)
  • University of California, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology; Chairman, Environmental Studies Program (circa 1978-1992)
  • George Mason University, Director of Program on Global Change (circa 2000-01)
  • Research scientist, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory (circa 1976).

I located Daniel at the University of California Santa Barbara where he is listed as a Professor Emeritus - but his current web page listed very few publications for someone who's been publishing research on "theoretical global warming" since 1968.

I was beginning to think that Daniel B Botkin was a self-invented man who has a good PR company on his payroll. Then I tried Google Scholar. I found quite a few papers. He's not the most prolific academic, publishing maybe two or three papers a year while he was active. Some years none at all and a few years three or four. Maybe he put more effort into writing his textbooks.

Since 1968 you say?

As for his claim about "since 1968", well I didn't find any paper by him in 1968 about "theoretical global warming". The only 1968 paper of his on Google Scholar was this one:
Botkin, Daniel B., and Charles R. Malone. "Efficiency of net primary production based on light intercepted during the growing season." Ecology 49, no. 3 (1968): 438-444.

At that time Daniel was with the School of Forestry, Yale University. I'm not saying that Daniel didn't publish any research on global warming in 1968 and since he claims to have "always attempted to maintain an objective, intellectually honest, scientific approach" then maybe he did and it's just that Google Scholar hasn't listed it. 1968 was a long time ago. That was three years after the Roger Revelle report warning President Lyndon B Johnson about global warming, and seven years before Wallace S Broecker's paper in Science.

In 1973 Daniel was writing about the nutrient requirements and grazing habits of moose. The following year it was the Whooping Crane and photosynthesis in larch. In 1975 it was phytoplankton and ecosystems. And in 1976 I drew a blank.

The earliest Botkin paper relating to global warming that I found was nine years after 1968, published in 1977, when he was shown as being with the Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA 02543:
Botkin, Daniel B. "Forests, lakes, and the anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide." BioScience 27, no. 5 (1977): 325-331.

I somehow missed all the global warming work he did in the nine years prior. The next paper that had any bearing on global warming that I could see was this one published in 1985, which was cited in the third IPCC report. In the years that he published anything from 1986 onwards (some years drew a blank), he did have one or two papers relating to one or other aspect of global warming. So to my mind it would be more "intellectually honest" to claim to have published on "theoretical global warming" since 1977 (one paper, then a lull till 1985) rather than since 1968.

Small signs of early-stage "emeritus"

In 1990 he published a paper about global warming in the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, writing that in considering what to do we need to consider it in terms of risk. He cited the Montreal Protocol as a good example of what can be done at the international level and in his conclusion wrote:
If global warming occurs, many environmental laws will have to be rewritten, and it is only prudent that those interested in this process begin now to consider what is wise and useful to do.
So it looks as if he had a change of heart between 1990 and now.  Oh there were signs of early-stage "emeritus" in the 1990 paper. He wrote of clouds and stuff and thought there was a chance they might pop up all over the place and save us from global warming. Still, back in 1990 he favoured acting or at least preparing for action. His change of heart came a few years ago.

Back seven years ago he penned something "political" for the Wall St Journal that earned him an article at That time he was spouting a lot of denier crap. Quite unbecoming for a "world renowned ecologist".

Daniel's current scientific work

From what I can make out, Daniel's been out of academia for quite a long time, probably since 1992. He is on the wayback machine at the University of California Santa Barbara on a January 2003 web page, as on the Emeritus Faculty and:
  • Professor of Biological Sciences and Environmental Studies Program (1978 - 1992) 
  • Chairman, Environmental Studies Program, 1979-1985
That's a fair while ago. He was also affiliated with George Mason University around the turn of this century, but I don't know in what capacity. 
Daniel has published a few papers since his retirement from university life, which looks like it was way back in 1992. He's also written a number of book reviews as well as editing and publishing books himself.

Daniel Botkin and the IPCC

How about Daniel's expertise in the IPCC? Well, he's not listed in any capacity in the working group 1 reports from AR5 (2014), or AR4 (2007). Two papers of his were referenced a few times in TAR as well as a book he edited. Not in WG1 but in WG2 and WG3. However he wasn't an author of any of the chapters in any TAR reports. The papers were:
Davis, Margaret Bryan, and Daniel B. Botkin. "Sensitivity of cool-temperate forests and their fossil pollen record to rapid temperature change." Quaternary Research 23, no. 3 (1985): 327-340.
Sedjo, Roger A., and Daniel Botkin. "Using Forest Plantations to Spare Natural Forests." Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 39, no. 10 (1997): 14-30.

Going back to the second assessment report, SAR (1995), Daniel got another two papers cited, the Davis and Botkin (1985) paper referenced above and another paper:
Botkin, Daniel B., James F. Janak, and James R. Wallis. "Some ecological consequences of a computer model of forest growth." The Journal of Ecology (1972): 849-872.

This last paper has been cited 1355 times and the 1985 paper was cited 252 times according to Google Scholar. So what happened, from the look of it, was that at one stage in Daniel's career he published some papers with moderate to good acclaim. In more recent years he's been writing books and book reviews.

Anyway, for all his "world renown" it looks as if Daniel Botkin isn't quite as renowned in climate science as he made out. I can see that years ago he did produce some good work. It's a shame he's chosen to go all out political in a field that isn't his own. I hope for his sake he's remembered more for his science than his political activities. That'll be his choice.


  1. It is interesting that the author's attack on Dr. Botkin employs the very same arts of which he accuses Dr. Botkin. It is also interesting to note that the author (a) sees no merit to anything Dr. Botkin says, although scientists who do not broadly agree with Dr. Botkin's conclusions have found merit in some of his points, and (b) apparently considers Dr. Botkin's credentials--which are real--somehow to be disdained, whereas he presumably finds such as Al Gore well qualified, in spite of an absolute lack of credentials. The accuser accused.

    1. Interesting that you didn't read the article itself - or if you did you were blinkered in what I wrote by your own bias. Not a very careful observer, are you.

      (a) this was not primarily a critique of what Dr Botkin wrote. Although I did highlight some points that were wrong and/or nonsensical.

      (b) I clearly stated that Dr Botkin did some good research when he was a scientist, even citing particular papers.

      (c) What "arts" are you speaking about? The article is to give some background on Dr Botkin. Many HW readers may not know of him.

      (d) I didn't mention Mr Gore.

      (e) Why is it that so many deniers still resort to an "algore is fat" type comment? I thought that went out of fashion years ago.

    2. Al Gore!!! Aren't you listening Sou? :)

    3. "I thought that went out of fashion years ago."

      If only.

    4. With every prestigious scientific body on this planet endorsing the consensus on climate change, just how much of a numpty do you have to be to think its about Al Gore?

    5. i take your point, Millicient, but i have to say that Al Gore Al Gore Algore Alal Gore Al Gore Gore Al Gore. Al? Gore. Al Gore. right?

    6. Let's note that Carefulobserver didn't bother to divine the gender - let alone the agenda - of the person they're addressing.

      But, of course, algore algore algore! Is it any coincidence that there are 6 letters in the name? I think not; it's in the Book of Revelations, people!...

    7. "Spot the Gore" on the WattMeter is good exercise for the eyeballs. Grows and shrinks, moves around, always there. Mann usually trends little higher.

      With thousands of authors writing papers describing the how/what/when/where/why of climate change, the attention of deniers is weirdly fixated on just a tiny handful of people. "Weird" as in "why are you shouting at that fire hydrant?"

      Happily this is a fully reversible kind of insanity.

    8. It is also interesting that the careful observer assumes the author is a man.

    9. I'm surprised that the Denialati haven't yet figured out that Al Gore is a Muslim intent on rending the very fabric of Western society to shreds, and that they haven't rabidly beaten that straw man to pieces - I mean, Al-Ghor after all...

    10. Please check out who funds George Mason University to get a clue about Dr. Botkin's change of direction in recent years.

  2. The author, in my view, was demonstrating why Botkin was a questionable choice as one of four "climate experts" in a House hearing. I think she made her point quite eloquently.

  3. Hi Sou,

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in my own take on these events:

    To summarise:

    "There's a lot of shopping days left until Christmas comes around again, but nonetheless I've been watching a pantomime."

    1. It's funny that scientific topics that people want denied (tobacco, evolution, climate change) for whichever ideological reason, are the ones attacked by saying science does not work by consensus. It misses the point about consensus - as the quote you included from Dr Cox makes clear. Consensus happens when it would be scientifically stupid to disagree.

      Now, consensus can be overturned but only by scientific hard work. The deniers, like Tol, rather want to wish it away. That doesn't work.

    2. That's an excellent summary, well worth reading.

      Tol would have us believe that the repeated convergence on ~97% agreement arrived at by several different studies is matter of pure coincidence despite methodological flaws, even though he agrees the figure is subtantially correct. That hardly seems likely, just as it's unlikely our confidence in "Big G" is flawed belief in impossible chance.

      Tol's got an odd fixation on this subject. It's not really central to his own research preoccupation. As always, beware of "out of scope." Fraught with pitfalls.

    3. Thanks for your kind words. As I've been endeavouring to point out to the denizens of WattsLand, Botkin is way "out of scope" too. If you want to talk to an ecologist about "The UN IPCC Process" surely Chris Field is the go to guy? If you want to haggle about the 90/95/97% consensus maybe someone high up in WG I would be more appropriate?

      Furthermore, whilst I doubt anyone at WUWT will agree with me:

      "According to the IPCC WG I SPM which I referred you to “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. Using your definition Lamar Smith would seem to be guilty not only of “a lie in front of Congress” but also of libeling the President of the United States of America!"

  4. This charade is embarrassing. It reminds me of the GOP presidential debate when 3 people didn't accept evolution. Actually, even the question was annoying because they didn't ask the candidates if they "accepted" evolution but if they "believed" in evolution. Another example is the four GOP candidates for North Carolina senate - all on video saying they don't think climate change is a fact. Politics is such BS, and unfortunately there will always be useful idiots.

  5. Sou, I think your results with Google Scolar are accurate. I found the same in the Web of Science, which should be more or less complete for this period. It could be that he wrote his name in another way, but otherwise, I would also say his first two papers on AGW were in 1977 and 1978.

  6. So Dr Botkin is not a climate scientist, nor apparently does he understand the radiative physics underpinning the GHE since he appears to believe that CO2-forced climate change isn't occurring:

    I want to state up front that we have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.

    Which is all wrong. Modern warming is entirely anthropogenically forced, it is unusual and it is going to be a long-lived phenomenon because anthropogenic CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for a long time. It will also be very dangerous if BAU emissions are permitted to continue unchecked because the speed of environmental change is far more rapid than the rate at which ecosystems adapt.

  7. Why are people calling their opinion science?
    The GOP means stupid.

  8. I wonder how many people reading and commenting on Daniel Botkin have actually bothered to read his book - Discordant Harmonies? If you do you should go away with a pretty good understanding of his deep concern about the impact that Homo sapiens are having and will increasingly have on the biosphere. In the book he explores the dominant paradigms that have influenced (and limited) our ability to better and more fully understand how the biosphere and its various elements are interconnected and interplay. I found it an honest exploration of the challenges we faced back in 1990 (when it was published) and a deeply rewarding read that I would highly recommend. He has recently revisited (2012) themes explored in Discordant Harmonies in The Moon and the Nautilus Shell: Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered. I am looking forward to purchasing and reading this book.

    Science without sceptism is in serious danger of becoming Religion and Scientists without sceptism and open minds are in serious danger of becoming ideologs and Non-Scientists.

    1. ...and therefore it would be good if you would apply some skepticism to Daniel Botkin's ideas. You could start with this review of his book:
      where Stan Rowe suggests Dr. Botkin is attacking a strawman as the premise of his book. Does Botkin have a *concern* for human impact on the biosphere? That's not how others have read it. Rather, they read his book as an implicit call for humans to have an impact on the biosphere.

      You may also want to (re)read the evaluation of Botkin's testimony by Sou. It is a prime example of scientific scepticism. She evaluates Botkin's claims from a scientific point of view, and argues many are just simply untenable.

  9. Relevant...kinda

    Agricultural Management and Climatic Change Are the Major Drivers of Biodiversity Change in the UK

  10. What a hatchet job! Do you ever bother to read what people with whom you disagree have actually written, in the context they meant for it? Or do you only play troll, pick bits and pieces, and then free associate at will?

    And do you read the studies that you think support yor views...such as those referred to in this comment?

    "...convergence on ~97% agreement arrived at by several different studies..."

    Considering the bland and unremarkable nature of the "consensus" tested in these studies, I wonder they did not get 100% agreement. CO2 is GHG? Duh...

    The studies certainly did not examine the level of agreement on statements such as, "IPCC projections in the Summary for Policy Makers has my full confidence!"

    1. The article was exploring the basis of Botkin's supposed expertise on the subject, which was put forward to substantiate his rejection of science.

      The HW "hatchet" was arguably wielded with more precision than your strawmen, Lichanos.


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