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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Desperate deniers Part 9: Patrick J Michael's pathetic, unconvincing WSJ report could have come from WUWT

Sou | 2:07 AM Go to the first of 34 comments. Add a comment

Pat Michaels has written an article for his employer, the Cato Institute and Rupert Murdoch dutifully published it in the Wall St Journal. I was given a copy and thought you might like to see what he wrote. In my view he didn't earn his pay packet with this one. His article and arguments are pathetic. It's barely above the conspiratorial disinformation you read at WUWT.

Pat does have a bigger vocabulary and a better grasp of the English language than does Anthony Watts. And he does agree the world is warming. Maybe. But it's nothing to worry about.  His article must still be a big disappointment. The arguments are weak, wrong, unoriginal and boring, especially for someone who claims to have some scientific expertise. I'd give him the sack if I was running the Cato Institute. Wouldn't you? :)

Don't forget, Pat's had several months to figure out how to deny the hottest year on record after the hottest year on record. It's not as if he had no warning. Plus he's got a sidekick to bounce ideas off or tell what to do. Yet he couldn't come up with anything but the sort of wishy-washy Gish gallop you'll read any day on any old third-rate denier blog. This is what he should have been preparing for over the past 12 months:

Figure 1 | Global mean surface temperature 1880 to 2015. Data source: GISS NASA

Let me tell you some of what is in his article and you can tell me what you think of it.

Pat does show a spark of originality for a science disinformer. He agrees that the world is really warming. And he agrees that 2015 was probably, maybe the hottest year on record if you're willing to trust the record (which he cautions against). However according to him a rise of more than one degree Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures - already, and it's only 2015 -  is no big deal. (Go to the bonus right down the bottom to see a test for "big deal".) Pat called 2015 "business as usual".

Excuses 1 and 2: "Pause" and "Little Ice Age" bounce nonsense

In between his "big" points, Pat tosses in the fake "pause", which I understand is still mandatory for science disinformers. And a disinformation article wouldn't be complete without mention of the Little Ice Age magical bounce. I think that one would have been a special request from S. Fred Singer and Pat doesn't like to disappoint old Fred. I'd guess that Pat opened up SkepticalScience's list of Most Used Climate Myths and went through the list to see what he could use, what was mandatory, and what was optional. Willie Soon and Henrik Svensmark would be disappointed there was no room for "it's the sun" or "it's cosmic rays". Pervs would be disappointed he didn't mention poring through snippets of stolen emails. Conspiracy theorists will be saddened that he didn't mention the One World Government, HAARP, or Lizard Men.

Excuse 3: It's El Nino plus an "it's about to cool" prediction

Pat comes up with a grab bag of excuses for the hottest year. His main one is that he claims it was mostly caused by El Niño. Thing is, he claimed "Early in 2015, a massive El Niño broke out." Well it wasn't all that early. the "massive El Niño" didn't start until May  - almost half way through the year. And it took a while longer before you could call it "massive". Pat didn't bother trying to explain why this El Niño made the world so much hotter than all the previous El Niño years.

Update: There's an article by Roz Pidcock at the Carbon Brief, where she collected estimates from a number of scientists, of how much El Niño contributed to the hottest year, and more. It wasn't "mostly" caused by El Niño, but probably about half of the increase was. It's expected to have a bigger influence this coming year (which is consistent with what I found looking at the progression of past El Niños.

He messed up, claiming that what happened this year also happened in 1998. That's dead wrong. The measured surface temperature in 1998 was between 0.2 and 0.3 °C (0.3 to 0.54 °F) cooler than it was last year. In any case, it must have been a typo, or perhaps he submitted his January 2017 article by mistake, because by rights he should have been comparing 2015 with 1997, not with 1998. And he'd know that, because he puts himself forward as a climatologist. Maybe he thinks it's too late to send the 2016 report in. At least he doesn't have to worry about next January's article. He can use the same one again (with a minor change as you'll see).

Pat stuck out his neck and predicted a La Nina will happen this year. At least that's what I think he's predicting. I say he's sticking out his neck because according to the Bureau of Meteorology:
Based on the 26 El Niño events since 1900, around 50% have been followed by a neutral year, and 40% have been followed by La Niña. Models also suggest neutral and La Niña states are about equally likely for the second half of 2016, with a repeat El Niño the least likely outcome.
The period from 1998 to 2001 was one long La Nina. Sure there could be a long La Nina this time around too. But if I were him I wouldn't count on it. The 1998 La Nina kicked off a cool phase of the PDO. There's no guarantee that there'll be a string of La Nina's any time soon.  It could be more like the period from the early 1970s to the late 1990s when there were 8 El Ninos and only four La Ninas. If that is the case, Pat'll have to rethink his entire strategy. Correct that. Pat will have to come up with a strategy. He clearly doesn't have one at the moment.

Excuse 4: The data might be wrong - No it's not

He was very liberal with the truth all through his article. He did the mandatory hatchet job on the NOAA, flinging all sorts of wild and conspiratorial accusations about. Not a good look for a supposed "climatologist". He said that NOAA had "changed its measurement standard" whatever the heck he meant by that. He probably thought it rolled off the keyboard nicely. He waffled at length about hot decks in the sun and engine intake rooms, as if the scientists who research this stuff would never provide for such things. He didn't mention all the other surface temperature data sets in the USA and around the world. Nor did he explain that they must be even more "fudged" than NOAA because NOAA comes in second last on the trend scale.

Table 1 | Trend per decade since 1970 for global mean surface temperature.
Data sources
: GISS NASA,UK Met Office, NOAA,Berkeley Earth:

Pat couldn't make up his mind about the surface temperature record. In one spot he called the records going back 160 years "reliable", only to flip flop and refer to them as "debatable". That's the denier dogwhistle for "unreliable".

He claims the much more uncertain upper air temperatures are the ones to rely upon. Which means that he'll have 12 months to come up with a good excuse for ditching them. If the satellite records are in good shape then he'll probably have to switch to "reliable" surface temperature for his 2017 report. I expect he'll just leave the lower troposphere out of next year's report altogether. I'm of course assuming the lower troposphere behaves as it normally does in the second year of a strongish El Niño. That it's temperature will shoot through the roof.

Excuse 5: The Ridiculous: Halve the temperature projections to save the world from warming!

Pat made up some nonsense out of thin air, arguing that the upper air temperature as estimated from satellite data is the same as the readings as estimated by radiosondes. That's a bit suss. Remember Tamino has been comparing satellite date with that from Radiosonde Atmospheric Temperature Products for Accessing Climate (RATPAC) and came to a very different conclusion (links here). Maybe Pat just made that bit up so he could write:
It is therefore probably prudent to cut by 50% the modeled temperature forecasts for the rest of this century. Doing so would mean that the world—without any political effort at all—won’t warm by the dreaded 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 that the United Nations regards as the climate apocalypse.

Now is that a brilliant novel idea or is that the most ridiculous suggestion you ever heard? He's saying that if we cut the projections in half, then we'll stop the world from getting too hot. Easy peasy. (Now why didn't the world leaders at COP21 think of that?)

Excuse 6: Extreme weather losses are declining  - Are they?

Patrick does a Pielke Jr, claiming that insurance losses weren't that high last year. What he doesn't mention was that they were still quite high in the USA. And he talked about a 'decline" over the past 25 years. The chart below is the number of loss events, not the value of losses so it's not the same thing. Still it's another way of looking at it. This is from the report released in 2015. The next Munich Re report will be out in a couple of weeks I think.

Figure 2 | Number of loss events 1980-2014 Source: TOPICS GEO Natural catastrophes 2014, Munich Re (2015)
I also found a report from AON, which doesn't accord with what Pat Michaels claimed. It shows losses increasing over time from extreme weather events and other natural disasters. 2015 wasn't the worst year, but there was a definite increase over the past 15 years. That report stated: "The costliest peril of 2015 was flood, which was closely followed by severe weather (thunderstorm), and wildfire. ".

A disappointment and a bonus

That about covers it. I probably left out some details and even some bits that deniers might think are crucially critical. Like I said it was a let down. A mediocre Gish gallop. The most entertaining part was where Pat said that if we cut the temperature projections in half, it will stop global warming. I was hoping for something entertaining, like "it's Jupiter" or "undersea volcanoes" or "little green men from Mars". But it was just the same recycled blog standard denier memes that were out of date a decade ago.

Here's a bonus for you, in case you were as disappointed as I was. It's from 2006 (h/t Capital Climate):

There's a list of the other articles in the Desperate Denier series here.


  1. Replies
    1. That links just took me to the WSJ article Victor and I don't have a subscription. I see the link is probably to some in line comments, but I guess it only works if you can access the article on line in the first place.

      (I couldn't find anything on the Climate Feedback website, but I'm not too familiar with it so could have missed it. I'm not real good with (or keen on) too many browser add-ons. I tried Rebuttal after an invitation, but found it too clunky.))

    2. Also your link above now goes to a pay-walled version for me. All annotations are visible, but it is hard to see which part they belong to.

      Other people may see both links just fine, if they have not passed their maximum number of WSJ articles yet.

    3. I couldn't figure what you were talking about, Victor. Then I went back and discovered that I needed to click on a tiny little icon on the far right hand side up top to see the comments. That's kind of neat, but impossible to find unless you know to look for it :)

    4. Go to, type in The Climate Snow Job, and it should offer you the WSJ link that you can get to open access.

    5. There's a copy of the article up at the CATO Institute, Michaels employers (archive here).

    6. PL, going in via Google News often works, but does not work for me for the WSJ. Maybe on a new machine, with another browser, in incognito mode, to add to the list of tricks.

      Sou, you are right, I had not realized how subtle the annotation tool is. If you do see the entire article, it is more obvious because it colors the background the annotated parts.

    7. There is now a nice summary written by Emmanuel Vincent of our comments on the CATO WSJ article.

    8. You can also copy the first sentence and do a Google search on that. Most papers allow readers to read articles if they arrive via a Google search.

      Google search for "An East Coast blizzard howling, global temperatures peaking, the desert Southwest flooding, drought-stricken California drying up"

  2. With this El Nino we could be back in '98 hearing the same old same old from one of the same old old guys. Utterly typical these days. "Tired" hardly starts to cover the current denier performance. "Spent" gets closer, I think.

  3. Michaels' op-ed wasn't paywalled for me even though other articles in the same issue were. This is par for the course since sponsored denialist opinion pieces reach a wider readership if they aren't locked down to subscribers only.

    In my view the key point (such as it was) came after the "it's not warming, or not warming much, and anyway it's no big deal even if it is" mishmash.

    It is therefore probably prudent to cut by 50% the modeled temperature forecasts for the rest of this century. Doing so would mean that the world—without any political effort at all—won’t warm by the dreaded 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 that the United Nations regards as the climate apocalypse.

    Talk about pulling a self-serving non sequitur conclusion out of thin air. I can only imagine the reception that bit of unsupported misdirection would receive if he tried it at a scientific conference in front of a knowledgeable audience.

    But it would seem the Wall Street Journal has lower expectations of its readers.

    1. It would make sense not to pay-wall propaganda.

      If I may say so, I liked my answer to your Michaels' quote:

      Lakes and rivers are warming faster than the regional air temperatures.

      The Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than modelled. As well as snow cover.

      Precipitation is getting stronger faster than models predict.

      Would Michaels conclude from that that it would be prudent to increase the "modeled temperature forecasts" (actually projections)? I would personally argue that we should first understand the reasons before we would do that, but maybe I am too much of a scientist.

    2. It depends on the target of the propaganda: if your target is people susceptible to affinity fraud, a paywall makes your marks feel like they're the "in" group, privvy to secret information untainted by the plebes.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. (My apologies for an inadvertently sexist comment.)

  5. "Global average surface temperature in 2015 popped up by a bit more than a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit compared with the previous year. In 1998 the temperature rose by slightly less than a quarter-degree from 1997."

    Sounds like Michaels is paying homage to Monckton and SPPI, tilting the graph:

  6. I'm not sure we know how this warmer world will respond to this super El Nino, and I'm not sure that this super El Nino knows how it's going to respond to this warmer world. It appears to be doing something strange.

  7. I don't have a WSJ account but was able to read Michaels' article at the CATO link. One oddity you didn't mention was this claim of Michaels:

    "That changed last summer, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided to overhaul its data, throwing out satellite-sensed sea-surface temperatures since the late 1970s and instead relying on, among other sources, readings taken from the cooling-water-intake tubes of oceangoing vessels. The scientific literature is replete with articles about the large measurement errors that accrue in this data owing to the fact that a ship’s infrastructure conducts heat, absorbs a tremendous amount of the sun’s energy, and vessels’ intake tubes are at different ocean depths."

    My understanding of what happened is that the sea surface temp anomaly was corrected by an offset which relfects the difference between temperature readings by ships intakes and buoys.The buoy temperatures were not thrown out. I am used to hearing conspiracy theories on the web, but I am shocked that such an outright lie would be told by someone who poses as a scientist and who must know better. Is he really that ignorant or is he just getting paid to lie?

    1. You could also call the buoys "satellite-sensed" temperatures, they communicate via satellites, but (according to the internet, which is full of misinformation) there was a period in which ERSST of NOAA also used the satellite skin temperatures. That is most likely what Michaels refers to. I thought this was much earlier than last summer, but I am not sure about that.

      Skin temperature, the top few mm where the infra-red radiation the satellite receives comes from behaves quite differently from the Sea Surface Temperature, which is the bulk temperature of the mixed layer, which is typically much much deeper. The skin temperature, for example, has a considerable daily cycle, while the SST nearly has none. The way I understood it, it was difficult to remove the biases due to these two very different types of temperature. For the global mean temperature, which dominates the public "debate", this may have been doable, but the datasets also need to get the spatial patterns of the trends and variability right so that they can be used to understand the physical processes in the climate system.

      There was so much wrong with Michaels article that it is nearly impossible to respond to all problems.

    2. I don't know what he meant by "last summer". It was v3b that discontinued use of satellite data. This is from the ERSSTv3b page:

      The paper, "Improvements to NOAA's Historical Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880–2006)," describes the update from ERSST v2 to ERSST v3, and both in situ and satellite Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer SST data are included. The current version (ERRST v3) has satellite SST data not included in previous versions. However, the addition of satellite data led to residual biases. The ERSST v3b analysis is exactly as described in the ERSST v3 paper with one exception: ERSST v3b does not use satellite SST data. The ERSST v3 improvements are justified by testing with simulated data.

      ERSST v3 has improved low frequency tuning that reduces the SST anomaly damping before 1930 using the optimized parameters. However, the addition of satellite SSTs introduced a small residual cold bias (in the order of 0.01°C). The Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer is an infrared-based instrument. There must be clear-sky conditions to obtain infrared measurements, and cloud contaminated data are often difficult to identify. This contamination leads to a cold SST bias in the retrievals. There were attempts to correct these biases as mentioned in "Improvements to NOAA's Historical Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880–2006)," but the adjustment did not fully compensate for the cold bias. While this small difference did not strongly influence the long-term trend, it was sufficient to change the rankings of the warmest months in the time series. Therefore, use of satellite SST data was discontinued. Except for the removal of the satellite aspect, ERSST v3b processing is identical to version 3.

      I don't know when NOAA switched to 3b, but GISS started using it in January 2013, which is a lot longer ago than "last summer".

      Now they both use v4.

    3. Pat has no excuse for getting so much wrong. It's his job to keep up with these things. When amateur bloggers know more than a paid professional, it's time to question why the professional is employed.

      OTOH it could be as I suspect, that he's not paid to advise on science, he's paid to spread disinformation. He's a professional liar like Marc Morano. (That's a completely different industry niche.) In which case, Cato itself should not get any tax benefits and if there's a law against giving false information, it should be prosecuted.

    4. Just quietly...

      Commenter Dan, on the seriously long Mann/Steyne defamation case thread at Greg Laden's would argue that Pat Michaels is absolutely well qualified to act a a legal expert witness on matters involved with climate science, and hence his opinion is as valid as, say, Hansen's or Mann's or Schmidt's.

      It shows two profoundly disturbing things: that truth doesn't matter to people who are for whatever reason affronted by the best scientific understanding, and that there is something seriously wrong with a legal system where such as Pat Michaels could be an expert witness for a case involving the science and the scientific implications of climate change.

    5. Bernard J

      Agreed, if Dan is correct in what he says. It wouldn't fly in court in the UK but US libel law is so farcical that at this stage I'm prepared to believe anything.

    6. The revolving door of the WSJ Editorial Boardroom has been spittting newly minted PR flacks out on to K Street , Madison Avenue and their adjacent think-tanks for half a century, and in that time the incidence of actual controversy on its op-ed page has fallen close to , if not zero, the same anodyne level of concurrence as the once vibrant papers that opposed it.

      There seems to have been a global and prolonged pause in the tradition of disinterested journalism .

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Russell Seitz I have misjudged you and I apologise for that poor judgement. Every comment I have read of yours recently on all manner of sites has been perceptive and often very funny.

  8. The El Nino is the cause of the last El Nino year being the warmest El Nino year on record, and the La Nina is the reason the last La Nina year was the warmest La Nina year on record....

    Yeah, that follows...

    1. Why aren't you running for president on the republican ticket?! Your logic is as least as good as theirs is!!!

  9. Tamino has a good post on the El Nino contribution:

    Of course there's the whole secondary issue, El Nino does not produce heat, it simply redistributes it. Why is that so hard for some people to understand. Never mind, we know the answer to that.

    1. He's another good article here - re satellite data:

    2. Tamino is a smart fellow. His data analysis is clear and transparent. It must rub up the liars and denialists that call themselves 'sceptics' when they do not have a clue.

      Tamino has a thingy where one can donate. Sou when are you going to do it? I know you do it for your well held scientifically evidence based truths. I am basically not a woos where I will let a much tougher person than me fight my fights.
      I want to back them to the hilt!


  10. Victor Venema wrote:
    "You could also call the buoys "satellite-sensed" temperatures, they communicate via satellites, but (according to the internet, which is full of misinformation) there was a period in which ERSST of NOAA also used the satellite skin temperatures. That is most likely what Michaels refers to. I thought this was much earlier than last summer, but I am not sure about that."

    There is good evidence that Michaels was referring to the adjustment as a result of the difference between buoys and ship's intakes. Here is a quote from a Wattsup post by Michaels and Lindzen:

    As has been acknowledged by numerous scientists, the engine intake data are clearly contaminated by heat conduction from the structure, and as such, never intended for scientific use. On the other hand, environmental monitoring is the specific purpose of the buoys. Adjusting good data upward to match bad data seems questionable, and the fact that the buoy network becomes increasingly dense in the last two decades means that this adjustment must put a warming trend in the data."

    If you are looking at a temperature anomaly plot, anyone with half a brain can figure out it doesn't make any difference. How can these people pose as scientists and say such stupid things???

    1. "pose" being the operative word, eadler2...

      From a politically-motivated reasoning it is quite 'brilliant', since there are loads of people who won't understand anomalies, and thus the argument presented sounds plausible to them.

      Desired result achieved: doubt spread.

    2. eadler2, as veteran of the climate "debate" you already know the standard answers to your "questions". For any innocent reader, here is a very good article from Climate Etc. on the buoy temperature trends.


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