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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jim Steele's "yellow journalism" at WUWT, and coastal erosion

Sou | 8:09 PM Go to the first of 19 comments. Add a comment

Jim Steele is one of those science deniers who can't get his stuff published anywhere except climate conspiracy blogs like WUWT and in his own vanity-published denier book. Today, he wrote an article (archived here) about the collapse of cliffs in his home town Pacifica, in California. Jim could have just written a straight piece about what is contributing to coastal erosion and it might have been an informative article. However, as is usual for Jim Steele, he spoilt his article and further reduced his credibility by using it as a platform to tout his climate science denial. His article was a good example of the techniques of climate science denial. It was peppered with disinformation, twisting and misprepresenting others.

Jim Steele's yellow "journalism"

Jim's article seems to have been little more than a pretext so he could once again imply that climate science is a hoax. He accused two leading science journalists of being "yellow journalists". (Yellow journalism is where facts take a back seat to sensationalism.) Jim  wrote:
After every catastrophic natural weather event, yellow journalists like the Washington Post’s Chris Mooney or APs Seth Bornstein [sic], seek out CO2 alarmist scientists like Kevin Trenberth or Michael Mann, to make totally unsubstantiated pronouncements that the event was 50% or so due to global warming. After centuries of scientific progress, Trenberth and his ilk have devolved climate science to the pre-Copernican days so that humans are once again at the center of the universe, and our carbon sins are responsible for every problem caused by an ever-changing natural world.
To my knowledge, neither Chris Mooney nor Seth Borenstein have written about the Pacifica cliff erosion and I'm not aware of Michael Mann or Kevin Trenberth having commented about that either. Jim Steele didn't link to any of those people discussing Pacifica, so why did Jim Steele write that paragraph?

"50% or so" - That's not all. Jim didn't cite one instance of where any pronouncement, let alone an unsubstantiated pronouncement, said that an event was "50% or so due to global warming".

"unsubstantiated" - It was Jim's claim that was unsubstantiated. He offered no evidence for his claim about "pronouncements". Not only that but climate science relies on evidence, so for Jim to use the word "unsubstantiated" in reference to "pronouncements" of climate scientists is nonsensical.

"Yellow journalists" - If you read past Jim's slanted words, what he is actually admitting is that Chris Mooney and Seth Borenstein take the trouble to get expert opinion on climate change from experts. Why then does Jim Steele call them "yellow journalists"? Yellow journalism is where facts take a back seat to sensationalism. Yet as Jim points out, Chris Mooney and Seth Borenstein's articles are typified by research, and a depth of research. They are science writers and they know their stuff and know where to find the facts. And it shows in their articles.

Compare and contrast the evidence, and do some critical reading

Before accepting Jim's allegation, how about checking the evidence. Let's compare and contrast articles by Seth Borenstein, Chris Mooney and Jim Steele. Below are headlines from articles by Seth Borenstein of Associated Press, which unlike Jim's, are supported by hard evidence from reputable sources:
  • NOAA, NASA: 2015 was Earth's hottest by a wide margin - 20 January 2016 
  • Earth's temperature depends on where you put thermometer - 20 January 2016 
  • AP FACT CHECK: Ted Cruz at odds with climate change science - 21 January 2016 
  • Wild December pushes US weather in 2015 to near records - 7 January 2016 
That last one was probably the most "sensational" headline I could see on Seth Borenstein's page - and if December wasn't "wild" in the US, then I'm a monkey's uncle. As Seth wrote, not only was there unusual warmth in large areas, but:
Going into December, the U.S. was flirting with a record low number of tornado deaths. Then a series of nasty tornadoes killed 24 people in four days, making it the second deadliest December for tornadoes on record.
December storms, featuring flooding in the Mississippi River and snowfall in the Southwest, killed at least 50 people, making it the deadliest weather event of 2015.
Here are some of the headlines and links to fact-filled articles by Chris Mooney at Washington Post:
  • This is where 90 percent of global warming is going - 18 January 2016
  • Ted Cruz keeps saying that satellites don’t show global warming. Here’s the problem - 29 January 2016
  • The surprising way that climate change could worsen East Coast blizzards - 25 January 2016
If you regard the above headlines as "sensationalist", then I'd suspect you of suffering confirmation bias. Contrast them with the following headlines from Jim Steele, which show sensationalism unsupported by facts, particularly the emotive language I've emphasised on bold italics:
  • Pacifica, California’s Natural Coastal Erosion and the Lust for Climate Catastrophes - link
  • Apocalyptic Fear-mongering: Sometimes Rush Limbaugh is Right! - link
  • Unwarranted Temperature Adjustments and Al Gore’s Unwarranted Call for Intellectual Tyranny - link
Now you tell me which headlines are sensationalist. Which headlines use emotive language? If you want to do a critical reading exercise, examine the articles under the headlines and see which of the writers have:
  • taken the trouble to ask scientific experts
  • referred to scientific literature
  • set out facts in a rational manner
  • supported the facts they set out with evidence from and links to reputable sources.
Then see which writers have:
  • made unsubstantiated claims
  • used highly emotive language
  • used their article as a pretext to promote science denial and disinformation
  • built straw men
  • inserted red herrings
  • preyed on the fears of science deniers
  • implied there is a giant global conspiracy of the climate kind.
If you read the articles critically, you'll soon understand why Seth Borenstein and Chris Mooney are respected journalists, while the best Jim Steele can do is write freebies for climate conspiracy blogs.

Jim Steele could have written his article about Pacifica cliff collapse, and how the current El Niño is exacerbating the problem and left it there. It could have been a straight up article. But Jim doesn't do "straight up" articles. Even when he's not far from the facts on the topic he purports to be writing about, he destroys his credibility because he can't resist polluting his articles with his science denial, logical fallacies, misrepresentation, and distortion of facts.

Jim Steele's misrepresentation

Jim Steele's unsupportable dig at respected journalists and climate scientists wasn't the only thing wrong. In his article he referred to an article at NBC News about the use of drones to document coastal erosion in California. That article had a suitable headline: "California Residents Turn to Drones to Document Coastal Erosion". The second paragraph reads:
Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern that's bringing California its wettest winter in years — and all in the name of science.
Jim also referred to an article at SFGate from September last year, which had the headline: "Scientists see a future of El Niño-fueled coastal erosion". The first paragraph of that article was:
The seacoasts of California and nations on both sides of the Pacific are likely to be battered in coming years by increasingly high waves pushed ashore by ever-stronger weather patterns, leaving them vulnerable to destructive erosion, an international group of experts said Monday.
You might think that Jim would have used these articles as supporting evidence of his position, that El Niño is contributing to erosion of cliffs on the California coast. Not on your life. Jim decides to misrepresent the articles instead. He wrote:
I could only laugh as ridiculous CO2 alarmists who metamorphosed a local disaster, brought about by ignorance of natural coastal changes, into a global warming “crystal ball”. NBC news reported the Pacifica event as “a brief window into what the future holds as sea levels rise from global warming, a sort of a crystal ball for climate change.” The SF Chronicle suggested “increased global warming and rising sea levels due to climate change would double the frequency of those severe weather events across the Pacific basin.” The result would be “more occurrences of devastating weather events and more frequent swings of opposite extremes from one year to the next, with profound socio-economic consequences.”
From that it would be reasonable to conclude that Jim doesn't "believe in" global warming or sea level rise. Or perhaps he doesn't "believe" that erosion will be exacerbated by higher seas. Or maybe devastating weather events and the personal tragedies they cause amuse him. (Jim has a nasty streak.)

Remember, the SFGate article that Jim laughed at as "ridiculous" was about a paper in Nature Geoscience. It also referred to a paper published in Nature Climate Change last year, which suggested extreme La Niñas would be more frequent in coming decades than in the past.

Jim can't even attribute his quote-mined quotes correctly

Later in his article he again referred to the NBC News article and wrote:
You can recognize those misleading journalists and scientists who are either totally ignorant of natural climate change, or who are politically wedded to a belief in catastrophic CO2 warming, when they falsely argue, as NBC news did, that “frequent swings of opposite extremes” are due to global warming. 
Well in his excited hyperbole Jim couldn't even get that right. His quote wasn't from the NBC News article. It was from the SFGate article. And the SFGate article from last September was about two scientific papers published last year (see below). What Jim did, apart from showing he is a science denier, is called quote-mining. The article was referring to Cai15, the paper in Nature Climate Change, about how extreme La Niñas are likely to occur once every thirteen years instead of once every twenty-three years with global warming. The full quote was in the context of the coast of California becoming "increasingly vulnerable to erosion brought about by surging storms". Jim claims, with no evidence, that NBC news was "falsely" arguing. He's wrong. It was David Perlman at SFGate who wrote that. And it wasn't "false". Unlike Jim Steele, David Perlman was citing two papers in the scientific literature. Here is the quote in context:
The Cai group predicted that increased global warming and rising sea levels due to climate change would double the frequency of those severe weather events across the Pacific basin.

The result, the group said in a report published this year in the journal Nature Climate Change, would be “more occurrences of devastating weather events and more frequent swings of opposite extremes from one year to the next, with profound socio-economic consequences.”
And wouldn't you know it. David Perlman reported how scientists collected evidence about beach erosion, writing how Patrick Barnard and his team based their scientific paper on evidence and on the other scientific research:
The coastal scientists who compiled the new report surveyed 48 beaches bordering the Pacific and analyzed detailed climate events around the Pacific stretching from 1979 to 2012 to reach their forecasts.

They also considered forecasts of extreme La Niña and El Niño events published recently by a separate group of international climate and coastal scientists led by Wenju Cai, a climate modeler at Australia’s Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Barnard said.
What did Jim Steele base his "findings" on? Nothing. He provided no evidence that global warming won't bring rising seas, more storms and increased vulnerability. It was pure denial-fueled conspiracy theorising and unsubstantiated, emotional rejection of science.

Closing with more "yellow journalism"

Jim started his article with a headline typical of yellow journalism: "Pacifica, California’s Natural Coastal Erosion and the Lust for Climate Catastrophes". He finished with another example of sensationalist emotional language rather than facts, writing (my emphasis):
But the ranks of climate alarmists are filled with legions of scientific ignoranti who blindly see such coastal erosion as another “proof” of impending CO2-caused climate hell. This group lusts for climate catastrophes to prove they are not blindly paranoid. Other self-loathing CO2 alarmists simply lust for climate catastrophes that will deal humans their final “come-uppance.” So they too lust for climate catastrophes. Only a solid of understanding of natural climate change can prevent this climate insanity and pave the way to truly scientifically based adaptive measures.
How lustfully Freudian.

From the WUWT comments

There is of course a lot more wrong with Jim's article. I've written enough - I'll let you critically read the rest if you feel the lustful urge to do so. Here are some "thoughts" from the deniers at WUWT.

Early on there was a comment from vukcevic:
January 30, 2016 at 9:20 am (excerpt)
...Climate change through ice ages to MWP, LIA and if you wish ‘warmest year everrrrr’ is just the sun’s and tectonics’ doing.

lsvalgaard's short reply to vukcevic took the WUWT "thinkers" way off topic into a discussion about WUWT etiquette (the unwritten rule of which is "thou shalt not dispute a denier without being flamed by tone trolls"):
January 30, 2016 at 9:36 am
just the sun’s and tectonics’ doing
Much too simplistic and misleading [as usual].

I regard ristvan is a science disinformer rather than a member of the scientific illiterati. Like Jim Steele, he writes self-published books full of disinformation.
January 30, 2016 at 9:37 am
Beautifully written post. Good for calling out Mooney and Borenstein. As for the local tide gauge SLR, the California coastline they are placed on does not stand still–labeled San Andreas fault is sufficient evidence. Need differential GPS land motion adjustments in many, but not all, global tide gauge locations. The recent SLR slowdown in the post chart is more likely the land rising, itself a possible earthquake precursor.

Michael D seems to think that NBC should post a retraction. Either he didn't read the article there and uncritically accepts the nonsense he reads at WUWT without checking, or he's a bit dim. Or both.
January 30, 2016 at 10:13 am
I suspect that NBC will not be posting a retraction.
People here in Vancouver talk about rising sea levels, so I downloaded the daily max and min tides from Victoria (from 1909 to present) and Juneau (from 1993 to present). Victoria is dead flat – the only change in sea level is a negative trend that is smaller than the noise. In Juneau, sea level is decreasing at 13mm / year.
Am I correct to understand that we will soon have a satellite observing global sea levels? That would be good I think – when we put up a satellite to measure air temperature, the warming trend stopped. 

Steve Lohr prefers emotion-laden hyperbole at WUWT to dry science elsewhere. In an example of upside down thinking so typical of science deniers he wrote:
January 30, 2016 at 12:05 pm
Than you Sir for yet another clear and concise article. Just excellent, and so enjoyable compared to the breathless calamity hawked by the CAGW cult.

That's enough. You might recall that Jim Steele is an odious vindictive lowlife who is known for waging vendettas on individuals and makes up stuff, on a whim.

References and further reading

Barnard, Patrick L., Andrew D. Short, Mitchell D. Harley, Kristen D. Splinter, Sean Vitousek, Ian L. Turner, Jonathan Allan et al. "Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation." Nature Geoscience 8, no. 10 (2015): 801-807. doi:10.1038/ngeo2539 

Cai, Wenju, Guojian Wang, Agus Santoso, Michael J. McPhaden, Lixin Wu, Fei-Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann et al. "Increased frequency of extreme La Niña events under greenhouse warming." Nature Climate Change 5, no. 2 (2015): 132-137. doi:10.1038/nclimate2492

Nicholls, Robert J., Natasha Marinova, Jason A. Lowe, Sally Brown, Pier Vellinga, Diogo De Gusmao, Jochen Hinkel, and Richard SJ Tol. "Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4 C world’ in the twenty-first century." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369, no. 1934 (2011): 161-181. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0291

The 5 telltale techniques of climate change denial - article by John Cook on CNN.

California Residents Turn to Drones to Document Coastal Erosion - article from Associated Press on CBC News, 25 January 2016

Scientists see a future of El Niño-fueled coastal erosion - article by David Perlman at, September 21, 2015

From the HotWhopper archives


    1. In reference to Michael D's comment on tide gauges I made a comment just yesterday on Barry Bickmore's blog (Climate Asylum) about someone who tried to use one tide gauge at Astoria as evidence that sea levels are no rising. The gauge at Astoria shows a trend of -0.27 mm/year (+/- 0.34 mm/year)so as MD said the noise is greater than the trend. But since I was born in Astoria I was interested and sought out more information.

      The whole Northwest Pacific coast from just south of the Oregon boarder up into British Columbia is subject to subduction zone uplift from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. I found a presentation about the CSZ online that showed the subduction uplift at Astoria is about 2 mm/year. So with uplift of 2 mm/year and a -0.27 mm/year tide gauge trend there is a discrepancy of 1.73 mm/year which seems likely to me to be a result of sea level rise.

      The Victoria, BC gauge MD cites is subject to uplift as well.

      The presentation is good reading about the Cascadia Subduction Zone. You can find it at

      1. Riverat.

        I see your Astoria and raise you a Juneau.

      2. Bernard J. You made me look! The drop in sea level at Juneau is pretty astounding. Just eyeballing the graph it looks like a meter of drop in about 75 years. So I went looking and found a NY Times article from 2009. In the article they say it's a combination of post-glacial rebound and subduction zone uplift. The article said there's been about 10 feet (3 meters)of land rise in the last 200 years. The NY Times article is here:

      3. Riverat.

        It's spectacular isn't it?

        I snuck that example in amongst a whole suite of gauges that demonstrate sea level rise across most of the planet, just to see if Spangled Drongo would notice and latch on to it. Of course he didn't even notice, probably because his Démon de Morton stopped him from looking at the other links. It's a shame, because I was hoping that he might make somthing of it (or of several other examples of sea sea level drop that I included) so that I could bring isostatic rebound and eustatic shifts ito the conversation.

        It's as they say - you can lead a donkey to water, but...

      4. And of course at least some of that isostatic rebound is a result of glacier melt from the contemporary human-caused warming event...

      5. This map shows the places where local sea level relative to land is falling.

        The GMSL is eustatic i.e.

    2. Steele is one of those interesting commenters who labors mightily to pretend he is a rational, moderate scientific thinker beset by hostilities, but just seems unable to reason well about the topic. I had an extended exchange with him in the long comment thread on the Rolling Stone "climate change nightmares are already here" article last year, in which he tried to claim the oceans aren't warming, cherry picking an ocean heat paper that referred to an apparent slight cooling in a 0-300m range of ocean for a short number of years, and flat refused to address the obvious fact that available ARGO analysis shows a lot of warming in 0-2000m over a longer period. He also tried to cherry pick Heimback and Wunsch 2014 claiming it also establishes ocean cooling, so I had to point him to the letter Wunsch wrote talking about what Christopher Booker similarly "pretended to understand" their paper in error. That ended that particular discussion but no doubt didn't make a dent in Jim's conviction that the oceans are cooling.

      Striking fellow. At least he avoids foaming rage and profanity for the most part. He is indeed selling anti-AGW books, and demand for anti-AGW content is high while the bar for content is low. (In fairness, Jim considers it extremely uncool to point out that he is selling books peddling these ideas that are so obviously in direct contradiction with scientific evidence, as it is unfair to suggest that this economic endeavor would bias his clear, pronounced passion for scientific objectivity.)

      1. I've seen his "foaming rage and profanity". He wanders the internet making personal attacks on and spinning lies about people who point out where he goes wrong. CC and I have been subject to that, at WUWT, on YouTube and elsewhere (see the next article, or do an internet search for "slanderous Sou").

        He has been libeling/attacking Prof Camille Parmesan for years in a one-sided personal vendetta. He is vindictive, particularly when he cannot respond to science with science. (I used to think he was just a bit slow and lacking in reason/logic/comprehension, but experience has taught me that he's on a crusade of science denial. I've been told that that even the people he admires cannot reason with him when it comes to science.)

        Jim is not a nice person.

      2. Oh, I checked Google, looks like it's "slandering Sou", not "slanderous Sou".

        And by "people he admires" I mean scientists he knows who he regards as "friendlies".

      3. Yuck. And right, I had read about the Parmesan obsession at the time I had the discussion with him. Absolutely weird.


      "I never accused climatologists in general. I only accused alarmist scientists and journalists of hyping global warming speculation without ever accounting for natural change. Most honest climatologists will agree that El Nino amplifies erosion and will avoid engaging in a global warming debate." ~Jim Steele

      1. In other words: "I never accused climatologists in general. I only accused climatologists in general. I don't "believe" them when they carefully analyse the contribution of human factors and natural factors. I claim they are "alarmists", "hyping" and "dishonest". I "believe" that climate science is a hoax and that there's some "debate" that humans are causing global warming."

        If you take Jim at his word, he can't even be honest with himself. I've learnt not to take him at his word. He's had long enough to learn about climate, and knows enough scientists, so he can only be regarded as a semi-professional disinformer in his old age.

      2. What I got from it is that anyone who disagrees with his beliefs or opinions is dishonest, and should not be allowed to speak publicly about their own views. At least that's what I think he's trying to say without actually coming right out and saying it. It would be an insult to sophistry to call it that.

        One thing I do know, you're not paying me enough to be your "obsequious foot soldier".

      3. Yes, to some people at WUWT I'm Super-Sou, with a vast staff. I've been credited with climate comments and articles way beyond HW.

        (I once joked that my lazy writer didn't stay up all night to finish an article - meaning me - and some of the nutters at WUWT took me literally, thinking I head up a huge HotWhopper organisation with tentacles reaching who knows where. Probably the IPCC, BoM, NOAA, the Met Office, the UN, the moon and Alpha Centauri. Seriously.)

      4. I guess that means I won't be getting a raise. Damn.

        I remember that quip about your lazy writer, not surprised they ran with it for serious. Smokey loves to speculate that I'm on someone's payroll, which is bizarre given how often I've been fundamentally wrong about something and admitted it.

      5. Brandon, as you know, the HW pay system is performance-based. Under the HW workplace agreement, there'll be no salary review until there is a definite indication that atmospheric CO2 has dropped and the ice age has cometh.

        (One thing I've noticed about deniers is that their main yardstick is money. Scientists are in it for grant money, bloggers are in it for goodness knows what money, but they must be paid by someone, politicians are in it for money, to be consistently inconsistent, some politicians must be against it for money, too. Lots of people at WUWT, including Anthony Watts, have alleged more than once that Nick Stokes gets paid by some unidentified body, despite him correcting them on numerous occasions. I figure it's because many deniers worship money. They value it above all else. Certainly way above knowledge, which is something most deniers despise. Anthony said on television that the biggest problem he has with climate change science is that he'll have to pay tax. That is, money is at the root of his science denial.)

      6. Tell you what, if you make my bonus dependent on temperature drop, I'll shill for higher ECS while I'm at it.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. In other words as the 50% crack says, they are giving up on making the ever increasing temperature record say what it's not and are now just making things up.


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