Kevin Trenberth is one of the world's leading climate scientists and a top science communicator. He is one of the experts who is more than willing to explain the science of climate to the general public and is often approached by journalists.
Jim Steele is a science denier and disinformer. I doubt he would ever be approached by mainstream scientific journalists. Jim uses climate conspiracy blogger Anthony Watts to promote his denial and his vanity-published denier manifesto.
Kevin Trenberth has 700 papers listed in his Google Scholar listing, and an h-index to weep for (97). Jim Steele has zero peer-reviewed publications and probably doesn't know what an h-index is.
Jim Steele goes to Serengeti to hunt Kevin Trenberth
|Kevin Trenberth stands head, shoulders |
and neck above the rest.
Yeah - it's pretty dumb, isn't it. Even were someone to find a mistake in a scientific paper, or object to something a scientist once said, it's hardly going to tear down the fabric of science. Most of the time, however, as in this case, it's the deniers who get it wrong, not the scientist they are attacking.
I thought about which Serengeti animal would typify Dr Trenberth and settled on the giraffe. It's got a great personality, it stands head, shoulders and neck above the rest of us mere mortals, it's elegant, and it would respond to attacks from dim deniers with the grace and wit befitting an honest person of strong character, like Dr Kevin Trenberth.
Dishonest quote-mining from Jim Steele
Jim started with a quote from an article in Climate Change by Dr Trenberth, which Jim neither referenced nor said where the quote came from. Here is the passage in full, with the part quoted by Jim Steele in bold italics:
How big is the human influence on climate? Is it big enough that a question such as “Is this event due to global warming?” even makes sense? Here these questions are addressed along with improved ways to frame the questions that inevitably arise when new climate extremes occur, and there have been many over the past 2 years. Clearly natural variability plays a major role. Accordingly a brief commentary on some of these extremes and how they relate to both natural variability and climate change is provided.
Climate change from human influences is difficult to perceive and detect because natural weather-related variability is large. Even with a significant climate change, most of the time, the weather is within previous bounds. However, human-induced climate change is persistent and tends to be in one direction, at least insofar as the increases in greenhouse gases are concerned (IPCC 2007). So one way of detecting such an influence is through long-term changes in mean conditions, preferably guided by climate model studies as to which variables and how they should change. This requires long averages to overcome the effects of natural variability (climate noise), and for quantities such as global temperatures, about 17 years is needed (Santer et al. 2011). With global warming, the thermodynamic variables have much stronger signal-to-noise ratios than dynamic variables (Deser et al. 2010). Accordingly, changes in temperature and the water holding capacity of the atmosphere are more robust than changes that depend on winds in any way.
Notice the last two sentences in particular, where Dr Trenberth talks about thermodynamic variables, because they have a passing relevance to this article.
Warmth, humidity and unstable air fueled the EF5 Moore tornado
Jim then tricked his readers by quote-mining a 2013 article at Scientific American. of an interview that David Biello of Scientific American conducted with Kevin Trenberth. David Biello was interviewing Kevin Trenberth about storms, particularly tornadoes. He opened his article with a reference to the horrific EF5 tornado that tore through Oklahoma on 20 May 2013, known as the Moore tornado. However his questions to Kevin Trenberth were about tornados in general, not about Moore in particular.
JIm Steele misrepresented that article, writing:
Dr. Trenberth, via his well-groomed media conduits, preaches to the public that every extreme event – flood or drought, heat wave or snowstorm – is worsened by rising CO2. To fully appreciate the pitfalls of his “warmer and wetter” meme, you need to look no further than Trenberth’s pronouncements regards the devastating Moore, Oklahoma tornado. Although Trenberth admits, “climate change from human influences is difficult to perceive and detect because natural weather-related variability is large”, in a Scientific American interview, arguing only from authority he cavalierly attributed CO2 climate change to a “5 to 10 percent effect in terms of the instability and subsequent rainfall, but it translates into up to a 33 percent effect in terms of damage.”
Here is where Jim got his quote-mined passage from and, as you can see, it wasn't specific to the Moore tornado:
David Bielo asked:
I know this kind of extreme weather is part of the territory in the middle of the country, but is climate change going to make such extreme weather more likely or more powerful?Kevin Trenberth's response was reported as:
Of course, tornadoes are very much a weather phenomenon. They come from certain thunderstorms, usually supercell thunderstorms that are in a wind shear environment that promotes rotation. That environment is most common in spring across the U.S. when the storm track is just the right distance from the Gulf [of Mexico] and other sources of moisture.
The main climate change connection is via the basic instability of the low-level air that creates the convection and thunderstorms in the first place. Warmer and moister conditions are the key for unstable air. The oceans are warmer because of climate change.
The climate change effect is probably only a 5 to 10 percent effect in terms of the instability and subsequent rainfall, but it translates into up to a 33 percent effect in terms of damage. (It is highly nonlinear, for 10 percent it is 1.1 to the power of three = 1.33.) So there is a chain of events, and climate change mainly affects the first link: the basic buoyancy of the air is increased. Whether that translates into a supercell storm and one with a tornado is largely chance weather.
Do you see what Jim Steele did? He picked out a general response and falsely claimed that Dr Trenberth was talking specifically about the Moore tornado. Jim wrote:"...Trenberth’s pronouncements regards the devastating Moore, Oklahoma tornado." Dr Trenberth wasn't making a prounouncement about the Moore tornado. He was talking about how climate change can contribute to unstable air, which is a necessary condition but does not always lead to tornadoes. He said that tornadoes in such conditions are largely from "chance weather".
JIm also didn't include the part where Dr Trenberth explained why a 5 to 10 per cent effect in instability and subsequent rainfall can have a 33 per cent effect in terms of damage.
Jim's "proof" that the Moore tornado wasn't caused by warmer, wetter weather
Jim claimed that the air in Oklahoma wasn't warmer. (Notice the shift - Kevin Trenberth talked about the oceans being warmer, indicating that they evaporate more, which means more moisture in the air, such as comes up from the Gulf of Mexico. - added by Sou a bit later. ) Jim's evidence? He plotted an "average of maximum temperature for 14 northern Oklahoma USHCN weather stations from 1900 to 2012" and wrote:
But in contrast to Trenberth’s “warmer and wetter world” assertions, there was no warming contribution. Maximum temperatures in Oklahoma had been cooler since the 1940s.
Huh? Lots wrong with that.
- You don't work out the weather that caused a particular storm by looking at the annual average maximum temperature from fourteen weather stations in northern Oklahoma.
- Nor do you work out the temperature of northern Oklahoma as a whole by plotting the average of fourteen weather stations. You've got to grid properly.
- Nor do you rely on weather stations in northern Oklahoma to gain insight into a tornado south of Oklahoma City in central Oklahoma.
- Nor do you look at a chart that stops in 2012 to deduce anything about the EF5 tornado that occurred on 20 May 2013.
Here is what the weather was like that caused the Moore tornado, from the NWS report of the event - it had all the ingredients that Dr Trenberth mentioned:
The evolution of the weather pattern through May 18 set the stage for the more intense tornadoes that affected central Oklahoma during the afternoon and evening of May 19. On May 19, abundant, low-level moisture was drawn northward across the Southern Plains resulting in a strongly unstable environment. At the same time, a dry line progressed eastward to near the I-35 corridor in central Oklahoma. Isolated thunderstorms developed by mid-afternoon as strong surface heating occurred in the moist air mass east of the dry line and a jet streak aloft approached Oklahoma from the west (Figure 1). The result was an environment increasingly favorable for supercell thunderstorms, with tornadoes forming across central Oklahoma into southern and eastern Kansas. NWS confirmed this environmental assessment using special rawinsonde launches from Norman and Lamont, OK, just before 1 p.m. Central Daylight Time.
So - moisture and heat and unstable atmosphere set up the "environment increasingly favourable for supercell thunderstorms". They are the exact ingredients that Kevin Trenberth said were a necessary pre-requisite for tornadoes. I've no idea what Jim Steele thinks causes thunderstorms. Perhaps he thinks they happen by magic.
Graphical deception from Jim Steele
There was more wrong with that little passage of Jim's. Here is the chart he put up of 14 northern Oklahoma weather stations:
Look at the legend. It's the dotted line that is the one that's representing the average of those 14 sites, not the thick black line. The black line is the raw data, not adjusted for changes to time of observation, or changes in siting or UHI or anything else.
So apart from the fact that his chart had nothing to do with the conditions that spawned the fierce tornado, not only did it not cover the time period or the location, Jim just eyeballed it and made some claim or other about how it's not got any hotter or wetter, implying it couldn't be the local climate that causes tornadoes.
If you're curious, and while it has no bearing on the Moore tornado, below is an animated chart from Berkeley Earth showing the mean, average maximum and average minimum for Oklahoma City, from Berkeley Earth:
If you're not from the USA and/or don't know where the Moore tornado happened, here is a chart showing it was just south of Oklahoma City in central Oklahoma in May 2013 (not northern Oklahoma before December 2012):
Oh, there was a lot more wrong with Jim's article. One of the main reasons people opt for Gish gallops is so that people won't bother to correct the record. There are too many wrongs to set right. So I've just picked up on a couple of the many "wrongs".
A hotter world is a wetter world
I'll mention another in passing. That's that Jim seems to think that more water doesn't evaporate as it gets hotter. He seems to be a thermodynamic denier as well as a climate science denier. Jim wrote:
Furthermore his claim of a “wetter world” is a hypothetical argument not supported by evidence. As seen in the graph below from the peer-reviewed paper Weather And Climate Analyses Using Improved Global Water Vapor Observations, there is little evidence of a steady increase in water vapor paralleling rising CO2. Even Trenberth’s own studies have concluded, “Total Precipitable Water vapor [TPW] variability for 1988–2001 was dominated by the evolution of ENSO [El Ninos].” The El Nino effect is evidenced by peak water vapor coinciding with the 1998 El Nino. Since 1998, the atmosphere has been arguably drier, contradicting his CO2 driven wetter world hypothesis.The paper he cited wasn't a study of trends in water vapour as such, it was a study about a new processing of the NVAP-M dataset. It has this as the last sentence:
Therefore, at this time, we can neither prove nor disprove a robust trend in the global water vapor data. NVAP-M and its associated detailed documentation and metadata will be available in mid-2012 at the NASA Langley Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC).
More deceptive quote mining from Jim Steele
There is one more item worth commenting on because it speaks to the dishonest representations from Jim Steele. He wrote about an article he found at Wiley.com and said:
Color me an old-fashioned scientist, but our best practices demand we correctly establish the boundaries of natural climate change before we can ever assume rising CO2 has worsened weather events. But Trenberth and his ilk insist on reversing the null hypothesis. Instead of asking if a weather event exceeded natural variability, Trenberth insists we rashly assume CO2 has already worsened the weather. However most scientists share my concern about his maneuverings. As Professor Myles Allen from Oxford University said, “I doubt Trenberth’s suggestion [reversing the null hypothesis] will find much support in the scientific community.” Trenberth’s attempt to reverse the null hypothesis has been discussed previously by Dr. Judith Curry and by top rated skeptic blogs, and in a published paper by Dr. Allen “In Defense of the Traditional Null Hypothesis.
I don't know what Jim thinks climate scientists have been doing all these years. They have been looking at past indices of climate and seeing how they have changed, now that we've added such vast quantities of greenhouse gas to the air. Jim quoted Myles Allen and Judith Curry but was highly selective in his quote from Myles Allen. Here are some excerpts from the article:
Writing in WIREs Climate Change Dr Kevin Trenberth, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, argues that the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now so clear that the burden of proof should lie with research which seeks to disprove the human role.I
Past attribution studies of climate change have assumed a null hypothesis of no role of human activities. The challenge, then, is to prove that there is an anthropogenic component. I argue that because global warming is “unequivocal” and ‘very likely’ caused by human activities, the reverse should now be the case.
The task, then, could be to prove there is no anthropogenic component to a particular observed change in climate, although a more useful task is to determine what it is.
In Bayesian statistics, this change might be thought of as adding a ‘prior’. The benefit of doubt and uncertainties about observations and models are then switched. Moreover, the science community is much too conservative on this issue and too many authors make what are called ‘Type II errors’ whereby they erroneously accept the null hypothesis. Global warming is contributing to a changing incidence of extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form has changed from human activities.
[Added a bit later] You can read what Dr Trenberth is referring to in the paper. Here is one example, from Figure 2 in the paper:
|For a 1 SD (5.6◦C) shift in the distribution (due to climate change) from A to B, only values of B to the right of the two-tailed 5% significance level (α = 0.05 in red) would be considered significant under a null hypothesis of no change. All the values in the blue area of the B distribution would not. Source: Trenberth11|
If you then go to see what Myles Allen thought about this, here it is in context, with some of the parts Jim Steele omitted to quote highlighted in bold italics. Remember how Jim mentioned the denier Judith Curry? Well Myles Allen thought less of her suggestion:
“Scientists must challenge misconceptions in the difference between weather and climate while attribution studies must include a human component,” concluded Trenberth. “The question should no longer be is there a human component, but what is it?”
In a second paper Dr Judith Curry, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, questions this position, but argues that the discussion on the null hypothesis serves to highlight fuzziness surrounding the many hypotheses related to dangerous climate change.
“Regarding attribution studies, rather than trying to reject either hypothesis regardless of which is the null, there should be a debate over the significance of anthropogenic warming relative to forced and unforced natural climate variability,” said Curry.
Curry also suggested that the desire to reverse the null hypothesis may have the goal of seeking to marginalise the climate sceptic movement, a vocal group who have challenged the scientific orthodoxy on climate change.
“The proponents of reversing the null hypothesis should be careful of what they wish for,” concluded Curry. “One consequence may be that the scientific focus, and therefore funding, would also reverse to attempting to disprove dangerous anthropogenic climate change, which has been a position of many sceptics.”
“I doubt Trenberth’s suggestion will find much support in the scientific community,” said Professor Myles Allen from Oxford University, “but Curry's counter proposal to abandon hypothesis tests is worse. We still have plenty of interesting hypotheses to test: did human influence on climate increase the risk of this event at all? Did it increase it by more than a factor of two?”
What to watch out for from science deniers
What I've done is illustrate a few of the many things you should watch out for when reading an article written by a science denier.
First of all, if the article is posted on a climate conspiracy blog, such as WUWT, then you can safely disregard it. The only exception is if it's just a copy and paste of a press release about a scientific paper. In that case, ignore the WUWT headline and the few silly words that Anthony Watts might have added, and look for the original version of the press release and the paper it's about. ScienceDaily.com usually has a link to the paper under the press release.
If you choose to persevere, then these are some of the things you need to watch for:
- Quote-mining: Make sure you check the source of any quotes. If, as is often the case, there is no source, then copy the quote into Google and do a search for the original quote and context. (You'll probably have to wade through dozens of instances of the quote out of context on denier blogs. You need the original source if it exists). Look to see if the quote is a fair representation when read in context or if the denier in question has used it in a different context in an effort to prove that climate science is a hoax or whatever.
- Irrelevant "evidence": If the article has charts, look at them carefully. If as is usually the case, there is no source given for the data, then check a reputable source for the data yourself. Make sure you also check that the data is relevant to the article, or if, as in Jim's article, it bears no relation to his argument. Check the legends and axis on the denier's chart. No, scratch that. They are often not what they purport to be (eg the much used chart of Greenland GISP2 data, that is wrongly labeled as ending in 2000 instead of 1854).
- Logic flaws: Look for logical inconsistencies. For example, it's not logical or scientifically feasible for hotter temperatures to yield anything other than more evaporation. Nor is it logical that tornadoes would spring up by magic rather than in warm, humid conditions with unstable air masses.
- Loaded language: This HotWhopper article is peppered with terms like "denier", which indicate the slant taken here. Look for similar peppering of loaded terms that indicate where the denier is coming from. These are often over-the-top terms like Lysenkoism, socialism, cult, religion, warmunist, fraud, fudge etc. Here are some that are not quite as obvious from Jim Steele's article, including assertions based on nothing but Jim Steele's jaundiced opinion (my use of "jaundiced opinion" is also loaded language):
Often somewhere in a "climate hoax" article like those written by Jim Steele, you'll find mention of money. This time the money quote appears right near the very end: "It is more than irksome that my taxes help pay Trenberth’s high salary and allow him to undermine the foundations of scientific inquiry." That sentence is rife with the golden calf worship so often the basis for science denial, as well as professional jealousy. Jim apparently got a Masters degree, but his job was managing a field station for the San Francisco State University. I'm told he used to be a good field ecologist, though to my knowledge he's never done any research or published. These days he specialises in climate hoax conspiracies and cherry picking stuff he thinks he likes, while misrepresenting solid science, and telling blatant lies.
From the WUWT comments
February 20, 2016 at 8:37 am
He is not known as Travesty Trenberth for nothing.
February 20, 2016 at 9:34 amLatitude writes an ugly comment:
How much does he charge ??
February 20, 2016 at 8:38 am
I’ll bet if you waterboarded him….even he would admit he doesn’t believe the carp he spews
ristvan compliments Jim for choosing the Serengeti strategy. He should also like this HW article, wouldn't you say?
February 20, 2016 at 8:52 am
Great post, Jim. Good that you made it personal. It was Trenberth in the Climategate emails who acknowledged the pause privately while denying it publicly, until his ridiculous paper with Balsama claiming the missing heat was hiding in the deep oceans. Unfortunately for him, ARGO some how missed his missing heat on the way down. Essay Missing Heat dissects his warmunist drivel pause explanation.
co2isnotevil credits Dr Trenberth with the discovery of radiative physics and the Laws of Thermodynamics. (Science deniers often attribute vast powers to individuals.)
February 20, 2016 at 8:57 am
Trenberth is largely responsible for the great obfuscation of conflating energy transported by photons with energy transported by matter when it comes to establishing the planets radiant energy balance. When we talk about the radiant balance, all that matters is the LTE balance and for the matter in the atmosphere to be in LTE, it must be absorbing the same amount of energy that it’s emitting. Otherwise, that matter would either warm or cool without bounds. This means that energy transported by matter redistributes energy throughout the atmosphere, but has no influence on the LTE radiant balance of the planet. Latent heat, thermals, convection and atmospheric gas molecules in motion are all examples of energy transported by matter. He conflates this all together and offsets it with ‘back radiation’, none of which is actually radiation. It’s all for the purpose of adding wiggle room to support his otherwise impossible conclusions.
Marcus might not be aware that much of the little knowledge that deniers have about their precious ENSO events come from the hard work and brilliance of Dr Trenberth:
February 20, 2016 at 9:12 am
People like Trenberth need some serious jail time to think about all the damage they have caused to the reputation of science !
Russell might doubt evolution, genetics, astronomy, chemistry and most anything science, because he wrote this very odd "thought":
February 20, 2016 at 9:31 am
Science is not about consensus. It’s about disproof, disbelief and skepticism. It’s not about consensus. When you’ve got consensus, you’ve got trouble””As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.”
Gary Pearse is typical of lying disinformers everywhere, when he misrepresents both Dr Trenberth and the renowned and scrupulously honest Stephen Schneider:
February 20, 2016 at 9:44 am
As always, Jim Steele, eminently readable, logical and uncompromisingly classically scientific. Using the behavioral hypothesis that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, I think one can predict who will hang on to CAGW until they pack their models for the last great journey and who might change their view. I guess what the old guard is really protecting is their relevance. If you have 40 years of a career behind you, you would have to be a giant (Fred Hoyle? James Lovelock?) to admit that your entire career was a total waste and your papers should be shredded.
Some, like Stephen Schneider, whose legacy is having killed off scientific integrity with his “permission” to lie about manifestations of warming, lived the lie and changed horses from global cooling to global warming without a flinch. Holdren and Ehrlich are also to be named in future historical accounts of this unconscionable behavior. Schneiders advice was followed by most of the adherents we know of, an amazing fact that is so telling about the degree of moral turpitude among scientists. I hope this is the legacy that sticks for these dishonorable ideologues.
February 20, 2016 at 9:54 am
An extremely powerful post, thank you.
The post highlights the fact that there is a High Priest caste in climate science that deem themselves to have the authority to interpret and forecast climate, in terms of anthropogenic influence, as though their pronouncements do not need scientific validation. These High Priests are supported by a structure of lesser, often lay, Priests operating in the media whose role it is to promulgate these pronouncements and also to interpret published papers in such a manner as to confirm to the lay reader that they really are going to hell in a handcart unless they believe that CO2 is the great Satan and act accordingly.
An appalling situation.
References and further reading
Service Assessment - May 2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes and Flash Flooding, NOAA National Weather Service, March 2014 (pdf here)
Trenberth, Kevin E. "Framing the way to relate climate extremes to climate change." Climatic change 115 (2012): 283-290. doi: 10.1007/s10584-012-0441-5 (open access)
What Role Does Climate Change Play in Tornadoes? - article by David Biello at Scientific American, 21 May 2013
The Human Cause of Climate Change: Where Does the Burden of Proof Lie? - Article in Wires Climate Change (pdf here) h/t Steve Bloom
Theodore G. Shepherd. "A Common Framework for Approaches to Extreme Event Attribution". Current Climate Change Reports (2016):pp 1-11. doi:10.1007/s40641-016-0033-y (open access)
HotWhopper articles about Jim Steele's past misdeeds