Saturday, July 20, 2013

Roy Spencer the half-truther and Roger Pielke Jr the global warming advocate

Sou | 4:56 PM Go to the first of 7 comments. Add a comment
Update: see below.

I just saw Roy Spencer giving testimony to a USA Senate hearing "Climate Change is Happening Now".

Spencer admitted: "there's a lot of half truths in this business".

Then he proceeded to prove his point.

He said that Antarctic sea ice is increasing but left out more than the half the picture, namely that the Antarctic ice melt from land is contributing to sea level rise, and that the Arctic sea ice is decreasing ever so much more than the increase in Antarctic sea ice.  He claimed that he falls into the 98% of scientists who agree that humans cause global warming, asking "how much do humans contribute" while neglecting to point out that the 98% agree that humans cause most of the current global warming.  At least more than half the global warming according to the Cook et al study that Spencer was referring to.

Spencer who claimed to be a scientist who should know about climate, ended up his speech with "at some point we have to ask ourselves is all of this just mostly part of what the climate system does naturally".   Is he saying he doesn't know?

For an avowed Christian Roy Spencer is a terrific half-truther!

Pielke and Senator Whitehouse agree

Here is some more from the same Senate panel hearing.  Senator Whitehouse and Roger Pielke Jr find much to agree upon:

Whitehouse: We agree that climate change is happening.
Pielke: Yes
Whitehouse: We agree that we should both mitigate and adapt in response to that change.
Pielke: Yes
Whitehouse: We both find the IPCC reports credible?
Pielke: Yes.
Whitehouse: Can we also agree that a body of credible research projects that extreme weather events could increase in frequency and intensity due to manmade carbon dioxide emission.
Pielke: Yes, that's certainly the case and if you look at the literature you'll find many such projections. 

But Pielke quickly switches to hurricanes, his favourite topic.  He went on to say it could be a long time before we can categorically say that hurricanes are increasing in frequency or intensity.

Whitehouse then asks that, given that we're already way beyond the norm in terms of CO2 now at 400 ppm, we should anticipate climate behaviour rather than wait for a signal in every single facet of climate?

Pielke says: Yes, absolutely. And goes on to explain that he's written about adaptation for an awfully long time.

Then he builds a big straw man saying people shouldn't do this or that, which they don't do anyway.  Why does Roger do that?  It's because of his ideology.  Why does he say the droughts of the past were worse?  Because he's judging them in terms of human impact not in terms of weather metrics.  We have adapted so we can cope better with worse droughts and floods than occurred in the past.  But not everyone can.

The question becomes: how much more do we want to rely on adaptation when it is within our power to limit what we will have to adapt to?

Whitehouse is knowledgeable about climate.  He's done a lot of reading.  He asked questions that Roger had to agree to if he wanted to maintain a shred of dignity.  Simple grade school questions that any child could answer.  Like warmer oceans energise storms.  More evaporation leads to more intense precipitation.  "Yes, that's absolutely true" was Pielke's response.

Whitehouse is not just knowledgeable about climate, he's also knowledgeable about Roger Pielke Jr and Roy Spencer.

Then the floor is given to Senator Vitter to ask some questions.  Vitter is different to Whitehouse.  Vitter is interested in what he himself "believes", whereas Whitehouse was more concerned with what is happening in the world.  It was kind of funny to see Vitter bringing the discussion back to extreme events right after Pielke had said that the discussion ought to focus on other matters because he reckons it's not yet possible to detect a signal in (some) extreme events - like tornadoes and hurricanes (tropical cyclones).  I'm sure Vitter didn't intend it, but what Vitter got Pielke to say was that there has been a documented increase in some extreme events, like heat waves and intense precipitation.

Vitter comes up with a whole lot of charts saying they are from Pielke's testimony.  As he unveils each one, Pielke says: "That's not from my testimony".  Oops!

On drought: Pielke says: There are trends in some places of increasing drought and in other places of decreasing drought but over the whole world there is no discernible trend.... That is the point, isn't it.  That climates in different regions are changing.  In those places where there is increasing drought, that's what people are concerned about.

On wildfires: Pielke says it's very plausible that there could be an increase in the number of western wildfires for example.

Finally Vitter unveils one of Pielke's charts - on hurricane landfalls: They aren't hitting the land in the USA right now, says Roger.  We've been pretty lucky in recent years, he says.  And globally there is no trend in landfalls either.  Another panelist pointed out that focusing on landfall is misleading as there have been many more hurricanes than normal in the Atlantic in the past couple of years.  It's just that they didn't hit land.

Spencer says creation "theory" is more scientific than evolution!

A bit later, Senator Whitehouse asks Roy Spencer if the theory of creation has a much better scientific basis than the theory of evolution (3h 23m 10 seconds): Spencer's short answer was "yes".

Mixed reaction on WUWT

Despite the efforts of Anthony Watts, there was a mixed reaction on WUWT to the senate panel hearing.  Anthony led off with the headline:
Watch yesterday’s blockbuster performance by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. and Dr. Roy Spencer at Senate climate hearing
Not everyone agreed that the performance of either was a "blockbuster".

Gary says:
July 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm  Pielke concedes things that he shouldn’t such as agreeing with Whitehouse that the IPCC reports are credible. Some parts are, but some parts assuredly are not. Spencer’s monologue on Cook’s bogus research sounds like he agrees with it. I’m disappointed in the performance of both witnesses. Whitehouse will take their statements to reinforce his position rather than change his position to a reasonable one.

Kev-in-Uk says (excerpt):
July 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm  I have to say, that I wasn’t overly impressed with Pielke Jnr. To me he seemed to be almost crying ‘I’m a warmist but I don’t have the data to support that’? or perhaps, he simply accepts, like most of us – that human co2 is likely to cause some climate effects – but we dont yet know how much?

TrueNorthist says:
July 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm  I am left wondering where the blockbuster performance was. I thought perhaps that I had selected the wrong video but no, it was Pielke and Spencer so it must be the right one. What I took away from this was that Pielke Jr agrees entirely with the IPCC and that Dr Spencer is a creationist. Sorry, but if this is what passes as blockbuster stuff then we should all start getting our heads around paying carbon taxes.

albertalad's comment was snipped by the WUWT mods
July 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm [snip]

Janice Moore lets us in on what the lad said, quoting him as writing:
July 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm  “Spencer’s testimony was destroyed by his stance on evolution – it made him seem like a lunatic!” [Alberta Lad at 5:39 PM 7/19/13]

milodonharlani thinks the Republicans chose Spencer and Pielke Jr deliberately to undermine their denial - (or perhaps he doesn't realise they were nominated by the Republican senators).  He says:
July 19, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Naturally Spencer was chosen from among thousands of qualified skeptics precisely because he questions aspects of evolutionary theory. And Pielke, jr because he’s a lukewarmist, at best. This gives the appearance of balance & fairness without endangering the orthodoxy.

pokerguy says:
July 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm  milodonharlan, exactly right. Total bag job. Spencer should have declined. Where was Judith Curry?  Celebrating this as a skeptic victory is pathetic.

Much of the rest of the discussion was about exactly how loony Spencer appeared to be - was it a lot or a little.  I gather from the WUWT comments that to some extent it depends on whether one is a fundamentalist Christian or not.

UPDATE: (Sun 21 July 13) Catmando at Ingenious Pursuits has written a thoughtful article on Roy Spencer's ideas and intelligent design.


  1. I rather enjoyed the whole exchange:


    SENATOR WHITEHOUSE: Let me turn to Dr. Spencer, let me first ask a kinda unrelated question Doctor; do you believe that the Theory of Creation actually has a much better scientific basis than the Theory of Evolution?

    ROY SPENCER: Ha Ha! And why are we going in this direction?

    SENATOR WHITEHOUSE: Because it's something you've said and I just want to see if you still believe it.

    ROY SPENCER: Uhh, I believe that Evolutionary Theory is mostly religion, it is naturalistic, but my faith is not strong enough to believe that everything happened by accident. I mean there's a lot of work out there that's shown that you can not statistically combine all of the elements that are contained in the DNA molecule by chance over however many billions of years you want to invoke or how many, how much known universe there is with all of the matter in it. So what I'm saying is some areas of science deal a lot more with faith than with known science and so I'm open to alternative explanations.

    SENATOR WHITEHOUSE: And do you still believe that the Theory of Creation actually has a much better scientific basis than the Theory of Evolution, to be specific?

    ROY SPENCER: I think, I think I could be put into a debate with someone on the other side and I think I could give more science supporting that life is created than they could support, with evidence, that life evolved through natural random processes, so yes.


    That first answer is a doozy!

    1. Yes, I believe that is referred to technically as "gobbledegook".

    2. Evasive - or, at best, hand-waving - gobbledygook. I'd love to get his reference list for the 'lot of work' that's 'out there' that 'shows' this stuff.

      I also find it interesting when Creationists criticize the actual science of Evolution as being 'mostly religion' based on 'faith', as happens surprisingly frequently given that they immediately paint themselves into a corner by doing so. Even leaving aside the fact that they're simply, um, wrong, so, what, religions and faith are an obvious source of bad information then, guys?

      Or is it just the ones you don't like? The 'not True' ones?

      Senator Whitehouse did a great job making his point just by asking the question again

  2. I was impressed with Senator Whitehouse. I've seen some of the videos of him talking about climate change, so am aware of his views but did think his summary at the end was very good and highlighted the key issues that the hearing had largely overlooked.

  3. If I'd a had Senator Whitehouse's telephone number, I'd of asked him to ask a related, but different question. "As a creationist, do you accept the current paeleoclimate research on the Earth of hundreds of thousands of years ago?"

    For skeptics, the denial of an extreme weather situation can be achieved with large scale averaging. Heidi Cullen's regional flooding in the upper Midwest and the Northeast disappears in Roger Pielke's nationwide averages - because there is less flooding than usual in the drought-stricken West.

    Re Pielke's: "Flood losses as a percentage of US GDP have dropped by about 75% since 1940." (written testimony)
    This "percentage of US GDP" is similarly a kind of nationwide averaging, but with an additional problem. It assumes that increases in the Gross Domestic Product(GDP) are taking place proportionately as much in flood plains - as on higher ground. Which is silly.

    I'm not as succinct as Jennifer Francis on this point. But I do have the freedom to draw a conclusion. "Climate Denial" can be defined as the preference for second rate data, instead of the good stuff - like Heidi Culllen's.

    1. Regarding US flood losses "since 1940", the Tennessee River Authority was created in 1933. The Big Government that the likes of Pielke blame for all modern troubles was created in precisely that timeframe; it's no accident that the TVA is emblematic of that development. Before, flood damage was a property of the landscape, waddya gonna do. After, flood damage is manageable on a sufficient scale and benefits outweigh costs.

      As you say, "flood losses as percentage of GDP" is an amalgam of many things since 1940 and good evidence of Pielke's vacuousness (does even he think it means anything?), but it's the Big Government aspect which tickles my irony-buds.

      Of course there's the downside of interventionism, which is the belief that every problem can be engineered around, but it worked much better than nothing for a long time, so long that libertarians take its achievements for granted.

  4. The milodonharlani and pokerguy responses are keepers. The conspiracy ideation overwhelms all other considerations. And the Judith Curry thing on top - inspired. I do so hope that idea takes off. Given what she produces with benefit of Preview and Edit, what she'd produce without said benefit is anybody's guess. And no doubt still would be after she'd produced it.


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