Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mis-"Quote of the Week" at WUWT!

Sou | 1:11 PM Go to the first of 11 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts put up as his "Quote of the Week".
"Weather practically everywhere is being caused by climate change," Holdren said.

All over the deniosphere from Roy Spencer to Wondering Willis Eschenbach at WUWT and Marc Morano, people have grabbed onto a short phrase attributed to John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The sentence they are mocking they found at The Hill:

Thing is, I couldn't find anywhere else that shows that this is what Holdren said.  It seemed an unlikely thing for him to say.  I wondered. I was sceptical.  Did someone at the Hill put words into John Holdren's mouth?

Indeed they did.

What John Holdren actually said

I found the radio broadcast that included John Holdren speaking on the subject.  What John Holdren actually said was exactly the same as other news sources quoted him as saying.  He is introduced at around 2:28 in the audio clip on this page from kvpr.org.  What John Holdren actually said was (at 2:51):
The global climate has now been so extensively impacted by the build up of human caused greenhouse gases that weather practically everywhere is being influenced by climate change.

So why did the Hill misquote John Holdren?  I don't know.  Maybe because the reporter was ignorant.  But it sure was picked up by both professional and amateur disinformers alike as well as lots of common as muck science deniers.

Other news sources quoted accurately

Other news sources that report Holdren's "call with reporters" carry the quote in context.  For example, from Reuters:
John Holdren, Obama's top adviser on science and technology, said the global climate has been so extensively impacted by "the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that weather practically everywhere is being influenced by climate change."

What's the difference?  Well, the difference is between being "caused by" and being "influenced by".   Without a definitive attribution study, the first quote is one you won't hear from a climate scientist.  The second quote is one you'll often hear or a variation of it.

Being pedantic: "climate change" vs "global warming" vs "the build-up of greenhouse gases"?

Since we're focusing on pedantry, I'll also pick a nit with the use of the words "climate change" in this context.  In the second quote, John Holdren is correct if you assume "climate change" is being used as equivalent to "global warming".  More strictly speaking, much climate change is today being caused by global warming.  Even more strictly speaking, global warming is being caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases, which is also causing climate change.  You'll have noticed that John Holdren makes this quite clear when he links the changes in global climate with the build up of greenhouse gases.

All weather today is influenced by today's atomospheric composition and the extra energy in the earth system.  I'd go further than John Holdren.  I'd leave out "practically" and substitute "global warming" for climate change and say that "weather everywhere is being influence by global warming".

What about the misquote that sent deniers into a spin?  Is "weather practically everywhere being caused by climate change?"

One way to look at it is by thinking about what is weather and what is climate.  We usually define climate in terms of weather.  Or, more accurately, in terms of the extreme ranges of weather.  That is, what is the range of weather that can be expected in a particular locale.  What are the expected boundaries within which weather will be generally confined.

Melbourne is described as having a temperate climate or a Mediterranean climate.  The word "temperate" was applied to a zone that lies below the tropics and the poles.  The difference between summer and winter isn't huge and the weather doesn't have the freezing cold winters of the Arctic.  The word "temperate" itself is generally taken to mean "mild".

Melbourne used to have a temperate climate characterised by mild, dry summers and mild, wetter winters. Last century, the extreme heat of the temperatures we've seen this century was as rare as snow in Melbourne.  Not "never" but "rare" (though the most extreme heat we've had this century was "never" experienced last century in Melbourne).

Now during Melbourne summers, heat waves are becoming more common in the low to mid 40s and higher (104-117 Fahrenheit).  Can it still be properly described as "temperate" without changing the meaning of the word "temperate"?  Perhaps we need to find a new word to replace "temperate".

Is the weather being "caused" by climate change?  Or is the changed expectation of "weather" causing a change in the climate?  Arguably, the change in the weather is as a result of global warming.  However, going to the science, Melbourne weather is also being influenced by the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.  So the change in the weather in Melbourne's  is being caused both by global warming and the hole in the ozone layer.

How much does it matter?  It depends on the context.  In science, accuracy and precision are important.  As far as the general public goes, we just want to know what is happening and why.  As far as policy goes, we need to know how to fix it.

The thing is, the weather is changing therefore the climate is changing.  And all these will go on changing as global warming kicks in.

From the WUWT comments

There is the usual spray of conspiracy theorising, nefarious intent-ing, straight up denialism and general denier weirdness in the comments at WUWT.  Here is a sample (archived here):

A couple of people at WUWT also noticed the difference in reporting.  For example, WillR says:
February 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm
This is interesting…
People basing their story on “The Hill” (Blog) are using the word “caused”.
Reuters is claiming he said “influenced”.
Popcorn futures anyone?

tgasloli says:
February 14, 2014 at 4:28 pm
It doesn’t matter that they are idiots–they are idiots with power and power is all that matters.

rabbit says:
February 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm
The meaning is clear. Before mankind started pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, we never had weather. Temperature and precipitation cycled smoothly through the seasons, one day very much like the next.
True fact.

Jean Parisot says:
February 14, 2014 at 5:10 pm
Holdren wants to kill 25M people, and he has an office in the White House. I’m not sure we should be laughing at him, if he were holding a sign on a street corner or teaching at a college – sure laugh, but he’s a little too high up the food chain for laughing.

I'll leave you with this pile of nonsense from Wondering Willis Eschenbach as he tries to put down scientist, Nick Stokes (of Moyhu), almost the only sane voice that remains at WUWT.  (Willis doesn't like Nick because Nick has a habit of showing up the flaws in Willis' wonderings.)

Out of the more than 120 comments at WUWT, Willis singled out this short comment by Nick Stokes, who wrote, quoting Willis:
February 14, 2014 at 12:53 pm
For the last decade and a half there’s been no statistically significant warming, certainly not enough to cause increased extreme weather.
Warming is warming. Its effect is totally unrelated to statistical significance.

Willis Eschenbach says (after copying Nick Stokes comment above):
February 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm
Egads, lock up the good silver, it’s the noted agent provocateur, “Racehorse” Nick Stokes.
Anyhow, Nick, let’s parse that claim of yours, shall we? Here are the propositions:
The effect of warming is a function of the amount of warming—more warming, more effect, and vice versa. The effect of no warming is zero. If it doesn’t warm, it has no effect. Warming which is “not statistically significant” is warming that cannot be distinguished from zero warming.
Warming which is not statistically different from zero has an effect which is not statistically different from zero, and thus, as I wrote in the head post,
• After seventeen years without statistically significant warming , the effect of said warming is totally related to its statistical significance, and
• Said warming is “certainly not enough to cause increased extreme weather.”
Q. E. D.
Now, for the backstory. Folks, Mr. Nick Stokes has a curious distinction. Despite various ones of his many claims being proven wrong by a variety of heavyweight folks in the past, including Steve McIntyre, Nick has never, ever once been caught admitting he was wrong in even the tiniest of details.
For this sterling quality and high achievement, he’s been christened “Racehorse” Nick Stokes, in honor of of the Texas lawyer Racehorse Haynes, who was famous for … well, I’ll let Haynes tell it:
Haynes loves discussing his cases to teach young lawyers about trial practice. In 1978, he told attendees at an ABA meeting in New York City that attorneys too often limit their strategic defense options in court. When evidence inevitably surfaces that contradicts the defense’s position, lawyers need to have a backup plan.
“Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you,” he told the audience. “Well, now this is my defense: My dog doesn’t bite. And second, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night. And third, I don’t believe you really got bit.”
His final defense, he said, would be: “I don’t have a dog.”
So what I’m trying to say is that Nick will be back to tell us all about how he doesn’t have a dog in 3 … 2 … 1 …
PS—Haynes was famous for successfully defending women accused of going for a “Smith and Wesson divorce” as a result of being abused. Once when he was congratulated on his record in those cases, he said something like “I got all but two of them off, and I’d have gotten them off if they hadn’t kept reloading and firing” …

In the light of Willis' PS - readers may recall this article from Wondering Willis.

As for Willis' "heavyweights" - only in their own mind and that of science deniers who don't read or understand climate science.  McIntyre is just another a conspiracy theorising blogger with obsessive tendencies.  He is not a climate scientist.


  1. As to why The Hill did the misquote, reporters often change quotes to something that they think sounds better. There's ongoing debate in the journalistic community as to whether "improving" quotes in this way is ethical, with reasons such as "people don't say what they mean" being given as justification for quote-tweaking.

    Most of us assume that when words are inside quote marks it means those are the words the person actually used. But it doesn't.

    1. When reporters "change" quotes they usually signify this by using 'single' quotation marks. The use of "double" quotation marks indicates verbatim quoting.
      The use of single quotation marks is often used around an article's byline or headline by editors to indicate what they believe is an accurate precis of the takeaway message of an article. Some journalists do the same to shorten an article to fit the available column space.
      Other journalists/columnists use single quotation marks to put their own slant or point of view on what was said. You might say that they follow the James Delingpole school of thought i.e. "I am an interpreter of interpretations." Done properly, the use of single quotation marks can be the refuge of scoundrels when they deal with complaints made to Press Councils or their equivalent media supervising authorities.

  2. Nick Stokes is great. How he puts up with the mighty torrent of effluent that is comments at WUWT I do not know, but hats off. *And* he gave the world the rather good Moyhu Climate Plotter which I commend to you all. Your graphs will never look as good as Sou's but they will be yours and no-one can take that away from you.


    Apologies for the OT Sou.

  3. First, I love your blog (I read it everyday) and think you do a great job.

    You write: "More strictly speaking, much climate change is today being caused by global warming. Even more strictly speaking, global warming is being caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases, which is also causing climate change. "

    Even more more strictly speaking: an event (or state of affairs) A causes another event (state of affairs) B. For A to cause B, A must not be identical to B. No event or state of affairs causes itself.

    There are different types of climate change. Dry climates, wet climates, warm ones, cold ones, but the type of change does not cause the generic change. Its the same event under a broader or more narrow description.

    The current build up of CO2 is causing climate change but this is the same event as the current rise in global temperatures.

  4. Thanks, R. Test.

    The point I was making was that the terms are describing different things.

    Global warming is a rise in temperature (at the surface, in the oceans, in the atmosphere). It is not the same as climate change, but it does cause climate change. Maybe not everywhere. But in various somewheres. In most places. Air circulation can change. Patterns of precipitation can change as oceans warm. Climate change in one place will differ from the change in another place.

    Similarly the build up of greenhouse gases is not the same as global warming or climate change. It is the ultimate cause of this current episode of global warming, which is bringing about climate change.

    As you say, climate can change anywhere. Climates can change for a variety of reasons. With global warming, climate in one part of the world might change little or not at all. But globally there are already changes in climates.

    1. Sou, I think it would be more accurate to say that global warming is one aspect of climate change (in its present-day sense), rather than the cause of climate change.

    2. Maybe, though I don't think I'm the only one who sees climates changing around the world as a consequence of oceans and atmosphere warming up. Back in 1975, Wallace Broecker wrote:

      There is little doubt, however, that this gradual warming will lead to changes in the pattern of global precipitation. Our efforts to understand and eventually to predict these changes must be redoubled.

      "Leading to" I've interpreted as more or less equivalent to "causing".


  5. If we regard climate as the envelope within which weather occurs, events well outside the envelope of thirty years ago could not have happened without climate change (in the current case, AGW). This would be a step stronger than "influenced", stating that an event would not have been possible without AGW.

    Whether we're at the position to do that yet I don't know. The effects of an El Nino might well be enough, though.

  6. BTW, if you watch this video from Climate Crocks ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqMunulJU7w ), you'll see that the focus on the phrase "climate change" vs. "global warming" is a US Republican Party decision, specifically Frank Luntz.

  7. I thought that if we had Global Warming, we in Canada might enjoy warmer summers, autumns, winters and springs. How disappointing to find that we are becoming colder. How does this happen? Never mind "extreme weather." We had this when I was a child. I was hoping for better in my old age.Granny

    1. How good's your memory, granny? Most people can't remember what the weather was like two weeks ago let alone 50-or-so years ago. Fortunately, there are weather records, which show that Canada isn't becoming colder.

      According to the Canadian government's Environment Canada website, Climate trends and variations bulletins "The national average temperature for the year 2013 was 0.8°C above baseline average (defined as the mean over the 1961-1990 reference period), based on preliminary data, which is the 16th warmest observed since nationwide recording began in 1948. The warmest year occurred in 2010, when the national average temperature was 3.0°C above the baseline average. The coolest year occurred in 1972, when the national average temperature was 2.0°C below the baseline average…The annual temperatures have warmed by 1.6°C over the past 66 years."

      Similarly, "The warmest summer on record occurred in 2012 when the national average temperature was 1.8°C above the baseline average. The coolest summer occurred in 1978 when temperature averaged across the county was 1°C below the baseline average. … summer temperatures have warmed by 1.3°C over the past 66 years."

      "The warmest autumn on record occurred in 1998, when the national average temperature was 2.5°C above the baseline average. The coolest autumn occurred in 1972, when temperature averaged across the country was 1.8°C below the baseline average. … Autumn temperatures have warmed by 1.5°C over the past 66 years."

      "The warmest winter on record was 2009–2010, when the national average temperature was 4.1°C above the baseline average. The coolest winter on record was 1971–1972, when the national average temperature was 3.5°C below the baseline average. … when averaged across the nation, winter temperatures have warmed by 3.2°C over the last 66 years."

      "The warmest spring on record occurred in 2010 when the national average temperature was 4.0°C above the baseline average. The coolest spring occurred in 1974 when temperature averaged across the county was 2°C below the baseline average. … spring temperatures have warmed by 1.7°C over the past 66 years."

      With respect to memory, I have trouble remembering what I ate for lunch yesterday.


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