Monday, September 14, 2015

Anthony Watts' conspiracy blog and distorted representation at Spiegel Online

Several days after the article appeared in Der Spiegel, Anthony Watts found out about it (archived here). After months of drought, he finally got another mention in mainstream media. In an article by Axel Bojanowski in Der Spiegel - or more correctly, in Spiegel Online. That's as big a deal as getting a mention in one of Rupert Murdoch's papers, like the Australian. Or a mention in the Herald-Sun on the blog of Australia's Andrew Bolt. Der Spiegel has not got an unblemished reputation when it comes to climate science.

WUWT is accused of distorted representation

Still, Anthony thinks he's got reason to celebrate, writing a headline: "German newspaper Spiegel names WUWT the most prominent climate skeptic blog".  He didn't seem to notice that Axel Bojanowski wrote about the distorted representations from denier blogs:
Sogenannte Skeptiker (siehe Grafik) sorgen besonders in den USA mit verzerrten Darstellungen von Forschungsergebnissen dafür, dass Warnungen aus der Klimaforschung als übertrieben gebrandmarkt werden. 
Which Google translated as:
So-called skeptics (see chart) provide particularly in the US with distorted representations of research results that warnings of climate change research are branded as exaggerated.
Faint praise indeed.

Axel Bojanowski - a cross between science and fake sceptic

Even though he criticises the fake sceptics, Axel's article is nevertheless a cross between a science and a denier article. For example Axel argued that Kerry Emanuel was wrong when he published a paper showing that tropical cyclones increased in intensity between the mid-1970 and early 2000s. Axel based this assertion on a paper by Roger Pielke Jr, not on his understanding of science. (He also claimed that the 2007 IPCC report ignored the Pielke paper, when it didn't. It was cited in AR4.) Axel's argument was a bit weird and suggests he doesn't check his facts. He based his claim that cyclones haven't increased in intensity in part on an EPA publication, which stated:
According to the total annual ACE Index, cyclone intensity has risen noticeably over the past 20 years, and six of the 10 most active years since 1950 have occurred since the mid-1990s (see Figure 2). Relatively high levels of cyclone activity were also seen during the 1950s and 1960s.

IPCC on tropical cyclones

Here is what the two most recent comprehensive IPCC reports had to say about tropical cyclones. Both suggested an increase in intensity and possibly a decrease in frequency - with only low confidence in the latter:

Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period. {9.5, 10.3, 3.8}

...Based on process understanding and agreement in 21st century projections, it is likely that the global frequency of occurrence of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged, concurrent with a likely increase in both global mean tropical cyclone maximum wind speed and precipitation rates. The future influence of climate change on tropical cyclones is likely to vary by region, but the specific characteristics of the changes are not yet well quantified and there is low confidence in region-specific projections of frequency and intensity.(Page 14-4)

When it comes to intensity, remember super typhoon Haiyan and Cyclone Pam. Then there was the major flooding in central Japan this week from Typhoon Etau. It will probably be several decades before it becomes quite clear whether a) cyclones will be more intense and b) they will become less frequent this century.

Scientific clarity

Axel made some ground when he spoke in positive terms about The Uncertainty Handbook. But then spoilt it when he became confused by a recent paper in Nature Climate Change. And arguably spoilt it again when he wrote how the only certainty in climate science is that humans are causing warming. I won't quibble too much with him when he thinks everything else is more or less controversial. There is still a lot to learn about what will happen with global warming. I'll just mention that there's no controversy about the oceans becoming more acidic, or that ice is melting - although by how much and how quickly are active areas of research.

"Skeptic" to "alarmist"

I'd say Axel also lost a few brownie points when he put up a chart grading internet sites on a scale of extreme skeptic to extreme alarmist. The order in which he placed them was, using his categories:
  • Eike - an extremist denier website
  • WUWT - a middling denier website
  • Die Klimazwiebel - a slightly denier website
  • Neutral
  • - a slightly alarmist website
  • The Guardian - a middling alarmist website
  • Wir Klimaretter - an extremist alarmist website

I don't particularly object to the rating in each category - that is, denier vs science. What I take issue with is the linear rating. I'd argue that conspiracy blogs like WUWT and extreme denialist sites like Eike can't be put on the same scale as websites that publish science. I'd also argue that "alarmist" is not a suitable description of websites that write about science.

Enough of Axel's article. What about WUWT?

Pierre Gosselin's infamous prediction

Most of Anthony's article was just a copy and paste from another denier blog. That of Pierre Gosselin. Pierre is one of the deluded deniers who, in 2008 predicted that by 2020, the global mean surface temperature will have dropped by 2.5°C. Here is his prediction, with the year to date average for 2015:

Data sources: GISS NASA and WUWT

More on misrepresentation of tropical cyclones 

Pierre was quite delighted that WUWT featured in Der Spiegel. He played it up a lot, writing:
Bojanowski writes that too often the huge uncertainty in the science rarely ever gets properly mentioned, criticizing for example the UN IPCC 2007 claim that hurricanes were in fact growing in intensity. Today of course know we know this is false as there hasn’t been a single major hurricane strike in the US since. (See EPA report)

There is lots wrong with that paragraph. For a start, Pierre wrote about "huge uncertainty" rarely getting properly mentioned, and hurricanes. This is contradicted by the IPCC AR4 report he mentioned, which, as quoted above, talked about "less certainty" in regard to a drop in frequency - meaning there is a lot of uncertainty. It also stated that: "The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period.", implying that there is also uncertainty about whether the increase in intensity will persist. Deniers are not known for being accurate.

Of course whether hurricanes make landfall in the USA or not is no indication of tropical cyclone intensity anyway.  Axel didn't make that claim. Pierre's "false" is plain stupid as well as wrong. Arguably the most intense hurricane at landfall was Haiyan in the Philippines. It will take a few more decades before it is known whether tropical cyclones overall will become more intense this century than they were last century.

Now for the incomprehensible

Pierre then put opinions aside, writing about the chart that Axel put up (see above):
Opinions aside, if anything can be said of his ranking it is that the alarmists in fact do not represent the often claimed overwhelming majority and that in fact a broad spectrum of different positions on the science truly exists – just as one should if the science is to progress and not morph into some sort of unchallengeable dogma.

How he got that from the list is anyone's guess. What he means is also anyone's guess. Overwhelming majority of what? There are a lot of so-called opinions, but the fake sceptic "opinions" don't mean zilch. If you want an opinion based on fact you wouldn't go to a climate conspiracy blog, would you? If you want science to progress, you don't go to a knowledge retardation blog, where the fans want to stop climate science research.

From the WUWT comments

Gentle Tramp decided to burst the bubble of joy:
September 13, 2015 at 2:10 pm
Sorry to disturb your joy, but this text from the online version is only a little exception. In its print version, SPIEGEL has become even more alarmistic than other main stream journals in Germany. Just some months ago the print version of SPIEGEL showed a burnig Earth on its front page:

Jimbo thinks that fake sceptics have no aptitude for making money and that's why they haven't been able to figure out what has been causing global warming. He argues that it takes a lot of money to spread lies and propaganda. I disagree. All you need is a blog like WUWT, which is cheap. Or employ people to write denier articles, like CFACT, the GWPF and Heartland Institute do:
September 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm
If sceptics got just 1/4 of the funding of Warmists then Warmism would be over and out. The question Warmists must ask themselves is this: Q) Why is it that pesky sceptics are still loud and proud? A recent UN global survery put climate change concerns last.
ANSWER: Truth is cheap or free, lies and propaganda costs lots of money.
I sit back to enjoy the replies to my statement of fact.

Contrary to all evidence, Kev-in-Uk argues that if the science was sound then WUWT would "fizzle away". He's wrong. It is, and it hasn't. Analysing evidence is not something that science deniers excel at.
September 13, 2015 at 3:29 pm
Any neutrality has to be based on sound (climate) science. Since the climate science field seems devoid of much real science proper assessment or neutrality is nigh on impossible.
Put another way – if someone publishes crap then they must expect it to be discovered. The real problem is that it has to be discovered OUTSIDE of the proper peer review channels i.e blogs such as WUWT. If the science were sound – blogs such as these would fizzle away…..

References and further reading

Streit über Umwelt-PR: So irreführend sind die Wissenslücken der Klimaforscher - article by Axel Bojanowski at Spiegel Online

The Uncertainty Handbook by Adam Corner, Stephan Lewandosky, Mary Phillips and Olga Roberts

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. An anecdotal and probably meaningless observation (rant) about the current tropical cyclone and weather cycle in the Central Pacific (Hawaii!): When is the madness (heat, humidity and lack of trade winds) gonna' end? The tropical cyclones forming off Mexico normally track south of Hawaii (in a parade). This summer, the cyclones have paraded north of the Islands blocking the trades and drawing warm, humid, unstable air up behind them. If I had wanted to live in this type of weather I would have moved to Guam (no offense, some of my best friends are Guamanian ...). Does this portend a virtual move to Guam?
    Seriously, I can't wait for those fluent in German to provide the accurate translation of the whole article.

    1. JG, I've read how cyclones are expected to move poleward as global warming kicks in. Could that be what's happening where you are?

  2. Thanks J Grady!

    The tropical cyclones forming off Mexico normally track south of Hawaii (in a parade). This summer, the cyclones have paraded north ...

    That proves it enough for me, then: it is all over, all the data is in!

    I'll admit I had my doubts about the thoroughness of the science at times, but now with definitive proof like that I can finally get on with my new sustainable life direction.

  3. Re. Jimbo and Kev's comments...

    In line with their "logic" and "knowledge of history", it's simply amazing how tobacco "skeptics" just "fizzled" away and got less as the science got more clear through the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

    Or did history actually unfold somewhat differently as huge corporate, political, and social interests were affected?

  4. I'll not worry overmuch about the dictionary definition and be perfectly happy with the term 'Alarmist'. When companies like Shell Oil are already planning for a world with 4C warming anyone with a claim to a 3 digit IQ ought to be alarmed. What's the alternative: concernist?

    1. Alarmist is usually used to describe someone who is raising alarm without good reason. "Alarmed" would be fine with me.

      Anyone who isn't alarmed by what is happening and likely to happen over coming decades is ignorant about climate, old (so they don't have to worry) or incapable of emotion and/or reason.

    2. Yeah, but if you call someone an alarmist that's a double edged sword: you are telling everyone something about your own belief system. Calling us alarmists is starting to look very stupid indeed as we witness how vulnerable we are to the world's climate.

      The smart denier would use the term 'warmist' if there was such a thing as a smart denier.

      And its interesting to speculate why the term 'denier' does or does not carry the same issues as 'alarmist'. Certainly it raises hissy fits among them that we don't seem to suffer from.

      I wonder if Anthony will see the smoke today?

    3. Yes - agree with all of that, Millicent. Our Liberal Party has just turfed a denier and replaced him with an alarmist as our new PM :)

  5. 'Alarmism' is to lie and/or exaggerate about something which is not real. It's therefore an insult when applied to someone who is raising the alarm over something that is real. Please don't confuse 'alarmist' with someone who is just 'alarmed'. The two are completely different.

    1. Yes, but use that insult and the accuser risks being accused of ignoring valid warnings. And as sea level continue to rise, drought spreads, imaginary pauses disappear etc etc. the fingers do start pointing.

      Whereas if you accuse somebody of denying the science you 'risk' in turn being accused of accepting the science. I'm OK with that.

      I think we have the better of the exchange. What I object to is when the deniers try to confuse terms (as recently when WUWT was calling people who accept the science deniers). But even that tactic indicates something pathetic about them.

      So as I said earlier, I'll not worry overmuch about the dictionary definition. And language is flexible: if deniers keep using 'alarmist' inappropriately then, over time, the accepted meaning will change in a manner that will come back to bite them when they are trying to convince future generations that they always accepted the science, they merely erred towards the low side of temperature predictions - as Anthony does when he remembers he is supposed to pretend to be a lukewarmer.

  6. I think Axel Bojanowski is someone HotWhopper would normally link to using an archive. Every single article of his I have read on climate is patent nonsense. But that is accepted because it brings clicks and add revenue. I have stopped reading Spiegel Online. If this kind of misinformation is deemed to be acceptable on climate, where I can judge it, I also do not trust them when it comes to other topics, where I cannot judge it. And the editors should know after all these years that Bojanowski does not abide by the 10 commandments.

    1. Thanks Victor. I'd not come across him before and I doubt I'll pay him any attention in the future, either.

  7. Little typo there: Gosselin surely predicted that the 'global mean surface temperature anomaly' would drop to -2.5C. Which admittedly is not much more probable than the mean temperature dropping to -2.5C.

    1. Yes. I meant drop down by 2.5C. I'll fix it.

      It wasn't clear from his comment what he meant. As you say, when the drop is as big as he suggested, it makes little difference whether it's a drop from the 2008 temperature (when he made his prediction) or a drop from the temperature at the turn of the twentieth century.

  8. Either way, it's a predicted drop of the anomaly from +0-1C to -2.5C, not a drop of the global mean surface temperature from about +17C to -2.5C.


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