Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pat Michaels theorises climate conspiracies, at Judith Curry's place

Sou | 2:30 PM Go to the first of 25 comments. Add a comment
Judith Curry has posted an article by Patrick J. Michaels from the Cato Institute (archived here).  He is wearing his conspiratorial tendencies on his sleeve, and wants Donald Trump to prevent the publication of a report mandated by the US 1990 Global Change Research Act, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). The chapter headings of the new report are listed here.

Pat describes his conspiracy theory in the second paragraph, where he believes that US civil servants "portray global warming as alarming" for money. He wrote:
The Assessment Report will be produced by civil servants in the federal government (mainly unfireable GS15’s reporting to Obama Administration bosses), many of whom handle large amounts of climate research money. It has always been in their interest to portray global warming as alarming, and therefore in need of even more federal research dollars.
I call this projection. Would Pat Michaels retain his own job for the Cato Institute if he started to write about climate science in an objective, factual manner? It seems to me he managed to get a job with them because he was a science disinformer.

Pat also made a claim that the 2000 report "used climate models that performed worse than a table of random numbers when simulating simple ten year running averages of coterminous U.S. temperatures". Two things here. Pat provides no evidence of his claim. No link to his analysis, nothing. Secondly, Pat seems to have taken no notice of the response to his complaint about his "favored" test, which is likely what he was referring to (my bold):
Thus, the analyses indicate that the test favored by Dr. Michaels, when applied in a manner consistent with the intended use of the model results (that is to look at long-term trends), does indicate that the models pass the test. By contrast, the failure of the models to pass the test as formulated by Dr. Michaels is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding on his part of how the models were to be used -- namely to provide plausible scenarios for how the long-term climate might change rather than predictions of how the climate is expected to change over the next decade or two.
Pat's bias is shown here, too, when he decides that a report provided as a key deliverable to President Obama's Climate Action Plan must be "political", not scientific. Again, he provides no evidence that the science was biased. Unsubstantiated innuendo is a favourite tactic of disinformers.

Pat is claiming that the next report "promises to be as bad or worse than its predecessors unless the Trump Administration intervenes." He doesn't say why he thinks either this next one or previous ones were "bad". Instead he explains that the report preparation is an interagency effort, involving 13 federal agencies. He mentions the number of authors and scientists involved in the previous report, as if he thinks that's a bad thing.

Deniers are scared of change and scared of being scared

The root of his complaint appears to be that climate change is "scary". Pat is probably scared of being scared. He wrote:
It featured this scary introduction: “Evidence of climate change appears in every region and impacts are visible in every state. Explore how climate is already affecting and will continue to affect your region.”

You'll notice that nowhere in the two sentences he quoted is there a scare to be seen. That is, not unless the mere thought of change is "scary".

Unsubstantiated claims

According to Pat, climate change impacts in the USA are "small" and "largely beneficial". He further claims that bad weather "is not climate change". He doesn't want to think about extreme weather which is an outcome of climate change, he only wants to push the meme of "CO2 is plant food". Like most disinformers, Pat makes sweeping statements that he doesn't back up with any evidence.

Forget risk mitigation

Interestingly, and not surprisingly for someone who is scared of change, and particularly scared of being scared, Pat quote-mines from the National Climate Assessment website. Here is the passage he quotes from, with his quote in italics:
It will be especially critical for authors to consider low-probability, high-consequence, climate futures, as these “fat tail” outcomes will often pose the greatest risks and thus must be considered in any comprehensive risk assessment. Therefore, in framing their findings, authors should not only ask themselves, “What is most likely to happen?” (e.g., with future climate, given assumptions about RCPs), but also “How bad could things get?” (e.g., as a result of uncertainty in climate sensitivity and the climate system response), and assess the degree to which the available literature addresses both.
It's obvious that Pat Michaels is not an actuary, and wants to ignore the risks to the American public. He added this comment to his quote-mine, as if to emphasise just how scared he is of climate change: "Thus the National Assessment promises to be nothing but a big book of scares."

Replacing scientific experts with deniers?

Then Pat points out that Donald Trump has been lax in making appointments to key positions, specifically that of the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (There were calls for this starting way back in February.) Pat believes that climate scientist David Reidmiller, who has solid experience in climate policy, is a "profoundly bad fit with Trump's administration".  I can understand his concern. With Donald Trump and his key appointees rejecting climate science outright, they wouldn't want a knowledgeable person being in charge of the preparation of a climate report.

I have no problem with Pat Michaels calling for a "hard look" at the draft report. The more robust it is, the better. Pat wrote:
The Draft NCA4 chapters are about to go out to agencies for review. Here the Trump people are in charge and they need make the National Assessment realistic and in line with the best and newest data. EPA in particular should take a hard look at these draft chapters, since risk assessment is a big part of their mission.
The main difficulty the EPA will probably have is the lack of resources, and the disdain the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has for anything science.

Red team blue team vs peer review

While Pat Michaels' preferred position seems to be no report, Judith Curry argues the opposite. Both she and Pat Michaels are pushing for a "red team blue team".

I've looked up this "red team blue team" process. It derives from military strategy. The proposed application to climate science is perplexing. It could be a useful tool to help develop climate policy, but seems not that useful for climate science.

The way it works is for one group of experts, the red team, to "attack" something, while an opposing group, the blue team, "defends" it.

Science already has built in processes for testing hypotheses and reviewing itself. It's called "peer review". It works by having scientists do research, publish it, and having it available for other experts to confirm, reject or build upon and enhance. That's how the body of knowledge about climate science has been built up today.

Red team tactics so far

Professional disinformers like Pat Michaels attack science, but their attacks are insubstantial. They have no bite, no substance. That's because their attacks consist of bad science, innuendo, and logical fallacies. If they really wanted to attack science, they'd do the science, or get a scientist to do science. John Cook summarised the five main techniques of science deniers as:
  • Fake experts (e.g. Pat Michaels putting himself forward as an expert on climate models)
  • Logical fallacies (e.g. straw men)
  • Impossible expectations (expecting that short term internal variability will show up in climate models at the same time as it happens on Earth)
  • Cherry picking (I'd argue this includes quote mining, leaving out important parts)
  • Conspiracy theory (e.g. civil servants exaggerate global warming for money).
These sort of techniques are probably what Pat Michaels hopes to draw on if he decides to be part of a "red team". It's what he's relied on for the last few years, without putting any dent in the body of knowledge about climate science. So I cannot imagine what he would hope to achieve by applying it to this new report.

Now, the "red team blue team" approach could work quite well if it were applied to climate policy. Provided policy experts were involved on both teams, it would be one way of testing different policies and their likely impacts, and success or failure.

For example, in Australia the government wants to subsidise new coal plants. This approach could test that idea, as well as other ideas such as subsidising new wind and solar installations instead. The pros and cons of a carbon tax could be assessed with the help of red and blue teams. This would not only help evaluate the merits or otherwise of a carbon tax, it could help refine the policy so that if implemented it would be successful.

The thing is, Judith and Pat have had decades to act as a "red team", as have all science deniers and disinformers. They may have had some impact. Climate science is now probably the most transparent of all sciences, with data being readily available to the general public. I don't know how much, if any, credit for that goes to deniers, though. A lot of it is technology-enabled, and driven by the real concern of real scientists to inform the public of the risks of climate change. Deniers can take no credit for the major synthesis reports being prepared from time to time, however, they might have helped make them more robust, if they submitted meaningful critiques during the review phases. (Most of them didn't, but there were probably some useful comments.)

As for the "red team" adding knowledge, well I don't know of any major contribution to climate science from a denier. Most of the "red team" activities take place on denier blogs, and in government committee hearings and are not backed up by published science.

Invitation to be on the red team for the Fourth National Climate Assessment

The NCA4 team issued an open invitation to be on both the "blue team" and the "red team" for this upcoming report. It will be interesting to see if Pat Michaels or Judith Curry took up the invitation. 

A footnote

One final thought. Pat's article was at Judith Curry's blog. Does that mean he's abandoned WUWT as having lurched too far into crazy-land even for the Cato Institute?

From the comments

George Devries Klein doesn't want any more science:
June 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm
What can and should be done is for everyone reading this post to email President Trump, Secretary (EPA) Pruitt, Secretary (Interior) Zinke and Secretary (Energy) Perry, for openers, telling them to can the whole exercise. Links to do so are available on WH and agency websites.
George Devries Klein, PhD, PG, FGSA

Patrick J. Michaels (@CatoMichaels) agrees.
June 21, 2017 at 10:30 pm
An excellent idea!


  1. As Senator Al Franken recently pointed out to DOE head Rick Perry, we had an actual red team a few years ago. Funded largely by Koch industries but run by actual scientists, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project completely reanalyzed the temperature record back 200 years to see if the science could be trusted. And yet as soon as they found the science could be trusted, they no longer counted as a red team. Coincidence?

    How many times do we need to do that?

    1. He wants them to get the "right" answer for the people who pay them... and he won't stop demanding "do-overs" until they do. There is a childish nature to the discussion - possibly led by the nature of the T-Rump but I think pre-dating his predations. Most fearsome pie-hole in human history... notice the big mouth, tiny hands and the trail of ...... behind him? :-)

    2. =={ How many times do we need to do that? }==

      We need to keep doing that until they stack the deck enough that they get the results they're looking for.

      Notice how politicians involvement in, and funding if, science is bad,bad, bad.... Except ifnthw like the politicians and are confident that they agree with the scientists.

    3. Al Franken schools Head of OOPS about Red Teams


  2. Poor Pat...what a waste of a life, a hollow man if ever there was one.The banality of denial has overwhelmed him.
    The cash-for-science projection is so obvious it's depressing.

    1. Sure, he has his idiot in the White House.
      A Pyrrhic victory, even if he's currently personally indifferent to the shame of lying trough his back teeth for a buck.
      The pain and pushback for these people is going to get worse year by year.

    2. Not at all. They are getting rich fast, having taken over a number of very relevant governments, and they will scamper untouched while half the planet descends into what happened to Syria or Mali.

  3. He's right about unfireable civil servants, and this is a very important point. It is indeed very difficult to fire General Schedule employees. It's so difficult to fire them that they are constantly in fear of losing their jobs if they don't do the bidding of their managers. Hang on, that didn't come out right.

    Um, oh right, they're GS-15s, which is the top of the scale, leaving them no room for promotions. They're kind of stuck there at the maximum statutory pay rate. So they have to follow orders or risk never getting another raise... shoot, that doesn't work either.

    Er, uh... AL GORE IS FAT!

  4. Everyone knows the US political system is corrupt but accusing the civil service is despicable.

    Oh, they can make misstates or be over influenced by politicians as can any civil service but overall they seem to do a good job within a weird culture.

  5. Sad thing is, anything on the fake skeptic shopping list need only be taken to Trump or his team leaders. I notice also a tiresome resurgence of dragon's teeth (repetitions of stale disproven fake skeptic talking points). Now they're even using the argument that since they "won" the rest of us should shut up already.

    1. Gotta get someone inside to suggest development of molten salt reactors and take advantage of the one thing they're apt to embrace. We're gonna need every erg of non CO2 power we can get in about 15 years when everyone realizes what kind of a mess we've gotten ourselves into.

      Has to be an inside job though. I couldn't do it. Not gonna listen. It isn't just that it has to be on the shopping list... the request has to come from someone their flappers allow them to hear.

      If only we could get the one for the T-Rump to deal with his output.

  6. It is the end of Empire folks. These ignorant non entities are destroying what has taken many women and men centuries to build.

    Evidence based decisions are no longer fuelled by advisory boards that are staffed by qualified people.
    Instead they stack these same boards with yes men and get the answers they want.

    Our modern democracies rely on the separation of powers and advisory boards that are independent.

    What is happening is a perversion of democracy not seen since Caligula was in power.

    The moronicity of the leaders in the US is beyond parody.


    1. Bert, I've come directly from Pharyngula where I just finished Keith Sewell's essay linked at this post:


      He says little that's really new under the sun, and he is often convoluted in the saying, but what he says is an ætiology of the state of play on which you've commented.

      The trouble is, we're fighting both our lizard brains and generations of the learning of perverted cultural norms. And the awful (in both the original and modern senses of the word) thing is that many of us will be around to see the juggler fall off his unicycle.

    2. He tells a good tale, but I think not completely spot-on. Our evolutionary trick is to have a model of the cosmos inside our heads, to mess with without having it mess with us. To predict what will happen.

      That model is informed by our instinctive "why?" and answered by the existence of a deity where we have no better answers. The existence or not of the deity is irrelevant, the answers satisfy the uneasiness of the unanswered "why?". For most people the precepts of the religions of the world are understood and as far as I know EVERY major religion tells us "Greed is bad"- it is evil and it is one of the seven deadly sins.

      We are governed, in the USA, in the UK and in Australia by men and women who have adopted instead the catechism according to Gekko. "Greed is Good!".

      Societies and religions that survive all have held that it is bad. There is no surviving example known that has held this opposing view. That simple observation tells us that there is a negative survival value in the faith of "free market fundamentalism" that pervades the right wing in the aforementioned nations and societies.

      So what happens when "Greed is Good"? The society subdivides, becomes smaller and smaller societies and nations are subject to dominance by larger. In the USA there is discussion of secession. Not loud but real. In the UK there is discussion of division.

      If this can happen peacefully I imagine it might be a good thing. The lunatics can then divide up the remainder left them, rinse and repeat until there is nothing left of their nation and their pseudo-religion.

      What is at risk however, is what is at risk from the effects of Mother Nature's own objection to their hubris, and that affects us all. We are indeed in for a bad time... but IMO we aren't really fighting at all.

      Just talking.

      Within 15 years there can be blood in the streets.

  7. "Pat... believes that US civil servants 'portray global warming as alarming' for money."

    Now THAT'S FUNNY!!! Pardon me while I pick myself up from the floor after falling off my chair...

    This from the guy who admitted to Fareed Zakaria, on video, that 40% of his funding came from the oil industry. And BTW, that did NOT count his coal industry funding.


    1. Except it is not funny. Decades of total underestimation..

    2. I assume you refer to underestimating the number of decades it will take before we see one in which temperatures rise enough to get us out of the linear doldrums- try dividing 1.5 to 4.5 degrees by the number of decades remaining til 2100 and you'll see the problem posed by three decade old declarations that we'd see the low end of that range by 2020.

      Six Degrees has long since gone from publishing's best seller list to its remainder tables.

    3. I'd best point out that Russell is replying to a now deleted comment. (It was there when he wrote it.)

  8. "Professional disinformers like Pat Michaels attack science, but their attacks are insubstantial. They have no bite, no substance."

    In reality climate revisionism has taken over the US and Australia. 'no bite'? How on earth is it possible those thugs STILL get so underestimated?

    1. How on earth is it possible those thugs STILL get so underestimated?

      Because too many scientists, rationalists, and political moderates evaluate them on the shoddy quality of their arguments and the low level of influence they should have, rather than on the effects that they have had.

      Also, the number of scientific experts willing to get down in the mud and fight them tooth and nail on their terms, while not zero, is low. Maybe that's understandable, maybe it's even for the best for science, but it tilts a battlefield when one side cheats and lies with impunity while the other simply sighs politely and is held to an infinitely higher standard.

      Remember the side that has made countless errors and told countless lies still tries to make an issue out of the 2035 Himalaya glaciers typo in AR4, ten years after it happened.

      If it were up to me I would target leading deniers personally. Leak their taxes or their covert financial dealings, investigate every shady thing they've done, highlight their ignorance or their corruption. Hound them into a disgraced retirement or into the grave. Whatever works.

      Recall that more than a few loathsome politicians and media figures lost their jobs and influence when their personal failings were brought to light. I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of climate scientists and activists are far more ethical than the professional deniers in their conduct of both their professional and personal lives.

      "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." World heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

      It's time to throw some punches.

    2. How do they have influence?
      Because they provide a service.
      They are in business for the service of technological incumbency.
      It was about advocacy and entrenchment, so they tailor their product to an existing need: keep our product's legitimacy, keep our market and value, keep us in power and we will cover you in gold.
      Whatever it takes.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Something tells me you've never submitted an article for peer review.

  10. If you own a toaster and borrow an IR pyrometer , take a look at what happens to the filament temperature when the toast turns black.


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