Abusing Science

Number 20 of a series

This series is dedicated to stories related to abuse of science. Abuse can take a number of forms, including outright fraud. Sometimes the approach is to talk it to death. This appears to be the approach in a video from Fox News. It’s the Mark Levin Show from last year. I see no indication of when this aired, but it was posted to YouTube on 21 October 2018.

Here we see host Mark Levin interviewing Patrick Michaels, a real scientist involved in climate research. Put it all together, Fox News, Mark Levin, Patrick Michaels—it’s going to be some kind of global warming denial. From Wikipedia:

Patrick J. (“Pat“) Michaels (born February 15, 1950) is an American climatologist. Michaels is a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute. Until 2007 he was research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, where he had worked from 1980.[2][3]

A self-described skeptic on the issue of global warming, he is a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists. He has written a number of books and papers on climate change, including Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming (1992), The Satanic Gases (2000), and Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media (2004). He’s also the co-author of Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know (2009).[2] Michaels’ viewpoint, as argued in a 2002 article in the journal Climate Research, is that the planet will see “a warming range of 1.3–3.0°C, with a central value of 1.9°C” for the 1990 to 2100 period (a value far smaller than the IPCC’s average predictions).

Yes, I forgot to mention the Cato Institute:

The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed CraneMurray Rothbard, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries. In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute. Cato was established to have a focus on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence.[8]According to the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies ProgramUniversity of Pennsylvania), Cato is number 15 in the “Top Think Tanks Worldwide” and number 10 in the “Top Think Tanks in the United States”.

The Cato Institute is libertarian in its political philosophy, and advocates a limited role for government in domestic and foreign affairs. This includes support for abolishing minimum wage laws; opposition to universal health care; the privatization of many government agencies including Social Security, NASA, and the United States Postal Service as well as public schooling; abolishing child labor laws; and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

I have encountered the Cato Institute before and have noted they often come down against scientific studies that go against their philosophical leaning. With all that said about Michaels and Cato, what really counts is what is true and what they have to say about it. You can see what Michaels has to say by watching the video, and there appears to be a transcript on line dated 21 October 2018. I will post a few excerpts. Start with this.

LEVIN: It’s a great honor to see you, Patrick Michaels, doctor. Expert on all things climate and environment, as far as I’m concerned. A little bit of your background. You’re the Director of the Center for Study of Science at the Cato Institute. You hold an AB and SM, you hold those degrees in Biology, Sciences and Plant Ecology from the University of Chicago – pretty good school. PhD in Ecological Climatology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, 1979. You’re past President of the American Association of State Climatologists. You were Program Chairman for the Committee on Applied Climatology at the American Meteorological Society. Say that fast five times.

That is some build-up, and I recall seeing this kind of thing before. When creationists introduced an authority to debunk evolution, they would go to great lengths to lay out  his credentials to make sure I knew this was not some blowhard come to dish the dirt. I must declare my suspicions get tickled when I see this kind of thing.

With that, it will be interesting to see what Patrick Michaels has to say. To start, he does not deny global warming, and he does not deny an element of human contribution. His assessment is that we are behind about half the observed rise, and the rest is natural.

MICHAELS: Well, surface temperature of the planet is warmer than it was a hundred years ago about 9/10th of a degree Celsius.

LEVIN: Nine-tenth degree of a degree Celsius.

MICHAELS: That’s all.

LEVIN: Is that a lot?

MICHAELS: No. It’s not a lot. There are two periods of warning, one in the early 20th Century that could not have been caused by human beings because we hadn’t put enough CO2 in the air, and one in the later part of the 20th Century that either slows down or ends depending upon whose data you use somewhere in the late 1990s, only to resume with the big El Nino that covered the news the last couple of years.

So that means that probably about half, maybe half of that nine-tenths of the degree might be caused by greenhouse gases because when the planet warmed beginning in 1976, the temperature of the stratosphere started to drop and that’s the prediction of greenhouse theory that’s not intuitive. The great philosopher of science Karl Popper said, if you can meet a difficult prediction with your theory, you can continue to entertain your theory.

Stop here for a moment. “[O]nly to resume with the big El Nino that covered the news the last couple of years.” Professor Michaels, an El Niño  event is a weather phenomenon, confined to a locality (large in this case) of the planet. Stuff like that gets ironed out in the averages. For perspective, the most recent temperature plots I have—representing global averages—show a continued rise to the present day. Here is one from Berkeley Earth, and I have preserved the largest available size to enable you to examine it up close. Click on the image to get the large view.

He also talks about atmospheric modeling, which figures greatly in predicting the effects of adding CO2 to the atmosphere. He wants us to know the bulk of models being used are worthless and he lays this at the feet of the practice of parameterizing the models.

But we just don’t really have a good explanation for that, but because we forced the computer models to say, “Aha, human influence, CO2 and other stuff.” We made the models too sensitive, and so that’s why when you get to the late 20th Century, all of a sudden they’re warming up like crazy and the reality is down here. It was guaranteed to happen.

This was revealed in “Science” magazine in late 2016, and there was a paper that was published by a French climate modeler called “The Art and Science of Climate Model Tuning,” and in it, he speaks of parameterizing — we could say fudging — the models to give, his words, an anticipated acceptable range of results. [emphasis added]

Being what I am, I felt the need to track down this particular reference. In truth, I could find no such article appearing in Science magazine in the weeks (October) preceding the 2016 election. I did find this: “Using climate models to estimate the quality of global observational data sets.” Science, 28 October 2016, Vol. 354 Issue 6311, p. 452. There is an item with a similar name: “The Art and Science of Climate Model Tuning,” which Michaels may have been thinking about, but this was not published in Science, and it came out in 2017, not 2016. You can pull it up to read for yourself, but here is the abstract:

We survey the rationale and diversity of approaches for tuning, a fundamental aspect of
climate modeling, which should be more systematically documented and taken into account in multimodel analysis.

An introductory paragraph:

As is often the case in sciences that address complex systems, numerical models have become central in climate science (Edwards 2001). General circulation models of the atmosphere were originally developed for numerical weather forecasting (e.g., Phillips 1956). The coupling of global atmospheric and oceanic models began with Manabe and Bryan (1969) and came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. Global climate models or Earth system models (ESMs) are nowadays used extensively to study climate changes caused by anthropogenic and natural perturbations (Lynch 2008; Edwards 2010). The evaluation and improvement of these global models is the driver of much theoretical and observational research. Publications that analyze the simulations coordinated at an international level in the frame of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) constitute a large part of the material synthesized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports. Beyond their use for prediction and
projection at meteorological to climatic time scales, global models play a key role in climate science. They are used to understand and assess the mechanisms at work, while accounting for the complexity of the climate system and for the spatial and temporal scales involved (Dalmedico 2001; Held 2005).

Michaels decries the climate models being used by various governments, except, he says, the one used by the Russians is accurate. Additionally he displays a plot that purports to show the divergence between the parameterized models and actual measurements. Here it is. Click on the image to get the full size:

Sum of the story, Michaels is jawboning the issue. He agrees that humans are contributing to global warming, but he excuses this by noting there are other contributions. He points to outrageous predictions and shows how they failed. He notes the increase in property damage by weather correlates to the increase in property to be damaged (in terms of the GDP). But he never denies the existence of the human contribution, which he cannot. I urge readers to watch the video and get back to me. There is more I would be able to add, given more time and space.

Next up: a YouTube video pushing some weird science.

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