Who are the Skeptics?

Part 3 in a series of 5 for NextGen Journal
Adapted from part of an earlier post

As we discussed last time, there is a remarkable level of scientific consensus on the reality and severity of human-caused global warming. However, most members of the public are unaware of this consensus – a topic which we will focus on in the next installment. Anyone with an Internet connection or a newspaper subscription will be able to tell you that many scientists think global warming is natural or nonexistent. As we know, these scientists are in the vast minority, but they have enjoyed widespread media coverage. Let’s look at three of the most prominent skeptics, and examine what they’re saying.

S. Fred Singer is an atmospheric physicist and retired environmental science professor. He has rarely published in scientific journals since the 1960s, but he is very visible in the media. In recent years, he has claimed that the Earth has been cooling since 1998 (in 2006), that the Earth is warming, but it is natural and unstoppable (in 2007), and that the warming is artificial and due to the urban heat island effect (in 2009).

Richard Lindzen, also an atmospheric physicist, is far more active in the scientific community than Singer. However, most of his publications, including the prestigious IPCC report to which he contributed, conclude that climate change is real and caused by humans. He has published two papers stating that climate change is not serious: a 2001 paper hypothesizing that clouds would provide a negative feedback to cancel out global warming, and a 2009 paper claiming that climate sensitivity (the amount of warming caused by a doubling of carbon dioxide) was very low. Both of these ideas were rebutted by the academic community, and Lindzen’s methodology criticized. Lindzen has even publicly retracted his 2001 cloud claim. Therefore, in his academic life, Lindzen appears to be a mainstream climate scientist – contributing to assessment reports, abandoning theories that are disproved, and publishing work that affirms the theory of anthropogenic climate change. However, when Lindzen talks to the media, his statements change. He has implied that the world is not warming by calling attention to the lack of warming in the Antarctic (in 2004) and the thickening of some parts of the Greenland ice sheet (in 2006), without explaining that both of these apparent contradictions are well understood by scientists and in no way disprove warming. He has also claimed that the observed warming is minimal and natural (in 2006).

Finally, Patrick Michaels is an ecological climatologist who occasionally publishes peer-reviewed studies, but none that support his more outlandish claims. In 2009 alone, Michaels said that the observed warming is below what computer models predicted, that natural variations in oceanic cycles such as El Niño explain most of the warming, and that human activity explains most of the warming but it’s nothing to worry about because technology will save us (cached copy, as the original was taken down).

While examining these arguments from skeptical scientists, something quickly becomes apparent: many of the arguments are contradictory. For example, how can the world be cooling if it is also warming naturally? Not only do the skeptics as a group seem unable to agree on a consistent explanation, some of the individuals either change their mind every year or believe two contradictory theories at the same time. Additionally, none of these arguments are supported by the peer-reviewed literature. They are all elementary misconceptions which were proven erroneous long ago. Multiple articles on this site could be devoted to rebutting such claims, but easy-to-read rebuttals for virtually every objection to human-caused climate change are already available on Skeptical Science. Here is a list of rebuttals relevant to the claims of Singer, Lindzen and Michaels:

With a little bit of research, the claims of these skeptics quickly fall apart. It does not seem possible that they are attempting to further our knowledge of science, as their arguments are so weak and inconsistent, and rarely published in scientific venues. However, their pattern of arguments does work as a media strategy, as most people will trust what a scientist says in the newspaper, and not research his reputation or remember his name. Over time, the public will start to remember dozens of so-called problems with the anthropogenic climate change theory.

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13 thoughts on “Who are the Skeptics?

  1. Kate, Thank you for this excellent series. You are polite and thoughtful.

    Way back in the 70’s – while investigating the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon, the journalists Woodward and Bernstein were advised to “Follow the money.”

    The point today is that there is very high motivation for carbon energy companies to fund deniers. In fact there is a fiduciary responsibility to stockholders to maximize profits in any way possible. Promoting confusion about the real harm of carbon fuels is an obviously profitable message.

    In the matter of these scientists, there is much investigation of direct and indirect payments from ExxonMobil and other energy sources. For instance Patrick Michaels admitted that derives much of his income from Exxon and the energy industry http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=4, or try http://www.logicalscience.com/skeptics/patMichaels.html

    At some point in the discussion of science, we must bring in ethics and morals. You are too kind by addressing them as inept scientists who misbehave, but some think they are villains.

    http://www.alternet.org/environment/144990/the_14_most_heinous_climate_villains

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/lists/whos-to-blame-12-politicians-and-execs-blocking-progress-on-global-warming-20110119/rupert-murdochceo-news-corporation-19691231

    http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/447903/who%27s_to_blame_for_the_climate_crisis_here%27s_rolling_stone%27s_list/

    Thanks for promoting discussion

  2. Are we going to get further posts. If so what about:
    David Archibald (we need 1000ppm)
    Bob Carter
    De Freitas
    M&M’s
    Christopher Monckton
    Ian Pilmer
    Willie Soon

    Journalists
    Michael Bolt
    James Dellingpole

  3. S. Fred Singer hasn’t published since the 1960s? A quick check on the net reveals that isn’t true. I found two published in geophysical research letters in 2004 after spending a total of 10 seconds of searching. I wonder how many I would find if I actually put some time in it. Keep your facts straight please.

    http://lanl.arxiv.org/find/all/1/all:+AND+Singer+AND+S+Fred/0/1/0/all/0/1

    I wrote rarely published since the 1960s. Two papers over fifty years, I believe, counts as rarely. Let me know if you find any papers other than those two, because I haven’t been able to. -Kate

  4. Well I found 3 more in just a cursory search. The dude is 86 years old, so frankly it’s amazing that he has been involved in 5 papers when he is well past the age of retirement.

    And yet, he has been involved in countless op-ed pieces, media appearances, the NIPCC, presentations with the likes of the Heartland Institute, and his own think tank. Does this guy seem like a scientist or a PR person to you? -Kate

    Experts address the question: What are the prospects for an effective implementation of the Kyoto Protocol?
    1. Hironori Hamanaka,
    2. S. Fred Singer,
    3. Paul E. Metz,
    4. Axel Michaelowa,
    5. Hermann E. Ott

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1477-8947.2006.00159.x/abstract

    A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearson, S. Fred Singer Int. J. Climatol. (2007) DOI: 10.1002/joc.1651. DOI: 10.1260/095830509787689277.

    – Addendum to A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model Predictions (PDF)
    (Submitted to the International Journal of Climatology, 2007)
    – David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearson, S. Fred Singer

    A policy-based opinion panel (likely not peer-reviewed, but I can’t be sure just from the abstract) and a submitted (i.e., not published) addendum? I think the count stands at 3. This is mostly splitting hairs though. The bulk of Singer’s publications came out fifty years ago. His career is no longer one of a research scientist. -Kate

    [citations needed – anthropogenic CO2 emissions are insignificant]

    • So essentially dmmcmah is arguing that (1) it’s not true that Singer has rarely published in academia since the 1960s, and (2) um well, it may be true that Singer has rarely published in academia since the 1960s, but that’s OK because he’s an old man, and therefore (3) warmists are wrong, or something. Duh?

      Well, to be fair, we should count the original Douglass et al. (2007) paper — though not the addendum — as one post-1960 publication. Still, it’s interesting to note that the 2007 paper makes an elementary error in statistical theory (see the paragraph on “error bars”) — which I think explains why the only people citing this paper are climate cranks.

      — frank

  5. ” In recent years, he has claimed that the Earth has been cooling since 1998 (in 2006), that the Earth is warming, but it is natural and unstoppable (in 2007), and that the warming is artificial and due to the urban heat island effect (in 2009).”

    Haha, hillarious

  6. In the light of what John Cook says about ‘backfire effects’ (see yesterday’s Crock of the Week), might I suggest that if you revisit this article you may want to reconsider how you present the list of debunk links towards the end of this article, on the grounds that the current presentation of these reinforces the myths.

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