January 17, 2012

A Response to Skeptical Science’s “Patrick Michaels: Serial Deleter of Inconvenient Data”

Filed under: Climate Politics

by Patrick Michaels

When the battle is being lost, there is a tendency to try to raise a level of distraction to shift the attention away from the desperate situation at hand. Such is the noise being raised concerning my presentation of the results from a recent series of scientific findings and observations—that lend further support to notion of modest climate change. The apocalyptics and the gloom-and-doom crowd are losing both the science battle and the policy war.

Dana Nuccitelli (aka dana1981) over at the website Skeptical Science has recently written a screed purporting that I delete “inconvenient” data in order to make my points. In fact, what I have done is to highlight the major findings of the studies I have commented on—findings that have indeed strengthened the case that global warming in this century will be in the lower end of the range of projections issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Mr. Nuccitelli starts by digging up the dead horse of my 1998 testimony to Congress and my presentation of the global temperature projections made ten years earlier (in 1988) by NASA’s Jim Hansen. In my testimony before the Committee on Small Business of the U.S. House of Representatives in July 1998 (available here) I elected to focus on a comparison between the observed temperatures and those projected to have occurred under Hansen’s (in his words) “business-as-usual” (BAU) scenario. Remember, this was in 1998. There was no worldwide treaty reducing carbon dioxide emissions (indeed, there isn’t one now). The only change to BAU that took place in the 1988 to 1998 time period was the Montreal Protocol limiting the emissions of CFCs. Reductions in production began only in 1994 and the radiative effect of the Protocol by 1998 was infinitesimal. To me, BAU means BAU. One of the main points that I was making in my 1998 testimony was that observations indicated that the global temperature were rising much less than Hansen had forecast under BAU, which is what happened. That was true then, and it remains true today, as the amount of warming he overforecast in 1988 is painfully obvious.

Mr. Nuccitelli then criticizes my handling of the results of a pair of new scientific studies examining the earth’s climate sensitivity by Schmittner et al. (2011) and Gillett et al. (2012). Each of these research teams reported rather lowish estimates of the climate sensitivity. As in any scientific study, there is a lot of discussion concerning data and methods and results in these papers and caveats and uncertainties. In my summary of them, I focused on the major results much as the authors did in the papers’ abstracts. In both case I wrote positively about the findings. Not having obtained the actual raw data from the authors themselves to enable me to create charts directly illustrating the paper’s main points (a task that is commonly not altogether straightforward, timely, or even successful; see the Climategate emails for examples of the myriad of potential difficulties encountered in such an effort), I did the next best thing, which was to adapt the published figures to simplify and highlight the major results (and focus my accompanying text on the main findings).

For example, from Schmittner et al., I removed from one of the original figures some data pertaining to individual components (land and ocean) because the paper was about global temperature and I am concerned about global sensitivity. I showed the global results (and noted in the caption of the Figure I presented that it had been “adapted from Schmittner et al., 2011″). The finding that I showed was the same one which the authors focused on in their abstract which I reproduce here in full:

Assessing impacts of future anthropogenic carbon emissions is currently impeded by uncertainties in our knowledge of equilibrium climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide doubling. Previous studies suggest 3 K as best estimate, 2–4.5 K as the 66% probability range, and non-zero probabilities for much higher values, the latter implying a small but significant chance of high-impact climate changes that would be difficult to avoid. Here, combining extensive sea and land surface temperature reconstructions from the Last Glacial Maximum with climate model simulations, we estimate a lower median (2.3 K) and reduced uncertainty (1.7–2.6 K 66% probability). Assuming paleoclimatic constraints apply to the future as predicted by our model, these results imply lower probability of imminent extreme climatic change than previously thought.

And the same is true for my encapsulation of the work of Gillett and colleagues. In this case, I simplified one of the original figures by removing some results that were derived using a shorter and incomplete (1851-2010 vs. 1901-2000) temperature record while retaining the same record that was preferred by the authors (and again noted in the caption to the Figure that I presented that it had been “adapted from Gillett et al., 2012″ and additionally added that “the original figure included additional data not relevant to this discussion”).

That one of the primary scientific advances of the paper was the result derived using the more complete temperature time series is demonstrated by the paper’s title “Improved constraints on 21st-century warming derived using 160 years of temperature observations.” Note the words “improved” and “160 years of temperature data” (the full record).

I invite you to compare the “before” and “after” images from these two papers as detailed by Dana Nuccitelli with the descriptions made in summary by the paper’s original authors and you’ll see that I was being true to their work. Further, read through my articles (here and here) spotlighting their results and you’ll see that I was also quite supportive of their findings.

Mr. Nuccitelli, as a contributor to Skeptical Science—a website dedicated to trying to bolster the alarmist claims of human-caused climate change—realizes that it is in his best interest to try to obliterate evidence which paints a less than alarming picture of our climate future. Anyone who both produces and synthesizes such findings will be his target. That’s just the way the game is played by alarmists like Dana and the ever-obnoxious Joe Romm (who probably has done more damage to his cause with his over-the-top vitriol than he can possibly imagine).

If evidence continues to accrue that the earth’s climate is not changing in a manner sufficient to inspire enough fear in the general populace to demand life-altering energy limitations, attacks will continue by those, to use Mr. Nuccitelli phrase “who simply don’t want to accept the scientific reality.”

To keep up with the latest scientific findings concerning climate change highlighting the modest nature of the expected changes—findings that which are unlikely to be highlighted in the general media—I invite you to drop in from time to time here at World Climate Report , my “Climate of Fear” column at Forbes, my “Current Wisdom” feature at Cato, or any of the other sites, such as Watts Up With That? or Junk Science, that occasionally highlight my writings.

And, as always, if you ever don’t believe what I have to say, or want to investigate the issue in more detail, I include a list of references of the papers that I am discussing. So, as Casey Stengel used to say, ‘you could look it up.’


Gillett, N.P., et al., 2012. Improved constraints on 21st-century warming derived using 160 years of temperature observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, L01704, doi:10.1029/2011GL050226.

Schmittner, A., et al., 2011. Climate sensitivity estimated from temperature reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum, Science, 334, 1385-1388
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203513

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