Why we can’t trust ’em … skeptics and misrepresenting evidence …

The sound machine of Global Warming denialists and skeptics is revving up. There are two new items that are certain to be rocketing around the globe within certain circles ‘proving’, somehow, that Global Warming isn’t real and that action to prevent it are misguided.

I’m not talking about Senator Steven’s latest claim that what we really need to fear is Global Cooling (to be dealt with later), but about

Ted Schulte’s attack on Naomi Oreskes’ work about Global Warming consensus in the scientific literature; and,

* Bjorn Lomborg’s new book, Cool It.

What is striking about both of these works, about both of these skeptics, is their seemingly straightforward willingness to misrepresent, selectively quote, misconstrue information to support their claims and therefore to present an entirely misleading (false) case.  A false case that will trumpeted and circulated by too many who won’t take the time to question what they see.

Let’s deal with Lomborg for a moment.

Chris Mooney, author of the recently published Storm World focusing on Global Warming debates/science and hurricanes, has taken a close look at Lomborg’s discussion about hurricanes

Lomborg’s argument isn’t that global warming is a hoax–thank goodness, we’re mostly past that. Instead, he merely argues that climate change is not as big a deal as some think

That’s right, Lomborg isn’t a denier but, instead, is focused on an economic argument that dealing with Global Warming is a misallocation of scarce resources. Now, I won’t get into the economic problems of his arguments (like an absence of dealing with positive gains associated with many Global Warming reduction moves and for understating costs), but instead let’s look at what Mooney had to say about hurricanes.

Mooney does give Lomborg credit for appropriate criticism of overblown links between specific hurricane events and Global Warming but after giving this credit Mooney continues …

But from here, Lomborg grows increasingly misleading. Before long, we find him citing a late 2006 statement from the World Meteorological Organization as representative of the current scientific consensus on the relationship between hurricanes and global warming. There’s nothing wrong with the statement itself, but Lomborg reduces its ten points down to only three–all of which cut in Lomborg’s ideological favor–while failing to share the rest of what we know with his readers. In fact, read in full, the statement outlines a number of ways global warming should worsen hurricane impacts that are a matter of consensus (to say nothing of potentially larger magnitude changes that are still debated but that may well be happening). Consider these two “consensus” points that Lomborg completely omits: “It is likely that some increase in tropical cyclone peak wind-speed and rainfall will occur if the climate continues to warm. Model studies and theory project a 3-5% increase in wind-speed per degree Celsius increase of tropical sea surface temperatures”; and “If the projected rise in sea level due to global warming occurs, then the vulnerability to tropical cyclone storm surge flooding would increase.”

Thus, Lomborg chose 3 of 10 items to cite and, well, it must have been an accident that only those that supported his (flawed) hypothesis made it into the final draft. Guess it was an editorial error?

As Mooney highlights elsewhere in his extremely well-done examination, Lomborg’s core problem (misleading) is that, with all of his misleading presentation of evidence, he argues that this is a “either / or” situation. That we either seek to reduce emissions or we seek to take measures to prevent hurricane damage.  As Mooney points out, however, it is actually a “both and” situation: we must act to reduce future implications of Global Warming both by reducing emissions and by taking steps to mitigate damage from the warming that is already locked into place by emissions to date.

The second new case of misleading statement of evidence is about Schulte, which Orestes has responded to with some biting points.  From that discussion:

  • “Schulte piece misrepresents the research question we posed” and “misrepresents the results we obtained.” Schulte searches for positive affirmation of Global Warming consensus and acts shocked it isn’t there.  Orestes (both in 2004 and an extensive 2007 update/expansionThe Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?) looked for scientific rejection of Global Warming.  She didn’t find rejection and, rightfully, points out that scientists aren’t actively stating the consensus on Global Warming in peer-reviewed journals (just like they don’t bother to spend paragraphs, I might point out, making the case that the sun rises in the East … or is perceived to …) Her way of phrasing this:

I repeated pointed out that very few papers analyzed said anything explicit at all about the consensus position.This was actually a very important result, for the following reason. Biologists today never write papers in which they explicitly say “we endorse evolution”. Earth scientists never say “we explicitly endorse plate tectonics.” This is because these things are now taken for granted. So when we read these papers and observed this pattern, we took this to be very significant.We realized that the basic issue was settled, and we observed that scientists had moved on to discussing details of the problem, mostly tempo and mode issues: how fast, how soon, in what manner, with what impacts, etc.

  • “misrepresents my own interpretation of the severity climate question, as well as that of the scientific societies whose positions we compiled”.   Schulte claims that “catastrophe” is a critical item yet Orestes did not examine this issue …

And, well, so on … Schulte is getting touted by the Drudge Report and other fonts of scientific wisdom. Sadly, there will be too many who will listen.  For other refutations of Schulte, see:  DeSmogBlog’s Oreskes Shreds Contradictory Climate Survey; Climate411’s Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics; and Grist’s Hunting the White Whale:

If those opposed to action on climate change are like Ahab, the scientific consensus is their white whale. The reason is simple: as Frank Luntz’s famous memo pointed out, if they can convince the general public that the science of climate change is uncertain, they can drag the debate over policy to a grinding halt

And, well, Hunting the White Whale is done, it seems, through falsification of evidence, misleading readers through partial (at best) citations, and biasing data.  There is the line “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics“.  Guess there is a fourth category: “Global Warming Skeptics’ Evidence” …

7 responses to “Why we can’t trust ’em … skeptics and misrepresenting evidence …

  1. Pingback: No wonder people are confused … « Energy Smart

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  5. I just want to say that in reading a few articles by Bjorn Lomborg the impression I take is that he DOES consider climate change to be a real and serious problem. He disagrees over the best response, for reasons of economics.

    If, again, I read correctly, Lomborg concludes that after-the-fact strategies such as cap-and-trade won’t solve the problem OR be economically viable, but strong investment in zero-carbon energy, wind, solar, waves – WILL pay off AND lead to real levelling of CO2 and global warming.

  6. 1. To be clear, Lomborg consistently misrepresents evidence, presenting truthiness rather than delving truth. See, for example, https://energysmart.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/not-misrepresenting-but-lying-about-evidence/ . See also: https://energysmart.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/truthiness-strikes-the-post-again-revisited/ ; https://energysmart.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/truthiness-and-the-climate-skeptic-community/

    2. Lomborg chooses to ignore the near term, high leverage options that exist (energy efficiency anyone). He is, clearly, a “delayer”, why do today what we can do tomorrow?

    3. As I have written elsewhere, Lomborg raises a good question: How can we make better, more informed decisions about use of (by definition) limited resources? He then focuses, falsely, on Global Warming and plays very loosely with statistics and data to present an incorrect view of the realities of the threats and opportunities that we face. His question: reasonable. His approach to answering it: disingenuous, at best.

  7. Pingback: Truth vs Truthiness: Debating Global Warming with those beyond convincing

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