Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

Matt Ridley and the Wall Street Journal misrepresent paper cited in Ridley column

Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) evaluated from paleoclimatic data (PALAEOSENS group, Rohling et al., 2012).

There’s more to say about the latest attempt to deny the mainstream estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity (e.g. NRC, 1979; Annan and Hargreaves, 2006; Knutti and Hegerl, 2008; Rohling et al., 2012) by Matt Ridley (remember him?) at the Wall Street Journal later. But I just wanted to point out something rather troubling about one of Ridley’s and Nic Lewis’s (the source of Ridley’s claims) citations.

Ridley claimed:

Some of the best recent observationally based research also points to climate sensitivity being about 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2. An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.

I recalled the Aldrin et al. paper from the last time it made the rounds in the “skeptic” blogosphere, when Chip Knappenberger cited it as finding a “low” climate sensitivity.

The funny thing about the Aldrin et al. paper is that it really doesn’t find a “low” ECS at all. Their main result is an ECS of 2.0°C, which is completely consistent with the IPCC AR4 range. Moreover, they caution that their main result is incomplete, because it explicitly does not account for the effect of clouds:

When cloud behavior is included as another term, the ECS increases significantly, from ~2.5°C to 3.3°C depending on the values used:

Surely this wasn’t the Aldrin et al. paper Riddley and Lewis were citing as finding an ECS of 1.6°C.

The 1.6°C value literally never appears in the text of the paper.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Aldrin had published another paper on ECS this year finding 1.6°C that I was simply unable to find. I reached out to Bishop Hill and Matt Ridley for some clarification:

  1. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Which Aldrin 2012 paper was Lewis citing on your blog?
  2. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Can you provide either the title or the DOI for the Aldrin paper you cited in your WSJ piece? Thanks!
  3. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Environmetrics 2012; 23: 253–271 Panel A of Fig 6.
  4. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient The one that finds an ECS of 2.5-3.3K when it bothers to account for clouds (4.8)? LOL.
  5. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12… Aldrin, M., et al., 2012. Bayesian estimation of climate sensitiv… Environmetrics, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  6. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Did you personally read the paper? Where does the 1.6 number come from? Did you read section 4.8?
  7. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak Most likely values still only 2 ish. If we are to include cloud lifetime effect shld we include other highly uncertain effects?
  8. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient If you’re making a comparison to IPCC values, should use most apples-to-apples comparison, which Aldrin et al. discuss in 4.8.
  9. thingsbreak
    @aDissentient Where does the 1.6 value come from anyway? Literally doesn’t exist in paper.
  10. aDissentient
    @thingsbreak He got it by measuring the graph (It’s actually slightly lower I believe).
  11. mattwridley
    @thingsbreak lewis calculated it from aldrin’s paper’s data/charts and aldrin agreed it is correct
  12. thingsbreak
    @mattwridley Aldrin agreed that apples to apples comparison with IPCC ECS estimates is 1.6K? Doubtful. Directly contradicts paper itself.

I posted the following to Nic Lewis at Bishop Hill’s blog:

I think that some readers, and probably the authors of a paper themselves, might find it at least slightly misleading for you to claim findings on their behalf that the paper itself does not actually state.

The main result from Aldrin et al., as reported by Aldrin et al., is an ECS of 2.0°C. The authors caution that this result probably isn’t an apples to apples comparison to other ECS estimates due to the unaccounted for cloud term, and find that the value increases to ~2.5-3.3°C with clouds.

Rather than report either of these values, you simply claim Aldrin et al. “an impressively thorough study, gives a most likely estimate for ECS of 1.6°C…”.

Ridley likewse claims, “An impressive study published this year by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Center and colleagues gives a most-likely estimate of 1.6°C.”

It would be easy for me to lob accusations of bad faith, as we don’t know each other and this is just the internet. Instead, I would encourage you, if your goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible, and try to make an impact beyond the “skeptic” and conservative blogospheres, to be more upfront about the scientific literature about ECS.

Ignoring the two main findings of a paper for values that you’re either estimating from a curve or are creating yourself based on data not used by the paper will be seen by at least some people to be misleading. Claiming that ECS cannot be estimated by paleo data is absurd, especially when so many are aware of efforts like the PALAEOSENS project and various paleoclimatic intercomparison groups.

I won’t attempt to read minds or divine motivations. I will simply suggest that what you have been doing thus far will cause some people to dismiss what you’re trying to say due to perceived dishonesty.

I hope you take this criticism in the constructive context in which it is being offered. There will be plenty of time for name-calling and insults later.


  • Aldrin, M., M. Holden, P. Guttorp, R. B. Skeie, G. Myhre, and T. K. Berntsen (2012), Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperatures and global ocean heat content, Environmetrics, 23(3), 253–271, doi:10.1002/env.2140.
  • Annan, J. D., and J. C. Hargreaves (2006), Using multiple observationally-based constraints to estimate climate sensitivity, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, 4 PP., doi:200610.1029/2005GL025259.
  • Knutti, R., and G. C. Hegerl (2008), The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes, Nature Geoscience, 1(11), 735–743, doi:10.1038/ngeo337.
  • National Research Council (1979),  Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  • Rohling, E.J., et al. (2012), Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity, Nature, 491(7426), 683–691, doi:10.1038/nature11574.

My apology to the field of economics

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Marie Laveaux”, used under Creative Commons.

I didn’t pay that much attention to Paul Krugman prior to about 2008- not coincidentally, around the time of the Great Recession and the bizarre situation wherein political decision-making seemed to be completely divorced from widespread consensus on action.

In any event, while I recognize that his political views are not everyone’s cup of tea, I have found his insider’s glimpses into the differences between economics as a mainstream discipline vs. economics as portrayed in the public arena by turns fascinating and maddening.

He recently offered this discussion, of the kinds of disagreements economists have within the discipline as practiced in good faith, vs. the disagreements with those shaping the public discourse in media [all emphases mine]:

So, what is neoclassical economics? … We imagine an economy consisting of rational, self-interested players, and suppose that economic outcomes reflect a situation in which each player is doing the best he, she, or it can given the actions of all the other players. If nobody has market power, this comes down to the textbook picture of perfectly competitive markets with all the marginal whatevers equal.

Some economists really really believe that life is like this — and they have a significant impact on our discourse. But the rest of us are well aware that this is nothing but a metaphor; nonetheless, most of what I and many others do is sorta-kinda neoclassical because it takes the maximization-and-equilibrium world as a starting point or baseline, which is then modified — but not too much — in the direction of realism.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, very much true of Keynesian economics as practiced (leave aside discussions of What Keynes Really Meant and whether we’re all apostates). New Keynesian models are intertemporal maximization modified with sticky prices and a few other deviations (such as balance-sheet constraints). Even IS-LM loosely appeals to maximization arguments to derive the slopes of the curves, while analyzing outcomes by comparing equilibria.

Why do things this way? Simplicity and clarity. In the real world, people are fairly rational and more or less self-interested; the qualifiers are complicated to model, so it makes sense to see what you can learn by dropping them. And dynamics are hard, whereas looking at the presumed end state of a dynamic process — an equilibrium — may tell you much of what you want to know.

That sounds remarkably like any kind of modeling in systems sciences. I was thinking physics/oceanography/climate, or ecology, but Krugman follows through on this idea with an analog he’s cited before:

These motives are the reason why other fields facing similar concerns adopt similar strategies. As I wrote long ago, evolutionary theory — the biological kind — looks remarkably like neoclassical economics.


Hearing Krugman lay out the pretty reasonable basis that modern mainstream economics starts from, I wondered to myself just how I came to think so poorly of the field. And the answer of course was economists and economic pundits making absurd claims across all manner of media.

And Krugman cuts to the heart of that:

They claim to reject neoclassical economics, but their alternative is not an alternative model but a lot of verbiage; they talk at the economy, and imagine that by so doing they achieve a higher level of sophistication and realism than economists who try to express their ideas in terms of little models.

And they’re kidding themselves; all they’ve done is hide their implicit models and prejudices behind a dust cloud. And that’s one reason they have been so disastrously wrong at every stage of this crisis.

The economists that I was so disgusted by were not ones who simply used mainstream or even alternative models and arrived at conclusions that differed from my preferred outcomes- they were talking heads from the Wall Street Journal, doom mongering on Glenn Beck’s clown show. They pretended to be speaking plain truths that didn’t rely on “suspect” models, but of course were using models of their own- laughably unconstrained by reality, internal consistency, or the body of evidence of their field.

Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

Imagine if the field of climate science was judged by the talking heads or blogologists who eschew physics-based climate models as fraudulent, perversely talk about how a warmer MCA means we have nothing to worry about from unchecked increases in radiative forcing, or make endless predictions of cooling just around the corner that never come true.

Whether or not mainstream economics ultimately contends with the biogeochemical limits of a finite system, I shouldn’t judge it against the worst of its mouthpieces.

Matt Ridley needs to take some advice from Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a techno-optimist of the Lomborgian mold, with all of the cherry-picking and source misrepresentation that goes with it apparently. He gave a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh [corrected - see below] that has “skeptics” falling all over themselves in delight.

What groundbreaking evidence does Ridley marshal in defense of his rejection of mainstream science?

I was curious. Ridley ostensibly is a cut above the average denizen of WUWT. He was trained as a zoologist before taking up science writing. He has articles frequently published in the mainstream press, as the delicious-in-hindsight tweet by Andy Revkin reflects. He’s widely acclaimed for popularizing science concepts for mainstream reading audiences. So whatever Ridley had must be good, I thought. His arguments would reflect the best of the “skeptics'” best.

It turned out I was wrong. Or perhaps, I was right, and Ridley was bringing the best of the “skeptics'” best. Either way, it was an enormous disappointment. Ridley’s speech turned out to be a textbook Gish Gallop, full of false claims, logical fallacies, and trivially true but irrelevant “facts”. It was, as I put it at Keith Kloor’s blog, “skeptic” bingo.

  • Sea level rise is small and is decelerating!
  • Methane isn’t increasing!
  • Hockey Stick!
  • Etc.

I don’t think I will do a point by point rebuttal to every claim in Ridely’s speech at this time (maybe later, for sport, time permitting). But suffice it to say that while Ridley is being lauded by the denialosphere now, he’s actually done them a tremendous disservice. With this speech, he’s fully exposing himself as a crank, and has thus reduced the ever-dwindling list of “credible skeptics” one further.

And in case anyone is curious, while the year-to-year variability is significant,  on climate-relevant timescales, sea level rise is indeed accelerating (Church and White 2011; Rahmstorf and Vermeer 2011).

But more to the point, absent emissions stabilization, sea level rise is going to increase, reaching 1m or more by end of century (Vermeer and Rahmstorf 2009).

Failure to stabilize emissions will almost assuredly result in the eventual collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, committing the world to multimeter sea level rise that will be for all practical purposes irreversible. Many of Ridley’s claims similarly depend on falsely equivocating between concern over future climate changes absent emissions stabilization (and their relative irreversibility over human timescales) and what is happening at present. This couldn’t be more misleading.

As you might imagine, given the way this is going, Ridley’s claim that methane isn’t increasing is also false. Methane levels today are much higher than they’ve been over at least the past 800,000 years and continue to increase (Loulergue et al., 2008; NOAA AGGI).

The “hockey stick” nonsense has been done to death. And “skeptics” like Ridley inevitably fail to mention the main points: the “hockey stick” has basically nothing to do with either the attribution of recent warming to humans or the seriousness of future warming; the ostensible statistical problems in the original Mann et al. paper were overstated by its critics, and the actual problems it did have don’t tremendously affect its results (Huybers 2005; Wahl and Amman 2007); moreover, independent Northern Hemisphere reconstructions (including “skeptics'” own) show more or less the same results as Mann et al.’s recent work- the warming during the instrumental record exceeds peak Medieval temperatures (Ljunqvist 2010; Loehle and McCulloch 2008; Mann et al., 2008; Moberg, et al., 2005).

People like Ridley spend an awful lot of time listening to “skeptic” bloggers like Jo Nova and Bishop Hill, but seem to have no grasp of basic Earth systems science. And it shows. There is a total lack of coherence in Ridley’s claims. Ridley wants us to know that the climate changed rapidly in the past- but yet we’re also supposed to believe that climate sensitivity is very small. He also flubs basic concepts- equilibrium sensitivity is not the same thing as transient sensitivity (i.e. how much we will warm in response to a given increase in radiative forcing is larger than how much warming we’ll experience in the near term due to things like the thermal inertia of the ocean).

Perhaps Ridley can follow his own advice and “unlearn” the lies, fallacies, and nonsense he’s being cheered for regurgitating. Though let’s just say I’m a little skeptical of the prospect.


  • Church, J.A., and N.J. White (2011): Sea-Level Rise from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Century. Surveys In Geophysics, 32, 4-5, 585-602, doi:10.1007/s10712-011-9119-1.
  • Huybers, P. (2005): Comment on “Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance” by S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick. Geophysical Research Letters, 32, L20705, doi:10.1029/2005GL023395.Ljungqvist, F.C. (2010): A new reconstruction of temperature variability in the extra-tropical northern hemisphere during the last two millennia. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, 92, 3, 339-351, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2010.00399.x.
  • Loehle, C. and J.H. McCulloch (2008): Correction to: A 2000-Year Global Temperature Reconstruction Based on Non-Tree Ring Proxies. Energy + Environment, 19, 1, 93-100.
  • Loulergue, L., et al. (2008): Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800,000 years. Nature, 453, 383-386, doi:10.1038/nature06950.
  • Mann, M.E., et al. (2008): Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 105, 36, 13252-13257, doi:10.1073/pnas.0805721105.
  • Moberg, A., et al. (2005): Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data. Nature, 433, 613-617, doi:10.1038/nature03265.
  • NOAA AGGI: The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index. URL: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/
  • Rahmstorf, S., and M. Vermmer (2011): Discussion of: “Houston, J.R. and Dean, R.G., 2011. Sea-Level Acceleration Based on U.S. Tide Gauges and Extensions of Previous Global-Gauge Analyses”. Journal of Coastal Research, 27, 4, 784–787, doi:10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-11-00082.1.
  • Vermeer, M., and S. Rahmstorf (2009): Global sea level linked to global temperature. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 106, 51, 21527-21532, doi:10.1073/pnas.0907765106.
  • Wahl, E.R., and C.M. Ammann (2007): Robustness of the Mann, Bradley, Hughes reconstruction of surface temperatures: Examination of criticisms based on the nature and processing of proxy climate evidence. Climatic Change, 85, 33-69, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9105-7.

Pat Michaels lying in the Wall Street Journal

I’m sure someone with more patience and/or a masochistic streak will go about debunking the entire thing, but here’s Michaels claiming that the scientific consensus on anthropogenic warming has been manufactured:

The alliance of scientists at East Anglia, Penn State and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (in Boulder, Colo.) has done its best to bias [the peer-reviewed literature].

A refereed journal, Climate Research, published two particular papers that offended Michael Mann of Penn State and Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research…

Mr. Mann called upon his colleagues to try and put Climate Research out of business. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” he wrote in one of the emails. “We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board.”

After Messrs. Jones and Mann threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned.

In point of fact, half of the Climate Research board resigned over the failure of the review process at their journal and the subsequent failure of its publisher to adequately address that problem- not due to any strong-arming by Mann or Wigley. And you don’t have to take my word, or Mike Mann’s, over Pat Michael’s. You can just read what one of editors actually said about it at the time.

[UPDATE: Here’s Hans Von Storch, another former editor of Climate Research, in the WSJ taking oblique aim at liars like Michaels (emphasis mine):

And what of the… the skeptics? They say these words [CRU emails] show that everything was a hoax—not just the historical temperature results in question, but also the warming documented by different groups using thermometer data. They conclude I must have been forced out of my position as chief editor of the journal Climate Research back in 2003 for my allegiance to science over politics. In fact, I left this post on my own, with no outside pressure, because of insufficient quality control on a bad paper—a skeptic’s paper, at that.]

Of course Pat Michaels lying about climate science probably doesn’t even amount to “dog bites man” news these days. But I am left with an interesting question- Pat Michaels runs a “science consulting” business which consists largely of providing a veneer of scientific credibility to fossil fuel interest propaganda, so it’s not surprising to catch him making things up in order to undermine emissions reductions and attack the credibility of those who have pointed out his dishonesty in the past. The WSJ editorial board likewise has an understandable if similarly ulterior motive to undermine any forthcoming regulation.

But what about the subscribers to the WSJ?

They’re ostensibly entrusting the WSJ with their hard-earned capital to become more informed about the world around them, not less. And yet here Pat Michaels and the WSJ are, assuring them that up is in fact down. If the WSJ’s subscribers are paying money to become informed, the product they’re receiving is grossly defective- perhaps even harmful. If, on the other hand, they are merely looking to confirm their preexisting beliefs about something irrespective of the facts, there are plenty of white papers and press releases from front groups like Heartland or CEI that provide the same kind of fiction without the WSJ’s subscription fee. [And those attempting to compartmentalize the Journal's op-ed lies while hoping to enjoy its "straight" reporting are finding that even the "news" pages are becoming increasingly Murdochian.] So what’s an intellectually honest, or at least rationally acting, Journal subscriber to do?

[UPDATE: A relevant Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

delayed.oscillator fisks Lomborg so you don’t have to

Keeping up with Lomborg’s myriad misrepresentations of climate science can be exhausting, thankless work, so it’s nice to see delayed.oscillator obliterating his latest. Although I rather doubt anti-regulation propaganda organs like the op-ed section of the WSJ will stop printing his rubbish any time soon, media outlets who actually value their reputations might want to take note and avoid giving this serial obfuscator a platform to further spread his nonsense.

Geo-engineering is mainstream

[Headslapping Late Update: I suppose the BBC and TNR pieces might have been coming out in advance of the Royal Society position paper, eh?]

With recent coverage at the BBC, TNR, and the Copenhagen Confusion (in addition to discussion at the WSJ, Atlantic Monthly, NPR (on the NAS), the AMS, Nature News, the Obama administrationCFR and others), geo-engineering is becoming undeniably mainstream, at least in terms of media coverage of the broader climate discussion. Politically, it remains decidedly more problematic in terms of international negotiations of logistics than emissions cuts, and I’m not sure how that will ever change.

[LATE UPDATE: DotEarth also channels the zeitgeist.]

Ones for the Road