Today’s guest blogger is Danny Richter. Danny is a Ph.D candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. His research is centered on diatoms, a type of phytoplankton, and the role they play in the global cycling of elements important for marine life and the climate. In addition to his studies, Danny enjoys guiding occasional backpack, kayak, and canoe trips for the campus outdoor program.
As expected, Dr. Fred Singer’s recent talk at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA was very well-attended by climate scientists.Also as expected, he made a case that modern climate change is due to natural causes, and not man’s activities. He did not deny the climate is changing, and he even conceded that both anthropogenic and natural forces probably play a role, but he argued that natural causes are far more important.
Unexpectedly (at least by me), his presentation was unbelievably shoddy. While he deftly wielded lofty terms and discussed complicated situations with the fluency of one who has spent a lifetime in the realm of physics, close computation, and complexity, this was very obviously a front. The facade was toppled by the simplest of questions, such as what acronyms stand for, where the data were taken, and why he chose to omit other data. He could answer none of these questions.
Dr. Singer hates models. A lot. He makes no secret about this. Yet, for someone who so publicly hates models, you would expect him to present a lot of data. He did not. He rested his case on a paltry 7 data sets. Of these, he himself pointed out that 3 disagreed with his argument, and despite the fact that the data were published at a later date, he dismissed them for reasons that were quite opaque. Thus his entire argument for debunking anthropogenic climate change rested on 4 data sets.
Why only 4 data sets? Balloons are released from hundreds of sites around the world. Yet, when asked where these balloons were released from, he could not provide an answer. This is significant, because you would expect different results from weather balloons released, say, over land or over the ocean. Supposedly, these balloon data represented tropical data, as his argument focused on temperature anomalies in the tropics. Yet when asked specifically where they came from, he waffled about most data coming from North America and Europe. Both are decidedly un-tropical.
These 4 data sets represented a time slice from 1979 to 1997. As he stated, weather balloon records go back to 1958. He even stated that the records agree well with satellite data over the period we’ve had satellites measuring these things (1979). Yet, when pressed, he gave no explanation for why, if the agreement is good, he did not include the weather balloon data from the beginning of the record.
Other gross errors included mis-labelled (and unlabeled) axes and comparisons of cherry-picked plots representing different time scales. First, if you’re going to try convince anybody of anything, you need to show that you’re competent. Undergraduates doing research get lampooned all the time for not labeling axes. Even for them that’s unforgivable. For an Emeritus Professor to do that is inconceivable. Second, if he’s not grossly negligent, then he’s outright lying. To say two plots are comparable when they’re not is lying, plain and simple.
In conclusion, while a high-schooler would have struggled to give a talk with the complex ideas he presented, if he had succeeded in giving this talk, that high-schooler would still have gotten a bad grade for the presentation. The fundamentals of scientific integrity were completely absent. He claimed to debunk the conclusions from the entirety of the 1,000+ page IPCC fourth assessment report with 4 measly data sets. On top of that, he didn’t even know where those data sets come from, nor could he explain cherry-picking the time-span they covered.
In a way, this was reassuring. As the grand-daddy of anthropogenic climate change deniers, if he puts together such a shoddy talk, it speaks volumes about all climate change deniers. On the other hand, that such a poor performer has been able, arguably single-handedly, to delay action on climate change in the United States for at least 3 decades is demoralizing. Where were the scientists then? Why didn’t they write pieces like this to call him out as the fraud he is earlier? Why am I, who wasn’t even born when he began denying the science (even though I have been alive for 9 years longer than the 1979-1997 period of data he based his conclusions on), still needing to call him out?
As a climate scientist, Dr. Fred Singer is a fraud. He built his admittedly good scientific reputation upon satellites and physics. He should have stuck with that. His climate change talk would not have passed muster for a professor, for a post-doc, for a graduate student, for an undergraduate, or even a high-school student. It is unfortunate that science has no equivalent to a lawyer’s bar exam, or a physician’s medical license. His would have been yanked long ago. Perhaps then, with the official stigma of a quack attached to his name, policy makers would have been quicker to recognize his unethical and just plain bad science for the snake oil it is.
Thanks to Lauren, Anais, Taylor, and Sandy for checking this to make sure I accurately recounted the details of the presentation.
Dr. Singer has ties to the U.S tobacco lobby. For example, the 1994 report “Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination” lists him on the report’s advisory board (click on the title to go to the report). The report condemns the EPA’s attempts to regulate exposure to second-hand smoke and rejects the science showing tobacco’s harmful effects (sound familiar?).
Also, the “Heartland Institute” (featured in the photo above) is one of Mr. Singer’s supporters in his fight against addressing climate change. For more on this organization’s dubious record of promoting a junk science, pro-pollution agenda, and its alliance with the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry, go to Sourcewatch.org.