Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Christopher Booker Prize

George Monbiot today announced a new award he plans to present to:

whoever manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change. It is not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize, although that is also a prize for fiction.
And the first winner is Christopher Booker. Ironic, no?

This award has been granted for:
his latest column for the Sunday Telegraph, Booker manages six and a half clangers: pretty good going in fewer than 900 words.
Let's have a look at these clangers:
Claim 1:
"[James Hansen of Nasa] was last week publicly disowned by his former supervisor Dr John Theon, who said that Hansen's unscientific claims had been an embarrassment to Nasa ever since he joined Al Gore in whipping up panic over global warming back in 1988."
Fact:
Theon was not Hansen's supervisor in any reasonable meaning of the word, as blogger BigCityLib and Gavin Schmidt of NASA have noted.
BigCityLib quoted the words used in this post, where the story started, on the blog of prominent, climatically sceptical Senator Inhofe:
NASA warming scientist James Hansen, one of former Vice President Al Gore’s closest allies in the promotion of man-made global warming fears, is being publicly rebuked by his former supervisor at NASA.
The claim that Theon was Hansen's supervisor was then watered down, in this same post, as follows:
“I was, in effect, Hansen's supervisor because I had to justify his funding, allocate his resources, and evaluate his results. I did not have the authority to give him his annual performance evaluation,”
That's a lot weaker. Clearly, this was not Hansen's supervisor in any formal sense. The lead paragraph is hyperbole and Booker repeated it and not the subsequent, more accurate description of the role of Theon with respect to Hansen.

Even so, Theon's role was prominent, as he describes it:
“As Chief of several of NASA Headquarters’ programs (1982-94), an SES position, I was responsible for all weather and climate research in the entire agency, including the research work by James Hansen, Roy Spencer, Joanne Simpson, and several hundred other scientists at NASA field centers, in academia, and in the private sector who worked on climate research... This required a thorough understanding of the state of the science”
BigCityLib has posted that By the numerical system used to denote rank in NASA, Hansen ranked higher than Theon. He adds that Theon's whole career was spent working on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission while "Hansen became the premier expert on climate change."

This is the sort of bickering you meet when you read about climate change. So far, it's been about what Theon's role was in NASA with respect to Hansen. Nobody I've quoted has said what it was that Theon said about climate change itself. He plainly worked in NASA, in an area related to climate, and he has expressed a dissenting view. But the view isn't mentioned; the debate is over whether or or he is qualified to have an opinion. One of the reasons for doubting his opinion, according to BigCityLib, is that:
He's a geezer, and therefore fits the standard profile of a climate change denier.


...and he's a geezer that seems to have had some kind of conversion to AGW skepticism well after his retirement. In 1991 he seemed to be entirely comfortable with the line of Hansen's thinking as well as the use of climate models in general.
He's a geezer? Profile of climate change denier? This means, if you click through, you'll see a gallery of photographs of middle-aged and older men The last photo of all is of a Bigfoot. Climate deniers, you see, are old geezers, and:
... nobody working in the sociology/history of science has ever suggested that the goals of science are best advanced by the Old Timers League, which is essentially what we have above.
These people are not likely to be right, because they're old. So... we ignore them? We ignore old people? Because they're old? We don't even look at what they're saying?

Really? Is this what "The Science" tells us?

What is wrong with climate alarmists?

But it's basically one out of one for Monbiot. Theon wasn't Hansen's supervisor. Next:
Claim 2:
"Nothing was more laughable than the sequence showing a huge poster of the infamous 'hockey stick' temperature graph being driven round London on the back of a lorry, without any mention of the expert studies which have made the 'hockey stick' one of the most comprehensively discredited artefacts in the history of science."
Fact:
Far from being discredited, the hockey stick graph of past temperature reconstructions has been supported by a large number of further studies, as you can see in this graphic and on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's site. Those who claimed to discredit it have been comprehensively rebuffed. You can read more about this on the A Few Things Ill Considered blog and on Real Climate.
Here's the graphic Monbiot linked to:
Here's the hockey stick (taken from the linked post at A Few Things Ill Considered):

And here's one of the hockey stick superimposed on the first, with the axes roughly adjusted to match:

The hockey stick is displaced downwards on the last graphic because it is hard to see its shape on the top of all the other lines. The comparison is one of shape, and they're not very alike. On the multi-forecast graphic the years around 1000 BP were similar to those in the second half of the twentieth century. On the multi-forecast graph Monbiot linked to, there was a Little Ice Age and there was a mediaeval warm period. On the hockey stick there were neither. Monbiot's own illustration contradicts the model, the hockey stick, that he is defending.

There are problems with the hockey stick model. The UN IPCC stopped relying on it, a second version was produced, but it too was criticised on material and detailed grounds. It isn't a good fit with the data. And the process of obfuscation and obstruction that prevented attempts at peer review were discreditable. This is a point against Monbiot. Interestingly, that means he's in the running for his own prize. The score is one all. Next:
Claim 3:
"As late as August 28 this year it [the BBC] was still predicting that Arctic ice might soon disappear, just as this winter's refreezing was about to take ice cover back to a point it was at 30 years ago."
Fact:
This is complete trash. See the latest results from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It reports: "Average Arctic sea ice extent for the month of December was 12.53m square kilometres (4.84m sq miles). This was 140,000 sq km (54,000 sq miles) greater than for December 2007 and 830,000 sq km (320,000 sq miles) less than the 1979 to 2000 December average." And: "Average ice extent in December was well below average and very close to that measured in 2007."
Booker's claim was that ice cover in the Arctic is approaching the same levels as thirty years ago. Monbiot talks about an average, which doesn't answer Booker's claim. It's a non sequitur, but the extent of sea ice in 1979 and today can be seen here and as you can see, there was more ice in 1979:

Booker pulls ahead with two points to Monbiot's one. Next:
Claims 4, 5a, 5b and 6:
"The BBC couldn't wait to publicise the recent study claiming that Antarctica, far from getting colder over the past 50 years (claim 4), as all the evidence suggests, has in fact been warming (5a). It didn't, of course, explain that the new study is based on a computer model (5b), run by the creator of the "hockey stick" [Martin Mann], which (6) in the absence of hard data, allows for inspired guesswork - what the study's authors call 'sparse data infilling'."
Facts:
4. All the evidence suggests nothing of the kind, as Real Climate's Gavin Schmidt explains.
5a. The study is, in fact, based on satellite data and air temperature records from weather stations, as you can see in this letter.
5b. Michael Mann is one author of some of the past temperature reconstruction studies. He is only the fourth of six authors of the Antarctic warming paper.
6. As you can see in this joint letter, there is a good deal of hard data as well.
4. Booker claims the BBC were eager to broadcast this news, Monbiot links to a piece by Schmidt that states "Mainstream media coverage was widespread and generally did a good job of covering the essentials". Monbiot contradicts himself with his own link, again: two all.

5a. That the study is based on certain data, which you'd expect for correlation if nothing else, does not contradict Booker's claim that the "study is based on a computer model". The letter Monbiot links to supports Booker:
Simulations using a general circulation model reproduce the essential features of the spatial pattern and the long-term trend...
That sounds like modelling. In this case, both Booker and Monbiot are correct, but because Monbiot set out to contradict Booker but instead just came out with a non sequitur, Monbiot gets the point. Three two to Monbiot.

5b. Yes, the attack on Mann for his association with the hockey stick model is inappropriate. Mann, just like the old geezers, is entitled to be judged by his work. Three all. The decider:

6. Another non-sequitur. Booker says the study used "inspired guesswork" which the authors called "sparse data infilling". Monbiot says there was data. Booker didn't say there wasn't, he says there wasn't very much. Monbiot does not deny the suggestion the study's authors used "sparse data infilling".

Final Score: Christopher Booker: 3 points, George Monbiot: 4 points

Congratulations, George.

UPDATE: Marc Morano, from Senator Inhofe's office, has asked me to make the following correction:

You wrote: "BigCityLib has posted that By the numerical system used to denote rank in NASA, Hansen ranked higher than Theon."

While BigCityLib did write the above, it is not accurate information. The chart and coding system BigCityLib is heralding is not applicable to Theon and Hansen.

The chart appears to be a chart of the Goddard Space Flight Center, not NASA Headquarters!!!

NASA HQ is not a part of Code 613 or 613.2.
I'm happy to do so, though I don't think it alters the scoring. Monbiot wins his own prize, but the margin remains just one point.

3 comments:

dearieme said...

To which we can add the observation that some of the West Antarctic data had been, ahem, under-scrutinised, until a sceptic audited it.
http://www.climateaudit.org/

Marc Morano said...

Dear John,

You need to correct information.

You wrote: "BigCityLib has posted that By the numerical system used to denote rank in NASA, Hansen ranked higher than Theon."

While BigCityLib did write the above, it is not accurate information. The chart and coding system BigCityLib is heralding is not applicable to Theon and Hansen.

The chart appears to be a chart of the Goddard Space Flight Center, not NASA Headquarters!!!

NASA HQ is not a part of Code 613 or 613.2.

Please make a correction on this.

Thanks

Marc Morano

Marc Morano
Communications Director
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Inhofe Staff
202-224-5762
202-224-5167 (fax)
marc_morano@epw.senate.gov
http://www.epw.senate.gov

Marc Morano said...

Morano Response to UK Guardian's George Monbiot’s Claim that Theon was Not Hansen's Supervisor Monbiot’s alleged “fact”: “Theon was not Hansen's supervisor in any reasonable meaning
of the word, as blogger BigCityLib and Gavin Schmidt of NASA have noted.”

Morano Response: Fact: Theon was in charge of significant budgeting and evaluated Hansen’s work. Theon visited Hansen and GISS at least once a year “to review and
evaluate the GISS work,” according to Theon.

As Theon himself was very careful to say, “Yes, one could say that I was, in effect,
Hansen’s supervisor because I had to justify his funding, allocate his resources, and
evaluate his results. I did not have the authority to give him his annual performance
evaluation.” This is very clear statement. See: http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?
FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=1a5e6e32-802a-23ad-40edecd53cd3d320&
Issue_id=

“I worked with Hansen from about 1983 to 1994 during which time he was at GISS in NYC and I was at NASA HQ in Washington DC.  I retired from NASA in 1995. I had completed 37 and 1/2 years of federal service (civilian Navy, USAF, and including 33 years with NASA.) The money came through me. We were in the Earth Observations Program which later became the Mission to Planet Earth Program. I visited GISS at least once a year to review and evaluate the GISS work. When I visited NYC, to review the research that GISS was funded to do out of the program for which I was responsible, Hansen was most cordial. When I asked him to give a lecture in Japan, he complied,” Theon wrote.

Also, former NASA scientist Roy Spencer weighs in here:
“And now my old boss when I was at NASA (as well as James Hansen’s old boss), John
Theon, has stated very clearly that he doesn’t believe global warming is man-made…and
adding ‘climate models are useless’ for good measure.”
See:
http://www.drroyspencer.com/2009/01/another-nasa-defection-to-the-skeptics-camp/

Even Alarmist Joe Romm, who spends time smearing Theon, concedes Theon “had a
position above Hansen only from 1982-1994...” See:
http://climateprogress.org/2009/01/28/james-inhofe-marc-morano-john-theon-nasaskeptic-
muzzling

Thanks
Marc