Testing Skeptical Science: is Roger Pielke Sr. a climate misinformer?

Summary: A post last week examined a darling of the Right, Zero Hedge. This post takes an equally harsh look at a darling of the Left, Skeptical Science. Both show how our stronger loyalty to tribe than truth encourages our information providers to feed us a mix of fact and politically appealing misinformation, shaping our beliefs and maintaining internal cohesion of the tribe (and our distrust of the “others”). We’ll remain easily led until we learn skepticism and demand more accuracy from those we trust.

“Truth is strong enough to overcome all human sophistries.”
Timarchum by Aeschines (389–314 BC).

The Truth is Out There

Smearing scientists is a staple on both sides of the climate wars — the debate about the public policy implications of climate change. Such smears not only overflow the comment sections of popular websites, they’re often seen in the writings of major players on the public stage.

For example, see the 40 “climate misinformers” listed on John Cook’s Skeptical Science. It’s one of the climate-focused websites most widely cited on the Left, known for its flamboyant claims.  This post examines the first of 4 SkS page about eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr.

Before examining the details of SkS’s content, note the vast amount of work that went into creating it. The 4 pages about Pielke Sr. are one of 40 about “climate misinformers” — which is one of 10 “resources”, which are just one part of the SkS website (which has aps for iPhone, Android, and Nokia). This shows a major difference between the websites of climate “warriors” and “skeptics”. Despite claims that the skeptics have vast funds from evil oil, their websites are a ramshackle pile of contributions from volunteers (however skilled). Several the climate warriors have professional-quality websites.

About a misinformer

What was are the myths of Roger Pielke Sr.? How do SkS’ claims look today? The SkS page (it’s undated) gives ten quotes which they call “myths”. Not one of their rebuttals looks correct. A lot of the SkS content is like that, which is why people so often report their critical comments get deleted (no Smackdowns page there). I’ve slightly expanded some of Pielke’s quotes, and made small edits for clarity (e.g., numbering the myths).

Skeptic Science logo

Climate Myth #1 What the Science Says
“Melting is a response to warming. However, not all glaciers and ice caps are melting. While the Arctic ice, for example, has been decreasing in areal extent; see the graph. Antarctic sea ice coverage has not; see the graph“.
— “Q&A for High School Students“, 8 November 2011.
Arctic sea ice loss is three times greater than Antarctic sea ice gain.

Pielke was speaking about trends, as suitable for high school students. The people at SkS were probably excited about the anomalously low arctic sea ice in 2011-12; since then it has bounced back (see the graph). Meanwhile Antarctic sea ice continues to grow, so that since late 2012 global sea ice has been roughly at the 1979-2008 average (the satellite record starts in 1979).

Misinformation: None.

Global daily ice area
Click to enlarge.
Climate Myth #2 What the Science Says
“Melting is a response to warming. However, not all glaciers and ice caps are melting. While the Arctic ice, for example, has been decreasing in areal extent; see the graph. Antarctic sea ice coverage has not; see the graph“.
— “Q&A for High School Students“, 8 November 2011.
Satellites measure Antarctica losing land ice at an accelerating rate.

The SkS rebuttal has no relation to the quote they give for Pielke. But let’s check their statement vs. the “gold standard” for determining the consensus of climate scientists, Assessment Report 5 of the IPCC ( — emphasis added.

“Overall, there is high confidence that the Antarctic ice sheet is currently losing mass. … There is low confidence that the rate of Antarctic ice loss has increased over the last two decades.”

Misinformation: None.

Climate Myth #3 What the Science Says
“In addition to these human climate forcings, natural climate forcings and feedbacks are also quite important. We need to consider these natural effects as clearly the climate is much more complex than is commonly reported by the media and even the IPCC. For example, the global average temperature anomalies are cooling!”
— “Q&A for High School Students“, 8 November 2011.
The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record.

This confusion results from the practice of so many in climate land — professional and amateur — talking about trends without specifying the time horizon. To say the world has warmed (or cooled) means nothing unless one says over a ten millennia — or ten centuries — or ten years. (Much as economists often use inflation to mean “something rising” instead of “an increase in the general price level”).

The UAH satellite record shows that in Nov 2011 the global atmosphere temperature anomaly had dropped since Jan 2010 and Jan 1998, and was lower than the 1998-2011 average. That’s probably “the complexity” he was explaining.

The SkS reply is equally misleading, as the decade of 2000-2010 showed little or no statistically-significant warming (depending on the dataset). Hence the large body of peer-reviewed research about the “pause” or “hiatus”. See examples of research about the pause: is there a pause (that’s now settled science), what are its causes, and when will it end?.

Misinformation: None.

Climate Myth #4 What the Science Says
“There has not been warming significantly, if at all, since 2003, as most everyone on all sides of the climate issue agree.”
15 September 2011.
There are many lines of evidence indicating global warming is unequivocal.

This is unequivocal: Pielke is correct. The peer-reviewed literature overwhelmingly shows that the SkS comment is an incorrect rebuttal (see myth #3 for links to some of the large body of peer-reviewed research about the pause).

Misinformation: None.

Climate Myth #5 What the Science Says
“…I have reproduced below the current plots of lower tropospheric temperature anomalies. The trend of temperatures using that climate metric is NOT accelerating, and, indeed, has not even been positive for over 12 years!”
4 April 2011.
For global records, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005.

This is unequivocal: Pielke is correct. The temperature data from the two lower troposphere satellite datasets (both funded by NASA) agree that the global anomaly has been flattish since roughly 2000, certainly not accelerating (see the UAH graph and the RSS graph). The SkS comment is an incorrect rebuttal (2010 was not the hottest year in either dataset).

Misinformation: None by Pielke Sr.

Climate Myth #6 What the Science Says
“The author of this {SkS} post documents in the figures that they present, that upper ocean heat, in terms of its annual average, did not accumulate during the period ~2004 through 2009.”
6 September 2010.
The most recent ocean measurements show consistent warming.

This is a weird claim. The SkS author probably assumes nobody will click through to the source material.  The SkS post which Pielke discusses explicitly says “Claims that the ocean has been cooling are correct.” Piekle’s statement just acknowledges this, with the caveat “the data do not support a cooling, despite what the Skeptical Science weblog reports.” For more current data, let’s turn to the IPCC’s AR5 (3.2.2):

Globally integrated ocean heat content in three of the five 0 to 700 meter estimates appear to be increasing more slowly from 2003 to 2010 than over the previous decade. Although this apparent change is concurrent with a slowing of the increase global mean surface temperature, this is also a time period when the ocean observing system transitioned from predominantly XBT to predominantly Argo temperature measurements. Shifts in observing systems can sometimes introduce spurious signals, so this apparent recent change should be viewed with caution.

Misinformation: None by Pielke Sr.

Climate Myth #7 What the Science Says
“upper ocean heat, in terms of its annual average, did not accumulate during the period ~2004 through 2009. This means that global warming halted on this time period. There is no other way to spin this data”
6 September 2010.
Global temperature is still rising and 2010 was the hottest recorded.

SkS gives an incorrect rebuttal. In their eagerness to hide the pause from their readers, SkS omits the important part of Piekle’s statement: “the ocean heat content provides the most appropriate metric to diagnosis global warming in recent (since ~2004 when the Argo network became sufficiently dense) years …” He specifically cites one metric, not the vague “global temperature” SkS mentions (temperature of what? lower troposphere, surface atmosphere, oceans?).

Ocean heat content as the best metric of warming was controversial when Pielke first said it in 2003, but now many climate scientists consider OHC to be the best measure of global warming. Many scientists point to changes in the ocean’s heat content as an explanation for the pause. The SkS rebuttal is irrelevant to all this, ignoring temperatures of both the lower troposphere and the oceans. See more about the oceans in Myth #9.

Misinformation: None by Pielke Sr.

Climate Myth #8 What the Science Says
““shrinking Arctic sea ice” NOT TRUE; see the Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice Anomaly from the University of Illinois Cyrosphere Today website. Since 2008, the anomalies have actually [in]creased.”
30 June 2009.
Thick arctic sea ice is in rapid retreat.

Pielke’s statement is quite correct, as can be seen on graph of sea ice area anomalies he cites or the National Snow & Ice Data Center graph of arctic sea ice extent — the the minimums in 2008 and 2009 were larger than in 2007 (2007 was the 2nd lowest in the record since 1979; only 2012 was lower). This is a technical discussion between climate scientists; read the article to see the context. The SkS “rebuttal” refers to an entirely different metric: sea ice thickness.

Looking at the more current data on the NSIDC graph, there is no obvious trend (which means nothing over so short a period). Since 2006 five of the minimums cluster together, with three (2008, 2011, and 2012) below them.

Misinformation: None by Pielke Sr.

Climate Myth #9 What the Science Says
“Their has been no statistically significant warming of the upper ocean since 2003.”
30 June 2009.
The most recent ocean measurements show consistent warming.

Let’s turn to the IPCC’s AR5 (3.2.3): Upper Ocean Heat Content. The graph shows the one-standard deviation (or one standard error) range as shaded. Using the usual 5% test for statistical significance — 2 standard deviations — there clearly has been no statistically significant warming of the upper ocean heat content.

Misinformation: None.

IPCC'sAR5: upper ocean heat conent (3.2.3)

Climate Myth #10 What the Science Says
“Sea level has actually flattened since 2006.”
30 June 2009.
The claim sea level isn’t rising is based on blatantly doctored graphs contradicted by observations.

Another odd claim, since Pielke cites (but SkS forgets to include) a link to the best-known measurements of global sea level rise at the U CO Sea Level Group’s website. It clearly shows a flattening of sea level from 2006 to mid-2009. The IPCC’s AR5 (3.7.2) explains the cause: “the rate of GMSL {global mean sea level} rise has a slightly lower trend between 2005 and 2010, this variation is consistent with earlier interannual fluctuations in the record (e.g., 1993–1997), mostly attributable to El Niño/La Niña cycles…”

For a more recent comment we turn to James Hanson (perhaps the world’s best known climate scientists, who brought global warming to the Senate’s attention in 1989). On his Columbia U website page about Sea Level (updated 5 May 2015) he says “Greenland and Antarctica have begun to melt faster in the past few years, as shown on Ice Sheet Disintegration page, yet sea level rise slowed slightly in the past few years.”

Misinformation: None by Pielke Sr.

Tribal Truth

Scoring Skeptical Science

Score: ten shots, no hits. And this is their good work. Their post about Pielke Sr looks like the Britannica compared to the SkS page about Judith Curry (Prof of Atmospheric Science at GA Inst Tech). But the SkS writers know their audience. Any smear will suffice to brand their ideological foes as beyond the pale, eliminating the need for reasoned discussion.

It’s sad that so many climate scientists applaud John Cook’s project, in which smearing their peers plays such a large part — diminishing the reputation of their field, with the results we see in polls about the public’s low ranking of climate change as a policy priority. Mud sticks on the thrower as well as the target.

America will be on the path to reform when the Left criticizes its own people, keeping them accurate — and the Right does as well. That’s not happening soon.

Roger Pielke Sr
Roger Pielke Sr

Who is Roger Pielke Sr.?

He was a professor at Colorado State University (CSU) from 1981 to 2006, deputy of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at CSU from 1985 to 1988, and served as Colorado State Climatologist from 1999 to 2006. is currently a Senior Research Scientist in the Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES, a joint project of NOAA and the U CO-Boulder).

His work has received over 31,000 citations and an extraordinary H-Index of 83 (an impact measure based on the number of publications and the number of citations per publication). See his Wikipedia entry and his publications.

For More Information

Another example of politicizing science: “Why discrediting controversial academics such as Bjørn Lomborg damages science” by Roger Pielke Jr, op-ed in The Guardian — “The anger surrounding the appointment of ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ Bjørn Lomborg to a university post in Australia gives us a great opportunity to discuss academic intolerance.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, posts about information and disinformation, and these about ways to reform America: Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America and Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America.

Also see these posts about websites feeding us propaganda…

To understand today’s extreme weather

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change

28 thoughts on “Testing Skeptical Science: is Roger Pielke Sr. a climate misinformer?”

  1. Thank you for posting this. It illustrates yet again the lack of scientific rigor by SKS and other like groups. That they have an agenda to smear scientists and others who disagree with them is quite clear. There rare times that constructive dialog occurs, such as in the post at ATTP: “Assessing anthropogenic global warming“.

    Here is how that post started

    “This post is really a joint post, written by myself and by Roger Pielke Sr. It’s partly a continuation of a post Roger wrote on Judith Curry’s blog, and partly a consequence of my attempt to answer one of Roger’s question. The latter post resulted in a rather tetchy exchange between myself and Roger which we’ve now resolved, illustrating that it is possible to recover from such exchanges (I sometimes wish more would try to do so – sometimes I don’t, though).”

    Unfortunately, that post is an exception even at ATTP.

    Readers might also be interested in the set of discussions I have had with Gavin Schmidt [now Director of NASA GISS) over the years. Certainly more constructive than at SKS but still leaving a lot to be desired.

    I am glad that Fabius Maximus has contributed to moving the discussion forward by pointing out the failure of the objectivity at SKS.

    Roger Sr.

    1. Roger,

      Thanks for posting a comment!

      In my 30 years in finance I’ve spent much time engaging with scientists (some quite famous) — especially biotechnology and energy. I repeated this methodology with climate scientists, with astonishing results. The engagements were bizarre. Any questioning was often met with hostile and frequently illogical responses — the opposite of what I’d experienced in other fields.

      Eventually I realized, as have others, that the field had become politically polarized. Regarding these discussions as science was a category error, so the result was of course sparks not communication.

      The sad aspect of this is that mainstream climate scientists’ behavior is imo a major factor in the resulting low public interest in climate change. Yet they don’t see that, attributing it to “people are stupid” and “funding by evil oil”. Both of which are obviously false (e.g., the websites of the climate “warriors” tend reflect a far higher level of time and money invested than the amateurish “skeptics'” websites (compare RealClimate and SkS with ClimateAudit and WUWT).

      Guessing at the big picture, I believe there are fair odds that the climate change debate will end with a substantial loss of public confidence in science. The broader institutions that should be providing a check (e.g., AAAS, NAS) have become part of the dysfunctional circus. It’s sad to watch, and might cost us all dearly.

    2. Prof Pielke, I still miss your blog. I feel very fortunate that Prof. Judy Curry has filled the gap somewhat, but I believe your focus was broader.

  2. It seems the failed cartoonist Crook Cook has been guilty of posting entries on his blog purporting to have been authored by Dr. Luboš Motl.

    Yes, why DOES John Cook of ‘SkepticalScience’ and the 97% have to use identity theft in his ‘research’?” by Anthony Watts at his website, 23 July 2015.

    If it wasn’t enough that John Cook dresses himself up as a Nazi in his SkS uniform on his forum, now we have him caught in what looks to be identity theft of a well known scientist.

    1. Cat,

      I think this odd episode has been exaggerated by both sides, par for the course in the mad climate wars. Here’s a weird explanation at the aptly named HotWopper website. Calling this “identify theft” is daft, absurdly wrong. The author at HotWhopper pours layers of unnecessary whitewash — mixed with nonsense — over the explanation (which doesn’t make much sense, but then we don’t have much detail).

  3. I do have this to say in delusion in general. The more immediate and deadly the consequences for delusion the more accurate everyone will be in regards to those matters. The less immediate and deadly the consequences the more room for delusion.

    2nd some delusions may actually bring more benefits than downsides which it requires to perpetuate itself ie some kind of noble lie or loopy reasoning that leads to objective flourishing. Hence ensuing its survival.

    1. I think it works similarly to the darwinian ratchet. Suppose there is a cliff and certain people believe that they can somehow fly they jump off the cliff thinking that they can fly and die. While others know that jumping off the cliff means death survive. Those people without such delusion live. Hence in this regard they are accurate. Although this is gross simplification of my argument.

      In the same way militants cannot harbour delusions on the battlefield lest they die.

  4. Here is the thing also with delusion. When one makes delusion part of ones identity and involves ego in it. An attack on delusion feels like a personal attack hence closing off ones potential avenue of truth. If one is not invested in being right but cares only about the truth and will embrace it regardless of the cost then one will be more accurate than others or end up more likely to be accurate.

    1. infowarrior,

      That sounds correct, but I would not characterize the beliefs of many (or most) climate warriors as delusions. Their views are outside the consensus range found in the IPCC’s reports, as are those of many skeptics. But that does not make them delusional.

      Rather the problem is their beliefs are like those of ideology or religion, not science. That is, challenges to them are seen as indicating that the challenger is evil — not just wrong.

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  6. I came via Climate etc. Thanks for the detailed analysis. Have you had any response from SkS? They tend to hunt in a pack and go in for organized attacks, so get ready. Their pumping of Mann’s book on Amazon and their attacks on critical reviews was something to behold.

    1. Bernie,

      I have not seen anything from SkS. Also nothing from the “warmest” websites to my posts showing that the Pbl survey showed only 47% of scientists polled had strong support for IPCC’s keynote finding.

      I have had some Twitter discussions with climate scientists. Quite strange.

      But then I was told by an eminent scientist that it would play out that way. They have their reality and are sticking with it.

      1. But your effective evisceration of their Pielke Snr page is a clear challenge.

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  10. For the record, oil companies Shell, Exxon-Mobil, and BP give far larger sums of money to environmental NGOs than they do to business oriented think tanks which syphon a small amount of their income to climate sceptics. None of them directly finance climate scepticism.

  11. With Prof. Judy Curry leaving Georgia Tech., I am going to miss Roger Pielke Snr’s blog even more.
    Trump is a buffoon, but I hate to imagine what a Clinton hegemony would have meant for Climate Science and Energy Policies.

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