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Fred Singer Debunks and then Denies

Posted on 23 March 2012 by dana1981

In the ironically-named American Thinker, Fred Singer sought to differentiate between climate deniers and climate "skeptics", as previously detailed by John Mason.  While Singer did some good myth debunking in the article, he also endorsed some other rather horrid climate myths in the process.  In trying to establish himself as a climate "skeptic", Singer merely demonstrated that he's just one step above the most unreasonable climate deniers.

Singer Debunks Some Myths

At least Singer did debunk a few of the most ridiculous climate myths in his article; for example, the myth that the greenhouse effect has been falsified or that increasing CO2 has no effect, argued by weatherman Joe Bastardi on Fox News most recently just a few days ago.  Singer has none of it:

"Now let me turn to the deniers.  One of their favorite arguments is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- i.e., one cannot transfer energy from a cold atmosphere to a warmer surface...One can show them data of downwelling infrared radiation from CO2, water vapor, and clouds, which clearly impinge on the surface.  But their minds are closed to any such evidence."

Singer also debunked the myth that the CO2 increase is natural, describing deniers who believe this myth as conspiracy theorists:

"Then there is another group of deniers who accept the existence of the greenhouse effect but argue about the cause and effect of the observed increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.  One subgroup holds that CO2 levels were much higher in the 19th century, so there really hasn't been a long-term increase from human activities.  They even believe in a conspiracy to suppress these facts."

At Skeptical Science, we always appreciate a good mythbusting and thus applaud that unlike most self-proclaimed climate "skeptics," Singer is actually willing to debunk some of the myths propagated by his fellow denialists.  Unfortunately, in trying to position himself between "deniers" and "warmistas," Singer seems to believe that rejecting some climate myths while repeating others qualifies him as a climate "skeptic."  We do not agree with his definition of the term.

Singer Denies Global Warming

In fact, Singer actually goes as far into the realm of denial in this article as to claim that global warming stopped in 1978.

"The atmospheric temperature record between 1978 and 2000 (both from satellites and, independently, from radiosondes) doesn't show a warming.  Neither does the ocean."

There really is no other way to describe this assertion - Singer is denying the observational data which shows continued warming of both the lower atmosphere and oceans.  This isn't the first time Fred Singer has denied global warming, either.

Using the soon-to-be-released Skeptical Science temperature trend calculator (spoiler alert - the tool will be launched in the relatively near future, but some bugs are still being worked out), the lower atmosphere temperature trend from 1978 to 2000 is 0.145 +/- 0.157°C per decade according to Remote Sensing Systems (RSS), and 0.104 +/- 0.164°C per decade according to the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH).  Granted, these trends are not statistically significant, but they are nonetheless most likely positive.

But why choose the timeframe 1978 to 2000?  Last I checked, the current year is 2012; it appears that Singer is trying to cherry pick a convenient date here (and nonetheless failed to find a temperature trend to support his assertion of no warming).  The trend from 1978 to 2012 is 0.137 +/- 0.076°C per decade according to RSS, and 0.136 +/- 0.078°C per decade according to UAH.  A clear positive, statistically significant trend in both cases.  The radiosonde data (instruments on weather balloons) are also in good agreement with the satellites regarding the continued lower troposphere warming (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Satellite and radiosonde estimate of the temperature of the lower troposphere (NCDC)

As for the oceans, as Glenn Tramblyn recently noted, the rate of ocean heating since 1961 is equivalent to detonating 2 Hiroshima bombs per second continuously (Figure 2). 

OHC 2000 m

Figure 2: 0-2000 meter global ocean heat content (NODC)

Singer's claim that the oceans have not warmed since 1978 is a denial of facts that even his fellow "skeptics" accept.  For example, while Roger Pielke Sr. once claimed the upper oceans had not heated in recent years, he later backtracked and admitted that they have warmed.

Singer Misrepresents the CO2-Temperature Lag

At another point in his article, Singer repeats the CO2 lags temperature myth.

"[deniers] argue that oceans warm first, which then causes the CO2 increase.  In fact, such a phenomenon is observed in the ice-core record, where sudden temperature increases precede increases in CO2.  While this fact is a good argument against the story put forth by Al Gore..."

"The story put forth by Al Gore"  is essentially that the strong historical correlation between CO2 and global surface temperature demonstrates that CO2 is the climate's biggest control knob, and Gore is correct on this point.  Yes, historically temperature changes have been initiated by orbital cycles approximately 800 years before an atmospheric CO2 increase.  At that point, the oceans warmed enough to release CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn amplified the existing warming and continued to drive global warming for several thousand years.

What the CO2 lag tells us is that this time is different, because this time there is no lag, thanks to humans burning fossil fuels and releasing tens of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.  As in the past, this CO2 increase will continue to drive global warming. 

To claim otherwise is to deny the fundamental physics which Singer summarizes in the myth debunking discussed in the first section of this post.  It is unfortunate that the temptation to score points against Al Gore leads Singer into scientific incoherence and self-contradiction.

Singer Misrepresents the IPCC and AGW Theory

Singer spends much of his article criticizing the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which is currently still in draft form, but which he has reviewed.  His main criticism is that the AR5 concludes that most of the observed global warming since the mid-20th Century is due to human greenhouse gas emissions.  This conclusion is clearly correct (Figure 3).

human vs. natural warming

Figure 3: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

Specifically, Singer attempts to undermine the IPCC conclusions by focusing on global surface temperature changes during the early and mid-20th Century.

"Most everyone seems to agree that this earlier increase (1910-1940) is caused by natural forces whose nature the IPCC does not specify.  Clearly, the decline of 1940-1975 does not fit the picture of an increasing level of carbon dioxide"

While we can't speak for the unpublished AR5, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) published in 2007 most certainly did specify some of the causes of the 1910-1940 warming in great detail, as we recently demonstrated when Judith Curry made the same incorrect claims (see AR4 Chapter

"A number of studies detect a significant natural contribution to early 20th-century warming (Tett et al., 2002; Stott et al., 2003b; Nozawa et al., 2005; Shiogama et al., 2006). Some studies find a greater role for solar forcing than other forcings before 1950 (Stott et al., 2003b), although one detection study finds a roughly equal role for solar and volcanic forcing (Shiogama et al., 2006), and others find that volcanic forcing (Hegerl et al., 2003, 2007) or a substantial contribution from natural internal variability (Tett et al., 2002; Hegerl et al., 2007) could be important. There could also be an early expression of greenhouse warming in the early 20th century (Tett et al., 2002; Hegerl et al., 2003, 2007)."

And contrary to Singer's claim, the slight 1940-1975 cooling does indeed fit the picture of an increasing CO2 level, since it's accurately reproduced by climate models, with human aerosol emissions offsetting much of the CO2-caused warming during this period (Figure 4).

ipcc fig 9.5

Figure 4: IPCC AR4 Figure 9.5.  Comparison between global mean surface temperature anomalies (°C) from observations (black) and AOGCM simulations forced with both anthropogenic and natural forcings.  All data are shown as global mean temperature anomalies relative to the period 1901 to 1950, as observed (black, HadCRUT3) and as obtained from 58 simulations produced by 14 models with both anthropogenic and natural forcings. The multi-model ensemble mean is shown as a thick red curve and individual simulations are shown as thin yellow curves. Vertical grey lines indicate the timing of major volcanic events.

In short, like Curry, Singer does not accurately represent either the human-caused global warming theory or IPCC report.

Singer Feedback Denial and Curve Fitting Irony

Finally, Singer makes a very ironic accusation of the IPCC.

"[the IPCC] makes arbitrary assumptions about clouds and water vapor, which produce the most important greenhouse forcings.  One might therefore say that the IPCC's evidence is nothing more than an exercise in curve-fitting."

Curve-fitting involves using many parameters and allowing them to vary with no physical constraints until the curves best fit the observational data. This is something actually done by many of Singer's fellow "skeptics" (e.g. Roy SpencerSyun-Ichi AkasofuCraig Loehle, and Nicola Scafetta).  Unlike them, the climate models used in the IPCC reports constrain their parameters using observational data and physical reality.

The IPCC also does not make 'arbitrary assumptions' about the cloud and water vapor feedbacks.  There is a great deal of research showing that the cloud feedback is likely positive, and unlikely to be strongly negative, most notably Dessler (2010).  And numerous recent studies using empirical observational data have confirmed the positive water vapor feedback.  For example, Dessler et al. (2008):

"Height-resolved measurements of specific humidity (q) and relative humidity (RH) are obtained from NASA's satellite-borne Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS)...The water-vapor feedback implied by these observations is strongly positive, with an average magnitude of λ q = 2.04 W/m2/K, similar to that simulated by climate models."

Also see the discussion of the water vapor feedback in AR4.  These positive feedbacks are very inconvenient for climate "skeptics" like Singer, for whom climate sensitivity is the endgame, and whose low climate sensitivity arguments rely on the water vapor and/or cloud feedbacks being strongly negative.  However, like it or not, the research supporting positive water vapor and cloud feedbacks exists, and to deny its existence is, well, denial.

If Fred Singer wants to differentiate himself from climate deniers as a true skeptic, he will have to stop denying the inconvenient data.  It's good that Singer applies skepticism to some claims, but why doesn't he apply it universally?  That is how true skeptics behave.

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Comments 1 to 21:

  1. Singer also misrepresents the fact that proxies show warming as well: Proxy evidence for recent warming.
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  2. We should remember some funding details for Singer: "Last year, he admitted that he had received from Exxon Mobil "an unsolicited and unexpected donation of $10,000 more than a decade ago." The Heartland leak shows that he currently receives "$5,000 per month, plus expenses" from the institute." So $5K per month - plus expenses... has anyone put that onto a graph?
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  3. "American Thinker" = "carboxymoron" :-)
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  4. "unsolicited and unexpected donation of $10,000 from Exxon Mobil". This doesn't happen to me very often... maybe he was just lucky?
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  5. "Yes, historically temperature changes have been initiated by orbital cycles approximately 800 years before an atmospheric CO2 increase." Actually, that's not a fact - it's a plausible theory with missing pieces. The kickstart-trigger that caused CO2 levels to initiate a 30% increase in a millennium is the actual start of the Ice Age Death Spiral. Best candidates on the table (not mutually exclusive at all) are Milankovitch plus dust-storms plus ocean-current re-arrangement. The supposed lag then becomes an artifact of observational bias with a topping of pro-pollutionist 'butwattabout'. The Southern Ocean CO2 glacial period research: (Snipped)
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    Moderator Response: TC: Ad hominen snipped. The comments policy states that:
    " Links to useful resources are welcome (see HTML tips below). However, comments containing only a link will be deleted. At least provide a short summary of the content of the webpage to facilitate discussion (and show you understand the page you're linking to).
    The bolded section should be understood as applying to all links, and where it is not obvious that they provide supporting evidence to your direct claims, their content and relevance should be at least summarized. Thank you for your future compliance.
  6. So Singer's unstoppable global warming every 1500 years is now over? Already? Seems rather a short time frame. I would have thought such a small handful of years of warming would be difficult to pick out of the paleo-records dealing with millenia. Mind you, he wrote his book Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 years 30 years after he said warming stopped in 1978. I think a good post/video would be Singer refuting Singer, similar to what was done for Monckton.
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  7. Daniel J. Andrews- So what you are saying is: "Same old Singer,with a different song?"
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  8. I hope this does not sound like an ad hominem attack on Fred Singer but he did take money from tobacco companies and clouded the truth about tobacco smoke and the addictive nature of nicotine. It's a fact that he has received money from Exxon/Mobil. In my opinion, (snipped)
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    Moderator Response: TC: The comments policy forbids both accusations of dishonesty and all caps. Please review it.
  9. Daniel @6, Indeed, there is some degree of similarity between Monckton & Singer, expressed recently with Singer's shifting his goalposts or regurgitating his "theories" when he cannot find any evidence for his original claims. With respect to Singer's "skepticism", it's worth remembering the opinion of Carl Sagan, who was arguably the best advocate of quality assurance in science. "If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress." - Carl Sagan. That "crotchety old person" characterises Singer very well: even though he is able to accept some basic century-old knowledge (i.e. that CO2 acts as GHG) but because he remains "only skeptic" he's unable to accept other consequential facts that follow. I think there is too much appreciation attached to the word "skeptic" in our society: "skeptic" means "brave challenger". And I'm sure Singer is drawing his personal pride from such meaning. If we point out the opposite spectrum of this word, as described by Sagan quote above, people will figure out that skepticism is indeed nothing to be proud about.
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  10. Does anyone else see the irony in his closing effort?
    So we just make our measurements, perfect our theories, publish our work, and hope that in time the truth will out.
    • Who is the 'we' he refers to? Has he started doing actual research again, with collaborators, or is this the Royal 'we'?
    • What theory is he perfecting? The so-far missing denier talisman, a theory which disproves AGW, while explaining all the evidence? I wait with bated breath ... not.
    • Apart from American Thinker, which was not a respected, peer-reviewed journal last time I looked, where is he publishing his new research?
    • He hopes the truth will out? When did he change his mind?
    The last is especially ironic, when he ends by misquoting Sir John Houghton
    "Unless we announce disasters no one will listen." -Sir John Houghton, First chairman of the IPCC
    I think the truth about Singer is out and has been for a long time: he is a rabid denier, but now attempting to wear the disguise of a luke-denier (kinda like a luke-warmer, but still denying the obvious).
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    Moderator Response: TC: The misquote of Houghton is egregious, but it is not clear that Singer originated the misquote or is familiar with the information that shows it to be a misquote. His misquotation may therefore be negligent rather than deliberate. Please keep such accusations within the supporting evidence, and in light of the comments policy, do not make them lightly even if you feel they are justified.
  11. TC: you are quite right. Please regard "deliberately" as an unsupported assertion that should be snipped. I regret making such an error and apologise to Mr. Singer unreservedly.
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  12. " "The story put forth by Al Gore" is essentially that the strong historical correlation between CO2 and global surface temperature demonstrates that CO2 is the climate's biggest control knob, and Gore is correct on this point. Yes, historically temperature changes have been initiated by orbital cycles approximately 800 years before an atmospheric CO2 increase. At that point, the oceans warmed enough to release CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn amplified the existing warming and continued to drive global warming for several thousand years."
    According to realclimate (via Lorius 1990), The 'biggest control knob' during glacial transitions is albedo change. CO2 comes in second. You're not necessarily wrong, but the example doesn't seem to support the contention.
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  13. Singer is at it again in the American "Thinker." Perhaps somebody at Skeptical Science can straighten out this mess:
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  14. What's the point, tS? That mess over at AT is composed of ideological memory foam. Any change in thinking has a half-life of about 30 minutes.
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  15. @threadShredder Note that Singer's first piece of evidence is the famous 1990 plot showing the MWP. However this isn't data, it is a schematic drawing designed to give a general impression of the MWP and LIA, but isn't intended to be quantatively accurate. The next point is that it isn't even based on global data, but the well know Centrat England Temperature (CET) dataset, so it only really says that England had a MWP and a LIA, and the extent of these phenomenon was uncertain at the time. Next the last datapoint in the diagram is the temperature for the period 1900-1950, so none of the warming since then appears on the diagram. So Singer is treating a schematic diagram of central England temperatures as if it were real data for global temperatures and then complaining that it doesn't match up to a proxy record of global temperatures, without mentioning that most of the data corresponding to the blade of the "hockey stick" isn't shown on the 1990 diagram. Personally I think it is ironic that he should be making accusations of dishonesty when his own article is deeply misleading (I am assuming that he is not being dishonest, just deluded as a result of a complete lack of self-skepticism). American thinker is doing nether Singer nor themselves any good publishing this sort of thing. BTW, the origin of the diagram is discussed in the appendix of this paper, especially of interest is figure 7, which plots the IPCC 1990 diagram and adds CET data from one of Lambs papers (confirming that this is what the IPCC diagram shows) and a smoothed version of the CET data itself, up to 2007, which shows that even on this basis, it is warmer in England now than it was in Lamb's qualitative impression of the MWP (note that Jones' et al. blatently over-intepret the significance of this by writing "recent measured warming may be comparable with presumed earlier warmth" ;o).
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  16. @DSL and Dikran Marsupial: Thanks for your replies. I'm very new to climate science but have learned a lot from this site, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all the contributors for their excellent work and, obviously, the significant amount of time that is required to do that work. I'm at the point that I can, by spending a lot of time, refute someone like Singer and his nonsense, but it's not easy for me. One of the problems as I see it is that these deniers and faux skeptics have not been given the proper level of public scrutiny and scorn from people who know the issues expertly. It's to the point that it almost requires bringing back public stocks. I'm American so I am painfully, painfully aware of the war on science and reason that is going on by one side of the political "debate." The Republicans have decided that it would be a good thing to take the country back to a time before the Enlightenment. I believe that they must be stopped and so it it my opinion that whenever one of the would-be country's pre-Enlightenment wishers takes to the podium, they must be confronted. That's why I hope everytime Singer and those like him get a forum to speak, that they are confronted with their errors. Dikran Marsupial: Unlike you, I find it [accusation of dishonesty snipped] Hopefully these people can be stopped and the "average" citizen, here in the U.S. and everywhere else, understands what an assault on evidence and reason and the world's future they are waging.
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    Moderator Response: TC: As noted by Dikran Marsupial, accusations of dishonesty against anyone are against the comments policy. Please consider carefully whether it is really worthwhile having your post snipped or simply deleted before making such accusations on this site in future.
  17. @threadshredder, Richard Feynman said "The first principle [of science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.". Sadly the human ability for self deception appears to be almost unlimited, and self-deception on a history of topics may simply be due to Prof. Singer's susceptibility, rather than deliberate dishonesty. There are a number of good reasons to opt for this interpretation: Firstly Hanlon's razor ("never attribute malice to that which can be adequately explained by thoughtlessness") and its variants is a good maxim for life, on the grounds that we should hope others adopt it when we are thoughtless, stupid or self-deluded. Secondly, it can lead us to disregard arguments as deception and not be open-minded. Thirdly, what really matters is the science and the science is strongly on our side; the "skeptics" know this and so insead try to focuss on rhetoric and making the discussion personal, so accusations of dishonesty are what they want you to do; stick to the science if you want to make them uncomfortable. Lastly it is against the comments policy at SkS! I understand where you are coming from, but fairness, open-mindedness and scientific accuracy are the best reply to this sort of thing. In otherwords, never wrestle with a pig - you'll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy that! ;o)
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  18. @Dikran Marsupial: Thanks for your reply and I understand completely. (Americans are, on many important topics, subjected to the right's nonsense day after day after... and are having a hard time with all of it.) But Singer has been refuted repeatedly on every topic for which he has taken up arms against the rest of the scientific community. There comes a time when Hanlon's razor becomes so dull from overuse that you just have to assume what explains Singer's constant going-against-the-grain is the unfortunate obvious. Nevermind what I think of Singer, and I do think of him as I've already indicated. In the end, that is unimportant. What I hope is that *every* time he takes to any microphone afforded him, he is responded to and shouted down with the scientific evidence. It is my guess that, at this point, these types of characters understand only one thing, and isn't going to be based on facts and reason, but their own self-analysis of their worth. That must take a hit.
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  19. @threadshredder, I have noticed over the years of discussing a variety of topics on USENET and the WWW that quite often delusions of this nature are often paradoxically strengthened by them being proven wrong. The one with the delusion is unable to accept the criticism and finds ways to dismiss it on any basis they can, rather than face the fact that they are wrong and are making a fool of themselves. Instead they percieve themselves as having won the argument, thus reinforcing the delusion. As it happens, I tried posting a reply to Prof. Singers latest nonsense in American Thinker, but it doesn't appear to have made it past the moderator. This is what I wrote: It is ironic that Prof. Singer accuses Mann of dishonesty when his use of the IPCC 1990 diagram as evidence of the MWP is deeply misleading. It is a schematic diagram (not data) of central england temperatures (not global) and the last point of the graph shows temperatures representative of the first half of the 20th century (so it doesn't show any of the warming that has ocurred since 1950 or so. See the appendix of this paper which discusses the origin of this diagram, and updates it using CET measurements up to 2007 (Figure 7), which shows that "recent measured warming may be comparable with presumed earlier warmth" (actually they are higher according to the graph, but Jones et al in usual scientific style avoid overstating the results). Prof Singer also fails to mention Wahl and Amman (2007) addressed the criticism of Mann's method and that other proxy analysis, constructed using other methods, produce essentially the same result, so why doesn't Prof. Singer criticise them as well?
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  20. @Dikran Marsupial: I was wondering if anybody had taken a look at the comments of Singer's AT science-rewrite. The comments are truly something to behold in that people with absolutely no science background are so rock-solid cocksure of their convictions against scientists. (Here in the U.S., that goes also for certainly against learned authority in economics, health care, etc.) Thanks again for responding here and attempting to respond to Singer at AT. As for me, I'm continuing on through all the myth rebuttals here and trying to keep up with the posts as they come. Keep up the good work.
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  21. @Moderator Response @16: I understand your policy and, of course, will abide by it. But it is a losing one. You clearly understand this is a war, and not a debate. The best way forward is to respond to deniers with the science and then you have to question their personal integrity when they refuse to respond rationally.
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