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Fred Singer Denies Global Warming

Posted on 2 November 2011 by Riccardo

Waiting for the dust to settle, we still see a host of different reactions to BEST's results. The very first shouts from many skeptics has been along the line of "no one has ever claimed that the planet is not warming," although we know that despite the settled science that is global warming, in many instances this is not true.

Following the skeptics blogsphere, a kind of schizophrenic pattern emerges. On the one side they say that it's true that the planet has warmed; on the other, they criticize BEST's results for showing exactly this. And given that BEST substantially agrees with all the other datasets, they are implicitly saying that all datasets are biased in exactly the same way and amount. In the end, if skeptics say it's warming, it's fine; when scientists measure the warming, it's a hoax. I miss the logic.

As it often happens, there will always be "extremists."  Contradicting their skeptic allies, we now see more and more people maintining the indefensible position of "it's not warming"; between them, the well-known "skeptical" scientist Prof. Fred Singer, Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He took issue with an editorial recently published on Nature, and left a comment in their blog for the record.

Apart from the all-too-common accusation of bias, Singer finds surprising that Nature welcomes BEST's results. He says that these new results "added little to the ongoing debate on human causes of climate change," which I find somewhat trivial. Indeed, any confirmation of a scientific finding in some sense "adds little" but "subtract something" - it leaves less room for alternative hypotheses. If you like the word "add" more, I may say that it adds confidence on previous results, but it's semantics.

On the scientific side, Singer says that "They included data from the same weather stations as the Climategate people." I'm not going to comment on his referring to the "Climategate people" - it's really irritating to see what should be a scientific discourse turned to innuendo. Anyway, he's entitled to his opinion and his style; the real problem is with the claim that BEST includes the same stations as GISS or HadCRU. Let's see what they say:

"We are using over 39,000 unique stations, which is more than five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies."

They share less than 20% of their database with others, and they started from scratch using the raw (unudjusted) data and implemented a new method. It's worth noting that the BEST team has been careful enough to provide a comparison with other datasets analising only stations not used by other groups (fig. 1 here). Singer's attempt to cast doubt on BEST results based on the common use of the GHCN has then no merit.

Singer then continues his attempt to undermine station based datasets by claiming that

"unlike the land surface, the atmosphere has shown no warming trend, either over land or over ocean — according to satellites and independent data from weather balloons."

What is the atmosphere for Prof. Singer, the whole atmosphere or just the troposphere, is not clear. Assuming he's referring to the latter, all of the lower tropospheric satellite datasets show warming. For example, we can easily check UAH and RSS datasets just plotting the data.

Those interested can find a thorough comparison of the different datasets here.

What about the mid-tropospheric trend from radiosonde?  Same story, it's warming and at a similar pace as surface temperature:

Singer's claim, again, does not withstand scrutiny.

His last try is with tree rings, ice cores, ocean sediments and stalagmites; he claims that "They don't show any global warming since 1940!". Yes, you read it right, since 1940. I admit I was astonished reading this. I've heard many times of the global warming stopped in 1998, or 2002 or whatever, but never as early as 1940; it must be a record.

I also find intriguing that Singer likes proxies more than direct measurements, more so given that he complained about the area coverage of the land stations. Do ice cores, for example, have a better coverage than weather stations? And why should one use ocean sediments to infer land temperature? The quoted proxies are typically used for long-term temperature reconstructions for a reason, not as a substitute of direct measurements; would you prefer direct radiometric measurements of solar irradiance or plant growth as a proxy?

Proxies are much less accurate than thermometers, do not have a good area coverage, are noisy and often need heavy filtering thus reducing their time resolution, and may be affected by several things other than temperature. No one would throw direct measurements away and keep a much less reliable indirect one.

This is Singer's quite unsound science as per his comment on Nature's blog, but there's another thing worth noting. Presuming that the Nature editors "evidently haven't read the four scientific BEST papers," he tries to fill the gap by quoting the Berkley scientists as saying that "The human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated." Note that the quoted sentence starts with the "T" in capitals.

What is actually written in the paper (pag. 12) is "In that case the human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated," where the case is the hypothesis of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation driven by natural variability as opposed to forced by GHGs. The meaning of the sentence has been completely twisted; I hope that Singer took the quote from someone else and didn't read the paper himself, for if he did the conclusion to draw could be much worse.  Note in particular the wording "may be somewhat overestimated" - the language is hypothetical because BEST did not actually attempt to determine if it's true that the human component is at all overestimated, and thus to focus on and exaggerate the importance of this totally unsupported hypothesis is rather foolish.

In summary we count two errors (on stations overlap and on the trends of satellite and radiosonde records), one unthinkable request (substitute all the direct temperature measurements with proxies), and one misquoted or misunderstood (or worse) sentence. I understand that it's just a blog comment but before dismissing the work of collegues and accusing a scientific journal of being biased, I'd expect a reputable scientist to think twice.

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Comments 1 to 27:

  1. Minor nit: I think you've accidentally cut and pasted a closing sentence from some other topic. I don't think the phrase "I'd expect a reputable scientist to think twice" belongs in an essay on Fred Singer.
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  2. Thanks Riccardo. Yes, the number of logical fallacies that those who deny the reality of AGW have to make is quite impressive. "Skeptics" and those who deny AGW are really not sure what to do about the BEST results. At the same time they are accusing the BEST team of fraud, they are also claiming that they never doubted it was warming, while also claiming that the BEST data show that "The human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated", while also bending over backwards cherry picking to try and claim that the BEST data show it is in fact now cooling! They have very vivid imaginations. When the results first came out their immediate reaction was "We never denied that global temperatures are rising!", in about a week that cry has quite miraculously morphed into "The BEST data show that global warming has stopped!". What they are doing beggars belief. Singer's error riddled post was of course given front page status at WUWT, a blog that Dr. Roger Pielke Senior assures is "devoted to the highest level of scientific robustness". Instead of being 'skeptical' about the claims made by Singer (which probably originated from a lobby group which denies AGW and which has a history of playing loose with the truth), Mr. Watts and Dr. Singer were quite happy to propagate the falsehoods and add a few of their own for good measure. In February 2011 Singer said this at WUWT: "I applaud and support what is being done by the Project — a very difficult but important undertaking. I personally have little faith in the quality of the surface data, having been exposed to the revealing work by Anthony Watts and others. However, I have an open mind on the issue and look forward to seeing the results of the Project in their forthcoming publications." Like Watts, he has too reneged on earlier assertions about being open minded about the BEST findings.
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  3. Singer's comment at Nature includes a lot of content from his letter to the Washington Post dated the previous day (which I can only find as originally posted at WUWT). I instantly recognized the bizarre claims about atmospheric and proxy trends that he seems to have totally invented. Of course none of it is backed by references to the literature, so it's impossible to verify against any particular data. My favorite part is where he cites the BEST line that 70% of US stations are poorly cited, ignoring that in the very same paper they found that these siting issues make no real difference.
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  4. Just read a great article in "Is Climate Change Real? Take a Look at the Science Before you Decide"
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  5. Really it's stunning that anybody would seriously try to deny that the planet has warmed since 1940. That's either extreme ignorance or extreme denial, and in Singer's case, it's clearly the latter. He knows better. I just couldn't believe he actually said this in a comment to Nature, one of the most prominent peer-reviewed journals in the world. If Singer had any credibility left before this incident, it's gone. This is just disgraceful. It's just impossible to take anything he says seriously after this.
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  6. I am very aware that what I'm about to say could be considered ad hominem and stands a good chance of being deleted, but it's perhaps worth saying. My mother, who is a year younger than Fred Singer, has been living in a home for the elderly for several years now. Although she was a clever woman -- a head teacher -- she gradually lost her ability to apply logic and eventually became somewhat demented. I remember only a year ago she looked up at the moon on a clear evening and told me, with absolute conviction, that she'd been there. I feel very sorry for people who were once so capable as they start to lose touch with reality. It's very sad and perhaps we should make allowances.
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  7. On the Global Warming Policy Foundation website, David Whitehouse headlined his initial blog on BEST thus: 'Sceptical Berkeley Scientists Say, “Human Component Of Global Warming May Be Somewhat Overestimated”', making the same mistake as the one Singer did in his Nature post. I wrote to Whitehouse pointing out that this was pure spin. His response was that the headline wasn't taken taken out of context because the section in which phrase occurs is "poorly argued": ie, he knew better than the authors what they meant. Is this type of self-contradictory, Janus behaviour common amongst the sceptic, sorry "skeptic" community? :-)
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  8. John, you and your mother should get every allowance that anyone could make. Not so Fred Singer. He's been making wildly unjustified claims about a whole variety of topics for decades now. If there's been any change in his behaviour or cognition, it's not apparent to me.
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  9. I'd expect a reputable scientist to think twice. [Emphasis mine.]
    Ah, see, there's your problem. :)
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  10. Riccardo, you don't see their logic. I think it 'works' like this: 1. Scientists who believe in anthropogenic global warming (or whatever) are greedy liars or are incompetent. 2. When they find warming, they either fudged the data or performed the analysis wrongly or ignored important contradictory stuff. 3. If someone who doesn't believe in AGW finds cooling or no warming, he or she has done it right, with all the proper data. 4. If someone who doesn't believe in AGW finds warming, he or she has probably done it right (because people who don't believe in AGW are more competent and trustworthy), but warming doesn't mean it's anthropogenic. 5. If someone who doesn't believe in AGW finds the same amount of warming as someone who does believe in AGW, however, there's trouble -- this would likely mean that the scheming or incompetent true believer didn't do anything wrong, or the non-believer made the same errors. Therefore, #5 can't be correct, because the only thing that makes sense in this worldview is that those who disbelieve in AGW are better than those who think it's a real problem. Any common ground is an affront to the natural order.
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  11. Steve L#10: "I think it 'works' like this:" It's important to lay this 'logical' chain out in the order you did. Item 1 is among the foundational principles of the denialists. Normal logic would say that if a foundational principle (a given, if you will) is wrong, the whole structure crumbles like a house of cards. Switching to rhetorical mode: Has anyone asked what evidence there is for item 1? Can anyone in denial do anything else than pre-suppose that item 1 is true? I think not. End rhetorical. The comments on JCurry's blog after tamino's questions popped up are a case in point. He asked a scientist, who had taken a position without having to show any evidence in support, to show that evidence. The 'denizens' thought that was ill-mannered, rude and a personal attack. You dare you ask our favorite scientist a straightforward question? Not on our watch! And we're supposed to be looking for common ground with these folks?
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  12. rpauli: "Is Climate Change Real? Take a Look at the Science Before you Decide" The very notion that a headline like this is published is depressing. "Science says 'X" . Take a look at the science before you decide". Where else would you look? Genesis? (yes) Republican politicos who wave their hands and don't know their d**k from their rear end? (yes). etc. depressing ...
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  13. My mother who was a devout Christian always said that one day I would really understand when I got older and wiser that being an atheist scientist was wrong. She is dead now and I am much older and wiser and have not changed at all. The evidence still stands. We are dealing with people who are deluded. Nothing will change their mindset. It all reminds me of a case a neurophysiologist called Ramachandran had, whose patient had a delusion that he was dead. No logical argument could convince him that he was deluded. Yet he could see delusions in others! Sound familiar? Bert
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  14. At least Singer is dissenting from the happy-clappy Marc Morano-Anthony Watts "skeptic" consensus: "Of course, we always knew the globe was warming". As far as I remember, Singer was teh designer of the "Doubt is Our Product" campaign for the tobacco lobby. His disagreement may rock some hardened deniers.
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  15. I'm not too sure about that, Shoyemore, as evidenced by these quotes from him :

    I applaud and support what is being done by the Project — a very difficult but important undertaking. I personally have little faith in the quality of the surface data, having been exposed to the revealing work by Anthony Watts and others. However, I have an open mind on the issue and look forward to seeing the results of the Project in their forthcoming publications. ClimateRealists(sic)

    But unlike the land surface, the atmosphere has shown no warming trend, either over land or over ocean — according to satellites and independent data from weather balloons. This indicates to me that there is something very wrong with the land surface data. Nature comment

    Having read both of those, though, I'm not sure whether he believes the world is warming or not ! He seems to almost be trying to accept warming but also raising doubt as to the actuality of that warming - just like a true so-called skeptic like Watts.
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  16. I thought Singer believed it was warming? His book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years, certainly seems to claim that, at least from the title. You'd think he'd be happy to see the warming in the BEST data (and all the other data) because he could then point to his book and say, "See, I was right".
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  17. The only people that heed Singer are those who subscribe to the typical denialist train of thought. He lost credibility with everyone else a long time ago.
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  18. JMurphy, Like yourself, I find Singer's comments are cause for head-scratching. Like Curry, his basic annoyance seems to stem from the fact that Muller praised organisations like CRU and GISS. In other words, Muller's statements undermined a key myth of denialism - that "the books are cooked". He seems to be telling his "team" to get with the programme - there will be no let up for Phil Jones, Michael Mann or Jim Hansen. Curry also seems to be telling Muller publicly to get on side. I do not think Muller has the fibre to stand up to them. Hopefully Rohde and Perlmutter (who do not need anyone's approval) might.
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  19. Shoyemore@18 Muller's statements undermined a key myth of denialism - that "the books are cooked" ^^^^^ THIS is the reason that the 'skeptics' can not accept the BEST data. If Muller/BEST agree with the crooks then he too must be a crook. Reference Steve L's point one.
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  20. Re 18,19 I concur. Muller's results vindicated Hansen and Jones from years of denier accusations of cooking the books, deleting stations, rewriting history, exaggerating warming, etc. All of which DO constitute denying global warming. The deniers have played a sleight of hand by claiming they always accepted the world warmed. That's not the point. The point was that they were denying global warming had played out as shown in HadCRUT and GISTEMP. The deniers are mad because Muller went public about them being wrong. Effectively they've been held accountable for their false claims and they don't like it one bit.
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  21. Fred Singer - one of the hero's in the book 'Merchants of Doubt'. Frankly I don't think anyone should take notice of anything he says, he as absolutely no credibility whatsoever.
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  22. For the past forty years, Singer, Seitz and the rest of their small cabal of scientists - all deeply influenced by the Cold War - have waged war against any environmental problem that necessitated government action. Whether it was DDT, the harmful effects of smoking, anthropogenic acid rain, ozone depletion or global warming. Both Singer and Seitz pulled off their first major (-snip-) on the public by denying the link between cigarettes and lung cancer. From 1979 to 85 Seitz distributed $45million to scientists around the country on behalf of F. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The brief was to find other links to lung cancer other than cigarettes to get tobacco off the hook. Fred Singer co-authored a major report attacking the US Environmental Protection Agency over the health risks of second-hand smoke. Singer’s anti-EPA report was funded by an indirect grant by the Tobacco Institute. Using a tried and tested tactic successfully adopted by Big Carbon in the later global warming “debate”, the grant was channeled through an industry funded right-wing think tank, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. So successful was the (-snip-) played out on the public, so complicit was the mainstream media, so willing were the conservative politicians to forfeit policy decisions for hard cash that someone eventually came up with the bright idea of publishing the ultimate science bashing bible: ‘Bad Science: A Resource Book’ - a how to handbook with successful strategies to undermine science with a list of “so called” experts for hire whenever a negative sound bite was called for. No-one denies the link between tobacco and lung cancer anymore. Surely, Singer's credentials as a "go to" expert have been seriously undermined?
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    [DB] Inflammatory term snipped.

  23. Milka: You are wrong when you say "no-one denies the link between tobacco and lung cancer anymore" Dr Richard Lindzen (the climate skeptic from MIT) has testified in court that there is no link and maintains that argument today. this is the company the "skeptics" keep.
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  24. A week ago the British Politician Roger Helmer, Member of the European Parliament and climate skeptic posted the email from his 'good friend' Singer on his blog; I felt the need to comment, and still am.
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  25. I believe Roger Helmer is also the European reprepresentative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and has spoken against AGW in a number of UK/EU right wing situations. Say no more
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  26. The logic of the denialist movement is very different from the scientific logic. It's an economic logic, it's a power logic. Sometimes it's a religious (fundamentalist) logic. Anyway, it's a media dynamics logic. I suspect this move is just another successful attempt to put themselves on the focus once more, with the aim at reinforcing "the other side" facing the public at large, and so reinvigorating the 'debate'. In recognizing that the Earth is warming, they acquire a sense of 'fairness' that they were losing, and this allows them to be more credible with their next claim: it's not CO2 or, at least, it's not the fossil fuels (alternatively, the economic growth). They exhibit high scientific incompetence. But where they really excel is in the management of public opinion. I think it's no coincidence that this 'discovery' appears just one month before the talks in Durban. Be ready with what can happen before Rio next year.
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  27. Riccardo, I would trust paleoclimate proxies more than reanalysis or gridded temperature products for pre-1950 data. Proxies may not have spatial coverage, but they are remarkable in their being reproducible and repeatable. The issue here is NOT that Singer trusts proxy data over instrumental data. The issue is that proxies DO IN FACT show the 20th century warming signal. Here is a blog post where I compile a short list of papers where the authors discover 20th century warming in their paleoclimate proxies:
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