28 March 2012

A Handy Bullshit Button on Disasters and Climate Change

The full IPCC Special Report on Extremes is out today, and I have just gone through the sections in Chapter 4 that deal with disasters and climate change. Kudos to the IPCC -- they have gotten the issue just about right, where "right" means that the report accurately reflects the academic literature on this topic. Over time good science will win out over the rest -- sometimes it just takes a little while.

A few quotable quotes from the report (from Chapter 4):
  • "There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change"
  • "The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados"
  • "The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses"
The report even takes care of tying up a loose end that has allowed some commentators to avoid the scientific literature:
"Some authors suggest that a (natural or anthropogenic) climate change signal can be found in the records of disaster losses (e.g., Mills, 2005; Höppe and Grimm, 2009), but their work is in the nature of reviews and commentary rather than empirical research."
With this post I am creating a handy bullshit button on this subject (pictured above). Anytime that you read claims that invoke disasters loss trends as an indication of human-caused climate change, including  the currently popular "billion dollar disasters" meme, you can simply call "bullshit" and point to the IPCC SREX report.

You may find yourself having to use the bullshit button in locations that are supposed to be credible, such as Nature Climate Change and the New York Times. This might may feel uncomfortable at first, because such venues are generally credible, but is absolutely necessary to help certain corners of science and the media to regain their credibility. The siren song of linking disasters to human-caused climate change exerts a strong pull for activists in all settings, but might be countered by the widespread and judicious use of the disaster and climate change bullshit button.


  1. Roger,

    Based on my review of an extensive record of evidence, neither the IPCC nor the NY Times are credible sources about much of anything (with the possible exception of sports scores and standings).

  2. Also recently deployed by McKibben (great guy, inspirational speaker, scientifically-useless) here:


    ... and Masters is as keen as Monckton, sorry, mustard, to cherry-pick 2011 CEI as the new normal without thinking about what happened after 1935, 55 or 85. (I'll concede that the post-80s do seem a bit on the high side, but still.)


  3. Here is one today for your button

  4. -3-Mike McHenry

    Thanks, the button is open sourced and uncopyrighted ;-)

  5. And another...


  6. The New York Times is supposed to be credible?

    Who knew?

  7. CM, I would entirely agree about Bill McKibben. I've heard him speak over here in the UK last year, and not only was his science useless, but also his theology. Definitely a BS button press for him and 350.org.

    p.s. I wrote to BMcK at 350.org following his talk last year, extensively pointing out all his factual errors and theological misunderstandings, but he has not had the courtesy to reply, or even acknowledge. Mind you, that's exactly the response I expected. Happy to stand on a stage and collect peoples money, but not willing to take or respond to criticism.

  8. "Over time good science will win out over the rest -- sometimes it just takes a little while."

    There is no such thing as "good" science. There is science - and various substitutes for it.

  9. Some of those quotable quotes precede citations to published work with which you were associated. Perhaps all of them ;-)

    I guess you can't say there were any 'dreadful' Pielke, Jr. papers that were rejected from consideration in this review of the literature ;-)

  10. Note how this NYT Gillis and Foster article defines two types of scientists on climate and extremes:

    1. "Scientists who dispute the importance of global warming have long ridiculed any attempt to link greenhouse gases to weather extremes."

    2. "Yet mainstream scientists are determined to figure out which climate extremes are being influenced by human activity"

    What about scientists who do not dispute the "importance of global warming" but can't find the signal in the extremes that they study?

    Airbrushed out ;-)

  11. There is no such thing as "good" science. There is science - and various substitutes for it.

    No true Scotsman doesn't like haggis.

  12. @ 9. Roger,

    I think this is why it might well end up the official IPCC text on the matter will read something like this:

    "Work continues regarding the anthroprogenic signal (or component) within recent (or projected) disaster loss and weather extremes, and the literature continues to not conclusively rule out such attribution."

    ...to which can eventually evolve to something where there is some degree of certainty that the signal exists, we only need xyz, $, or whatever in order to discover it. Perhaps it's like hunting down WMD in Iraq.

  13. When it comes to global warming and pressing the BS button, there's such an embarrassment of riches to pick from ...


  14. I find it amazing that people can find logical fallacies and positioning arguments without attributing their existence to political pressure. Mind, I could say the same thing about the existence of a crazy war party and an apologetic one being represented as choice.
    I find it remarkable that a UN agency can propose an international levy based on the results of computer modeling of simplistic and incomplete speculation - and then claim they are the solution to the problem which they forecast without defusing the contention that science is being discussed rather than opportunistic bullshit.
    I rather liked this : http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/18115/

  15. The progressives in this country have a long history of confusing ideology with science. A recent quote from a book on suppressing science at Harvard during the 1970s:

    "The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was a graduate student at Harvard in the 1970s. In his 2002 book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Pinker describes the ways scientists betrayed the values of science to maintain loyalty to the progressive movement. Scientists became “moral exhibitionists” in the lecture hall as they demonized fellow scientists and urged their students to evaluate ideas not for their truth but for their consistency with progressive ideals such as racial and gender equality."

    Haidt, Jonathan (2012-03-13). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (p. 33). Random House, Inc..

  16. Well put. I think we need such a button for all of the scare stories and fatuous confidence about the importance of CO2 - not just hurricanes, and floods, but also droughts, temperatures, ice cover, sea levels, and so on and on. The edifice constructed by the likes of the IPCC leadership and by even more unhinged commentators, is crumbling. You have been assiduous in helping remove the brick marked 'disaster losses' from their wall. May others soon follow.

  17. It is encouraging to find the IPCC adhering to the science on the extreme weather issue.

    Looking at the IPCC AR5 WG1 drafts, the following chapters seem to be on a solid scientific basis as well:
    Chapter 2: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface
    Chapter 3: Observations: Ocean
    Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere

    Now all we need to worry about is what can go wrong by the time that the AR5 is published in 2013:

  18. 11. Gerard Harbison,

    I am from Wales but scarf down haggis whenever it is available.

    Like the blog owner I have a "BS detector" that has served me well over the years.

  19. No true Scotsman doesn't like haggis.

    I thought everybody knew that.

  20. RealClimate is up to their old tricks in disallowing me from commenting at their site, when I simply submitted a comment pointing to my papers. ;-)

  21. Roger,

    Apples to oranges notwithstanding ... It occurs to me that the kinds of things that are being said-- "We know there's gotta be a link", "You can't deny there's not a link", "Despite that we haven't proven it yet, it doesn't mean there isn't a link" etc. etc.

    ...These things are the same sorts of things you hear from people who know, just k-n-o-w that vaccines and immunizations or whatever are what's behind the incidence of various neurological, psychological, and medical conditions in children (autism, for example).

    The logic does seem reasonable though, that because we are warming the planet, we would have to be affecting the weather if we are also affecting the climate-- even if a link or a correlation isn't there.

    Perhaps the final version in the IPCC will be written to say "we can't say for sure it's not there, despite recent failures to discern a link through research." "It should be there, so we'll be on the right side of history if we just postulate that there is a link, and then indicate proof is forthcoming"

  22. 20. Roger Pielke, Jr. said...
    "RealClimate is up to their old tricks in disallowing me from commenting at their site, when I simply submitted a comment pointing to my papers."

    I don't understand why you bother. Truth and honesty are not respected at RealClimate. Leftists regard censorship and the re-writing of history as legitimat tactics.

    Remember comrade Lysenko. Remember comrade Lenin and "The end justifies the means". Lenin deserves the credit for doing what Machiavelli suggested.

  23. I happened on a radiology page that begins with this wise caution about consensus statements:

    National Institutes of Health
    Consensus Development Conference Statement

    "This statement is more than five years old and is provided solely for historical purposes. Due to the cumulative nature of medical research, new knowledge has inevitably accumulated in this subject area in the time since the statement was initially prepared. Thus some of the material is likely to be out of date, and at worst simply wrong. For reliable, current information on this and other health topics, we recommend .... "

    Search terms:

    detect small weak signal noisy background

    It's a challenge in many areas, and both fields -- statistics and signal processing -- are new and still changing fast.

  24. "RealClimate is up to their old tricks in disallowing me from commenting at their site, when I simply submitted a comment pointing to my papers. ;-)"

    I don't think I would lose any sleep over it.

    Point out a meaningful thing RealClimate has communicated in what seems like endless years of blogging away.

    Go ahead, point out one. Just one.

  25. Hey, I can quote that report out of context too! And at almost 600 pages, no one will bother checking.

    "It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale."
    Pollution has caused higher global temperatures. Yes yes, we know this already; climate change is real and humans are to blame. Boring, let's look at whether temperature has any effect on natural disasters.

    "Heavy rainfalls associated with tropical cyclones are likely to increase with continued warming."

    "There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 21st century in some seasons and areas, due to reduced precipitation and/or increased evapotranspiration."

    "There is high confidence that changes in heat waves, glacial retreat, and/or permafrost degradation will affect high mountain phenomena such as slope instabilities, movements of mass, and glacial lake outburst floods."
    So, according to these four sentences... Increases in the frequency and severity of cyclones, rainfall, droughts, heatwaves, glacial retreats, floods and avalanches are attributable to higher temperatures. Higher temperatures attributable to climate change.

    To Roger's credit though, the increased number and severity of tropical and extra-tropical tornadoes have not been attributed to climate change. Phew! We really dodged a bullet there.

    Oh, one more:
    "There is low confidence in projections of small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because competing physical processes may affect future trends and because current climate models do not simulate such phenomena"

  26. This analysis is misleading at best. In their summary the IPCC states, "Extreme weather and climate events, interacting with exposed and vulnerable human and natural systems, can lead to disasters. This Special Report explores the challenge of understanding and managing the risks of climate extremes to advance climate change adaptation. Weather- and climate-related disasters have social as well as physical dimensions. As a result, changes in the frequency and severity of the physical events affect disaster risk, but so do the spatially diverse and temporally dynamic patterns of exposure and vulnerability. Some types of extreme weather and climate events have increased in frequency or magnitude, but populations and assets at risk have also increased, with consequences for disaster risk. Opportunities for managing risks of weather- and climate-related disasters exist or
    can be developed at any scale, local to international. Some strategies for effectively managing risks and adapting to climate change
    involve adjustments to current activities. Others require transformation or fundamental change."

  27. -26-guylacrosse

    Nice try, but no, the passage that you cite does not counter anything written in this post ;-) Thanks!

  28. 40+ years ago, did "climatology" pretend to predict the weather? No, this field of endeavor was on a par with stock market analysis, looking for "trends" in climate change based on "indicators" such as oscillations of atmospheric pressure between somewhat arbitrarily chosen points on the Earth.

    "Modeling" was applied to determine the origin of these oscillations, for example, so that this would be given a "scientific" basis.

    Now add a couple of relations involving "greenhouse gas forcing" and Presto! You now have a "science" upon which to base long term weather patterns.

    Very few people studying physical science over sixty years of age (like myself) would believe it was possible for "science" to get to where it is today

  29. 26. guylacrosse

    That IPCC summary confirms what we already know, that "Extreme weather and climate events, .. can lead to disasters", and that "some events have increased in severity or magnitude, but populations and assets at risk have also increased, with consequences for disaster risk". Not many "dots" therein to join, but Huffpo and others are joining them right now. "See - told you so!"

    We have already seen the "loaded dice" theme from Mann and others, so I predict the next slogan will be "there's no smoke without fire!"

    Mr. P - your red button is already displayed elsewhere. I'm debating whether to link mine to realclimate or skepticalscience, or just to an otherwise unlinked graph or table or rebuttal which supports a blogpost.

  30. BS Button of the Day:


  31. I find this absurd and surreal. The ratios shown on the first of the two Munich Re graphs on http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/06/495713/extreme-weather-is-the-new-climate-reality are plenty information to determine the proportion of increasing losses due to population shifts. We should convert to http://talknicer.com/co2extraction.pdf immediately.