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So there is a lot of excitement about the announcement that the Berkeley Earth Temperature Study (BEST), headed up by Richard Muller, will be publishing a series of papers confirming once again that the world is indeed warming and rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the culprit. The kicker is that this work was funded by the Koch brothers.

The hoopla around the BEST announcement is strange, though. This group did not find anything new. Rather, they confirmed what everyone else already knew years ago. (See the graphic accompanying Joe Romm's coverage - BEST's reconstruction is very similar to extant reconstructions by NASA GISS, NOAA, and HadCRU). Climate scientist Michael Mann brings the snark:

Muller's announcement last year that the Earth is indeed warming brought him up to date w/ where the scientific community was in the the 1980s. His announcement this week that the warming can only be explained by human influences, brings him up to date with where the science was in the mid 1990s. At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of a few years!
Muller published an accompanying NYT Op-Ed which really makes one wonder what's going on here. Follow me over the squiggle for more.

Muller's NYT piece starts out with a nifty hook, the return of the prodigal scientist:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
Woo-hoo! A converted skeptic who now says anthropogenic climate change is REAL! All right - we're making progress here! ... but wait ... Muller wasn't actually a real climate change skeptic. In the past he's said things like:
Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate.
Rather than a skeptic, it appears Muller is more of an ego-driven confusionist. He wants his name in the paper while confounding building of consensus on climate action. This impression is driven home by his money quotes toward the end of the NYT piece, where, after declaring that anthropogenic climate change is real, he reverses field, whipping off a series of denier tropes. He a) pooh-poohs climate models (they're "notorious"), b) asserts "skepticism" about climate alarmism (this from the recanted skeptic), c) says Katrina "cannot be attributed to global warming" (we know this how?), d) declares polar bears are not dying from receding ice (take THAT, Al Gore!), e) floats the possibility that the medieval warm period was warmer than today (in agreement with the good Lord Monckton but, sadly, not people who actually study the matter), and f) argues that the current US heat wave has practically nothing to do with climate change because (wait for it) it's cool somewhere else. Yeah. Here are his words, which I'm sure the Kochs are very happy about:
Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

Of all these claims, the bit about the medieval warm period is perhaps the most outrageous. It has been shown repeatedly in climate reconstructions (starting with Mann's 1999 hockey stick) that current temperatures are higher. This point is made very well in the following video (h/t to kossack jethrock), which, in addition to explaining the current understanding, also features famous deniers trying to pass off doctored graphs arguing Muller's debunked point that it was warmer 800 years ago:

So our recanted skeptic reveals himself as a purveyor of a different kind of denial, of don't get alarmed, it's not so bad. An excellent analysis on realisticbeinggreen sheds light:

What we are witnessing ... is a very clever shift in denier strategy. ... No longer could they deny the science brought together by the IPCC and nor could they come up with a better theory as to why the planet was warming. They could not even keep on pretending that the planet was not indeed warming. They have, however, shifted the goal posts. Rather than deny that the science is accurate, they have, and will now deny that climate change poses any threat to human well-being. Professor Muller’s article is the perfect Trojan Horse and could be the final tactic that makes sure this war is really over.

[The Muller Op-Ed] is written in a very clever way to achieve what the main objective of the denier lobby has always been – to delay meaningful action on climate change for as long as possible. Muller points out that the BEST methodology is indeed the best; better than the IPCC’s. He argues that his data is superior and therefore gives better results. It is important to link this to what I’ve written above. By framing the article in this way Muller seeks to position himself as the true scientist, the one with integrity who didn’t go leaping to conclusions just like those inferior scientists from the IPCC did. Now that Professor Muller and his team have truly, scientifically established that humans are warming the planet, he can now go on to find out what the negative effects from this warming will be. Do not trust what the IPCC has to say, for their methodology is weak and inferior. Wait for us to provide the real answers. It’s the waiting, as the sea ice caps melt and the deserts expand, that Muller wants. It’s the waiting which is what the oil industry needs, more and more time to extract that oil before those bothersome scientists obstruct their work.

Yeah. I can't add to that. Hopefully we don't get bogged down in the misdirection thrown by the Mullers of the world.

PS - the last link also has links to skeptical science debunking of each of Muller's denier tropes.

PPS - kossack beach babe in fl had a great diary on this report earlier today

Originally posted to mightymouse on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Poor Richard Muller, attacked by the doom- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir

    mongers for failing to go along with chi-chi hysteria about hurricanes and droughts, and attacked by the skeptics for his a priori assumptions about total solar irradiance as the only metric of interest.  You can't win.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:44:18 PM PDT

  •  Muller is putting billions of lives at risk (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, mightymouse, pollbuster

    so the Corporations can make more money. Wonder how he sleeps at night.

    •  Maybe the answer lies in (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Paul Ferguson, mightymouse

      Where his current grant funding is coming from. As they say, "follow the money".

      "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

      by billlaurelMD on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:05:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  it's ironic that after accusations of (0+ / 0-)

        scientists over-hyping AGW to get $, here is a guy doing just the opposite. Do you know how much he got from the Kochs?

        An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

        by mightymouse on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 09:11:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  $150K (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mightymouse

          I mean, why is he spinning this as if it doesn't really matter?  Is there more $$ coming from Koch and their ilk?

          "Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra." -- me "Social justice is love, made public." -- Cornel West

          by billlaurelMD on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 07:36:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  thanks (0+ / 0-)

            I don't know what motivates him, but is seems obvious he's not playing in good faith. Does he do so for the money, or do they give him the money because he's "reliable"?

            There was a good post about this on Climate Progress recently - Climate Change and the Soothing Message of Luke-Warmism:

            “Luke-warmists” may be defined as those who appear to accept the body of climate science but interpret it in a way that is least threatening: emphasising uncertainties, playing down dangers, and advocating a slow and cautious response.

            They are politically conservative and anxious about the threat to the social structure posed by the implications of climate science. Their “pragmatic” approach is therefore alluring to political leaders looking for a justification for policy minimalism.

            Muller falls comfortably into this camp. Perhaps he does not want to see our country vigorously take on climate change, so he soft sells.

            An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

            by mightymouse on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 07:45:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, pollwatcher

    I read that nytimes op/ed and felt like I had been sucked in by a concern troll. The headline and the beginning suggest that one of the few skeptics who is a real scientist has come around. But then we learn it's nothing new and the article is just an excuse for seeding more doubt to delay action.

    Muller is an astrophysicist who has been promoting this kind of doubt for a long time while also saying he accepts some of the facts. Sadly he used to have a regular column in Technology Review, a magazine put out by MIT (not a peer-reviewed journal, but usually an excellent source for science and tech news). He used his column a couple of times to attack Michael Mann's "hockey stick" data using analyses by third parties which were later easily debunked.

    Muller actually hasn't been popular among the rabid climate change deniers for a while, but he is probably even more useful to the industries that need him for that reason.

    •  exactly - he plays a clever game (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BRog

      this BEST study is a gambit for him to get a new sprinkling of credibility and exposure, which he will use to spread uncertainty on the real implications of global warming.

      he needs to be exposed and ignored.

      GRRR!

      An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

      by mightymouse on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 08:12:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A double thanks, I would have missed this. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, BRog

      I missed the entire denial part as I was skimming through the articles.

      But it does raise the question that if he was so wrong in the past, why will anyone take him serious in the future?

      •  you're welcome! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pollwatcher, BRog

        It seemed like a lot of the initial coverage went with the bogus "skeptic recants" thing.

        Based on the Mann quote (from his facebook page, btw) people in the climate science community don't take him seriously. However, many activists are hungry for any good news, so we can lap this stuff up. And of course the media in general has a lot of issues.

        An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

        by mightymouse on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 09:25:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Speaking as another scientist... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse

    I admire Muller as a teacher (followed his podcast "Physics for Future Presidents") and am glad to see he's finally coming around.  This denial is probably a long-held belief, which means there won't be a sudden shift in his stance.  I do like the idea that he created a public dataset that we can use.

    He does seem to miss the mark in the area of catastrophic storms (which is a bit surprising, given that he studied paleoclimates.)  It's not that they're more frequent, but rather that intensity is increasing.  However, this doesn't quite surprise me -- he's processing it all through the filters he acquired as a CW skeptic.  I suspect that with more time and more data, his stance will shift again.

    You don't convert from one stance to another in one swift move.  It's a gradual process.

    Thanks for posting this.  It led me to discover the Berkeley database, and I'm itching to explore it!

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