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1895 Montparnasse train wreck
The new FiveThirtyEight
Nate Silver claims that his new blog is a data journalism organization. Silver is a numbers guy, and because his analyses of political polls proved more accurate than those made by the often inept traditional media competition, he has become celebrated as a genius, if not quite a shaman. How ironic, then, that with over 97 percent of the 11,944 peer-reviewed studies of "global climate change" or "global warming" between 1991-2011 endorsing the consensus on anthropogenic global warming, with almost every scientific society or association long before having concurred on the consensus, and with the U.S. National Academies of Science and the British Royal Society now saying that the consensus is more certain than ever, Silver would hire as one of his science writers the egregious purveyor of disinformation on climate change, Roger Pielke, Jr. And the worst part about it, given Silver's reputation as a statistics guy, is that Pielke often is criticized for butchering statistics and data analysis.
With Roger Pielke Jr covering climate, how about Jenny McCarthy on vaccines? @capital_climate  @thingsbreak @NateSilver538 @climatebrad
Climate scientist Michael Mann is among many who are not impressed:
“Given Nate’s professed obsession with rigorous statistical analysis, it is rather disappointing to see him hire for his new venture an individual who has displayed a pattern of sloppiness when it comes to the analysis of climate data,” said top climate scientist Michael Mann via email. Pointing to a chapter in Silver’s recent book that addresses climate change (for which Mann was interviewed) he adds, “Sadly, this isn’t the first time Nate has been led astray when it comes to dealing with the science of climate change.”
After having been interviewed by Silver for that book, and despite obviously liking Silver, personally, when Mann read the result, he wrote an excoriating critique that should be read in its entirety.

Much more below the fold.

Among the many lowlights:

As a result, Nate's chapter on climate change (Chapter 12: "A Climate of Healthy Skepticism") is marred by straw man claims that don't stand up to scrutiny. These include the assertion that (a) climate scientist James Hansen's famous 1988 predictions overestimated global warming (they didn't), that (b) "the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) settles on just one forecast that is endorsed by the entire group" (pure nonsense -- even the most casual reading of the IPCC reports reveals that great care taken to emphasize the non-trivial spreadamong model predictions, and to denote regions where there is substantial disagreement between the projections from different models) and that (c) "relatively little is understood" about the El Nino cycle (here I imagine that Nate might have misinterpreted our own discussion about the matter; I explained in our discussion that there are still open questions about how climate change will influence the El Nino phenomenon -- but that hardly means that we know "relatively little" about the phenomenon itself! In fact, we know quite a bit about it). Finally, and perhaps most troubling (d) while Nate's chapter title explicitly acknowledges the importance of distinguishing "signal" from "noise", and Nate does gives this topic some lip service, he repeatedly falls victim to the fallacy that tracking year-to-year fluctuations in temperature (the noise) can tell us something about predictions of global warming trends (the signal). They can't -- they really can't.

Nate's view of uncertainty, and its implications for climate model predictions, is particularly misguided. He asserts that the projections of the IPCC forecasts have been "too aggressive", but that is simply wrong. It neglects that in many cases, e.g. as regards the alarming rate of Arctic sea ice decline (we saw a new record low set just weeks ago), the climate models have been far too cautious; We are decades ahead of schedule relative to what the models predicted. Uncertainty cuts both ways, and in many respects -- be it the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice, or the melting of the ice sheets -- it is cutting against us. Uncertainty, as many economists recognize, is thus a reason for action, not inaction! I'm surprised someone as sharp as Nate just doesn't appear to get that.

And after debunking Silver's cheap and inaccurate potshots at Al Gore, and deriding his cherry-picking and misrepresenting Mann's own interview statements for the purpose of promoting a false narrative:
Most disappointing to me of all was the false equivalence that Nate draws between the scientific community's efforts to fight back against intentional distortions and attacks by an industry-funded attack machine, and the efforts of that attack machine itself. He characterizes this simply as a battle between "consensus" scientists and "skeptical" individuals, as if we're talking about two worthy adversaries in a battle. This framing is flawed on multiple levels, not the least of which is that those he calls "skeptics" are in fact typically no such thing. There is a difference between honest skepticism -- something that is not only valuable but necessary for the progress of science -- and pseudo-skepticism, i.e. denialism posing as "skepticism" for the sake of obscuring, rather than clarifying, what is known.
Which brings us back to Pielke.
.@TheCostOfEnergy @thackerpd @FiveThirtyEight And Justin Bieber could be the site's music critic. The possibilities are just endless...
As Joe Romm summarized, more than four years ago:
Roger Pielke, Jr. is the single most disputed and debunked person in the entire realm of people who publish regularly on disasters and climate change. He trashes the reputation of any scientist who even suggests that there is the tiniest link whatsoever between climate change and extreme weather even though he himself has stated such a link exists (click here, reposted below).
Pielke is a political scientist, not a climate scientist, and he recently played politics in testimony before Congress, including an attempt to refute President Obama's science adviser, John P. Holdren, who has linked climate change and drought. Holdren, who is the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote a scathing response (pdf here), specifically noting that Pielke's views are "not representative of main-stream views on this topic in the climate-science community," while including a list of sources from peer-reviewed scientific literature that support the link.
In the rest of this response, I will show, first, that the indicated quote from the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) about U.S. droughts is missing a crucial adjacent sentence in the CCSP report, which supports my position about drought in the American West. I will also show that Dr. Pielke’s statements about global drought trends, while irrelevant to my comments about drought in California and the Colorado River Basin, are seriously misleading, as well, concerning what is actually in the UN Panel’s latest report and what is in the current scientific literature.

The key words are seriously misleading, because as is the case with all who misinform and disinform on climate issues, this isn't a question of having a different opinion, it's a matter of being wrong. It's a matter of repeating false accusations even after they have been debunked. It's a question of intent and integrity. It's a pattern:

Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and his colleagues were targeted by Pielke upon the release of their 2011 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) examining the increase of extreme events in a warming world. The paper found that the record-breaking Russian heat of 2010 in particular “is, with 80 percent probability, due to the long-term climatic warming trend.”

Pielke took issue with the conclusions and methodologies, saying he stood by his critique — even after Rahmstorf provided clarification that disputed Pielke’s claims — and accusing the authors of “cherry-picking.”

“Faced with this kind of libelous distortion I will not answer any further questions from Pielke now or in future,” Rahmstorf commented. “As an aside, our paper was reviewed not only by two climate experts but in addition by two statistics experts coming from other fields.”

To be so wrong so often, and to so persistently butcher data suggests that Pielke has an agenda, and will promote that agenda regardless of the facts:
Roger Pielke Jr. is a political scientist who has publicly questioned the scientific integrity of more climate scientists than just about anyone else on the planet. He has smeared literally hundreds of scientists (as I document here).

That is no doubt a key reason Pielke was included on Foreign Policy‘s “Guide to Climate Skeptics.” No doubt that’s why the websites that most prominently feature or reprint Pielke’s attacks are climate denial sites like WattsUpWithThat and ClimateDepot. It is also why he is probably the single most disputed and debunked person in the science blogosphere, especially on the subject of extreme weather and climate change (see here and here).

Pielke seems to be at war with the actual data, which would seem to undermine the entire premise of Silver's blog. Silver is an expert on statistics, but the disaster of hiring Pielke isn't only about ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, it's also about Pielke's own problems with statistics, for which he often is criticized, if not ridiculed.
Seriously love to see .@NateSilver538 or someone else .@FiveThirtyEight defend hiring someone who doesn't understand t-tests. #statsfail
Sometimes, Pielke's agenda takes him so far down the rabbit hole that he makes a complete fool of himself (to be generous). Apparently attempting to prove that a biased media over-hypes climate change (a premise that is absurd at face value), Pielke six years ago claimed there were 1,264 times as many news stories about a study finding a 1,000 year high in hurricanes as about one claiming there has been no increase in the past century. The former was co-authored by the climate scientist Michael Mann. Oops:
The fun is in the comments as folks try to explain to Pielke that there is a film director called Michael Mann and that maybe Pielke shouldn’t count those stories.  Pielke comes back with the claim that restricting the search to “Michael Mann” + nature + hurricanes + Aug 13-15 gives 1,412 stories.  Some folks might wonder how restricting the search gives you more results, but not Pielke. In fact, if you read what Google says at the link Pielke gave it says that there are “about 20″, and if you look at all the results there are just 11.  A similar search for the Landsea paper gives 5 news stories.  This difference may be due to one paper being published in Nature and the other in The Journal of Climate.
Which was updated:
Soon after I posted this, Pielke finally made a correction, allowing that being out by a couple of orders of magnitude was a “bit sloppy”. Heaven knows how wrong he would have to be before he admitted to being sloppy or very sloppy.
But Pielke's failures go beyond misrepresenting, misunderstanding, or failing even a basic Google search.
@thackerpd @NateSilver538 @capital_climate @climatebrad  and maybe the TEPCO people on nuclear safety?
Pielke has consistently been found lacking in accurately representing even basic statistics, whether it be about probability or t-tests or temperature records or the accuracy of models when compared to observed data.
Nature climate blog off to rocky start (The blog was later closed)

Uncertainty, noise and the art of model-data comparison

Model-data-comparison, Lesson 2

Revisiting historical ocean surface temperatures

The consistently wrong chronicles

Putting Roger out of his misery

How many of Roger's findings about probability manage to be wrong? Answer: he's more inventive than you might expect.

Pielke Pity Party

Question: when is 23% equal to 5%?

.@natesilver538 I hope the irony of bringing Pielke to a stats-branded enterprise doesn't cause all of reality to implode .@FiveThirtyEight

And Pielke's first post at Silver's new site, attempting to downplay the connection between climate change and extreme weather events, is in the same mold, and already is being eviscerated:
“Pielke’s piece is deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “Pielke uses a very misleading normalization procedure that likely serves to remove the very climate change-related damage signal that he claims to not be able to find.”...
Kevin E. Trenberth is a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
“This is the same old wrong Roger,” Trenberth said by e-mail. “He is demonstrably wrong and misleads.”
.@538: first a climate sci denier then advice to use biases in evaluating health studies (1/2)
Pielke's post cites his own previous claim that the fifth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found "little evidence of a spike in the frequency or intensity of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes," and that future spikes of extreme weather will be statistically undetectable for decades.
Dr. John Abraham, a thermal science professor at the University of St. Thomas famous for his formation of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, criticized Pielke’s assessment of the IPCC’s report. “You should know that we have already detected significant increases in Atlantic hurricane intensity, in extreme heat waves, large precipitation events and regional droughts,” Abraham wrote in an e-mail to Nate Silver expressing his disdain for the article, forwarded to Climate Progress.

“It’s ludicrous to say that extremes have not increased, and they have certainly increased in ways that are completely consistent with expectations based on atmospheric physics and climate model projections in response to increasing greenhouse gases,” Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science who specializes in the connection between climate change and extreme weather, said.

In the comments of Pielke's post, it is being pointed out that Pielke (yet again) cherry-picked data, citing a study by the German reinsurance company Munich Re, while using the data from 1990 onward, even though the study itself compiled data starting 10 years earlier, in 1980. There is no reason to omit the first 10 years of data, except that doing so is the only possible means of pretending the data prove what Pielke wants them to prove. Munich Re itself, using all the data, came to the exact opposite conclusion of Pielke, an inconvenient truth that Pielke somehow neglects to mention.

In a follow-up post, responding to the extensive criticism, Pielke cites an analysis by two scholars from the London School of Economics (LSE), but ignores that their abstract (pdf) specifically states that because of their "inability to control for defensive mitigation measures, one cannot infer from our analysis that there have definitely not been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural hazards over the study period already." Which would seem to undermine Pielke's attempt to make exactly such an inference. Pielke also ignores a later analysis by the same two LSE scholars, wherein they find "no significant trends at the global level, but we detect statistically significant upward trends in normalized insured losses from all non-geophysical disasters as well as from certain specific disaster types in the United States and West Germany."

The evidence and analysis don't prove what Pielke wants them to prove, but his cherry-picking the data and analysis to make it seem otherwise proves everything about Pielke. Right out of the gate, Pielke's contribution to Silver's site is to make a mockery of it.

Climate change is the most important issue humanity has ever faced. On the questions of whether it is happening, whether humans burning fossil fuels are the primary driver, and whether the impacts are happening and will only grow worse, there is no credible debate. The scientific consensus is overwhelming. To promote disinformation and misinformation about climate change is inexcusable and unconscionable, but by hiring Roger Pielke, Jr., that is exactly what Nate Silver is doing. It would be bad enough if Silver had hired Pielke in conjunction with a credible climate scientist, to create the sort of false equivalency that the traditional media so loves to promote, but to have hired Pielke at all undermines the very premise of what Silver claims to be trying to do. It undermines the credibility of Silver's blog and of Silver himself. The question is whether or not this was a mistake that will be corrected, or whether it tells us something about Silver himself.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Mar 23, 2014 at 12:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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