Saturday, July 09, 2011

Pat Michaels' Eraser

As some of you have noticed, Hank (Eli does prefer the earlier Ankh with its connotations of Egyptian godhood. The guy appears not to need sleep as he obviously reads everything) and Eli have been having fun with Chip Knappenberger who is by virtue of predilection and employment obliged to defend Pat Michaels through the use of his global parsing system, with interpretations the likes of which would bring Eli's old six grade teacher Ms. Livalara up from the grave with a great Gottcha Kid.

At the end of the ethics discussion dhogaza Maple Leaf, who was not very impressed remarked

Sometimes they flirt with the line, others they just simply jump right across it. Have the bunnies seen this latest crap/lies/distortion/misinformation from Michaels?

Lucky for the denialists like Chip and Pat, there is a sucker born every day and Forbes is now that sucker. And that smile on Pat's face in the op ed header shows that he knows that all too well.

which davey amended to...

Forbes isn't a sucker, Forbes is an enabler.

Steve and his old man Malcolm (he who dies with the most toys wins) are among the nastiest of the I got mine and screw you set. If you want to test this and have the opportunity ask him how much of his and his dad's lifestyles got deducted above the line as business expenses and whether that too should be subject to the flat tax he loves.

But back to the matter at hand. Now Eli, Eli can't be everywhere what with painting the house, pulling the carrots out of the garden and the day job, but fortunately there are others at work. Rick Piltz at Climate Science Watch reposts an analysis from Ed Carr of the University of South Carolina.

Carr starts with the misdirection, omission and erasing, something always to be expected from PM,

So, what does Michaels have to say about climate change and food security? Well, in a nutshell he doesn’t see how climate change is a problem for agriculture – indeed, he seems to suggest that climate change will do good things for agriculture. However, a careful read of the article for what it does and does not actually say, and what evidence it draws on (mostly tangential), demonstrates that this is a piece of misdirection that, in my opinion, is criminal: insofar as it causes anyone to doubt the severity of the challenge in front of us, it will cost lives. Lots of lives.

Michaels begins with a classic of the denial genre – he goes after a New York Times article not on its merits (indeed, he never addresses any of the article’s content), but by lumping it in with every previous warning of what he calls “environmental apocalypse.” Except, of course, that the only call he actually cites is the now legendary “global cooling” fear of the 1970s – a fringe belief that was never embraced by the majority of scientists (no matter how hard the denial crowd wants you to believe it).
and concludes
So, to summarize – Michaels has created a post that relies on false correlation, logical fallacy and misdirection to create the idea that climate change might not be a problem for agriculture, and that it might even be good for global production. But he does not cite the vast bulk of the science out there – and ignores the empirical literature (not theory, not conjecture – measured changes) to create a very deceptive picture that minimizes the slowly intensifying challenges facing people living in many parts of the Global South.
Why does this matter?

I invite Dr. Michaels to look at the FEWS-NET data – not just contemporary, but historical – on the East African/Horn of Africa climate. Empirical observation (again, measured, verified observations, not projections) tells us it is drying out* . . . and has been, for some time, massively compromising both crops and livestock, the backbone of livelihoods in Southern Ethiopia, Somalia and Northeastern Kenya. As all hell breaks loose in that region, and the US Government considers using the term famine for the first time in a decade to describe the situation on the ground, it seems to me that Michaels’ efforts at misdirection rise beyond nuisance to a real question of ethics that Forbes would do well to consider before publishing such mendacious material again
Sorry Ed, it's not a bug it's a feature. For the rest of the bunnies, the filling of the sandwich is at Climate Science Watch


dhogaza said...

Actually, that quote's not me, it was a response to my asking just how dishonest an analysis can be while still meeting chip's standards of "rather honest", "rather" implying "not entirely".

Anonymous said...

Actually Eli, it twas me MapleLeaf who posted that comment in your story. Sorry for not signing the post.

Thanks for following up on it though.


Hank Roberts said...

"Rather honest" may have a variety of interpretations, e.g.:

"I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things." ~Dan Rather~

Stephen said...

Well, the deniers (or at least Michaels) are making progress. They've moved from denying that global warming exists at all to denying that it's catastrophic. Another decade and they might come around.

dhogaza said...


"I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things." ~Dan Rather~

Yes, indeed, and I posed my question in the original thread hoping Chip would tell us how much he can lie about while still being a "rather honest" (not entirely honest, he conceded that) person.

Hank Roberts said...

Forbes knows they're publishing advocacy.

Advocacy pieces are often enough written by a defense lawyer for someone charged with fraud, spinning out some fragments from some of the facts and interpreting them so the person can be viewed as not guilty.

Michaels in that Forbes article is doing his job as an "advocacy scientist" -- not presenting science as an expert explaining what's known in his field, but rather writing as an advocate. It's a presentation done for a client.

If he disclosed who his clients are, we could see whether or not they're also paying Forbes for advertising space.

When writing as an advocate, he does not disclaim any conflicts of interest -- which a scientist would do in a scientific presentation.

Advocacy science is advocacy in the interest of the client.

Look it up:

Of course, one can't do advocacy without defining the situation so that's the appropriate behavior. The basic method there is to say the other guys are doing it, so it's only right for our side to respond.

"Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives -- PJ Michaels - 2011
... the integrity of climate science. Imagine if they knew that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would admit to using advocacy science to influence international politics. Imagine if they knew ...."

See? That's advocacy.

The thing to remember here is that if you're facing an advocate, you expect very different behavior than if you're facing a scientist.
Michaels and Forbes aren't engaging in a dispute with scientists.

They're advocating against what they think they see: socialists, world government advocates, attempts to manipulate stock prices -- the stuff that goes on in the world as they see it.

That's what they are hired to advocate against, by the people who pay for their time and advertising space--what they believe is going on.

Don't be fooled. Remember, this stuff is well studied and amply documented. Look at what's happened to the oceans in the last 50 years -- that's the outcome of advocacy science, people doing the job they were paid to do.

"Biologically rational decisions may not be politically possible once investment has occurred."
Skewgar et al. 2007. Anchovy Fishery Threatens Patagonian Ecosystem. Science 315:45.

Hank Roberts said...

PS, let me recommend a classic you all should be familiar with; PDFs can be found with Scholar, and I found one HTML text in a Google cache you may be able to find for a while.

Uncertainty, Resource Exploitation, and Conservation: Lessons from History

Donald Ludwig, Ray Hilborn, and Carl Walters
Science 260(2):17, April 2, 1993

Excerpt follows:

... early in the history of exploitation scientists from the (then) California Division of Fish and Game issued warnings that the commercial exploitation of the fishery could not increase without limits and recommended that an annual sardine quota be established to keep the population from being overfished. This recommendation was opposed by the fishing industry, which was able to identify scientists who would state that it was virtually impossible to overfish a pelagic species. The debate persists today.

After the collapse of the Pacific sardine, the Peruvian anchoveta was targeted as a source of fish meal for cattle feed. The result was the most spectacular collapse in the history of fisheries exploitation: the yield decreased from a high of 10 million metric tons to near zero in a few years. The stock, the collapse, and the associated oceanographic events have been the subject of extensive study, both before and after the event. There remains no general agreement about the relative importance of El Nino events and continued exploitation as causes of collapse in this fishery (7).

The great difficulty in achieving consensus concerning past events and a fortiori in prediction of future events is that controlled and replicated experiments are impossible to perform in large-scale systems. Therefore there is ample scope for differing interpretations. There are great obstacles to any sort of experimental approach to management because experiments involve reduction in yield (at least for the short term) without any guarantee of increased yields in the future (8). Even in the case of Pacific salmon stocks that have been extensively monitored for many years, one cannot assert with any confidence that present levels of exploitation are anywhere near optimal because the requisite experiments would involve short-term losses for the industry (9). The impossibility of estimating the sustained yield without reducing fishing effort can be demonstrated from statistical arguments (10). These results suggest that sustainable exploitation cannot be achieved without first overexploiting the resource.

The difficulties that have been experienced in understanding and prediction in fisheries are compounded for the even larger scales involved in understanding and predicting phenomena of major concern, such as global warming and other possible atmospheric changes. Some of the time scales involved are so long that observational studies are unlikely to provide timely indications of required actions or the consequences of failing to take remedial measures.

Scientific certainty and consensus in itself would not prevent overexploitation and destruction of resources. Many practices continue even in cases where there is abundant scientific evidence that they are ultimately destructive. An outstanding example is the use of irrigation in arid lands. Approximately 3000 years ago in Sumer, the once highly productive wheat crop had to be replaced by barley because barley was more salt-resistant. The salty soil was the result of irrigation (11). E.W. Hilgard pointed out in 1899 that the consequences of planned irrigation in California would be similar (12). His warnings were not heeded (13). Thus 3,000 years of experience and a good scientific understanding of the phenomena, their causes, and the appropriate prophylactic measures are not sufficient to prevent the misuse and consequent destruction of resources....

------end excerpt-----

John said...

A link to the article Hank Roberts excerpted:


Also found while searching for the article above:

The Precautionary Principle: (a summary with references)


John Puma

Hank Roberts said...

About "advocacy scientists" and why they promote and spin their customer's interests while claiming they're scientists--this is why:

"... Game theory fails as a tool when we are dealing with sociopathology or extreme denial. The human dilemma is that all progress ultimately fails or at least slides back, that anything once proven must be proven again a myriad of times, that there is nothing so well established that a fundamentalist (of any religion or stripe) cannot be found to deny it, and suffer the consequences, and then deny that he suffered the consequences."

Of course if you ask Michaels, he'll say he's one of the good guys, and they're defending right and property against what's agin'em.

Anonymous said...

I'm not advocating parricide, but I wonder what the children of the Oil Patch imagine the world their parents envision for them will be. The parents (and their Congressional lackeys) may be immoral but they aren't stupid. They know that AGW is real and that there's a very good chance that James Hansen isn't just wringing his hands for show.

Reigning in Hell rather than serving in Heaven isn't really as hot as it sounds.

Jeffrey Davis

Anonymous said...


Thanks. Interesting posts. Davey is right, Forbes is an enabler. Why?

Dhogaza really nailed/cornered Chip was a thing of beauty.

I am not that optimistic that they will "come around"...denial is a very strong mental state....they could be falling ill from blue-green algae, or standing knee deep in water, or starving because of drought and will attribute the cause to anything but AGW. Lastly, a huge part of the problem with people like Pat is that they are being paid to deny.


Hank Roberts said...

> Forbes is an enabler. Why?

Magazines exist to sell their readers to their advertisers; that requires clueless short term thinking. Look at this for example:
"Through failure, society learns what works and what doesn’t."

Compare that to the quotes above from experience in ecology.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

Frankly, I think Hank has seriously overanalyzed the situation here. First of all, let me just say that anybody who thinks there is a food crisis or a food shortage, or whatever you want to call it, is crazy. Food is the greatest surplus the United States has, it isn’t even debatable. Excuse me, do we have a starvation problem in this country or an obesity problem? Have you ever heard of a store called Sam's Club. We are drowning in food. Regarding the motives of Michaels and other skeptics, we’re not looking at what we gain but what we stand to lose. And I’m sorry, I don’t believe in global warming and I’m not going to pay extra tax money for it. The earth is below historic GAT and it’s also below its average atmospheric content of co2, so I don’t care. Anybody been a live for last million or few billion years want to tell me they know better? Nope, didn’t think so. And no, I’m not going to believe that a group of activist scientists have discovered the mysteries of earth’s climate in 30 years. History does not begin when you are born, so sorry.

Anonymous said...

So hopefully you will better understand why Michaels comes across as the good guy to me. What if I said I believed in global warming but I didn’t want to pay additional taxes or change my lifestyle? You guys have this giant group mentality and you’re hostile to anybody who doesn’t want to join. Here is another example, some people think it’s great to force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. I think this is retarted. I don’t have a pre-existing condition so don’t want to pay extra money for the coverage.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Self-styled Dr. Ph. D. Jay Cadbury:

"Anybody been a live for last million or few billion years want to tell me they know better?"

Shorter Jay Cadbury: WERE YOU THERE?!?!?!?!?

(And it's still a bogus 'argument'.)

* * *

Hank Roberts:

"Of course, one can't do advocacy without defining the situation so that's the appropriate behavior. The basic method there is to say the other guys are doing it, so it's only right for our side to respond."

I call that the 'yes we're biased, but the other side's biased too, therefore we're not biased' argument.

Many common anti-patterns in climate inactivist arguments have convenient summaries, e.g. 'we don't know, therefore we know', 'the Earth isn't warming because that'll violate the US Constitution', 'people die naturally therefore murder doesn't exist; similarly, climate changed naturally therefore...', etc. We can recognize these anti-patterns and show them for what they are by pointing them out.

-- frank

Hank Roberts said...

> What if I said I believed in global warming but
> I didn’t want to pay additional taxes or change my lifestyle?

What if I said I believed in the germ theory of disease but
didn't want to spend time washing my hands after crapping?

Frank: "It sounds like they're CONFUSED"
Zorro: "Not confused, Frank, just SLIPPERY!" by Mark (no relation) Roberts

"I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." – Neville Chamberlain, 30 September, 1938

Hank Roberts said...

ps to Eli:

J Bowers said...

"I don’t have a pre-existing condition..."

The famous last words of everyone with a pre-existing condition, before the symptoms occur.

Anonymous said...

Michaels and Chip, and their apologists here, ought to consult the science first before opining:

From above:

"A team led by a Stanford researcher has found a valuable, untapped resource in historical data from crop yield trials conducted across sub-Saharan Africa. Combined with weather records, they show that yield losses would occur across 65 percent of maize-growing areas from a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius, even with sufficient water. Data from yield tests in other regions of the world could help predict changes in crop yields from climate change."

From above:
"Here we show that in the cropping regions and growing seasons of most countries, with the important exception of the United States, temperature trends for 1980-2008 exceeded one standard deviation of historic year-to-year variability. Models that link yields of the four largest commodity crops to weather indicate that global maize and wheat production declined by 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively, compared to a counter-factual without climate trends. For soybeans and rice, winners and losers largely balanced out. Climate trends were large enough in some countries to offset a significant portion of the increases in average yields 16 that arose from technology, CO2 fertilization, and other factors."

Perhaps nothing to worry about for fat Americans, at least not just yet...


Anonymous said...

Eli I think your spam filter intercepted a post of mine with lots of URL links. Any chance of recovering it? Thanks.


EliRabett said...


Hank Roberts said...