Pat Michaels: Serial Deleter of Inconvenient Data

January 16, 2012

The video above excerpts from C-Span footage a classic in the history of  climate science – a bare knuckle beat-down by climate scientist Ben Santer on one of science denial’s leading misleaders, Pat Michaels.  The cross post from Skeptical Science below goes into more detail on Michael’s long history of data mangling.

Reposted from Skeptical Science:

Patrick Michaels is a research fellow at the Cato Institute think tank, the chief editor of the website World Climate Report, has been given a climate blog at the business magazine Forbes, and his articles are frequently re-posted at climate “skeptic” blogs like Watts Up With That (WUWT).  Despite his clear conflict of interest (Michaels has estimated that 40% of his work is funded by the petroleum industry), many people continue to rely on him as a reliable source of climate information.  This is an unwise choice, because Michaels also has a long history of badly distorting climate scientists’ work.  In fact, not only does Michaels misrepresent climate research on a regular basis, but on several occasions he has gone as far as to manipulate other scientists’ figures by deleting parts he doesn’t like.

Patrick Michaels is a serial deleter of inconvenient data.

Hansen 1988

Skeptical Science has previously documented the most high-profile example of Michaels’ serial data deletions, which involved James Hansen’s 1988 study projecting future global warming.  James Hansen is a scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), and one of the world’s foremost climate scientists.

Climate scientists aren’t in the business of predicting how human greenhouse gas emissions will change in the future – that is a policy question.  Instead, climate scientists predict how the climate will change in response to a series of possible emissions scenarios (for example, continuing with business-as-usual emissions, dramatically cutting our emissions starting in the year 2020, etc.).  In 1988, Hansen used the NASA GISS climate model to predict how the planet would respond to three possible scenarios.  Scenario A assumed continued exponential (accelerating) greenhouse gas growth.  Scenario B assumed a reduced linear rate of growth, and Scenario C assumed a rapid decline in greenhouse gas emissions around the year 2000.  Hansen believed Scenario B was the most likely to come to fruition, and indeed it has been the closest to reality thus far.  In the summer of 1988, Hansen presented his results in testimony before U.S. Congress.

Ten years later, with the Kyoto Protocol international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the works, Patrick Michaels was invited to testify before Congress about the state of climate science.  He spoke of Hansen’s 1988 study, and in the process, grossly misrepresented its projections and accuracy by deleting Scenarios B and C, wrongly asserting that the planet had warmed “more than four times less than Hansen predicted.”

Original Version

 

Michael’s Version 

 

James Hansen had this to say about Patrick Michaels’ distortion of his work:

“Pat Michaels, has taken the graph from our 1988 paper with simulated global temperatures for scenarios A, B and C, erased the results for scenarios B and C, and shown only the curve for scenario A in public presentations, pretending that it was my prediction for climate change. Is this treading close to scientific fraud?”

Michaels certainly didn’t mess around with his first known case of data deletion, using it to mislead our policymakers as they decided whether or not to commit to reducing American greenhouse gas emissions (they ultimately refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol).  Michaels’ other data deletions, while being equally misleading, were not made on nearly as grand of a stage.

Schmittner 2011

Another example of Michaels’ serial data deletion involved a paper by Schmittner et al. last year which attempted to estimate the climate sensitivity – how much the planet will warm in response to a continued rise of greenhouse gases.  Schmittner et al. used geologic data to calculate the climate sensitivity based on the transition between the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the current relatively warm interglacial period (approximately 20,000 years ago), and came up with an estimate towards the lower end, but within the likely range listed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, there are two strong caveats associated with their results.  First, based on their interpretation of the geologic data, they estimated a smaller temperature change from the LGM transition than most previous studies, which was the main reason that their climate sensitivity estimate was relatively low.  Had they used a more widely-accepted global temperature change for the period in question, their climate sensitivity estimate would likely have been very close to the most likely estimate from the IPCC.

Second, and more relevant here, Schmittner et al. arrived at two fairly different results when they used ocean temperature data as opposed to land temperature data.  Their climate sensitivity estimate based on land-only data was significantly higher than with ocean-only data.  When they combined the two, the result was close to the ocean-only estimate, because the majority of their data came from ocean measurements.

 This is an important caveat because climate sensitivity applies to the planet as a whole.  If different results are obtained from ocean and land data, then we can’t be sure which is correct, and in fact many climate scientists are skeptical of the small LGM temperature change estimate, which is based heavily on the ocean temperature data.  Thus Schmittner et al. felt it important to include both estimates in the figures in their study.

However, it is very important for climate “skeptics” like Patrick Michaels that climate sensitivity be low.  This would mean that the planet will not warm as much in response to rising greenhouse gases, and we don’t have to worry about reducing our emissions as quickly.  Thus as he did with Hansen’s figure, Michaels deleted the inconvenient data from the figure in Schmittner et al., leaving only the combined estimate, which as noted above, is heavily weighted by the lower, ocean-based climate sensitivity estimate.

Original Version

 

Michael’s Version  

On Planet 3.0, thingsbreak had an excellent interview with Nathan Urban, co-author of Schmittner et al., in which Michaels’ distortion of his results was discussed:

“World Climate Report doctored our paper’s main figure when reporting on our study.  This manipulated version of our figure was copied widely on other blogs….I find this data manipulation problematic.  When I created the real version of that figure, it occurred to me that it would be reproduced in articles, presentations, or blog posts.  Because I find the difference between our land and ocean estimates to be such an important caveat to our work, I made sure to include all three curves in the figure, so that anyone reproducing it would have to acknowledge these caveats….I find the result of their figure manipulation to be very misleading…They intentionally took our figure out of the context in which it was originally presented, a form of “selective quotation” which hides data that does not support their interpretation…I find World Climate Report’s behavior very disappointing and hardly compatible with true skeptical inquiry”

Gillett 2012

The latest example of Michaels’ serial data deletion involves a recent paper by Gillett et al.which like Hansen (1988), projects future global warming in several different emissions scenarios.  However, Gillett et al. made three different projections for each scenario.  For the first projection, they simply ran their climate model to see how much global warming it would predict in each scenario.  For the other two projections, they scaled their climate model run based on observational temperature changes that they estimated from greenhouse gases and other influences over two timeframes, 1851-2010, and 1901-2000.

In their figure showing the results of these projections, they illustrated the results using the two different timeframes, because the results in each were markedly different.  When Gillett et al. constrained their model using the timeframe from 1851 to 2010, the model projected less warming than when they used the timeframe from 1901 to 2000.

This is a very similar situation to Schmittner et al., in that using two different sets of data produced two fairly different sets of results.  Thus like Schmittner et al.,  Gillett et al. made a point to note the fact that their results were very sensitive to the timeframe they used, and included both results in their figures

But once again, the data projecting larger future global warming was inconvenient for Patrick Michaels’ narrative, so he simply deleted it.

 Original Version 

Michael’s Version

In these figures, the dashed lines in the horizontal direction are the projections from the unconstrained climate model for the three emissions scenarios (the RCPs).  The solid vertical lines are the model projections using the 1851-2010 data, and the dotted vertical lines (deleted by Michaels) are the model projections using the 1901-2000 data.

Deleters and Enablers

In every case discussed above, Michaels has deleted the data which contradict his constant arguments that the planet will warm less than most climate scientists expect, and thus that global warming is nothing to worry about.  Given his history as a serial data deleter, rather than being given so many platforms from which to spread his misinformation, Patrick Michaels (and certainly the World Climate Report website) should be considered an unreliable source of information.

This is a problematic situation.  There are a large number of people who simply don’t want to accept the scientific reality that humans are causing rapid global warming.  However, this reality is accepted by the vast majority of scientific experts, because it is supported by the preponderance of scientific data.  Denial enablers like Anthony Watts, Forbes, and other media outlets have found a way around the first problem by giving fake skeptics like Patrick Michaels a platform to speak to those who are in denial about the science.  Patrick Michaels has found a way around the second problem by simply deleting the data which is inconvenient for his narrative, only presenting his audience with the bits of evidence which seem to support their denial, as long as the inconvenient data are ignored.

45 Responses to “Pat Michaels: Serial Deleter of Inconvenient Data”


  1. Thank you Jason but…those are your words, your judgment (and so it was Michaels’ and Jones’). There’s no unquestionable opinion, and anytime anything is left out of a report or graph it’s all a matter of opinion.

    Otherwise eg the IPCC reports would run into millions of pages, lest somebody questioned why this or that has been left out.


  2. Otter17 – your objection makes no sense. A paper’s conclusions are not cast in stone and science is not a Faith in Original Authors.

    Besides, Muir Russell makes a point in his paragraph 23. You might want to read it.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      Muir Russell says (in para 23):
      “We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.”

      Normally Muir Russell is the main man and you should hang by his every word.

      However the graph at the heart of the ‘hide the decline’ hooharr wasn’t a referenced figure in part of a technical report or a scientific paper. It was a cover illustration on a pamphlet (the WMO Statement of Global Climate in 1999 in which you don’t get to figure 1a until page 5).

      If it had of been a referenced figure in a scientific paper or a technical report Muir would be bang on the money. Muir is absolutely the go to guy for all things. Except pamphlet design. One only need look at the dashing cut of the headers and footers in his own report to see why.

      As it happens, the proper sources from which the cover illustration of the 1999 WMO ‘World Climate Statement’ was derived (and which are cited both on the illustration and again on the inside cover of the WMO pamphlet) do properly label the data so as to make the splicing and dicing plain.

      Hide the decline = fuss over nothing. And boy, what a fuss you’ve been making.

  3. scrooge53 Says:

    So it seems the argument is if Michaels intentionally mislead congress or he is just a poor scientist. To bad lawyering, just like beliefs can’t make AGW go away.

  4. jasonpettitt Says:

    That’s a pleasure Maurizio, happy to point out that you’re being silly any time.

    Like now, for instance.

    An opinion is a point of view derived when facts aren’t available or are difficult to come by. But here we have facts readily available. So shouldn’t we be using them.

    Jones chose to ‘hide the decline’ not for arbitrary reasons, but because the relevant scientific literature – the research papers ( http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v391/n6668/abs/391678a0.html ) by experts in paleodendrology – provided the proper scientific basis to do so. They had identified what parts of the data should and should not be used as a reliable temperature proxy.

    However, there was no scientific basis for Michaels to present only scenario A to congress. That was an arbitrary decision made by Michaels, and a bad one as his selective omission distorted the issue and would have likely been misleading.

    Don’t be scared of facts Maurizio – they’re useful.


  5. Jason – had Jones explained what he was removing and why, your explanation would have made more sense. Instead his readers were left in the dark.

    Come to think, Jones’ position on this topic is worse than Michaels’.

    It seems nobody likes to read the Muir Russell report. Tsk tsk.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      I’ve responded to your post about Muir Russell above.

      Jones (a co-author) explains what is removed and why in the 1998 paper I just linked to – published in Nature – one of the world’s most influential and widely read science publications. You can even pick it up in WH Smiths.

      It’s hardly top secret is it.

      Plainly you prefer to fantasise and think the whole thing a conspiracy. The facts, I’m afraid, aren’t with you.


  6. Am not the one desperate to keep this long-disproven “Michaels bad” (vs “Jones good”) argument alive.

    1. If you have one “however” with Muir Russell, I have 50 or more 😎

    2. If Jones is good because the originals were referenced, so is Michaels. Back to square one

    3. Presentations are based on deciding what to present. Every presenter has the responsibility of taking that decision on reasonable grounds.

    And nobody has the right to call unreasonable what can be argued for. Back to square one. What a waste of time and effort is SkS in its quest to personally attack dissenters.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      “Am not the one desperate to keep this long-disproven “Michaels bad” (vs “Jones good”) argument alive.”

      Then why respond? It’s not like you’re adding anything new.

      But lets recap: Both Jones and Michaels omitted data. You argue that this makes them analogous. I agree, but with the caveat that the analogy is very silly because the substantive differences are more important that the cursory similarities.

      Jones omitted data that would have made his plot misleading if included. He omitted data known NOT to be sensitive to temperature in a plot about temperature.

      Michaels omitted data that would have made his presentation to congress give better counsel. He omitted the data known to be the most relevant. In fact, by omitting the most relevant data his presentation to congress was potentially misleading.

      Jones has a robust, quantitative scientific argument for assessing and selecting which data he used (see the 1998 Nature paper already linked to).

      Michaels says (see his defence at WUWT) rather than making some kind of scientific or quantitative assessment he chose to present a comparison with Scenario A because it described 10 years previously as the Business as Usual scenario and thus thought it the the one he should use (regardless of whether the Business as Usual assumptions had come to fruition – they hadn’t).

      I’m genuinely sorry that you think people shouldn’t have the right to differentiate between apples and oranges. It’s well worth doing a foundation course in science.

  7. g2-b045ae5c7f82d7e9172398e67af2ac85 Says:

    Nice loophole: “nobody has the right to call unreasonable what can be argued for”. But anything can be argued for. So it’s just ‘pick and choose’. Relativism is so easy– and criticising ‘dissent’ is always just plain unfair, even when that dissent is systematically funded by interested parties, and regularly invokes deception, confusion and sheer scientific nonsense. I won’t waste any more time criticising Maurizio, or trying to explain the difference between self-serving distortion and the honest presentation of data to him: he’s passed over the event horizon of rationality…

    Bryson Brown


  8. You must be familiar with that event horizon, Bryson, as for some reason you do believe you can figure out a-priori who’s deceiving and why. Congrats.

  9. g2-b045ae5c7f82d7e9172398e67af2ac85 Says:

    A priori? Bullroar.


  10. […] Deleter of Inconvenient Data was re-posted and linked on a number of sites – Climate Progress, Climate Crocks, PlanetSave, Deltoid, Rabbett Run, The Climax, and the Energy Education Foundation, among […]


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