Reviewed 7/10/2014

Shattered Consensus, by Patrick J. Michaels

Access to this book courtesy of the
San Jose, CA Public Library
The True State of Global Warming
Patrick J. Michaels (ed.)
Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2005




ISBN-13 978-0-7425-4922-?
ISBN-10 0-7425-4922-4 291pp. HC/GSI $?

There is much about the work of the several authors in this compilation that is worthwhile. In the main, they treat the topics they address in ways befitting a true skeptic. The wording is temperate, avoiding loaded language. The arguments are logical: statements make sense, and are supported by the data and figures accompanying them (which are plentiful.) Citations are abundant. Conclusions follow from the arguments presented in the bulk of the articles.

For that reason, I can recommend this volume as a generally credible effort originating from the skeptical side of the climate-science dispute. It does raise some valid objections to aspects of the mainstream view of the effects of climate change. For example, Robert E. Davis in Chapter 8 has assembled a great deal of data to show that higher summer temperatures may not bring extra heat-related deaths — at least in U.S. urban areas.

This assessment contrasts sharply with my initial impression, which I based on the book's title and the fact that it was edited by Patrick J. Michaels, a dedicated "skeptic." (See the sidebar.) That said, the book does have significant defects. These are found mainly in the Foreword, written by William O'Keefe and Jeffrey Kueter of the George C. Marshall Institute (which holds the copyright on the volume), and in Patrick Michaels's Introduction. I examine these portions of the book, and consider some other problems in it, in the Fisking page linked below.

But here is a summary. The Introduction has some of the functions of an introduction to the book, but Michaels also includes a long list of alleged misstatements by the IPCC in its Third Assessment Report (TAR). These objections, which number 18, are variously labeled as "Misleading Statement," "Incomplete Statement—and Misleading," "Incorrect Statement," "Wrong and Misleading," or just "Wrong." Michaels quotes each and then engages in a detailed rebuttal. I am not going to dissect any of those rebuttals here (though I do analyze one in the "Fisking" page linked below). But in general they are not convincing, because they address such minor points. This, I have observed, is a tactic used frequently by those who profess to disbelieve in the existence or the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), or man-made climate change. Examples abound. The canonical example is the overemphasis on the IPCC error of quoting a statement to the effect that Himalayan glaciers will melt substantially by 2035.2

Indeed, any compilation professing to represent "the state of the science" will necessarily reflect timeliness and author perspective and so will a book such as this one. Cohesiveness has its appeal, but it is multiple perspectives that allow for the exploration of all facets of a complex science. When addressing climate change, diversity of view should be welcomed and encouraged.

– Page 2

So writes Michaels in his Introduction. Like many of his remarks, this is fine on its face. Alas, his working definition of "multiple perspectives" includes one that has no scientific basis. No such perspective holds sway in another field of science. Medical doctors do not base their diagnoses on the four humors. Geologists no longer question the theory of plate tectonics, or insist that the visible craters on Earth and Moon resulted from volcanic eruptions. No mention of Cavorite3 occurs in scientific talks on gravitation. Science marches on, dismissing its mistakes as new evidence arises, and climate science does the same. Scientists like Michael Mann hold to their concerns about the effects of climate change because the preponderance of evidence supports those concerns. And since 2005, accumulating evidence has continued to strengthen the mainstream view. That being the case, it probably makes little difference now to debunk a 2005 claim that the concerns of Mann specifically, and of climate scientists generally, have no basis. Numerous later studies have replicated the "Hockey Stick", and the work of its authors has been vindicated by several investigations. (But reviewing Shattered Consensus was fun, and I had the time.)

Despite the presence of many of the "usual suspects" among its authors, and their citations of others, this book is a well-written, very thorough, and reasonably honest attempt to poke holes in the mainstream view of climate science. Unfortunately, it fails to do so. Since it fails, its genuine merits do not dissuade me from rating it in the "poor" category.

I do consider it worth reading, for many of the chapters have educational value.4 John Christy obviously has expertise in remote sensing of atmospheric temperature, and his chapter amounts to a first course in the subject. Sallie Baliunas is very knowledgeable about stellar physics, and her chapter is an education in that area. In fact the only chapters I would skip over are Chapters 1 & 2, by Patrick Michaels and Ross McKitrick. But if you hope for a book that shatters the climate-science consensus, as its title promises, you will be sorely disappointed.

1 And it goes without saying (or should) that any successful refuters of the climate-science consensus would be lionized by that public, would probably receive the Nobel Prize, and would certainly be richly rewarded by numerous right-wing billionaires.
2 The paragraph in the IPCC's WG II report containing this statement in fact contains multiple errors. Only one of them appears to be a transposition of digits in the proper date of 2350. For a thorough dissection of those errors, and their multiple sources, see: Anatomy of IPCC's Mistake on Himalayan Glaciers and Year 2035 (Bidisha Banerjee and George Collins — February 4, 2010). Additional discussion is found at Himalayan glaciers: how the IPCC erred and what the science says.
3 Unlike the climatology work of the late Michael Crichton, the gravity-shielding substance of H. G. Wells's From the Earth to the Moon is universally recognized as fiction.
4 Interestingly, considering its quality, I have not seen this volume cited in any other "contrarian" tome I have perused — even those that contain recommended reading lists. Perhaps that is because, unlike most, this volume is long on details and short on derision; it has, in fact, a very scholarly tone and represents a great deal of honest work. But, as the motto of my old high school had it, "much good work is lost for the lack of a little more."

References on Dr. Michaels

a Wikipedia: Patrick Michaels: Education
b He has acknowledged in a CNN interview (now archived on YouTube) that he received 40% of his funding from the oil industry. He also testified as an expert witness for the Western Fuels Association in a case involving coal-fired power plant emissions.
c For example, in 2004 Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media was published, and in a December 2009 Washington Examiner Op-Ed Michaels argued that the IPCC had subverted the peer review process, adding that its report had "left out plenty of peer-reviewed science that it found inconveniently disagreeable."
d Numerous failed predictions and wagers are described in a 2013 Media Matters story.
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