The True State of Global Warming
Patrick J. Michaels (ed.)
Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2005
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.
Credentials matter — and yet they don't. A PhD. from a prestigious university and a prominent position in the world of science do not guarantee unfailing accuracy or credibility. Even a track record of being correct is no guarantee. It is, however, a very good indicator that new pronouncements by the holder of such a track record will most likely also be correct. Conversely, a history of erroneous or misleading statements indicates that future testimony from the holder of that track record will probably be similarly untrustworthy.
This is not a call to reject every statement from the allegedly untrustworthy source. It is a call to examine every such statement carefully, for untrustworthy sources often learn to give their statements a superficial plausibility.
According to Wikipedia,a Dr. Michaels "obtained an A.B. in biological science in 1971 and an S.M. in biology in 1975 from the University of Chicago, and in 1979 obtained his Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison." So he does have the credentials. However, his track record is one of substantial funding by fossil-fuel interests,b of books and editorials stating that climate change will be mild and arguing that government regulation is not warranted,c and of numerous incorrect predictions on future temperature trends.d Thus I submit that his position on climate change should be examined very carefully.
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.
References on Dr. Michaels