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Lindzen in Newsweek

Filed under: — group @ 17 April 2007

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann

As part of a much larger discussion on Learning to live with Global Warming in Newsweek recently, the editors gave some space for Richard Lindzen to give his standard ‘it’s no big deal’ opinion. While we disagree, we have no beef with serious discussions of the costs and benefits of various courses of action and on the need for adaption to the climate change that is already locked in.

However, Lindzen’s piece is not a serious discussion.

Instead, it is a series of strawman arguments, red-herrings and out and out errors.

Lindzen claims that because we don’t know what the ideal temperature of the planet should be, we shouldn’t be concerned about global warming. But concern about human-driven climate change is not because this is the most perfect of possible worlds – it is because, whatever it’s imperfections, it is the world that society is imperfectly adapted to. Lindzen is well aware that predictions of weather are different from climate predictions (the statistics of weather), yet cheerfully uses popular conflation of the two issues to confuse his readers.

Lindzen claims that the known amount of ‘forcing’ on the system proves that CO2 will only have a small effect, yet makes plain in the subsequent paragraph that the total forcing (and hence what the planet should be reacting to) is quite uncertain (particularly before the satellite era). If the total forcing is uncertain, how can he say that he knows that the sensitivity is small? This issue has been dealt with much more seriously than Lindzen alludes to (as he well knows) and it’s clear that this calculation is simply too uncertain to constrain sensitivity on it’s own.

Among the more egregious of Lindzen’s assertions is this one:

Ten years ago climate modelers also couldn’t account for the warming that occurred from about 1050 to 1300. They tried to expunge the medieval warm period from the observational record—an effort that is now generally discredited.

It’s remarkable that Lindzen is able to pack so many errors into two short sentences. First of all, doubts about the global scale of warmth associated with the “Medieval Climate Anomaly” date back well over a decade and certainly precede any known attempts to use climate models to simulate Medieval temperatures [e.g. Hughes and Diaz (1994), Was there a ‘medieval warm period’, and if so, where and when?; there are even earlier conference proceedings that were published coming to similar conclusions]. To the best of our knowledge, the first published attempt to use a climate model and estimated forcing histories to simulate the climate of the past millennium was described less than 7 years ago in this Science article by Tom Crowley, not 10 years ago– (a 43% error ;) ). Crowley’s original study and the other similar studies published since, established that the model simulations are in fact in close agreement with the reconstructions, all of which indicate that at the scale of the Northern Hemisphere, peak Medieval warmth was perhaps comparable to early/mid 20th century warmth, but that it fell well short of the warmth of the most recent decades. Not only has the most recent IPCC report confirmed this assessment, it has in fact extended it further back, concluding that the large-scale warmth of recent decades is likely anomalous in at least the past 1300 years. So we’re puzzled as to precisely what Lindzen would like to have us believe was “expunged” or “discredited”, and by whom?

Finally, we find it curious that Lindzen chose to include this very lawyerly disclaimer at the end of the piece:

[Lindzen’s] research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.

Richard, one thinks thou dost protest too much! A casual reader would be led to infer that Lindzen has received no industry money for his services. But that would be wrong. He has in fact received a pretty penny from industry. But this isn’t for research. Rather it is for his faithful advocacy of a fossil fuel industry-friendly point of view. So Lindzen’s claim is true, on a technicality. But while the reader is led to believe that there is no conflict of interest at work behind Lindzen’s writings, just the opposite is the case.

It should hardly be surprising to learn that Lindzen was just chosen to share the title of “false counselor” in the list of leading “environmental sinners” compiled in the May issue of Vanity Fair on the newstands now (article “Dante’s Inferno: Green Edition”; unfortunately, this sits behind the subscription wall, so you’ll have to purchase the magazine for further details). Incidentally, several other frequent appearers on RC such as Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Sally Baliunas, James Inhofe, and Michael Crichton share in the award festivities. For a time, Lindzen set himself apart from this latter sort of contrarian; his scientific challenges were often thoughtful and his hypotheses interesting, if one-sided – he never met a negative feedback he didn’t like. Sadly, it has become clear that those days are gone.

174 Responses to “Lindzen in Newsweek”

  1. 151
    Jim says:

    To go way off topic here:

    [I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, really I don’t.]

    Well you had me laughing until I almost cried!

    Again you think that your opinions (about darn near everything) should have an influence over other people! Sorry to inform you, they don’t.

    Like an Insight is that much different than a Prius! (Prius has more power/torque has an automatic, insight has 1000lbs less weight, five speed and 30HP/200ft/lbs less power, should wash. If I owned a prius I would smoke you in a race!) :)

    [Does that mean all hybrids do? Even when they’re made by a different company, using different technology and different body style? ]

    You should watch what you say James, as you have also only driven one type of hybrid, thus we are both just as qualified to comment on them, and we have different ideas on their performance. (See how much more power you have when you floor that little thing when you are already going 80.)

    However considering relatively equal amounts of cash, between a Mustang and the prius/insight er civic. I think the mustang is just a lot more sporty and exciting to drive. I don’t have the money to even fantasize about getting the porsche 911 that I want really bad.(I have two children but I digress.) In any case I have some customers that drive tricked out mustangs and corevettes that make short work of your “real” sports cars on a race track.

  2. 152
    James says:

    Re #151: [If I owned a prius I would smoke you in a race!]

    I doubt that, especially if the course included any significant curves. You might look at how Insights do in autocross.

    […you have also only driven one type of hybrid, thus we are both just as qualified to comment on them…]

    Sorry, but if I may paraphrase, what you said is that all hybrids have poor performance. To back up that statement, you have to have data on all hybrids, whereas to disprove it, I need only find one counterexample. That’s logic :-)

    [See how much more power you have when you floor that little thing when you are already going 80.]

    See how many deer & guardrails you hit when you try going 80 on the roads I usually drive, such as for instance Calif. 49 & 88, and Nevada 431. That’s why I laugh at your definition of sports cars. They’re not about going fast – any idiot can put a big motor in a piece of Detroit iron, point it down a nice straight interstate, and go fast.

  3. 153
    Matt says:

    The solution for Global Warming, then, is indicated.

    We should all have an incentive to learn enough about the problem to extract a payment from the fossil fuel industry. Once we have sufficiently drained the fossil fuel industry of this learning tax, we can all say: “Problem solved”

    Is there a sign up web site?

  4. 154
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yep, the major denial PR firms are doing that right now (grin).

  5. 155
    Jim says:

    James this is getting so far off topic we should drop this. It is a case of subjective opinion about cars from both of us. I only agree that we disagree and to quote a not really smart man, “That’s all I got to say about that.”

  6. 156
    Greg Rockwell says:

    According to an article in the BOSTON GLOBE, “[Lindzen] said he accepted $10,000 in expenses and expert witness fees from fossil- fuel types in the 1990s, and has taken none of their money since.” This is not inconsistent with what Gelbspan asserts, though it sounds less impressive than “$2,500 a day”. I agree that the funding disclaimer is carefully worded. However, I think the wording was chosen to avoid a technicality and does not mislead the reader about Lindzen’s motivation for speaking publicly about climate change.

  7. 157

    [[We should all have an incentive to learn enough about the problem to extract a payment from the fossil fuel industry. Once we have sufficiently drained the fossil fuel industry of this learning tax, we can all say: “Problem solved”]]

    Mentira. This is right-wing propaganda. The goal is not to raise taxes, the goal is to stop emitting carbon dioxide above what the ecosystem can handle, and the best way to do that is to develop alternative sources of energy and fuel. To portray it as something made up so the government can raise taxes may fit a certain paranoid right-wing worldview, but it has nothing to do with what the issue is actually about. It is a straw man argument. And where I come from, a violation of the Ninth Commandment.

  8. 158
    Bob Calder says:

    Lindzen. If you were him, would you work for these guys? Where do you draw the line between honest scholarship and something less?

    He writes and consults for:
    The Cato Institute (funded by Koch the largest private oil company owner in the U.S.)
    The George C. Marshall Institute funded by Exxon, Coors (nutcase), and Scaife (Gulf Oil.)
    The Heartland Institute where Walter F. Buchholtz, an Exxon exec. is gov. relations advisor.

    OK, you might be desperate enough to write for Cato but here is a really disgusting bit that was lodged on someone’s shoe. Last but not least, Lintdzen’s damning bunch of colleagues at Tech Central Station, a ZOMBIE created by a public relations firm specifically to spread FUD. Tech Central Station publishes distilled venom.

    A friend tells me that you can’t find a funding source that isn’t tainted by some special interest. I think he is exaggerating, but even if that were true, couldn’t you get funding from an insurance robber-baron like J. D. MacArthur?

  9. 159

    Re #158 — I live in Pittsburgh, Scaife’s home town. Here he is famous for calling a female reporter (from the Wall Street Journal, no less) a “Communist c*nt,” and threatening her life. Nutcase is definitely the word.

  10. 160
    Marion Delgado says:

    For Lindzen you can substitute Lomborg, et al. It’s so cookie-cutter precisely because science really is involved, or at least “art” – namely the discipline of public relations. PR de facto holds that reality is malleable and that winning is everything (some modern PR claims to be win-win, but winning is still everything). That’s why you will get an unserious polemic disguised as a serious discussion on trade-offs.

    Occasionally someone has to say that the picture they paint of the history of (in this case climate, but fill in the blank) science is a deliberate falsehood. In no sense did people with a fanatic axe to grind take over the climate sciences and push an (they don’t know what, variously it’s a Marxist, a pagan, a human-hating, a nature-worshipping, a liberal, a Democrat, an anarchist, a radical environmentalist, a doomsayer cult, a whatever-they-have-in-the-templates) agenda. On the contrary. Data came up. Models developed. Some were discarded, others modified. The consensus is numeric and emerged gradually. no one came up with one killer argument for why more emphasis on GHGs has to be placed to account for recent changes in climate.

    Also, it’s a lie, a deliberate falsehood, and not a request for fairness or information, to say scientists get or go after more money for saying big businesses or wasteful habits cause problems. All the money goes the other way, and additional money for climate research is mainly to improve accuracy and get more data. Which is what the PR people claim should be done. Anyone who’s ever been involved with scientific research knows “more data” is a constant request by at least somebody, if not many somebodies.

    Finally, the equating of “research” where people are paid, essentially, to justify a conclusion with real science reflects an economic and to a degree political view of science that’s like a highly partisan-right wing version of the sociology of science gone mad. I’ve read all the critics from Henry Bauer to Paul Feyerabend, and even they never go that far. It’s Potemkin science – noting that science becomes self correcting the more it has to adjust to the rigors of peer reviewed journals, the art of PR says, if a head count of publications is the issue, heck, just have your PR firm issue more journals than those scientists can possibly come up with. and just flood their journals with so many normal looking submissions that you either clog the works in the less discerning journals or have something to complain about with the others. That makes me wonder how people outside the Soviet Union dealt with Soviet biology – did they just disgard it across the board, or did the system work filtering out the bad?

    I think philosophy of science and sociology of science are really important disciplines, as is the study of public interest science. But when that’s what’s involved, it should be stated that that’s the case, and people making a political case shouldn’t essentially repeat stock arguments by rote in the same way to as many locations as possible and delude themselves that they’re helping people in general learn much about the world – or at least the science part of it.

  11. 161
    Del Turner says:

    The biggest problem we face is related to science and not politics, yet, most bloggers here indulge in the latter. The truth is that we do not know for sure in scientific terms whether the actions of humans is bringing on climate change. But we do know for sure that climate change is occuring. However, putting aside all climate change issues with fossil fuel impacts, our best bet is to act as if we do know for sure, not because of climate change, but because of our standard of living is totally dependent upn a dwindling supply of said fuel. That the dwindling supply of fosil fuels happens to coincide with climate change can be seen as a better driver of public opinion, because the evidence of impending fuel shortages impacts every citizen, while climate change is several miles down the road. We will have to face the depletion of fossil fuels long before climate change, and the science is quite substantive while that of the carbon connection with climate remains unconfirmed even though likely.

    Pandit Nehru once said that “politics and religion are obsolete, and that sience and spiritality should replace them”. Tackling scientific findings in the public domain with politics and religion is not too productive. Let’s stick with science, and the real world: social change occurs at the rate the front of the stomach approaches the backbone. Politics merely chatters along the edges of real change.

  12. 162

    [[The truth is that we do not know for sure in scientific terms whether the actions of humans is bringing on climate change. ]]

    Maybe not, but that’s the smart way to bet.

  13. 163
    SecularAnimist says:

    Del Turner wrote: “The truth is that we do not know for sure in scientific terms whether the actions of humans is bringing on climate change.”

    That is not the truth. The truth is that we do know “for sure in scientific terms” (95 percent or greater probability) that the actions of humans — principally the burning of fossil fuels — are rapidly and dramatically increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2, methane, and other “greenhouse gases”, and that this is causing the Earth to get rapidly and dramatically warmer, and that this anthropogenic warming is causing rapid and dramatic climate change, which is already being observed.

    This is just as firmly established as, if not more firmly established than, plenty of other matters that are commonly, and correctly, regarded as “scientific fact”.

    Del Turner wrote: “We will have to face the depletion of fossil fuels long before climate change […]”

    We are facing climate change right now. Various parts of the world are already experiencing severe effects from anthropogenic global warming and consequent climate change, and those effects are expected to become rapidly more severe.

    How long it will be before we face “the depletion of fossil fuels” depends on what you mean by “depletion”. If you mean “peak oil” — the point at which global production of inexpensive, high-grade conventional oil peaks and then begins to decline, driving up the cost of fossil fuel energy as the world is forced to turn to more expensive, lower net energy fossil fuels — then that may be imminent.

    But if by “depletion” you mean exhausting fossil fuels as an energy source when we reach the point where it actually takes more energy to extract and refine the remaining fossil fuel deposits than they yield, that may be many decades away. If we continue burning fossil fuels at current rates we will face catastrophic climate change long before that happens.

  14. 164
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “… the carbon connection with climate remains unconfirmed even though likely.”
    Where do you get this belief? What is the source you rely on for this belief? Who do you trust on this?
    Please tell us why you make this statement.

  15. 165
    Arthur says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many advocates are funded by the Sierra Club and similar organizations? You don’t speak out against them and point out their affiliation with such organizations.

  16. 166
    Ron Taylor says:

    Arthur, do you seriously see no difference between the stake of billions in profit that the fossil fuels industry has in this game, and the Sierra Club’s commitment to saving the planet, however misguided you may believe they are? Which do you think is the more likely to engender corruption?

  17. 167
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    re: Arthur “Just out of curiosity, how many advocates are funded by the Sierra Club and similar organizations? You don’t speak out against them and point out their affiliation with such organizations.”

    The advocates Sierra Club fund usually work directly for the Sierra Club, and they don’t hide what they are advocating or who they advocate for.

    When it comes to science issues that relate to regulation, the environmental groups’ claims have historically been much closer to the facts. Even their opponents admit this, have you read the Luntz memo?

  18. 168
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Arthur, in answer to your question, the Sierra club does not typically fund the research of scientists. They may carry out educational activities that utilize that research, and so may interact with scientists in an effort to understand it, but most climate scientists are funded by their respective governments. It’s their day job.

  19. 169
    James says:

    Re #161: [The truth is that we do not know for sure in scientific terms whether the actions of humans is bringing on climate change.]

    That depends on just how you interpret “for sure”. I don’t know for sure that jumping off a thousand-foot cliff will kill me, but I’m not planning to make a career of it, even if you offer me enough money to increase my standard of living considerably :-)

    If we want to carry the parallel even further, in this case we’re full-tilt down a nice smooth path, and see a sign warning of a cliff ahead. Trouble is, it’s kind of foggy, so we can’t see just how high it is. Maybe it’s only a couple of feet, but maybe it’s that thousand-footer. Do we keep on running, taking our chances, or do we change course to avoid the cliff, even if it means leaving our smooth path?

    […our best bet is to act as if we do know for sure, not because of climate change, but because of our standard of living is totally dependent upn a dwindling supply of said fuel.]

    I’m sure that a lot of people here could make a good case that our SoL is not completely, or even largely, dependent on fossil fuels, but let’s skip that, and assume for the sake of argument that your claim is correct. So tell us, please, just what makes maintaining this particular SoL so important that it seems as though you’re asking us to place it ahead of our own survival?

    That sounds a bit snarky as I’ve written it, but I really do mean it as a serious question.

  20. 170
    Neal J. King says:

    on Lindzen:

    Richard Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT.

    When he writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, or appears in an interview for Newsweek or for TV, or testifies before Congress, he does not relinquish his title. Therefore, he is assumed to speak with the authority that society has invested in the institutions that have bestowed their association upon him to such a high degree.

    When someone with this intellectual authority stoops to making statements within his field of expertise that he knows to be incorrect, he is abusing his intellectual authority. It is also an abuse if he makes statements, concerning matters within his area of expertise, on which he has not bothered to determine the issue of truth or falsehood.

    Accordingly, I have lost all respect for Lindzen.

  21. 171
    Neal J. King says:

    on Lomborg:

    I have not yet had a chance to read his books, but I have looked over his website, and read some articles.

    I have a major issue with respect to his methodology of analysis, which is independent of the question of his specific knowledge of the different environmental issues addressed in his books. To wit: A central part of his approach is to compare the costs and harms using the Net Present Value (NPV) approach, which discounts all quantities exponentially by the time by which they are delayed.

    NPV is a useful approach for comparing different kinds of financial investments, as it provides a way to put on an equal footing financial behaviors that differ in time. It can be used to address such questions as, “What is a better deal, $1000/yr for the next 10 years; or $800/yr for 5 years, and $1300/yr for 5 years?” The central concept is the “discount rate”, the percentile amount by which a cost is devalued for every year it is put off.

    However, it is far from clear that this approach makes sense when we are talking about potentially catastrophic damage, even if this is scheduled to happen in 200 years. On the one hand, it is not clear that the suffering of our descendants 200 years from now is that much less important than our suffering now; and on the other hand, such a calculation does not give any financial incentive for developing any replacement for the harm; and that second lack undermines part of the motivation for using a discount: For even if we save the money instead of spending it on GW reduction, what are we going to be able to spend it on when “the bill comes due”? A new planet?

  22. 172
    Randy Wedel says:

    I’m not sure where this sits with the general consensus, but the recent observation that live vegetation seemingly produces significant amounts of methane (which has about 22 times the ‘greenhouse’ warming potential of C02) suggests at least one interesting possibility. For example, we have a high level of confidence that atmospheric C02 has been increasing as the direct result of anthropogenic activities – and we know that C02 is required by vegetation, so I make the quantum leap to a correlation between increase in C02 = increase in vegetation = increase in methane = increase in atmospheric temperature = increase in water vapour = even more increase in atmospheric temperature because water vapour is the ultimate and unchallenged king of ‘greenhouse’ gases, and the warmer the air, the more vapour it can hold – and so resulting in feed-back loops and a ‘run-away greenhouse effect’. In this example the significant direct warming is caused by methane from plants, with increased C02 acting mainly as a catalyst. I guess the tricky part (one of them anyway) is sorting out what the balance ends up being. Increased vegetation should result from increased C02, and so suggests that increased vegetation becomes a increasingly larger carbon sink, so the question is whether plants contribute to net warming through their release of methane, or the opposite through their sequestering of C02. This really simplifies things but it makes sense to me. And humans are still the culprit too.

  23. 173
    Annette Trierweiler says:

    Dr. Lindzen will be speaking at Furman University, Greenville, SC on May 9th. His talk is not surprisingly on the “Global Warming Alarm.”
    I was wondering what questions you would ask him if you had the chance.

  24. 174

    [[Dr. Lindzen will be speaking at Furman University, Greenville, SC on May 9th. His talk is not surprisingly on the “Global Warming Alarm.”
    I was wondering what questions you would ask him if you had the chance.

    “Dr. Lindzen, before the most recent couple of years topped 1998 for heat, you went around saying global warming had stopped in 1998. You knew as a scientist that it was not proper to extrapolate a trend from eight data points when you had at least 127 available, you knew a stunt like that would have gotten you a failing grade in any college science course, but you did it anyway, knowing it was wrong, knowing it made no sense from a scientific point of view. My question is: Is it worth giving up your integrity as a scientist and as an honest human being in order to be a celebrity and get money from oil companies? I’d really like to know.”