Pielke Pwned

Read all about it at ClimateProgress.

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55 responses to “Pielke Pwned

  1. Thomas Bucknell

    I read the reply by Holdren, but I don’t really see the “pwning” part. Holdren uses a lot of maybes and probablies in his response– I’m not familiar with any debates that have been won on a maybe. :).

    While he does outline his position quite clearly, I think he would have done better with a “no comment”. Instead he comes across as well informed, but also uncertain. As a debate, it doesn’t look like a clear win for either side.

    • Pielke presented his testimony emphasizing in several places, as a key point of his presentation:

      Drought has “for the most part, become shorter, less, frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century”. Globally, “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.”

      As Holdren points out, Pielke did _not_ state to the Congress the following sentence from his CCSP 2008 source, instead relegating it to a single footnote:

      Similarly, long-term trends (1925–2003) of hydrologic droughts based on model derived soil moisture and runoff show that droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century (Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006). The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends (Groisman et al., 2004; Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006).

      This is IMO deception through selective quotation – and Holdren has indeed revealed this deception on Pielkes part.

    • In short, it’s Pielke crowed “If the right honourable gentleman believes I am incorrect, then he should say so with evidence!” which Holdren then did in spades.

  2. Thomas Bucknell,
    Science is not prophecy. We base predictions on data. Projections based on data always have uncertainty. An honest man reflects this uncertainty with qualifications of his statements. At a certain point, however, science provides sufficient certainty to take to the bank. Prophecy…not so much.

  3. > as a debate
    It wasn’t a debate, although Pielke treated it as though it were.

    • John Garland


      1+1=2 is not exactly a debate unless you are a binarist.

      • Actually, mathematicians can make debate even about that – I can still recall a mathematical proof of 1+1=2 in my maths textbook (but it has been actually discussion on cardinal numbers derived from definition of power of set conform to standard definition of addition, as I vaguely remember and it was of course, lesson on mathematical deduction – and it was fun).

      • As in, “There are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t” ?

  4. Mr. Bucknell– the point here is not to go beyond the evidence or to claim more than it shows– the point is to clarify who is reporting the truth about the science (after Pielke, followed up by Senator Sessions, accused Holdren of being dishonest about what the research shows). Holdren’s response makes it very clear who’s skating around the truth and who is presenting it honestly and fairly.

  5. We cannot transfer uncertainties across issues. .

    If I am flying in an airplane that suddenly runs out of gas, I am certain to fall to earth. The valid uncertainty is where I will strike land and how hard. Not whether.

  6. Pielke’s argument is that Holdren missed the small print in his congressional tesimony (which corroborates Holdren’s original thesis). But Pielke’s congressional testimony also misled a member of congress, which led the senator to challenge Holdren’s advice on drought. Pielke doesn’t seem to think that is worthy of comment.

  7. Pielke is a disgraceful narcissist. This is the best thing I can say about him. This is not an attack, it is a description of his methods and self-absorption.

    • Good way of putting it.

      There are useful policy specialists when trying to determine a solution to climate change. Then there are those like PIelke and his ilk who seem to be more interested in obfuscating the debate and preventing progress than ever finding a solution.

  8. Senator Sessions is not gullible, and it would have been naive of Pielke to assume he was not complicit in this blatant persecution of the truth. If he were that naive, he would not be professionally qualified which would not be good for his reputation. However, it is unlikely that naivete is the problem here; more likely the all too common pride and profit were riding for their usual fall.

    It is unfortunate that these games are not games. We all suffer from the refusal to have an honest conversation about reality rather than politics.

  9. Again its the fallacy of assuming that scientists are into crystal balls. Holdren makes careful statements like a true scientist, but at the same time emphasizing that the effect of continued warming will have clear effects given time. Many “fake skeptics” seems very caught up in the idea that climate change has to be some Hollywood “Day after tomorrow” happening right now for there to be any proof of it happening – while no scientist has really been saying this at all. Changes come gradually, some are already here like records being set on heat temperatures as well as sea ice and land ice loss. Some changes are more subtle and hard to analyze today although in time we know the physics will create certain conditions more likely which is exactly what Holdren is emphasizing. Not sure what I will call Pielke, but he certainly isn’t close to being a scientist.

    • “The verdict doesn’t come all at once; the proceedings gradually merge into the verdict” – Franz Kafka, The Trial. Seems like the situation we now find ourselves in.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Some change is incremental, but then again, far-from-equilibrium systems like climate can also undergo sudden, rather extreme shifts, kinda like Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s Metamorphosis waking up and finding himself turned into a giant beetle.

  10. This seems to be blown way out of proportion. Pielke points out that there is little direct evidence of a trend in worsening drought in spite of clear global warming. He distorts that view somewhat by putting the exception (the US southwest) in the fine print of a footnote. Holdren argues that there are many reasons to expect that global warming might lead to worsening drought but downplays the fact that such a trend is not observed to be widespread. These views are not mutually exclusive and are both valid. All of the rest of this is bluster and posture, including this blog post.

    [Response: My opinion: Pielke was deliberately misleading. To a senate committee no less. Also my opinion: that's one of his defining characteristics]

    • Eric,
      This is a pattern–take a statistic that is meaningless and seems to show what Roger the Dodger wants, then add enough hidden qualifiers so that it isn’t an outright lie, or at least cannot be demonstrated such.

      However, I don’t share Tamino’s outrage–no lie ever pined away from loneliness on the Senate floor.

    • If you read/listen to Holdren’s testimony he is very precise and clear that he is talking about local droughts being exacerbated and gives the US SW as a strong example.

  11. Eric– the issue here is that Pielke’s little footnote subterfuge encouraged Senator Sessions to believe that Holdren had misled the Senate– a pretty serious matter. Pielke also used the same elision to argue publically that Holdren was being misleading. I do agree with Tamino, as well: this is deliberate ‘burying’ of crucial contrary evidence (illustrating once again the role of projection in denialist/ confusionist rhetoric). .

  12. “Deliberately misleading” implies that Pielke is capable of making a choice. To be honest, I am not sure he is. Based on some interactions with him that I have had on his blog a few years ago, I think he is honestly incapable of seeing his own lies, falsehoods, and deceptions for what they are. He is not trying to mislead or lie; he is simply incapable of detecting such behavior in himself. At root, I think it is really probably some sort of mental health issue.

    • @joehelp – as a separate reply, your observation is very important in helping casual observers understand this situation. Based on the facts presented I agree this type of dishonesty is purposeful. In the end it destroys the reputation of the perpetrator, but before how much damage is done? I hope Dr. Holden’s staffers stick this factual dishonesty in the face of Sen. Session’s staffers since it is at that level the “thinking” generally gets done, in spite of the ideological rigor mortis at the top.

  13. @joeldshore — mental health issue — it is more likely a cognitive deficit issue – but in no way do I argue it is in this case since I have no factual information to judge so. The brain is a complicated organ and the mind complex, a seemingly small cognitive deficit in some “cognitive dimension” or other can result in what others might call odd behavior. Sometimes not. We all have cognitive deficits of varying degrees. Some of us have them as cognitive enhancements which can produce equally odd behavior. Those of us (all of us?) with cognitive deficits are sometimes incapable of internally detecting the (odd) behavior in question so never see the oddity. Please be wary of using the mental health moniker.

  14. > Pielke was deliberately misleading. To a senate committee no less.

    He gave Sessions what Sessions wanted.
    That’s how to get invited back. No surprises, know what the senator wants.

    The Senators don’t want balanced facts. They want talking points put on the record by supposedly independent witnesses, so the politicians can use those to argue for what they intend to push for.

    Pielke had to work a bit to get the talking point up front in big letters and the scientific qualifier buried in the footnote. He didn’t obfuscate well enough.

    Holdren was in a bind. He perhaps wasn’t suspicious enough of what Pielke brought forward or, more likely, he didn’t get to scrutinize it in advance to look for the hidden bits so got hornswoggled.

    Pielke and Sessions were playing politics.
    Holdren wasn’t.

  15. Snarkrates– using blunt language is something I definitely favour in these debates. But ‘stupid’ strikes me as too broad and too crude. On the usual reading of the word, it applies to people who have a very broad/ general cognitive disability. But the disability we’re facing here is much more selective–some very clever people, well-trained in some areas and perfectly capable of sophisticated reasoning in general show a local cognitive blindness that is extremely refractory, resisting correction from people who are clearly much more qualified and from evidence that is clearly very telling. Their cognitive breakdown is much more interesting (and worrisome) than garden-variety stupidity.

    • Note that I did define what I mean by stupid–actively using ones intelligence to avoid the truth. By this definition, an intelligent person has the capability to be even stupider than an unintelligent one.

  16. Hey, policy is where the money is. Look at Berkeley Earth
    The top banner now says:

    A Measured Approach:

    And the video linked on that home page still leads to one of Muller going on and on about the “trick” — and that leads to wossname the Analyst’s many videos claiming the climate scientists are all lying.

    Obviously what the politicians need is a fresh, clean, honest source of information — where else but Pielke and Muller, since those people have so honestly and forthrightly condemned all the other scientists as liars?

    [Response: Let's not paint the entire Berkeley team with one brush. Robert Rohde has instituted an improved method of combining data records, they've included more data than any other reconstruction, and they now offer both combined land+sea and daily data. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.]

  17. Thanks, Tamino, I do agree entirely about Robert Rohde’s work, I’ve been a fan of his since globalwarmingart.

    I’m just unhappy seeing the public policy “Strategic Analysis” label newly minted on BEST’s website, along with the old “we’re skeptical too” attack video link.

    I’m never surprised nor happy seeing those who’ve delayed and denied a need for change be promoted as the new leaders Hubert Humphrey when the political machine finally turns around.

    Yeah, I”m showing my age and jadedness.

  18. The video that bugs me is the one linked at Berkeley Earth’s “What’s New” page, ironically — it’s definitely nothing new. The link to

    is under the text that says
    “Are you skeptical of climate change science? So are we. Learn more… ”

    Nothing new there.

  19. David B. Benson

    Where is Horatio when we need him?

  20. I hadn’t visited the Berkeley site in a long while. It’s sad to see that stuff still there (worse to see it right up front). Using ‘Are you skeptical of climate change science? So are we…’ as an opener could be a good idea: it might be used as a hook to get people to pay attention, and followed up with basic questions asked & then clearly answered (as in the recent statement from the NAS and Royal Academy). But feeding the paranoia with quotes out of context and other misleading stuff (the shiboleths of denial) is just wrong (either you’re insincere and just trying to win trust from the already paranoid, which is dishonest and unlikely to work if you really want to defuse the paranoia in the end, or you’re sincere and you’re part of the problem…).

    Are they still receiving Koch money?

  21. Looking more broadly at the site, though, it’s not as bad as this particular item would suggest. The video is one of many, and goes back a while. Maybe it’s just a failure to edit/ remove outdated material, though I’m sure some are still being misled by it…

  22. I’ve been a reviewer or editor of over 1,000 manuscripts. I can’t say that I have ever reviewed a manuscript that intentionally mislead about a citation or a result. This is probably so rare in peer reviewed publications because it would be the fastest and most efficient way for the author to lose his or her reputation and simultaneously see the manuscript rejected. Occasionally an author misinterprets a cited study or makes a poor choice in which study or studies to cite. In this case, I give the author one or two changes to correct a problem before concluding that the author is too careless and the paper should be rejected. The question here seems to be whether scientific testimony to congress should meet the same standards as peer-review. I think that it should and that intentionally misleading is tantamount to perjury, even though it probably could not be prosecuted. Perhaps Pielke is not a scientist and therefore high standards need not apply. However, the Senators who invited him assumed that he was a scientific expert.

    • Although very rarely used, providing false or misleading testimony to a congressional committee could lead to charges of contempt of Congress or under other criminal provisions of US law.

      • John Garland

        True. But when you give the testimony the committee is leading you to falsely lead, they are highly unlikely to swear out a warrant!

    • RPJr may not be guilty of intent to mislead, if “intentionally misleading” means “lying”. He may instead be “bullshitting”, which is worse. Moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt makes the distinction in On Bullshit, published in 2005. According to a recent review :

      Both the liar and the bullshitter try to get away with something. But ‘lying’ is perceived to be a conscious act of deception, whereas ‘bullshitting’ is unconnected to a concern for truth. Frankfurt regards this ‘indifference to how things really are’, as the essence of bullshit. Furthermore, a lie is necessarily false, but bullshit is not – bullshit may happen to be correct or incorrect. The crux of the matter is that bullshitters hide their lack of commitment to truth. Since bullshitters ignore truth instead of acknowledging and subverting it, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies.

      IMHO, that indifference to truth is the deniers’ greatest advantage over Science in the public arena.

  23. It gets much worse for RPJnr Tamino. Quick someone give him a Kleenex!

    You (and others) might be interested in analyzing these SPEI data to fact check claims made by the Revkin, Hoerling, Pielke trio ;) Also, these data from NOAA show the opposite of what the dismissives are saying about drought in the western US and globally too.

  24. “it will be many decades, perhaps longer, before the signal of human-caused climate change can be detected. Extremes are by definition rare events, and for that reason they are just not the best place to be looking for, or expecting to see, the consequences of climate change today.”
    — quoting from much worse linked above

    Hmmmmm ….

    • Ah! We can add extreme value statistics to the long list of things Roger the Dodger doesn’t understand.

    • Climate science, the IPCC and, here, Tamino have repeatedly, using real data, observations and statistics, shown that the signal of human caused climate change *has* been detected. Pielke Jr is not unaware of this.

      In this case, if challenged, as his hidden footnote he will simply point to his disingenuous, and deeply immoral, ‘research’ that buries the ‘damage signal’ (human suffering and ecosystem destruction) under the fossil fuelled carbon intensive wave of GDP growth.

      Stephen Schneider said that advocates need to reveal their values. Exposing the hidden “Dis” in the “Honest Broker” meme is necessary work and Holdren has done it well here.

      Where is the media to ask the questions though? They could ask: Honest by whose judgement? Broker for whom? Mediating scientific knowledge for whose benefit? That it is left to a few on the margins to ask these questions again illustrates how the values of mainstream media and journalism have been compromised by vested interests – who rather like having brokers on-board to reflect their views and values no matter the level of contrary evidence.

  25. On what we think we know about what our government tells us:

  26. > extreme value
    Oh, I suspect RPJr _understands_ this fine. The policy-is-delay approach requires understanding what to tell people not to pay attention to, after all.

    Gavin on Twitter points to

    where you can read this:
    It is also worth remembering that average warming is not the only measure of climate change. According to a study just published by Sonia Seneviratne of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, in Zurich, the number of hot days, the number of extremely hot days and the length of warm periods all increased during the pause (1998-2012). A more stable average temperature hides wider extremes.

  27. Aside to Tamino — are biological variations getting any attention nowadays, as being more sensitive than instruments to climate change?

    I noted at
    that fifteen years ago, measurable (big!) drops in photosynthesis were being reported across China due to their aerosol haze.
    That’s from
    PNAS vol. 96 no. 24, W. L. Chameides et al., 13626–13633,
    doi: 10.1073/pnas.96.24.13626
    Case study of the effects of atmospheric aerosols and regional haze on agriculture: An opportunity to enhance crop yields in China through emission controls?

    (I asked there to see if Gavin et al. have any response; I’ll try asking at Chameides’s blog GreenGrok as well — but I’d guess your approach — actually pulling data and looking at it — might be most interesting)

  28. Hank—as an ecologist, I have to say that changes in seasonal timing (phenology), changes in populations, the impacts of changes in thermal stratification and ice cover (in lakes and oceans) and are very strong signals, stronger than what most ecologists (including me) would have expected from the temperature record. Sometimes I get a bit irratated when physicists suggest that temperature records are the only evidence. Evidence for rapid climate change from changes in ecology are very strong and, of course, completely independent of the temperature records.