My Personal Experience with Climate Alarmist Spin

We see all kinds of alarmist spin being attempted on the CRU emails.  For those who are interested, this is best layman's article I have found to discuss the now-famous Michael Mann "trick," what it is, and the obfuscation in the CRU's response.

I have at least one experience with the core alarmist community responding where I pointed out an error.  The responses I got in that case are very similar to the ones today for the CRU - basically the responses either are tangential to the basic point or try to retroactively change the alarmists original assertions.  They are responses that stand up only if the questioner is unwilling or unable to do the smallest amount of verification work (in other words, they work with most of the media).

The series of posts began with this image from the recent US government climate assessment.  Its point was to provide electric grid outages as a proxy measurement variable for severe weather, the point being that severe weather must have increased.

electrical-outage

I thought this chart smelled funny

This chart screams one thing at me:  Basis change.  Somehow, the basis for the data is changing in the period.  Either reporting has been increased, or definitions have changed, or there is something about the grid that makes it more sensitive to weather, or whatever  (this is a problem in tornado charts, as improving detection technologies seem to create an upward incidence trend in smaller tornadoes where one probably does not exist).   But there is NO WAY the weather is changing this fast, and readers should treat this whole report as a pile of garbage if it is written by people who uncritically accept this chart.

So I called the owner of the data set at the EIA

He said that there may be an underlying upward trend out there (particularly in thunderstorms) but that most of the increase in this chart is from improvements in data gathering.  In 1997, the EIA (and Makins himself) took over the compilation of this data, which had previously been haphazard, and made a big push to get all utilities to report as required.  They made a second change and push for reporting in 2001, and again in 2007/2008.  He told me that most of this slope is due to better reporting, and not necessarily any underlying trend.   In fact, he said there still is some under-reporting by smaller utilities he wants to improve so that the graph will likely go higher in the future....

At the end of the day, this disturbance data is not a good proxy for severe weather.

The author of that section of the report, Evan Mills, responded and then I dealt with his response here.  Here is just one example of the BS we have to slog through every time we criticize even a tangential analysis like this.  See the links for his whole response, but he says in part:

As noted in the caption to the figure on page 58 of our report (shown above)"”which was masked in the blogger's critique [ed.  actually it was not masked- the source I got the chart from had left off the caption]"”we expressly state a quite different finding than that imputed by the blogger, noting with care that we do not attribute these events to anthropogenic climate change, but do consider the grid vulnerable to extreme weather today and increasingly so as climate change progresses, i.e.:

"Although the figure does not demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between climate change and grid disruption, it does suggest that weather and climate extremes often have important effects on grid disruptions."

The associated text in the report states the following, citing a major peer-reviewed federal study on the energy sector's vulnerability to climate change:

"The electricity grid is also vulnerable to climate change effects, from temperature changes to severe weather events."

This was pretty amazing - citing his chart's caption but hoping that somehow I or other readers would miss the very first line of the caption which he fails to quote:

To Dr. Mills' point that I misinterpreted him "” if all he wanted to say was that the electrical grid could be disturbed by weather or was vulnerable to climate change, fine.  I mean, duh.  If there are more tornadoes knocking about, more electrical lines will come down.  But if that was Dr. Mills ONLY point, then why did he write (emphasis added):

The number of incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992.  The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990s to about 65 percent in recent years.  The weather-related events are more severe"¦

He is saying flat out that the grid IS being disturbed 10x more often and more severely by weather.  It doesn't even say "reported" incidents or "may have" "” it is quite definitive.  So which one of us is trying to create a straw man?   It is these statements that I previously claimed the data did not support, and I stand by my analysis on that.

I deconstructed a lot of the rest of his longer post, and you can follow it all, but the bottom line is that if a you are drawing a trend line between two points, and you have much more data missing from the begginning end point than the end, your trend is going to be SNAFU'd.  Period.  No point in arguing about it.  See the chart below.  It represents the situation at hand.  The red is the reported data.  The blue is the unreported data, which declines as a percentage of the total due to a push for better data reporting by the database owners.  My point was simply that the red trend line was meaningless.  Its amazing to me that even accepting the basics of this picture, Dr. Mills wants to fight that conclusion.

trend

I am reminded by one of the now-famous quotes from the CRU emails

I really wish I could be more positive about the Kyrgyzstan material, but I swear I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk something out of that. I don't think it'd be productive to try and juggle the chronology statistics any more than I already have - they just are what they are...

Yep, sometimes the measured results from nature are what they are.  Well, I actually that most of the time they are what they are, but not in climate apparently.  Never give up a flawed analysis that yields the "right" answer without a fight.  I concluded:

Look Dr. Mills, I don't have an axe to grind here.  This is one chart out of bazillions making a minor point.  But the data set you are using is garbage, so why do you stand by it with such tenacity?  Can't anyone just admit "you know, on thinking about it, there are way to many problems with this data set to declare a trend exists.

  • Dr. T

    "Basis change."

    We have this in medicine too. Our greatly increased ability to detect small, early cancers has led to greatly increased 5-year and 10-year survival rates, even when cancer treatments didn't change. (Therefore, one should read cancer survivability reports with large grains of salt.)

    The same thing happened with cystic fibrosis when genetic tests picked up cases with minimal symptoms. Suddenly, the average survival time for cystic fibrosis increased by ~15 years, despite no new therapies.

  • http://www.itsaboutmakingbabies.com/ Brad K.

    There may be a parallel with reported crimes.

    In the past, rape held such powerful stigma that it was very seldom reported, unless the victim died or was egregiously injured. Stigma is still attached, but in much lesser degree, and women's communities understand better about the power of reporting and charging sexual assaults of all types. This led, for decades, to dramatic increases in *reported* sexual assaults. I feel the under-reporting today is much less a factor, and has been largely constant over the last decade or more. But from the 1940's to 1990's, under-reporting of sexual assaults has to be taken into account to understand the rate of incidents.

    A corollary to reduced under-reporting, has been a lowering of the threshold as to what completes the offense (in the colorful jargon of the Uniform Code of Military Justice). When I was growing up, the victim had to prove an attempt to fight off the attacker. If the attacker had no scratches, no bruises, and no witnesses, the reported crime was often discounted and the report discredited. Today the victim is much more likely to be believed, and reports are seldom discredited. Which has had another, difficult-to-quantify force on the rate of sexual assault in the general population.

    A process that changes the thoroughness of collection of reports of grid outages and weather impact on outages will *necessarily* change the definition of what outages are related to weather factors. "Hey, Joe, they are taking all these 'weather outage' reports this year. I guess if fall hadn't set in, that squirrel wouldn't have been sticking acorns in that insulator. So this one was weather-related, right?"

  • The Total Idiot

    There is also the issue of increased grid density. As towns increase in size, and urbanization expands over heretofore undeveloped areas, incidences of storm/weather/climate related destruction of the grid infrastructure will increase by simple increase in opportunity for the infrastructure to be thus attacked. There has been no meaningful increase in technological levels of the distribution system in nearly a century, other than modifications to the control equipment and increase in wiring and insulation tensile strength. In some jurisdictions, the power companies have chosen to maintain it this way due to knowing that the jurisdictions will shell out when it fails to receive upgrades.

    At which point, one must ask with old infrastructure, how much is 'new' storm damage, and how much is fatigue from lack of maintenance and upgrade? How much of the new storm damage is a function of increased density, area, changes in practices, or failure of poorly maintained poles, etc? I have personally seen heavy corrosion, rotted telephone poles (originally creosote coated, 50 years before) and numerous other indications of poor maintenance. The storm may have been the potentiator for the failure, but the failure was maintenance, not increased weather.

  • rxc

    I am retired from the nuclear energy field, and I can say that this is one of the techniques that the greens used over the years against anything and everything nuclear, over the years. They cherry-pick data, take quotes out of context, mis-use computer models, spin, and just plain lie to make people believe what they want them to believe.

    They have refined these techniques to use them against "chemicals", and now we have about a half dozen elements in the periodic table that have become quite demonized, starting with plutonium, which is of course, the devil's own creation. Then there is lead, arsenic, uranium, chlorine, and now carbon, the basis of life on this planet.

    People need to be educated enough to see through this manipulation of our language, but the media is more interested in controversy than in education, so we continue to hear more and more junk.

    I never take anything that is said by "environmentalists" at face value. All of it is spin, including "if", "and", and "but". [paraphrase of famous quote by Dorothy Parker, I think]

  • perlhaqr

    RXC: Is plutonium not actually poisonous as well as radioactive? I mean, I don't think it's exactly fairy-tale science to say it's not something you want to be sprinkling on your breakfast cereal.

    (This shouldn't be taken as a critique of nuclear power, I'm definitely pro. Less coal smoke in the air is a plus, IMO.)

  • rxc

    perlhaqr: Pu is not very toxic when ingested. Bernie Cohen (a helth physics professor at Pitt) offered to eat the same mass in Pu if Ralph Nader would eat the same mass in caffiene, and of course the offer was refused, because the caffiene would kill very quickly, while the Pu would not. He has quite a good discussion of this here:http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter13.html#5. The book is on-line, free, and good reading.

    The primary hazard of Pu is inhalation of small particles, and even that is not really bad. Cohen discusses this in detail.

    The other big enviro meme is "no safe level of radiation". Given that every one of us suffers 14,000,000 "hits" from naturally occurring radiation every second(!), staring from the time we are born, this is a typical green exageration/hyperbole that is used to scare people. They are very good at twisting individual facts.

    Also, I thought of some more elements that have been demonized: Mercury, cadmium(those nasty batteries in landfills), nitrogen and phosphorus (pollution from farms), aluminum("associated" with altsheimers(sp?), used in warplanes, and created from electricity), and of course the favorites of leftists - silver, gold and platinum.

  • rxc

    One last thought. I re-read some other parts of Dr. Cohen's book, and he is clearly a aupporter of the AGW theory, because he thinks that it would support more nuclear. I also think this book is about 10 years old, so it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about it now. His specialty is health physics, which he knows very well.

    I also think nuclear would be a good way to go, because it would free up coal and natural gas and oil for more useful applications than making dumb heat, but AGW is not a good argument in its favor. And you have to be careful about some of the more creative nuclear projects, including thorium, pebble bed, and all types of fusion. These are mostly academic table-top exercises, with little knowledge of the practical issues. Thorium and pebble-bed reactors HAVE been built, but those were prototypes and were not repeated for very good reasons. There are a half dozen good evolutionary designs that are building/built/operating that could serve as good models for more nuclear capacity. Fusion is the energy source of the future, and it will probably remain such, until someone invents di-lithium crystals or such.

  • Agamemnon

    > A corollary to reduced under-reporting, has been a lowering of the threshold as to what completes the offense

    While I generally take such claims very seriously, I do have to state that, if a woman had no marks of any kind then she failed to make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn't consensual. I'd take a woman's claim that she was raped, if she had marks, as far less debatable (i.e., it's no longer a case of he-said-she-said and whose word I choose to believe).

    Were I female, or the father of a female advising her, I would say make it as abundantly clear as possible that it was forceable. Yeah, there ARE situations where that's not practical but those usually aren't the kind of he-said-she-said situations where there's much doubt.

    The entire concept of "date rape" without drugs involved is a very bad idea. While a woman shouldn't NEED to cause a man to show intent to subdue, the nature of the sexual interaction is all too often fraught with potential confusion as to when/how to proceed -- all too often "no" does NOT mean "no", feminist rhetoric to the contrary. Far too many women unfortunately like the out that they were pushed into it to assuage their feelings of self-guilt the next day. The real solution would be for women to be the aggressors, but women don't want anything that actually puts any kind of burden onto them. Can't have that, no, no, no.

  • O Bloody Hell

    > People need to be educated enough to see through this manipulation of our language, but the media is more interested in controversy than in education, so we continue to hear more and more junk.

    This is more an abject failure of basic education in critical thinking than the media's disinformation efforts.

    > The other big enviro meme is “no safe level of radiation”. Given that every one of us suffers 14,000,000 “hits” from naturally occurring radiation every second(!), staring from the time we are born, this is a typical green exageration/hyperbole that is used to scare people. They are very good at twisting individual facts.

    Not to mention the fact that certain low level amounts of radiation have a positive effect apparently by kicking in the autoimmune system and making it work a little bit more. In small amounts, that's actually healthy. And there are plenty of studies which show no correlation between low doses from natural causes (both from high-altitude, such as residents of Denver, as well as people living in radiation-rich soil regions, such as the monazite sands in India). And, if you look around, you'll find that the actual deaths even from substantial overt exposure around a place like Chernobyl are swamped by the stress-induced effects of people telling you that the exposure to radiation from being near Chernobyl is going to kill you early. Yes, getting told you're going to die young has a greater effect than the actual radiation exposure from Chernobyl.

    It's somewhat out of date, but I also recommend reading the late Petr Beckmann's "The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear". Probably something like a million or two excess deaths have resulted as a direct effect of not having France-level nuclear power in this country. But they're "hidden" in other things, so no one cares.

    And it's clear that the Goebbels' Warming crowd actually doesn't care about CO2, that's a red herring, or else they'd be promoting nukes all over the world.

  • O Bloody Hell

    Hormesis was the word I was looking for. It works for radiation as well as toxins.

  • rxc

    O Bloody Hell: Yes, hormesis had a certain logic to it. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove, so the conservative nature of the nuclear industry and the HP community has been to assume that one "hit" could cause a cancer. This actually has a good factual basis, too, but when you realize that you are "hit" 14,000,000 times/sec(think about that), and only about 1/3 of all people actually get cancer, you realize that the "no safe level" argument is just hype.

    The greens have an alternative fear-mongering meme, called "unknown effects of long-term exposure" that they use to support chemophobia when dealing with these stochastic effects. I think the medical people used to say "the dose makes the poison", and the best example I can think of is Se, which is an essential trace element, but toxic in high doses. I don't think this is hormesis, but is something similar.

  • O Bloody Hell

    > Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove

    Actually, it's fairly easy to prove, but your last name has to be "Mengele", or the institution you're working at has to be named "Tuskeegee".

    So yeah, the net effect is "difficult to prove".

    ;-)

  • markm

    rxc: The one-hit theory has little experimental basis, and no relation at all to what is now known about the genesis of cancers. To become a dangerous tumor, a line of cells have to undergo at least the following changes:

    1) The normal growth inhibitors have to be knocked out.

    2) Apoptosis: The programmed cell death mechanism by which cells with irreparably damaged DNA normally die has to be knocked out.

    3) Telomeres: If you ever worked with reel to reel tapes or movies on film, you'll understand these as a sort of leader tape on the ends of DNA strands. Every time the DNA is copied for cell division, a bit gets lost off each end, so there's this length of repetitive nonsense DNA that can be shortened without losing any information. In germ cells, an enzyme splices on more telomere before the next division. In virtually all other mammalian cells, this capability is lost. If the cancer cell doesn't get it turned back on, after so many doublings, it will start losing genes, then die once the recipe for some vital protein falls off the end. Usually the tumor hasn't even become large enough to detect at this time.

    OTOH, many of the maladies of old age might well trace to frequently-renewed cells such as the skin finally running out of telomeres. I think that animals evolved the trait of turning off telomere renewal as a cancer preventative. Growing old is better than the alternatives.

    4) Vascularization: The cells have to gain or regain the ability to attract blood vessels, or else the tumor will not be able to grow much larger than a pea, nor can the cells migrate to form new tumors. (Or perhaps that's a fifth "hit".)

    If all of these events were independent, I'd expect the cancer risk to be the 4th power of the radiation dose, that is a curve that stays very near zero at low levels and then bends sharply upwards. It's likely that there is some interdependence, so the real curve is 2nd or 3rd power, with a gentler bend.

    The reason we haven't experimentally established the curve is not the Mengele or Tuskegee Institute factor. You can irradiate rats. You can find humans that accidentally irradiated themselves, lived above radon-emitting deposits, or had to have a lot of X-rays. But unless the radiation is at least a couple of orders of magnitude above background, the additional cancers due to radiation are indistinguishable among the cancers due to chemicals, foods, viruses, and ancestry. You might be able to find out something with a hundred million mice caged in a controlled environment, but research is never funded generously enough to pay for that many cages and that much food, not to mention the scientists to dissect them all...

  • Fred

    You can perform a similar analysis with "observed number of stars in the known universe" (if the data even exists). As telescope technology improves, the number of observed stars increases. Even the thickest alarmist should be able to be made to understand that the actual underlying number of stars is not increasing, just that their observability is.