James Taylor of Heartland Institute twists new AMS study to cast doubt upon industrial climate disruption consensus

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

Abstract: James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute has published a Forbes blog in which he distorts the results of a new Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society study. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, Taylor chose to distort the study using logic errors, dishonest and misattributed quotes, and even lying about the study’s methodology. Taylor’s blog represents yet another example in a long history of twisting surveys and studies in a failed attempt to manufacture doubt the scientific consensus about global warming.

On November 20, 2013, James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute published a blog at Forbes where he discussed a new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled “Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members” by Neil Stenhouse and nine other co-authors (hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). Stenhouse et al 2013 found, among other things, that 93% of the most knowledgeable climate experts think that climate disruption has occurred over the last 150 years and that human activity is part of the cause.

Rather than focusing on the main points of study, Taylor instead focused on a secondary conclusion (that only 52% of all respondents think that the last 150 years of climate disruption are “mostly” caused by human activity), failed to provide any of the study’s context for that conclusion, and in the process distorted the study’s results in an attempt to manufacture doubt about the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding industrial climate disruption1.

S&R analyzed Taylor’s blog and found it filled with logical errors, quotes that were taken out of context, twisted by dishonest editing, or misattributed, and several examples of Taylor lying about the study’s results.

Taylor’s blog is filled with errors of logic

Taylor makes at least three significant illogical claims in his Forbes blog. First, Taylor wrote that “Scientific truth is determined by facts, evidence and observations – not a show of hands (emphasis added)” On the surface of it, this statement is strictly true. However, Taylor uses it to imply an illogical claim, namely that the the scientific consensus regarding industrial climate disruption is merely a form of popularity contest (aka a “bandwagon” logical fallacy). As S&R has shown previously, the reasons for that show of hands are critical, and in the case if industrial climate disruption, there is an overwhelming show of hands precisely because the “facts, evidence, and observations” overwhelmingly support the conclusion that global climate is changing, that the emission of greenhouse gases by human industry is the dominant driver of those changes, and that the changes will almost certainly be disruptive to human society and global ecology.

Second, Taylor writes that “If a show of hands determined scientific truth… we would still believe the sun revolves around the earth.” Taylor isn’t merely making a weak argument here, he’s also invoking Galileo’s disagreement with the Catholic Church over the Earth’s position in the universe. This “weak analogy” logical fallacy has become so common in climate debates that it has been given its own name – the Galileo Fallacy. S&R has addressed this illogical argument as well, finding in part that industrial climate disruption deniers like Taylor who invoke Galileo “place themselves more on the side of the Catholic Church than on Galileo’s side.” In case it’s not clear, the Catholic Church was wrong and in October, 1992 Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the Church had wronged Galileo.

But Taylor’s most significant logical error his creation of something the “global warming crisis.” Taylor attacks Stenhouse et al 2013, claiming on the basis of a list of unproven and arbitrary “components of a human-induced global warming crisis” that the study’s 52% result should actually be much less than 50%. The problem is that Taylor’s attack introduces “components” that are not mentioned in Stenhouse et al 2013 and that have no bearing on the study’s purpose or its results. Essentially, Taylor is criticizing what he wants the study to address, rather than criticizing the actual study, and that makes all of his “global warming crisis” arguments “straw man” logical fallacies.

In addition, using terms like “crisis” nearly always invokes a straw man fallacy. Scientists rarely use such imprecise, non-scientific language when discussing their results. But climate science especially doesn’t lend itself to such language. Something that is a “crisis” for the UK might benefit France or Spain, something that is a “crisis” for China might benefit India, and so on.

And Taylor mentions his “crisis” straw man six times in four paragraphs. All combined, Taylor spends just over a quarter of his words (276 out of 854 words) trying to convince the reader that his straw man is real. But ultimately it’s just Taylor’s attempt to distract the reader. After all, if the reader falls for the straw man, he or she might not feel the need to fact check Taylor’s other arguments, or the reader might miss the deceptive, dishonest, and wrong quotes that Taylor included in his blog.

Taylor’s quotes are deceptive, dishonest, and wrong

In an attempt to buttress his false claim that “there is no consensus,” Taylor quotes from four different sources. In one he demonstrates that he is insufficiently skeptical about information he agrees with. In the second, he neglects to mention a couple of critical details that cast his quote into an entirely different light. In the third he changes the meaning of a quote by cutting out bits and pieces that don’t fit his anti-consensus narrative. And in the last, he misattributed the words of a Chinese journalist as the scientific opinion of the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

First, Taylor quotes the following from a Voice of Russia article:

Global warming is coming to an end: In the coming years the temperature over the entire planet will fall and the cooling will provide a character of relief. This is the conclusion reached by Russian scientists from the Physics University of the Russian Academy of Science.

While Taylor failed to provide a link for the Voice of Russia quote, S&R was able to use Google to track it back to the industrial climate disruption denial website No Tricks Zone and from there to the German language version of Voice of Russia (Google Translate version here). Looking at the complete article (all three paragraphs of it), however, it’s clear that neither No Tricks Zone nor Taylor (nor any of the hundreds of people who reposted it around the web) were skeptical enough of it. There are multiple parts of the article that fail a “sniff test.”

The translated version has no author byline. The “Russian scientists with the Russian Academy of sciences” are unnamed. There are no titles of any publications, peer-reviewed or otherwise. And the cooling claims were already known to be wrong in May 2012, when the Voice of Russia article was written. By the time the article was published, climate researchers had known for months that the temperature change from 2005 to 2011 was not the 0.3 °C reported in the Voice of Russia article, but rather 0.12, 0.11, and 0.13 °C for the National Climate Data Center, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Hadley/Climatic Research Unit datasets, respectively. Simply put, the Voice of Russia article has no credibility, yet Taylor quotes from it as if it’s true.

In the second quote, Taylor writes that

According to the Director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish Space Research Institute at the Danish National Space Center, we have recently experienced “the highest solar activity we have had in at least 1,000 years.”

Taylor fails to mention that the Director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research is Henrik Svensmark, a physicist and the developer of the hypothesis that galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), not carbon dioxide (CO2), are responsible for climate disruption. In this hypothesis, GCRs help to create clouds, which then make the Earth more reflective and, in response, the Earth cools. However, multiple independent lines of research have recently demonstrated that the GCR hypothesis cannot be the dominant driver of climate disruption.

Taylor also fails to mention that Svensmark’s “highest solar activity” applies not to solar insolation (the amount of solar energy that hits the Earth) but rather to the solar magnetic field (as made clear in the Telegraph article that Taylor linked to). Without knowing this detail, a reader might be misled to believe that Taylor’s quote applied to solar energy, and thus might conclude that recent climate disruption was due to solar energy, not CO2. This is why the quote is deceptive – it’s carefully written and missing key information, leading readers to incorrectly conclude that natural factors might outweigh industrial emissions of CO2 as the driver of climate disruption.

Taylor’s third quote is not merely deceptive, it’s dishonest. Taylor writes that

According to the American Physical Society, “There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion” of a global warming crisis. (emphasis added)

Again Taylor failed to provide a link to the original source of the quote, but as with the Voice of Russia quote, Google turned up the source. The actual American Physical Society (APS) quote says nothing about Taylor’s straw man “global warming crisis.” It does, however, demonstrate that Taylor clipped away enough of the original quote to significantly alter its meaning. The original APS quote is below, with the emphasis identifying the portion that Taylor removed:

There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.

Taylor took a quote about a very specific thing – the attribution of global warming to human-emitted CO2 from the Industrial Revolution to now – and warped it into a general commentary on his straw man “global warming crisis.”

Taylor’s fourth and final quote is a major misattribution for both Taylor and for the website he linked to as the source of the quote, the libertarian American Thinker. Here’s what Taylor wrote:

Chinese Academy of Sciences Vice President Ding Zhongli explained human activity is not the only factor causing global warming and we don’t know how to assign relative weight to human and natural warming factors. “Up to now not a single scientist has figured out the weight ratio of each factor on global temperature change,” he wrote. “The phenomenon observed today, in particular the temporary rise of global temperature, is the result of the natural rhythm of climate change.”

S&R was forced to rely on Google again to find the original source for this quote as well, since the author of the American Thinker article, William R. Hawkins, failed to provide a link to his original source. The original source appears to be an article on the Energy Tribune website titled “China Fights Back: Scientists Find ‘no solid scientific evidence to strictly correlate global temperature rise and CO2 concentrations'” This article claims to be an abridged translation of a Chinese article about a paper titled “Control of atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 2050: A calculation on the emission rights of different countries,” which has as its lead author Ding ZhongLi, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

According to Taylor, Ding personally wrote the quotes identified above. However, it’s clear from the Energy Tribune article that Ding didn’t write the first quote – the Chinese author of the article did. It’s also clear that the Energy Tribune translation and the Google Translate version have significant differences – the translation according to the Energy Tribune strongly denies that industrial climate disruption is real, but the Google Translate version indicates some questions and concerns, but acknowledges that climate disruption has been accepted by scientists and nations around the world.

While S&R does not have any bilingual Chinese speakers on staff and is thus not able to say which translation is more accurate, S&R did read the Ding et al 2009 paper. It’s clear from the content that Ding and his co-authors did have some concerns regarding the state of climate science in 2009, but nothing in the paper supports the contention made by Taylor and American Thinker that global warming was “a temporary rise” that is part of a “natural rhythm of climate change.” However, this could be a posting error on the part of either Taylor or Forbes, as the second quote appears to be associated with a position paper from one group within the Polish Academy of Sciences rather than from Ding.

Given that the Heartland Institute was forced to apologize for misrepresenting the position of the Chinese Academy of Sciences on climate science, it’s surprising that Taylor would be so careless as to make these kinds of misattribution errors.

Taylor dishonestly twists the AMS study’s results

Taylor’s logic errors and his deceptive and dishonest quotes are serious enough on their own, but he also misrepresents Stenhouse et al 2013 and the January 2012 survey upon which Stenhouse et al 2013 is based, namely “American Meteorological Society Member Survey on Global Waming: Preliminary Findings” (hereafter the Maibach et al survey).

As mentioned above, Taylor uses a straw man in an attempt to make the results of Stenhouse et al 2013 look like they’re too high. But Stenhouse et al 2013 actually found that its conclusions may be too conservative.

Six respondents sent emails to notify us that their answers would have been different if we had asked about the most recent 50-year time frame rather than the 150-year time frame; the time frame used in the question may have also influenced other respondents. Our results therefore may represent a more conservative estimate of the consensus on global warming than would have been obtained had we asked about a 50-year time frame. (emphasis added)

While it’s hypothetically possible that Taylor missed the two paragraphs in the “Discussion” detailing the 150-year vs. 50-year problem, there is no question that Taylor read the study. Taylor’s blog has enough specific details from deep within the body of Stenhouse et al 2013 for him not to have read the entire study. For example, Taylor writes that Stenhouse et al 2013 excluded associate and student members, but this point is only made on page 9 of the study, in the “Method” section. It is very unlikely that Taylor read deep enough to extract that specific detail without reading the entire study well enough to know that his blog ran counter to Stenhouse et al 2013‘s conclusions.

Table 1 from Stenhouse et al 2013 (click to enlarge)

Table 1 from Stenhouse et al 2013 (click to enlarge)

In the process of presenting the result of the study, Taylor wrote that “The central question in the survey consisted of two parts: ‘Is global warming happening? If so, what is its cause?'” This quote does come from Table 1 of Stenhouse et al 2013, but it’s actually a summary of two questions posed in the Maibach et al survey. The exact wording of Questions #1 and #3 are

1: In this survey, the term ‘global warming’ refers to the premise that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result. Regardless of the cause, do you think that global warming is happening?

3: Do you think that the global warming that has occurred over the past 150 years has been caused…

These two questions are much more specific than the summary that Taylor quotes.

It is theoretically possible that Taylor did not understand that the summary questions he quotes were not the actual questions asked in the original Maibach et al survey. However, this is not the case. Given that Taylor clearly read Stenhouse et al 2013, he would have seen references to the Maibach et al survey throughout the study, including in the “Method” section on page 9. S&R counted one explicit mention of the Maibach et al survey and four implicit mentions (detailed discussions of survey methodology, references to the 2012 survey, and the like) scattered throughout Stenhouse et al 2013. But even more significant is the fact that Taylor wrote a Forbes blog about the Maibach et al survey in March 2012 where he distorts its results as well.

Question 22 results from 2012 Maibach et al survey

Question 22 results from 2012 Maibach et al survey (click for a larger version)

Taylor’s most dishonest claim about Stenhouse et al 2013 is his distortion of the survey population. According to Taylor, the study’s results are supposedly based on “a survey of scientists with targeted atmospheric science expertise and who have demonstrated the skills and experience to qualify for AMS membership.” Taylor further claims that the survey

isn’t a poll of chemists or engineers, nor is it a position statement put together by a dozen or so members of a scientific group’s bureaucracy; it is a poll of more than 1,800 atmospheric scientists. (emphasis added)

According to the Maibach et al survey, only 81% of respondents self-identified as meteorologists, atmospheric scientists, climate scientists, or atmospheric chemists. The other 19% were oceanographers, hydrologists, engineers, computer scientists, et al, as shown at right.

Furthermore, In his 2012 blog about the Maibach et al survey, Taylor included a section where he described the educational level of the respondents. The educational level was reported in response to Question #23 and was presented on page 16 of the Maibach et al survey – on the same page and immediately below the results pictured above (click here to go directly to page 16). This proves that Taylor was not merely wrong when he wrote that all of the respondents were atmospheric scientists – this proves that Taylor was lying.

This isn’t the first time that Taylor has distorted survey results and study conclusions. S&R first documented Taylor’s habit of distorting study results when he distorted a previous AMS survey in January 2010. A quick read of Taylor’s 2012 blog on the Maibach et al survey shows that he lied about the survey’s respondents in that blog as well. And earlier this year Taylor distorted a survey of the members of APEGA to make it sound like the members were all scientists, and when the APEGA survey’s authors publicly corrected Taylor, he chose to attack his critics instead of retracting his original blog.

As was the case with the APEGA study, the authors of Stenhouse et al 2013 chose to respond directly to Taylor’s distortions. In a post at Climate Science Watch, Stenhouse and his co-authors accused Taylor of ignoring and distorting their findings “for ideological ends,” and they said that his claims represented a “caricature of the results” of the study. As with the APEGA survey, however, it is unlikely that Taylor will correct his deceptive and dishonest claims.

Taylor’s Forbes blog about the Stenhouse et al 2013 study is yet another example of his long habit of distorting science to fit an industrial climate disruption-denying narrative.

9 replies »

  1. For those who argue that consensus is political, not scientific, i would refer them to the Thomas Kuhn. His concept of the scientific paradigm is based on consensus. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a nice summary for those who do not wish to read the original. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/#3

    One of the great ironies is that those who argue that there is no consensus also try to argue that consensus does not matter. They also argue that consensus is an appeal to authority. Appeals to expert authority are completely legitimate when certain conditions are met.

    Deniers often claim that they are being lumped with Holocaust denial. Nizkor is a site that is dedicated to the Holocaust.