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PBS False Balance Hour - What's Up With That?

Posted on 20 September 2012 by dana1981

We have previously criticized the mainstream media for favoring false balance over factually accurate scientific reporting when it comes to climate change.  In one of the worst examples of this unfortunate and counter-productive practice, the US Public Boadcasting Service (PBS), which is funded by both taxpayers and private donations, (for example, from the Koch brothers) aired a climate story on the PBS News Hour which began by featuring the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project's Richard Muller, "balanced" with a subsequent interview of contrarian blogger Anthony Watts.

Ultimately, Watts' comments suffered from a double standard, dismissing Muller's comments as not yet being supported by peer-reviewed research, but offering his own opinions despite the fact that they were not only unsupported, but even contradicted by Watts' own peer-reviewed research.

Surface Temperature Record Accuracy

When asked to describe his 'skepticism' about human-caused global warming, Watts went into a long discussion about his concerns that encroachment of human development near surface temperature stations has introduced a bias into the temperature record.  However, what Watts failed to mention is that the scientific groups who compile the surface temperature record put a great deal of effort into filtering out these sorts of biases

Watts also failed to mention that there have been many peer-reviewed scientific studies investigating whether these efforts have been successful, and they have almost universally concluded that those extraneous influences on the temperature record have been removed.  For example, Fall et al. (2011) concluded that for all temperature stations classifications with regards to the influence of urban influences, the long-term average global warming trend is the same.

"The lack of a substantial average temperature difference across classes, once the geographical distribution of stations is taken into account, is also consistent with the lack of significant trend differences in average temperatures....average temperature trends were statistically indistinguishable across classes."

The second author on Fall et al. is a fellow who goes by the name of Anthony Watts.

There are also of course many 'natural thermometers' confirming the warming of the globe - rapidly rising seas, melting sea ice, melting land ice, etc. (Figure 1).

warming indicators

Figure 1: Natural thermometers indicating a warming world.

Peer-Review Irony

When asked about the research of Muller and the BEST team, which has also confirmed the accuracy of the surface temperature record, Watts provided a very ironic response.

"Unfortunately he has not succeeded in terms of how science views, you know, a successful inquiry. His papers have not passed peer review."

Anthony Watts himself has co-authored two peer-reviewed scientific papers, one of which was the aforementioned Fall et al., which confirmed the accuracy of the surface temperature record with respect to the average global surface warming. 

On his blog, Watts has attempted to defend his claims on PBS news hour by referencing a preliminary, unsubmitted, unpublished paper he has drafted  which purports to identify problems in the temperature record.  However, that preliminary paper contains numerous fundamental flaws which entirely negate its conclusions, and since it has not passed peer-review, according to Watts' own comments it is not "a successful inquiry."

So we have Watts dismissing Muller's comments because his research has not passed peer-review, and yet Watts' own comments contradict the results of his own peer-reviewed paper.

Global Warming Attributed to Humans

After agreeing that global warming exists, Watts shifted over to the myth "it's not us."

"...the ability to attribute the percentage of global warming to CO2 versus other man-made influences is still an open question."

This comment simply illustrates a lack of awareness of the body of peer-reviewed climate science literature.  A number of studies using a variety of different statistical and physical approaches have investigated how much various factors have contributed to global warming.  These studies have universally concluded that humans are responsible for close to 100% of the observed global surface warming over the past half century (Figure 2).

HvA 50 years

Figure 2: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

There is a fairly large degree of uncertainty in these figures, primarily because the magnitude of the cooling effect from human aerosol emissions is not well known.  However, the amount of warming caused by human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is known to a high degree of certainty, and these same studies have all found that GHGs are responsible for over 100% of the observed warming over this timeframe (Figure 3).

50-65 years

Figure 3: Percent contributions of various effects to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

Political Tools

In claiming that climate science has become too politicized, Watts claimed

"some of the scientists who are the leaders in the issue have become for lack of a better word, political tools on the issue."

It is unclear to whom Watts refers here, since the few contrarian climate scientists like John Christy and Richard Lindzen have been trotted out before US Congress virtually every time a congressional committee has held a climate hearing.  It seems unlikely that Watts would refer to his fellow climate contrarians in such unflattering terms, but they do seem to best fit his description as "political tools."

Watts on His Motives and Double Standards

At Skeptical Science it is against our site policy to speculate about a person's motives, but in this case, Watts volunteered the information.

SPENCER MICHELS: What's the thing that bothers you the most about people who say there's lots of global warming?

ANTHONY WATTS: They want to change policy. They want to apply taxes and these kinds of things may not be the actual solution for making a change to our society.

It is interesting that Watts responds to a question about a science-based opinion with a criticism about policy.  For example, Watts is not most bothered that people are ignoring or unaware of the biases that he incorrectly believes exist in the temperature record.  No, Watts is most bothered that we might implement an economically-beneficial carbon tax.

In another related piece of irony, Watts criticizes his opponents for using "scare tactics" and then claiming that if they get their way, it will mean economic catastrophe.

"Some people don't respond well to scare tactics and there have been some scare tactics used by some of the proponents on the other side of the issue....We can't just rip all that up or change it in the space off five, 10 or 15 years because it'll be catastrophic to our economy."

Watts Fails Risk Management 101

At the interview, Watts illustrates that he understands neither pragmatism nor risk management.

"I would call myself a pragmatic skeptic...I think that some of the issues have been oversold, may have been oversold, because they allow for more regulation to take place."

Pragmatism involves taking a practical approach to problem solving.  In terms of climate change, there is no more practical approach than implementing a carbon pricing system so that the costs of climate change are reflected in the price of the products which cause them.  Without knowing the climate costs of the products on the market, consumers cannot take those costs into account when making purchasing decisions.  Yet this pragmatic approach is exactly the one which Anthony Watts most fears.

There are also two key words in the quote above - "I think."  We know that Anthony Watts personally believes that the consequences of climate change will not be very bad.  However, Watts' opinion is contradicted by the body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence.  There is a very slim possibility that Watts and his fellow contrarians are right and the consequences of climate change will be manageable.  However, when faced with the mere possibility of a catastrophic scenario, the proper risk management approach is to take steps to prevent that scenario from happening.  In our case, catastrophe is not just possible, it is the most likely outcome if we continue in a business as usual scenario.  It is in no way pragmatic to continue along this path.

Peer Review and False Media Balance

Ultimately Anthony Watts was correct to note that peer review is an important step in ensuring the accuracy of a scientific paper.  It is fair to criticize Muller for publicizing the BEST team results prior to their acceptance in a peer reviewed journal.

However, if we apply that same standard to Anthony Watts, his sole scientific argument against human-caused global warming falls apart.  Not only has the accuracy of the surface temperature record been confirmed by BEST and Watts' own Fall et al. (2011), but also by a number of other peer-reviewed papers such as Peterson et al. (2003) and Menne et al. (2010).  If Watts believes these studies are flawed, he should attempt to demonstrate it in a peer-reviewed paper.  Until he has accomplished this, by his own standards his argument is invalid.

It is also very concerning that PBS interviewed Watts to begin with.  Watts only has one two peer-reviewed studies to his name, and they were not even mentioned in the interview.  In fact, hiw own peer-reviewed research contradicts the main argument Watts made in the interview.  The PBS interviewer also failed to challenge Watts' many incorrect and hypocritical statements, instead tossing him one softball question after another. 

Apparently Watts was recommended for the interview by the Heartland Institute.  PBS should obviously not be contacting a fossil fuel-funded global warming denying anti-science think tank which has previously compared climate realists to mass murderers for interview suggestions on a climate story.  This also isn't the first time that PBS News Hour has consulted with the Heartland Institute to provide false balance for a climate story.

PBS has responded to criticisms of their News Hour piece here and here, essentially by saying that they have also interviewed climate scientists and done accurate reporting on climate change.  While we applaud their more accurate and informative climate stories, it does not excuse the Heartland-consulted false balance in this particular piece.  In fact, Michels admitted that he interviewed Watts to "hear more about the skeptical perspective," which is the very definition of false balance - presenting "the other side" for the sake of presenting it, regardless of its factual accuracy.

We do appreciate that Spencer Michels referenced Skeptical Science in his follow-up post and provided an explanation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding how we know the temperature record is accurate (which referenced Menne et al. and Fall et al., as we did in the above post).  In fact, this would have been useful information to include in the original PBS News Hour piece - perhaps an interview with NOAA scientists instead of a blogger.  Instead, PBS sacrificed factually accurate scientific reporting for the sake of creating a false perception of balance.

Further Reading:

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 180:

  1. Dana,

    It is even worse than your post shows. Not only were PBS guilty of false balance, they were guilty of false equivalence. Mr. Watts is first and foremost not a scientist, never mind one who specializes in the intricacies and complexities of correctly homogenizing and adjusting temperature records. For example, consider Watts recently showing his ignorance regarding the importance of allowing for the time of observation adjustment. So his misguided (and often incorrect) assertions and opinions on this subject are most definitely not on par with those of experts in the field. Watts has also repeatedly shown that he is guilty of confirmation boas.

    Moreover, Watts' claim about the BEST papers is demonstrably false. Specifically, at least three of the BEST papers are undergoing peer review, and that the paper submitted to JGR-A has been accepted conditional to the acceptance of another paper in which they present a new approach for averaging temperatures (at least for temperature data that is).

    Mr. Watts' alarmist and unsubstantiated comments about "economic catastrophe" really sealed the deal. As I see it, in this interview Watts has openly stated the primary reason for his denial about the seriousness of human-caused climate change in addition to his ongoing attacks on climate scientists. It is now clear that for Mr. Watts this "debate" has everything to do with defending his ideology and belief system, and nothing to do with science. Instead, Mr. Watts is routinely distorting and misrepresenting the science (too many examples to cite here) to further his ideological and political agenda.

    Finally, the real political tools here are Watts and those closely affiliated with him (e.g., Curry, Pielke Senior, Christy, Spencer, Monckton, Singer, not to mention the legion of conspiracy theorists who frequent his and Curry's disinformation blogs) . How very almost pities them, almost.
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  2. The PBS Newshour long enjoyed a reputation for honesty and solid reporting. It's not a coincidence that one of its longtime anchors, Jim Lehrer, has routinely been selected as a fair and neutral moderator of the U.S. presidential debates. People have come to trust PBS's approach to news reporting. However, placing Watts in the position of scientist has destroyed its reputation.
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  3. Dennis @2,

    Perhaps we should be too pessimistic, even the best falter sometimes. It is not too late for PBS to set the record straight and to learn form this momentary lapse of reason (with apologies to Pink Floyd). We shall see...
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  4. To be fair to Watts (and nearly all other sceptics), he does talk about the percentage of warming attributable to humans. This is the heart of climate change scepticism. To sceptics, they feel justified in asking for the empirical data to prove it's nearly 100% human caused (and not just models or "there's no other explanation"). Sceptics do not deny the world has warmed, or that humans have impacted the climate. But they are right in asking "by how much?"

    There is still some big question marks over some of the components of climate, which is openly recognised by the IPCC and other leading climate scientists. For instance, there's been some recent papers come out questioning parts of model hydro cycles showing via observations and field tests the opposite to what was previously assumed/known. In problem solving, it is also pragmatic to know all the facts first, lest you implement the wrong solution. Even the IPCC appears to be changing their stance on climate change as more research is done, with the removal of "very likely" (their 95% confidence level) to describe the human component of warming, and dropping back to a broader definition of the warming to encompass natural internal and external forcings as well as a human component in the draft for AR5.

    And TBH, if we suddenly stopped using oil, coal and gas in the next 5-10 years, it would cause major problems economically and socially. There's no possible way all three could be replaced in that short of a time without causing problems to society. Well, not without taxing your own population into poverty, which would be doubly problematic since, if most tax revenue is going into changing, that leaves not much left for the extensive social programs already funded by Govts. Replacing 99% of human energy demands needs to be properly planned, economically and socially.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] "Sceptics do not deny the world has warmed, or that humans have impacted the climate."

    Incorrect, as evidenced by the numerous rebutted skeptic memes on this very website.

    When making assertions citing literature, it is considered good form to also cite an accompanying link to the selfsame research. Please do so.

  5. Albatross @1 - fair point about the false equivalence, putting up blogger Watts alongside scientist Richard Muller.
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  6. Dale @4 - I refer you to the "Global Warming Attributed to Humans" section of the above post. Moreover, Watts is arguing not that global warming is being caused by some mysterious natural cycle, but by urban influences on the temperature record, which is just plain wrong.

    As for his economic catastrophe claim, the real reason it is alarmist is that it's a strawman - virtually nobody is proposing that we stop using fossil fuels within 5-15 years.
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  7. Albatross and Dennis:
    On the subject of "not a scientist", one does not need a PhD to increase human scientific knowledge.

    Einstein didn't even have a degree (let alone a PhD) when he published his theory of relativity in his 20's. He was a patent office clerk. His PhD was given to him well later.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Your presentation of Einstein is false and based on urban myth. If you still believe this to be true, please provide supporting references. Otherwise, reference all of the comments later in this thread to discover the truth.
  8. So how does being consistently wrong, as Watts is, increase human scientific knowledge?

    Watts is in no danger of being awarded a PhD in science.
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  9. dana @6:
    I did see your "Global Warming Attributed to Humans" section of the above post. I refer you to my point that new research is coming out that questions some of the hydro cycle in models. You do mention aerosols in the article as one area lacking in clarity, but you failed to mention components of the hydro cycle. And ultimately, the hydro cycle is the most important part of the feedback system.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Please provide a link to this new research you cite.
  10. Dale,

    I hope that you are not equating Watts with Einstein, or Hansen for that matter. What you say may be true in ordinary circumstances, but this is far from ordinary circumstances. Also, please recall my example of Watts making an amateur mistake by ignoring the time of observation bias, that is a huge red flag right there. Hopefully you have higher expectations of your cardiologist or anesthetist.

    The issues are twofold: 1) There is no reason to interview Watts when there are several other highly qualified experts available to speak to the subject; to do so is making the mistake of false equivalence, 2) Watts' attempt to conduct science is severely compromised by his ideology and his bias.

    Now if Mr. Watts were not in the unfortunate habit of repeatedly misrepresenting the science, promulgating and highlighting inferior or even pseudo science on his blog, then he may have been in a position to undertake objective and original science. The record shows that, for the most part, he is unwilling to do that.
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  11. Regarding the science indicating anthropogenic climate change…

    I look at our 3rd rock the way a doctor views a patient; treatment follows diagnosis. The indicators as to whether a patient does or doesn’t have a given condition cannot be weighed against any concerns with particular treatment modalities being suggested. Carbon amelioration policy does not alter the accepted metrics or change physical reality. What is today is in no way changed by what is being considered for tomorrow. No doctor would ever suggested that blood values were inconclusive or that a MRI inadequate evidence simply because of a treatment being considered. They only measure the facts in hand.

    Let the facts speak for themselves; best if we don’t put the cart before the horse. Many "skeptics" take the opposite approach and some even go so far as to suggest it is the cart of carbon taxation pulling the horse of climate science.

    As for PBS…this is no different than a marginal song put out by a great band. Everyone slips up on occasion. The real issue, as has been pointed out, is that of false equivalency.
    Watts is to peer review research what Milli Vanilli was to original artistry.
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    Moderator Response: Fixed text.
  12. As Albatross @10 notes, and as shown in the post we did about Watts' draft paper (linked in the above post), Watts does not understand the most fundamental aspects about how the surface temperature record is put together, and thus is not an expert in this area. Therefore, there is no reason for PBS to have interviewed him on the subject. In fact Michels said he chose to interview Watts to "hear more about the skeptical perspective", not because Watts actually has any expertise in the subject area. That is the very definition of false balance.
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  13. Dale,

    Just exactly how many more times does Watts have to be wrong, or promote pseudo science or attack scientists for you to understand that he is not interested in advancing scientific knowledge?

    While Mr. Watts might be telling you what you want to hear, believe me when I say that I do not want Drs. Hansen, Trenberth and other climate experts to be correct. Additionally, I for one am not going to bury my head in the sand in denial, or ignore the problem, or wish the problem away.
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  14. Watts' remark about a timeline for modernizing our approach to using hydrocarbons was empty hyperbole, a rhetorical flourish.

    It was also a classic strawman argument, a fabrication describing what Watts would like others to believe his opposition is endorsing. Watts was attempting to associate people making serious efforts at policy response to global warming with a ridiculous solution not conjectured by anybody in a position of responsibility and authority to deal with the problem.

    Watts got away with that red flag unchallenged.

    How and why is it that a volunteer blogger for Skeptical Science can spend a little of his free time and be more successful with critical thinking than the professional staff of PBS News Hour? What's the payroll of the production unit responsible for this remarkable failure?
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  15. Update and SKS plug at PBS.
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  16. For another review of the Watts interview, check out:

    PBS NewsHour's Climate Change Report Raises Eyebrows (VIDEO) posted on The Huffington Post.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Your link is circular, pointing back to this very thread.
  17. Please note, my above comments are more a look at sceptics "as a whole" as opposed to Watt's scepticism. PBS wanted to cover the sceptic view, and that sceptic view is "how much?" They could've spoken to any sceptic in reality, but in the US right now, Watts is the most recognisable sceptic. Hell, they could've even spoken to me if they wanted and I still tell them the sceptic view is "how much?" And that's what Watts put forward. His own personal justification to ask that question is due to suspecting station data. Me personally, I ask that question because of uncertainty over some parts of the hydro cycle. But it still all boils down to the point that sceptics are sceptics, because we ask "how much?"

    My point on scientists, PhD or not, was a simple response to the "why did they interview him, he's no scientist". A scientist does not need academic credentials. They need well researched, well reasoned, well supported points.

    Mod @9:
    Here's one to start on.
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  18. Dale @17 -
    They need well researched, well reasoned, well supported points."
    Which Watts does not have.
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  19. What, between posts on CO2 snow and climate elves? Watts up with those?
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  20. Dale: A scientist does not need academic credentials. They need well researched, well reasoned, well supported points.

    The first attribute "academic credentials" leads more reliably to the next three. If you're a producer working in the usual feverish haste, skipping the basic notion of formal qualifications as the first step to picking an expert is a very foolish choice, leads to embarrassment. We've just seen that amply demonstrated.

    Sometimes an "appeal to authority" is not so bad. "Help us" isn't the same as "he just knows."

    Of course if they'd chosen Richard Lindzen we'd have a whole different set of objections. :-)
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  21. For yet another critique of the Watts interview, check out:

    MediaMatters’ PBS NewsHour Propagates Confusion On Climate Change
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  22. @Dale #17:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I wouldn't recognize Anhony Watts if I bumped into him on the street.
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  23. Dale - Thank you for providing a link.

    However, while potential increases of afternoon rains over drier soils (as discussed in that link) are interesting, global precipitation is driven by relative humidity. And that (see Dai 2005), while demonstrating significant variations on a regional level, shows that global RH hasn't changed more than 0.6% in the 1976-2004 timeframe.

    If you are interested in discussing that topic further, however, I would suggest taking it to one of the "cloud" or "water vapor" threads. This thread concerns the false balance issue (attention should be proportionate to evidence), Watts' misinformation (such as claiming a bad temperature record, when his own peer-reviewed paper states otherwise), and PBS's failure to ask basic questions of investigative journalism.

    Do you have any relevant comments regarding this thread?
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  24. Doug @20:
    Academic credentials can help, but they aren't a pre-requisite. Credentials also don't guarantee any sort of expertise either.

    I've hired numerous IT people with all sorts of credentials who ended up being complete duds. Some of the best IT people I've hired for companies were non-credentialed people.

    John @22:
    Neither would I, but not surprising, I'm not American. But I suspect the producer probably also wanted to play a bit on the Watts v Muller snipeing. If you look at it one way, a sceptic of station siting turns warmist (Muller) and a warmist turns sceptic over station siting (Watts).

    A bit of journalistic license, and you got yourself a show that fuels the public. And that's what the show did. From a journalistic POV, the show worked wonders.
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  25. Dale @17,

    That is an interesting paper, but it does not challenge the fact that the positive water vapour feedback (e.g., Randall et al. 2007; Dessler 2012), and empirical data together with model data suggests that the cloud feedback is weakly positive (e.g., Dessler 2010, Dessler 2012).

    All good scientists are skeptics, true skeptics that is. Those true skeptics have been asking "how much" as evidenced by the plethora of scientific papers on the issue, and Dana cited some of the more pertinent ones in his post. So can we please not "debate" points/facts that have been well established all along.

    It is, however, disconcerting when individuals elect to borrow the term "skeptic" as a front or cover for their bias and/or agenda (as Mr. Watts let slip in the interview). Watts' record demonstrates that he is not a true skeptic, but a fake skeptic (which is the antithesis of a true skeptic in this case).

    PBS has acknowledged that they should not have only posted Watts' comments in that blog post. So they have accepted an error when it was brought to their attention and in their update tried to address that error/shortcoming.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Per KR's suggestion, any further discussion on WV feedbacks should be taken to a more appropriate thread.
  26. Doug @20,

    You raise a very important point and one that the interviewer would have picked up on had they done their homework.
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  27. Dale: Academic credentials can help, but they aren't a pre-requisite. Credentials also don't guarantee any sort of expertise either.

    Assertions that unfortunately fly in the face of facts at hand. If News Hour was trying to select an expert to offer cogent support of contrary viewpoints on AGW, they obviously failed.

    On the other hand, if News Hour was attempting to illustrate the gulf between expert understanding of climate change and the opinions of a celebrity dilettante, they accomplished half of their intention.
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  28. "ANTHONY WATTS: They want to change policy. They want to apply taxes and these kinds of things may not be the actual solution for making a change to our society."

    Isn't this the most extraordinary admission? This is tantamount to saying "Accepting AGW might result in more taxes, ergo AGW is wrong".

    If you understand and accept AGW, then of course you want to change policy. What reasonable person would not try and prevent a disaster. However, Watts is implying that people want to raise taxes, therefore they are making up AGW as way to achieve this! I cant even begin to get my head around this worldview.

    The correct way to look at issue, is to decide whether AGW is likely to be true on the basis of evidence, then decide what is the best response. Dont like carbon pricing? Come up with an alternative then.
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  29. scaddenp @28 - I think that was one of those rare moments of total honesty. 'What bothers you the most?' 'Carbon tax.'

    It's totally absurd when you think about it. Carbon pricing is such a benign solution - you're talking about very minor increases in energy and gasoline prices, which could be offset by reductions in other taxes if that's something you're worried about (like British Columbia is doing).

    On the other side of the coin if the deniers are wrong, you have utter catastrophe. How can a carbon tax possibly bother you more than the potential for a climate catastrophe? I guess if you deny that a catastrophe is even possible. But you know, there's a term for people who are in denial. Anthony Watts doesn't like that word, but he's living it.
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  30. Dana #29 - that's what I find so extraordinary about this whole taxes line of argument.

    Can these guys not add up? Has it not ever, once, occurred to them what the first knock is going to be from a destabilising climate? Guess I'd better spell it out.

    The first big and wide-reaching hit from climate change will be due to disruption to harvests in major food producing areas of the world. It only takes one of these major areas to be badly affected - e.g. the USA Midwest this year. Get several such areas so affected for say three years out of five and we are looking at substantial hikes in food prices. This hits the poorest people of the world hardest but it affects everybody in the pocket and it hits harder and harder over time. Compared to any proposed carbon tax, food price-hikes are going to hit everyone and, unlike the luxury of being able to choose whether or not to drive somewhere, eating is not optional.

    That is what Watts and friends are NOT telling you.
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  31. Dale @7,

    Just a point of information - Einstein graduated from Zurish Polytechnic in 1900 with a Teaching Diploma that had a mathematics and physics component. He became a patent examiner two years later.

    He never placed much value on his Diploma, but the Polytechnic did bring him into a lively circle of mathematicians and physicists. He befriended some of these and discussed his ideas with them. The group included his first wife, who was also a student at Zurich, in the same maths and physics courses. She failed to graduate and her role in Einstein's early work is contested.

    Einstein's youthful achievements were amazing without making them more so. It is true he worked alone, but he was not the complete outsider that is often portrayed.
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  32. dana @29

    Unfortunately, not everyone sees carbon taxes (or cap and trade) as benign. I keep looking at the link to counter-argument #37 and not seeing the same thing that you apparently do. The pie chart in the middle, based on the New York University Law School study really jumps out,

    "The  pool  of economists was selected by searching the top twenty‐five economics journals over the past fifteen years and identifying all articles related to climate change." Fascinating, but I wouldn't recognize a "top economics journal" if I found one in an airline seat back, have no idea what process they use to select articles for publication, or whether those writing anything about climate have any more academic credentials to do so than does Anthony Watts ... and the study isn't illuminating about any of those issues.

    Back to said pie chart:
    "57%  agreed  that  the  U.S.  government  should  commit  to 
    greenhouse gas reductions “regardless of the actions of other 
    countries,”  while  an  additional  15.5%  agreed  that  it  should 
    do so “if it can enter a multilateral emissions reduction treaty 
    with  some  countries,”  and  21.8%  agreed  the  U.S.  should 
    move  forward  “if  other  major  emitters  commit  to  reducing 
    emissions through a global.”   Only 0.7% would wait until all 
    countries commit to action, and 2.1% thought the U.S. should 
    not act regardless of the actions of other countries."

    To you, that looks like consensus, but to me, that looks like over 37% think the economic consequences of setting a carbon tax without international agreement would do more damage to the economy than it was worth ... a position I personally find incredible and inconsistent with any form of "expertise in climate". I also think that the 57% figure is much firmer than it looks since no numbers were mentioned in the survey ... in my experience, when things get specific, the support tends to go down.

    So, at least among economists (or the half who completed the survey) there is less a consensus than a raging controversy over the relative harm to the planet (or the country) that climate change will cause relative to the harm they think mitigation will do to the economy.

    Pretending that this issue is settled among economists is not constructive. Am I convinced by the studies provided? Yes I am, but I am not going to pretend that there are no serious economists with impeccable credentials who disagree ... and in that field there are not outnumbered anything like ninety-seven to three.

    It might be helpful if you could recruit some to participate at this site, and to do more public advocacy, because you can't really make economic arguments based on appeals to authority yourself, unless you have additional degrees you have been hiding under a bushel.

    Best wishes,

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  33. Ooops ... the comment "the 57% figure is much firmer than it looks" should red "the 57% figure is not as firm as it looks".
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  34. Yeah, Mole, "ooops." I'm sure that after laboriously parsing your last paragraph the moderators will work extra hard to repair your error for you. :-)
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  35. Dale,

    When you go to your dentist you no doubt are reassured by his certificate of competance proudly displayed on the wall, showing that he has passed the relevant exams and courses of study. Or perhaps, with your disdain for professional qualifications you would rather go to this guy:

    If you follow the above link, you will find it goes to an Indian street dentist, who's only qualifications are that he has worked in other highly technical professions, such as fixing bicycles.

    Alternatively, lets try this exercise. You go flying in a jumbo jet who's pilot's only qualifications are that he has passed his private pilot's license, whilst I go flying with a captain with full ATPL and 20,000 hours. I will look forward to having drinks in the bar whilst you are dragging yourself out of a smouldering wreck at the end of the runway, (if you are lucky).
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  36. Mole, tell me how a pigovian carbon tax would harm an economy?

    However, whether carbon tax or any other measure is harmful, the one thing that is harmful is rapid carbon change. The whole basis of any policy is studies that conclude reducing emissions is a better long term option than doing nothing.

    By all means feel free to suggest other ways to reduce emission besides pricing carbon. Myself, I am just happy with banning construction of new power plant that emit. Let the market figure out the best alternative.
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  37. Let me buck the trend here and argue that we shouldn't necessarily dismiss someone's claim on the basis of their expertise. It's more complicated than that. I think that it depends on both the forum and the nature of the claim.

    If someone is presenting their opinion, then we should certainly weigh that opinion against their expertise. Faced with multiple contradictorary opinions, we have to look for external metrics to select from among them. Expertise, prior record, vested interested, honesty and other metrics are all relevant in this case.

    If someone is presenting a scientific argument, by which I mean an argument which is structured as evidence based-reasoning as would be published in a peer-reviewed journal, or indeed a summary of such an argument where the full argument is also available, then we no longer need to fall back on expertise and so on. In this case we can evaluate the argument on its merits without reference to the source, and indeed we should do so because otherwise we preclude the possibility of scientists ever making contributions outside their original disciplines.

    I suggest that this gives us an appropriate methodology for evaluating different kinds of arguments. Watts of course fails on both counts - his recent attempt at a scientific contribution falls short on evidence-based evaluation, and his opinions fail on the basis of expertise and a track record of promoting wrong and contradictory material.
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  38. About the only Watts statement in the PBS transcript that isn't simply conservative politics is "Yes, we have some global warming. It’s clear the temperature has gone up in the last 100 years, but what percentage of that is from carbon dioxide and what percentage of that is from the changes in the local and measurement environment?"

    Does Watts agree with 97.5% of climate scientists who say yes to the question: "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" He may in general, but the snippet above implies no.

    The rest of his responses are political except the swipe at Muller. What Watts (along with editing by PBS) did is establish his political view, cast doubt upon the amount of warming caused by CO2, and swipe at Muller. I very much doubt he changed the views of any of the PBS viewers.
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  39. re #37
    I have noticed for several years now that in the US (and maybe elsewhere? Australia?) the "appeal to authority"-fallacy argument is often made (more often by "skeptics") to discredit authoritative voices when it should actually be called "appeal to expertise", which IMHO is not the same. In Europe, especially Germany, where I am from, expertise is usually at least somewhat critically evaluated by journalists. Especially in public television and newspapers. You can trust hearing the facts, and having debunkings presented when expertise is questionable. Non-experts (like Watts) are simply absent (with very few "outliers") from non-internet media, and can only express their doubt-mongering online, where they do not reach the masses. This is a major difference between NA and EU media landscapes.
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  40. gws: I think that's a very useful terminological distinction!
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  41. Another good discussion of the Watts' PBS piece.

    Media Matter's discussion of Watt's obfuscation
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  42. Yet another critical review of the PBS interview of Watts:

    PBS NewsHour Falls Into “Balance” Trap, Provides Megaphone For Anthony Watts , Farron Cousins, DeSmog Blog, Sep 17, 2012

    Dana’s review is still the best of the bunch because he strips away the bombastic rhetoric of Watts to show that Watts's understanding of climate science is a millimeter deep and a kilometer wide.
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  43. When Richard Muller appeared in March 2011 before the House Committee on Science (his full statement is here) he had one recommendation for what the Committee could do in the way of legislation to "advance our knowledge of climate change".

    He called for the creation of a Climate Advanced Research Project Agency, or Climate-ARPA, saying it "could help".

    He went on:

    "Without the efforts of Anthony Watts and his team, we would have only a series of anecdotal images of poor temperature stations, and we would not be able to evaluate the integrity of the data. This is a case in which scientists receiving no government funding did work crucial to our understanding climate change. Similarly for the work done by Steve McIntyre. Their "amateur" science is not amateur in quality; it is true science, conducted with integrity and high standards. Government policy needs to encourage such work. Climate-ARPA could be an organization that provides quick funding to worthwhile projects whether they support or challenge current understanding"

    PBS could have asked Muller what he thinks of "true" scientists of "integrity" who have such "high standards", eg Watts, now.
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  44. Dale @ 7

    Einstein didn't even have a degree (let alone a PhD) when he published his theory of relativity in his 20's. He was a patent office clerk. His PhD was given to him well later.

    I don't know where you get your information from but according to Wikipedia Einstein had completed a 4 year mathematics and physics teaching diploma at Zurich Polytechnic which I would guess was probably at least as formidable a qualification as a modern BSc. Describing him as a clerk at the patent office is a bit condescending - he was in fact an assistant examiner. He completed his PhD thesis in April of 1905 and submitted his paper on what was to become known as the theory of relativity in June of that year and it was published in September.
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  45. SW: "He completed his PhD thesis in April of 1905 and submitted his paper on what was to become known as the theory of relativity in June of that year and it was published in September."

    Dale, of all the myriad differences between Watts and Einstein, there's the most important for this situation: Einstein was developing a theory. Watts is developing doubt. Watts has no interest in scientific progress. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that he is actively attacking the scientific project through the decisions he makes about blog content and comment streams. The surface stations project is/was not an attempt to add to science. Watts fought revision the whole way, and he's fought criticism the whole way after publication. Since the results of the first project didn't fit the required message, he tried to do it again in a slightly different way. Fail. I know that he triggers the underdog response in many people, but what do we gain by giving Watts wide play? Baseless confusion and doubt. If Watts says there is doubt and shakes a graph at non-experts, then there is doubt. There's already a mechanism for skepticism built in to science. It's worked quite well for a few centuries. It's very hard to work around, especially in a dynamic, hyperintegrated, and large field. Watts' doubt is not being cast toward the science; it's being cast toward the public. That alone should trigger warning bells.
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  46. DSL: I think you've made a critical point here.

    To underline it, I think any analysis would conclude that climate science is knowledge-seeking - it is developing a single unified understanding of climate, consistent with observations and with the laws of physics. Details change in the light of new evidence, but the size of the changes is declining, i.e. the process is gradually converging.

    By contrast, most climate skepticism is knowledge-avoiding, and thus is correctly classified as a form of denial. Climate skeptics are almost without exception not building a comprehensive and consistent understanding of reality - often they raise problems with existing theories without any interest in providing an alternative understanding, or they advance explanations which address microcosms of the data without attempting to fit them into a broader understanding (e.g. the Humlum paper), or they simply look for evidence that the science is unknowable.

    The distinction is somewhat congruent to Lakatos' distinction between progressive and degenerate research programs,

    Of course raising problems with existing theories is a valuable activity if done within a knowledge-seeking framework. I guess one source of confusion to the public is in the distinction between a paper which critiques a theory in order to increase knowledge and one which critiques a theory in order to avoid knowledge.
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  47. As I said before I didn't think it was necessary that bad. Of course, it's one simple mind of the general public. But I did feel that they did spend too much time for Mr. Watt and they should have had someone from NASA or NOAA for a counter view.

    However, you can't suppress every skeptic voice no matter how absurd they sound scientifically to you. Over reacting of suppression or dismissal sounds suspicious rather. People will hear their voices no matter how much you wish it is not fair. You have to be confident that you can let them state their points and you state your points, and you can confidently let people decide. You'd have to have that poise. You can't have every TV show, news article or whatever in media to not to show skeptics today. It becomes it doesn't matter how much they scream when they'd sound absurd to the public. I don't think getting too emotional and blaming the messanger is a good idea. I don't have any objection that you complain to PBC though. you need more allies not more of dissents.

    Main point was that half of our lawmakers still believe AGW is a hoax despite the 97% of climate scientists, so the show stated and that's because of people like Mr. Watt. And I don't think they said he was a climate scientist.
    I didn't think it was bad, to be honest. I wished they showed a climate scientist from NASA or NOAA as I said before but I thibk they sort of assumed more of the public already know. i guess you may hate me now.
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  48. Mole @32 - This isn't the place to talk about carbon pricing, but the European Union and its (27, I think) member states have had a carbon emissions trading system in place since 2005. Australia is about to join it. It's not yet global, but there are major international economies participating.

    The rebuttal also isn't just an appeal to authority/expertise - it goes into a lot of detail about how we know carbon pricing will have minimal economic impact, and will be a net benefit to the economy when compared to business as usual/adapting to climate change.

    But if you want to continue this discussion, it should go in another post, for example the 'CO2 limits will harm the economy' rebuttal comments.
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  49. Dana:

    Any truth to the rumor that Watts is about to receive nother big shipment of smoke bombs and mirriors from Koch Industries? He did, after all, use up some of his inventory in the PBS interview.
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  50. Kevin C@46, this is all Feyerabend's fault: seems as if the denialosphere has adopted epistemological anarchism as its Holy Screed!

    The 'mass' of opinion, to which the lesser educated public seems to put a large amount of stock into, is indeed the result of that, and I would posit as support of your statement:

    "Of course raising problems with existing theories is a valuable activity if done within a knowledge-seeking framework. I guess one source of confusion to the public is in the distinction between a paper which critiques a theory in order to increase knowledge and one which critiques a theory in order to avoid knowledge. "

    It all depends on *where* laypersons look for the "knowledge-seeking framework." In many cases, what the "masses" want is confirmation bias, of an already formed, usually negative, opinion of science. they find that framework in the well-funded, highly visible likes of Watts, Lindzen, Christy et al, and that is the main disservice PBS has done, in their interview with Watts.
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