Posted by: Barry Bickmore | September 13, 2011

Deseret News Article on L’Affaire Spencer

The Deseret News has published an article on Wolfgang Wagner’s resignation over the Spencer and Braswell paper Remote Sensing published.  Since it’s a local paper, which always highlights any local angles, the article highlighted my review of Spencer’s book, The Great Global Warming Blunder, and whatever it might have contributed to Wagner’s decision–which is speculation, since he didn’t mention any specific sources of criticism that might have contributed to his decision.  (In my opinion, any contribution I might have made was probably overhyped.  I told the reporter all about what had happened, but emphasized that the main critique of S&B’s paper before the resignation was Trenberth and Fasullo’s, and they just mentioned my earlier critique as an example of how Spencer has a habit of abusing statistics to squeeze a low climate sensitivity out of a 1-box climate model.  I did, however, note that Spencer was up to some of the same old tricks in the paper, e.g., he was using a weird value for the ocean mixed layer depth, which affected his results.)

The article actually made me feel some sympathy for Roy Spencer.  Reporters are generally not trained in any science, so it really is a stretch for them to boil a science story down to a level the general public can understand.  If you don’t have a significantly deeper understanding to begin with, the “boiling down” process inevitably leads to some errors.  When Roy was criticized for feeding the media frenzy over his paper, he said,

I had nothing to do with James Taylor’s article. It might have been a little over the top on interpretation (but not necessarily wrong).

In this case, I don’t think the Deseret News reporter did a bad job, but I wouldn’t have written exactly the same thing.  She made some errors here and there.  (E.g., she misidentified Roy’s book that I critiqued–I’ve never read Climate Confusion.  Trenberth and Fasullo’s blog post came after S&B’s paper, not before, but the blog post mentioned a paper by Trenberth, Fasullo, O’Dell, and Wong that was published previously and should have been addressed by S&B.  Also, I don’t think my quoted statements were always exactly right, or at least the context was sometimes a tiny bit blurry.)  But then, I’m sure she was going on hastily written notes, and at least she e-mailed me to clarify a few things before she went to press.

In the end, the reporter got across that I thought S&B were playing fast and loose with their statistics, and that I had previously demonstrated that Roy had repeatedly done something similar in the past.

So what should I do?  If I were to refrain from saying anything, or act as if the newspaper article were 100% accurate, I’m sure I would be lambasted on many a contrarian blog.  (I’m sure I will be, in any case.)  At the same time, I don’t want to be too critical of the reporter, who was pushed into the deep end and really tried to get the facts straight before her deadline.  Certainly I think she got across a message that her audience needed to hear, especially since the Deseret News recently published an article in which they used the S&B paper to illustrate the point that human-induced climate change is still “controversial” among climate scientists.

So there you have it.  I’ve seen a lot worse, and I think the core message was on target, but there were a few problems.  If anyone has any problem with something I was quoted as saying in the article, please comment below, and I’ll provide more context.



  1. Nup. No problem here.

    In fact, apart from the ‘Climate Confusion’ clanger, I think the reporter did a pretty good job too.

  2. On the subject of local newspapers, did you read the full-page editorial in the Daily Herald (local rag for Utah Valley) yesterday? All the denier talking points present: “phony consensus”, talk of CERN and clouds such that “all warming theories have to go back to the drawing board”, a photo of Monckton, that scientists are promoting AGW for the research dollars, etc etc.

    • Yep. I saw it. The best part was where they (for the second time in a few weeks) said that CERN scientists had concluded cosmic rays affect the climate much more than previously thought. I pointed out to the editors the first time that the first author of that paper had specifically denied that they could come to any such conclusion, at this point. Jim Tynan wrote back to me that he could “read between the lines.” I would call him a liar, but I think he really does think he can read these scientists’ minds and tell the public what they REALLY think.

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