Like father, like son: Roger Pielke Sr. also doesn’t understand the science of global warming — or just chooses to willfully misrepresent it.

UPDATE:  For a compilation of debunkings of Roger Pielke, Jr. by leading scientists and science bloggers (see “Foreign Policy’s “Guide to Climate Skeptics” includes Roger Pielke, Jr.“)

RealClimate has just eviscerated Roger Pielke, Sr. in an important post, “More bubkes.”  I am going to excerpt it at length because:

  1. It thoroughly debunks some now-standard denier talking points on sea level rise, ocean heat content, and Arctic sea ice that the Pielkes, WattsUpWithThat, Inhofe, George Will and others have been pushing.
  2. It has some excellent figures, including ones from the recent major peer-reviewed synthesis report of climate science since the 2007 IPCC report (which I wrote about here).
  3. Pielke Sr. accused me of “a failure to understand the physics of global warming and cooling” in a post (here) about ocean heat content (which was gleefully reprinted by the anti-scientific website WattsUpWithThat), even though, as RealClimate definitively shows, it is Pielke who either fails to understand the science or chooses to willfully misrepresent it.

In my post “Breaking: NOAA puts out ‘El Ni±o Watch,’ so record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record,” I had noted that Pielke Sr. loves to cherry-pick climate data over short time spans to make misleading scientific claims about climate.  Climate, of course, is about long-term trends.

The basis for Pielke’s claim I don’t understand the science of climate:  “There are peer reviewed analyses that document that upper ocean warming has halted since 2003….  Even the last few years of the Levitus et al 2009 paper shows this lack of warming (see).”  And then he links to his discussion of that paper and puts up this figure:

What serious climate scientist would look at that data and have the nerve to tell the public it documents that upper ocean warming has halted since 2003.  If you wanted to play this game — and game is a kind word for this willful attempt to mislead the public — you could much more truthfully say “upper ocean warming has soared since 2002.”  But both statements are beside the point.

How could any serious climate scientist possibly look at such noisy data, which is full of short-term gyrations and brief, multi-year periods of little obvious warming — but an unmistakable upward trend for decades — and have the audacity to pick the year right after a staggeringly rapid increase in upper ocean warming as the basis of his public pronouncements on this issue?  And Pielke Sr. has the chutzpah to say my writing exhibits “a failure to understand the physics of global warming and cooling.”  Doctor — heal thyself.  It’s sad, really, since, unlike his son, he is actually a “climatologist.”

Pielke Sr. tries the same crap on the climate scientists of RealClimate — and their devastating must-read response should end forever any notion that Roger Pielke, Sr. is a credible source on climate science:

Roger Pielke Sr. has raised very strong allegations against RealClimate in a recent blog post. Since they come from a scientific colleague, we consider it worthwhile responding directly.

The statement Pielke considers “misinformation” is a single sentence from a recent posting:

Some aspects of climate change are progressing faster than was expected a few years ago — such as rising sea levels, the increase of heat stored in the ocean and the shrinking Arctic sea ice.

First of all, we are surprised that Pielke levelled such strong allegations against RealClimate, since the statement above merely summarises some key findings of the Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Climate Congress, which we discussed last month. This is a peer-reviewed document authored by 12 leading scientists and “based on the 16 plenary talks given at the Congress as well as input of over 80 chairs and co-chairs of the 58 parallel sessions held at the Congress.” If Pielke disagrees with the findings of these scientists, you’d have thought he’d take it up with them rather than aiming shrill accusations at us. But in any case let us look at the three items of alleged misinformation:

1. Sea level. The Synthesis Report shows the graph below and concludes:

Since 2007, reports comparing the IPCC projections of 1990 with observations show that some climate indicators are changing near the upper end of the range indicated by the projections or, as in the case of sea level rise (Figure 1), at even greater rates than indicated by IPCC projections.

This graph is an update of Rahmstorf et al., Science 2007, with data through to the end of 2008. (Note the comparison is with IPCC TAR projections, but since AR4 projections are within 10% of the TAR models this makes little difference.)

Pielke claims this is “NOT TRUE” (capitals and bold font are his), stating “sea level has actually flattened since 2006” and pointing to this graph. This graph shows a sea level trend over the full satellite period (starting 1993) of 3.2 +/- 0.4 mm/year and is very similar to an independent French analysis of those very same satellite data shown in the Synthesis Report (blue lines above). The best estimate of the IPCC models for the same time period is 1.9 mm/year (coloured dashed lines in the middle of the grey uncertainty range). Hence the conclusion of the Synthesis Report is entirely correct.

The “flattening of sea level since 2006” that Pielke refers to is beside the point and deceptive for several reasons (note too that Anthony Watts has extended this even further to declare that sea level from 2006 to present is actually “flat”!). First of all, trends over such a short sub-interval of a few years vary greatly due to short-term natural variations, and one could get any result one likes by cherry-picking a suitable interval (as Pielke and Lomborg both have). The absurdity of this approach is seen by picking an even more recent trend, say starting in June 2007, which gives 5.3+/-2.2 mm/yr! Secondly, this short-term trend (1.6 +/- 0.9 mm/yr) is not even robust across data sets — the French analysis shown above has a trend since the beginning of 2006 of 2.9 mm/year, very similar to the long-term trend. Third, the image Pielke links to shows the data without the inverted barometer correction — the brief marked peak in late 2005, which makes the visual trend (always a poor choice of statistical methodology) almost flat since then, disappears when this effect is accounted for. This means the 2005 peak was simply due to air pressure fluctuations and has nothing to do with climatic ocean volume changes. The trend from 2006 in the data with the inverse barometer adjustment is 2.1 +/- 0.8 mm/yr.

2. Ocean heat content. The Synthesis Report states:

Current estimates indicate that ocean warming is about 50% greater than had been previously reported by the IPCC.

This is a conclusion of a revised analysis of ocean heat content data by Domingues et al., Nature 2008, and it applies to the period 1961-2003 also analysed in the IPCC report. Pielke claims this is “NOT TRUE” and counters with the claim: “There has been no statistically significant warming of the upper ocean since 2003.” But again this is not relevant to the point the Synthesis Report actually makes and again, Pielke is referring to a 5-year period which is too short to obtain statistically robust trends in the presence of short-term variability and data accuracy problems (the interannual variability for instance differs greatly between different ocean heat content data sets):

Levitus et al comparison of Ocean heat content data

For good reasons, the Synthesis Report discusses a time span that is sufficiently long to allow meaningful comparisons. But in any case, the trend in from 2003 to 2008 in the Levitus data (the Domingues et al data does not extend past 2003), is still positive but with an uncertainty (both in the trend calculation and systematically) that makes it impossible to state whether there has been a significant change.

3. Arctic Sea Ice. The Synthesis Report states:

One of the most dramatic developments since the last IPCC Report is the rapid reduction in the area of Arctic sea ice in summer. In 2007, the minimum area covered decreased by about 2 million square kilometres as compared to previous years. In 2008, the decrease was almost as dramatic.

This decline is clearly faster than expected by models, as the following graph indicates.

Pielke’s claim that this is “NOT TRUE” is merely based on the statement that “since 2008, the anomalies have actually decreased.”

Yes, same thing again: Pielke’s argument is beside the point, since the Synthesis Report is explicitly talking about the summer sea ice minimum reached each September in the Arctic, and we don’t even know yet what its value will be for 2009. And Pielke is again referring to a time span (“since 2008“!) that is far too short to have much to do with climatic trends.

We thus have to conclude that there are no grounds whatsoever for Pielke’s wild allegations against us and implicitly the Synthesis Report authors. The final sentence of his post ironically speaks for itself:

Media and policymakers who blindly accept these claims are either naive or are deliberately slanting the science to promote their particular advocacy position.


Yes, Pielke actually wrote that the scientific observation that Arctic sea that is “progressing faster than was expected a few years ago” is NOT TRUE because of data “since 2008.”  What’s next, Dr. Pielke, we are going to to tell the public that the climate didn’t change since a week ago?

If a graduate student had tried this crap during a thesis defense, he would be denied his degree and thrown out of the Ph.D. program.

It simply boggles the mind to see someone who was once considered a serious climate scientist descend into this kind of desperate misinformation — which is all the sadder for him because it is here permanently in the blogosphere for everyone to seek, including, one hopes, the media.

If you didn’t know beforehand that this guy was Roger Pielke, Jr.’s father, it certainly wouldn’t come as a big surprise:

And again, let me end with the warning sign that should flash in every journalist’s mind when they read or hear a statement by anyone named “Roger Pielke”:


22 Responses to Like father, like son: Roger Pielke Sr. also doesn’t understand the science of global warming — or just chooses to willfully misrepresent it.

  1. Dano says:

    He also cherry-picked the glacial record to imply in early 2007 that alpine glaciers are not in retreat. But since ‘early’ 2007 is imprecise, my assertion will be touted as wrong by RP Sr.



  2. ken levenson says:

    The Pielkes, the Cheneys of climate science.

  3. Seth Masia says:

    In 2007 I took a graduate course from Roger Pielke Jr, in environmental policy. I like him personally; we had some disagreements about the value of economics as a predictive discipline. And I’m familiar with his father’s through a paper I did on the history of climate modelling.

    Both men trained, and did significant early work, in mesoscale meteorology. They’ve both expanded their interests in recent years — father into climatology, son into social sciences. But it looks to me as if they’re both still working from regional rather than global conceptual frameworks. They’re both very suspicious of grand models encompassing worldwide systems over thousands of years. They both prefer to address local and regional problems on timescales measurable in hours, weeks and months. I don’t think they’re evil. I think they’re mesoscale myopics.

    It’s important, in talking to any scientist, to be aware of the dramatic line between meteorologists, who think in terms of minutes and hours, and climatologists, who think in terms of millenia. One of the reasons it’s taken 150 years to figure out global warming mechanisms is that neither group was conceptually prepared to think of climate change as something that could happen in decades. It’s very similar to the paradigm wall that kept geologists from recognizing the evidence of plate tectonics for the better part of a century.

  4. MarkB says:

    “If a graduate student had tried this crap during a thesis defense, he would be denied his degree and thrown out of the Ph.D. program.”

    Yeah, but contrarians would just claim elitist bias and that such an action would be part of the global warming conspiracy.

    I commented on the RC post regarding Pielke. Given he’s one of the few “skeptics” who has published good work in the field, I can honestly say he’s much better than this. This is the kind of argument one would expect on a blog of much poorer quality. After a series of easily-refutable talking points, Pielke ends with:

    “Media and policymakers who blindly accept these claims are either naive or are deliberately slanting the science to promote their particular advocacy position. ”

    His arguments are inane. Thus, he’s essentially saying that anyone who doesn’t support these bad arguments are stupid or dishonest.

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Here is a not-much-fun research project:

    When did Roger Pielke descend into denialism and fraud?
    How did Roger Pielke descend into denialism and fraud?

    (Maybe it’s two projects, one for Sr and one for Jr.)
    I’m guessing that they got angry at folks for disagreeing with them, and not simply that they got bought by ExxonMobil.)

  6. Dano says:

    RP Sr has a paper on the 2002 Colo drought that I continue to cite, as his conclusions about the drought are exactly what policymakers need to hear. He has some other papers that are good as well, which is what makes his silly obfuscation — bordering on denial — so maddening.



  7. Jim Beacon says:

    Here’s a classic example of how decades of denier lies and propaganda have influenced the thought processes of even those who consciously know better:

    It shows up in an article from Reuters appearing today on The article is generally a very well researched and written report on the global decline of the ocean’s seagrass beds. But at the end of the 8th paragraph the unsuspecting reader will stumble across this subtle zinger: “Many scientists believe greenhouse gases are causing the world to warm, leading to a host of environmental effects including warming and rising oceans.”

    Huh? “Many” scientists “believe”?

    How about ALL scientists worthy of the name *know* for a fact that greenhouse gases are causing the world to warm?

    Now maybe the author, Jim Loney, or his editor, Mohammad Zargham, hedged the statement like that consciously, but I kind of doubt it considering the tone of the rest of the article. They are probably just two more victims who have heard the claim about GHG warming being “just a theory” and that there is “no scientific consensus” so many times over the decades that they now just automatically think of it as still an unproven theory and so hedge any statement when they write about it.

    Which is, of course, exactly what the denier strategy is all about: Sow doubt and keep sowing doubt year after year after year no matter what. Because doubt, even subtle sub-conscious doubt, leads to a hesitancy to take action.

  8. ken levenson says:

    Like Sarkozy said, Jean-Marie Le Pen is nice personally….

    The Pielkes have earned banishment from climate science discourse…

  9. paulm says:

    But it has risen since 2003!

  10. paulm says:

    That sea extent graph is scary!

  11. Seth is correct about the dividing line between those trained as Meteorologists and those who study climate.

    I myself was dismissive of anything climate related because it dealt with forecasts more than 7-10 days in the future! It takes time to get your head around the totally different way of doing things that the climate folks must use.

    That said, more and more Meteorologists are spending the time to learn the science and then (for those who have a real science background) most “get it”. I hear of converts from skepticism almost daily now, among those who work in my field.

  12. This is one more example of obfuscating short-term vs. long-term trends in noisy data. I put together an animated illustration of the problem, based on a suggestion from John Mashey, but there’s no convincing the willfully ignorant.

  13. Florifulgurator says:

    I used to ridicule even an educated layperson for misreading noisy time series. I thought it can’t be that difficult to see (look and comprehend) what the data says. Now PSr is outdoing the no-warmin-since-1998 wackoes?!? That would amount to either 1) total scientific illiteracy, or 2) audience-insulting fraudulency, or 3) insanity

  14. Florifulgurator says:

    (Q: How can I put a picture next to my name?)

  15. ken levenson says:

    on your first point – I think their analysis and much of the denier analysis can be boiled down to two words: bad faith. Acting in bad faith undermines everything.

    regarding picture – i think it’s tied to one’s registration on

  16. john says:

    Good debunking —

    One point: we need to stop talking about Acrtic sea ice in terms of aerial extent. What matters is ice volume, and to a lesser extent, ice age. And what’s clear is that there is far less ice overall than there has been for eons.

  17. Yuebing says:

    It is so late in the day. We have come down to a few short years in which to deal with this.

    W-M moves forward, and the EU is talking about a global binding target of 30% by 2020 out of Copenhagen.

    The efficiency gains brought by W-M will more than compensate for the expense of acheiving them. Every body wins.

    Why is Pielke Sr. chumming around with the paranoids over at Watts’? Feeding the machine which seeks to defeat efforts to literally save the planet?

    Rogers Pielke, go look at the trees.

  18. dhogaza says:

    What matters is ice volume, and to a lesser extent, ice age. And what’s clear is that there is far less ice overall than there has been for eons.

    It’s clear, but there’s no data available to quantify it. The US Navy data levered into the public arena by Gore is a partial dataset, and of course the fact that so much of the ice up there is now first-year ice makes clear the volumes much lower. But there’s nothing available to lead to a delta meters^3 loss figure that has any reasonable precision.

    So AFAIK we’re pretty much stuck with “far less” rather than being able to say *how much* less …

  19. Dano says:

    So AFAIK we’re pretty much stuck with “far less” rather than being able to say *how much* less …

    But it is still an adequate indicator. What makes it problematic is for r/t monitoring for assessment of management strategies.

    That is: it is good enough to tell us something bad is going on. It is not good enough as a dataset to use as a close monitor.



  20. “If a graduate student had tried this crap during a thesis defense, he would be denied his degree and thrown out of the Ph.D. program.”
    He wouldn’t get into an undergraduate program in science or engineering. BUT, there are plenty of people who can’t read a graph and plenty of people who are only going to hear the comments on the radio while driving. The Big Lie technique works. The human brain has many foibles.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    It does.

  22. David says:

    Can you take a minute to comment on Pielk, Jr et al’s article in Nature titled “Dangerous assumptions” (