Dr. Richard Muller is an iconoclastic physicist with contrarian beliefs about climate policy. He is leading the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, a private project to replicate existing global temperature records that is funded by billionaires Bill Gates and Charles Koch. Unlike Koch, Muller recognizes that fossil fuel pollution is threatening civilization, Muller argues that existing climate policy is corrupt and misguided, and that many leading climate scientists are guilty of academic fraud — just as Koch argues. “With the uncertainty and the politicization of the science so far,” Charles Koch told the Weekly Standard, “to go spend trillions of dollars a year changing the whole world economy to satisfy something this uncertain, because you have some religious zealots like Al Gore going around preaching this—it doesn’t make sense.”
As with Koch, a particular target of Muller’s righteous scorn is Vice President Al Gore, whom he calls an “extremist” and “alarmist.” In a recent lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, Muller told an anecdote to support his personal attacks on Gore. Muller claimed that Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was lambasted by esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ralph Cicerone, the head of the National Academy of Sciences:
Al Gore, when he talks about the polar bears being killed by the receding glaciers, no basis for that. In fact, let me jump ahead and tell a little story. Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy, said there are lots of things wrong in his movie, and Al Gore asked him to come and explain this to him, and he did come. And he said, “Well, what’s wrong with my movie?”
“Well, lots of things, like the polar bears. We track polar bears. Not a single polar bear has died because of retreating ice.”
And Al Gore turned to his movie producer and said, “So, why did we put that in?” The movie producer said, “Well, it really gets people emotionally involved.”
See, this is what politicians do. They put in things that they consider a real danger that represents what they consider to be reality. Doesn’t matter if it’s technically true or not. So, there’s so much misinformation on this field. Global warming is real. I am deeply concerned about it. I am leading a major study on global warming. But most of what made the newspaper headlines is either wrong, or backward, or simply exaggerated.
Muller’s story is not “technically true.” In fact, it’s false. The meeting between Gore and Cicerone that Muller describes is apocryphal. A fiction. A lie.
After ThinkProgress queried Cicerone’s office, Bill Skane, the Executive Director of News & Public Information for the National Academy of Sciences explained in an email that the supposed conversation never took place:
There was no meeting or conversation between Dr. Cicerone and Vice President Gore or his film producer regarding An Inconvenient Truth and thus no comment about polar bears. We’ve contacted Dr. Muller today about his speech and are hoping to hear back from him.
“Thanks for taking the time to check this material before using it in something you might write,” Skane concluded. “Dr. Muller’s remarks regarding Dr. Cicerone were in error.”
Gore’s spokesperson Kalee Kreider confirmed to ThinkProgress that the Cicerone-Gore confrontation was a fantasy.
Not only did the conversation not take place, Muller’s depiction of An Inconvenient Truth was false as well. Here’s the transcript of what Gore actually said about polar bears in his documentary, which was released in 2006:
Right now, the Arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror, all the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90%. It keeps the Earth cooler, but as it melts, and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead, more than 90% is absorbed, so there is a faster buildup of heat here, at the North Pole, in the Arctic Ocean, and the Arctic generally than anywhere else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears, who depend on the ice. They’re now, actually, looking for other ecological niches. It is sad what’s going on in the Arctic ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, Cicerone said essentially the same thing a year before Gore’s documentary came out, in testimony before the U.S. Senate:
The Arctic has warmed at a faster rate than the Northern Hemisphere over the past century. A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2004) reports that this warming is associated with a number of impacts including: melting of sea ice, which has important impacts on biological systems such as polar bears, ice-dependent seals and local people for whom these animals are a source of food; increased rain and snow, leading to changes in river discharge and tundra vegetation; and degradation of the permafrost.
Both Gore and Cicerone’s statements succinctly summarized the known science on the radical changes of the Arctic ecosystem and the threat to polar bears. In the Hudson Bay, for example, where sea ice breaks up three weeks earlier than it did in 1980, the average weight of female polar bears had dropped by about 21 percent, and the population declined by 22 percent, by 2004.
Since An Inconvenient Truth, the situation has grown increasingly dire for the Arctic. The rate of Arctic sea ice decline has increased precipitously, from a decline of 8.6 percent per decade to 11.5 percent per decade. In 2005, five of 19 polar bear subpopulations were known to be in decline (5 stable, 2 increasing, 7 unknown); by 2009, eight of the 19 subpopulations were known to be in decline (3 stable, one increasing, 7 unknown).
Muller is testifying before the House science committee on climate science and policy this Thursday.
At Skeptical Science, John Cook explains how Richard Muller smeared Michael Mann. He misquoted one of the “Climategate emails” as saying “Let’s use Mike’s trick to hide the decline” — when in fact it said “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Muller transformed a questionable decision by Phil Jones to smooth a tree-ring temperature proxy with actual temperature data in cover art for a World Meteorological Organization summary report (not in a scientific article) into a scientific conspiracy to deceive other scientists.