Koch-funded scientist Richard Muller makes up story about Al Gore, Ralph Cicerone, and polar bears

Berkeley Professor Richard Muller, author of widely debunked books, has worked hard to undermine credibility in well-established science and doesn’t have a great grasp of basic climate science (see here) or energy (see “here).

Now, as we’ll see, he has become such a victim of Gore Derangement Syndrome that he fabricated a story about the Nobel prize-winning vice president and a leading scientist.  He also gratuitously smears Tom Friedman.

Laughably, Muller launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study to supposedly restore credibility in the global surface temperature dataset, but he has done everything possible to destroy BEST’s credibility, along with his own.  He has taken money from Charles Koch, the leading funder of climate science denial, created a massive conflict of interest with his family business, allowed hard-core climate science deniers access to BEST’s work product, and apparently even allowed them to work with the team.

In some sense this is too bad because, as Muller revealed in a public talk last week, BEST’s results to date show “We are seeing substantial global warming” and “None of the effects raised by the [skeptics] is going to have anything more than a marginal effect on the amount of global warming.”

Muller, clearly, isn’t a denier like Koch.  But he does share one thing in common with Koch — Gore Derangement Syndrome — and it has driven him to a libelous fabrication, two libels, actually.  Brad Johnson has the story of just how far Muller will go to smear Gore:

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.

Let me add that I spoke to Gore’s office and indeed they confirm they everything Muller said in that clip was a fantasy.  Indeed, they pointed out that everything else Muller says in his entire talk about Gore is false.

First, though, it bears repeating (pun intended?), that as the NYT‘s Revkin blogged in 2009, “There is rising concern among  polar bear biologists that the big recent summertime retreats of sea ice in the Arctic are already harming some populations of these seal-hunting predators. That was one conclusion of the  Polar Bear Specialist Group, a network of bear experts who  met last week in Copenhagen to review the latest data….”

If you watch Muller’s entire talk last Saturday, (which I don’t recommend without multiple head vises), it’s clear that Muller is a volcano of long-debunked denier talking points and misinformation.  I promised to re-debunk him later, and that is a project that will take a number of posts.  But here is what Kalee Kreider wrote me:

-With regards to the Kyoto Protocol, Dr. Muller mis-stated VP Gore’s position on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol was based upon international precedent that was established by the Montreal Protocol (a treaty designed to reduce and ultimately eliminate the chemicals that cause ozone depletion). The Montreal Protocol was designed to allow the industrialized countries to take the first steps while phasing in (generally within a ten year time period) participation by developing countries. Former VP Gore supported the Kyoto Protocol based, as it was, on the Montreal Protocol because it had been so successful in cutting ozone-depleting chemicals and protecting human health and the environment.

-With regards to the movie:

At the time that An Inconvenient Truth was published, several independent sources sought to verify the scientific integrity of the film. I have included them below for your reference:

Associated Press story

Real Climate review

To address some of the specific issues:

-Polar bears. Professor Muller mis-states what VP Gore has said about polar bears [discussed above]

There were a variety of sources for this section including the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

The survival of polar bears as a species is difficult to envisage under conditions of zero summer sea-ice cover,” concludes the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, by leading scientists from the eight Arctic nations, including the United States.

-Glacial retreat/Kilimanjaro. Former Vice President Gore cited the work of Professor Lonnie Thompson (National Medal of Science winner) and other on Kilimanjaro””in the movie and in other talks. Their work was published in the journal Science in 2002. The glacial retreat science is very well established by the NAS, IPCC, and other studies. As Dr. Thompson said recently, “The real message here is that these ice fields will disappear. Whether it is in 10 years or 30 years is not the issue. The fact they will disappear within a few decades, as will many glaciers throughout the tropics, is the real concern,” he said.

-Hurricane science””In An Inconvenient Truth VP Gore said:

“So the temperature increases are taking place all over the world including in the oceans. This is the natural range of variability for temperature in the oceans, you know people say, “oh it’s just natural, it goes up and down, so don’t worry about it.” This is the range that would be expected over the last 60 years. But scientists who specialize in global warming have computer models that long ago predicted this range of temperature increase. Now I’m gonna show you recently released, the actual ocean temperatures. And of course, when the oceans get warmer, that causes stronger storms.”

Former VP Gore did not address the link between climate change, hurricanes and frequency in the film.

-Professor Muller mis-states VP Gore with regards to SLR [sea level rise]. VP Gore has cited SLR estimates if the Greenland ice sheet were to collapse (without giving a time frame) or the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. He makes clear in the movie what the animations are based upon.

“Tony Blair’s scientific advisor has said that because of what’s happening in Greenland right now, the maps of the world will have to be redrawn. If Greenland broke up and melted, or if half of Greenland and half of West Antarctica broke up and melted, this is what would happen to the sea level in Florida.”

He then went on to show other sea level rise animations in the film.

-An Inconvenient Truth did not include a discussion of wildfires. It did include a short discussion of beetle infestations in the West. It was difficult from the video to determine the charts he was using. In general, the IPCC and other major research institutions have cited a link between climate change and wildfires for many years. This research is going on in the US (Westerling et al.) and many other parts of the world CSIRO, etc.

See “Climate change expected to sharply increase Western wildfire burn area “” as much as 175% by the 2050s.”  Even the National Academy of Science accepts that (click here).

Finally, Dr. Muller cites a conversation between VP Gore and the producers of An Inconvenient Truth about the content of the film that did not take place. Dr. Muller was not one of the film’s science advisers.

Anyone who knows the vice president knows that he spends a great deal of time talking to leading climate scientists and reviewing the literature.  He is exceedingly careful in how he uses language in the film, despite the best efforts of others to smear him (see Unstaining Al Gore’s good name 2: He is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements” and is owed a correction and apology by the New York Times and UPDATED: Gore Derangement Syndrome).

If you zoom to the end of Muller’s talk, at one hour, 20 minutes, you’ll find this doubly libelous quote:

Al Gore and Tom Friedman … don’t pay attention to the science, as the example with the polar bears illustrates.

The fabrications about Gore have been debunked, and I don’t even know what the basis of his lie about Friedman is.  They both pay a great deal of attention to the science.

The bottom line is that “the example with the polar bear” illustrates that Richard Muller doesn’t pay attention to the science and that he is a liar.

21 Responses to Koch-funded scientist Richard Muller makes up story about Al Gore, Ralph Cicerone, and polar bears

  1. S. Majumder says:

    Muller sounded more like a lawyer than a scientist. And the acceptance of ‘substantial global warming’ by a disinformer like him probably signals the start of some new upcoming strategy by the denier community.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Muller has clearly unraveled a bit in his old age. The Far Right loves the “Al Gore is getting rich from global warming, and is tied to the Illuminati” meme, and these accusations have about the same amount of truth in them.

  3. Wit's End says:

    Now for Koch Komic relief, the Weakly Standard has a ridiculously long, tortured article portraying them as victims of paranoid liberal politics!

    The depths of deception by the Kochs and their minions are unfathomable.

  4. Don A in Pennsyltucky says:

    Muller is lucky he is at Berkeley and not at Wisconsin. I’m sure that after such a story the chairman of the state Republican Party would want to launch a fishing expedition through his emails.

  5. John Mason says:

    I say again: this stuff from Muller is a classic example WRT how often stuff needs to be repeated (echoed) before people start to think it is real:

    Rachel Maddow nails the whole thing fair and square!

    Cheers – John

  6. MarkB says:

    Definitely seems to be a strong case of Gore Derangement Syndrome. Muller simply inventing a story like this, including quotations, is utterly bizzare.

  7. Jim Groom says:

    Gore Derangement Syndrome. I like that expression and it certainly nails the problem. I’ve never understood why so many folks are so afraid of Al Gore. The man is a messenger not the message. This Muller fellow is wasting time attacking Gore, which in my mind proves he has no argument.

  8. TomG says:

    Polar bears being killed by receding glaciers??
    What on earth do glaciers have to do with polar bears?
    They depend on sea ice, not glaciers.
    This man is smearing and critical of others and yet he makes such an incredible blunder?

  9. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Jim Groom @ 6: This Muller fellow is wasting time attacking Gore,
    Or, that is just what is needed to whip up the denial crowd, since otherwise as you say

    which in my mind proves he has no argument.
    Of course he has no argument, or else he would write for peer review, no Koch money required.

  10. James says:

    You have been very good in the past on giving us a rundown of the witnesses before Congressional panels. Can you do that for the one coming up March 31?


    Dr. J. Scott Armstrong, Professor, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

    Dr. Richard Muller, Professor, University of California, Berkley and Faculty Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

    Dr. John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville

    Mr. Peter Glaser, Partner, Troutman Sanders, LLP.

    Additional Witnesses TBA

  11. Richard Brenne says:

    Muller’s karma on all this is such that someday in whatever dream state or lifetime a polar bear like the one in the Nissan Leaf commercial might similarly visit and give him a bear hug in his driveway, but instead of a trained, photo-shopped bear in a commercial it might be a wild, starving polar bear in a documentary.

    Also Muller’s name, his arrogance and the above reminds me that in eight years at UCLA (the same amount of time Bluto spent at Faber College, I believe) the only bad professor I had was an ultra-arrogant Dr. Braunmuller, who I repeatedly addressed as Bruinmauler, probably explaining my grade. . .

  12. Dana says:

    We’ve started a Muller Misinformation series at Skeptical Science.

    Fabricating an entire conversation between Gore and Cicerone – wow. I think we’ll have to include that in our series.

    As John Cook noted, the ultimate irony is that Muller starts of his lecture saying “There’s no subject I’ve ever worked in in which there is so much misinformation”, and then proceeds to fabricate a bunch of misinformation.

  13. Jay Alt says:

    #10) James –
    Scott Armstrong is an old marketing professor who wrote several books in the 70s-80s on economic forecasting. His books are packed with case studies and examples involving sales and marketing data. If you review them carefully, you’ll note something interesting. Not a single examples uses anything besides statistical models. That is, his modeling makes no attempt to include the slightest bit of real world /physical relevance.

    How does he fit in? Armstrong applies handwaving financial expertise and presumes to critique real scientific modeling. He claims to have discoverd 144? rules of “scientific forecasting”, and that climate models fail dozens of these. His brain is soft and this is nonsense. I looked at his methods with an eye to applying them to some old work on predicting long-term material properties. His work is useless in that regard, as are his uninformed opinions on climate modeling. But he’s a hit at Heartland Conferences among like-minded slummers.

    A years old post by Gavin Schmitt at RC

  14. PurpleOzone says:

    Muller feels very important, as “In a couple of weeks, I’m gonna hafta testify to Congress” and other opening statements.

    He lambasts scientists for overdramatizing, but many of his statements are the more optimistic ends or are out of date. He firmly avers “a 2% increase in cloud cover will negate global warming” while ignoring the GOES data showing high clouds trap energy (although saying late clouds have uncertain effects). He poo-poos the end stage melts in Gore’s movie, saying it’s a thousand years away and then says sea level rise will only be 2 feet by 2100. He ignores the predictions indicating the rise is a meter or more (over 3 feet). He acknowledges the temperature rise due to global warming of ~1/2 degree C but minimizes it’s effect and says that any one person wouldn’t notice. I personally see repeated torrential rains and flooding that didn’t happen until 5 or 10 years ago here (this is born out by statistical analysis as well). He says flatly that while the Arctic is melting, Antarctic ice is growing.

    He does keep stating that global warming is a real and serious problem. It’s just that scientists overstate it. My head is spun so much my neck is twisted. Have fun analyzing the mess, Joe.

  15. PurpleOzone says:

    I’m quitting watching the video. He actually quotes the denier meme that “some scientists” said the tsunami was caused by global warming. climateaudit discussed scientist who said earthquakes can be caused by changes in the ice loading and trigger tsunamis — in a paper published last September, ca didn’t mention the date.

    BTW, New England earthquakes are caused by isostatic rebound of the crust from the last ice age, I think. But they are mild, mag 3, and cause nothing more than extra emergency calls”What was that?”

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    TomG, the ‘polar bears killed by retreating glaciers’ incoherent imbecility shows, in my humble opinion, that either Muller is in the early stages of dementia, or he is peddling his tawdry wares direct to the Dunning-Kruger tendency. They love bellicose, sneering, absurdity, like supporting the ‘clear-felling of LGBT whales’, so that they can parade several of their pet hates at once and think themselves awfully clever and ‘witty’. Actually, I see this confabulation as being, in fact, directed towards the lowest depths of Dunning-Krugerism, what I think of as the ‘Dunning-Kruger-Joyce’ tendency, so named in honour of Australia’s contribution to the denialist stratum with IQs too low to actually measure, the local leader of bumpkin bucolic buffoonery, Senator Barnaby Joyce. Believe me, next to Joyce even Inhofe et all come to resemble Robert Oppenheimer.

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Mulga (#16) – Well you’re right, like Oppenheimer Inhofe can also quote the Bhagavad Gita and say “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

    Of course not from nuclear weapons but from climate change. Carl Sagan and others thought that the answer to the Fermi Paradox (If there are all these civilizations on other planets, why don’t we hear from them) was that it was the nature of civilizations like ours to destroy themselves with nuclear weapons.

    I think if there are other civilizations, it is more likely that they destroy themselves by changing their climates as we are.

    Maybe we should send both Joyce and Inhofe to investigate.

  18. Rob C. says:

    Joe, I think I have to suggest an edit to your title here. Muller really can’t be called a “scientist” any more. He has proven through his words and actions that he has moved on from science into a career in public relations, by trading his scientific credentials for cash.

    I’d say he’s well suited to his new career, displaying the proper amount of “moral flexibility” and willingness to play fast and loose with the facts in order to meet his communication goals. As in lying through his teeth.

    This character is on shakier moral ground than someone peddling meth to gradeschoolers.

  19. Rob C. says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I have a hypothesis regarding “Gore Derangement Syndrome” that I would love feedback on. Google “Al Gore,” then Google “Al Gore” and “Global Warming.” Notice the differences in those first search pages? Also look at the Google stats. Amazing how many people in the Philippines and in India are talking about Al Gore.

    I think this is part of an SEO strategy, which uses Libertarian hatred of the man who destroyed Ross Perot in debate on national television. The PR strategists are simply using wingnuts as a zombie echo chamber to move denialists up the search chain. What they are really after are the vast multitudes who have never thought about this issue, then see An Inconvenient Truth.

    This also suggests an effective response strategy.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Richard Brenne #17, I saw in a discussion of the Fermi Paradox the possibility that predatory species might eliminate other sapient civilizations. The possibility that predatory members of sapient species might so utterly devastate their own civilizations with relentless and literally insatiable parasitic demands on the life-supporting biospheres that they destabilise these systems fatally, immediately occurred to me. For it is certainly true that we are being destroyed by the real ‘enemy within’-our own insatiable, life-destroying and infinitely vicious parasite elites.

  21. Richard Brenne says:

    Mulga (#20) – Again, the colorfulness (and accuracy) of your comments for some reason always puts me in mind of Russell Brand. And again, you’re not him, are you?

    Now to the comparatively trivial matter of the Fermi Paradox and the survival of our species. There are a list of about 50 possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox, with maybe the leading one being that if there were only two fish at either ends of the Pacific it would be hard for them to find each other (although the songs of Humpback whales are thought to have been able to travel the length and breadth of any uninterrupted ocean before motorized shipping).

    Stephen Hawking has brought up how we might want to keep silent because the history on this planet has been for virtually every people who are more advanced technologically (and maybe less advanced spiritually, morally and ethically) to exploit, oppress, enslave and/or kill every group of technologically inferior people they meet. Maybe that is the very nature of Homo Assholis. I’d like to hear more from you and your fellow enlightened Aussie Merrelyn Emery on this.

    I think Merrelyn would say that these are learned cultural traits, not genetically ingrained ones. The counter-argument might be that common chimpanzee (we are all-too-common chimpanzees) males often attack and sometimes even kill members of other groups.

    The counter-counter argument to that is the Bonobo (or Pygmy, or Hippie) chimpanzees who live across the Congo River from the common chimpanzees (and they never meet, since neither can swim and even fewer own boats) get along peacefully with all other groups, mostly by everyone of every age and gender having sex with everyone else much of the time to relieve stress. The Bonobo males having greater amounts of the worst drug ever, testosterone, might have the same tendencies as their common chimp cousins but their matriarchal cultures would make violent males outcasts, so the females keep them in line and keep the culture peaceful.

    I think Hawking’s extrapolating from what we’ve seen in the history of one species to all, most or any other species in the Universe is suspect. But I don’t think that aliens would necessarily give us all the answers, either. We have access to all the answers we need within ourselves, if we just choose to shift our consciousness to where these answers lie. Wanting aliens to show us everything is like wanting the Second Coming of Jesus so you could ignore everything he told you in his first go-around. It’s a theology of sheer laziness. In what other area of human accomplishment (any of the arts, sciences, sports, whatever) does this kind of complete mental laziness achieve better results than sincere, dedicated work?

    Where Hawking especially goes off the rails is saying that we should leave Anthro-Earth and inhabit other planets. This demonstrates how even the most brilliant people like Hawking can be Dunning-Krugerites in other fields, in this case biology. We couldn’t sustain life in the Biosphere 2 project with everything supposedly on hand, and the complexity of natural eco-systems is far beyond human understanding and replication.

    We would need to find a planet with the eco-systems already in place. . .and then we would destroy that planet as well, like Rupert Murdoch does with every media outlet he’s ever bought as one of the finest and most complete examples of Homo Assholis.