Patrick Michaels: Cato’s Climate Expert Has History Of Getting It Wrong

Shauna Theel via Media Matters

A review of claims made by the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels over the last quarter century shows that he has repeatedly been proven wrong over time. Michaels is one of a few contrarian climate scientists who is often featured in the media without disclosure of his funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Patrick Michaels’ Losing Bets

On Temperature Trends…Michaels “Bet” In 1999 There Would Be A “Statistically Significant Cooling Trend” From 1998 To 2008. In a Cato post that was later published as a Washington Times op-ed, according to Nexis, Patrick J. Michaels wrote that he would place a “bet” that “the 10 years ending on December 31, 2007, will show a statistically significant global cooling trend in temperatures measured by satellite”:

I’m willing to wager two things. First, I’ll bet that anyone who said global warming is an overblown bunch of hooey had a terrible time at this year’s holiday cocktail parties. Second, I’ll take even money that the 10 years ending on December 31, 2007, will show a statistically significant global cooling trend in temperatures measured by satellite. […]

Last year was so warm that it induces a statistically significant warming trend in the satellite data. Thus the second bet: Starting with 1998, there will almost certainly be a statistically significant cooling trend in the decade ending in 2007. [Cato, 1/18/99]

Satellite Records For That Decade Showed No Statistically Significant Trend. From 1998 to 2008, the University of Alabama in Huntsville satellite record shows a warming trend that is not statistically significant at the 95 percent level (a warming of 0.074°C per decade plus or minus 0.439°C). The Remote Sensing Systems satellite record shows a cooling trend that is not statistically significant at the 95 percent level (a change in temperature of -0.053°C per decade plus or minus 0.425 °C). The three surface temperature records showed a “warming trend” for that time period according to a Skeptical Science report on a 2008 paper by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. [Calculated using Skeptical Science’s Temperature trend calculator, 7/1/13] [Skeptical Science, 1/10/13]


Michaels’ New Bet: “We Are Going To Go Nearly A Quarter Of A Century Without Warming.” In a Washington Times op-ed in January 2013, Michaels stated “it’s a pretty good bet that we are going to go nearly a quarter of a century without warming.” [The Washington Times, 1/17/13]

On Ice Ages…Michaels Makes An “Easy Prediction” That By 2000 The “Vogue Environmental Calamity Will Be An Ice Age.” Michaels wrote in a 1992 Washington Times op-ed:

About 15 years ago it was all the rage in the climate business to proclaim the coming ice age. […]

Here’s an easy prediction: By the year 2000, plus or minus a few, the vogue environmental calamity will be an ice age. And this nouvelle apocalypse, revised version, will predict that global warming will cause sea level to fall, exposing Bangladesh to wrenching cultural changes, and therefore we should give more money to the Third World. [The Washington Times, 2/11/92, via Nexis]

Michaels’ Failed Prediction Based On Misrepresentation Of Scientific History. There has been a persistent increase in temperatures and continuing warnings about the impacts of climate change from scientists and advocates, contrary to Michaels’ prediction.

[World Meteorological Association, 2013, via The Washington Post]

Furthermore, as a review published by the American Meteorological Society concluded, there was no consensus about a “coming ice age” in the scientific literature in the 1970s:

There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then. […]

When the myth of the 1970s global cooling scare arises in contemporary discussion over climate change, it is most often in the form of citations not to the scientific literature, but to news media coverage. […]

Even cursory review of the news media coverage of the issue reveals that, just as there was no consensus at the time among scientists, so was there also no consensus among journalists. For example, these are titles from two New York Times articles: “Scientists ask why world climate is changing; major cooling may be ahead” (Sullivan 1975a) and “Warming trend seen in climate; two articles counter view that cold period is due” (Sullivan 1975b). Equally juxtaposed were The Cooling (Ponte 1976), which was published the year after Hothouse Earth (Wilcox 1975).However, the news coverage of the time does reflect what New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin calls “the tyranny of the news peg,” based on the idea that reporters need a “peg” on which to hang a story. [Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 2/8/08]

On Green Technology…Michaels In 2001: Prius Will “Never” Deliver Profit For Toyota. In a Washington Times op-ed Michaels declared that the Prius would “never” make a profit for Toyota and suggested that demand would always be “weak” because “no one except diehard technophiles and hyper-greens are willing to shell out several thousand extra for a hybrid”:

Last year, the Big Three participants — Ford, GM and Daimler-Chrysler — got around to building their first hybrid gas-electric prototypes. By then it was obvious that the technology would not work in anything approaching a cost-effective fashion. Why did they continue?

Two nonparticipants — Honda (Insight) and Toyota (Prius) — had already demonstrated the futility of trying to produce the impossible cheaply. And both were in the process of finding out that gas is so inexpensive in this country (despite its 40 cents per gallon tax) that no one except diehard technophiles and hyper-greens are willing to shell out several thousand extra for a hybrid. […]

Honda’s prototype, the JV-X, was completed in 1997. Toyota’s was even earlier, as the Japanese Prius was first sold in 1997. Years before the Big Three bothered to finish their prototypes, both Toyota and Honda let it be known they were losing big bucks on these cars, and neither company, when pressed, would say if or when they would make a profit on them. That’s because the answers are no and never.

Amazingly, and despite largely glowing reviews and favorable articles by our green press, demand has been weak. [The Washington Times, 8/20/01]

Four Months Later, Toyota Announces It Is Making A Profit On Prius. The Los Angeles Times reported at the time in an article titled “Toyota Says It’s Now Turning A Profit On The Hybrid Prius”:

Toyota Motor Corp. said it is starting to make a profit from its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid car, four years after introducing the low-pollution vehicle.

Higher production volume of the Prius, introduced in Japan in 1997 and in the U.S. last year, and technological gains are helping the costs of its advanced battery and electrical components, said Hiroyuki Watanabe, Toyota’s senior managing director for hybrid and fuel-cell systems. [Los Angeles Times, 12/19/01]

Prius Now World’s Third Best-Selling Car. Bloomberg reported:

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Prius, a niche oddity when it went on sale 15 years ago, jumped to the world’s third best-selling car line in the first quarter as U.S. demand and incentives in Japan turned the hybrid into a mainstream hit. [Bloomberg, 5/29/12, via Media Matters]

Michaels’ Climate Excuses Didn’t Pan Out

On The Hemispheres…Michaels Mocked IPCC’s “Scary” Assertion That Northern Hemisphere Will Warm Up Faster. From a 1992 op-ed by Michaels in The Washington Times on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assertions in 1990:

IPCC Assertion: “The Northern Hemisphere [where everybody lives and almost all of the world’s food is produced: scary] will warm faster than the Southern. Fact: According to the last 30 years’ data from any source — satellites, ships, or Pop’s thermometer — the opposite has been occurring. Our figure subtracts Southern Hemisphere temperatures from Northern ones since 1950, and if the United Nations is right, the trend line should be going up. Instead, it is pointed significantly downward. The United Nations is using a forecast that has the world turned upside down as a basis to induce major controls on the energy economy. A few pages later, the Policy-makers Summary asserts that “the temperature rise has been broadly similar in both hemispheres.” [The Washington Times, 4/8/92, via Nexis]

Northern Hemisphere Heated Up More Than Southern Hemisphere. Climate Central reported on the results of two studies:

If global warming were a race, the Northern Hemisphere would be winning. It is warming faster than the Southern Hemisphere, with some of the most rapid warming rates on Earth located in the Arctic, where sea and land ice is shrinking and thinning. Not only is the North winning now, but projections show that, largely due to the influence of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, it is likely to widen its lead in the coming decades.

[Climate Central, 4/9/13]

This graph, created using NASA’s Global Maps tool, shows temperature anomalies in both hemispheres from 2000 to 2012, as compared to 1951 to 1980:

[NASA’s Global Maps tool, accessed 7/1/3]

On The Urban Heat Island Effect…Michaels In 1989: Warming Over Last Century May Simply Be “Artificial.” Michaels pushed the idea that “there may have been no global warming to speak of during the last century” and that this was instead “artificial” warming from the urban heat island effect:

Twentieth-century U.S. temperature data, which formed a part of NASA’s congressional testimony last year, hide a drastic warm-measurement bias. NOAA scientist Tom Karl, who arguably knows more about regional climate variation than anyone in the world, has calculated that NASA’s record over the United States has warmed up nearly a degree during this century mainly because cities tend to grow up around their weather stations, not because of the greenhouse effect.

If the effect of urbanization (“artificial” warming) on the temperature record averages the same over the rest of the world (and there’s no reason to believe it doesn’t), then there may have been no global warming to speak of during the last century. Karl’s finding surprised none of us who daily toil with the data. But it should be a major shock to those who are using those figures for policy purposes. [The Washington Post, 1/8/89, via Nexis]

A Peer-Reviewed Study Found “No Evidence” That Temperature Trends Are “Inflated Due To Poor Station Siting.” A 2010 peer-reviewed study by NOAA scientists and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research addressed the issue of temperature stations sited near heat sources and found “no evidence” that the temperature trends “are inflated due to poor station siting.” Peter Thorne of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center referenced the study, and told The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin that “if anything, we are under-estimating the real world warming trends for the contiguous United States.” [Journal of Geophysical Research, 6/8/10] [The New York Times, 7/30/12]


On Nighttime Warming…Michaels: Warming Is Only During Nighttime, Which Is Beneficial. From a 1991 article by The Oregonian:

Michaels, in a paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said evidence now suggests that most warming would likely occur at night in high latitudes. He added that that could be beneficial because nighttime warming may mean fewer droughts, a longer growing season and better crop yields.

If global warming occurs primarily at night, polar temperatures would remain far enough below freezing to minimize the melting of polar ice and a rise in sea levels.

Night temperatures have been rising in the Northern Hemisphere since 1950, Michaels said, although overall temperatures haven’t changed significantly. […]

“The critical scientific question on global environmental change is not how much will the globe warm but rather how will it warm?’’ said Michaels, who is Virginia’s state climatologist. [The Oregonian, 2/19/91, via Nexis]

Experts: Nighttime Heat Is Especially Dangerous For People. The Associated Press reported:

Excessive heat is the No. 1 weather killer in the United States and it’s at its most dangerous when it doesn’t cool down at night. […]

Q: What’s so disturbing about this current heat wave?

A: It’s unrelenting stubbornness. There is no relief at night. Phoenix set a record for highest nighttime temperature: 91. Las Vegas has gone three days without getting below 90, according to readings at the airport.

“Nighttime heat is especially bad,” said Eli Jacks, chief of fire and public weather services at the National Weather Service. “Not to get below 90 is crazy.”

Q: What’s so dangerous about that?

If you aren’t in an air-conditioned place, “your body never has a chance to recover” at night, Jacks said. Normally the “feels-like” index — which factors in temperature and humidity — has to get to 80 degrees or below for your body to recover from the daytime heat, Jacks said.

The lack of nighttime cooling is more dangerous than the 117 degree all-time record in Las Vegas, experts said.

Q: How do heat waves compare to other weather killers?

A: In recent years, heat has been more deadly than other weather extremes in the United States. [The Associated Press, 7/1/13, via The Washington Post]

Daily Record Highs Have Also Increased. A 2009 study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that daily record highs occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade. Although the press release noted that this was “could be attributed more to a comparatively small number of record lows than to a large number of record highs,” indicating “much of the nation’s warming is occurring at night,” record highs also increased:


[National Center for Atmospheric Research, 11/12/09]

On Satellites…Michaels: Satellites, Which Almost “Cannot Be Wrong,” Show No Warming. From a 1998 Washington Times op-ed by Michaels

The three measures [according to a paper by the National Climatic Data Center] were land surface temperatures, which by definition are hardly global; sea surface temperatures taken from ships; and data from a network of buoys whose deployment was begun in the mid-1980s. The last two measurements are very different from the first, and in order to create the desired fruit salad, NCDC adjusted the sea surface temperature data up by 25 percent after 1982. That certainly might make things appear to be a bit warmer in recent years!

In point of fact, the sea surface temperature data are increasingly at odds with air temperatures taken over the ocean. No one knows the reason for this, but the air temperatures just happen to match up perfectly with those recorded by NASA’s satellites, which happen to match up perfectly with the Weather Bureau’s (what it was called before it became a “service”) weather balloons. None of those records shows a lick of global warming in the last 20 years.

Parenthetically, we might note that recent reports about the satellite data being in error are themselves in error. Annual temperature averages taken by weather balloons look exactly like those measured by the satellites. So the satellite cannot be wrong unless, somehow, thermometers in the 1,125,000 weather balloons launched over the last 20 years have been making exactly the same mistakes in temperature measurement as the satellites. [The Washington Times, 8/31/98, via Nexis, emphasis added]

After Errors Were Fixed, Satellites Showed Same Amount Of Warming As Surface Temperatures. The New York Times reported in 2005:

Some scientists who question whether human-caused global warming poses a threat have long pointed to records that showed the atmosphere’s lowest layer, the troposphere, had not warmed over the last two decades and had cooled in the tropics.

Now two independent studies have found errors in the complicated calculations used to generate the old temperature records, which involved stitching together data from thousands of weather balloons lofted around the world and a series of short-lived weather satellites.

A third study shows that when the errors are taken into account, the troposphere actually got warmer. Moreover, that warming trend largely agrees with the warmer surface temperatures that have been recorded and conforms to predictions in recent computer models.

The three papers were published yesterday in the online edition of the journal Science. [The New York Times, 8/12/05]

Read the rest at Media Matters

— Shauna Theel is Senior Researcher of Energy and Environment at Media Matters. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission.