Skip to content

Dr. Fred Singer, Grand-Daddy of Deniers, Delivers Shoddy Lecture Based On Bad Science

2011/03/02

Today’s guest blogger is Danny Richter. Danny is a Ph.D candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego.  His research is centered on diatoms, a type of phytoplankton, and the role they play in the global cycling of elements important for marine life and the climate. In addition to his studies, Danny enjoys guiding occasional backpack, kayak, and canoe trips for the campus outdoor program.

As expected, Dr. Fred Singer’s recent talk at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA was very well-attended by climate scientists.Also as expected, he made a case that modern climate change is due to natural causes, and not man’s activities. He did not deny the climate is changing, and he even conceded that both anthropogenic and natural forces probably play a role, but he argued that natural causes are far more important.

Unexpectedly (at least by me), his presentation was unbelievably shoddy. While he deftly wielded lofty terms and discussed complicated situations with the fluency of one who has spent a lifetime in the realm of physics, close computation, and complexity, this was very obviously a front. The facade was toppled by the simplest of questions, such as what acronyms stand for, where the data were taken, and why he chose to omit other data. He could answer none of these questions.

Dr. Singer hates models. A lot. He makes no secret about this. Yet, for someone who so publicly hates models, you would expect him to present a lot of data. He did not. He rested his case on a paltry 7 data sets. Of these, he himself pointed out that 3 disagreed with his argument, and despite the fact that the data were published at a later date, he dismissed them for reasons that were quite opaque. Thus his entire argument for debunking anthropogenic climate change rested on 4 data sets.

Why only 4 data sets? Balloons are released from hundreds of sites around the world. Yet, when asked where these balloons were released from, he could not provide an answer. This is significant, because you would expect different results from weather balloons released, say, over land or over the ocean. Supposedly, these balloon data represented tropical data, as his argument focused on temperature anomalies in the tropics. Yet when asked specifically where they came from, he waffled about most data coming from North America and Europe. Both are decidedly un-tropical.

These 4 data sets represented a time slice from 1979 to 1997.  As he stated, weather balloon records go back to 1958. He even stated that the records agree well with satellite data over the period we’ve had satellites measuring these things (1979). Yet, when pressed, he gave no explanation for why, if the agreement is good, he did not include the weather balloon data from the beginning of the record.

Other gross errors included mis-labelled (and unlabeled) axes and comparisons of cherry-picked plots representing different time scales. First, if you’re going to try convince anybody of anything, you need to show that you’re competent. Undergraduates doing research get lampooned all the time for not labeling axes. Even for them that’s unforgivable. For an Emeritus Professor to do that is inconceivable. Second, if he’s not grossly negligent, then he’s outright lying. To say two plots are comparable when they’re not is lying, plain and simple.

In conclusion, while a high-schooler would have struggled to give a talk with the complex ideas he presented, if he had succeeded in giving this talk, that high-schooler would still have gotten a bad grade for the presentation. The fundamentals of scientific integrity were completely absent. He claimed to debunk the conclusions from the entirety of the 1,000+ page IPCC fourth assessment report with 4 measly data sets. On top of that, he didn’t even know where those data sets come from, nor could he explain cherry-picking the time-span they covered.

In a way, this was reassuring. As the grand-daddy of anthropogenic climate change deniers, if he puts together such a shoddy talk, it speaks volumes about all climate change deniers. On the other hand, that such a poor performer has been able, arguably single-handedly, to delay action on climate change in the United States for at least 3 decades is demoralizing. Where were the scientists then? Why didn’t they write pieces like this to call him out as the fraud he is earlier? Why am I, who wasn’t even born when he began denying the science (even though I have been alive for 9 years longer than the 1979-1997 period of data he based his conclusions on), still needing to call him out?

As a climate scientist, Dr. Fred Singer is a fraud. He built his admittedly good scientific reputation upon satellites and physics. He should have stuck with that. His climate change talk would not have passed muster for a professor, for a post-doc, for a graduate student, for an undergraduate, or even a high-school student. It is unfortunate that science has no equivalent to a lawyer’s bar exam, or a physician’s medical license. His would have been yanked long ago. Perhaps then, with the official stigma of a quack attached to his name, policy makers would have been quicker to recognize his unethical and just plain bad science for the snake oil it is.

Thanks to Lauren, Anais, Taylor, and Sandy for checking this to make sure I accurately recounted the details of the presentation.

More links:

Dr. Singer has ties to the U.S tobacco lobby. For example, the 1994 report “Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination” lists him on the report’s advisory board (click on the title to go to the report). The report condemns the EPA’s attempts to regulate exposure to second-hand smoke and rejects the science showing tobacco’s harmful effects (sound familiar?).

Also, the “Heartland Institute” (featured in the photo above) is one of Mr. Singer’s supporters in his fight against addressing climate change.  For more on this organization’s dubious record of promoting a junk science, pro-pollution agenda, and its alliance with the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry, go to Sourcewatch.org.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. klem permalink
    2011/03/02 2:56 pm

    “Where were the scientists then? Why didn’t they write pieces like this to call him out as the fraud he is earlier?”

    Astounding. These are almost the exact questions we all asked when it was discovered that the UN IPCC AR4 Report contained claims that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone in 35 years (and sorry no one believes it was a typo as was originally claimed, it was a bald faced fabrication nothing less). That AR4 report sat out there in the public domain for 3 full years and no one, including you pal, said anything. Where were the scientists then? How could you and other scientists not write pieces calling out the IPCC earlier? Instead there were three years of silence from the scientific community, and the IPCC was allowed to destroy it’s own credibility and that of climatology in general. And you think Singer did a shoddy lecture. Nice.

    • Christine permalink*
      2011/03/02 10:52 pm

      Typical cherry-picking from someone without a grounding in scientific inquiry.
      The IPCC made an unfortunate error in a very long technical document, and their response to this error was far from exemplary. Highlighting this error to undermine climate science, however, is a classic example of cherry picking – a dangerous game to play when so much is at stake.

      • klem permalink
        2011/03/29 11:08 am

        Oh come now, the IPCC made no such unfortunate error. It was placed there in the Ar4 report deliberately, it was placed there to instill fear and you know it. This makes the AR4 report, not a document of science, but one of propaganda. To even suggest that it was merely an error, after 1000’s of hours of review by the authors and 1000’s of hours of review from scientists around the world, is pure denial on your part. You simply want to believe. And you say I have no grounding in scientific inquiry.

      • Christine permalink*
        2011/03/29 4:07 pm

        Saying things don’t make it so – you have no scientific credibility, vs. the thousands of scientists who have devoted countless hours studying and learning about the natural world. Unless you are a publishing scientist, any further comments you make about the science behind the IPCC will be deleted without comment.

      • Graham Clarke permalink
        2011/03/29 5:30 pm

        Christine ….[no surname given]

        You haven’t present any scientifically proven facts but instead, have taken the much easier route taken by what I could call ‘truth deniers’ and attack anyone who dares to disagrees with the pathetic fast diminishing agenda-driven myth of human induced global warming. Ask yourself some basic science questions which you would have learned at school.
        What percentage of our atmosphere are greenhouse gases? What percentage of greenhouse gases is CO2? How important are greenhouse gases? What is the true percentage of all CO2 emissions is attributed to humans [not a figure hatched by ‘environmental groups’]? Include volcanoes, the ocean, animal induced emissions, rotting vegetation etc. Does solar activity influence our climate? How vital is CO2 to our existence? Has CO2 EVER had any effect on our climate history?
        Do CO2 levels actually FOLLOW earth’s surface temperatures? Has our climate been warmer than today, say about 1000 years ago, and did sea levels rise catastrophically? Did polar bears disappear? There is not one person on this planet saying our climate is not changing, it has been changing for earth’s entire history without any help from humans. Investigate the science, look at how the man made climate change theory began. You will find that convincing people that CO2 is evil, is a ‘Godsend’ to the anti-establishment, anti-development, anti-everything elements of ‘green’ organizations which did begin life truly concerned about the environment.
        I am not attacking you personally Christine, I just wish everyone would just stick to facts, find out for themselves, get politicians out of the equation and stop diminishing the reputation of science and scientists.
        I am not an academic, I am just an ordinary person who is saddened by how far the media, and agenda driven bodies [including the IPCC] have pushed this theory, almost to a religious fervor.
        Graham Clarke

      • Christine permalink*
        2011/03/29 5:36 pm

        Mr. Clarke –
        You state you are not an academic, yet somehow as an ordinary person you feel that you are in the position to judge the scientific accuracy of the IPCC, and every National Science Academy in the developed world. Perhaps you might want to reconsider this stance – unless, the next time you visit the doctor and feel “saddened” by his or her diagnosis, you then disregard the recommended surgery, etc.
        Your stance on the science about which you are uneducated makes about as much sense.

  2. 2011/03/03 12:41 am

    Thanks for sharing this first-hand account by Danny Richter. I’m glad to see skepticism towards those with the extraordinary claims of refuting a consensus.

  3. Noblesse Oblige permalink
    2011/03/06 9:34 pm

    I wish I knew as much about everything as Danny when I was his age.

    At that wonderful age I did not know enough to pen a passage as precociously penetrating as, “As a climate scientist, Dr. Fred Singer is a fraud. He built his admittedly good scientific reputation upon satellites and physics. He should have stuck with that.” There it is…an insight worthy of a budding prodigy: There is not much in common between physics, satellites, and climate.

    Oh well, this post virtually assures young Danny a degree and smooth landing in a field characterized by the deft exclusion of physics and satellites, as well as its reputation for integrity and avoidance of advocacy.

    • Christine permalink*
      2011/03/07 7:21 pm

      Good thing that, in your dotage, you are expressing more humility and self-doubt, N.O.

  4. clingon permalink
    2011/04/01 3:25 pm

    Admittedly good scientific reputation? I asked numerous research scientists about his capability and never heard one endorse him. I sat through a 10 minute presentation of research in the 1960’s and couldn’t figure what he was doing. I overheard negative comments as I was leaving. The paper was eventually published and I didn’t see why (it is not unusual for useless papers to be published because the peer reviews fall short). He had a bunch of equations and a conclusion but I couldn’t see how they connected.

    I never thought him a competent research scientist. He was extraordinarily good at garnering publicity. He urged the President to send a mission to Phoebus, a moon of Mars, on the grounds that it may have been made by aliens and needed to be investigated for national security. (Check the Washington Post archives circa 1960.) He based it on a Russian’s paper, later retracted for a mistake.

    He and a colleague did a paper in the 1950’s on a satellite experiment that was ok as far as I know. I don’t know that the experiment flew or produced data. It was before my time.

    I have no basis for lauding his satellite work, although he was ubiquitous in general meetings.

    If somebody had told me in 1966 that one of the hundreds of scientists I knew would be dissing the dangers of passive smoking, global warming and the ozone hole, one name would have come to mind.

    • Christine permalink*
      2011/04/01 4:44 pm

      Very interesting – thanks for providing that insightful background! As you point out, the one thing he is good at is garnering publicity (unfortunately).

  5. Graham Clarke permalink
    2011/04/01 8:22 pm

    Christine
    Like it or not, there are thousands of academics who don’t agree that the current climate change can be attributed to to us humans to any significant degree. Forgive me for referring back to my meager scientific knowledge acquired at school but back around 1000 years ago during the Medieval Warm Period, weren’t temperature 2 – 3 deg. Celsius warmer than today?
    Did sea levels rise dramatically, and do we still have polar bears?
    Why did the IPCC replace the true 1000 year temperature chart with the current “Hockey Stick”?
    During the last 100 years, yes CO2 levels have risen consistently but what happened between 1940 and 1975? Why did the average temperature drop during that time when CO2 levels continued to rise? Weren’t we warned of a coming catastrophic ice age during that period? Don’t CO2 levels actually FOLLOW earth’s temperature changes?
    Doesn’t the ocean have a 600 – 800 year ‘memory’ and both releases and absorbs massive amounts of CO2, depending on earth’s temperature?
    Do any of the models used to predict further warming dare to omit the assumption that the current warming cycle is due to human influence?
    Anyway Christine, not being an academic doesn’t exclude me from asking basic questions nor having an opinion, but most importantly I believe that governments should divert most of the billions of dollars invested in trying to prove the man made global warming theory and invest in more clean energy research, hydrogen electric and new technology for transport, assist developing nations to enjoy what we do, research food production, the influence of solar activity on climate etc. and any other projects that will help us humans survive and help to preserve our wonderful planet. CO2 is vital to our existence, GHG’s are vital to keep our planet warm enough to survive on [-30 deg. without them I believe]. I believe there are so many other sciences missing out on funding because of the ridiculous amounts invested in MMGW.
    Graham Clarke

  6. Christine permalink*
    2011/04/02 8:10 am

    Good point, Graham – not being a scientist does not preclude you from having an opinion – as long as you preface this opinion acknowledging that you are not an expert, and that the experts (such as the National Academies of Science, NASA, IPCC, etc) diverge from your opinion based on their scientific expertise.

    It is entertaining to once again hear the “CO2 is essential to our existence” argument again. That one does seem to pop up frequently in the denier camp – I’m assuming you’re familiar with the fossil-fuel funded Competitive Institute’s promo on the wonders of CO2 – if not, here you go: https://350orbust.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/the-competitive-enterprise-institute-extolls-virtues-of-carbon-dioxide/
    As Ed Darrell reminds us in one of the comments, just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for us – feces is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you, or that you’d want it on your dinner table, or that it shouldn’t be controlled!

  7. Graham Clarke permalink
    2011/04/04 2:55 pm

    Christine
    Despite your opinion of me as a ‘denier’ and the direction our ‘debate’ is going, I do appreciate your opinion and dedication and thank you for the reference. My comments are based on scientific studies [not by me], and my point is that it is easy to sensationalize GW [media] with massive tide rises, link it to cyclones etc. and make everybody feel guilty about warming our planet and consequently, politicians feel obligated to further burden us financially with ET schemes or putting a price on carbon when man made global warming to the extent we are told [especially by the media who have no idea what is happening], is NOT beyond debate as you probably think.
    It’s a very complex issue with multiple processes involved and hence, multiple consequences.
    It’s the cumulative effect of the loss of natural carbon sinks, with natural GHG emissions and man-produced ones, such as burning fossil fuels and agriculture (which is a major contributor).
    Scientists agree it is happening, but not on why i.e. Whether it is from man-made sources and to the degree that humans are responsible.
    If you want to check out another scientist’s opinion, then take a look at Dr. Piers Corbyn’s Weather Action website http://www.weatheraction.com/ who consistently out-forecasts the Met basing his forecasts on solar activity. He predicts the next climate cycle will be a cooling one.
    I could mention the role of water vapor, clouds, methane, which you would know, has increased at a much faster rate than CO2 and is around 80 times more potent than CO2 but in less quantities ….

  8. 2011/07/27 7:04 am

    Christine’s criticism of Dr Fred Singer appears an arrogant stance towards a scientist of such renown. Fred Singer’s connections with the tobacco industry or any others that are unfashionable are beside the point. Singer is a reputable scientist and there are thousands of scientists like him throughout the world such as MIT’s Professor Richard Lindzen Australia’s Professor Ian Plimer, Professor Bob Carter and Dr Garth Paltridge who share his opinions.

    The basic message of all these scientists is the climate always has changed and always will. People who believe in models as exact ways of performing science have either never done data modeling or have a false belief in data modeling which has an appalling record for accuracy in economics. Increasingly data modeling is now coming into question in science as well.

    Perhaps the most absurd aspect of global warming alarmism is the belief that carbon taxes or emission trading schemes along with a reliance on renewable energy are the solution to what is not necessarily a serious problem. Carbon taxes and emission trading schemes are dangerous forms of government manipulation and financial sector feeding troughs that represent a serious risk to economies for no real benefit. While renewable energy can never be totally relied upon for full base load power because of its high cost and inability to generate high volumes of uninterrupted base load supply.

    • Christine permalink*
      2011/07/27 9:04 am

      BTW, Mr. Parker, the influential conservative journal, The Economist, disagrees with you on the carbon tax (I guess that makes them alarmist, eh?). Check out this recent article, entitled “We have a winner: BC’s Carbon Tax woos skeptics”
      http://www.economist.com/node/18989175

  9. Christine permalink*
    2011/07/27 8:46 am

    Mr Parker – did you read the blog posting? I didn’t write it, the guest blogger is Danny Richter, a Ph.D candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. Danny was describing his first-hand experience of Dr. Singer’s recent lecture at that same institution.
    Any climate scientist will agree with the statement that the climate is changing, and always will. The difference that right now, humans (and our carbon pollution) is the forcing agent, and the rate of change is unprecedented.

    (and to say the tobacco industry is simply “unfashionable” is being disingenuous – the tobacco industry, and Dr. Singer himself, have been guilty of twisting the science for their own ends, which is abundantly clear in hindsight – but delayed govt action on tobacco for a decades. Sound familiar?)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: