Sam Kazman

Freezing Temperatures Once Again, But Thankfully No Video Sequel

frozen8A year ago this week, in the midst of another brutally cold winter, the White House graced us with an explanation of how man-made global warming might be causing freezing temperatures in a video about the polar vortex.

One bitterly cold winter does not, by itself, necessarily disprove global warming.  But the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) decided to try using the cold winter as evidence for man-made global warming.   It did so through  a short video titled The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes, in which its director, White House Science Advisor John Holdren, claimed that a “growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.”

The video was widely covered in the press, but it was criticized by climate scientists on all sides of the global warming debate. Yes, there was a “growing body of evidence” on the topic, but it was growing in the other direction—that is, newer studies contradicted any connection between warming and winter cold waves.

CEI pointed this out in a petition to Holdren’s agency, the Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Federal Data Quality Act.  That petition formally requested that OSTP correct Holdren’s misstatement about the “growing” body of scientific evidence.  But OSTP turned us down, claiming that Holdren’s statement was his “personal opinion” and was therefore exempt from the act.  [click to continue…]

The Wall St. Journal’s Sept. 20 essay, “Climate Science Is Not Settled”, caused quite a stir, in part because it was authored by physicist Steven Koonin, Dept. of Energy Undersecretary of Science during the first Obama administration.  Yesterday’s edition (Oct. 2) carries a letter criticizing Dr. Koonin’s essay on several grounds, and ends on a patronizing note:

“We welcome the constructive collaboration of the physics community in improving our understanding of … climate.  Many climate scientists are trained physicists…. We invite Dr. Koonin to join their ranks.” 

The letter is co-signed by Dr. Ben Santer, widely known for his work on the climate impact of human activity.

But Santer is also known, to some of us, for a 2009 letter to a colleague complaining about CEI’s petition to EPA to reconsider its Endangerment Finding.  The letter was part of the Climategate document leak, and says this about dissenting climate scientist Patrick Michaels, who was then at U. Va. and who now heads Cato’s Center for the Study of Science:

“Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the crap out of him.  Very tempted.”

So if Dr. Koonin is planning to accept Santer’s invitation to join in some scientific collaboration, maybe he ought to show up wearing a hockey helmet.

Today is the close of briefing in our appeal of Michael Mann’s defamation suit against the Competitive Enterprise Insitute, CEI adjunct Rand Simberg, National Review and Mark Steyn. Some background information and the court filings can be found here.

We’re appealing a lower court’s refusal to dismiss this case under the District of Columbia’s anti-SLAPP statute, which protects participants in public debate from being silenced by meritless lawsuits. Groups ranging from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU to the Cato Institute and the Electronic Frontier Foundation view Mann’s suit as being exactly that—meritless—and they make this clear in the amicus briefs they filed in our support.

One of Mann’s arguments is that his work has been “exonerated” by a number of investigations, including that of EPA. As our reply brief shows, that is simply untrue. But one thing that EPA did examine was Mann’s own claim that the work of certain opposing scientists was a “fraud”. In EPA’s view, “fraud” is an “entirely acceptable and appropriate” term in scientific debate. (CEI Reply Brief at p.11.)

In short, EPA didn’t exonerate Mann, but it may well have exonerated the defendants.

Back on June 6th, OSTP (the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) officially declined to reexamine its highly-publicized January explanation for the extremely cold winter.  According to that video, The Polar Vortex Explained In 2 Minutes, the likely culprit was global warming; this was supposedly demonstrated, in Director John Holdren’s words, by “a growing body of evidence”.

In a Data Quality correction petition that we filed with OSTP in April, we pointed out that the body of evidence supporting Holdren was in fact shrinking, not growing.  (In fact, it shrank even more earlier this week, when yet another contrary study came out.)  But OSTP ducked the issue, claiming that its Director had only been expressing his “personal opinion”, and that therefore the Data Quality Act didn’t apply.

Note that the video is posted on the White House youtube channel and has been touted by other OSTP staff.  OSTP never corrected any of the many reporters who interpreted it as being the White House line.  If Holdren’s mere “personal opinion” was dressed up in this much official garb, then how much more formality would have accompanied an “official” statement?  Would herald angels have burst into song?

So today we filed an appeal with OSTP of its decision.  It’s reprinted below, but here’s the gist of it:

“OSTP’s rationale is sheer nonsense, concocted in order to escape its legal responsibilities for highly questionable scientific assertions that produced a huge number of self-aggrandizing headlines.  Moreover, even if its rationale is correct, OSTP still has a responsibility to prominently label the statements at issue as personal opinions, so that neither the media nor viewers of its web site continue to mistake them as official agency positions.”

That’s right, OSTP.  If you’re serious about this being your Director’s personal opinion, then put a fat red rubber-stamped disclaimer saying that on the video.  Better yet, take the video off your website before some government auditor asks why agency resources are being used to promote personal opinions.

You’ve got wonder whether global warming is affecting these people’s judgment.

CEI's OSTP Information Correction Appeal 6 19 14

Back in January, in the midst of one incredibly cold winter, John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, posted a short video on the agency’s website entitled The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes.  In that video, Holdren claimed that a “growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.”  In short, global warming was responsible for colder winters.

This, of course, would be yet another step towards galactic nonverifiability—If global warming is responsible for everything, it can be never be tested empirically.

But as a number of climate scientists soon pointed out, Holdren’s claim of a growing body of evidence on this issue was simply false.  In fact, from September 2013 on, three peer-reviewed studies appeared debunking the notion that polar warming had led to an increase in what are known as winter blocking episodes—situations where extremely low temperatures become locked in for exceptionally long periods of time.  That was why, in April, we filed a formal request for correction with OSTP under what’s known as the federal Data Quality Act.

After we filed our petition , by the way, yet a fourth study appeared disputing the global warming/polar vortex connection.

Yesterday, shortly before OSTP’s 90-day deadline for responding to correction requests, we received the agency’s denial (see below).  OSTP claims that Holdren was simply expressing his “personal opinion” rather than any “comprehensive review of the scientific literature”.

On its face, this response is shovel-ready nonsense.  Holdren, and others at OSTP who parroted his claim, at no point suggested that they were speaking personally rather than as agency employees.  To the contrary, they employed both the agency’s resources and stature to disseminate the polar vortex claim.

More importantly, the specific contention—of a “growing body of evidence”—can be tested by any kindergartner.  Four recent studies on this issue all contradict the global warming/polar vortex connection, more than countering the older studies that support Holdren—that at least balances, and more likely outweighs, whatever Holdren was relying on.  And the notion that the body of evidence supporting him is growing is nonsense.

If Holdren were selling pizza, the FTC would’ve been all over him long ago.

OSTP IQA Response

Post image for Will Cherry Blossoms Get Sucked into the Polar Vortex?

DC’s cherry trees hit their official peak blossom date last Thursday, April 10th.  That’s the latest in the year that the Capital has experienced peak blossoming in over two decades.  (For you botanical historians, the last time that peak blossoming occurred this late or later was in 1993, when the event fell on April 11.)

In 2013 the blossoms were almost as late, hitting their peak on April 9.  That was a pretty dramatic change from 2012, when the date fell on March 20. This change was most disconcerting to two groups: tourists trying to plan their trips to DC in advance, and global warming alarmists who trumpeted every earlier-than-expected cherry blossom as yet further proof of global warming.  In fact, in a sizzling multi-part blog post series last year, followed by dozens of readers, we charted peak blossom dates against global warming data.  We even had graphs.  (See Adam Sandberg, Peak Bloom Is Here – DC’s Global Warming Canary Lands with Frost on its Feet, April 15, 2013.)

The past two years of unusually late blooms largely resulted from unusually cold weather.  But unusually cold weather, in the view of White House Science Advisor John Holdren, is actually yet another sign of global warming.  Holdren explained this to a freezing yet grateful nation in a two-minute video last January entitled The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes.

We suspect that Holdren’s agency, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), may now have a second video in the works in this Blame-Everything-On-Global-Warming series.  Perhaps they’ll call it Delayed Peak Blossoming Explained in 2 Minutes.

Regardless, we think Holdren’s first video is scientifically bogus, and so today we’re filing a formal Information Quality Act Correction Request with OSTP on that very issue.  Who knows—we may yet nip this video series in the bud.

Where’s Michael Mann?

by Sam Kazman on December 3, 2012

in Blog

Post image for Where’s Michael Mann?

On a visit to DC’s Cosmos Club last week, I checked out its impressive wall of photographs of club members who had won Nobel Prizes.  I was looking for one of Michael Mann, who, in his defamation complaint against CEI, refers to himself three times as a “Nobel prize recipient”.  (See, for example, page 3 of the Complaint.)

Try as I might, I simply could not find his photo.   I wonder why.  Maybe he’s not a Cosmos Club member.

(I should mention that, if you’re new to this story, there is an alternative explanation.)

…namely, milking the phrase like there’s no tomorrow. To wit, see the results below of a Google search for the terms “Scientific American” and “tipping point”:

My letter in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Cheap Gasoline and Human Rights

The notion of $2.50 gasoline would not only be a “veritable policy revolution” domestically (“Newt Is Right About Gas Prices” by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Business World, March 10), it would be a gutsy display of American exceptionalism for the rest of the world. This is not because Americans are divinely entitled to federally subsidized fuel (they’re not), but because they do have a right to gas prices that aren’t artificially jacked up by government drilling restrictions and taxes.

Americans aren’t the only ones. As booming car ownership in India and China demonstrates, automobility satisfies some pretty basic human needs and desires. Unfortunately for central planners around the world, there’s nothing worse than a technology that lets people go where they want to, when they want to. For an American leader of whatever party to take the lead in shedding gasoline’s sin-product status would be downright revolutionary.

In the early 1800s, as railroads spread across Britain, the Duke of Wellington supposedly sneered that trains would “only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.” Aristocrats could always move about; only when the rest of us were able to do so did this become a so-called problem. A decade ago our aristocrats looked down on SUVs; today they look down on affordable gas. Either way, their attitudes toward mobility are no different than the Duke’s views two centuries ago, and no less backward.

Sam Kazman
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Washington, D.C.

As my colleague Myron Ebell reported earlier this week, Joe Romm pulled out of a scheduled debate on climate policy last Friday with the Heritage Foundation’s David Kreutzer.

Given the last-minute nature of Romm’s cancellation, the host of the debate initially used a bottle of Corona Light to symbolically take Romm’s place at the podium.  I thought the beer bottle was a poor substitute, and replaced it with a plate of ice cubes.  As the photo below shows, by the end of the event the ice cubes had undergone significant melting.  There was, however, no suggestion that anthropogenic warming was the cause.  On the other hand, I’m not sure there were any climate modelers in attendance.