Pretend Scientist Fred SingerWhen I was a global change scientist, I had occasion to hang out with Fred Singer. This isn't surprising, because I was an iconoclast in a group of iconoclasts. And the fact is that at that time (the early 1990s), there was a lot to doubt about global warming. The models weren't that good and we hadn't seen the dramatic temperature increases that we've had the last decade and a half.

Fred was an interesting guy. He was really into gadgets—a true early adopter. And he liked to be the one beating up on the existing paradigm. But I noticed something about him that bothered me even then. He seemed inclined to cherry pick data. He just wasn't interested in data that went against his belief that global warming was nothing.

At that time, I was very much under the spell of James Lovelock and the idea that humans could not change the world because it was its own organism. This all depended upon negative climate feedbacks, and a lot of us were out looking for them. Unfortunately, they never appeared. The more I looked, the more it looked like the climate system was dangerously unstable. But Fred Singer didn't see climate science inside a framework of the Gia Hypothesis. Instead, it seemed political.

On Monday, I saw that the Heartland Institute, a free market think tank[1], had put up the following billboard for their upcoming climate conference:

Heartland Global Warming Billboard

At first, I didn't get the meaning of this sign. I thought it meant, "Even someone as crazy as Ted believes in global warming, why don't you?" But that's not it. Instead, it means, "Only people as crazy as Ted believe in global warming, why do you?" And this is why I am never invited to focus groups.

The Heartland Institute triggered my Fred Singer alarm. I somehow thought he might be involved. And he is. At least, he has published with them. But checking out Wikipedia, I found that he had written an OpEd regarding the "Climategate" scandal. From the Wikipedia article:

In December 2009, after the release of thousands of e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit—a controversy that came to be known as "Climategate"—Singer wrote an opinion piece for Reuters in which he said the scientists had misused peer review, pressured editors to prevent publication of alternative views, and smeared opponents. He said the leaked e-mails showed that the "surface temperature data that IPCC relies on is based on distorted raw data and algorithms that they will not share with the science community." He argued that the incident exposed a flawed process, and that the temperature trends were heading downwards even as greenhouse gases like CO2 were increasing in the atmosphere. He wrote: "This negative correlation contradicts the results of the models that IPCC relies on and indicates that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is quite small," concluding "and now it turns out that global warming might have been 'man made' after all." A British House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee later issued a report that largely exonerated the scientists.

In other words, Fred Singer was totally wrong, but used the opportunity to push his conservative political agenda. And that's just what I expect from him.

[1] It seems strange to me to call such places think tanks when they are mostly just propaganda mills. And the problem is pretty much only on the right. It is very much like Fox News—it is hard to call it news, because it isn't.