16 June 2009

Obama's Phil Cooney and the New CCSP Report

Imagine if an industry-funded government contractor had a hand in writing a major federal report on climate change. And imagine if that person used his position to misrepresent the science, to cite his own non-peer reviewed work, and to ignore relevant work in the peer-reviewed literature. There would be an outrage, surely . . .

The Obama Administration has re-released a report (PDF) first issued in draft form by the Bush Administration last July (still online PDF). The substance of the report is essentially the same as last year's version, with a bit more professionalism in the delivery. For instance, the photo-shopped picture of a flood appears to be removed and the embarrassing executive summary has been replaced by something more appropriate.

This post is about how the report summarizes the issue of disasters and climate change, including several references to my work, which is misrepresented. This post is long and detailed, which is necessary to support my claims. But stick with it, or skip to the end if you've seen the details before (and long-time readers will have seen them often), there is a surprise at the end.

Here is the relevant paragraph of the CCSP report, found on p. 105:
While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses,346 these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events.344,347 For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars. Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations. They also often fail to account for the vagaries of natural cycles and inflation adjustments, or to normalize for countervailing factors such as improved pre- and post-event loss prevention (such as dikes, building codes, and early warning systems).348,349
Lets take it sentence by sentence.

Sentence #1
While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses,346 these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events.344,347
Reference 346 is to a paper I co-authored:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 29-42. (PDF)
In that paper we did indeed conclude that economic and demographic factors have contributed to losses related to hurricanes. In fact, we concluded that these factors accounted for all of the increase in hurricane losses over the period of record:
The lack of trend in twentieth century normalized hurricane losses is consistent with what one would expect to find given the lack of trends in hurricane frequency or intensity at landfall.
The CCSP report however, says the opposite, that these factors do not explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events. To support this claim they provide two citations. Lets consider each in turn, first #344:
Mills, E., 2005: Insurance in a climate of change. Science, 309(5737), 1040-1044.
If you go to Mills, and I have, you will find that it is a commentary that does not offer any new research. Instead, its assertion that societal factors cannot explain the increase in disaster losses is based on a further reference; here is what Mills says:
Global weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and faster than non-weather-related events
You will see in my comprehensive discussion of Mills that he relied on two sources to support this claim. The first source actually refers to the second, so there is only one source. That one source is a 2000 Munich Re report, which for reasons I explain in the previous link does not actually support its claim.

But more problematically, why is a report characterized by Science Advisor John Holdren as being the "most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive" analysis relying on a secondary, non-peer source citing another non-peer reviewed source from 2000 to support a claim that a large amount of uncited and more recent peer reviewed literature says the opposite about?

The second citation referred to is #347:
Rosenzweig, C., G. Casassa, D.J. Karoly, A. Imeson, C. Liu, A. Menzel, S. Rawlins, T.L. Root, B. Seguin, and P. Tryjanowski, 2007: Assessment of observed changes and responses in natural and managed systems. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, M.L., O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, pp. 79-131.
Which is of course Chapter 1 of the 2007 IPCC AR4 WGII report. That report relied on a single study to make the following claim (at p. 110):
A global catalogue of catastrophe losses was constructed(MuirWood et al., 2006), normalised to account for changes that have resulted from variations in wealth and the number and value of properties located in the path of the catastrophes . . . Once the data were normalised, a small statistically significant trend was found for an increase in annual catastrophe loss since 1970 of 2% per year.
Muir-Wood (2006) is of course the white paper prepared in advance of the Hohenkammer Workshop on disaster losses that I organized along with Peter Hoeppe (of Munich Re) in 2006. I called the IPCC out on this cherrypicking/misrepresentation when the report was first released. Even though Muir-Wood et al. (2006) found no trends from 1950, and more importantly the Hohenkammer Workshop resulted in a consensus finding that such attribution was not possible, the Muir-Wood et al. study has been cherry-picked by the IPCC and before that the Stern Review and now, indirectly, again by the CCSP.

So to summarize: sentence one is not supported by the citations provided, which lead in both cases to selectively chosen non-peer revied sources, and the citations that are peer reviewed on this subject come to an opposite conclusion and are ignored.

Sentence #2
For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars.
That figure appears to the right and its problems are many.

1. The figure includes a major earthquake and 9/11.
2. The figure and the text neglect the effects of increasing wealth.
3. Published peer reviewed studies show no long-term trends in flood or hurricane losses once adjusted for societal change, yet those data are included.

Sentences #3 and #4
Analyses asserting little or no role of climate change in increasing the risk of losses tend to focus on a highly limited set of hazards and locations. They also often fail to account for the vagaries of natural cycles and inflation adjustments, or to normalize for countervailing factors such as improved pre- and post-event loss prevention (such as dikes, building codes, and early warning systems).348,349
I have to think that that the third sentence is referring to at least some of my work. Places that have been looked at include the United States for floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes (I'll ignore other studies outside the US since this CCSP report is referring only to the US). So what does that leave remaining? Not much.

The fourth sentence cannot be referring to my work, since it explicitly considers variability, inflation, and mitigation. Strangely enough that sentence is supported (reference #348) by a letter to Science (PDF) that I wrote on the Mills (2005) paper. In that letter I stated:
Presently, there is simply no scientific basis for claims that the escalating cost of disasters is the result of anything other than increasing societal vulnerability.
So it is strange to see it cited suggesting something that it does not.

Finally, #349 goes to a new paper by Mills which can be found here in PDF. Mills 2009 offers nothing related to the subject of this sentence, so it is strange to see it cited as a source here.

How can we explain how such a patently bad paragraph full of misrepresentations appeared in a U.S. government report?

One answer might lie in the fact that Evan Mills was a co-author of the report (p. 159). Do you think that had anything to do with it? His list of consulting clients is positively Phil Cooney-esque. Here are a few businesses and organizations that he lists under Consulting & Advising in his resume:
* Armstrong/Energyn (US)
* Barakat, Howard & Chamberlin, Inc. (US)
* Better Energy Systems (UK)
* Ceres (US)
* CMC Energy Services (US)
* Integrated Process Technologies (US)
* Investment Research, Inc. (US)
* Teton Energy Partners (US)
So a person responsible for misrepresenting science in a government report has ties and presumably financial interests with companies that have an interest in climate policy outcomes? No, couldn't be. Could it?

For those wanting a more rounded picture of extremes in the United States, here is what an earlier CCSP report concluded about extreme events in the United States, but which was uncited by this new CCSP report in this paragraph:
1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.

2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation (pp. 46-50, pp. 130-131), there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms

5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.

6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

22 comments:

  1. Very nice post, thank you.

    Jeff Id

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  2. Nicely done Roger. I hope my joke at http://www.climateaudit.org did not offend.
    Bernie

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  3. They cited you, so you're part of the consensus, right?

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  4. Isn't this called BAU by the "warmers?"

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  5. Is the entire 200 page document null and void because of one flawed paragraph?

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  6. -5-echoes425

    "Is the entire 200 page document null and void because of one flawed paragraph?"

    I wouldn't think so and would certainly hope not. At the same time the section which covers my research does not give me a lot of confidence in the process that led to the report.

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  7. It seems that there is a (pseudo/PR-political)-scientific version of "Chinese Telephone" you know the game where you whisper something and after passing it on 20 times the message at the end is the opposite of the message at the beginning ... The game here is to cherry-pick and extrapolate enough with enough layers of references to make it plausible to those who dont follow the whole trail, wherein unsupportable claims are made by extrapolating from a source, itself based on extrapolating from another source, etc. until you get to the bottom of it and find the primary underlying source says the opposite of the final conclusion. Reminds me of the Dilbertesque joke:

    Engineer - This is BS, it wont work
    Firstline Manager - This is cow dung, it might not work
    Dept Head - This is manure, uncertain it would work
    VP - This is organic fertilizer, not certain but it might work
    CEO - This is a growth agent! We'll make it work!

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  8. Roger,

    As you have raised this same issue during the many drafts of the CCSP report, and as I have echoed your points in public comments made during the various draft stages of the CCSP report (see here for example), it is clear that the CCSP authors simply don't care about these deficiencies and are quite satisfied with the way they present the issue. Another example of a place where deficiencies run rampant is in the Human Health Chapter. Here they are insistent, for example, that an aging population will make heat waves worse in the future, when in fact, a proper analysis must standardize for changing population structure (as you are well aware—but which the CCSP authors seem to apply only when convenient). When the population is properly age standardized is it clear that we are growing (have grown) less sensitive to extreme heat events, so the prospects for the future are not nearly as dim as the CCSP report makes them out to be, But, alas, our efforts (BTW, we are the authors of a series of reports on the declining sensitivity of U.S. populations to extreme heat events) to point this out fall on deaf ears. Again, the CCSP authors clearly don’t care about this and are happy with their presentation of this issue.

    So, I’ll issue a word of caution to the readers of the CCSP report—while the above examples don't make the whole document "null and void," they do serve as a reminder that is important for the readers to keep in the back (or perhaps front) of their mind that the presentation of issues in the report reflects the CCSP authors desires for they way they would like things to be, rather than the way that things actually are. Sometimes these overlap, other times, they don’t.

    -Chip

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  9. "At the same time the section which covers my research does not give me a lot of confidence in the process that led to the report."


    Neither should the entire history of assessments such as these over the last two decades. This is just same old, same old.

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  10. The “earlier CCSP report” is from June a year ago. So much has changed in a year. The science has reverted to pseudo-garble to support the need for massive government expenditures. Elections can change the direction of things in a day. It is inconvenient when the science doesn’t follow. It is a shame the MSM is focused on the “change” in government direction and hasn’t noticed or chooses to ignore the perversion of the science needed to support it.

    Thanks for the post.

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  11. Professor, I appreciate the understatement and civility in your reply to echoes425.

    But I think his question is flawed. You just got done laboriously demonstrating that the paragraph that covers your peer-reviewed research wilfuly misrepresents your conclusions.

    The one paragraph you analyze is not "a flawed paragraph."

    It is a fraud.

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  12. Just a point of information. Occasional readers might have better luck find the AR4 WGII report with google than the AR5 WGII you referenced.

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  13. Thank you for taking the time to post this Roger. It's obvious you went to some trouble to painstakingly tease out the inconsistencies (to put it politely) in the CCSP report. There's a great deal riding on the outcome, so it's very much appreciated!

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  14. -13-Bob

    Thanks for the eagle eyes, now corrected

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  15. "In that paper we did indeed conclude that economic and demographic factors have contributed to losses related to hurricanes. In fact, we concluded that these factors accounted for all of the increase in hurricane losses over the period of record:

    The lack of trend in twentieth century normalized hurricane losses is consistent with what one would expect to find given the lack of trends in hurricane frequency or intensity at landfall."

    Why does the first paragraph -dramatically- overstate the case made in the second paragraph?

    This piece does not seem to offer any real case of misrepresentation. Most of it seems to rely on the strange idea that sources cannot be used for validation of statements other than their conclusions.

    If I write that my research shows many cows are brown, and then add that I think that's neat, there's certainly no problem with citing my work for the first sentence while disagreeing with the second.

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  16. Contract research at it's best... Mills should move to a DOD base. He would make a lot more money.

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  17. Much of climate science papers coming out of the political process even when "peer reviewed" is junk because the peer review process is broken. Many papers are getting rubber stamp approval being reviewed by peers who do not even examine the data. Why do we know this? Because the data isn't published along with the papers.

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  18. Chip: "while the above examples don't make the whole document "null and void," they do serve as a reminder that is important for the readers to keep in the back (or perhaps front) of their mind that the presentation of issues in the report reflects the CCSP authors desires for they way they would like things to be, rather than the way that things actually are. Sometimes these overlap, other times, they don’t."

    Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/04/01/update-on-science-advocacy-and-pat-michaels-correspondence-with-chip-knappenberger.aspx

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  19. ""Is the entire 200 page document null and void because of one flawed paragraph?"

    I wouldn't think so and would certainly hope not. "

    You`re being precious, Roger. Surely you realize that your comments are being taken to mean that the entire report is a fraud, climate change is not occurring, & man is making no contribution, so we have no need to change the policies that leave fossil fuel interests with profits and the rest of us with risks.

    Is that is NOT what you intend? If not, does it not concern you?

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  20. This stuff goes on all the time in science. The virtue is the system uses the conflicts to achieve self-correction over time. We need to wait to see how it comes out.

    So far President Obama has made two very wise appointments who together show he's more in touch with what's going on than George W. Cokehead-Burnout Bush ever was: Steve Chu for Energy, and Eric S. Lander, the best-qualified person in the world to hasten and maximize the benefits from computer-driven genomic bioscience.

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  21. nothing in that report is about science . . it is a public relations/opinion shaping document designed to scare the crap out of people so they will meekly accept all the new greenie rules & taxes.

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