25 May 2010

Defying Joe Romm

In characteristic fashion, fierce climate blogger Joe Romm excoriates the authors of a recent paper in Nature on malaria and climate change for writing the following in their paper:
. . . model predictions, reported widely in global climate policy debates3, 6, 7, [suggest] that climate change is adding to the present-day burden of malaria and will increase both the future range and intensity of the disease.
Footnote 6 goes to IPCC WGII 2007 (footnote 3 goes to the dodgy McMichael et al., study which argues that climate change has already lead to an increase in malaria deaths). Romm argues that the IPCC WGII cannot be used to support the claim made in the paper about model studies showing an increase in malaria burden worldwide. Joe defies anyone show that he is wrong.
I defy anybody to read the relevant sections, which I excerpt at length here, or search WGII for every single use of the word “malaria,” and see how it could possibly be used to support the sentence in the Nature piece where it appears. It cannot. Quite the reverse, in fact. And it certainly is not a high profile prediction of a current and future worsening of the disease in a warmer climate. Quite the reverse.
Well, Joe, if I must show that you are completely wrong . . . If you look at the IPCC WGII TS (PDF, p. 47), it clearly says that model studies show an increase in the global burden of malaria (emphasis added):
Mixed projections for malaria are foreseen: globally an estimated additional population at risk between 220 million (A1FI) and 400 million (A2) has been estimated. In Africa, estimates differ from a reduction in transmission in south-east Africa in 2020 and decreases around the Sahel and south-central Africa in 2080, with localised increases in the highlands, to a 16-28% increase in person-months of exposure in 2100 across all scenarios. For the UK, Australia, India and Portugal, some increased risk has been estimated.
This statement is utterly unambiguous and contradicts Joe's claim that the IPCC did not project a future with an increased malaria burden due to climate change. The Nature paper was properly cited.

Why then is Joe huffing and puffing? Perhaps it is because he has been among those hyping a malaria-climate change link, referencing it often on his blog. Consider that it was just one year ago that Romm was criticizing the IPCC for low-balling its projections of climate impacts, approvingly repeating that:
Climate change will have devastating consequences for human health . . . Malaria, tick-borne encephalitis, and dengue fever will become increasingly widespread.
Other experts are starting to get tired of Romm's antics, such as David Stern at ANU:
Some of my coauthors on our work on malaria and climate change have an article (with others) in the latest issue of Nature. Their main point is that even if climate change has had an effect on the prevalence of malaria in the last century, that effect is swamped by everything else that has been going on. Also that the current distribution of malaria endemicity is no guide to future trends. Both these points seem pretty sensible to me but Joe Romm is outraged. He describes the authors of the paper as "sloppy" because he thinks they exaggerate the degree to which the IPCC support the "Malaria is increasing due to climate change hypothesis". This is a rather indirect criticism. He thinks the IPCC underplayed the threat and accuses them of saying the IPCC overplayed the threat. That's the best he's got against their paper... It's typical of Romm to trash a paper for extraneous reasons if it doesn't fit the global warming is always bad everywhere party line.
And also David Smith, a co-author on the Nature paper,
Joe Romm never contacted any of the authors of our study, but he does make some angry accusations. For the record, I’ve read the IPCC report, including the relevant sections. I’m part of the consensus that believes the world is warming and that human activities are the main cause.
[UPDATE: David Smith returns to DotEarth with another comment, here is an excerpt:
Joe Romm picked one sentence and one reference from our Nature paper and twisted it into a controversy. Then, he wrote a second, very aggressive post about my “non-response” posted here, in which he argues that I’ve tacitly confirmed the overblown controversy he’s stoked up. I've decided in advance not to read or respond to any more of Joe Romm's blogs after this, even if they're all about me. . .

On the whole, the academic publications about climate and malaria are a perfect example of hype. Peer reviewed publications on warming and malaraia have almost universally argued that warming will increase the burden and extend future range of malaria. Paul Reiter has been an outstanding spokesman for the other point of view. . .

The way Romm has framed this particular controversy, he wants to make us look bad no matter what we say or don’t say. That’s the whole point of being so aggressive with his “righteous anger.” I feel like the politician who was asked when he had stopped beating his wife. So how do I do the equivalent of answering, “I’m not married.”

I’m impressed at the way Joe Romm has taken that one sentence and its citation and made two complete blog posts out of it.

I wonder if "I wuz wrong" and "I'm sorry" are in the vocabulary of the fiercest climate blogger?


  1. I noticed in your link to Joe's site that he starts off his article by rattling off a list of conspiracy claims against climate deniers, dumb journalists and misguided environmentalists.

    Then in #10 comment he suggests that those that offer opposing informatiion need to leave his website. He does come across as pompous and bitter. Is this an act to get ratings or is he really like this in person?

  2. I haven't read much Romm before, but I read the malaria piece, and DotEarth, including comments from the authors of the Nature piece, and then Romm - it is a culture shock. Half the time I had no idea what he was trying to 'prove', except everyone else wrong. It was wild-eyed writing, if that's possible.

    I was amused that some of his comments, in praising him, said that you had infiltrated Revkin.

  3. To answer your last question, "no". Definite no. The guy is on a religious mission, and the best single thing to do with religious fanatics is to simply ignore their ramblings, except to calmly show *where* they are wrong (that they are wrong is a given, really).

  4. Joe Romm is doing a pretty good impersonation of Mony Python's Black Knight.... as well as an angry interpretation of Sir Robin, now that I think about it.

  5. The worst thing that could happen to Romm would be for people like you and Fuller and Revkin to ignore him. Honestly, Roger, why do you engage with this orc? Any society swayed by individuals like him has bigger problems to face than climate change. Let him preach to his hateful little choir and ignore his braying.

  6. C'mon, Roger. I'll give that Romm is often bombastic and is at times in this piece, but it really seems that you didn't read it or the IPCC report. Download the WGII technical summary and search "malaria." Also, re-read the meaning of the one quote you show especially the idea of "population at risk." You will see that the IPCC considered attribution in this case to be problematic. Romm's essentially correct on this one although I think he over-reacts to the Nature cite.

  7. -6-Mike

    Thanks for the comment. I reproduced the relevant IPCC text in this post so that readers can judge for themselves, and I am happy for them to do so ;-)

  8. OK, I'll do it ;-). Here are the excerpts on malaria from the WGII Technical Summary:

    P. 43
    Projected climate-change related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, particularly those with low adaptive capacity, through: . . . mixed effects on the range (increases and decreases) and transmission potential of malaria in Africa;

    P. 47
    As you cited

    Attributing the contribution of climate change to changes in the risk of malaria remains problematic (high confidence). Human health, already compromised by a range of factors, could also be further negatively impacted by climate change and climate variability (e.g., in southern Africa and the East African
    highlands). The debate on climate change attribution and malaria is ongoing and this is an area requiring further research [9.4.3,
    8.2.8, 8.4.1].

    P.58 & 63
    Malaria is mentioned as an example of potential diseases in small island states--I've not pulled the quotes since they are not about malaria per se.

    Finally, the Policymaker Summary, which is what most people actually read, only says this (p. 12):
    Climate change is expected to have some mixed effects, such as a decrease or increase in the range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa. ** D [8.4]

    The Nature article authors should have done a better job of making their case, perhaps by citing Romm's blog itself as an example!

  9. -8-Mike

    Thanks for providing this info ... but do remember what we are discussing. Romm defied anyone to provide evidence that IPCC WGII can be used to support a claim that climate change "will increase both the future range and intensity of the disease."

    The IPCC discussion on p. 47 that I cited provides such support. You are correct that the IPCC said other things about malaria.

    As usual, Romm has created a controversy where none exists, and this time it backfired pretty badly for him.

  10. If I was writing the Nature article, here is what I would have said:
    Research on the potential for climate change to increase the burden of malaria is inconclusive. The IPCC WGII Technical Summary cites studies that show an overall potential increase for population at risk (which is different from incidence of the disease) but they note that attribution is "problematic" and requires "further research."

  11. "The debate on climate change attribution and malaria is ongoing and this is an area requiring further research..."

    "This will require a total cashectomy."

    "There's nothing wrong with you that expensive surgery can't prolong."

  12. I would welcome a career expose of Romm where a professional psychologist offers interpretation.

    I have crossed swords with Romm regarding Enron:

    Romm nonprofit was an Enron cheerleader before it suddenly went bust: http://www.masterresource.org/2009/06/market-conservation-vs-government-conservationism-understanding-the-limits-to-energy-efficiency-and-new-economy-escos/.

  13. Romm is increasingly making a travesty of himself with every new rant he excreeds. Ignore him and he will end up like a little pool on the ground.

  14. nanodots #1, said: "He does come across as pompous and bitter. Is this an act to get ratings or is he really like this in person?"

    You noticed??!!!! You also have a correct definition. When my blog was actively, daily updating from other sources I stopped referencing his articles. I chose to not send any innocents to his distorted views and verbal abuse.

  15. Romm is a throwback to the SDS demagogues and bullies. Think Lysenko. How someone gave this nasty person policy making responsibility beggars belief!

  16. WGII, p. 48:

    "[...]The debate on climate change attribution and malaria is ongoing and this is an area requiring further research [9.4.3,
    8.2.8, 8.4.1]." = "More money, please."