EPA’s Alan Carlin channels Patrick Michaels and the Friends of Science

A new uproar in the blogosphere has broken out over the supposed “suppression” by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of an internal review of the EPA’s proposed endangerment finding on greenhouse gases. The review purported to show that the latest “research” calls into question the scientific consensus on climate change. It turns out that the report, written by Alan Carlin, with assistance from John Davidson, of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics, is drawn heavily from the contrarian blogosphere, especially Ken Gregory of the Calgary-based “astroturf” group Friends of Science.

And in one case, a lengthy “analysis” of a recent peer-reviewed paper has been lifted, without attribution, straight out of World Climate Report, the climate “news” blog run by uber-contrarian Patrick Michaels.

[Update, June 29: In the immediately subsequent post, I've now established that the Carlin report's central premise, along with four key sections, came directly from a November, 2008 World Climate Report blog  attack on the EPA proposed endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions.]

The saga began with the release by the “skeptic” think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute of email exchanges between Carlin and his boss, Alan McGartland (who appears to have been wearily determined to get Carlin back working at his real job). This was followed by the release of an 90-page early draft of the report, entitled “Proposed NCEE Comments on Draft Technical Support Document for Endangerment Analysis for Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act”. (Warning: At 4 megabytes, this OCR PDF version is only a little smaller than the scanned version at CEI. But the text is searchable!).

[Update June 27: Alan Carlin has just released a slightly revised version of the final report on WattsUpWiththat.com, with all sections completed. (You can download the PDF directly here.) Authorship has reverted to Carlin alone. ]

Surprisingly, the CEI press release was reported with a more or less straight face by at least two media outlets, CBS News and New York Times Greenwire, without any questioning of CEI’s own motivations or role in the affair. (What is Greenwire anyway – just the environmental news that fits online, but not “fit to print”?) Not to be outdone, self-described “liberal skeptic” Tom Fuller of the San Francisco Examiner has been devoting his column daily to the heroic Carlin, who Fuller claims is a victim of a hidebound EPA’s refusal to consider new “research”.

Of course, as shown in excruciating detail at RealClimate, the “research” is mainly regurgitated contrarian talking points (global cooling since 1998! The sun and cosmic rays did it!), repackaged at various blogs. In particular, Carlin has leaned very heavily indeed on Friends of Science director Ken Gregory’s “climate science overview” and in particular his explication of Miskolczi’s” saturated greenhouse effect”. So taken is Carlin with the various explanations of the deficiencies of climate models, that even Gregory’s ramblings at the obscure Niche Modeling blog get quoted at length. Here is Gregory expanding on the idea that “IPCC models all assume that global relative humidity is a constant.”

Yes, I agree. I don’t mean to suggest someone types in relative humidity = constant into the computer code. I said in my write-up “Relative humidity = constant (or various parameters to achieve the same effect.) Is this O.K? They model evaporation and precipitation to achieve an almost constant relative humidity. This is based on short term observations of temperature changes. During these observations C02 concentrations are approximately constant, so these observations only hold true over periods when C02 does not change much. It is invalid to extrapolate these observations to long term periods with increasing C02. [p. 69]

But surely, there has been some actual scientific research published since the cutoff date of 2005 for the IPCC’s Fourth Assesment Report (AR4). Well, yes, as noted in the recent Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Climate Congress, sea levels are rising and Arctic sea ice disappearing at the upper range of IPCC projections.

Carlin, however, choose to focus much attention on one paper that had already been widely misinterpreted in the blogosphere, namely the Van de Wal et al 2008 Science paper on Greenland ice melt. In a truly bizarre twist, the analysis in Section 1.5 is lifted word-for-word from WorldClimateReport.com (November 12, 2008)!

Here is Carlin:

A recent article in Science has an alarming title: “Large and Rapid Melt-Induced Velocity Changes in the Ablation Zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet.” However, once one examines this paper, there appears to be an amazing twist given the threatening title. [p. 11]

And the original:

A recent article in the prestigious Science magazine has an alarming title that should thrill the greenhouse crusade: “Large and Rapid Melt-Induced Velocity Changes in the Ablation Zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet.” Holy cow – it’s just like Gore warned us. Throw the words ‘large,’ ‘rapid,’ ‘melt-induced velocity changes’ together in a title of an article in Science and expect to get some high-level media attention. However, once we dove into this article, we found an amazing twist given the threatening title, and we could not wait to feature the piece on World Climate Report.

It’s very close, except that the presumably unscientific editorializing has been removed (I guess that Michaels or his sidekick Chip Knappenburger wouldn’t be able to get a job at the EPA). Of course, the reference to the source has been carefully removed. And the voice has been carefully translated from first person to third with a more formal tone, as “However, once we dove into this article …” [WCR] becomes However, once one examines this paper…” [Carlin and Davidson].

Carlin goes on:

To begin, the research was conducted by a large team with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University, Netherlands; the authors state that “This work was supported by several grants from the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research and the Netherlands Polar Programme.”

van de Wal et al. focused their attention on measurements that are being made on the ice along the west coast of Greenland just north of the Arctic Circle (Figure 2). For the past 17 years, annual measurements have been made along the “K-transect” to measure movements of the ice sheet. However, they state “we started more detailed position measurements in 2005 by taking advantage of technological developments of GPS equipment and data processing. The new instruments record hourly position of stakes, which are drilled into the ice. The GPS (single-frequency) units need to be serviced only once in a year and deliver an ice velocity record with a temporal resolution of 1 day or better.” To say the least, geospatial technologies are showing up everywhere in our lives from the family car to the golf course and now to our favorite transects in Greenland.

And so it goes, on and on for several paragraphs and diagrams over three pages, all virtually identical to the blog piece, peppered with misleading conclusions like:

Despite all the talk about moulins, melting, rapid acceleration of ice, van der Wal et al. reveal that the ice movement in western Greenland over the past 17 years has … slowed significantly!

The unspoken inference, of course, is that all this represents some sort of departure or pullback from the IPCC findings. But so upset was lead author van de Wal with such misinterpretations, that he had emailed the New York Times’ Andy Revkin back in July (a full four months before the WCR post) to set the record straight:

This study does not show that the melt is decreasing, [to the] contrary it shows a small increase in ablation which is fully consistent with IPCC predictions concerning melt of the ice sheet.

Incredibly, Carlin explains his policy regarding blogs (called “Websites” with capital W).

An effort has been made, however, to only reference material
containing the real names of the authors found on Websites whose Webmasters are referenced or cited. This excludes, for example, all Websites and material whose authors and Web masters are not clearly identified since the authors and the Web masters of such Websites obviously have so little confidence in their views that they are not willing to clearly identify themselves. [p. 28]

Well, of course, in this case, it’s not clear who actually wrote this tripe. Was it Pat Michaels? Or one of the other WCR contributors? Apparently, it’s easier to avoid the issue, and just pretend it’s all original.

Maybe Carlin just pasted it all and hadn’t had time to go back and fix it (or even forgot that he hadn’t actually written it in the first place). But with the careful edits and slight rewordings already made in the opening section on van de Wal, the whole section definitely has a “plagiarism in progress” feel. It would be interesting to see the evolution of subsequent versions.

[Update, June 27: I’ve had a quick look at Carlin’s version 7b at WattsUpWithThat. The only change  to section 1.5 on Greenland ice melt appears to be from first person plural to singular, apparently to reflect single authorship. For example, the passage:

“Again, we tend to say this moulin link to drowning the World Trade
Center Memorial is nonsense, and the empirical evidence is overwhelmingly in our favor.”

has now become

“Again, I tend to say this moulin link to drowning the World Trade
Center Memorial is nonsense, and the empirical evidence is overwhelmingly in my favor.” [Emphasis added]

Mind you, there’s no evidence that Pat Michaels et al are particularly upset at not being credited. And perhaps it’s not too late to fix the problem and add their names to the authors’ list.

And if they can work it out, maybe Pat Michaels could give Alan Carlin a job. I have a feeling he’s going to need one soon.

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23 responses to “EPA’s Alan Carlin channels Patrick Michaels and the Friends of Science

  1. Jim Galasyn


  2. Fuller’s blog is just as good. Read about all the great things I learned


  3. Deepclimate-This is deep digging indeed. As a reviewer of the Greenland paper in question, the key item is that “The positive-feedback mechanism between melt rate and ice velocity appears to be a seasonal process that may have only a limited effect on the response of the ice sheet to climate warming over the next decades.” This has been the conclusion reached by the glaciologic community already. The moulin lubrication mechanism is quite limited in terms of ice sheet acceleration, though the melt increase itself is. The acceleration to worry about is from changes in the calving front, and the resultant retreat and acceleration that has been observed on almost all Greenland marine terminating outlet glaciers. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/04/moulins-calving-fronts-and-greenland-outlet-glacier-acceleration/

    [DC: Thanks for the explanation. It must be disheartening for the real scientists to see their findings twisted beyond recognition in support of a mendacious campaign to discredit all the hard work of the last decade.]

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  5. Immagine i’m a physicist that spend a lot of my work time writing a 90 pages report to criticize the economic stimulus plan. I can see many good reasons for my boss to shout at me. And be sure, i’d not give much credits to my own report, let alone my boss :D

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  9. Are you thirsty? Why don’t you go get a nice cold glass of Kool-Aid.

  10. Greg Goodknight

    “Ahab” apparently missed that Alan Carlin’s BS was in Physics from CalTech, about as hard core a Bachelors in a science can be, and his Econ Ph.D. was from MIT. He certainly wouldn’t be the guy you hire to perform climate science research but he has the credentials to read and understand climate science research.

    Economics is a much richer than just the macroeconomic study of Congressional spending run amok. What Carlin had been doing in his decades at EPA was not that divergent from his hastily drawn up paper. In less than a week he put together 99 pages that summarized the science that many believe is ascendant in the climate debate.

    There have not been conversions from skeptic to CO2 believer in quite some time.

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  14. Greg Goodknight
    what you may think it “appers” to be may well be that you missed my point.
    Indeed i know of his BS in physics, but his job is economics and here stands my ironic analogy.

  15. It may be a good idea to get verifiable snapshots of Pat Michaels’ posts and other materials that Carlin lifted, before the original material “vanishes”. Using


    might be a good idea, they do snapshots on demand. They seem to have a downtime right now, due to a server move, but I hope they come back up in time.

    [DC: Perhaps. On the other hand, World Climate Report are actually quite proud that Carlin relied on them so much.

    CEI did make public the suppressed document, which, as it turns out, reveals that the document’s authors were big fans of World Climate Report (but then, who isn’t!?), relying heavily on many of our own complaints about the EPA’s Proposed Endangerment.

    Really? I fail to see how the document itself "reveals" this, when Carlin kept the connection so well hidden until it was revealed here. I guess I should expect Chip Knappenberger to come over and thank me personally any day now. ]

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