Richard Muller Radio Rambles, part 1: Kochs “very deep”, “very thoughtful” and “properly skeptical”

A recent Canadian radio appearance by Berkeley Earth founder Richard Muller has shed additional light on the role of Charles Koch, a major funder of the Berkeley Earth effort (and arguably the top funder of climate contrarians over the last several years). In the interview on CBC’s Sunday Edition, Muller mounted his most spirited and detailed defence of Koch yet, describing the oil billionaire as “very thoughtful” and “properly skeptical” of climate science. And the Berkeley Earth website goes even further, linking to an official Koch statement that makes the preposterous claim that the Charles Koch Foundation supports “sound, nonpartisan, scientific research”. That rings especially hollow this election season, given the current massive pro-Republican and anti-regulation push by fossil fuel interests, led as usual by Koch Industries.

The Berkeley Earth project is of mild scientific interest, but its leadership has proven adept at garnering intense media interest with each update (one can only imagine the media explosion once actual scientific publication is achieved). In the wake of the latest Berkeley Earth release, self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” Richard Muller has once again made the media rounds.  Thus it came to be that the CBC brought Muller into my home, and I’ve since taken in a lot of his notions about climate science from a number of sources. Those range from his 2009 “Naked Copenhagen” WSJ op-ed piece and the 2010 head-exploding i4energy presentation (where the dubious rationale for the Berkeley Earth project was first made public), to his recent New York Times op-ed, and his interviews with Diane Rehm and Amy Goodman.

But for now I’ll concentrate on the first part of Muller’s interview with CBC host Kevin Sylvester (of which I’ve  prepared a partial transcript).

Out of the gate, Muller’s appalling self-congratulation and arrogance are on display, as he hopes the Berkeley Earth team papers – none of which had even been accepted yet by a peer-reviewed journal – will “settle the science” about global warming. And why has this task fallen to Muller and the Berkeley Earth team, after thousands of papers and four comprehensive IPCC reports carefully documenting anthropogenic climate change? Well, it turns out “valid issues raised by thoughtful skeptics” had not been “clearly answered”. Those issues included station quality, data adjustments and selection of a “tiny fraction” of temperature stations.

If this were just more of Muller’s self-aggrandizement accompanied by his usual dismissal of real climate scientists, one could simply roll one’s eyes and tune out. At least this time out, Muller did not accuse other scientists of misconduct and “data hiding”, as he has done in the past.

But then Sylvester asked about Koch involvement, and things got really bizarre. Unbelievably, Charles Koch turns out to be one of those “thoughtful skeptics”. And not just “thoughtful”, but “very deep” as well.

Q:  I guess a lot of surprise for a number of people as well as was that the funding for this was from the Koch brothers. … Was there ever any influence … Was there anything that surprised them and maybe angered them about your results?

A: No not at all. I mean, they’re made caricatures in the media. They’re actually very thoughtful people. You should read some of the books  that Charles Koch has written. He’s very thoughtful, very deep. And from the beginning, he and I shared a concern there were issues that had not been addressed in a clearly transparent and objective way. And he wanted those answered. And no he never gave any hint whatsoever what answer he was hoping for, if any.

However, there is little evidence that Charles Koch has accepted the Berkeley Earth findings, especially regarding anthropogenic genesis of global warming. After the release of the Berkeley Earth findings in October 2011, the Charles Koch Foundation gave this decidedly lukewarm comment on the Berkeley Earth results.

The research examined recent global surface temperature trends. It did not examine ocean temperature data or the cause of warming on our climate, as some have claimed.

That statement is still linked from the Berkeley Earth website FAQ entry on funding. But now that Berkeley Earth has gone even beyond the IPCC in attributing warming to human greenhouse gas emissions, the Koch Foundation has issued a second, truncated statement avoiding any discussion of the most recent findings. Even more telling is the apparent absence of Koch Foundation support in the second phase of Berkeley Earth (presuming that the Anonymous Foundation donating $250,000 is not associated with the Kochs).

In the CBC interview, Muller went on to defend Charles Koch against accusations of being a climate change “denier”.

He knew that the science was in trouble, there were things wrong with it. People called him a denier because he was being properly skeptical about things that hadn’t been answered. That was silly. And from the beginning he made it absolutely clear all he wanted to do was good science.

No, despite Muller’s protestations, the Kochs have been labeled deniers, not because they are “properly skeptical”, but  because they have poured tens of millions into supporting contrarian think tanks and politicians who deny the primacy of anthropogenic influences,  chiefly greenhouse gas emissions, in current and future global warming. And the Kochs will reportedly raise up to $400 million to support a Republican Party that has increasingly committed itself to inaction on climate change, among a whole set of extreme Tea Party inspired policies.

It’s understandable that Berkeley Earth would defend its own acceptance of Koch money. And it should be emphasized that there is absolutely no hint of improper influence on the project, from Koch or anyone else.

But by linking to an official Koch statement, Berkeley Earth implicitly endorses this deceitful description of Koch funding policy (as presented in both Koch statements).

The Charles Koch Foundation has long supported and will continue to support sound, nonpartisan, scientific research.

This simply can not be squared with the Koch record, from the establishment of the Cato Institute through to Koch funding for the Heartland Institute and the Fraser Institute, to name just three examples. None of the $60 million that the Kochs have poured into such organizations over the years can conceivably be termed support for “scientific research”, let alone sound scientific research. As for the laughable claim that the “research” is non-partisan, all of the supported organizations are allied with Republican policies and politicians (or Conservative ones in the case of the Canadian Fraser Institute).

A more realistic self-assessment (and rationale) for Koch activities can be found behind closed doors. For years, the Kochs have convened secretive biannual seminars that bring together like-minded Republican patrons with politicians and media boosters, as first reported by the New York Times in 2010. Audio tapes of the January 2011 seminar in Palm Springs, obtained by Mother Jones, feature Charles Koch in full rhetorical flight, with an  oblique reference to Saddam Hussein and a warning that the 2012 election would be “the mother of all wars.”

But the most revealing insights into the Koch mind set come from a ThinkProgress package containing the letter of invitation for the 2011 Palm Springs meeting, along with the agenda for the previous 2010 meeting held in Vail, Colorado.

Here are a couple of tidbits from the Vail agenda.

Small group dinner:

Energy and Climate: What drives the regulatory assault on energy? What are the economic and political consequences of this? How discredited is the climate change argument? What effect does this have on the electorate, especially in key states? [p. 6]

That makes the real Koch agenda very clear: climate science (or the “climate change argument” in Koch speak) must be “discredited” in order to blunt the “regulatory assault on energy”.

Another session focused on a familiar litany of “significant threats” from the Obama administration.

Understanding the Persistent Threats We Face
The current administration swept into office with a promise to “fundamentally transform America.” From the nationalization of health care to the rising power of unions, as well as a push for major new climate and energy regulations, financial regulation, and even more government spending, there is no lack of significant threats for us to understand and address. [p. 7] [Emphasis added]

The program summary for the “action oriented” 2011 meeting refers to past efforts to “counter”  such “critical threats”  as “climate change alarmism”.

This action-oriented program brings together top experts and leaders to discuss – and offer solutions to counter – the most critical threats to our free society. Recent sessions have focused on addressing rapid government growth, countering climate change alarmism and the move toward socialized healthcare, developing strategies to advance liberty on college campuses, strengthening our state-based capabilities, and promoting judicial reform. Past meetings have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas; Governors Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour; commentators John Stossel, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh; Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn; and Representatives Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and Torn Price. [Emphasis added]

The featured presence of right-wing media stars like Beck and Limbaugh is fairly predictable, but the attendance of two sitting Supreme Court Justices is frankly shocking.  And look who made a surprise appearance towards the end of that list: none other than then vice-presidential candidate in training (and climate change contrarian) Paul Ryan.

So much for “non-partisan scientific research”.

But just because Muller doesn’t accept that Koch is a “denier”, doesn’t mean “deniers” don’t exist – far from it.

If we take the standard, the consensus prior to our work  as being what the IPCC had reported, then there are deniers who say: “There’s no global warming it’s all political”.  And there are also deniers who say: “Oh, the IPCC is completely wrong – the situation is much, much worse than they say”. If they are denying the IPCC  by saying it’s worse, they should be called deniers too. And that includes Al Gore and Tom Freidman as people who deny the IPCC report.

It’s a good thing we have Muller and the Kochs to occupy the middle ground between the “deniers” on both sides.

As I’ve said before, Muller’s belated “conversion” to scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is positive, albeit woefully late. But he clings to many of his previous fallacious positions on a range of issues, beyond his absurd characterization of the Koch Brothers. Proper treatment of these could keep an assiduous blogger busy for a long time, so I’ll just summarize some of Muller’s most problematic points briefly.

At the top of the list is Muller’s repeated insistence that “climategate” revealed gross scientific misconduct on the part of scientists at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. Those accusations are completely unjustified, and based on a faulty grasp of the facts to boot. Berkeley Earth team member Zeke Hausfather has repudiated accusations of scientific malfeasance against CRU’s Phil Jones and Keith Briffa from the beginning. And even Chip Knappenberger rejected Steve McIntyre’s “analysis” of the Climategate email exchange concerning the IPCC TAR chart that showed reconstructions by Briffa and Jones, along with the MBH99 “hockey stick”, terming it “normal scientific discourse”.  (I’ve discussed this particular aspect of “climategate” and the “hide-the-decline” controversy several times, notably here and here).

Of course, it should also be pointed out that misinformation about “climategate” was assiduously promulgated by several groups funded by the Koch Brothers, notably Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

Climategate aside, though, here are some of the other gaffes and questionable “facts” that may occasion more detailed commentary. According to Muller:

  • Hansen’s recent work on seasonal temperature extremes is “not correct” (and Hansen “predicts” his findings in Gistemp “ahead of time” which makes Muller “very uncomfortable”). [Sources: CBC, i4energy.]
  • “Is the Arctic melting due to global warming? You know, the evidence for that is very, very flimsy. I’m not even sure it’s true.” Enough said  – for now. [Source: Diane Rehm show]
  • China’s  greenhouse gas emissions will increase more than five-fold by 2040, even with a 4% reduction in carbon intensity each and every year. [Sources: Wall Street Journal and many others]

And, last but not least, we have an oldie but goodie (again via the CBC).

  • “[T]he globe isn’t warming, at least not in recent years”.

I don’t see anything in that list to which Charles Koch would take the slightest exception.

11 responses to “Richard Muller Radio Rambles, part 1: Kochs “very deep”, “very thoughtful” and “properly skeptical”

  1. I wonder how well Zeke Hausfather sleeps at night — he seems unusually decent for the company he keeps. My principle has always been to only co-author with folks I somewhat trust.

  2. Pingback: Deep Climate on Richard Muller – A Few Things Ill Considered

  3. In other words, the quarter million for Berkeley Earth is pure greenwashing for Koch’s sixty million investment in slandering climate science.

  4. For many Americans, a CBC broadcast might be an obscure venue.
    This reminds me a bit of Richard Lindzen, whose care in speaking varies, and in obscure venues gives us Republican Senators vs sunspots, p.8

  5. One thing I’ve observed: when a scientist gets involved in the climate ding-dong and has a business to run, controversial, provocative, and not exactly well-evidenced statements may follow.

  6. Pingback: The Climate Change Debate Thread - Page 1518

  7. I really don’t understand how or why Muller would attempt to do climate research with such a poor understanding of the primary scientific literature. If he doesn’t believe that sea ice melting is due to climate warming, what about ice cover on lakes in Canada and northern US, not to mention Eurasia. He also completely ignores thousands of studies about plants and animals. One wonders whether deniers are simply misinformed or lying. If Charles Koch is so thoughtful, it seems less likely that he is simply misinformed,

  8. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, September 23, 2012 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  9. I guess Muller’s “Road to Damascus” conversion is better late than never. However, it would leave less of a bad odour if it was accompaned by a small “mea culpa” or apology to those previously smeared by him. In theology, I believe forgiveness follows a certain element of contrition, which normally is not expected to include blaming all those who got it right when they told you not to do what you did. As for his claim to be a trailblazer, Arrhenius, Callendar, Plass, Hansen, and Mann were there long ago, naming but a few.

    As for the iopen-mindedness of the Kochs, well, Torquemada was a nice man, who was only interested in saving heretics souls. An earthly burning saved them from eternal Hell fire, which was a much worse fate.

    “By their deeds shall ye know them.”

  10. My old UCB roommate went to grad school with Muller, and told me he has always been a jerk, taking after his mentor, Luis Alvarez. The gestures to Koch were money based, as Muller hopes to get a few more dribbles.

    [DC: Please avoid gratuitous insults, and focus more on reasoned commentary of others' actual words and deeds. Thanks!]

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      Huh? I see only factual statements there. Yes, colourful language. Perhaps you should be getting out more DC ;-)

      BTW Alvarez may have been a jerk (wouldn’t know), but many great scientists are. I don’t see any such redeeming quality in Muller.

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