Ignoring Real World Data: Peter Gleick and the Fourth Horseman

Source:  Climate Audit

by Steve McIntyre

In 2009, Peter Gleick wrote: ?Fear is an effective tool.? A lesson, it seems, that was not lost on Gleick himself, who used the occasion of the recent tornado outbreak to prophesy ?accelerating? ?death and destruction?. While Gleick?s opportunistic attempt to exploit the tornado event has been criticized (e.g. Pielke here, it seems to me that Gleick?s apocalyptic rhetoric has attracted insufficient attention, especially when measured against his prior editorials on fearmongering.

Gleick categorically asserted that science says that ?climate is worsening?:

Violent tornadoes throughout the southeastern U.S. must be a front-page reminder that no matter how successful climate deniers are in confusing the public or delaying action on climate change in Congress or globally, the science is clear: Our climate is worsening.

While it?s one thing to show that climate is changing, it?s quite another thing to show that climate is ?worsening?. Judy Curry, for example, observed that climate change results in both ?winners and losers?, calling for much improved efforts to analyse regional change, while deploring the fact that ?most of the effort undertaken seems to be attempting to sell spurious links between death and destruction from tornados, tsunamis, etc to climate change.?

Instead of such analysis, Gleick called for a day of judgement on apostates, deniers and unbelievers:

Climate deniers who have stymied action in Congress and confused the public ? like the tobacco industry did before them ? need to be held accountable for their systematic misrepresentation of the science, their misuse and falsification of data, and their trickery.

Gleick appears to be untroubled by trickery in support of his cause, failing to disapprove of the notorious ?trick..to hide the decline? either here or elsewhere.

Like ancient prophets, Gleick prophesied that, without repentance by politicians, ?it? was going to get ?worse and worse, faster and faster?:

And it is only going to get worse and worse, faster and faster, the longer our politicians dither and delay and deny.

The motifs of ?accelerating? ?death and destruction? (or devastation) also tie to rhetoric of the Apocalypse, in which ?death and destruction? are symbolized by the pale rider, the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse (google- ?death and devastation? apocalpyse) :

I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.?

In Gleick?s 2009 editorial identifying fear as an ?effective tool?, Gleick observed that ?science and rationality? were the ?greatest weapons? in combatting irrational fear ? a point on which CA readers would agree. Gleick:

Fear grows best when sown in fields of ignorance, while science, rationality, and education are the greatest weapons modern societies have against irrational fear.

However, in a recent exchange with Pielke Jr, when science and rationality were applied to tornado data through consideration of historical data (rather than rhetoric), Gleick called consideration of actual data ?inappropriate and unsupportable?. Historical data on US deaths from tornadoes demonstrates a decline ? as shown in Pielke?s commentary (from which the graphic below is derived). (Pielke also linked to an article here reporting a similar decline in destruction from tornadoes in the US.)

In his response to Pielke, Gleick condemned Pielke?s use of a graph showing actual data as ?inappropriate and unsupportable?:

Your use of the graph was inappropriate and unsupportable, though it has certainly been adopted by the denier community.

Gleick?s language here is oddly reminiscent of Briffa?s AR4 Review Comment response, in which Briffa also said that it was ?inappropriate? to show the decline in an IPCC graphic.

Without naming names, NOAA came down against rhetorical claims like Gleick?s:

Despite various limitations in data and tools, it should be noted that applying a scientific process is essential if one is to overcome the lack of rigor inherent in attribution claims that are all too often based on mere coincidental associations.

Quite so.