How to be wrong

From the department for shooting fish in a barrel, David Appell has a nice post pointing out that Singer has been a bozo for years, predicting (in 1981) massive future declines in fossil oil use.

This may be a good place to link to another of DA’s posts, US Emissions to Stay Below Pre-Recession Peak Until 2028 which makes an interesting combination with Early Warning on US vehicle miles.

More Singer-is-a-bozo stuff

This is, as I said, shooting fish in a barrel. So I’ll just make it an update to this post rather than a new one. DA went to a talk by Singer that was riddled with errors. One bit stuck out:

Most egregious of his claims was that there has been no warming since 1975. As proof he put up a graph of UAH (University of Alabama at Huntsville) satellite data, compiled by the Christy/Spencer group. Singer said he calculated that it had zero linear trend. One audience member down front almost jumped out of his seat while pointing out that Singer was using version 5.0 of the UAH data, which is years old and had not been properly (and famously) corrected for satellite drift. UAH did that and their new data, version 5.4, now shows warming, and they list the trend at the bottom of their data page: +0.14°C/decade for the globe, +0.17°C/decade for land. Astonishingly Singer feigned ignorance of this.

Singer gave a talk at BAS, ooh, maybe 5 years back, and he was much the same then. He used junk data, and anytime anyone pointed this out, he put on the folksy-old-man persona and pretended he knew nothing about it. As a rhetorical trick, I don’t think it works well: rather than a poor old man being assailed by nasty young men pointing out his errors, he comes across as a senile old chap who doesn’t really know what he is talking about.


20 thoughts on “How to be wrong”

  1. In reading this I think he was arguing against the government funded Synthetic Fuel Corporation. This was a project to turn coal into fuel oil. Singer likely was against it because it was a government program. Many environmentalists were against it because it would have made the CO2 situation even worse.

    [Aha, that sounds plausible – I do recall politics around the SynFuel stuff from reading the old reports -W]

    While this prediction was an extreme example it wasn’t so unusual for the time period. In 1977 Roger Revelle chaired an NAS report on the CO2 issue. One of their conclusions was that the problem might well not be that serious because fossil fuel use would decline due to increasing costs, and the environmental issues. (I’m doing this one from memory as I haven’t located that report on the web, I read it in the Scripps archives a while ago.)


  2. Interesting I found it. I’m not sure if it was always there, I read the hard copy. The projections on oil production definitely show it running out in the first part of this century. Anyway…

    “The principal conclusion of this study is that the primary limiting factor on energy production from fossil fuels over the next few centuries may turn out to be the climatic effects of the release of carbon dioxide…

    A number of comments are in order on each of the considerations that support this principal conclusion.

    First, it seems unlikely that the scenario for energy consumption would actually be realized. World population growth might be curbed. Countries such as the Soviet Union that possess much of the world’s coal reserves may be unwilling to serve as energy sources for others. An aroused world society might refuse to accept a drastic and unsatisfactory climatic change. To provide insurance that such a change will be averted will require a carefully planned international program and a fine sense of timing on the part of decision makers.”


  3. J Bowers, this history always seems to get mixed up. I would like to blame my friend Oreskes for this who loves to mush history together. It was Jastrow, and Seitz on SDI with a sprinkle of Nierenberg not Singer.


  4. Nicolas Neirenberg, I stand corrected. Can you shed any light on why the others you mention contradicted the intelligence agencies so readily, especially as history tells us that the intelligence agencies were correct?


  5. > intelligence agencies

    Perhaps referring to the “war-fighting” policy group?“intelligence+agencies”

    turns up among other references this discussion of the SDI group and those who believed winning a nuclear war possible:

    The Paths of Heaven

    footnote 67:

    “Among the archetypal statements of the war-fighting school are …. Robert Jastrow, “Why Strategic Superiority Matters,” Commentary, March 1983, 27–32. See also Kahn, On Escalation. One should note that some prominent war-fighting theorists such as Colin Gray were relatively skeptical of escalation dominance and countervailing.”


  6. Hank,

    I interpreted J Bowers comment as referring to the subject of this post which had to do with usage of fossil fuels.


  7. Eli, this could apply to any small non profit. There is little evidence that his motivation is financial, and you didn’t add any. Anyway you are completely off topic both on subject and time frame.


  8. Off Topic:

    I just want to get a feeling for the average Brit’s reaction to Obama’s toast to the Queen seen here. Obama’s political opponents are making fun of the incident as being just another example of a major gaffe on his part.

    What’s your opinion? Was this a major faux pas or no big deal?


  9. Ah Nicholas, you didn’t read the point about retirement accounts. Since Fred is well over 72 he can’t shelter income in a 401K or whatever, in fact he has to take serious distributions which are taxable. SEPP is his answer.

    Some have asked what SEPP is. The answer is a tax shelter. If you follow their tax statements (Form 990 for tax free organizations), and the Bunny has, what you see is donations of about $100K/year, outgoes of 30-50K per year, occasional income from activities like the NIPCC report (SEPP, or in other words S. Fred got 143K$ for that in case anyone wonders what the wages of obfustication are) and an increasing stock portfolio.

    S. Fred has been socking the difference between income and expenses away in the SEPP stock account and profiting on stock sales without having to pay tax on the realized gain. SEPP, of course, is tax free. From 1998 to 2007, the value of the portfolio increased from 203K$ to 1,692K$.

    The portfolio supports S. Fred’s travel, an office and some other stuff, but the big question is what was the exit plan to pull the money out. A simple one would for SEPP to pay Singer or anyone he designates (or wants to see get the money) a salary when he needs the money, or find some way of covering expenses.


    SEPP is unusual for a non profit in that the income is small compared to the stock fund which is clearly oriented towards growth. Most non-profits if they have carry over invest it conservatively. It is a neat scam.


  10. Re. 15 Pete Dunkelberg

    The usual shills laying down smokescreens for industry? It’s getting a bit comical. There must be a series of bets to be had on which shill will be taking a pop at a subject EPA is looking into, or is that too predictable?


  11. I haven’t noticed that Singer has deteriorated any, if that’s what you’re thinking. Let’s see — advising the President to send a satellite to Phoebus to check out the aliens who were inhabiting it — a national security concern — that was circa 1960 — check the Washington Post archives for the exact story.

    Always far better at getting publicity than accomplishing science work, imho. I have to hand it to him though, he has an amazing amount of energy.


  12. Singer hasn’t gone senile. He’s no different. Circa 1960, he made newspaper headlines advising the President it is in the national interest to go to Phoebus to check out the aliens who parked the satellite there. (Another researcher had published findings that Phoebus was hollow; it didn’t surprise me that this paper was later retracted.)

    I’m not going through the long litany. Most recently I noticed his book, written in 2004 flatly predicted the Arctic wouldn’t melt any more. (I wouldn’t buy the book so I can’t cite the page number, sorry).

    I do envy his energy level.


  13. Jeez Eli, you can read a tax statement but you still can’t spell my name? Reference on the tax statements? In fact you can’t just pay any salary you want out of a charitable foundation. I seriously doubt that his end game is to be rich at 100.

    J Bower, there is this wonderful thing called the Internet if you are looking for a reference. In any event the topic here was predictions about fossil fuels, not SDI. I thought your point was that the intelligence agencies had some great prediction about fossil fuels that people like Singer and Revelle missed.


  14. Nicolas Nierenberg, the topic is about Singer getting it wrong. The George C Marshall Institute, et al, seem to be comically persistent in getting it wrong, no matter what the scientific subject.


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