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Roy Spencer

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Roy Spencer, AGW denier, anti-regulation activist

Learn more from the Center for Media and Democracy's research on climate change.

"One of the few[1] AGW deniers with real credentials"[2], Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama at Huntsville (also home to AGW denier John Christy) and is the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite. [3]

Spencer is on the nine-member board of the antiregulation, Scaife- and Bradley-funded Marshall Institute, though he appears not to disclose this affiliation on his website[4].

Additional, and considerably more informative, assessments can be found at Skeptical Science and on another page, in the "External resources" section below.

Contents

Bio

Spencer holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in meteorology.[3]

Views

AGW denier views

Spencer is an anthropogenic global warming denier who believes that climate change is not human caused and will have minimal impact.

View: our climate change is likely natural

At a 2008 talk sponsored by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Spencer said, "There's probably a natural reason for global warming. ... We will look back on it as a gigantic false alarm. ... The Earth isn't that sensitive to how much CO2 we put into the atmosphere. ... I think we need to consider the possibility that more carbon dioxide is better than less." [5]

Favored alternative is PDO; but evidence runs counter, shows no long-term trend

To account for warming his favored alternative theory is that it's due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.[6]; yet the PDO "shows no [long-term] trend, and therefore...is not responsible for the trend of global warming".[7]

View: climate sensitivity is low, so near-future climate change won't be severe

Scientifically, the crucial point in Spencer's position is that of climate sensitivity. Spencer suggests in his blog that climate sensitivity may be low, due to mainstream climate scientists underestimating clouds, and he claims that satellite data will support him [8].

Rebuttal

"Roy Spencer has come up with yet another “silver bullet” to show that climate sensitivity is lower than IPCC estimates. I.e., he fits a simple 1-box climate model to the net flux of heat into the upper 700 m of the ocean, and infers a climate sensitivity of only about 1 °C (2x CO2). There are several flaws in his methods–inconsistent initial conditions, failure to use the appropriate data, and failure to account for ocean heating deeper than 700 m. (He fixed the last one in an update.) All of these flaws pushed his model to produce a lower climate sensitivity estimate. When the flaws are corrected, the model estimates climate sensitivities of at least 3 °C, which is the IPCC’s central estimate. ... while Spencer’s latest effort doesn’t really do any damage to the consensus position, it turns out that it does directly contradict the work he promoted in The Great Global Warming Blunder."[9]

View: we should delay acting

Asked in December 2008 what his advice was for then-President-Elect Barack Obama, Spencer responded, "He should put off the environmentalists indefinitely. ... Tell them we have to fix the economy first before we can afford unaffordable renewable energy 'solutions.'" [10]

National Research Council: choices today will affect climate for millennia
"Choices made now about carbon dioxide emissions reductions will affect climate change impacts experienced not just over the next few decades but also in coming centuries and millennia…Because CO2 in the atmosphere is long lived, it can effectively lock the Earth and future generations into a range of impacts, some of which could become very severe." - report from the National Research Council, the operational arm of the National Academy of Sciences[11]

View: peer review is biased against skeptics

"I believe the day is approaching when it will be time to make public the evidence of biased peer review." (Spencer, 2009)[12]

Examples provided
"Given the history of the IPCC gatekeepers(pdf) in trying to kill journal papers that don’t agree with their politically-skewed interpretations of science (also see here, here, here, here)..." (Spencer, 2011)[13]
(investigation in progress - Ed.)[14]
Reaction
"Instead of complaining about how biased and awful the peer review system has gotten, [Spencer] should (at the very least) get a statistician to work with him and do the modeling right, and then submit it for publication in a reputable journal. "[15]

View: 'climate alarmism' is due to biased research funding

"Twice I have testified in congress that unbiased funding on the subject of the causes of warming would be much closer to a reality if 50% of that money was devoted to finding natural reasons for climate change."[16]
Reaction
"On the claim that climate alarmism is due to research funding: this incentive exists in all science, yet it's never occurred in the past. And there's no evidence that it's occurring here: there's no way to dismiss the null hypothesis that scientists are worried because the data are worrying.

On the other hand, there is evidence that climate skeptics are truly working off an agenda. ..."[17]

View: CO2 in the atmosphere is good

"My long term prediction is that eventually we are going to realise that more CO2 in the atmosphere is actually a good thing" [18]


Opposition to evolution and embrace of "intelligent design"

Spencer has been an active in advocating Intelligent Design over evolution, and argued in 2005 that its teaching should be mandatory in schools[19]. Working with the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, Spencer has been part of an effort to advocate environmental policy that is based on a "Biblical view" rather than science. As a defender of "Intelligent Design" creationism, Spencer has asserted that the scientific theory of evolution is really just a kind of religion.[20]

View: creation has a better scientific basis

In the book The Evolution Crisis[21] Spencer is quoted as saying:

"I finally became convinced that the theory of creation actually had a much better scientific basis than the theory of evolution, for the creation model was actually better able to explain the physical and biological complexity in the world..." [22]

Books, published by Encounter Books ("no traditional means of publication")

Spencer is the author of least three books downplaying global warming - Climate Confusion (2008), The Great Global Warming Blunder (2010), The Bad Science and Bad Policy of Obama's Global Warming Agenda (2010) - all published by Olin, Koch, & Bradley-funded Encounter Books, "an editor, publisher and distributor for books related to democratic society which have no traditional means of publication." [11]

Criticism of "Global Warming Blunder"

Spencer's arguments in The Great Global Warming Blunder were critiqued extensively in a three-part series by Utah geochemist Barry Bickmore[23],[24],[25].

"In the book, Spencer says:

I find it difficult to believe that I am the first researcher to figure out what I describe in this book. Either I am smarter than the rest of the world’s climate scientists–which seems unlikely–or there are other scientists who also have evidence that global warming could be mostly natural, but have been hiding it. That is a serious charge, I know, but it is a conclusion that is difficult for me to avoid. (p. xxvii)

"But as Arthur Smith pointed out, after addressing the problems with Spencer's model[26], "... The first thing a true scientist should think of in a situation like this doesn't seem to have even occurred to Spencer. "What if I'm wrong?"
He was."

Actions

July 2011 Spencer & Braswell paper in Remote Sensing (not a climate journal)

In July 2011 a paper coauthored by Spencer was published in Remote Sensing, "[which is] a fine [peer-reviewed] journal for geographers, but it does not deal with atmospheric and climate science"[27]. AP science writer Seth Borenstein reported,

"[Spencer's] research looked at cause and effect of clouds and warming. Contrary to the analysis of a majority of studies, his found that for the past decade, variations in clouds seemed more a cause of warming than an effect. More than anything, he said, his study found that mainstream research and models don't match the 10 years of data he examined. Spencer's study concludes the question of clouds' role in heating "remains an unsolved problem."

[28].

Reception

By Heartland, Fox: paper demolishes climate consensus

The paper was interpreted by Fox News and the Heartland Institute as casting doubt on climate predictions.[29],[30].

By climate scientists - fatally flawed study
"Errors identified by climate scientists "...range from the trivial (using the wrong units for the radiative flux anomaly), to the serious (treating clouds as the cause of climate change, rather than resulting from day-to-day weather; comparing a 10 year observational period with a 100 year model period and not allowing for the spread in model outputs)."[31]
"Within three days of the publication of Spencer & Braswell 2011, two climate scientists (Kevin Trenberth & John Fasullo) repeated the analysis and showed that the IPCC models are in agreement with the observations[27], thus refuting Spencer & Braswell’s claims. An independent analysis by Andrew Dessler also confirms the Trenberth & Fasullo result."[31]
By Dessler: its intended audience is media and public, not climate scientists

In Andrew Dessler's view, "[This] paper is not really intended for other scientists, since they do not take Roy Spencer seriously anymore (he’s been wrong too many times). Rather, he’s writing his papers for Fox News, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, Congressional staffers, and the blogs. These are his audience and the people for whom this research is actually useful — in stopping policies to reduce GHG emissions — which is what Roy wants.”[32] Dessler summed up the paper saying

"This new paper is arguing is that clouds are forcing the climate, rather than the more traditional way of thinking of them as a feedback. This is not, in fact, a new argument...[and] is extremely weak. What they do is show some data, then they show a very simple model with some free parameters that they tweak until they fit the data. They then conclude that their model is right. However, if the underlying model is wrong, then the agreement between the model and data proves nothing.

...if Spencer were right, then clouds would be a major cause of El Niño cycles—which we know is not correct. Talk to any ENSO expert and tell them that clouds cause ENSO and they’ll laugh..."[32]

Outcome: Journal editor says "it should not have been published", resigns

In Sept 2011 Remote Sensing editor-in-chief Wolfgang Wagner resigned, saying that the paper should not have been published - that while "[peer review is] supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims (…) the paper by Spencer and Braswell that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published" - and noting that while "minority views are and should be welcomed in the scientific literature...[this] does not mean that long refuted arguments should be able to keep being published".[33]

Personal protest on exaggerations by authors and like-minded

He added, "I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements..."[34]

Pattern of publication&publicity matches previous such attempts

Michael Ashley noted that this paper was following the same trajectory as previous papers touted as demolishing global warming, that haven't stood up over time:[31]

1. The article is published in a non-mainstream journal, following inadequate peer-review.
2. Press releases from the authors exaggerate/distort the contents of the article to inflate its significance and increase the attention given to it.
3. News of the article spreads like wild-fire around the blogosphere.
4. Some media outlets take the press release and exaggerate it further still, so that the information that finally reaches the public has almost no relation to the original article.
5. Within days, experts in the field show that the original article is fatally flawed; but by now the damage is done.
6. For years into the future, the article is quoted by deniers of human-induced climate change as evidence that the science is uncertain.

2010, Dessler paper press conference

In December 2010, Spencer held a press conference to criticize an article published in Science by Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University, that indicated warming-induced changes in cloud cover would tend to create further warming[35]; and speculated on his blog, "I suspect – but have no proof of it – that Dessler was under pressure to get this paper published [before the Cancún climate summit ended)] to blunt the negative impact our work has had on the IPCC’s efforts."

Scott Mandia noted that Spencer's actions were highly irregular:

"The professional response to rebut a scientific paper is to submit a paper that corrects any mistakes or at the very least to submit a letter to the publishing journal. It is completely inappropriate for a scientist to attempt to publicly sabotage a paper by issuing a press release or by holding a press conference about another colleague’s paper.[36]"

Dessler himself had held no press conference.[35].

And when asked about Spencer's suspicions, Science editor H. Jesse Smith said:

“There was never a word about Cancún... Dessler never asked to get the paper expedited"... once peer review was complete, Smith says, the editors pushed to have it published in time for the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, California, which begins on Monday, 13 December. “I wanted to get it out before AGU.”[37]"

Track record - satellite temperature data

Spencer and colleague John Christy "published a series of papers starting about 1990 that implied the troposphere was warming at a much slower rate than the surface temperature record and climate models indicated..."; but the discrepancy turned out to be an artifact of their having applied incorrect adjustments to their UAH satellite temperature record data.[38], [39]. As Ray Pierrehumbert at RealClimate put it:

"Spencer and Christy sat by for most of a decade allowing — indeed encouraging — the use of their data set as an icon for global warming skeptics. They committed serial errors in the data analysis, but insisted they were right and models and thermometers were wrong. They did little or nothing to root out possible sources of errors, and left it to others to clean up the mess, as has now been done[40]"

2006, Letter to Canadian Prime Minister urging to delay action

Roy Spencer was one of 60 'accredited experts' who in April 2006 wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper denying climate change and urging inaction [41]

2001, Contribution to the IPCC

Whilst a critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Roy Spencer has also been a contributor. He helped draw up Chapter 7. Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks of the Third Assessment Report [42] and contributed to Chapter 3: Observed climate variability and change[43]

Affiliations and connections

Spencer is closely associated with Dr John R. Christy who also works at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Tech Central Station column

Spencer has been a columnist for TCS Daily, writing over forty columns, almost entirely on the the topic of global warming. Until 2006, TCS Daily was run by DCI Group, a lobbying firm that works for ExxonMobil. [44]

Heartland Institute speaker

Spencer was a speaker at the International Conference on Climate Change (2009) organized by the Heartland Institute think tank. [45]

George C. Marshall Institute board member

Spencer is a board member of the George C. Marshall Institute [46] At the George C. Marshall Institute roundtable in 2006 Spencer said "We are not saying that we don't believe that there can be significant global warming. As John [Christy] said, if you add CO2, something has to change. But things are changing all the time anyway. The big question is: So what? How much is it going to change, compared to other things? And what can you do about it?" [47] As a Board Member of GMI, he knows the funding sources of the organization, which includes moneys from Exxon profits. GMI is a front group to which Exxon and others funnel corporate dollars to advance a corporate agenda. While Spencer's claims to receive no "corporate funding" may be technically true, since GMI is a non-profit that is funded by other non-profits set up by oil and gas companies to help launder their profits and advance their policy agenda, he devotes significant time aiding the agenda of such corporations.[48]. There is no mention of his connection to the George C. Marshall Institute on the "About" page[49] of his weblog.


Articles and resources

References

  1. Dana1981 (2011-06-12). Examining Dr. John Christy's Global Warming Skepticism. skepticalscience.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-04. “By far the three most prominent and most frequently referenced climate scientists who are "skeptical" of the dangers of human-caused global warming are Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT, and Drs. Roy Spencer and John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH). These are not your typical unqualified "skeptics"...”
  2. Barry Bickmore. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Roy Spencer. Retrieved on 2011-08-04.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Taking Earth's temperature," University of Alabama in Huntsville website, accessed March 2009.
  4. Googling "marshall institute" site:drroyspencer.com brought up two comments from the public, but no mention from Spencer; ahaynes, 2011-08-04
  5. David Klepper, "Expert: We must act fast on warming," The Wichita Eagle (Kansas), September 24, 2008.
  6. "[1]"
  7. Nicholas Berini (2010-09-16). It's Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Skeptical Science. Retrieved on 2011-05-28.
  8. "[2]"
  9. Barry Bickmore (2011-05-20). Roy Spencer’s Latest Silver Bullet. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Retrieved on 2011-05-28.
  10. Frank Beckmann, "Skeptical scientists caution Obama on climate change fixes," The Detroit News (Michigan), December 5, 2008.
  11. Rick Piltz (2011-07-18). NRC: emissions choices today have implications for global climate on the scale of millennia. Climate Science Watch. Retrieved on 2011-08-12.
  12. Roy Spencer (2009-11-28). My Top 10 Annoyances in the Climate Change Debate. Roy Spencer, Ph. D.. Retrieved on 2011-07-28.
  13. Roy Spencer (2011-07-15). Our Refutation of Dessler (2010) is Accepted for Publication «. Roy Spencer, Ph. D.. Retrieved on 2011-07-28.
  14. Looking into these assertions - ~~~~
  15. Barry Bickmore (2011-07-26). Just Put the Model Down, Roy. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Retrieved on 2011-07-28. “Instead of complaining about how biased and awful the peer review system has gotten, he should (at the very least) get a statistician to work with him and do the modeling right, and then submit it for publication in a reputable journal.”
  16. Roy Spencer (2011-01-03). Why Most Published Research Findings are False. Roy Spencer, Ph. D.. Retrieved on 2011-08-12.
  17. Anonymous, via Michael Tobis (2011-08-10). On Nonscientific Bias in Climate Research. Only In It For The Gold. Retrieved on 2011-08-12.
  18. [3], Interview with John Stossell 07:27
  19. [4]
  20. [5]"
  21. Penfold, Michael (2007). The Evolution Crisis. ISBN 1900742241. 
  22. 'Evolution Crisis' website, accessed 2011-08-04
  23. Barry Bickmore (2011-02-25). Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 1. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Retrieved on 2011-03-12. “Spencer and Braswell plugged in some unrealistic values of the main variables into their model, and automagically got answers that confirmed their hypothesis that standard climate models might be greatly overestimating climate sensitivity. When someone else plugged in realistic values, it turned out that Spencer and Braswell’s hypothesis was not confirmed in any significant sense.”
  24. Barry Bickmore (2011-02-28). Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 2. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Retrieved on 2011-03-12. “The problems Spencer identifies are either red herrings or have been resolved...and he proposes no other explanation to take the place of the standard one.”
  25. Barry Bickmore (2011-03-01). Roy Spencer’s Great Blunder, Part 3. Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah. Retrieved on 2011-03-12. “Spencer posits that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is linked to chaotic variations in global cloud cover over multi-decadal timescales, and thus has been the major driver of climate change over the 20th century. ...values [for Spencer's modeling parameters] that are both more physically plausible and go against his hypothesis would give equally good results. Spencer only reported the values that agreed with his hypothesis, however.”
  26. Arthur Smith (2011-03-04). Mathematical analysis of Roy Spencer's climate model. Not Spaghetti. Retrieved on 2011-03-12. “The first thing a true scientist should think of in a situation like this doesn't seem to have even occurred to Spencer. "What if I'm wrong?" He was.”
  27. 27.0 27.1 Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo (2011-07-29). Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedback”. RealClimate. Retrieved on 2011-08-03. “the simple model used by Spencer is too simple (Einstein says that things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler): well this has gone way beyond being too simple (see for instance this post by Barry Bickmore). The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave.”
  28. Seth Borenstein (2011-07-29). Study on how much heat cloud cover causes sparks debate, criticism from climate scientists. WHNT. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  29. no byline (2011-07-29). Does NASA Data Show Global Warming Lost in Space?. FoxNews.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  30. James M. Taylor (2011-07-27). New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism - James Taylor - Endpoint Analysis -. Forbes. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Michael Ashley (2011-08-03). Spencer & Braswell 2011: Proof that global warming is exaggerated? Or just bad science?. Global Warming: Man or Myth?. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Joe Romm (2011-07-29). Climate Scientists Debunk Latest Bunk by Denier Roy Spencer. ThinkProgress. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  33. Bart Verheggen (2011-09-02). Spencer and Braswell fundamentally flawed, journal editor resigns «. My view on climate change (blog). Retrieved on 2011-09-03.
  34. Eli Rabett (2011-09-03). Honor and Respect. Rabett Run. Retrieved on 2011-09-03.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Andrew Dessler (2010-12-09). Feedback on Cloud Feedback. RealClimate. Retrieved on 2010-12-13. “"A positive cloud feedback loop posits a scenario whereby an initial warming of the planet, caused, for example, by increases in greenhouse gases, causes clouds to trap more energy and lead to further warming. Such a process amplifies the direct heating by greenhouse gases. Models have been long predicted this, but testing the models has proved difficult. > Making the issue even more contentious, some of the more credible skeptics out there (e.g., Lindzen, Spencer) have been arguing that clouds behave quite differently from that predicted by models. In fact, they argue, clouds will stabilize the climate and prevent climate change from occurring (i.e., clouds will provide a negative feedback). > In my new paper, I calculate the energy trapped by clouds and observe how it varies as the climate warms and cools during El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles. I find that, as the climate warms, clouds trap an additional 0.54±0.74W/m2 for every degree of warming. Thus, the cloud feedback is likely positive, but I cannot rule out a slight negative feedback. > It is important to note that while a slight negative feedback cannot be ruled out, the data do not support a negative feedback large enough to substantially cancel the well-established positive feedbacks, such as water vapor, as Lindzen and Spencer would argue. > I have also compared the results to climate models. Taken as a group, the models substantially reproduce the observations. This increases my confidence that the models are accurately simulating the variations of clouds with climate change.”
  36. Scott Mandia (2010-12-11). Roy Spencer Steps Outside Protocol to Attack Scientist. Global Warming: Man or Myth?. Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  37. Eli Kintisch (2010-12-10). Science Criticized in Cancún for Timing of Paper on Cloud Feedback. Science Insider. Retrieved on 2010-12-13. “A climate skeptic has suggested that Science tried to influence the climate change talks ending today in Cancún, Mexico, by publishing a paper that supports the idea that clouds tend to, at least in the short term, enhance global warming. An editor at the journal says that's not the case”
  38. Dan Satterfield (2010-09-12). A history of satellite measurements of global warming. Skeptical Science. Retrieved on 2010-12-11. “John Christy and Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama published a series of papers starting about 1990 that implied the troposphere was warming at a much slower rate than the surface temperature record and climate models indicate”
  39. No byline (2005-08-11). Climate change: Heat and light. The Economist. Retrieved on 2010-12-11. “An unexplained anomaly in the climate seems to have been the result of bad data”
  40. Ray Pierrehumbert (2008-05-21). How to cook a graph in three easy lessons. RealClimate. Retrieved on 2010-12-11.
  41. "[6]"
  42. 2001, "http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/index.php?idp=558[]"
  43. "[7]"
  44. Diane Farsetta, "Oil Lobbyist's 'News' Denies Inconvenient Truths: WTOK-11's Hot Air Misleads Viewers," Center for Media and Democracy, November 14, 2006.
  45. "Speakers," Heartland Institute website, accessed January 2009.
  46. "[8]"
  47. "[9]"
  48. [10]
  49. No byline (Undated). About. Roy Spencer, Ph. D.. Retrieved on 2010-12-11. “Dr. Spencer’s research has been entirely supported by U.S. government agencies: NASA, NOAA, and DOE. He has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service.”

Related SourceWatch articles

External resources

"Affiliation" bio pages

External articles

Critiques

  • Tamino (pseudonym) (2008-07-28). Spencer’s Folly. Open Mind. Retrieved on 2011-03-12.


Interviews with Spencer

Articles by Spencer

General articles