The Skeptic John Coleman: Charming, Grandfatherly - and not the least credible

Thu, 2010-01-14 15:30Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

The Skeptic John Coleman: Charming, Grandfatherly - and not the least credible

The increasingly public “skepticism” of aging weatherman John Coleman raises an interesting question: Do you have to be corrupt to be wrong about climate change?

The answer, of course, is no. Notwithstanding the money that Coleman makes as a guest speaker for oily conferences organized by long-compromised groups like the Heartland Institute, he may be sincere, even well-intentioned about his personal campaign to dismiss climate change as “the greatest scam in history.”

But that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, especially as he is leveraging a high profile to interfere in a debate about which he is clearly ill-informed. Because given his ability to command an audience, and given the public’s tendency to confuse weather with climate and to actually take someone like Coleman seriously as a scientific commentator, there is a real danger that people could believe what he says. And that would be a crime.

Coleman burst on the denier scene a couple of years ago with a 1,000-word screed that was snapped up by denier frontgroups like ICECAP and distributed by the Drudge report. ICECAP continues to celebrate the result, boasting (as if it’s somehow relevant) that “KUSI and Icecap received hundreds of emails, better than 90% favorable.” (How would you expect readers on a denial website to react to a new spokester denying climate change?)

ICECAP acknowledges that “there were of course some negative responses,” but dismissed these as “mostly ad hominem attacks questioning motivation as is typical in this issue.”

Well, not having access to ICECAP’s emails (wouldn’t THAT be a treat), we can’t comment on the exact nature of the criticism. But in the light of Coleman’s own analysis, it’s worthwhile to review the actual meaning of the term, ad hominem. Wiki puts it this way:

An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: “argument toward the person” or “argument against the person”) is an argument which links the validity of a premise to an irrelevant characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.

The notion here is that you might dismiss someone’s views on climate because, say, they are not nice people - because they are unkind to small animals or unreliable to their friends.

That’s not the case with the general criticism of Coleman. You can fairly dismiss his views because he has no expertise. He’s a weather forecaster and has been since he was 19. He has never studied atmospheric science and, even as a self-proclaimed expert, he seems not to know the difference between being a meteorologist and a climate scientist.

If you want the whole backstory on Coleman, it’s available here in an excellent article by the Columbia Journalism Review.

But if you want a really excellent example of ad hominem argument, you could look at Coleman’s own original essay, a downloadable copy of which is available on the ICECAP site. Here, Coleman advises that scientists - virtually all scientists, including members of his own family - are isolated, agenda-driven, single-minded and corrupt. According to Coleman, the overwhelming majority of these horrid individuals “manipulate the data to come up with the results they wanted to make headlines and at the same time drive their environmental agendas.” Other scientists go along with them because they all care - above all - about their research funding. The almost invisible band of scientists who, by Coleman’s judgment, actually have a conscience, has been silenced by the environmental mob.

That’s not merely an ad hominem attack. It’s flat out libelous and would be actionable if Coleman attached a name to his criticism. It’s also stone stupid. While we at the DeSmogBlog are happy to suggest that, say, Pat Michaels or Fred Singer are compromised beyond credibility buy the money they take from the oil industry, we would never actually accuse every deluded denier in the world of greed, selfishness and professional malfeasance.

Coleman shows no such restraint and one can only imagine how he faces his brother - who actually HAS a science PhD - when they get together over the holidays.

But that’s pretty much all Coleman’s got - a vast conspiracy theory. If you look at his actual argument - the literacy-challenged essay or the sometimes-stumbling TV presentations like this one - you’ll see a nice man, past his prime as a news-caster and well past his best-before date as a scientific source. You will see some carefully manipulated graphs that are not sourced and that are cut off to prevent us from having to consider that the recent global warming is, indeed, more severe than anything seen in a thousand years and is moving more quickly than any climate change in many thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of years.

Coleman may be sincere. He may be well-intentioned. He may be a charming dupe. But he should be ashamed of himself for not taking more care in what he reads and who he befriends.

And the rest of us should ignore him more enthusiastically than the good people of San Diego ignore his weather forecasts.


Previous Comments

Even though San Diego is the home of one of the world’s leading climate research institutions, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego residents hear a lot more about global warming from local wingnuts like KUSI’s John Coleman and KFMB’s right-wing talk-show host Rick Roberts than they do from anyone at Scripps.

It’s time for the folks at Scripps to take their gloves off and lay the smackdown on the San Diego media personalities who have been spreading misinformation and even outright lies about global-warming.

Scripps needs to hold a press conference (with special invitations to KUSI’s and KFMB’s competitors), and really let Coleman and Roberts have it.

Rick Roberts will be taking calls on his show to discuss Coleman’s global-warming “special” tomorrow. It would be nice if some of the local scientists here could get past Roberts’ call-screeners to set the record straight (but San Diego will host the Winter Olympics before that ever happens…).

Some people just need to feel like they are “wise authorities”. Wading into a controversy is one way for them to get that feeling, especially if they convince themselves that they have special knowledge, have a thick skin, and consider _reaction_ to be the same as acknowledgement…

Re: “ad hominem”, I never saw it elucidated so well. It’s only ad hominem if the criticism is tied to an irrelevant characteristic of the person. E.g. “Who could believe Fred Singer, he’s a wrinkly old geezer!” But this is NOT ad hominem: “I treat everything Singer says about climate change as fraudulent until substantiated, he’s been misrepresenting science to help his tobacco industry clients delay accountability for decades.”

I watched every single minute of John’s show tonight. The first audience “question” was a simple True or False “Is Global Warming Real?” - John’s answer was a very surprising True! - Then he spent the next 50 minutes disproving the “Global warming myth” - Go Figure

His show from a very public podium does much to confuse the issues - and does not help advance the science involved at all. It does much damage…..

If you think about the general vector of the doubter population, it’s pointing more and more in the direction of “the data is bad”, with various reasons given.

This is no surprise; the scientific interpretation of the various forms and sources of data we have all yields the same general conclusion, namely that we’re pushing too hard on the planet and are causing too much change, too fast. For doubters, the root problem here is data.

As scientists have mounted robust explanations for why the data we rely on can be trusted, more and more we see attacks on data taking the form of charges of corruption against scientists themselves.

This is of course a fallback, defensive position on the part of doubters, but it’s powerful because it cannot be answered with rational explanations. Doubters can always point to hidden corruption as a reason why the science behind AGW is unreliable. More, doubters can rely on decades of character assassination efforts mounted against government by various libertarian and anti-taxation organizations to make their message more plausible to the unwitting. “Government scientists are deceiving us because they want more of our money”.

I’m wondering if this recent swerve in the direction of data-trashing is an actual centrally directed strategic maneuver? We’ve seen it before; the prior decade saw a tremendous advance in campaign politics based on attacking the strengths of opponents. War hero? Make up a story about cowardice. It’s a plot line we’ve seen before.

It appears from “Climate Cover-Up” that many of the same folks working the political circuit are active today in managing fossil fuel interest PR. The “bad data” approach seems eerily familiar.

Can you please spell respect for me? Look it up at wiki and post it please. You do so well at cut and paste but not so good at reality. Sorry for the uneducated grammer.

Everywhere I look I see more am more skeptics/deniers/heretics/. All the climate gates are wide open and it’s all over but the face saving horse crap that is sure to come along with prosecutions.

Oh well, nice try there Ricky. But you got lots of splainin to do.

How was the Denmark vacation by the by. J

Amongst other things, Coleman claims that up to 75% of the ground stations submitting data to NASA/GISS and NCDC have been edited out. Put another way, only 1,500 stations are included in the data sets instead of 6,000.

The Russian IEA made similar accusations against the University of East Anglia’s CRU, so a pattern is emerging.

All of these accusations would evaporate in a heart beat if the accused organisations were to publish their data on the Internet. Instead, they continue to resist requests under FOI laws. What are they afraid of?

You folks need to turn your attention to the message instead of attacking the messengers.

You mean like all of this data?

And specific NCDC data?

And specific GISS data?

See if you can prove that there is any relevant data that is not available on the Internet.

Thanks for the links. I picked the NCDC data set at random, downloaded it and then tested one of the accusations made my D’Aleo and Watts. They claimed that the number of weather stations reported has decreased over the last few years. I picked the data set for Canada (403) and counted the stations reporting each year manually (v2.max_adj.Z); quite a laborious process for a record over 234,290 lines long.

To my dismay, the accusations were correct. Now I plan to write some programs to check some of the other accusations without hand cranking the data. It seems that the NCDC has left the evidence “in plain sight” thinking that nobody would check!

I have a heavy teaching schedule right now so it may take a month or two before I can do much more on this. However, I suspect it will soon be moot owing to the efforts of the “Denier” Myrmidons.

Which definition of “Myrmidon” are you using? “Hired ruffian” or “unquestioning followers”? Both work for me, but there are subtle differences.

Does the fact that denialists keep finding “evidence left in plain sight” mean that the global conspiracy is stupid, or that the denialists are too ignorant or fixated to see a rational and obvious explanation?

For example, can you think of a non-conspiratorial reason why the number of Canadian weather stations has declined? I can…

It would be nice if someone would address this blog post fully. Gavin Schmidt doesn’t seem to want to do it.

“It has been revealed that a “sleight of hand” was used in the computer program that rated 2005 as “THE WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD.” Skeptical climate researchers have discovered extensive manipulation of the data within the U.S. Government’s two primary climate centers: the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia University in New York City. These centers are being accused of creating a strong bias toward warmer temperatures through a system that dramatically trimmed the number and cherry-picked the locations of weather observation stations they use to produce the data set on which temperature record reports are based. The two investigators say the system has been distorted in other ways as well. They have documented their findings in great detail in a scientific report that has been posted online. These findings are presented as a part of my television special report ”Global Warming: The Other Side” telecast Thursday night, January 14th at 9 PM here on KUSI TV.

The data manipulation studies are explored in detail during the fourth segment of the one hour video now available here on our website. Just click on the Global Warming special banner to go to the page.

NOAA and NASA start with the unadjusted NOAA GHCN (Global Historical Climate Network). NASA eliminates some stations and adds some in the polar regions. For NASA, the computer program that manipulates the data is known as GIStemp, Both then add their own adjustments to calculate a global average temperature and a ranking for each month and year. The two inter-related U.S Government agencies have so intertwined their programs and data sets that both are being challenged by the investigating team that has produced this “smoking gun of U.S. Climate-gate.” “We suspect each center will try to hide behind, ‘It’s them; Not us’ and point fingers at each other,” says the Computer Programmer from San Jose behind these new revelations. He and a Certified Consulting Meteorologist from New Hampshire made their revelations public on January 14th on a prime time television special report at 9:00PM PST; on KUSI-TV, an independent television station in San Diego Perhaps that is why Dr. Richard Anthes, President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in testimony to congress in March 2009 noted “The present federal agency paradigm with respect to NASA and NOAA is obsolete and nearly dysfunctional in spite of best efforts by both agencies.”

The U.S. Government’s National Weather Service uses the NCDC data in its record temperature news releases put out with much media fanfare on a regular basis as they declare a given month or year has set a record for warmth, supporting the global warming agenda.

Also, the NCDC/NASA GISS data are regularly used by climate researchers doing studies at various research centers and within university meteorology centers that are doing studies to support the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This data is also shared with other global centers such as the recently hacked or leaked East Anglia University Hadley Climate Center in England.

Programmer E. Michael Smith and CCM Joseph D’Aleo, the two men who did the research, also revealed there are no actual temperatures left in the computer database when it proclaimed “2005 WAS THE WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD.” In the transition to a computer averaging system, the National Data Climate Center deleted actual temperatures at thousands of locations throughout the world as it evolved to a system of global grid boxes. The number that goes into each grid box is determined by averaging the temperatures of two or more weather observation stations nearest that grid box..

D’Aleo puts it this way, “Over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and vast areas of land masses remain unpopulated as well. So it is reasonable to come up with some sort of grid method to simulate full global coverage. The problem arises because not all of the grid boxes have continuous temperature measurements from within them. So NCDC averages surrounding or nearby points and places that number in the box. In some cases those observations are from several hundreds of miles away. That produces a serious question, ‘Does the resulting number represent the average temperature for that region within meaningful limits?’” D’Aleo says it does not. “A vital issue,” he says is, “temperatures are not linear over space, but instead vary enormously because of differences in terrain, elevation, vegetation, water versus land and urbanization.”

This problem is only the tip of the iceberg with the data being produced at NDCC. For one thing, it is clear that comparing data from previous years when the final figure was produced by averaging a large number of temperatures and those produced from a much smaller temperature set with large data gaps is comparing apples and oranges. “When the differences between the warmest year in history and the tenth warmest year is less than three quarters of a degree, it becomes silly to rely on such comparisons,” Smith and D’Aleo say. But that is exactly what has been done in touting the late 1990s and the early 2000s as the warmest ten years in history. “It is clearly a travesty and agenda- driven by global warming advocates,” D’Aleo asserts.

For E. Michael Smith this project was quite a test of his computer programming skills. “Opening, unraveling and understanding what is happening in a complex FORTRAN computer code, with 20 years of age and change in it, is a difficult and grueling task,” he says, “and the deeper I dug the more amazing the details revealed. When doing a benchmark test of the program, I found patterns in the input data from NCDC that looked like dramatic and selective deletions of thermometers from cold locations.” Smith says after awhile, it became clear this was not a random strange pattern he was finding, but a well designed and orchestrated manipulation process. “The more I looked, the more I found patterns of deletion that could not be accidental. Thermometers moved from cold mountains to warm beaches; from Siberian Arctic to more southerly locations and from pristine rural locations to jet airport tarmacs. The last remaining Arctic thermometer in Canada is in a place called ‘The Garden Spot of the Arctic,’ always moving away from the cold and toward the heat. I could not believe it was so blatant and it clearly looked like it was in support of an agenda,” Smith says.

Here are the numbers behind the startling findings of the new research paper. The number of actual weather observation points used as a starting point for world average temperatures has been reduced from about 6,000 in the 1970s to about 1,500 in the most recent years. Still, more stations are dropped out in related programs and in the final NASA/GIStemp data file, it drops to about 1,000. That leaves much of the world unaccounted for,” says Joseph D’Aleo of and, who has released a research study of the global temperature pattern today. “Think of it this way,” he continues, “if Minneapolis and other northern cities suddenly disappeared but Kansas City and St. Louis were still available, would you think an average of Kansas City and St. Louis would provide an accurate replacement for Minneapolis and expect to use that to determine how Minneapolis’ temperature has changed with any hope of accuracy?”

E. Michael Smith pointed out that the November 2009 “anomaly map” from GISS shows a very hot Bolivia, which is covered by high mountains. “One small problem: there have been no temperatures recorded in the NCDC data set for Bolivia since 1990. NASA/GISS have to fill in or make up the numbers from up to 1200km away. This is on the beach in Peru or in the Amazon jungle,” he said.

He and D’Aleo say it is startling where the temperatures are that have been dropped from the calculation. “A very high percentage of those dropped are from the more northern locations. Very few are left north of sixty degrees longitude.” “Clearly there is also a bias to leave in locations with warmer temperatures, i.e. from the arid areas and within the urban warmth of cities,” he adds. In the greatest reduced list of locations, there are very few colder mountain locations retained.

E. Michael Smith and Joe D’Aleo are both interviewed as part of a report on this study on the television special, “Global Warming: The Other Side” seen at 9 PM on January 14th on KUSI-TV, channel 9/51, San Diego, California. That program will be available on-demand at at the conclusion of the broadcast. The detailed report by D’Aleo is available at”


With the news of Willie Soon's fossil-fuel-funded career featured on the front page of The New York Times on Sunday, there's no time like the present to take a look at all of Soon's friends in the anti-science climate denial echo chamber.

Where to begin? Well, the climate denial think tank ...

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