The Fungus Among Us

J. Alan Pounds and 13 co-authors recently published a piece in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Nature, which concluded that global warming has likely caused the extinction of nearly 70 per cent of amphibian species in a mountainous region area of Central and South America. Pounds, an eminently respected researcher, heads up a conservation biology laboratory in Costa Rica.

His team concluded that the spread of the fungus that killed the frogs was due to global warming. Their conclusion is based on their finding that patterns of fungus outbreaks and extinctions in widely dispersed patches of habitat were synchronized in a way that could not be explained by chance or by local variations in weather conditions.

Several mainstream scientists said the study was highly suggestive but still preliminary – although none of them could account for the simultaneous spread of the lethal fungus in separate geographical areas.

The Nature issue was barely out when Pat Michaels, one of the most venerable of the U.S. climate skeptics, was all over it. Michaels, who has no background in biology, declared that the amphibian extinction was due not to climate change but to a fungus introduced, most likely, by the researchers themselves.

Michaels has a rich history (and, presumably, a rich bank account as well).

For many years, he was heavily funded by the coal industry to shoot down climate science. He is currently housed at the libertarian Cato Institute and is funded by, among others, ExxonMobil.

Despite Michaels' utter lack of qualifications to comment on species extinction (he claims to be a climatologist), the Cato Institute disseminated his pronouncements in a press release to the Society of Environmental Journalists. While condemning Pounds for his considered speculations, Michaels presented no data whatsoever to support his hypothesis that the fungus was spread simultaneously by researchers and ecotourists in widely separated mountainous regions where the dieoffs have occurred.

Also missing from the Cato Institute's press release was any mention of an earlier encounter Michaels had with a leading IPCC climate scientist. Several years ago, Michaels presented an extensive rebuttal of the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change before a U.S. Congressional Committee. His presentation was critiqued by Tom M. L. Wigley, one of the IPCC's top scientists, who was a co-author of the groundbreaking 1996 study that provided the first conclusive evidence that the warming of the planet is due to human activities. Wigley is now a senior scientist at the to U.S. climate research institution, the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

When he reviewed Michaels' Congressional testimony, Wigley pointed that Michaels made a number of flagrant errors - including confusing two separate computer climate models with two different runs on the same model. He concluded that not only would Michaels work not pass the test of scientific peer-review, it wouldn't even be accepted for peer review.

Wrote Wigley: “[M]any of the supposedly factual statements made in Michaels' testimony are either inaccurate or are seriously misleading. If I were to judge this as a scientific paper, or as a paper reviewing the science of climate change, I would have to recommend its rejection. The document contains so many errors, misconceptions, and misinterpretations that I can see no way that it could be revised to a state where publication might be considered.”

Wigley's withering critique obviously has not stopped Michaels – who continues to sow confusion by flouting his newfound expertise in fungus.

(What follows is the Cato Institute's mailing to environmental journalists):


From: Greg Garner [mailto:[email protected]]

Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 4:02 PM

Subject: Cato Scholar Questions Global Warming Findings in “Nature” Magazine

Dear Journalists:

Today, Nature magazine published a paper by J. Alan Pounds and 13 coauthors claiming that global warming has caused the extinction of nearly 70% of amphibian species in a portion of Central and South America. The title of the paper is “Widespread Amphibian Extinctions from Epidemic Disease Driven by Global Warming.”

Patrick J. Michaels, the Cato Institute's senior fellow in environmental studies and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media says: “Nature has published several global warming papers in recent years that have been severely criticized, calling many to question the objectivity of their review process on this subject. The Pounds manuscript represents the most flagrant example of this yet. The simplest assertions about climate change and extinction were simply not tested, and the conclusions of the paper are simply not borne out by the data within.”

Dr. Michaels, a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, adds: “The authors attribute the extinctions to a change in daily temperature caused by an increase in cloudiness. They never checked satellite records which in fact show absolutely no increase in cloudiness! Nor did they mention that massive extinctions often take place when a new organism is introduced to an ecosystem, and this is precisely what happened with the amphibians. The culprit, a fungus, was introduced by ecotourists and researchers themselves!”

If you would like to schedule an interview with Dr. Michaels, please contact me at (202) 789-5263 or [email protected]. Or you may contact the media relations department at (202) 789-5200 or [email protected]

Thank you,

Greg Garner

Media Relations Manager

Cato Institute

1000 Massachusetts Avenue., N.W.

Washington, DC 20001

Phone: (202) 789-5263

Cato Institute <> : (202) 842-0200