Monday, April 1, 2013

The Don Easterbrook Problem

Don Easterbrook testified before a Washington State Senate committee regarding global cooling. That's right: global cooling. Dr. Easterbrook is claiming that the global climate has been cooling over the past 15 years and will continue to do so more or less over the next century. He spoke with great certainty on the matter as well as on ocean acidification - it is not happening. He also claimed that the increase in atmospheric CO2 could not cause global warming.

Dr. Easterbrook is a retired geology professor from Western Washington University. Much of his work has been associated with glaciation in the Puget Sound and Whatcom County. In that regard he has studied past climate, but he is by no means an atmospheric scientist.

I did watch his testimony tvwplayer (starts at 10:35). I would not recommend it. It is boring and simply full of cherry picked facts and graphs all backed by a remarkable confidence. Dr. Easterbrook has been at this for a long time and a Google Search will find plenty of posts on climate blogs. Global warming denier blogs love him, and global climate blogs that perform whack-a-mole on bad climate science dismantle his presentations - a recent post by Gareth Renowden being a case in point don-easterbrook-is-a-zombie. The zombie post was before Don Easterbrook testified.

My own take-a-way from the testimony was 1) it was a waste of time, 2) Easterbrook has been fully assimilated into the global warming denier Borg (Star Trek reference), and 3) was very willing to disparage whole groups of other scientists. 

Is Easterbrook a Waste of Time?

Waste of time or not, Dr. Easterbrook is an embarrassment to the Western Washington University Geology Department and I hope the entire University. This matters to me as Western is where I got my undergraduate degrees and master degree from WWU. The Geology Department issued a position statement a couple of years ago on human induced climate change and peer review in an effort to inoculate themselves from Dr. Easterbrook: 

Human-induced climate change

Decades of scientific research have shown that climate can change from both natural and anthropogenic causes. The Geology Faculty at WWU concur with rigorous, peer-reviewed assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed significantly and that human activities (mainly greenhouse-gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s. If current trends continue, the projected increase in global temperature by the end of the twenty-first century will result in large impacts on humans and other species. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require a combination of adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur and global reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from anthropogenic sources.
Related positions: Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Peer Review

The Geology Faculty at WWU believes that all science must be subjected to rigorous peer review and publication before it becomes worthy of serious discussion. We do not support publication of non-peer-reviewed scientific results in the general media. A brief guide to peer review is available at Sense About Science.

Every professor in the Department signed an Op-Ed that appeared in the Bellingham Herald on April 2 in response to Dr. Easterbrook's State Senate Committee testimony HERE. Kudos to the Geology Department in taking time to deal with this issue. Yes, Easterbrook is a waste of time, but he must be dealt with. His abuse of his position is harmful to public policy and harmful to the University.

Easterbrook Insults NASA and Peer Reviewed Journals

I have no desire to get into the weeds of all Dr. Easterbrook's graphs and facts or speculation on his psychology or motivations. But a couple of things stood out - his insulting statements directed at NASA and peer reviewed journals.
One of his major claims of fact was that it was warmer in the 1930s than it is today. This is contrary to all NOAA and NASA time-temperature plots. Easterbrook's response is that NASA has "tampered" with the data. When asked as to why NASA would manipulate the data, Easterbrook stated he had no idea why. Nor did he provide any explanation as to why his methodology was superior to NASA's. He simply referenced the "raw data".
NASA has lots of information and links regarding the data sets they use for plotting global temperature vs. time http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/. And lots of explanations regarding the data. Spending a little time understanding the plots and the data use is well worth the time if you really want to understand climate change. And a full understanding of the data sets is essential for understanding temperature trends over time. Simply using the "raw data" as Dr. Easterbrook is claiming he is doing is, to put it bluntly, stupid. (I am skeptical of his claimed use of "raw data" because many of his graphs are lifted from others that are using the NASA data approach)
The data set claims is a routine claim by the global warming denier Borg. A discussion of the issue from a media presentation perspective is presented by http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2010/01/kusi-noaa-nasa/.
Easterbrook also managed to disparage the entire journal peer review process. If Easterbrook could come up with a reasonable data set approach to demonstrate global cooling or how modeling the impacts of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is not being done in an accurate manner, he might get something published on the subject in a reputable journal. But his response is to claim the reason there are so few global cooling peer reviewed articles is that journal editorial boards have been taken over by CO2 dogmatists.

Does Don Easterbrook Deserve Some Deference?

During the Senate Committee Hearing, committee member Senator Andy Billig asked excellent questions in a polite and patient manner. He deftly managed to get Don Easterbrook to double down on his dismissive position on the NASA data and his disregard for journal editorial boards and revealed the conspiracy mindset so common in climate warming denial.

But I am of the view Don Easterbrook deserves no kind treatment. He is and has abused his credential as a geology professor. His abuse of that position is not limited to global climate. I have watched him do the same thing regarding slope stability issues on several occasions on expert testimony and public policy settings, seismic risk before a state committee I was serving on, and phosphorus impacts to a drinking water lake. All areas where he demonstrated limited expertise and in several circumstances was so completely wrong as to be embarrassing. Efforts to correct his mistakes were met with disdain that only the those with remarkable arrogance and ignorance are capable of doing.

Easterbrook's abuse of his credentials has and continues to do harm on public policy matters. I very much appreciate the willingness of the WWU Geology Department to take this matter on in a head on manner. It could not possibly be easy to essentially disown a fellow colleague. As a Western Geology alum count me as joining the Department's view.

7 comments:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

Excellent response. I was curious what you thought of this kerfuffle. Easterbrook is no J Harlan Bretz, but he thinks he is. We always have the lunatic fringe on every issue, but its scary when the policy makers make celebrities of them, and give them credence. That worries me more. There are 246 comments on the Herald article so far today, and that also scares me, and some think that is peer review!

Doug Clark said...

Excellent post, Dan, and much appreciated. We've tried to ignore Don's climate antics for quite a while, but when it starts directly involving our government and their policy decisions, using our department's reputation as a soap box, we needed to rebut it in no uncertain terms. I hope that some of the broader media might rebroadcast this.

Dr. Jerque said...

Thanks for this post. I did not realize this was going on in Washington State Gov't right now.

I actually watched the testimony and do hope there is a chance for a reasoned rebuttal to some of the more 'marginal' assertions. The blanket statements about data manipulation bordering on conspiracy cannot go unchallenged simply in the interest of basic fairness, can they?

I graduated WWU Geology in 1989, thus had Don as a 'teacher' a few times. His demeanor is unchanged after all these years. Though I am a Q geologist / geomorphologist, I received far more inspiration from other faculty members than from him. I note that two of them remain on the faculty and signed the letter to the Herald.

Anonymous said...

Challenge him to a public debate on the same TVW site.

Dan McShane said...

Thanks for the kind comments. As for a debate it would be short.Any legitimate skeptic on CO2 global warming requires discussion of CO2. Don Easterbrook dismisses CO2 as a warming mechanism. This fundamental fact difference ends any debate.

Anonymous said...

Why denigrate and dismiss an individual when you believe that the facts are on your side. Debate him! Or is this settled science with no room for decent? These sites are all the same. Zero facts and lots of attacks.

Dan McShane said...

In his testimony, Dr. Easterbrook stated that CO2 could not possibly cause warming. This is obe of several facts that Dr. Easterbrook used. So the basics facts of CO2 and temperature records are disagreed upon. Debating facts would not be very informative. I'll accept your anonymous critique that this post is a bit of an attack. But I thought it well deserved. And this post is well outside of how this blog generally treats policy issues. Take the time to watch the testimony and you will see attack after attack on other scientists from Dr. Easterbrook.