Will the real Richard Muller please stand up

[Please see updates at end of this post – hro]

Dr. Richard A. Muller is a physicist at Berkeley with a rather eclectic mélange of interests (which you can read about on his rather garish personal website). I first learned of him some months ago when he launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project which is designed to:

resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results will include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.

Muller is far from being a new kid on the climate science block, as his bio on the BEST site notes:

he also spent over a decade researching paleoclimate. His primary interest was in the Milankovitch cycles, and is the author of a technical book “Ice Ages and Astronomical Causes” […], which emphasizes methods of mathematical climate analysis.

His views on Climategate – and in particular the infamous hockey-stick – have been circulating around the blogosphere for quite some time and are perhaps best summarized in this excerpt from a much longer video:


Yet Muller is far from being a Johnny-come-lately in his criticisms of the work of Michael Mann and the hockey-team. As early as October 2004, he wrote a rather scathing critique in which he supported the (by now well-known) work of McIntyre and McKitrick, and in which he reasonably concluded:

Global Warming Bombshell

How does this bombshell affect what we think about global warming?

It certainly does not negate the threat of a long-term global temperature increase. In fact, McIntyre and McKitrick are careful to point out that it is hard to draw conclusions from these data, even with their corrections. Did medieval global warming take place? Last month the consensus was that it did not; now the correct answer is that nobody really knows. Uncovering errors in the Mann analysis doesnt settle the debate; it just reopens it. We now know less about the history of climate, and its natural fluctuations over century-scale time frames, than we thought we knew.

If you are concerned about global warming (as I am) and think that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute (as I do), then you still should agree that we are much better off having broken the hockey stick. Misinformation can do real harm, because it distorts predictions. […]

A phony hockey stick is more dangerous than a broken one–if we know it is broken. It is our responsibility as scientists to look at the data in an unbiased way, and draw whatever conclusions follow. When we discover a mistake, we admit it, learn from it, and perhaps discover once again the value of caution. [emphasis added -hro]

Notwithstanding Muller’s December 2003 view that:

It was unfortunate that many scientists endorsed the hockey stick before it could be subjected to the tedious review of time. Ironically, it appears that these scientists skipped the vetting precisely because the results were so important.

Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate.

an Op Ed piece Muller wrote for the WSJ in December 2009, strongly suggests that he includes himself in the ranks of the “CO2 realists”. In this article, he observed:

Naked Copenhagen
Imagine a “dream” agreement emerging from Copenhagen next week: The U.S. agrees to cut greenhouse emissions 80% by 2050, as President Barack Obama has been promising. The other developed countries promise to cut emissions by 60%. China promises to reduce its CO2 intensity by 70% in 2040. Emerging economies promise that in 2040, when their wealth per capita has grown to half that of the U.S., they will cut emissions by 80% over the following 40 years. And all parties make good on their pledges.

Environmental success, right? Wrong. Even if the goals are all met, emissions will continue rising to nearly four times the current level.


The reason is that most future carbon emissions will not come from the currently industrialized world, but from the emerging economies, especially China.


Every 10% cut in the U.S. is negated by one year of China’s growth. By 2040 China could be the most economically dominant nation on earth. The West might be able to cajole it, but won’t be able to impose sanctions on China. Temperature will be at the mercy of the newly powerful economies.

Moreover, an expensive effort to reduce Western emissions sets a worthless example. Only emissions cuts that provide measurable economic benefit to the developing nations will be adopted by them. If the 80% U.S. emissions cut winds up hurting the U.S. economy, it guarantees China will never follow our example.


Another option is that we could learn to live with global warming. Despite claims to the contrary, storms aren’t increasing. The rate of hurricanes hitting the U.S. coast has been constant for a century, and the number of damaging tornadoes has been going down. Will Happer, a former director of research for the Department of Energy, argues that additional CO2 may have helped the agricultural revolution. And chilly Berkeley might be nicer with a few degrees warming.

Muller also has his own consulting business which offers a service:

GreenGov™ is a service offered by Muller & Associates for Governments, International Organizations, non profits, and other organizations that work with Government. The aim is to provide politically-neutral counsel that is broad in scope while rooted in the hard facts of state-of-the-art science and engineering. The key is to make the right patch between the best technologies and the strengths of the government. We know that to be effective the political dimension must be integrated into the technical plan from the start. [pls see update of Aug. 1/12 below]

And while he seems to be in favour of both solar and wind as part of the future energy mix, Muller also seems to have a common sense approach to the energy problem, as noted in this conclusion to his Op Ed published on the day of Obama’s inauguration:

Part of President Obama’s challenge will come from green bickering. Solar supporters hate nukes, nuclear experts make fun of solar; CFL advocates argue that LEDs are too expensive, LED ads exaggerate the dangers of the miniscule amounts of mercury in CFLs.

Such cleaner than thou squabbling interferes with good energy policy. The energy problem requires not one but many solutions: efficiency, conservation, solar, wind, biofuels, clean coal, nukes, LEDs, CFLs, the whole spectrum. The only reasonable energy policy is this: we need it all.

Yet, on March 31 of this year, Muller, who had been invited to testify to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for some reason (that I, amongst others, have still not been able to fathom) decided that it would be appropriate to speak about “preliminary” results that pertained to work on data that had been shared with him in confidence by Anthony Watts.

I’m not a physicist (or a climate scientist); however, I would have thought that considering the “preliminary” nature of the BEST findings, the contentiousness of the issue, and the high profile nature of his appearance, a little circumspection would have been in order. Watts, understandably IMHO, was sufficiently disappointed in Muller’s actions that he took the step of writing a letter to the same committee, outlining his concerns.

As Dr. Judith Curry noted in a post a few days later, the focus of the hearing was “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy”. In her post, Curry posed the question:

4 days after the testimony, in hindsight, should/could Muller have done anything differently? He could have declined to testify, but I’m not sure how that would have helped anything (other than to save Muller alot of personal grief). He could have thrown Watts under the bus and published results using Watts’ data. Other ideas?

During the course of the somewhat heated discussion that followed, when asked:

Would you, being a member of the BEST team, present the same findings that Dr. Muller presented in a testimony that you were invited to present to a congressional committee?

Curry replied:

I do not feel any obligation to defend Muller’s testimony. I can resign from the group at any time, I have no formal appointment with the group and receive no $$$ from them. If I were invited to testify I probably would have submitted different testimony, focused more on the broader issues that were of concern and less on specific results. Given Muller’s immersion in the BEST project, its difficult to imagine how he could separate out testifying on this subject from presenting his current understanding of the issue based on his preliminary analysis. [emphasis added -hro]

I admire Curry’s diplomacy. As I did more recently, when she announced on her blog that BEST was releasing the papers – on which her name appears as co-author, because a decision had been made that the four papers were a “team effort”. Curry expressed the view that two of the papers were not ready for prime time.

As I had commented in a later thread on “BEST (?) PR”:

I find it hard to believe that BEST was unaware of how badly the MSM has behaved for so many years when reporting developments that have any bearing (valid or ultimately invalid) on climate science.

Yet, when I reviewed the text of the press release on the BEST site, it seemed to me that (giving them the benefit of the doubt!) they were incredibly naïve – and very presumptuous in their claim to the effect that the papers were ready for inclusion in the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

Seems that everything was geared towards an Oct. 20 release date. But I’d like to know what was so magical or crucial about Oct. 20.

Why choose a deadline that evidently precluded incorporating the changes that Anthony had suggested – not to mention, a more thoughtful consideration (prior BEST to going public or submitting to journal) by quiet circulation (with ample time for discussion and incorporation of feedback) to Pielke, Watts and McIntyre amongst others?
Another issue that I find somewhat disconcerting .. the Press Release indicates that the team consists of inter alia “climatologists” [note the plural!]. Yet, if one views the credentials attributed to “The Berkley Earth Team”, you are the only person who is identified as a climatologist. And all four papers (as you had previously indicated) have your name as a co-author (notwithstanding your stated limited involvement).

[description of an incident from another milieu, many moons ago, which led me to:]

[…] while you were fortunate not to have been used by the IPCC, I’m not entirely confident that you may not have been used by BEST. Not to mention that ever since I learned of Muir Russell’s endorsement of the “team-work” sidestep, I have reservations about how easily responsibility and accountability become foggily diffused when I read/hear that “this was a team effort”, OWTTE.

To my mind, Muller made a mistake in March when he chose to highlight Watt’s data – and feature BEST’s preliminary findings. Recent events, however, would suggest that he may not have seen it that way, or if he did, he certainly did not learn from his mistake. The BEST findings are still preliminary, yet (again for reasons that I have been unable to fathom), BEST decided to embark on a full-court press blitz which included (but certainly was not limited to):

The November 2011 issue of The Atlantic – in which Muller is featured as a “2011 Brave Thinker”.

The October 22 issue of The Economist which notes that:

Yet Berkeley Earth’s results, as described in four papers currently undergoing peer review, but which were nonetheless released on October 20th, offer strong support to the existing temperature compilations. The group estimates that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911°C: a mere 2% less than NOAA’s estimate. That is despite its use of a novel methodology—designed, at least in part, to address the concerns of what Dr Muller terms “legitimate sceptics”. [emphasis added -hro]

However, The Atlantic author noted that:

Muller is not a climate-change denier. He concedes that the world is warming and that human enterprise is playing a role. He insists, however, that it’s unclear just how much temperature trends correlate with greenhouse-gas emissions.
[During Muller’s March testimony] he reported “a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.” In his testimony, he cited data indicating that the Earth had warmed 0.7 degree Celsius since 1957, with man-caused warming contributing 0.6 degree C. He summarized: “I believe that some of the most worrisome biases are less of a problem than I had previously thought.” [emphases added -hro]

And a really simplistic and insulting Op Ed by Muller, datelined October 21, in the Wall Street Journal:

The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism
There were good reasons for doubt, until now.



Are you a global warming skeptic? There are plenty of good reasons why you might be.
The temperature-station quality is largely awful. The most important stations in the U.S. are included in the Department of Energy’s Historical Climatology Network. A careful survey of these stations by a team led by meteorologist Anthony Watts showed that 70% of these stations have such poor siting that, by the U.S. government’s own measure, they result in temperature uncertainties of between two and five degrees Celsius or more. We do not know how much worse are the stations in the developing world.

Using data from all these poor stations, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates an average global 0.64ºC temperature rise in the past 50 years, “most” of which the IPCC says is due to humans. Yet the margin of error for the stations is at least three times larger than the estimated warming.
Without good answers to all these complaints, global-warming skepticism seems sensible. But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.

Over the last two years, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project has looked deeply at all the issues raised above. I chaired our group, which just submitted four detailed papers on our results to peer-reviewed journals. We have now posted these papers online at http://www.BerkeleyEarth.org to solicit even more scrutiny.
Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.[emphasis added -hro]

From where I’m sitting, far from “cooling” any portion of the climate debate, Muller has inflamed it by giving such short shrift to that which BEST did not assess, which is of far greater concern to skeptics than the views he has attributed to those who choose not to put all their scientific eggs in the dreaded C02 basket.

Oh, and there’s an October 20 two-page summary of BEST’s “findings” which begins – and ends:

Global warming is real, according to a major study released today. Despite issues raised by climate change skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study finds reliable evidence of a rise in the average land temperature of approximately 1°C since the mid -1950’s.
What Berkeley Earth has not done is make an independent assessment of how much of the observed warming is due to human actions.[emphasis added -hro]

BEST gave very little warning to those who were subsequently called upon by various media outlets to comment on the story; but, most bizarrely, because at least one of the papers submitted for peer review was to a journal that requires peer reviewers to maintain confidentiality until publication, Dr. Ross McKitrick is prevented from providing any informed comment – while Muller seems to have no such constraints placed upon him. [Pls. see Update of Aug. 1/12 below]

YMMV, but this suggests to me that there is something really wrong with this picture. But, needless to say, many MSM outlets have picked up on the “fat tale” of “global warming is real” – as though it is a startling revelation (which it most certainly is not).

In an article in yesterday’s U.K. Mail Online, Curry was quite frank about her concerns regarding some of Muller’s statements. The article is worth a read – and you will see some examples of the “fat tale” headlines generated in the U.K. press. (See also Curry’s clarification and account of her subsequent discussion with Muller).

To be quite honest, I’m not sure who the real Richard Muller might be – or what he really stands for. I am quite, well, skeptical, about the “reasons” he has given for this premature media blitz. All of this to “get the attention of the IPCC”?! I do hope that Curry directed him to a copy of Donna Laframboise’s The Delinquent Teenager …

Not to mention – as Steve McIntyre recently did – the proudly, and it would seem prematurely, announced availability of the data and code:

given the press releases and press blitz, I think that they should have had all their ducks in a row. Saying that there will be a better release in a couple of weeks seems weird to me – why not wait until the better release if it’s important? what’s so pressing that they had to go before they were ready?

Almost a year ago, Muller wrote a book called The Instant Physicist. The blurb for this book on his personal website reads:

Learn why wine is required to be radioactive to be legal, and why you don’t want the greenhouse effect to end.

Perhaps his next book will be The Instant Climatologist. In the meantime, here’s an interesting quote:

In most fields of science, researchers who express the most self-doubt and who understate their conclusions are the ones that are most respected. Scientists regard with disdain those who play their conclusions to the press. [emphasis added -hro]

Richard Muller, December 17, 2003

To coin a phrase … physicist, heal thyself.

UPDATE: 11/1/2011 01:52 PM PDT As readers know, I am not a physicist, statistician, or mathematician. Steve McIntyre, though, most definitely does have very finely honed skills as a mathematician and statistician. His verdict on BEST:

I don’t see anything in the BEST corpus that would cause a reasonable person with views on recent temperature change informed by satellite data to now prefer CRU or BEST as more probable measurements of land temperature change in the satellite period. It seems entirely reasonable to me that someone would attribute the difference between higher CRU and BEST trends and satellite trends not to the accuracy of CRU and BEST with flawed data, but to known problems with surface stations and, in the case of BEST, to artifacts of Mennnian methodology. I don’t plan to spend much more time on it.
The new temperature calculations from Berkeley, whatever their merit or lack of merit, shed no light on the proxy reconstructions and do not rebut the misconduct evidenced in the Climategate emails.[emphases in original -hro]

Seems to me that Muller’s interests would have been far better served had he heeded his own advice.

UPDATE: August 1, 2012 Well, as I’m sure you must know by now, a few days ago, for a brief moment in time Muller became a born-again “skeptic” so that he could … uh … recycle his performances of last October, and be “skeptic” no more! Unfortunately, at least one of his much vaunted October papers has been rejected by the journal, as Ross McKitrick reported:

[Update July 30: JGR told me “This paper was rejected and the editor recommended that the author resubmit it as a new paper.”]

This did not deter Muller from from embarking on yet another venture into the realm of “science by press release” to announce yet another paper that may well meet the same fate.

And in other Muller news … evidently [h/t Bruce of Newcastle via JoNova] GreenGov™ has been “disappeared” from the Muller & Associates website … but they are still providing the same “services” noted above and (as of this writing) it can still be found on their LinkedIn profile.

UPDATE: August 3, 2012 See also Don Aitkin’s excellent analysis and commentary: He’s changed his mind


3 thoughts on “Will the real Richard Muller please stand up

  1. There’s only one diagnosis possible: Deep down, Muller is really shallow. He doesn’t retain, or even much remember, definitive positions and opinions expressed previously. Every day is a new day!

    • Every day is a new day!

      Yes, although I suspect that today may not be such a good day for Muller’s BEST. Steve McIntyre seems to have sent Muller’s prematurely published postulations straight to bed without a cookie! [pls see my update in headpost for details].

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