Dana Nuccitelli posted a tweet yesterday about an article called The truth about tornadoes in which he suggested
— Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) December 4, 2013
I retweeted Dana’s tweet because when I read the article, the first person I thought of was indeed Roger Pielke Jr. He does seem to have a habit of popping up whenever somebody discusses the increase, or possible increase, in extreme weather events to point out that some work he’s done suggests that there’s been no increase. Of course, Roger’s work seems to never include any actual physics, so he really can’t say anything about the future, or whether his analysis is at all consistent with any physical mechanism. Also, he seems to normally focus on damage/cost and then seems to imply that because there’s been no increase in damage/cost, there’s been no increase in intensity. However, given that Roger seems to object to people criticising his work, let me make it clear that what I’ve just said is my own personal impressions based on what I’ve seen or read. Happy to be corrected by those who know better.
Anyway, Roger wasn’t particularly impressed with Dana’s tweet and responded with
Here is an idea @dana1981 Rather than lying about me on Twitter, why not have a look at my peer reviewed research on tornadoes?
— Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) December 4, 2013
If one was being pedantic, one could argue that it’s not clear in what way what Dana said could be regarded as a lie with respect to Roger. What Dana got wrong (and which he acknowledges here) is that the article didn’t actually mention Roger Pielke Jr. Everyone seems to want Dana to apologise to Roger, but it seems that if he were to apologies to anyone it should be to the authors of the article for suggesting they said something that they didn’t.
The issue, however, seems to be as follows. The article that Dana refers to (linked to above) says
The honest “truth” is that no one knows what effect global warming is having on tornado intensity. Tornado records are not accurate enough to tell whether tornado intensity has changed over time.
The article is apparently written by experts and the statement seems quite clear. We don’t know. In testimony to the US senate, Roger states
Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined.
That seems, to me at least, not consistent with the view expressed by the experts. Roger is stating that tornadoes have not increased in frequency or intensity. The article, supposedly written by experts, clearly says we don’t know if tornado intensity has changed over time.
Roger claims that his senate testimony is 100% consistent with [his] peer-reviewed research. The research he’s referring to is a paper called Normalized tornado damage in the United States: 1950–2011. So, is it consistent? The abstract says
Under several methods, there has been a sharp decline in tornado damage. This decline corresponds with a decline in the reported frequency of the most intense (and thus most damaging) tornadoes since 1950. However, quantification of trends in tornado incidence is made difficult due to discontinuities in the reporting of events over time. The normalized damage results are suggestive that some part of this decline may reflect actual changes in tornado incidence, beyond changes in reporting practices. In historical context, 2011 stands out as one of the most damaging years of the past 61 years and provides an indication that maximum damage levels have the potential to increase should societal change lead to increasing exposure of wealth and property
I would argue that this is consistent with what the experts say (i.e., we don’t really know) and not really consistent with a statement that Tornadoes have not increased in …. intensity. Such a statement would seem to require actual evidence that they’ve not increased in intensity, rather than a lack of sufficient evidence to make a claim either way.
So, I certainly find what Roger says misleading. Also, it would seem to me that if one was called to testify before a senate committee, it would be as an expert who can present our current understanding of a particular topic. It’s not, I would think, so that one can simply present the results from one’s own research. I would have much more confidence in what Roger presented if it didn’t always seems to rely on his own papers. Furthermore, even if what Roger had stated in his senate testimony was consistent with his own papers (and it seems that it’s not) it would still seem misleading if it’s not consistent with other relevant research and if this isn’t made clear in the testimony. Given that the article Dana refers to is written by experts, it would seem that the general view is that we don’t know if tornado intensity has changed over time and would imply that tornado intensity has not increased is a rather misleading statement.
I realise that this post is rather critical of Roger Pielke Jr. However, I can’t really change my opinion just because it’s not particularly complimentary. It certainly seems that Roger does say things that appear misleading. He may not intend to do so, and may well believe that what he says is consistent with evidence, but that doesn’t imply that it’s not misleading. If others regularly interpret what he says as implying something that is not consistent with the evidence then that would appear to qualify as being misleading, even if that was not the intent. Of course, maybe I simply misunderstand much of what Roger is saying and so, as usual, am happy to be corrected by those who know better. This is also, I imagine, a rather contentious topic so can I ask that those who comment be somewhat careful about how they express whatever views they may choose to express.