Miffed Climatologists want UW-Madison to Revoke Global Warming Skeptic’s PhD

MacIver News Service

“Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the crap out of him.” -Ben Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Some prominent Climatologists who subscribe to the theory of man-made global warming want the University of Wisconsin to consider revoking Patrick Michaels’ Doctorate, according to leaked emails uncovered as part of the brewing ‘climategate’ scandal.

Who is Patrick Michaels?

Michaels received his PhD in ecological climatology from UW-Madison in 1979 after he earned his A.B. and S.M. degrees in biological sciences and plant ecology from the University of Chicago.  Since then he’s served as a climatologist for the state of Virginia, a professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and was a contributing author and reviewer of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  He’s currently a senior fellow at the CATO Institute and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University.

According to his official biography, Michaels’ writing has been published in the major scientific journals, including Climate Research, Climatic Change, Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of Climate, Nature, and Science, as well as in newspapers such as The Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, and Journal of Commerce. He was an author of the climate “paper of the year” awarded by the Association of American Geographers in 2004.

With all these bona fides, why would his peers contemplate waging a campaign to undermine his credibility?

Michaels is also a global warming skeptic.

Questioning Man Made Global Warming

In September, he wrote an article for National Review accusing Phil Jones, a climatologist at the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, and his colleagues of losing or destroying surface temperature data they used to develop their theories.  You can read the whole article by clicking here.

The Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia explained on their website “Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

That data was incorporated into a report by the IPCC in the 1990s, which in turn was used by the EPA in drafting its “Endangerment Findings.”  The endangerment findings determined that greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels and are endangering the health and welfare of the public.

Now, Michaels and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are petitioning the EPA to reopen the public comment period, because the data supporting the findings are unreliable.

That allegation did not sit well with Phil Jones and his colleagues.

Ben Santer, a climatologist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told  Jones in an email on October 9, 2009 “I’m really sorry that you have to go through all this stuff, Phil. Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the crap out of him. Very tempted.”

Long-running feud

In an interview with the MacIver Institute on Tuesday, Michaels said that was not the first time Santer had threatened him with bodily harm.  Michaels explained he and Santer have been critical of each other since the mid-1990s.

The feud dates back to at least 1996 when Santer, Jones and others published a paper in the academic journal Nature entitled “A Search For Human Influences On The Thermal Structure Of The Atmosphere.”  The authors believed it was supposed to settle the global warming debate once and for all.

Michaels said “It was a blatant attempt to manipulate public opinion.” He went on to write an article for Nature about the questionable scientific practices behind Santer and Jones’ work.

It is clear Jones, Santer and others continue to hold a grudge against Michaels. Examples of that grudge can be found in emails leaked from the University of East Anglia.  On October 8, 2009, Santer emailed Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch, questioning Michaels’ own research methods.

Santer wrote “I’m sure that Pat Michaels does not have the primary source data used in his Ph.D. thesis. Perhaps one of us should request the datasets used in Michaels’ Ph.D. work, and then ask the University of Wisconsin to withdraw Michaels’ Ph.D. if he fails to produce every dataset and computer program used in the course of his thesis research.”

Michaels told the MacIver Institute “The funny thing is I could reproduce every data set.  It’s not that complicated.”

As the recently-revealed email conversations continued, Santer defended the reliability of the IPCC study.

“The integrity and reliability of this story does NOT rest on a single observational dataset, as Michaels and the CEI incorrectly claim,” Santer emailed.  “Michaels should and does know better. I can only conclude from his behavior – and from his participation in this legal action – that he is being intentionally dishonest.”

Defending Jones, Santer wrote “The sad thing here is that Phil Jones is one of the true gentlemen of our field. I have known Phil for most of my scientific career. He is the antithesis of the secretive, ‘data destroying’ character the CEI and Michaels are trying to portray to the outside world.”

The UW Connection

But the issue of Michaels’ PhD from the University of Wisconsin continued to come up in subsequent emails. The next week, emails from other climatologists continued to speculate about the possibility of revoking Michaels’ Doctorate.

One email asked “Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels’ PhD needs re-assessing?”

This week the MacIver Institute filed an open records request with the University of Wisconsin to see if any formal effort against Michaels was undertaken.

In response, John C. Dowling UW’s Senior University Legal Counsel, wrote, “According to the current Chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, there has been no correspondence concerning the Ph.D. granted to Patrick Michael in 1979.”

The intrigue continues, however. Just today it was reported that Phil Jones has stepped down from his position at the University of East Anglia, pending the results of an investigation of allegations, stemming from the leaked emails, that he overstated case for man-made global warming.

The MacIver Institute will continue to report on developments of this story, including other Wisconsin connections to the controversy.

By Bill Osmulski

MacIver News Service