Monday, June 01, 2009

Dog bites man, and Roger Pielke Jr. goes about things wrong

(META-UPDATE: As I said in the update to the post following this one, go read William's critique of the GHF study. What I'm trying to do here is not to defend the study but to argue that Roger did a lousy job of critiquing it, especially in his originally critique that he sent to the NY Times.)

Unfortunately, Roger Pielke Jr. seems to be the NY Times' go-to guy to say something contrary about climate stuff (OTOH, finding anyone who's semi-consistently contrary, but non-denialist, and not as credibility-wrecked as Lomborg, has got to be tough).

Latest is reporting on a study estimating over 300,000 deaths are now caused annually climate change, where RP Jr. says categorically the report is "deeply flawed" and a "methodological embarassment". His critique in full is here, and it really comes down to claiming that past attempts to pull a climate signal out of disaster noise have failed, and that this new attempt - comparing earthquake disasters and weather disasters over the same 25 year time period to determine whether increased disaster stats are from socioeconomic growth or climate - doesn't control for confounding factors.

First and most important, he condemns the entire report while offering reasons on just one small part. Disasters account for a little over 10% of the 300k death estimate (UPDATE: I was sloppy - it's actually less than 5%, and that figure also includes droughts, another thing I don't think Roger has critiqued). Most of the non-disaster-related deaths come from environmental degradation (methodology here) of which Roger has nothing to say.

Second, we don't know if earthquake regions have experienced less growth than other areas. Maybe they've had more growth, and the report is an underestimate. All we really know - and what would have been a valid criticism - is that this method is necessarily crude and has wide error bars for disaster attribution.

Third, Roger should have welcomed the approach to begin with, because it's the only one he acknowledges as legitimate. For years he's attacked as illegitimate the analyses that take what are generally-accepted levels of current climate change and tried to estimate what level of current disaster losses can be attributed to them. It took me forever to figure out his real critique was claiming these studies were attempting to prove a climate signal in the disaster noise, which is a complete misinterpretation (James Annan figured this out too, but I can't find where he wrote about it on his blog). This new report, by contrast, tries to do what Pielke Jr. wants, and instead he's just mad.

Fourth, if he wants to stand by previous analyses, he should have tried to figure out how to improve the study by making a prediction: that narrowing the geographic focus to areas with earthquake disasters would show no difference in trends between earthquake disasters and weather disasters (or at least, decreased diffence than what the present study found). That would remove much of the socioeconomic factors that Roger thinks are the problem. It would be interesting to see the answer to this narrower focus.

UPDATE: per Eli's comment, Roger's played a role in staking "ownership" of a policy area. And I thought I remembered this earthquake thing before.

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