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September 22, 2005

Correcting Pat Michaels


Posted to Author: Others | Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

Posted by Roger A. Pielke, Jr. (RP) and Kerry Emanuel (KE)

In a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Pat Michaels mischaracterizes the role of KE in a paper RP is lead author on forthcoming in BAMS (PDF). Michaels writes,

"A heavily cited paper, published recently in Nature by Kerry Emanuel, claims that hurricanes have doubled in power in the past half-century. It has been the basis for much of the association of Katrina with planetary warming. However, there are three manuscripts in review at Nature disputing this, as well as a recently published paper by Roger Pielke, Jr., in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, downplaying the notion. (As a measure of the acrimony among leading scientists on this subject, Emanuel removed his name as a co-author of this paper shortly before publication.)"

This is incorrect on two counts.

First, KE withdrew with no acrimony. Here is what the two of us jointly wrote on this a few weeks ago:

"The reason that KE decided to withdraw amicably from co-authorship had nothing to do with the paper's summary of research on the societal impacts of hurricanes, as implied here, but instead, a change in KE's views on the significance of global warming in observed and projected hurricane behavior. It is misleading to use KE's withdrawal to dismiss the entire paper. Here is how KE characterized his withdrawal to RP in an email:

"The awkward situation we find ourselves in is bound to occur when research is in rapid flux. Working with both data and models, I see a large global warming signal in hurricanes. But it remains for me to persuade you and other of my colleagues of this, and it is entirely reasonable for you all to be skeptical...it is, after all, very new. It is not surprising, therefore, that what I have come to believe is at odds with any reasonable consensus. The problem for me is that I cannot sign on to a paper which makes statements I no longer believe are true, even though the consensus is comfortable with them."

We remain close, collegial colleagues who are seeking to advance science by challenging each others ideas in the traditional fora of scientific discourse. We hope that the media will recognize that science is complex and legitimate, differing perspectives often co-exist simultaneously. This diversity of perspective is one feature that motivates the advancement of knowledge."

Second, the BAMS paper (PDF) does not "downplay" the relationship of hurricanes and global warming. The paper is an assessment of the authors' best judgments about what can and cannot be said about the relationship based on the peer-reviewed literature. Here is what the paper says about Emanuel (2005):

"Emanuel (2005) reports a very substantial upward trend in power dissipation (i.e., the sum over the lifetime of the storm of the maximum wind speed cubed) in the north Atlantic and western North Pacific, with a near doubling over the past 50 years. The precise causation for this trend is not yet clear. Moreover, in the North Atlantic, much of the recent upward trend in Atlantic storm frequency and intensity can be attributed to large multi-decadal fluctuations. Emanuel (2005) is just published as of this writing, and is certain to motivate a healthy and robust debate in the community."

There will be a place for debating and discussing Emanuel (2005) and its possible implications and that is in the peer reviewed literature.

Posted on September 22, 2005 12:25 AM

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