A Little Testy at RealClimate

April 19th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Based on my most recent interaction, the folks at RealClimate seem less interested than ever on an open exchange of views on scientific topics. But I guess that is what might be expected when one points out that the they are spreading misinformation.

A commenter on a thread on ocean temperatures asked an innocuous question about the new paper by Vecchi and Soden which was discussed here by Chris Landsea . The always cordial Michael Mann replied:

I have no knowledge of (or frankly, interest in) what Chris Landsea may be saying about the paper . . . In short, the Emanuel (2005) study continues to stand on its merit, and I don’t see where this paper puts even a dent in it.

I don’t much read RealClimate anymore, but when a commenter on the Landsea thread pointed to this exchange in the comments here, I surfed over to find this blatantly false assertion by Michael Mann in response to a follow up comment:

Emanuel (2005) shows that the warming SSTs are behind the increased TC intensity in the Atlantic. No impartial reading of that paper could come to any other conclusion.

Being a science site and all, I assumed that the RealClimate folks would be happy to engage in a discussion of, you know, science. Boy was I was mistaken. Here is my submitted response:


You are simply incorrect when you assert: “Emanuel (2005) shows that the warming SSTs are behind the increased TC intensity in the Atlantic. No impartial reading of that paper could come to any other conclusion.”

Here is what Emanuel actually says:

“Tropical cyclones do not respond directly to SST, however, and the appropriate measure of their thermodynamic environment is the potential intensity, which depends not only on surface temperature but on the whole temperature profile of the troposphere. . . The above discussion suggests that only part of the observed increase in tropical cyclone power dissipation is directly due to increased SSTs; the rest can only be explained by changes in other factors known to influence hurricane intensity, such as vertical wind shear.”

Misrepresenting Emanuel is bad enough, but for a site that often underscores the importance of consensus, your favoring of one single study (on a thread about not favoring one single study) when consensus perspectives exist (WMO, IPCC) does a disservice to your readers.

Here is what RealClimate allowed:


You are simply incorrect when you assert: “Emanuel (2005) shows that the warming SSTs are behind the increased TC intensity in the Atlantic. No impartial reading of that paper could come to any other conclusion.”

What are they so worried about that they have to protect their audience from the comments of a political scientist?

Here is Michael Mann’s (always cordial) response:

Response: Roger, we’re not about cherry-picking sentences and out of context quotations here at RC, so you should take that somewhere else. Anybody who has studied the scientific issues involved well knows that SSTs in this context are a proxy for a more complex set of interconnected atmospheric environmental variables which tend to covary with it. We hardly need you to quote Emanuel for us. Figure 1 in Emanuel (2005) comparing SST and TC Power Dissipation in the tropical Atlantic speaks for itself, you might want to take another look. If we do an article on Hurricanes in the near future, you’re free to engage in the discussion. But that’s not the topic of this post, so we’re going to close it out with this. -mike

Heaven forbid a discussion of actual substance over there. If we did we might have to discuss Kossin et al. and how SSTs don’t covary with intensity in all basins, and the fact that Emanuel signed on to the WMO consensus, and well, a whole bunch of stuff that is fair game to discuss in scientific circles, but not apparently at RealClimate. In my view the issue of hurricanes and climate remains uncertain and contested and is well worth discussing.

34 Responses to “A Little Testy at RealClimate”

  1. Norm K Says:

    There is something very peculiar about CO2 and the greenhouse effect causing tropical storms. Storms are the result of temperature differences between the SST and the interfacing atmosphere. It takes warming of this adjacent atmosphere by the ocean to create storm conditions, but the greenhouse theory requires the atmosphere to warm the ocean so the ocean can then warm the atmosphere to a higher temperature than it originally had.
    The second law of thermodynamics essentially states that heat always travels from the warmer body to the cooler one, so in order for the atmosphere to heat the ocean, the atmosphere would have to be warmer than the ocean; thus the ocean would only be able to cool the atmosphere and this prevents storms it doesn’t cause storms.
    If by some magical process the greenhouse effect is able to warm the oceans to a higher temperature than the adjacent atmosphere, the oceans would only be able to heat the atmosphere to the original temperature and that could not be any higher than the ocean temperature; so there would be no differential temperature to generate storms.
    It boggles the mind that people of such high scientific stature ignore the influence of the sun considering that the sun and possible changes to geothermal heat transfer are the only possible heat sources with enough energy to cause any major climatic events!!

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  3. Chip Knappenberger Says:


    Picking up on your comments on your Landsea thread…

    You wrote; “Thanks Chip- I actually agree with Mike Mann that one paper [Vecchi and Soden] does little to change the consensus view.” This is an interesting statement, because the impact of the Vecchi and Soden results on the “consensus view” perhaps varies depending on what your version of the “consensus view” is, and as best as I can figure, your idea of the “consensus view” on the topic of anthropogenic global warming and Atlantic hurricanes is different that Mike’s idea if the “consensus view.”

    To my way of thinking, the results of Vecchi and Soden, in combination with the results of Knutson and Tuleya, demonstrate that climate models run with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations do not project very much in the way of increases in the intensity of Atlantic tropical cyclones, and when coupled with natural year-to-year variability, the changes will be hard to detect for decades to come. Further, given how the atmosphere is projected to evolve under conditions of an enhancing greenhouse effect, and how observations indicate that it has evolved during the past 30 years or so, evidence for a discernible human influence on Atlantic tropical cyclones is absent.

    Given my view, I think I fall into your consensus view? If so, then Vecchi and Soden further add to the “consensus.”

    However, if one holds the view that you need not look any further than SST as the primary driver of Atlantic tropical cyclone intensity and the SST changes are primarily driven by human activity, then the results of Vecchi and Soden may stand a bit contrary to that.

    I share the same problem with you in trying to hold up Emanuel (2005) as evidence in support of the human activity->SST increases->intensity increases linear viewpoint.

    I, too, made a (attempted) contribution to RealClimate in response to Mike’s contention about the results of Emanuel. Here was my attempt at engagement:


    Mike, I humbly disagree with you about what a careful read of Emanuel (2005) implies. I may suggest a re-read the final 4 paragraphs of that paper. The first of which is the following:

    “In theory, the peak wind speed of tropical cyclones should increase by about 5% for every 1 ºC increase in tropical ocean temperature (Emanuel, 1987). Given that the observed increase has only been about 0.5 ºC, these peak winds should have only increased by 2–3%, and the power dissipation therefore by 6–9%. When coupled with the expected increase in storm lifetime, one might expect a total increase of PDI of around 8–12%, far short of the observed change.”

    Recall that the observed change in PDI is about 100%–quite a bit larger than the theorized change due to SST changes alone.

    Emanuel comments “The above discussion suggests that only part of the observed increase in tropical cyclone power dissipation is directly due to increased SSTs…” Emanuel (2005) then goes on to suggest other possible mechanisms (including decreased stability, decreased wind shear, increased upper level ocean temperatures), some of which he finds are more likely than others. All in all though, by the end of the paper, he remains somewhat unsure as to why the PDI has changed as much as he observed and nowhere (that I can find) does he suggest that SST changes are responsible for the majority of the observed change. You can get closer to a majority if you allow that SST changes have largely been responsible for the decrease in vertical stability—not an expected enhanced greenhouse result however!



    However, as is their prerogative, the editors at RealClimate decided that this post was not appropriate under the thread that I posted it to (even though, in my opinion, Mike is the one who opened the discussion under the thread in an earlier comment/response). I am glad that you decided to open one here at Prometheus.

    Clearly, Mike’s idea that an “impartial reading” of Emanuel (2005) supports his view is in error, as both you and I point out. I do, however, think that Dr. Emanuel shares Mike’s belief as to the implications of his 2005 paper. I think this is an example (of which I have seen several others) in which scientists in their writing in the scientific literature are more conservative than in their personal views. In his Nature piece, Emanuel describes how the simple SST increase alone barely explains 10% of the observed increase in PDI. Yet somehow, this paper is held up by a lot of folks (and not just members of the media) as evidence that human activity has and currently is impacting the intensity of Atlantic tropical cyclones!

    The practice of holding up a piece of work to support and idea that it really doesn’t, I guess isn’t cherry-picking, because the cherries don’t even hang from the tree—instead it is insisting that the tree is a cherry-laden, when, in fact, it is an apple tree.


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  5. Dale Says:


    I’ve noticed for some time that the posters over at RealClimate love to lump you in the same crowd as the denialists, and usually attempt to discredit you by saying you’re not a scientist. After seeing the way Mike edited and replied to your posting I can see why the readers of RealClimate have such a skewed view of your ideas and why they generally distrust you.

    They love to characterize the arguments of others in terms of logical fallacies such as “straw man” or “red herring,” but until they address their own shortcomings in these areas, and stop misrepresenting the views of others such as yourself, I don’t see them as being above the rhetoric at all. I can see why the moderators would significantly edit trollers, but the fact that they so heavily edit posts with legitimate inquiries is beginning to sway me away from their site. I appreciate you posting the full conversation here.


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  7. Harry Haymuss Says:

    I agree Roger, Realclimate censors posts that illuminate their logical fallacies. It’s happened to me recently when I also tried to pin them down.

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  9. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Chip- Thanks for your comments.

    As we wrote in our two BAMS articles (2005, 2006) almost all of the literature pre-Emanuel and Webster et al. pointed only to small changes in TCs under greenhouse forcing. Emanuel 2005 and Webster et al. 2005 challenged this view with observational data. Some research has been conducted since that lends support to views of a direct and large influence of GHGs, but also some research supports an indirect and small influence. Even as scientist-partisans in this debate take sides, my strong sense is that the WMO consensus still holds. Several recent papers, most notably Kossin et al., do advance the debate.

    Now, I am biased of course;-) But I think our 2005 and 2006 BAMS papers stand the test of time pretty well, and could still be cited as an accurate reflection of the state of the science, even with numerous new publications since that time … Thanks.

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  11. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Dale- Thanks for your comments. For internet blog readers who actually want to know my views, well, we’re not shy about presenting or debating them substantively here at Prometheus;-) For those who’d rather call names and smear, well, not much can be done about that, but I have much faith that for most people those sort of actions are seen to speak for themselves! Thanks.

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  13. Paul Dougherty Says:

    The word, cult, comes to mind for describing that site but that is not satisfying. Neither is positivism even though it fits. The applicable word to me is “scientism”
    According to Jacques Barzun, scientism is the fallacy of believing that science will eventually settle every issue. The motives behind it are, “genuine curiosity in search for truth; the rage for certainty and unity; and the snobbish desire to earn the label scientist when that becomes a high social and intellectual rank.” Can one not see all three of these at work on that site?
    Barzun goes on to say that beyond vanity scientism can lead to social harm as they (scientists) “have inspired policies affecting daily life that were enforced with the same absolute assurance as earlier ones based on religion”. Indeed that is where this whole Global Warming thing is leading in my opinion. Uncertainty rules in this science but not at RC.
    Michael Mann’s comments to you reflect a total ignorance of what science is all about. The fact that he obviously has no appreciation for the philosophy of science is not surprising for there are thousands of “scientists” out there in the same boat.

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  15. Jim Clarke Says:

    When Roger Pielke, Sr. announced at the end of March that a correction was coming to the Lyman et al paper that would possibly reduce or eliminate the reported ocean cooling, I made a prediction about the response. I said that a lack of ocean cooling in recent years will not prove that the models are correct, but it will be spun that way, similar to what happened when the UHA satellite temps were updated.

    While Gavin’s initial post on the issue was relatively fair, the comments that followed were just as I predicted. I guess they did not want anyone dampening their unearned celebration. They did not post my comment at all!

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  17. Mark Duffy Says:

    I love how they cherry pick your response, trimming it to the way they want it represented, then respond to it saying: “we’re not about cherry-picking sentences and out of context quotations here at RC”.

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  19. John A Says:

    Why is anyone still remotely surprised that Mann deals with criticism and corrections in such a high-handed and arrogant manner? He hasn’t responded to to fundamental questions about his papers in years.

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  21. toot Says:

    “Michael Mann’s comments to you reflect a total ignorance of what science is all about. The fact that he obviously has no appreciation for the philosophy of science is not surprising for there are thousands of “scientists” out there in the same boat.”

    It seems to me that Mann has a bit too much appreciation for the philosophy of science, at least of the kind taught by Kuhn. They appear to be attempting to declare a paradigm shift and never look back. In the popular press they have nearly succeeded, but I’m still rooting for Popper or Lakatos.

    Ron DeWitt

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  23. Lupo Says:

    It may be real climate, but it sure ain’t real science. Nor is it anything but real annoying.

    You can’t have a conversation with people that in general only want to debate. This is how they generally ignore valid points and only focus on the stuff they don’t like, changing the subject.

    Just don’t anyone make the mistake of getting into passive-mode when they change the subject; ignore attempts to waylay the conversation, never appologize, and always be on the offensive; never the defensive. They’re good at that.

    And that’s the kind of people guiding the groupthink of the IPCC, doya think? Or as Roger said in “This is embarassing” if they get the stuff wrong you know about, what else are they getting wrong you don’t know about?

    And people are surprised when others say the IPCC stuff is nothing they trust.

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  25. Richard Tol Says:

    I tried to put a link on RealClimate to this discussion, but that was not allowed …

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  27. Sylvain Says:

    “I tried to put a link on RealClimate to this discussion, but that was not allowed …”

    Isn’t it how consensus are achieve. Making people believe that no one holds an opposing view. If some are you can always say that they are corporate sell out.

    If I’m not mistaken Steve McIntyre is part of the last IPCC report. I’m sure that he share all the view in the report.

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  29. Harry Haymuss Says:

    I’m sure we’ve all been in a meeting wherein some loud and obnoxious person with a hidden agenda takes over and, through intimidation, squelches opposition in order to announce “consensus” has been achieved.

    That’s not too difficult when getting *opinions* together – fortunately that’s not how *science* works. Unfortunately, those who believe in science are often in the minority, even when discussing science.

    I don’t think I’ve heard the word “consensus” used by real scientists – particularly in terms of climate change, since the concept of what there is “consensus” about seems to be quite muddy anyway. However, Realclimate seems, indeed, to be squelching opposition to its dogma – the answer to which is thinly veiled as carbon trading and therefore enrichment of a few puppeteers…

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  31. Hans Erren Says:

    There’s an old legal aphorism that goes, “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

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  33. Kevin Kiefer Says:

    RealClimate’s name is very misleading. I don’t even bother to debate over there because I know they will not like what I have to say and I will spend a bunch of my time writing a comment and it will be edited down so far that it makes me look like I dont know what I’m talking about.
    Their write up on cosmic rays and global temperatures was ridiculous. Pretty much what they did was put a cosmic rays record and a global temperature record and said since the lines dont follow each other, cosmic rays can not be in control. Well, first off they used a cosmic ray data set that had the worst correlation with the global temperature record. Second off, CO2 doesnt match with the global temperature record either and yet that is okay. It doesnt make any sense to me and makes me think they have a secrete agenda.

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  35. JerryS Says:

    I’ll agree with the others, it’s a waste of time going over to RC. I’ve had posts chopped off as well, and they try to make your response look follish if you don’t agree with them.

    I wouldn’t trust a word MM or GS said, if they were the last two scientists (and I use that term loosely) on the planet.

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  37. Margo Says:

    You are describing common “debating” behavior at Real Climate.

    The scientists who believe in AGW have some points in their favor. Those who are skeptical have some points in their favor. But those in the pro-AGW camp are ‘honing’ their debating skills by supressing comments, overselling their case, not providing supporting facts for their position when they are questioned, and editing comments by those who disagree with them.

    The they all sit in an echo chamber telling each other this is the way to handle the debate?

    Is it any surprise that, when people associated with that Real Climate community appear in public debates and someone polls the audience, you find that prior to the debate, the audience tends to agree with the Real Climate community, but afterwards, they agree with the skeptics?

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  39. Ray S Says:

    I have been following blogs in the area of climate for two years now, particularly CA, RC, Prometheus, Deltoid and Climate Science on a regular (daily) basis, and many other sites on a less regular basis.

    Being a layman, I am mostly a lurker, but I occasionally post. What becomes very clear is a) the tone and style of each blog is very different, and characteristic of each site, and b) that each poster reveals much about his approach to science, and life for that matter.

    I emphatically agree with the posters above that RC is a waste of space. They clearly censor aggressively any view that might challenge the priesthood view. They are also masters of dismissive, patronising comment (“sigh”, “read the literature”) and also of avoiding and/or obfuscating the tough questions. Such advocacy becomes very evident, especially when it is based on shaky science.

    CA is clearly a genuine effort focussed at getting to the bottom of the issues. Most of the posters there reflect the tone of genuine enquiry, and it is very evident when representatives of RC and the AGW come on. They have a way of reducing the discussion to a series of emotional ad homs. However, fortunately the critical mass on that site comprises rational and informed folk who generally stick to the message.

    Similar comments apply to Climate Science and Prometheus.

    Deltoid is a rabid advocacy site with its own regular cast of ideologues. I notice that they have taken lately to censoring posts of a different view.

    Clearly the healthiest attitudes prevail at CA, Climate Science and Prometheus where alternative views are (generally) responded to with courtesy and respect, though demanding answers to hard questions which surely is the way such discussions should progress.

    The emergence of blogs has changed the communication landscape as the White House and the MSM have found out. Much could be written on that topic, but I will leave it there.

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  41. Demesure Says:

    The zero tolerance of RealClimate for dissenters is nothing new.
    After all, Mike le terrible, one of the blog’s founders has publicly declared “quoting a climate sceptic would be regarded as granting the Flat Earth Society an equal say with NASA in the design of a new space satellite.” (Boston Globe, 9 April 2006).

    One of their tactics, when you’re not yet in their blacklist is to let you have your say, then let the fidels reply, often with an off-topic answer and when you try to post a followup, bang, your comment is atomized into CO2 & NOx. The lurkers and the followers would say, hey hey, ridiculous skeptic comes and goes and faces are saved. They do it to me so many times that I systematically save my text before posting and finally give up with such a skewed “moderating” attitude. Here is a typical documented example :
    My initial post : http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/the-ipcc-sea-level-numbers/#comment-30094
    Then the no toxic-ladden answer I try to post (well maybe not very knowledgeable, too naive or anything else but I’m entitled to consider it scientifically and logically kosher):

    “#213 Ray, I must be misunderstood. The graph is not about predictions! It is made in 2001 with PAST results on 1990-2000 real trends.
    If the IPCC’s models don’t even integrate past results, nor can reproduce them already in 2001 and continue to use the same false parameters in 2007, what is the point to discuss if they are conservative or not?
    Why not simply say there is a big methodological problem in the IPCC’s science since real data are not accounted for.
    Either the IPCC’s authors and reviewers and scientists who produce the original publications don’t see the most obvious, ie the discrepancy between observation & models since 1990, or something must be wrong in Stefan Rahmstorf’s presentation. I would like to know.”

    This kind of followup never passed. Gavin may be a little more tolerant than Mann depending on weather conditions of the day but who is heavy handed behind the scene is anyone’s guess. Another English speaking French skeptic (there are not so many of us) Charles Muller who is very knowledgeable about the question (he has a good blog called climat-sceptique.com )and with impeccable manners also participates at RC sometimes (he also posts on Mr Pielke Sr’s blog).
    You would think they’d be interested in the POV of an European. Niet, he is declared persona non grata, all the same.
    If there should be one thing they at RC had convinced me of, that is the “Consensus Science” must be kept pure.
    Voila, sorry for the personal rant but I’m mad as hell about this bunch of “scientist” free of everything and accountable for nothing.

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  43. Tim Lambert Says:

    Ray S’ claims about deltoid are untrue and I think he knows that they are untrue. I don’t censor posts of a different view. On the other hand, my comments at climateaudit are often censored.

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  45. Steve Milesworthy Says:

    Not being a climate expert, my reading of the paper was that while vertical wind sheer could account for the proportionately large increase, measurements suggest that it is not, and that Emanuel’s preferred hypothesis is subsurface warming.

    So while Mann may have spun Emanuel 2005 to ignore fact that the proportionate increase is larger, Roger has, in my view, also cherry picked the “vertical wind sheer” paragraph.

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  47. Michael Tobis Says:

    Of course, the failures of some of the RC editors does not necessarily reflect whether they are right or wrong. As a committed admirer of several members of the editorial team, I am quite discouraged by the impression they are leaving in the discussions.

    Moderating such a high traffic discussion fairly is surely a tedious and difficult task, as anyone with even a small blog will attest, but surely they can refrain from being contentious and obviously unfair.

    I comment further on my blog.


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  49. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    I posted the below on Michael’s blog:

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  51. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Michael- Thanks much for the comment and link back, which got me here. Absolutely no worries about the blog roll thing, we don’t even have one.

    I would be interested in any substantive examples of the following (I simply have no idea what you mean):

    “Roger Pielke is a post hoc arguer, choosing a position based on a political caclulation and then defending it, rather than proceeding from evidence to conclusions.”

    Also, please do check your facts when you write about a:

    “half-baked laundry list Prometheus comes up with about what’s wrong with the WGI report.”

    I’ve always expressed support for and acceptance of the IPCC WGI report. WGs II and III, where I have expertise, I do have some differences which I discuss.

    Thanks again, and best wishes.

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  53. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Steve Milesworthy- Thanks for your comment. I have no idea on the role of SST vs. wind shear, and my comment on RC was simply to point out that Mann was misrepresenting the Emanuel paper, which is quite clearly not about attribution, a point that we emphasize in this paper:



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  55. Michael Tobis Says:

    I apologize for the laundry list comment, which resulted from a confusion between RP Sr. and RP Jr. I have amended my blog entry at


    to withdraw that statement.

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  57. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Michael- Thanks, and no worries;-)

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  59. Richard Tol Says:

    well well, I was allowed at last to restore Roger’s full post at RealClimate — Mike (presumable Michael Mann) said it was edited because it was “snarky” and because it was off-target (never mind that Mike himself went off-target first)

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  61. Ray S Says:

    Mr Lambert. I am not a dissembler. The reason that I said what I did is that I know, for certain fact, that posts that I have put up to Deltoid under a pseudonym that I choose not to reveal, have been censored. Do not lie!

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  63. Tim Lambert Says:

    Ray Soper, you are lying.

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  65. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Ray S and Tim Lambert- You have both had your say, now please take that 3rd grade stuff to someplace else — maybe exchange emails and yell at each other in private. It is absolutely not welcome here. (No offense meant to third graders;-)

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  67. Burkart Says:

    Schmidt / Mann do actually NOT misrepresent Emanuel 2005 (although their formulation was maybe unlucky). This is plain to see for everybody who has read the paper. Emanuel (2005) states that the increase in SSTs is actually well correlated to increasing tropical cyclone destructiveness, but not sufficient by itself to explain the EXTENT of the increase (as cyclone destructiveness has increased more than would be expected from the increase in SSTs). Therefore, he assumes that additional factors, which are INDIRECTLY influenced by changes in ocean temperatures, are involved as well. Roger’s quote from Emanuel (2005) is thus indeed misleading.