Paul Krugman drags out the “T” word again

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is calling for the heads of “deniers” again. In his “Betraying the Planet“, he says that anybody who doesn’t agree with his understanding on climate models should be labeled a traitor.

He made use of his common tropes: unforgivable, treasonous, betrayal, etc. I wonder if knows the definitions of these strong words. I think he does, but then it means that he has worked himself into an irrational tizzy over the House vote.

Here’s my letter to their editor. Naturally, I think there is low probability it will be published.

Dear Editor,

Your columnist Paul Krugman is rather excitable on the subject of global warming. Treason? Denial? Unforgivable? Ill-considered, extreme words used in haste. Mr. Krugman has failed to appreciate the limitations of predictions and is unforgiving of those of us who do.

Mr. Krugman is correct to say that some climate models are predicting warmer temperatures. Those same models have been so predicting for quite some time. But they have been over-predicting, meaning that they have guessed the temperatures would have been warmer than they have turned out to be. Climate models have been poor in practice. They have done well in simulating, or reproducing, past climates, but when checked against their actual (future) predictions, they have been too hot.

It is rational, therefore, to believe that they will continue to over-predict, until what is broken in the models is fixed. So to say that the output of predictive models should be acted on without question or else one is treasonous is not rational.

My expertise is in verification of forecasts (among other things, I serve on the American Meteorological Society’s Probability and Statistics Committee). When making a decision based on a forecast—whether to “cap and trade” or regulate—one must take into account the skill of that forecast. More skillful models should be trusted more than less skillful ones. So far, climate models have not demonstrated consistent skill, thus we should be cautious when acting on their predictions.

This in no way says that the models should be ignored and that no decisions can be made safely based on their output. It does mean that there is room for honest scientific disagreement. Shouting, in effect, that those who disagree with Mr. Krugman’s views should be painted as traitors is just plain silly.

William M. Briggs, PhD


  1. Matt

    An excellent letter. May I be permitted to borrow it and rephrase slightly for sending to my elected representatives?

  2. I think the dust I see is from the wagons being circled. Based on the ashen harlot’s handling of the David Rohde affair, Mr. T – luv that name, but miss the gold chains – will not be offended in the least by your response, since – like other immature or insecure persons – he must needs be kept unaware of your dissent – or he might throw a tantrum, and that wouldn’t do, would it? Best to just shield him.

  3. PK is an economist. He ought to know the problems with models; his economic models failed to predict the Crash.

    btw, when you referenced the “t” word at the top, I thought you meant “Thermageddon,” a close relative of “Ecopocalypse.” You know, when the skies fall, the oceans boil, and Life Itself is extinguished, a common prediction of unskilled climate models when they blow up.

    Reliance on “junk” models has consequences. Like, for instance, unexpected economic Crashes and hysterical pundits crying wolf when there are none.

    I differ with PK on that point, but especially on the “traitor” charge. I’m a patriot. PK’s a traitor. There, back at you NYT pundit. How does it feel?

  4. Briggs


    It’s intentionally dull, but borrow away.

  5. Tom Vonk

    There are mysteries in human behaviour .
    Who hasn’t wondered what was happening in the heads of Pol Pot henchmen sending teachers to die in rice fields , in the heads of ordinary citizens frenetically applauding a Goebbels speech or in the heads of Stalins journalists reporting on the Moscow trials ?
    My perspective at looking at people like this Krugman and his like is to get a partial understanding of what was happening in those heads .
    Extreme red hot hate , abject fear , preference for intellectual constructs rather than reality , total absence of humanity .
    Such people concentrate in themselves what is worst in man probably because of some brain anomaly , abusive parents or who knows what . .
    In standard conditions they are diluted among the normal population but sometimes when conditions become perturbed , they rise at the surface like rot rises at the surface of a pond when the water is agitated .

    Experience proves that this kind of people cannot be fought with words or arguments – they consider that anybody who doesn’t think like they do is an ennemy and how could one identify with or even listen to an ennemy ?
    They deeply believe in absolute evil and it is you (and Exxon Mobile) that incorporate this absolute evil .
    So they don’t look at an opponent like a normal person would – somebody who has a different opinion which may or may not be right but who is a human after all .
    They try to deny you any humanity first because it justifies why they will have to eliminate you symbolically or really later .
    Trying to be nice with such people , to be polite , to convince leads nowhere – they only interpret that as weakness .
    The only way to fight them is to take the game at the level they play it , to stop defending and to attack hard – courts , medias , power balance .
    Once the ecoterrorists are acknowledged for what they really are , I hope that the silent majority of normal people that has always modelled our societies will make its voice heard and send them to the outer hells where they belong .

  6. This article truly astonished me. I used to hold Paul Krugman in high regard before he went feral and he stuck to his knitting.

    He should just end this charade and declare his political ambitions now.

    BRW. Lucia at the Blackboard has some timely analysis showing the curious, conicident development of falling trend in temperature increased against rising forecasts of temperature trends across the IPCC reports 2, 3 and 4. But this is still “much worse than we though”.

  7. This is my Letter to the Editors of the IHT, where Krugman’s column has appeared today as well

    Re: Next career step for Paul Krugman (about Krugman’s “Betraying the Planet”, IHT, 30 June

    Dear Editors

    Paul Krugman’s accusations of treason against all US Representatives disagreeing with him about global warming and climate change will stir up a lot of feelings and a robust debate, no doubt (“Betraying the Planet”, IHT, 30 June paper edition).

    On my part, I just wonder if we are simply witnessing Nobel Laureate in Economics Mr Krugman’s attempts to identify what could be next in his career. With all his recent interest into moral issues, the Papacy shouldn’t be far.

  8. oy

    Pitched exactly right measured and easy for lay people to understand. It is the language of ‘models’ behind which many poor arguments are hiding. The term is banded about like a trump card. Most reasonable people, the majority of the population, know that the environment (planetary emergency) is too convenient an opportunity for government. Who doesn’t want to save the world? Hands up.

    In this debate, politicians, have on an international level taken part in a Green rush, like teenagers when the latest fashion item appears. They will soon turn round and find that the public, in the main, did not follow.

    It is easy, with media coverage, to believe that the sceptical view amongst the public is the minority but this is what the spiders want people to believe. Just as they manipulated the public over all things PC, so this has joined the collection. I sincerely hope that this method will not work again because those in a position to change the pattern will do so and close down that political rat run.

    “An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”
    Appeasers and sycophants will always be there, it’s not a conspiracy with one man at the helm, Bond style, although there are a few players that bear a striking resemblance, but a lethal green cocktail, arisen mostly by chance and as Tom says, the conditions are right, so the mould will grow. This one’s got fur and has started walking. When the conditions change, which they have started to do, the mould will die.

    On Planet treason, nonsensical term:
    The planet is being held up like a damsel! It’s pure fiction to pretend that anyone would want to commit “planet treason!” Even Dr X, Scaramanga or fingerfellow need somewhere to live.

  9. Noblesse Oblige

    Interesting age we live in. Letters are penned and sent to outlets with the full knowledge that they will not be published because they express the wrong politics. But no matter, the internet and other outlets pick it up, and at least as many people read it as would have if it were publsihed in the target outlet.

    As for this letter itself, it is ardently academic and low on polemic; in other words it is served up at a luke warm temperature, in contrast with Krugman’s incendiary nonsense. Is that good or bad? It appeals to the reasonable, but I am tired of being reasonable with these jerks.

  10. Apparently no one has payed any attention to my post on politics and good science. Some blogger’s don’t even post it. I will honestly proclaim that I believe that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, anthropogenic emmisions of CO2 do not contribute to the rise in background levels, and any possible “greenhouse” effect of CO2 is moderated into unmeasurable levels by H2O in all its forms. Again,
    To all concerned,

    One reason I retired early from research at EPA years ago was good
    science was beginning to be sidetracked for political purposes. In this
    case EPA has been completely derailed. I have spent the last four years
    of my retirement studying all the data I could find to get to the truth about climate change. I just finished a presentation that shows ample evidence that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide do not cause global warming. Carbon dioxide has been falsely convicted on circumstantial evidence by a politically selected jury. A just retrial could overturn this conviction before we punish ourselves by trying to control emissions that will have no effect on climate change. You can view the presentation and be your on judge and jury at


    Fred H. Haynie
    Retired Environmental Scientist

  11. harold

    A bit late on this thread, but yesterday I read a post by TCO on “Open Mind” ( June 23, 2009 at 3:08 am). I totally agree with his opening sentence (and sometimes wish that our gracious host would NOT be a gentleman and take his gloves off… ) :

    “I have even more skepticism of the AGW predictions of social and economic effects as I do of the scientific stuff. ”

  12. Joy

    over at Open Mind they’re “Still scratching around in the same old hole”
    Are you suggesting someone needs to Go over the top? Into no man’s land?
    I’d do it, but piranas eat sea horses for dessert.
    Actually, I’d do it but they’re not evidently interested in calm discussion of any kind.

    When one is busy saving the world, you know, one can get very angry.
    They must be left alone to do their important work. We must content ourselves with reality.

  13. dearieme

    Yeah, and Shockley really did win a Nobel Prize, unlike the economists who receive the Swedish Central Bank’s imitation one.

  14. harold

    Yes Joy, you are more sensible than I am. It was Krugman talking about “treason against the planet” that ignited a spark. I will try breathing exercises to stay calm.

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