Tony Heller is a critic of climate science who blogs at the Real Climate Science website. He is often quoted by climate sceptics, including Craig Kelly. His writings have often been found to be factually unreliable, but he presents his information well on video and has remained influential.
Who is Tony Heller?
Tony lives in the US and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology and a Masters of Electrical Engineering. He has worked as a teacher, a geologist and a computer engineer. He says he is a long-time environmentalist, for example preferring cycling to motor cars.
He has been involved in criticising conventional climate science for at least 12 years. Initially he wrote on other people’s blogs, primarily Watts Up With That, until Anthony Watts dismissed him from the writing team for his mistakes, specifically his errors about CO2 freezing (see below).
In about 2010 he began his own blog (with several different titles) in which he has posted ever since. For a time he used the nom de plume of Steven Goddard, but now he blogs under his own name.
Tony has produced many videos on climate change. They are very well made and he presents them with a pleasant, easy and confident manner.
An unfortunate record
Right from the beginning, Tony has had an unfortunate record of misusing data or getting his analysis wrong. I suppose there are examples of correct analysis, but every case I have checked has been misleading. Here are some examples.
Arctic Ice Discrepancy, 2008
Back in 2008, in what I’m told was his first guest post on the Watts Up With That website, Tony/Steven argued that the Arctic ice was not disappearing as fast as predicted, and he claimed a significant error in the published figures. He concluded: “There appears to be a consistent pattern of overstatement related to Arctic ice loss.”
His analysis was based on counting pixels on two satellite photos of the Arctic. But it turned out one of his maps wasn’t reliable and he hadn’t counted the pixels accurately. The National Snow and Ice Data Center pointed out his mistakes and the website had to carry a correction and apology.
Carbon dioxide freezing, 2009
In 2009, on the same blog, Tony/Steven wrote about temperatures in Antarctica being so cold that it would “cause dry (CO2) ice to freeze directly out of the air.”
It seems he was wrong about this. The temperature can fall below the temperature at which CO2 gas freezes, but in the atmosphere it doesn’t happen as Tony/Steven said.
An atmospheric physicist confirmed that because CO2 comprises a very small proportion of the atmosphere, the vapour pressure isn’t high enough (certainly not as high as for 100% CO2 gas) for CO2 to solidify and fall out of the air like snow.
The website issued a correction but Tony refused to accept this answer, despite many fellow climate change sceptics arguing the facts with him.
Government agencies altered temperature records, 2014
This is one of the most interesting, and informative of Tony’s analyses. In 2014 he posted that the US Government agencies, NOAA & NASA, had “dramatically altered” US temperature records to make global warming appear worse, when actually the US records showed a cooling trend. A rush of media reports, analyses and blog posts followed, from all different viewpoints, as Steven’s claims were argued over.
- used simple averages, whereas a correct calculation should take account of spatial representativeness (stations close together should have a lesser weighting than ones representative of much larger areas);
- ignored the impact of missing records on averages (if generally cooler locations are missing, the averages will be inaccurately hot); and
- not taken account of the changes in the location of stations, the time of daily readings, and the type of equipment used, all of which affect the integrity of the data (long term records have to take account of and adjust for these differences).
Misreading a satellite image, 2015
In August 2015, the Washington Post reported that the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland may have lost “its biggest chunk of ice on record”. Tony/Steven posted before and after satellite images showing, he said, that the glacier had actually grown, not shrunk. He called the Washington Post “just one more link in the climate fraud mafia.”
Trouble was, the area where ice had increased wasn’t part of the glacier, but sea ice, presumably increasing because of the ice that had broken away from the glacier. Tony had misread the satellite photo. The glacier had indeed shrunk. Eventually he took the whole post down, but the discussion had been recorded and can be seen on the Tony Heller Exposed website.
My Gift To Climate Alarmists video, 2019
I first came across Tony in 2019 when a friend suggested I watch this video in which he makes four separate claims that US government agencies have hidden climate data so they can promote global warming. I investigated these claims and found that all of them were misleading.
He says (correctly) that the worst heat waves occurred in the 1930s but the government graph only starts in 1960 and so misrepresents the data.
- He ignores the report’s explanation why there were more heatwaves back then (bad land management had reduced the availability of cooling moisture) so the conditions causing the heat waves have changed;
- he compares two different types of data with is bad practice; and
- he also ignores that two other graphs on the same page show the rising temperature trend quite clearly.
He criticises a graph showing wildfires increasing in the US, because earlier data shows larger areas had burnt. But again he has neglected to tell the whole story.
- Again he mixes two different datasets. Tony’s graph shows total area burnt, not wildfires which the government agencies show. The two are very different. There were greater areas burnt in earlier times because large areas were deliberately burnt by landowners clearing their properties. That has now almost ceased, but the climate-caused wildfires are increasing.
- The dramatic fall in areas burnt was also because “systematic control became effective only during the 1930s, when large public employment programmes were established”. But now, even with effective management, the burnt area is increasing again, due to climate change.
Arctic sea ice
He claimed that Arctic sea ice data before 1979 has been hidden because it shows the ice isn’t in decline. He uses a graph from 1973 that shows reduced areas of sea ice back then. But his graph doesn’t include earlier data and more up-to-date recent data that clearly show the decline in sea ice (see graph below). The period 1973-1979 he claims proves his point is actually a departure from the longer term trend.
Establishing this long term trend is much more complex than his simplistic analysis suggests, but it certainly requires all the data, which he doesn’t use. Sea ice really is declining in extent.
Sea level rise
Finally he looks at sea level rise in the US, and makes the quite erroneous comment “as if sea level around the US could somehow be different than it is in the rest of the world”. Sea level can in fact vary because of ocean currents, winds, etc. Even in the USA, there are very different rates of rise around the east and west coast.
He says correctly that in the period 20,000 years ago to 6,000 years ago the sea level rose relatively fast, so the current rate of rise isn’t a big deal. He says: “climate alarmists want you to believe that this 400 feet of sea level rise is all natural but somehow the last few inches in man-made.” That is the extent of his argument!
In fact the causes of sea level rise are well known, the current human-caused rise is more than has occurred in the last 6,000 years, and even the relatively modest current rise will cause enormous damage and flooding because so many people live close to the coast.
A revealing video
So this video exhibits again the same weaknesses in his arguments: selective use of data, a poor understanding of the data, overly simplistic analysis and not coming to grips with all the available information.
It is also notable in this video that he makes claims for massive “fraud” by climate scientists. He says governments and “unscrupulous people” are “going to lie, cheat and abuse children”, because their aim is “overthrowing our government, our freedom and our way of life”. Mallen Baker points out that Tony is prone to conspiracy theories to explain things that have more obvious explanations, and to fudging the evidence, including, in this video, incomplete data and a misquote.
Everyone can make mistakes. I’m sure somewhere on this blog, despite my best efforts, I have made, or will make, errors. But the test is whether in the end, they want to know the truth, rather than make the facts fit their agenda. And whether they learn from their mistakes and so improve.
Unfortunately, Tony doesn’t appear to have learnt from his mistakes, despite his scientific and technological background. Back more than a decade ago he was using selective data and simplistic analyses based on a poor understanding – and somehow thinking this allowed him to correct the experts. He is still doing the same.
Meteorological data management
Like many climate change sceptics, Tony appears to misunderstand the difficulties of data collection and the needs of users. My own experience is mainly in streamflow and rainfall rather than temperature and climate, but the principles are much the same.
Data collection systems fail, and too often at the time when the data is most important – during a storm or a heat wave or a flood. Inconsistencies occur when measuring stations are moved or collection methods change.
But those who use data need complete and uniform datasets to undertake statistical and other analyses. If the data collectors leave gaps or allow inhomogeneities to remain, the data is less useful. Better that the collectors remove inconsistencies, fill gaps and homogenise the data than force each user to do it.
And so datasets are modified, and sometimes modified again, as improvements are made. It is easy to claim it is done deliberately and for evil reasons, but critics really need to make the effort to find the reasons why.
Tony seems to prefer to accuse the motives of the data managers based on simplistic analyses rather than grapple with the data and really understand it.
His comments about the fraudulent aims of “climate alarmists” suggest he may have fallen victim to conspiratorial thinking and allowed this to over-ride his judgment. (It is interesting that recent posts on his Real Climate Science site are rarely about climate science, and mostly about conspiracy theories and non-scientific assessments of the Covid-19 pandemic and the US election.)
Cherry picking and lack of perspective
While climate changes slowly, the weather can vary enormously. So there will always be anomalies and variations around any trends. Thus it is always possible to ignore the full picture and focus on some short term variation. While Tony is knowledgable enough to avoid the more crass examples of this, it is still an error he can fall into.
There are so many indicators that the world is warming and this is having impacts on weather patterns and climate as a whole – for example more violent storms, more severe droughts, less stable weather, melting ice. Like so many climate change sceptics, Tony tends to focus on small anomalies that he can misrepresent to his audience, and miss (or refuse to mention) the overall evidence which confirms the things he is trying to dispute..
Conspiracies and insults
It is unfortunate that Tony uses intemperate language to describe climate scientists, government agencies and those who report on climate science:
- “intemperate zealots” (October 2014)
- “climate fraud mafia” (August 2015)
- “climate mafia …. scam …. climate criminals” (February 2019)
- “unscrupulous people” who “lie, cheat and abuse children” (September 2019)
- “fake … junk science, superstition and hiding and manipulating data” (October 2019)
- “climate fraudsters …. climate neurotics” (April 2020)
- “climate collusion and fraud” (August 2020)
It becomes clear why this language and accusations of conspiracy have become a common theme in his written and spoken presentations – the factual evidence for climate change continues to strengthen, so something is needed to explain why the evidence is contrary to his arguments.
The bottom line
Tony is quite persuasive to listen to – until his data is properly analysed. It is wise for us to doubt anything he says about climate until we have examined it more thoroughly than he has done.
- Real Climate Science. Tony Heller’s blog.
- Steven Goddard (Tony Heller). DeSmog.
- What’s Up With That. Anthony Watts. Claims to be “the world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change”.
- Tony Heller (aka Steven Goddard) Exposed. Satirical website.
The altered temperature records post
- NOAA/NASA Dramatically Altered US Temperatures After The Year 2000. Tony Heller, June 2014.
- How not to calculate temperatures, Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3. Zeke Hausfaster, The Blackboard, 2014.
- Laying the Points Out. Brandon Shollenberger, Izuru blog, July 22014.
The My Gift to Climate Alarmists video
- The original video, My Gift To Climate Alarmists by Tony Heller on YouTube.
- Debunking Tony Heller’s ‘Gift to Climate Alarmists’. Mallen Baker on YouTube.
- Also worth viewing is Mallen Baker’s My gift to Tony Heller, which points out Tony’s propensity to find conspiracies where there are none.
- Fourth National Climate Assessment. US Global Change and Research Program, 2018.
- Sea Ice. National Snow and Ice data Center.
- Anomalies and Trends of Sea-Ice Extent and Atmospheric Circulation in the Nordic Seas during the Period 1864–1998. Torgny Vinge, American Meteorological Society, 2001.
Photo: Tony Heller (photo taken from the DeSmog website, with permission).