Monthly Archives: December 2012

What are the real top ten science stories of 2012?

This is the time of year when we list the “top ten” stories or events of the year. That we do this in late December is not totally arbitrary. A year, unfortunately (given it’s odd number of days and uncomfortable near-synchronization with lunar cycles), is not arbitrary, but rather, imposed on us by the realities of orbital geometry. That we often list the top, best, worst, funniest, most important, or whatever “ten” items is of course arbitrary. Had tetrapods evolved differently so that humans had 9 fingers on each hand, perhaps we’d be listing 18 items. Or if the development of numbers and counting gone a different way, we’d be listing things in units on base 28 (number of days in a lunar cycle).

The good news is that journalism, I think under the influence of the blogosphere and other entities on the World Wide Web, have mostly given up on the “list of ten” idea. Most, nearly all, of the lists I’ve seen have been some other number, including 18, 6, and 1+9 (that was Science magazine, which identified the discovery of the Higgs Boson as number one, and produced a separate article with the “runners up” rather uncomfortably including 9 items, but nowhere do they ennumerate even though the total is 10). So, the “tens” fetish, perhaps, is passé, or at least, not in style for the moment.

There is a problem with this years’ crop of science related “top ten” (using “ten” here as a meaningless icon referring to the days when everything at the annual scale happened in tens). As you know, a group of us recently produced a list of “top climate related stories” for 2012, and there were 18+1 (18 climate stories, and one political one added to remind people that there is a political side to this debate, not because there was only one political event). That blog post, Top Climate Stories of 2012, has resulted in considerable hate and vitriol from those who still pretend to think that Anthropogenic Global Warming and other human-caused climate change is not real. You don’t see most of the vitriol, which comes to me in the form of a few comments per hour around the clock, because I don’t allow anti-science tirades, link farms to denialist sites, threats, or unnecessary profanity not by me in the comments section except occasionally to show how stupid it is.

But that is not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is that our list of 18 climate related things includes many, more than ten, that are individually among the most important science related events, stories, or findings of the year. But, Main Stream Media outlets and science journals like Nature and Science have mostly made the decision to 1) Put Higgs first no matter what; and 2) Include all of the climate related stories in one or two items on their lists.

I have no problem with the discovery of the Higgs Boson being first, as long as we assume it has actually been discovered, and not just probably discovered with more to come. It is very important because whether or not the Higgs exists, and certain details about what it “looks” like, have to do with the fundamental nature of reality. That’s got to be important. And, I’d guess that there were years in the early days of accelerator-based research, during the early days of “atom smashing” that multiple important discoveries that occurred in one year got lumped into one item on the “List of Ten.”

But I do have a problem with most of the important climate related events being mushed into one or two mentions. This is because 2012 is the year that the chickens came home to roost, or at least, started to show up in uncomfortably large numbers. There is no reasonable, normal, well intentioned person alive who could look at the events of 2012 (including perhaps a few from 2011) in the context of climate change predictions and models, and years of careful observation, and not be very alarmed and very concerned. Those who remain in the denialist camp are bad people, or badly deluded. Being misinformed is no longer an excuse, working for Big Oil is not longer an excuse, preferring to live in a state of denial is no longer an excuse.

Climate related events are numbers 2 through more than ten, if we give Higgs the top spot. The major outlets are doing us a disservice and exhibiting their usual, rather tenacious hold on quaint concepts of symmetry or balance, or some numerological bent, which makes them look silly.

Having said that, and having produced our own list of (18 or so) climate related events, there are of course other things to remember. Ancient DNA has made a strong forward play with new information about Neanderthals and their supposed contemporaries. I’m sure the current view, which makes reference to the Denisovans, is naive and very much subject to revision. We don’t know enough yet. I hope we don’t hold the Denisovan concept as too central, important, immovable, or not changeable. As more ancient samples are identified and studied, the Denisovans will be joined by many others. They might even become unimportant. The key story here is not the end product of important research that gave us important results; rather, it is a breakthrough into a new era of accumulating information about human populations prior to the takeover of the planet by a smaller subset of them, with whom they sometimes had sex.

Other DNA related news is important. Mainly genetic technology is coming of age. Expect the term “GMO” (genetically modified organism) to no longer mean something as simple as obnoxious corn owned by an obnoxious company, or a tomato plant that can grow in icky soil. In the not too distant future, GMO’s will be things you have in your house, in your pocket, on your roof, in your vehicle … maybe even as your vehicle. Nanotechnology move over. This is the new nanotechnology. In a few years we may look back at 2012 as a turning point.

The landing of a brand new and highly sophisticated robot on Mars was very important and very cool and deserves to be on any list. But, the real story from NASA’s Mars mission will come over the next year or so as that Robot starts to find stuff … or even, fails to find stuff … and the results are analyzed. I hope the spectacular landing and related events don’t become the story of Mars exploration. I hope the story is still in the future, with piles of amazing data and spectacular results.

And lets not forget the other top tens, the non science events. This will be seen as the year that the Republican Party started its shut down and those enraged that we have a non-white president are fully marginalized. This year was the high water mark of the Anti-Gay movement. This is the year something that will some day be transformed into Universal Health Care in the US (and Health Care as a right) happened (I refer here to the verification of Obamacare as constitutional). This will be the year that the gun debate turned against the gun nuts.

Of course, those things will require some more hard work in 2013, and won’t mean much if we go extinct because we have totally broken the planet. Climate change is still numbers one through some large number. Don’t forget that.

Crowdfunding a Greenland expedition to gauge increasing wildfire impact on melt

A colleague sent this to me, I’m passing it on to you. Looks important and interesting:

Wildfire, increasing with climate change, deposits increasing amounts of light-absorbing black carbon [soot] on the cryosphere [snow and ice], multiplying the existing heat-driven ice-reflectivity feedback [a.k.a. albedo feedback].

The relative importance of increasing wildfire [and changing industrial soot pollution] to cryospheric heating remains poorly known. Snow/ice cores down to the 2012 summer soot layer on Greenland input to new field and lab spectral and microscope technology in concert with satellite remote sensing, automatic weather station data, and numerical modeling, could be used to gauge fire’s role in amplified Arctic climate change and Greenland ice sheet mass loss.

On the heels of an [open access] publication predicting 100% surface melting on Greenland months before actuality, we’re now attempting to launch the first of its kind crowd-funding of an Arctic expedition to Greenland to measure the radiative impact of wildfire and industrial soot from the 2012 (and possibly 2013) fire seasons.

Because we can’t precisely measure fire’s increasing role in cryospheric change unless we reach our funding goal, please consider supporting http://darksnowproject.org/ with a US tax deductible donation via Earth Insight charitable foundation, and distributing this message in a call for support to those you expect would support Dark Snow Project.

The Dark Snow Project is by design an open-science enterprise, soliciting constructive participation from all relevant scientists and communicators. Will you join us? Each step of our work will be communicated using primarily video and social media, but also public speaking, education engagement, and conventional scientific publications aimed at the highest impact journals.

While we are not the first to consider or evaluate the role of black carbon in cryosphere-climate interactions*, we are poised to push the science envelope and amplify its urgent message in powerful new ways relying mainly on video and social media, not conventional science publications nor governmental agency funding.

With happy Holiday wishes, on behalf of the Dark Snow Project collective,

Jason E. Box, PhD
Byrd Polar Research Center / Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland

Marc Morano Wins Prestigious Award

And by “Prestigious” I mean …. well, see for yourself in this story from Media Matters for America (Reposted with permission):

Climate Change Misinformer Of The Year: Marc Morano

ClimateDepot.com founder Marc Morano has been called “the Matt Drudge of climate denial,” the “king of the skeptics,” and “a central cell of the climate-denial machine,” and he revels in these descriptions. Although he has no scientific expertise, he is adamant that manmade global warming is a “con job” based on “subprime science.” Morano gained prominence working for two of the most vocal climate deniers in the U.S.: Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who notoriously called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” and Rush Limbaugh, who we named Climate Change Misinformer of the Year in 2011 for his steadfast denial of climate science and wild conspiracy theories about the climate change “hoax.”

These days Morano is paid by an industry-funded group to run the climate denial website ClimateDepot.com. At Climate Depot, Morano serves as the de facto research department for the right-wing media’s attacks on climate science, and mobilizes his readers to target individual scientists and reporters for telling the public about climate change threats. The site was instrumental in manufacturing the 2009 “Climategate” controversy, which Morano incorrectly claimed exposed “deliberate manipulation of facts and data” by climate scientists. Morano is a darling of the organization most committed to climate denial, the Heartland Institute. He regularly speaks at their conferences and defended their controversial billboard comparing those who accept climate science to “murderers, tyrants, and madmen” including the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Due to his history of smears and lies, Morano’s media influence is usually confined to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. But in December, CNN invited him to “debate” Bill Nye on climate science, and in doing so elevated his marginal views to the mainstream press for the first time all year. For all this, Marc Morano has earned the distinction of 2012 Climate Change Misinformer of the Year.

Morano: A Professional Climate Denier

Morano Worked In Communications For Climate Deniers Rush Limbaugh And Sen. James Inhofe. Marc Morano is not a scientist and has no scientific background. Prior to starting Climate Depot, he worked as a producer for Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s where he was known as Limbaugh’s “Man in Washington.” Limbaugh continues to use Morano’s material on his radio show to misinform his millions of listeners.


[via Esquire]

Morano went on to work for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who has called climate change the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” As Inhofe’s communication director, Morano fed misleading talking points on global warming to climate contrarians, conservative bloggers, and right-wing think tanks like the Heartland Institute. [Esquire, 3/20/10] [Climate Depot, 9/18/11] [Media Matters, 12/19/11] [Think Progress, 2/17/09]

Morano Relished When His Blog Was Called “Toxic And Divisive” By A NY Times Reporter. Morano now runs the climate denial website ClimateDepot.com, which distorts climate science and often attacks individual scientists. New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin called Morano’s blog “divisive and toxic,” to which Morano responded: “If by ‘divisive and toxic’ you mean Climate Depot is serving to derail the man-made global warming agenda and its sub-prime science and politics, I happily plead guilty!” [ClimateDepot.com, 5/8/12]

Morano Said Climate Scientists “Deserve To Be Publicly Flogged.” Morano seized on the 2009 “Climategate” controversy to call climate change a “con job” and accuse scientists of “ginning up a crisis.” He told The Daily Climate that he saw the controversy as an opportunity to sow doubt about climate science, saying: “I seriously believe we should kick them while they’re down. They deserve to be publicly flogged.” [Scientific American, 3/1/10]

Morano Defended Billboard Comparing Those Who Accept Climate Science To The Unabomber. Morano has close ties to the Heartland Institute, an industry-funded organization that hosts regular conferences and dispatches “experts” to deny that manmade global warming is a serious problem. To promote a recent conference, Heartland sponsored a billboard that associated acceptance of climate science with Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. When Heartland faced backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Morano defended the billboard, calling it “edgy”:

This is so silly. Every day now, skeptics are compared to Holocaust deniers and the media yawns. But Heartland does an edgy billboard accurately reflecting the views of those featured in it and the media acts as though they are offended?

Heartland has received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, ExxonMobil and other corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. Morano has spoken at five Heartland Institute conferences, and is featured on Heartland’s list of global warming “experts.” He received an award from Heartland in 2011. [Media Matters, 11/28/12] [Heartland Institute, accessed 12/12/12] [Heartland Institute, 5/15/12] [Heartland Institute, 6/30/11]

Morano Gloated That More Americans Believed In Haunted Houses Than Global Warming, Saying “Science Wins.” In 2010, Morano received an award from Accuracy in Media, a group that has defended legislation in Uganda that threatened the death penalty for the “offense of homosexuality” and promoted conspiracy theories including that President Obama was not born in the U.S. In his acceptance speech, Morano touted that in “the fall of 2009, more Americans believed in haunted houses than manmade global warming, and I’m not making that up. Science wins in the end.” Morano also said that he didn’t “understand” why Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, is “taken seriously.” [YouTube video uploaded by Accuracy in Media, 2/18/10] [Media Matters, 2/7/12] [Accuracy in Media, 2/16/10]

Morano Uses Any Media Platform He Is Given To Distort Climate Science

Fox News Hosted Morano To Discuss Climate Change At Least 5 Times In 2012. A search of Nexis and Media Matters‘ internal TV archive reveals that Morano appeared on Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto at least five times in 2012 to spew misinformation on climate change. Here are a few highlights:

  • Climate Change Is A “Primitive Form Of Science.” In November, Morano dismissed the link between climate change and extreme weather, saying “every time there’s a bad weather event the global warming activists think we need more taxes and regulations to somehow stop bad weather. This is a primitive form of science.” He went on to compare climate models to doomsday predictions, saying: “This has now reached the level of the Mayan calendar and Nostradamus when it comes to science.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 11/26/12, via Nexis]
  • Global Warming Predictions Are “Akin To Medieval Witchcraft.” In August, Morano claimed climate change predictions are “failing” and compared them to “medieval witchcraft, where we used to blame witches for controlling the weather.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 8/2/12, via Nexis] 
  • The Public Increasingly Doesn’t Believe In Climate Change “As The Science Crumbles.” In August, Morano declared that climate change has proven to be based on “subprime science,” and that the “whole movement has collapsed.” He added that “the public continues to believe less and less, as they should, as the science crumbles.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 8/2/12, via Nexis]
  • UN Climate Treaties Are “Very Orwellian.” Morano claimed in July that the goal of UN climate negotiations is “global governance” and wealth redistribution, adding: “It`s very Orwellian… This is stuff Orwell couldn`t conceive of, your home energy use, your travel, your train travel, airline travel all monitored by international agencies. It`s not the stuff of science fiction.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 7/6/12, via Nexis]
  • The “Global Warming Apocalypse… Isn’t Happening.” In April, Morano claimed that renewable energy is unnecessary because the “global warming apocalypse… isn’t happening.” He added that “even the big green gurus are reconsidering … the reason we have the wind mandates which is fear of manmade global warming.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 4/30/12]

Morano Often Appears On Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones’ Show. Alex Jones is a radio host who thinks that a “New World Order” of secretive elites is trying to take over the world, impose an authoritarian government and “exterminate 80% of the world’s population.” Jones, who was one of the most prominent 9/11 truthers, has made outlandish claims, including that the government is trying to “encourage homosexuality with chemicals” in items like juiceboxes, and that Bill Gates is promoting vaccines because he is a eugenicist trying to sterilize people. Morano often appears on Jones’ show to promote conspiracy theories of his own:

  • Morano Agreed Obama “Might Start A War” To Win Re-Election. After Morano predicted that Romney would win the election, Jones said that Obama might “start a war” to win re-election. Morano responded, “they could try to do that, yes, that’s always possible.” [YouTube video posted by TheAlexJonesChannel, 9/1/12]
  • Morano Fearmongered About UN Establishing A “Global EPA.” Morano claimed that the UN climate summit in Rio was pushing a “global EPA” that is “going to be able to police the world.” He added, “Think of our own EPA that speaks French. If that doesn’t send chills up your spine, I don’t know what will.” Morano’s fearmongering played into Jones’ New World Order conspiracy theory. [YouTube video posted by TheAlexJonesChannel, 2/7/12]
  • Morano Denied That July Was The Hottest Month On Record. Morano claimed scientists used “data that had been monkeyed around with” to state that July 2012 was the hottest month on record in the continental U.S. [YouTube video posted by TheAlexJonesChannel, 9/1/12]
  • Morano Accused Scientists Of “Cover[ing] Up” “Dropping” Sea Levels. Morano claimed that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading body of thousands of scientists assessing climate change, is a “small group of scientists” that was “blocking studies that disagreed, blocking data that disagreed, and then essentially, sometimes, generating studies that did.” He later added that scientists are trying to “cover up the fact that sea level not only isn’t accelerating, it’s dropping.” In fact, sea levels have been rising for decades and have studies indicate this rise is accelerating.  [YouTube video posted by TheAlexJonesChannel, 2/8/12] [Columbia University, accessed 12/17/12]
  • Morano: UN Climate Panel Trying To “Contro[l] The World.” Morano said that those concerned about global warming are attempting to exert “a level of control that George Orwell didn’t contemplate,” adding: “He who controls carbon, and controls land use policy, and even the oceans, controls the world. And that’s what they’re going for. And this isn’t conspiracy talk, this is in their documents.” [YouTube video posted by TheAlexJonesChannel, 12/10/11]

[Media Matters, 2/25/11]

CNN Hosted Morano To “Debate” Bill Nye On Climate Science. In December CNN’s Piers Morgan hosted a “debate” on climate change between Marc Morano and Bill Nye “The Science Guy” without disclosing that Morano has no scientific background and is paid by an industry-funded organization. During the segment, Morano misleadingly claimed that “we’ve gone 16 years without global warming according to UN data,” adding:

MORANO: On my Web site there’s literally — it demolishes the idea of a hockey stick, new peer-reviewed study, so the idea that Bill Nye is just going around saying CO2 is up, therefore global warming is dangerous, we should be concerned, it’s not. It’s not dangerous.

In a blog highlighting the segment, CNN identified Morano as an “expert” on the issue and said he “presented an alternate theory regarding the impact, and concern, associated with carbon dioxide.” The blog did not clarify that the vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is a problem and is driven by human activity. [Media Matters, 12/5/12]

Morano Helped Enforce Climate Denial Litmus Test For 2012 Election

Morano’s Advice To GOP Candidates Who Accept Climate Science: “Keep Your Mouth Shut.” During the Republican primary season, Morano told E&E News: “You can believe in the science of global warming if you’re a GOP presidential contender if you keep your mouth shut about it and you advocate no quote-unquote solution to the problem.” [E&E News, 5/23/11]

Morano Blasted Gingrich For “Accepting The Science.” Morano has repeatedly criticized Newt Gingrich for appearing in a 2008 Alliance for Climate Protection ad with Rep. Nancy Pelosi in which he said “our country must take action to address climate change.” Morano called the ad “toxic” to Gingrich’s presidential campaign, and complained that Gingrich was “accepting the science”:

He’s acknowledging the problem. He’s accepting the science. He hasn’t backed away from endorsing Al Gore’s approach to man-made global warming. That’s why he’s going to have a problem. Newt Gingrich was not just giving aid and comfort to the opposition. He was the opposition to the global warming skeptics. [E&E News, 5/23/11]

Morano Pressured Gingrich To Cut Climate Chapter From His Book. When atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe was identified as a contributor to Newt Gingrich’s book of environmental essays, for which she was asked to write an introductory chapter on climate change, Morano went on the attack. He dismissed her work as “trash science” and encouraged readers to contact her directly by repeatedly posting her email address on his blog. Morano also blasted Gingrich as a “long-time warmist” who shows “no signs of recanting,” adding: “This is how Newt uses his intelligence?” Ranting on ClimateDepot.com, Morano wrote:

Gingrich has revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is, & always has been – -a committed believer in man-made climate fears! The fact that Hayhoe was chosen to write a chapter in his new book is all we need to know. Will Hayhoe be his potential pick for climate advisor?! Gingrich has never left Pelosi’s couch! If the GOP can only come up with Newt or Mitt — is an Obama 2nd term all that scary when it comes to climate? Just asking…

Gingrich later scrapped Hayhoe’s chapter after Rush Limbaugh — Morano’s former boss — highlighted the story on his radio show. Morano celebrated the news with the following headline:

[Media Matters, 1/4/12] [ClimateDepot.com, 12/9/11] [ClimateDepot.com, 12/30/11]

Morano Raised “Concerns” About Romney’s Stance On Climate Change. At the Heartland Institute’s 7th climate change conference, Morano raised “concerns” that some of Mitt Romney’s advisors accept the science of climate change, saying “it’s a little bit scary who he’s surrounding himself with.” He added, “It’s very frustrating for global warming skeptics when you realize who is the Republican standard bearer right now and how far we’ve come… We need a president who actually can stand up to this whole global warming brigade.” [ClimateCrocks.com, 5/30/12]

Morano Falsely Suggested That Former Romney Global Warming Advisor Favored Forced Sterilization. Last year on Alex Jones’ show, Morano expressed concern that Romney would accept manmade global warming if he were elected President, noting that he was advised by John Holdren — now President Obama’s senior science advisor — while he was governor of Massachusetts. Morano went on to suggest that Holdren supported forced sterilization, when in fact he had merely co-authored a book 32 years prior that catalogued such methods among many others but did not endorse them. From The Alex Jones Show:

MORANO: [Romney] had John Holdren as one of his advisors in Massachusetts when Romney was on his global warming kick.

[…]

AARON DYKES, ALEX JONES GUEST HOST: So just for the viewers who may not be following the name game here. You’re talking about John P. Holdren, Obama’s global warming and white house czar, who calls for a $4 billion 4 billion person genocide over overpopulation and is experimenting with this geoengineering in the atmosphere –

MORANO: Yes.

DYKES: –over global warming.

[…]

MORANO: Romney is getting a free ride in these [Republican primary] debates. John Holdren was partnered up with Paul Ehrlich. Paul Ehrlich proposed forced sterilization agents in our drinking water in the 1960’s and 70’s. [YouTube video uploaded be TheAlexJonesChannel, 10/24/11] [Media Matters, 9/17/09]

Morano Urged Romney To Pick VP Who Denied Climate Science. Responding to rumors that Mitt Romney was considering Condoleezza Rice as his running mate in 2012, Morano told Politico:

Why, oh why would Romney choose a V.P. who is smitten with the U.N. climate process[?] The stench of the carcass of the U.N. global climate treaty process is overwhelming, and despite this, Rice in 2011 regretted that Pres. Bush rejected it. Romney could do so much better than to pick Sec. Rice. [Politico, 7/13/12]

He later cheered Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, saying, “It will be so refreshing to have a VP candidate who actually understands how warmists… have perverted science and turned it into pure politics.” [ClimateDepot.com, 8/11/12]

Morano Has A Sordid History Of Spreading Smears

At CNS News, Morano Uncritically Broke “Swift Boat” Story Smearing Sen. John Kerry. Before working for Sen. Inhofe, Morano worked as a reporter for Cybercast News Service (CNS), which is owned by the right-wing Media Research Center. In 2004, Morano broke the story about the attacks coming from the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, uncritically repeating unfounded accusations that Sen. John Kerry did not deserve the Purple Heart award he earned in Vietnam. But FactCheck.org noted that “the veterans who accuse Kerry [of lying to receive his war medals] are contradicted by Kerry’s former crewmen, and by Navy records.” Morano also repeated claims that Kerry accused soldiers of war crimes “knowing that was a lie.” But Kerry simply relayed the stories of other Vietnam veterans, and he intended them as an indictment of military leadership rather than a condemnation of soldiers. [CNSNews.com, 5/3/04, via Newsmax] [FactCheck.org, 8/6/04] [Media Matters, 8/23/04] [CNSNews.com, uploaded 7/7/08] [CNSNews.com, uploaded 7/7/08]

Morano Led “Swift Boat” Effort On Vietnam Veteran Murtha. In early 2006, Morano co-authored a story for CNS accusing Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a critic of the war in Iraq, of exaggerating injuries suffered in Vietnam and lobbying for undeserved service awards. The article was seen by many as an ad hominem political attack meant to obscure legitimate policy discussion. Morano’s story was also criticized for relying on convoluted sources, many of them potentially tinged by political bias, and recycling years-old uncorroborated charges. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, pointed out that Murtha’s service awards had actually been subject to extensive and well-documented Marine Corps approval decades earlier, and blasted “extremist Republican operatives” and others for “denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree.” [CNS News, 1/13/2006] [Washington Post, 1/17/2006, via Nexis] [Media Matters, 1/17/2006] [Huffington Post, 1/15/2006] [ConWebWatch, 1/18/2006] [New York Times, 1/18/2006] [Boston Globe, 8/5/2006]

Morano Used “Climategate” To “Swift Boat” Climate Scientists. Morano played a key role in fueling the “Climategate” controversy, seizing on hacked emails to accuse scientists of “corruption” and “fraud” and to declare that global warming is nothing more than a “con job.” Even after multiple investigations cleared scientists of these charges, Morano continues to claim that Climategate exposed “collusion” and “deliberate manipulation of facts and data” by UN scientists. Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, who has been relentlessly attacked by Climate Depot, recently said that Morano is paid by “vested interests to ‘swiftboat’ climate scientists, to try to distort our work, to try to undermine the public’s credibility in the science.” [ClimateDepot.com, 11/20/09] [ClimateDepot.com, 2/17/12] [Scientific American, 3/1/10] [Conservative Roundtable, 5/7/10] [ClimateDepot.com, 11/23/11] [ClimateDepot.com, 12/3/12]

Morano Smeared Gay Attendees Of AIDS Fundraiser. In 1996, Morano attended a fundraiser for AIDS victims on behalf of the Family Research Council, an organization that has been labeled a “hate group” for its factually-challenged attacks on LGBT people. In a column for Human Events, Morano claimed that during the dance party there was “evidence of illegal drugs” because “Snorting could be heard” through the bathroom stalls. But then-Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-WI), who sponsored but did not attend the event, testified that no complaints were lodged with security. Morano also claimed to have witnessed “illegal sexual activity” in the main auditorium, which was used by conservative columnist Armstrong Williams to say that the event was an “orgy” and a “homosexual free-for-all.” But as Rep. Gunderson stated, “Absolutely no one but Mr. Morano claims to have seen this incident. But one must wonder why he did not film it. One must wonder why he did not report it to security.” Morano later claimed that he tried to capture it on camera but was unsuccessful. The Washington Times reported that “no participant contacted by The Washington Times confirmed” Morano’s claim that he “saw men engaged in sexual relations.” Morano’s column, which was identified as an example of “the journalism of bigotry and prejudice” by Rep. Gunderson, further promoted stereotypes about gay people:

The image of young active health conscious men, drinking bottled water and consuming fruit [at the fundraiser] is a study in contrast. The reckless lifestyle inherent in the gay experience results in a notably reduced life span. The life expectancy of a homosexual male is estimated to be no more than about 41 years old, regardless of AIDS. The homosexual community’s credo seems to be “Die young and leave a pretty corpse.” [Congressional Testimony, 5/14/96] [Congressional Record, 5/15/1996] [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 12/12/12] [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/2/96, via Nexis] [The Washington Times, 5/5/96, via Nexis] [The Advocate, 6/25/96]

Morano Is Paid By An Industry-Funded Advocacy Group

Morano Is Paid Over $150,000 A Year By An Oil-Funded Organization. Climate Depot is sponsored by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a conservative policy and lobbying organization that has received funding from ExxonMobil and Chevron. CFACT also received over $300,000 in 2011 from Donor’s Trust, an anonymously funded group that PBS called the “number one supporter of the groups” that deny climate change. CFACT’s 2011 financial disclosure form lists Morano as its highest paid employee at over $150,000 a year. [Media Matters, 11/28/12]

CFACT Claims “Global Warming Claims Are Failing.” CFACT denies that there is a scientific consensus on manmade climate change and claims that “real world evidence” shows that “global warming claims are failing.” [CFACT.org, accessed 12/11/12]

Max Greenberg contributed to this post.

Secular Humanist Display Damaged

… Twice. The story is here. Basically, the sign was first spay painted, the burned. Run of the mill anti-atheist vandalism. But, if you are not already tapped out from the Happy Holiday Season of Buying Stuff, you might want to go to this web page and make a small donation to WASH, who originally paid for the sign. It would be funny if they made a couple thousand bucks as a result of a hate crime.

Top (mostly climate change related) Science Denialist Books

Top “Ten” Recent Books (focusing on 2012 but including the last few years) on Climate, Science denialism, Energy, and Science Policy are (including one Post Warming novel) are:

Any other suggestions?

Top Climate Stories of 2012

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!

The following people contributed to this effort: Angela Fritz, A Siegel, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Gareth Renowden, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis,, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.

Before you look at the list, I should let you know about these:

1 Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy

Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”

2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss

4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast

Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt

7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage

STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

14 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, some of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion. We failed to drive the wooden stake through Heartland’s heart when it was down. While Heartland has lost much of their funding and Corporate support Hearthland’s Anti-Science Syndrome Hatred Of a Livable Economic System voices still get soapboxes in traditional media =91balance=92 articles and otherwise. Learning how to pound in the wooden stake has merit.

Satan playing air guitar on his pitchfork in your local public school?

What about a picture of Charles Darwin burning in hell to teach kids about flames?

I don’t think so. Although I personally am not like some of my fellow secularists in reacting viscerally to any and all stylistic or symbolic references to Judeo-Christian religious themes, I am aware that there are recognizable religious visual or literary elements which, if used as part of a teaching tool, can be easily construed as promotion of a religion. “Promotion” is not standing on a soap box preaching, or telling students that a particular religion is bad while another is good, or giving extra credit points for prayer. Well, it is that. But promotion is also something as simple as a person in authority casually wearing a religious symbol or having such a symbol on a desk or wall in a classroom, or making references to a particular religious metaphor while teaching. These casual representations and references are relatively benign among adults, or in college, or probably even in senior high school, but in grade school they are regarded as promotion and public school teachers must not engage in this behavior.

Which brings us to the Science Marketing’s Boner of the Year award. Which, tongue in cheek, I just made up to draw attention to an interesting development.

You are familiar with Marketing for Scientists, the blog and the effort, as well as Marc Kuchner, science marketing guru. Marc’s thing is that marketing is important because without it you mostly get ignored. He’s right, of course, and I generally support and appreciate his efforts. You’ll remember the discussion a while back of Bill Nye‘s dressing down of creationism. Some people thought that Bill Nye being a meanie was a marketing disaster, and I disagreed. In retrospect, I’m sure I was right, because the controversy over Bill Nye pointing out that creationist parents are doing it wrong led to a widespread discussion of creationism in schools, and that discussion has to happen frequently. Also, Bill was right. Hard to go totally wrong if you’re right.

Marc just sent me a link to the latest post on Marketing for Scientists, which is “The Top Six Science Marketing Hits of 2012.” Number 5 is The Flame Challenge, of which Marc says:

This contest, held by the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University with help from actor Alan Alda, dared scientists and educators to submit videos explaining what a flame is—a subtle concept. What set this contest apart from other science communication contests is that the judges were 11-year old students: some 6000 of them at 130 elementary schools. The results taught us something deep, I think, about how children view scientists.

Here is the video, which is discussed here:

(If you can’t see that for some reason, go to the link.)

I happen to think this video does a great job of explaining the science of the flame. The visuals and the dialog bring the viewer to a question, then address the question in a way that explains it but raises another question, which is then addressed, until the whole thing is explained at a fairly high level. That is a very good technique. The voice over, visuals, music, and overall production are high-value, attractive, attention grabbing, well timed, and all that. In short it is a very nice piece of work.

Unfortunately, the video can’t be used in a public school classroom in the US because it promotes Abrahamic religious themes. Promotes as in uses which is really all you need. The video opens with a man who looks a LOT like Charles Darwin chained to a wall in hell, surrounded by flames. The narrator then goes on to explain to the possibly holocaust-victim evolutionary biologist all he might ever want to know about flames. Satan (or some other high ranking devil) makes an appearance a bit later. He is used in the story to demonstrate incandescence by heating up his pitchfork in the hell-fire. Later, during the wrap-up, Satan plays air guitar with the pitchfork, which is cute.

I know, a lot of people are going to say that I’m being ridiculous, that these themes are just part of culture, that they don’t mean anything, that kids are exposed to this sort of thing anyway, that the science teacher can use the video anyway and then have a lecture on the conflict of science and religion, etc. etc. etc. But all that is wrong, sorry. It is promoting a particular religion with state funds which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, it is inappropriate and could probably get a teacher in trouble if the right people knew the teacher was showing it. Making a science video and not taking into account the fact that teachers who have not thought about what they are doing could get in trouble is not good marketing. Well, it isn’t bad marketing either, it simply isn’t about marketing. It is about end user safety. This is like making a child’s toy and it is a) very fun, b) very desirable, everybody wants one, c) very well marketed and d) hurts some of the kids. And, no, we casual denizens of the internet don’t get to write off the fact that the negative effects potentially caused by a certain choice could be mitigated against by having an additional set of lectures.

On top of all this, I know there are teachers out there who will see this video and think it a great idea to use in the classroom precisely because it has a Judeo-Christian religious theme, and some will even like it because it depicts Charles Darwin burning in hell. Indeed, this is a physical science video, and there are probably more physical science teachers who happen to be Christian Creationists than life science teachers who are creationists, and the latter number is known to be well above 25%. So, yeah, Ben Ames, the maker of this video, may have produced a product that supports a creationist agenda, in a small but not insignificant way, even though that was presumably not his intention.

There may be a flaw in the process that could easily be fixed. Ben Ames is a communications and journalism guy, not a middle school teacher, or even a middle school education expert (I think … subject to correction). This project in communicating science, which I’m sure is a good one, will continue. I recommend that language be placed in the guiding documents for the project reminding producers that iconography or reference, even seemingly benign, to religious themes would likely disqualify a work from actual use in actual schools and would be best avoided. Also, having a science education expert familiar with the grade level and the legal and socio-cultural aspects of “marketing” science in the mix somewhere would be good. The idea would be to not let developers get beyond concept stage with unusable elements in place, in order to avoid wasting effort. As I say, this little film on flame is outstanding and really does the trick. It is simply unusable in the classrooms for which it intended, and unfortunately, will be used to potentially negative effect, and, here and there, exploited in a negative way. (This whole discussion must be adjusted, of course, for cases outside the US, where the First amendment does not apply, but where there may be similar issues.)

In this case, describing what a flame is, Hell seems like an obvious theme because there would be a lot of flames there. In some future year, perhaps the project will focus on floods … what could go wrong then?