Monthly Archives: September 2013

Your favorite meteorologist summarizes the #IPCC report

Paul Douglas from Weather Nation (and elsewhere):

For the 5th time in 23 years, the world’s leading climate scientists have released an update on the state of the climate. WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist reviews the highlights plus shares the panel’s predictions for the rest of the century.

My Atheist Talk Stuff

I’ve been a guest or interviewer on Minnesota Atheist Talk radio a number of times. I never talk about atheism because I’m nothing close to an expert on that or related issues (though I do have a chapter in a book about it, here!). And, of course, I’m very involved, professionally, in certain church-state separation issues (like this and this). But on Atheist Talk Radio I mainly engage in either science (lately climate change science but also evolution) or the afore mentioned church-state separation issues vis-a-vis the evolution-creationism “debate.”

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to finally organize the list of Atheist Talk Radio spots I’ve done, and here it is, with links to the podcasts. Sorry if something is missing, but I’m pretty sure I got them all:

Lois Shadewald on Pseudoscience and Greg Laden on Academic Freedom – Atheists Talk #017 May 4, 2008

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 01:51:32 –0700

Play Now


div class=”itemcontent” name=”decodeable”>Cynthia Egli talks with Lois Shadewald about pseudo science, including perpetual motion machines, and the Flat Earth Society which are mentioned in “Worlds of Their Own.” Greg Laden steps in to talk with Mike Haubrich about legislation which is hoping around the country, proposing “Academic Freedom,” that would require the teaching of Creationism in public schools yeast infection treatment.

Greg Laden on Food and Evolution and John Coy on Box Out – Atheists Talk #032 Aug 17, 2008

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 03:02:26 –0700

Play Now

Few things connect atheists better then reading and food. This week, Lynn Fellman interviews anthropologist blogger Greg Laden who talks to us about how human food has impacted human evolution. Later, Grant Steves speaks with John Coy on “Box Out.” Coy has written a novel targets to adolescent boys, an audience which has been a long ignored group. It focuses on how schools and sports can marginalize teens who may not fit a stereotype or expectation.

“Celebrating Darwin and Evolution at the Bell Museum” Atheists Talk #056 February 8, 2008

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:13:48 –0700

Play Now

2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year of this book “On the Origin of Species”. We’re celebrating by talking with Dr. Greg Laden, biological anthropologist, U of M. If you haven’t met Dr. Laden, you can get to know him through his nationally known blog. There you’ll find “Congo Memoirs”, his hilarious, hair raising, in-the-wild adventures while doing REAL science.

Similar to 19th century explorers Darwin and Wallace, Dr. Laden writes about tangling with the wild beasts (pythons), disease (malaria), pirates (real pirates) while deciphering how the world works — we know it as Evolution. One hundred fifty years later some of the issues are the same. Our 21st century scientist, Dr. Laden, will give us new insights into how radical the theory was, what’s new in our understanding of it and what to watch for in the future.

Also, on the first segment of the show is Don Luce, curator of exhibits at the Bell Museum of Natural History. Don will talk about the Darwin Day party on Feb. 12th at the Museum, the multimedia presentations by U of M scientists and the exhibit of Frans Lanting’s photography.

The Difference Between Science And Bunk: Massimo Pigliucci on Atheists Talk #059, March 1, 2009

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:19:19 –0700

Play Now

Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, of the Stonybrook Institute in New York,is a biologist and a philosopher who has published about a hundred technical papers and several books on evolutionary biology. He is a fellow of the American Associationfor the Advancement of Science, selected “for fundamental studies of genotype by environmental interactions and for public defense of evolutionary biology from pseudoscientific attack. ”Massimo is also an atheist, and has published articles in Skeptical Enquirer, Philosophy Now, The Philosopher’s Magazine and American Atheist Magazine.

Greg Laden, who has been a frequent and popular guest on “Atheists Talk,” is an evolutionary anthropologist and professor at the University of Minnesota. On Sunday Greg turns the tables and does the interviewing, talking to Massimo about Ken Miller and the role of God in tweaking the genome at strategic moments; whether or not man is some sort of elevated creature as according to biologists who should know better and the role of pseudoscience in weakening the public understanding of evolution.

NCSE: Genie Scott and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #68, Sunday May 3, 2009

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:32:06 –0700

Play Now

Lynn Fellman will be quizzing anthropologists Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education and Greg Laden of the University of Minnesota on the subject of creationist attempts to weaken science education in K–12 education. Dr. Scott testified before the Texas State Board of Education as the board was considering how to rewrite the science standards. Texas is critical because of the number of pupils. Textbook publishers write their books to fit with the Texas standards, and if evolution is weakened at the whim of Texas creationists, it affects education in the rest of the states. Dr. Laden has been watching development of the Math and Science Standards for Minnesota and will provide some updates.

Greg and Genie will also be discussing the various approaches to religion in promoting and protecting science education. The NCSE is careful to assure religious leaders that science, properly done, is not necessarily dangerous to their faith (unless strict creationism is a cornerstone of their faith.) Many atheist scientists think that this is a dangerous approach because it dilutes science’s naturalistic methodology. They will discuss what the best approach may be, whether it is “New Atheism” or “Friendly Atheism.”

Greg Laden: “Missionaries in Africa” on Atheists Talk #76, Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 05:37:53 –0700

Play Now

Missionaries tell us that they are saving the world, traveling to foreign lands to help the natives. Of course, “saving the world” means something a little different to those of us who don’t believe there’s a Satan who needs to be battled at every turn. We usually mean saving lives and bettering standards of living, actions that have meaning in the here and now. How do missionaries do in that regard?

Biological anthropologist Greg Laden joins Stephanie Zvan to talk about his experiences with missionaries in the remotest parts of Africa and answer questions about what missions really offer the indigenous populations. He’ll tell us about the good and the bad and let us know where we need to step up to provide secular help uncomplicated by the religion of the missionaries.

This will be the final live Atheists Talk on the radio and the last podcast for a while, until we get the details of the ongoing podcast worked out. If you’re not attending the Pride Parade with the Minnesota Atheists delegation, please consider joining us at Q.Cumbers after the show to celebrate our long and successful radio run.

“Old Bones and Modern Genetics.” Greg Laden, Lynn Fellman. Atheists Talk #79 August 15, 2010

Posted: Wed, 07 Dec 2011 06:16:49 –0700

Play Now

Lucy, Ardi, Frodo, and us: what old bones and new genetics are revealing today.

Who are these people and can we call them family? Listen to Greg Laden and Lynn Fellman discuss how recent fossil and tool discoveries are changing the shape of our family tree.

A report earlier this week showed evidence for stone tool use at 3.39 million years ago — much earlier than previously thought.

In addition to ancient bones and tools, genetics is filling some of the pre-historic knowledge gaps. For instance, genetic material from 40,000 year old bones show that some of us are one to four percent Neanderthal.

As a biological anthropologist, Greg Laden has insight into how the recent finds are challenging intrenched ideas. He’ll talk about what new trends are changing our understanding of human evolution. Taking us through past and recent discoveries, Greg’s engaging way of thinking critically about the mixing of bones and genes reveal a remarkable and controversial family story.

“Science in the Public Forum” Ira Flatow on Atheists Talk #89, October 24, 2010

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 06:37:56 –0700

Play Now

Where is Science in the Public Forum Heading? It’s time for a discussion!

Most know Ira Flatow as a science journalist, producer, and as the host of “Science Friday,” broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) every Friday afternoon. But did you know about his Minnesota connection? He was the original host and writer for the Emmy award winning “Newton’s Apple,” which broadcast from the television studios at KTCA in St. Paul, Minnesota. Science communicators Greg Laden and Lynn Fellman will ask Ira about the major changes in delivering science news and the effectiveness of new media for science education. Science is changing our culture and Ira has insights on the value of communicating science through the humanities.

Ira Flatow is a national science journalist working in multiple media: TV, web, blogger, national speaker and book author, and most widely known as the host of the very popular radio show “Science Friday” which is a major stopping point for science geeks on their weekly rounds.

Greg Laden is a scientist, a science educator, author and blogger focused on biological anthropology, the creation-evolution “debate” and human evolution.

Lynn Fellman is a visual artist who also speaks and writes about the intersection of art and science; most recently at the “Personal Genomes” meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

“Science and Reason 2011: Future Watch” on Atheists Talk, #98, January 2, 2011

Posted: Wed, 07 Dec 2011 08:37:04 -0700

Play Now


div class=”itemcontent” name=”decodeable”>As 2010 rolls out, we all hope the future is bright for 2011. Along with hope, there’s always hype. Bringing us a reality check from their areas of expertise are these savvy thinkers:

Greg Laden, bio anthropologist and bogger for, will give his top ten list of science stories for 2010, with commentary on the new field of paleogenomics Maggie Koerth-Baker, science journalist and writer for, will talk about the Future of Energy in the US.

Steve Borsch, media trend expert at Connecting the Dots, has insights for a year of accelerating change.

Will Steeger,, arctic explorer and eyewitness to the on-going catastrophic consequences of global climate change will tell us the latest observations.

Interviewer Lynn Fellman,, is an artist communicating science through art, and a frequent science interviewer on “Atheist Talk”.

Host Brent Michael Davids,, is an award winning composer and creator of the music for the “Atheist Talk”.

“Zebrafish and Dictionary Atheism,” PZ Myers and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #104, February 20, 2011

Wed, 07 Dec 2011 10:36:18 –0700

Play Now

Drs PZ Myers and Greg Laden will be our guests on today’s show. PZ is in the Minneapolis/St Paul metro for a pair of talks this weekend. First he will be presenting “The Evolution of Cooperativity” to the Humanists of Minnesota on February 19th, and on the 20th he will be explaining the broader topic of Evolution to the Minnesota Atheists.

PZ Myers is not shy of controversy, as he seems to invoke and generate it at will through his blog, Pharyngula. He writes about atheism, science, politics from a liberal perspective, zebrafish, critical thinking, pirates, sexism and poorly reasoned e-mails. Greg Laden joins PZ for a question and answer session in our studios. Greg generates his own share of controversy at his own blog.

“Science Communication” with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Atheists Talk #110, April 3, 2011

Thu, 08 Dec 2011 02:03:12 –0700

Play Now

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the leading science communicators of our generation. As the host of Nova Science Now, Dr. Tyson conveys his enthusiasm and excitement for science and his presentation, nixed with wit and humor bring excitement to a variety of topics. Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director and astrophysicist at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He hosts the Star Talk radio show. He is a frequent guest on the Colbert Report for whenever Colbert needs science to augment truthiness. Dr. Tyson is the author of several science books for the lay reader.

Greg Laden is a frequent guest and interviewer for Atheists Talk. Dr. Laden is a biological anthropologist and lecturer at the University of Minnesota, and will talk to Tyson about science communication, science education and the role of magnetism in astrophysics (which is Tyson’s specialty.)

“I’ll Take Sweden, Ja Ja,” Martin Rundkvist and Yusie Chou on Atheists Talk #111, April 10, 2011

Thu, 08 Dec 2011 05:23:36 –0700

Play Now

Science Blogger and outspoken Atheist Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist affiliated with the University of Chester. He is the managing editor of Fornvännen, Sweden’s foremost archaeological journal. Yusie Chou is a journalist and broadcaster. She was raised in Mao’s China and came to Sweden at age seven with her family.

Rundkvist and Chou live and work in Sweden; a culture and a country in which atheism is the norm and the mention of god or Jesus by a politician is frowned upon.

On the show, Dr. Greg Laden and our guests will discuss atheism from this perspective, and contrast what it is like to live in a primarily atheist vs. a primarily theist society.

We will also discuss how atheism and atheists interface with the society in which they are embedded can be very different depending on context. In addition, we can find out if a nation transforming over to atheism actually does experience the doomsday scenario painted by many outspoken American religious leaders. We may also talk a bit about our guests’ reaction to Nordic culture in Minnesota and Swedish archaeology.

Greg Laden is a frequent guest and interviewer on our show. He is a biological anthropologist with field work experience in Africa.

“Skeptically Speaking;” Desiree Schell and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #118, June 5, 2011

Thu, 08 Dec 2011 06:03:44 –0700

Play Now

So, are we making inroads or not? Is skepticism spreading due to all the new media tools that we use in the 21st century? Desiree Schell, who produces the podcast “Skeptically Speaking” and Greg Laden will be bringing out the possibilities. We may be only reaching the already converted with our show and with Desiree’s show, and other skeptic broadcasts; but even if so, there is always more to see, to hear and to learn about skepticism, atheism and humanism.

This episode will touch on a broad range of topics, including a preview of what Desiree will be talking about at this year’s Skepchick track at CONvergence.

From I’m a Skeptic mini-bio of Desiree Schell:

"Desiree explores the connections between science and skepticism, and strategies for promoting critical thinking beyond the ranks of current skeptics. She is also known for delving into the slippery social issues surrounding skepticism. Her show has been near the forefront of conversations about gender issues in skepticism, and about “Skepticism 2.0’s” rebirth as a demographically broad social movement. “We really want to spread critical thinking to the broadest possible audience,” Desiree says. “In order to do that, we as skeptics need to discuss ways that we can make our message more inclusive.”

Greg Laden is a frequent guest on Atheists Talk, as well as a frequent interviewer. Greg is an evolutionary anthropologist and blogs at ScienceBlogs.

Skeptically Speaking –

Skeptical Review Interview with Desiree Schell

“Look at All the Crazy Preachers.” Ed Brayton on Atheists Talk #119, June 12, 2011

Thu, 08 Dec 2011 06:18:20 –0700

Play Now

When Harold Camping announced his calculated date for The Rapture to be May 22, rational people laughed at his certainty. We were also saddened that his deluded followers sold everything they owned and devoted their lives to spreading the word that the “End is Near.” The rapture didn’t happen, and Camping made excuses and decided that he meant that it will all happen in October of this year. But Camping is not the only crazy preacher out there, getting publicity by saying and writing outrageous things that no sane person would accept.

Freelance writer Ed Brayton, who writes at ScienceBlogs’ Dispatches from the Culture Wars has been following and writing about religion and politics and highlighting the more stupid and insane conservative and fundamentalist preachers, priests, rabbis and imams. He and Greg Laden and I will highlight the funny, and yet scary people who use fear, bigotry religious certainty to attract followers, money and even influence public policy because of their fractured religious beliefs.

Greg Laden is a frequent guest on Atheists Talk, as well as a frequent interviewer. Greg is an evolutionary anthropologist and blogs at ScienceBlogs.

“The Science of Global Warming.” Science v Denialism on Atheists Talk #126, July 31, 2011

Thu, 08 Dec 2011 07:26:27 –0700

Play Now

Kevin Zelnio and John Abraham Discuss Climate Change

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has released new temperature norms based on 30 year historical data. These are the “normals” that meteorologists compare the days’ weather to the mean for any particular day. The temperature norms are higher than they were ten years ago, and ten years ago the norms were higher than those of the prior decade. Denialism has to be very strong in a person in order to pretend that the global climate is not getting warmer. The data accumulate in the air and in the sea, and on land and indicate with very little uncertainty that human activity is the leading cause of global warming. This is the scientific consensus. The seas are showing the effects of warmer water, as the level of carbonic acids absorbed into the water are having a dangerous effect on the biosphere under the waves. Reefs are bleaching.

At a time when solutions need to be discussed in the public, scientists are facing an increasingly shrill level of “debate” and denial from those who claim that they are alarmists who are crying fire in a crowded theater when there is no need to worry. Denialists claim the atmosphere is too big and chaotic for us mere humans to have an effect.

Those of us who are familiar with creationism’s means and methods recognize the tactical similarities between creationism and global warming denialism. Our guests for this show are Dr. John Abraham and Kevin Zelnio.

John Abraham is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Heat Transfer and Fluid Mechanics) at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, He responded to a presentation made by Chrisopher Monckton at Bethel University. Monckton is a leading denialist who has many convinced that scientists are lying about global warming, but Abraham showed how this charge is false.

Kevin Zelnio is a science journalist and blogger at Scientific American Blogs and at Deep Sea News. He has written on the effects of the change in climate on the ocean (and our fisheries,) in addition to far-ranging subjects involving sea invertebrates . Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich will co-host today’s show.

To Catch a Fallen Sea Angel by Kevin Zelnio–2010–11–05

Climate-Science Smackdown, Pt 2 , by Casey Selix

Abraham Reply to Monckton by John Abraham

Donald Prothero on Atheists Talk #136, Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wed, 14 Dec 2011 07:17:44 –0700

Play Now

Donald Prothero is a palaeontologist who is very much disliked by the Discovery Institute and loved by skeptics, science aficionados, and students. He has written several books and over 200 papers for peer reviewed journals, popular magazines, and anthologies. He wrote “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters,” “Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters,” “Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet,” as well as numerous text books and scientific monographs.

Don is in town for the Geological Society of America meetings, and has agreed to come by the studio and chat with Greg Laden about dinosaurs, climate change, science denialism and, of course, the psychology of cryptozoology, which is the subject of one of his current writing projects.

Professor Prothero is Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society.

Links of interest:

Donald Prothero – The Psychology of Cryptozoologists on Point of Inquiry –

Skeptics Guide to the Universe Interview with Don Prothero –

American Museum of Natural History Podcast –

Don Prothero on the East Coast Earthquake –

A short list of some of Donald Prothero’s books:

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet

After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Life of the Past)

The Evolution of Artiodactyls


h4>Shawn Lawrence Otto on Atheists Talk #142, November 20, 2011

Wed, 14 Dec 2011 07:48:54 –0700

Play Now

This week on Atheists Talk, hosted by Stephanie Zvan, Greg Laden will interview author Shawn Otto.

Shawn Lawrence Otto has just launched his book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, a richly documented and well-reasoned analysis of modern science denialism, especially addressing climate change. Shawn notes that scientists are inherently apolitical in their work, but that science itself is always political, and ties this important observation into recent patterns of partisan maneuvering, questionable journalistic ethics even among the upper echelon of the fourth estate, and religious distortion of scientific findings and science-based policy making.

Join us on air for what is guaranteed to be a lively and enlightening conversation, and then join us at Q. Cumbers for brunch. If you bring a copy of Shawn Otto’s book and a pen, you can get it signed!

Shawn Lawrence Otto’s website –

Activist Blogging, Jennifer McCreight on Atheists Talk #159, Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sun, 18 Mar 2012 17:33:35 –0600

Play Now

“Blogs are stupid.” “Blogs are graffiti with punctuation.” Those are two of Google’s autocomplete suggestions on the topic of blogs. That doesn’t make the statements true, of course.

"Atheist blogs are:

always stirring up controversy."



an echo chamber."


A lot of things get said about atheist blogging, but most of them aren’t said by atheist bloggers themselves. With Jennifer McCreight in town to speak at the Minnesota Atheists monthly meeting, we take the opportunity to gather together a number of atheist bloggers to talk about what they do, why they do it, what they have accomplished, and what they hope to accomplish in the future. In addition to Jen, we will have Greg Laden, Brianne Bilyeu, and Stephanie Zvan in the studio this Sunday.

Human Evolution: John Hawks on Atheists Talk #164, Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 15:49:08 –0600

Play Now

John Hawks is one of the nation’s leading palaeoanthropologists and has lately been working with ancient DNA, recent and earlier Human Evolution, and an interesting project that is a sort of casting call for extinct humans and their relatives.

Most of you know John from his famous Internet site called “John Hawks Weblog: Paleoanthropology, Genetics and Evolution.” John is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which is one of the better known and respected for this sort of research.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that there are many interesting and exciting things going on in human origins research these days, and on Sunday morning, on Atheist Talk radio, John and Greg Laden will cover as many of them as they can. Were the Clovis people Solutreans? How many hominids were there in recent prehistory? And what do both ancient and modern DNA studies tell us about the Neanderthal side of the human family?

“Regenesis” George Church on Atheists Talk #194, November 18, 2012

Wed, 28 Nov 2012 18:06:02 –0700

Play Now

They are the stuff of horror and science fiction stories. They are the fodder for much political debate and public fear. Yet they may be our future and our salvation.

What are they? They are artificially created biological organisms. Authors George Church and Ed Regis, in their new book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Recreate Nature and Ourselves, tell us they are coming, and they tell us not to be afraid. Wary, perhaps, but not afraid.

Church is a molecular geneticist, who created many of the tools we use for genetic sequencing. He is also the founder of the Personal Genome Project, which looks to sequence the genomes of 100,000 volunteers and place the data in the public domain to facilitate research into the interplay of genetics and environment in determining how we become who we are. This Sunday, he will talk to us about what we may expect from this future in which we have this kind of information and this kind of power.


h4>“Denialism on a Large Scale” Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #214, April 14, 2013

Sun, 14 Apr 2013 17:15:47 –0600

Play Now

Climate denialism operates on a scale and with funding that would have made an old-school tobacco executives green with envy. This makes the climate wars a perfect venue for learning about all the tricks of denialists.

Greg Laden stumbled onto climate denialism through a combination of concern for the environment and studying what climate history can tell us about human evolution. He has documented lies, threats and simple misinformation while working to get good information on climate change out to audiences on his blog and elsewhere. In the process, he’s received legal threats, death threats, and more factually incorrect comments than he can count.

This Sunday, Greg will join us in the studio to help us learn to spot denialism in the wild and to tell us what to expect from climate change denialists in the next few months.

  • “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”, Michael Mann on Atheists Talk #284, October 5, 2014

    Posted: Tue, 07 Oct 2014 13:46:12 -0600

    Play Now

    Greg Laden interviews Michael Mann about his book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”.
  • <


    5th Report of the #IPCC: Greg Laden on Atheists Talk

    The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just come out, and Greg Laden joins us this Sunday to tell us what it means. What do over 800 representatives of 85 countries have to say about the state of consensus in scientific literature? More importantly, what do we need to do about it?

    Additionally, various memes denying the science of climate change have popped up again in anticipation of this report. What might you have been hearing about climate change recently, and why is it wrong?

    CLICK HERE to access the podcast.

    Global Warming and Extreme Weather – #climate #agw

    We call it “weather whiplash.” This is not just meteorologists being funny. It is a phenomenon that perhaps has always been with us to some degree, but that has recently become much more common, apparently. If you were under the impression that there is a lot of strange weather going on out there, you may be right, and weather whiplash may be the phenomenon you’ve noticed. Importantly, there is good reason to believe that weather whiplash is the result of anthropogenic global warming. In other words, it’s your fault, so please do pay attention.

    Weather patterns tend to move latitudinally across the globe. You’ll get a period of no rain or snow for a while punctuated by precipitation, then the precipitation moves on and it is dry again for a while. The typical pattern of dry and precipitation in a given region changes by season, but if you compare one season to the next over several years there is normally a pattern. In some areas it is mostly wet with some dry, other areas mostly dry with some wet, other areas somewhere in between. The same can be said of cold vs. warm air masses.

    Here in Minnesota, May and June tend to have repeated intense storm fronts moving through every few days for a few weeks, though the exact timing of when this stormy weather starts and ends, and how long it lasts, varies. Also, the nature of the storms varies, with some years having many tornadoes, some years having mostly straight line winds, etc. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, I get the impression that August is usually relatively dry and cool. Many Minnesotans who have cabins way up north regard August as the first month of fall, that’s how cool it is. Where you live there is a pattern, and you’ve probably noticed it.

    Weather whiplash is when this happens: Instead of periods of dry and wet alternating as they normally do, one of those two patterns (dry or wet) gets stuck in place for a period of time. I get the impression that dry periods, when they get stuck, get stuck for many days in a row, while wet periods get stuck for less time. The reason for that may be this: The dry air masses that get stuck are larger because high pressure systems are big and tend to be dry, while wet weather systems are smaller. So, if all the weather got stuck all at once in the northern temperate region, more landscape would be under dry, clear skies and less landscape would be under wet, cloudy skies.

    And of course, a gentle fluctuation back and forth between warmer and colder conditions is replaced, under weather whiplash conditions, with long periods of cooler or long periods of warmer weather.

    Here’s the problem. If the weather is warm-cool-warm-cool over a periods of two weeks, it never gets that warm or cool. But if it is just warm-warm-warm-warm over a period of two weeks, that’s a heat wave. The heat builds and it gets warmer and warmer and warmer until it is just plain stinking hot. Or, conversely, if the weather is cool-cool-cool-cool and that happens mid winter, that’s a cold snap. Or, like happened this year in Minnesota, it can get cool-cool-cool-cool just at the time we should be having some spring rains, so instead we get spring snows for a month. Residents of the Twin Cities feel the pain of this even now, because the entire construction season (we have two season here, “Winter” and “Construction”) was delayed by a month due to weather whiplash, and the Minnesota Department of Public Works and county and local DPW’s have been working extra hard at ruining our commute today so that our commute can be better at some unspecified time in the future, right after the pigs start flying.

    If the weather patterns sit in one place for a long time and cold or heat or dry or rain builds up … so you get a cold snap, heat wave, drought, or floods … then one part of weather whiplash is in effect. Then, the weather shifts and where there was once hot and dry, and thus maybe fires that denude the landscape, you have floods, made worse not only because of the stalled system but also because the fires prepped the grounds for greater runoff, erosion, and land slides. That’s the full weather whiplash pattern. Seemingly interminable weather of one kind suddenly replaced by seemingly interminable weather of another, perhaps opposite kind. Snap.

    Farmers have to put their crops in late because of a long period of cool and wet conditions. Then the weather clears and everything is nice and dry, so the farmers plant later than ideal, but at least they get to plant. But then the nice and dry conditions are like the proverbial TV in-laws and never seem to want to leave, and good planting conditions turn into a worrying period of not enough rain and that turns into a moderate drought, and that turns into a severe drought. Then, just as you are about to harvest the half dead corn and maybe use it for halloween decorations because it is not good for anything else, the weather whiplashes on you again and your half dead crops are mowed down by a series of hail storms. This is not good for farmers.

    Weather whiplash does seem to be a recent phenomenon, even if stalled systems can actually happen at any time. I think this is true because people like Paul Douglas seem to think it is true, people who have been watching the weather every day for years. It is hard to find a simple comprehensive set of data that demonstrates this, however. One way to look at this is to examine the frequency of “natural disasters” of various types over time, according to the people who know most about such things: the insurance industry. Following is a graph just for the US. I assume that weather whiplash is a global Northern Hemisphere phenomenon (maybe also Southern Hemisphere, but for various reasons maybe not; see below). I also assume that while the United States, being fairly large, is thus a good sample of the Northern Hemisphere, weather whiplash might be happening more in Eurasia one year and more in the US another year. However, there is reason to believe that that would not be the case to any large degree because the jet stream waviness is a global thing. Anyway, here’s a data set in the form of a chart from the insurance industry showing natural disasters in the US from 1980 to 2011. It is from this document (PDF).


    Clearly there is an increase in the overall number of disasters. Climatological events including extreme temperature, drought, and forest fires increase across the time period of consideration. Floods and mass movement of water also clearly increases across this time period. Storms also increase. Geophysical events on the other hand, don’t. This is, of course, what we would expect if weather related events were having more of an impact. Is this weather whiplash?

    One could argue that global warming would increase extreme temperature conditions and drought without anything special like weather whiplash happening. Also, global warming can increase rain and flood related problems because warmer air and seas means more evaporation. And, certainly, that is what has occurred over time.

    And this is a very important point that I keep telling people but I’m not sure how well it has gotten across. Adding heat to the atmosphere may add moisture, and it may add drying conditions as well. It might increase storminess, or the intensity of some storms. But that is just a quantitative change in the weather, caused by global warming, and while important it is still a simple matter of degree.

    Weather whiplash is not a quantitative change in weather patterns. It is not just a bit more rain or a bit more heat in what might otherwise be a rainy day or a hot day. Weather whiplash is a qualitative change in the patterns of weather. Qualitative, large scale features of climate (and weather) give us things like desserts and rain forests. They give us seasonal patterns. They give us expectations of a wet spring that gets dry enough to plant, enough rain falling in small enough bouts to keep the crops growing over the summer, and a reasonably dry fall so the harvesting machinery can get out in the fields and bring in the sheaves. Or, if there is a qualitative shift in the climate and weather, like weather whiplash becoming a common phenomenon, it might be that you can’t really grow corn where you were thinking you could, or if so, you need a different approach. And since all we eat and grow is corn, we are in big trouble. It might mean that the idea of living in excessively quaint villages next to medium size creeks in very large mountains is simply not an option any more, because “1,000 year floods” can happen any time if weather whiplash happens to aim its cruel cat-o-nine-tails at your quaintness.

    The qualitatively distinct phenomenon of weather whiplash … the multi-day or even multi-week long stalling of weather patterns … builds on incremental increases in dryness of air (due to heat) and increased wetness of other air (due to increased evaporation) and increased storms (due to increased energy in the atmosphere) and make all that worse.

    Imagine you have the habit of tossing the daily accumulation of spare change that forms in your pockets in random locations around your house at the end of each day. Then, something changes in your pattern of behavior and you end up coming home with more change every day (the price of something you frequently buy goes from 95 cents to $1.05, and you only pay with dollar bills). You still toss the change randomly, but now there is somewhat more spare change on your nightstand, on the table by the front door, in that basket on the desk in your study, in the laundry room. That’s a quantitative increase in spare change due to a change in the nature of making change during the day. It could matter, you might notice it, it may suddenly become worth it for the teenager in your household to volunteer to help clean the house if they can keep all the change. But it is just a matter of degree.

    But what if you ALSO change what you do with the change. Instead of randomly dropping the change in a large number of locations, you change your pattern and most of the time you empty most of the change from most of your pockets into the single basket on your desk in the study. In short order you would have a lot of change in one place not only because you are accumulating more every day but also, and really, mainly, because you are putting it all in one place. Soon there would be many dollars worth of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies in your basket, enough to take to the bank. Now, THAT’s change we can believe in!

    Weather whiplash on top of increased moisture in the air brought us drought and fire followed by unprecedented rainfall in Colorado just a couple of weeks ago. It flooded Central Europe and Calgary, Alberta. It brought killer cold and heat waves to Eurasia and North America over the last couple of years. It blocked Hurricane Super-Franken-Storm Sandy and steered it into New York and New Jersey about a year ago. It brought a “Flash Drought” to the US midwest this summer. And so on and so forth.

    That, dear reader, is change we better believe in.

    OK, but how does weather whiplash happen? I’ve explained this before (here) but I’ll give you a quick run down now in case you are to lazy to click on that link.

    There are mysterious processes at work. They are not mysterious to climate scientists who can do calculus, of course, but they are a little hard to explain in a straight forward process without using analogies that ultimately break down. But I’l use a couple of analogies anyway. Feel free to complain about them in the comments, or offer better ones!

    First, this: Climate is all about excess heat moving from the equatorial regions to the poles. When it does so across the troposphere, big-giant patterns of air movement are set up. These patterns can be thought of as giant twisting donuts of air encircling the earth (though that is only a rough description, on a simpler planet it would be very accurate). Air at the equator rises, moves away from the equator and cools, then sink, and works its way back towards the equator. Then, the next donut in line does same thing but twisting in a different direction. And so on. In cross section, it looks like this:


    The junctions between these giant twisting donuts, at altitude, are the jet streams.

    Weather generally moves along and within these donuts, nudged along and otherwise affected by the jet streams, in the manner described at the beginning of this post. Dry-wet-dry-wet or cool-warm-cool-warm, at the scale of days. Or, should I say, this regular pattern of normal variation happens as long as the jet streams are straight and all normal and stuff.

    Here’s a depiction of the jet streams being fairly normal (from here):


    But it does not always work that way. Visualize a straight river with a flat gravel bottom moving along at a reasonable clip in front of you. Observe the hibiscus flowers released by plants upstream (as happens in some tropical rivers) floating by each in a regular linear pattern. The river is a giant twisting donut, the hibiscus flowers are weather events. Now, drop a big log halfway across the river so one end is on the bank, and the other end is out in the middle of the river and pointing slightly upstream. Now, the water is partly trapped, and forms a vortex upstream from the log, and also, a vortex going perhaps in the opposite direction forms downstream from the log. The hibiscus flowers trapped in the vortex now fail to float by, but rather, spin and spin and spin and remain in the same place. Dozens of these flowers might get trapped in place, and beneath the surface, even the gravel is starting to mound up under parts of the stream that are moving slower, and dug out in other parts. Where that vortex occurs, above the log, will be many hibiscus flowers, or, rain storms, over a period of time. Perhaps below the log there will then be a paucity of hibiscus flowers, or, drought, for a period of time. Eventually the log gets lose, rolls downstream a ways, and gets stuck again. Then, some other part of the river … some other region … gets to experience the stuck vortex.


    When the gradient in heat between the tropics and the poles is at a certain level, you get a nice straight jet stream most of the time. When the gradient drops, for complex reasons involving calculus and such, the whole donut-jet stream thing gets all messed up like the river with the log dropped across it, and the jet streams fold up in to these big curves called “Rossby waves.”


    Over the recent years, we have experienced general global warming, and this has caused the sea ice that covers much of the Arctic Sea to melt more in the summer than it usually does. This has caused the whole northern region to become warmer because there is less reflective ice and more open ocean to collect sunlight. This has caused even more melting of the ice, and over the last decade we’ve seen a catastrophic reduction in sumer arctic ice that, while it was expected that this would happen over time, has occurred at a shocking rate of speed that has kinda freaked everybody out. This warming of the Arctic in relation to everywhere else is called “Arctic Amplification.” Arctic amplification has caused the differential of equatorial vs. polar temperature to shift, and this has caused the Rossby waves to form.

    The waves themselves don’t move at all or move only very slowly for several days, and form vortex patterns to their north (which are low pressure systems) and to their south (which are high pressure systems). The air moving along the jet stream itself also slows down. So, any wether pattern that might just float by like a hibiscus flower on a tropical river instead sits here and either rains on you for a week or shines bright sun on you for a week, or whatever. Then, the waves move or disappear and reform elsewhere, like the log getting lose and rolling down stream for a ways, and the place that was for several days dry is now for several days wet.

    Wether whiplash.

    Jet stream all messed up.
    Jet stream all messed up.

    So, is there any evidence that weather whiplash has been happening more frequently in recent years other than so many meteorologists simply claiming it has?

    I asked a number of colleagues who work with climate and weather if there was a readily available database showing jet stream waviness and big storm events that could be converted into a human-understandable picture, or graph, or something, of this change over time. I had already read two recent papers that looked at this phenomenon but they are highly technical and on their own don’t have graphics that do the job. So, I asked one of the authors of one of those papers about a quick little trick (OMG HE USED THE WORD TRICK IN RELATION TO CLIMATE) to convert one of their more complicate graphs into something more obvious. Below, I provide you with the original graphic and the one I generated from it. This shows the frequency over time in a limited size study area (not the whole Northern Hemisphere) of conditions under which Rossby waves would cause weather whiplash conditions. Remember, this is just a sample of the planet in both time and space, not the actual number of times this happens. But, the sampling is uniform over several decades, so if there is an increasing trend of jet-stream curviness at the level that could cause wether whiplash, it will be shown, more or less, here. The numbers are so small that I don’t even attempt a test of significance. This is provisional. Suggesting. For fun. If one can call the outcome of weather whiplash fun, which you really cant. Anyway, check out these two items:

    Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 8.13.57 PM

    …and, from this figure, I created the following graphic, counting the number of QR events (the squares) per unit time evenly divided across the sampling period:


    Here’s the thing. We can’t easily say that there is a qualitatively new climate system in place, because by definition “climate” is what happens over 30 years of time. There is no “new climate” that is five or ten years old. That, however, is not because of a natural process. It is because of how climate science has evolved. It makes sense for climate scientists to think in multi-decade chunks of time because climate really does vary at levels less than 20 or 30 years time, normally. Taking a normal climate science perspective, we can be pretty sure that “weather warming” is a new climate regime some time around the middle of the 21st century when there is enough data!

    But this is a problem. If the situation is changing rapidly enough it will be hard for methods that have evolved in climatology to respond to, or even, really, “see” it. Trying to understand weather whiplash by long term study of the climate system is a bit like using the publicly available long term FBI crime stats that were last updated two years ago to assess whether or not your house is being broken into right now.

    As you know, the IPCC report on the scientific evidence related to climate change is coming out just now. That report is not so sure about changes in weather severity or storminess or stuff like weather whiplash. Some weather changes are acknolwedged as very likely, others, the IPCC report is much more equivocal about. However, there are very few people in climate science right now that don’t think something like weather whiplash is probably happening, and many are well convinced of it. The problem is that the IPCC reporting process is more like climate than weather in its temporal scale!

    The IPCC reporting process has a time lag of several years; the final, most policy related report for this cycle will be out in some 12 months from now, a year after the first report in the cycle, the one with the science in it. In a few years from now, and not likely before, there will be important people sitting in important room in important buildings talking about climate. Someone will say “is drought a thing?” and someone else will say “IPCC says they are only moderately sure at best that drought is a thing.” It won’t matter that the conversation is happening in July 2015 and the last piece of data in the IPCC report is from 2011 and drought has been a dominant result of weather whiplash for five years … enough time to overlap with but not influence the IPCC conclusions.

    Weather whiplash is almost certainly for real.

    Finally, here are two videos that also go into this topic. From the Yale Climate Forum, “New video couples interviews with two experts — Rutgers’ Jennifer Francis and Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters — to explore the ‘Why?’ of two years of mirror images of weather across North America”

    …and “”Wummer.” Just days ago, it looked and felt like winter in many cities across the the Midwest. Then whammo, it’s summer with record breaking heat across several Midwest states. Yes, double digit snowfalls to triple digit heat all within a matter of days. Meteorologist Paul Douglas says this takes Weather Whiplash to a whole new level.”

    Theater owner bends to creationists’ demands, cancels “Inherit the Wind”

    From the Minneapolis City Pages:

    The New Ulm Actors Community Theater has decided to cancel its planned production of “Inherit the Wind” thanks to pressure from local evangelicals who object to the way the play portrays the evolution/creationism debate.

    And from the New Ulm Journal:

    NEW ULM – The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre’s production of “Inherent the Wind” was canceled last week due to cast dropouts stemming from objections by Martin Luther College professors and local WELS members over the play’s depiction of the evolution/creationism debate.

    A typical day in New Ulm, Minnesota.
    A typical day in New Ulm, Minnesota.
    NUACT originally slated the play as its fall production with MLC student Zach Stowe as director. The play deals with a fictionalized version of the evolution/creationism debate in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The play is also a metaphor for criticizing the suppression of free expression under the McCarthyism of the 1950s.

    So, this was college professors who are normally about academic freedom and such acting like McCarthy about a play that among other things criticizes McCarthyism.

    After seeing the poster for the audition, several MLC professors raised objections about the play’s subject to the administration.

    Jeffrey Schone, MLC’s VP of Student Life, declined to name the objecting professors, but stated the administration similarly became concerned about being associated with the play.

    The college is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the above mentioned “WELS.” They hold Genesis as literally true. Ironically, the court case depicted in this play found in favor of the creationist argument made at the time. These people, the WELS people, are not only medieval they are also ignorant and offensive.

    “We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world,”? said Schone. “This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views.”

    Which, of course, is best managed by not allowing anyone to be exposed to anything but the standard approved dogma. Good luck with that in 21st century America!

    Schone, being all magnanamous and stuff, told the director that the play audition for the play could be held off campus. How nice of him to acknowledge that his draconian reach ends at the boundary of the backwards thinking private school he is VP of student activities for.

    But, things did not end there. Members of the broader community of Yahoos living in the quite little Minnesota town of New Ulm harassed director Stowe into pulling the plug on the whole project. On September 3rd,

    …Stowe resigned from the play. He cited a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors and local WELS members for his decision. He was also concerned that MLC administration would maybe take their concerns further if the outcry kept growing, so he decided to focus on the more important issue of his schooling.

    The Dark Ages.
    The Dark Ages.
    However, he said he felt his creative freedom had been stifled and that he was very disappointed that some of the criticism seemed to come from MLC. He said he shares WELS’ belief in creationism. He said he believes open discussion about the topic is essential to proving its validity.

    Well, he’s benighted but half way out of that hole, maybe. We’ll see.

    But it didn’t end there; apparently the harassment continued because ….

    …In the following two weeks, six NUACT members dropped out of the cast after consulting their WELS pastors or officials about being in the play after Stowe’s departure.

    On Sept. 16, the NUACT board voted to postpone the show indefinitely due to insufficient time to replace and retrain the lost staff before Oct. 4, which would have been opening night. NUACT Executive Director Paul Warshauer said the group still hopes to put on “Inherit the Wind,” but no date has been determined.

    Schone said he feels MLC did not put any pressure on Stowe or the NUACT cast. But, he said he feels it is appropriate for the college to voice concerns about the extracurricular activities of its students.

    Schone’s only regret was the timing of the decision due to when the administration learned about the audition. He said he apologized to NUACT for the inconvenience. He said NUACT and Stowe can use the MLC campus for future plays, and that the concerns were only with the content of “Inherit the Wind.”

    Indeed. Next time you want to do something subversive, LET US KNOW IN ADVANCE.

    I weep for New Ulm.

    The IPCC Report in Pictures

    Each of these graphs from the IPCC policy summary shows the global surface temperature relative to a 1961-1990 arbitrary baseline. The upper graph shows the annual average, and thus captures a sense of variation reflecting a wide range of causes, but with a general trend from the early 20th century to the preset of increasing temperatures. The second graph shows the same data but using a decadal average. Notice that when you squint your eyes, turn your head sideways, and take some LSD you can see a highly significant decline, hiatus, pause, or even cooling in global temperatures that, if you’ve taken enough drugs, seems to obviate global warming. But if you look at the data by decade, even very strong mushrooms are not going to let you see what isn’t there.

    Global warming. Real. Deal.
    Global warming. Real. Deal.

    Snow and ice, there’s less of it.

    Less snow, less ice.  The drop in arctic ice cover each summer is catastrophic and the rate at which it has happened was not predicted.  This is one of a handful of reasons that everybody I now in the climate science world regards the IPCC report as conservative, even optimistic.  Nobody saw this coming. What else are we going to not see coming?
    Less snow, less ice. The drop in arctic ice cover each summer is catastrophic and the rate at which it has happened was not predicted. This is one of a handful of reasons that everybody I now in the climate science world regards the IPCC report as conservative, even optimistic. Nobody saw this coming. What else are we going to not see coming?

    This is why we use the term climate change. Everywhere here you see a color, the climate changed. Blue means more wet, brown more dry. The IPCC report is somewhat equivocal on drought cause by climate change, but reasonably certain about rainfall shifts. This reflects, I think, the lag time of the IPCC process. The IPCC is somewhat current but not as current as it needs to be. Including the most recent data and most recent thinking, what the IPCC is very certain will happen over the next century with respect to drought and rainfall is very much happening right now.

    Shifts is dry vs. wet conditions.
    Shifts is dry vs. wet conditions.

    This is a complicated story but this graph summarizes it nicely. More CO2 in the atmosphere means more CO2 in the ocean, and this leads to acidification. That is a bad thing.

    Ruh roh.
    Ruh roh.

    Most of the sea level rise over recent decades has been from the ocean getting warmer. But in the future expect the larger proportion to be from glaciers melting.

    Warming, rising seas.
    Warming, rising seas.

    Here’s the change in ocean surface pH:

    Ocean Surface pH
    Ocean Surface pH

    It is getting hotter. It is getting wetter, or dryer, depending on where you are. And the big ice hat our planet wears is falling off.

    Temperature, Rainfall, Sea Ice
    Temperature, Rainfall, Sea Ice

    I’m pretty sure the upper limit on this graph is going to be an underestimate. Mark my words. You can take that to the bank, but do pick a bank that is on top of a hill.


    It’s hotter everywhere, except, like, Iceland.


    About The Fifth Report Of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

    Eight hundred and thirty or more authors and editors representing eighty five countries wrote this thing. It is about climate change, and reflects pretty much all of the current (except the most most current of course) peer reviewed literature on climate change, with the intention of providing the basis for governmental policy related to this topic.

    Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 6.49.32 PMThe most important conclusion of this report is that humans have caused the warming of the planet that has been observed over the last several decades. More exactly, human activity has led to both cooling and warming effects, with the net outcome being warming. The report says, “Greenhouse gases contributed a global mean surface warming likely to be in the range of 0.5°C to 1.3 °C over the period 1951?2010, with the contributions from other anthropogenic forcings, including the cooling effect of aerosols, likely to be in the range of ?0.6°C to 0.1°C.”

    In contrast, non-human, natural, effects on the climater over thisp eriod are in the range of ?0.1°C to 0.1°C superimposed on a natural variability within the climate system of the same order of magnitude.

    So, that’s settled. Let’s not fiddle around with that argument any more, please.

    Dan Nuccitelli has a nice summary of the documentation of human influence here, Real Climate discusses the report here, and Joe Romm has something here. Also, Peter Gleick asks “What does the IPCC say about water?” Oh, and Mark Hertsgaard notes that “Bill McKibben should feel vindicated today.” Andrew Revkin’s summary is here.

    What does this mean, in terms of policy? Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists notes the following:

    The IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) tells us that global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85° C since 1900. It concludes that “cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond” – in other words, the principal driver of long-term warming is total emissions of CO2. And it finds that having a greater than 66% probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below 2° C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 Gigatons of carbon (GtC).

    At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), we will hurtle past the 2° C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don’t continue on their current upward trajectory of ~3 percent per year.

    So, we need to take care of that little problem. One thing we might consider along these lines is NOT APPROVING KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE PLEASE. (Anybody listening?) I mean, I know it’s repression and all, keeping all that carbon trapped in the ground. In fact, it so repressive Coal and Oil have written a song about liberation, sung here by Andy Revkin:

    I have been flat out busy with teaching on the topic of parental investment and carrying out actual parental investment all week, so I am not going to say anything smart about this report today. But I will on Sunday Morning, 9:00 Central time on Atheist Talk Radio where I’ll be updating everyone on this report. More specifically, I think, I’ll be speaking with Stephanie Zvan on the current short list of things people have got wrong (mainly because of climate science denailism) about climate change. This is very closely related to the report because these recently generated or reinvigorated anti-science memes have been brought out of the zombie stable just over the last few weeks precisely because this report was to come out today. So, the memes and the report will do battle Sunday Morning in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis. If you oversleep or are in church or something, no matter, there will be a podcast.

    Thinking About Thinking

    … on Skeptically Speaking:

    This week, we’re diving back into neuroscience, to learn how common conceptions of the brain stand up to real research. Desiree Schell speaks to neurologist and author Robert Burton, about his book A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves. She’s joined by neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson, to get the scientific perspective on the differences between the brain’s right and left hemispheres. And she’ll speak to cognitive scientist Gary Marcus, about the promise and peril of the push back against pop neuroscience.

    Matt Ridley Wrong, John Abraham Right

    Recently, formerly respected writer Matt Ridley has been making a fool of himself with absurd and scientifically unsupported commentary on climate change. Recently he wrote something for the Wall Street Journal, “Dialing Back the Alarm on Climate Change,” that serves as an example of this.

    Professor John Abraham has also provided an item for the Wall Street Journal that addresses Ridley’s goof. As Abraham puts it, “Matt Ridley states that a forthcoming major climate change report will lower the expected temperature rise we will experience in the future (“A Reprieve From Climate Doom,” Review, Sept. 14). He also claims that the temperature rise will be beneficial. I was an expert reviewer of the report.”

    Read John’s full letter to the WSJ here. In it you’ll find the link to Ridley’s piece.

    Has Alien Life Been Discovered?


    First, let me tell you that the Journal of Cosmology has a very checkered history and anything published in it can not be trusted in the same way one might trust counter-intuitive results, provisionally at least, in a legit journal.

    An article in the journal indicates that British scientists found stuff way high up at the edge of the out space-atmosphere boundary that must be from comets.

    They give the argument that it must be from a comet because they did their sampling of it during a time when comet dust would be likely found in the region (because a comet’s remains,a meteor swarm, was bombarding the Earth). They plan to test this idea further by sampling again at a later time. Unfortunately, rather than sampling during a period of little or no comet-remnant activity, they will sample again during high commet-remnant activity. This way they can establish the TRUTH of WHAT IS OUT THERE using the best available method: CONFIRMATION BIAS.

    There is a picture of the life. It is clearly a diatom fragment. Expect Anthony Watts to be reporting on this momentarily!

    Diatoms, or fragments of them, are tiny itty bitty things and tend to make up a good proportion of air-dust. Probably, this is air dust.

    Also,earlier recovered “aliens” were tested to see if they had DNA, and they do. This led the researchers to conclude with high certainty that life on earth started elsewhere because “there are hardly any biologists in outer space” (or words to that effect).

    I hesitate to provide this, but HERE IS A LINK to an article describing this amazing story. Or maybe amazing is the wrong word. Maybe I mean unbelievable.

    Weather Whiplash Is Like My Old Broken Sprinkler

    There is a strong argument to be made that the recent flooding in Colorado is the result of global warming. Here are three things one could say about the flooding. Think of these as alternative hypotheses to explain that event:

    1) Weather has extremes. Sometimes, instead of raining just a bit, it rains a hella lot and you get a big giant flood.

    2) Weather has extremes etc. etc. but global warming tends to make some of the extremes more extremes, so instead of getting just a big flood, you get a big giant flood.

    3) The storm that brought well over a foot of rain to one mountainous area was qualitatively distinct; it happened because of a configuration in the weather patterns that might have happened at any time over the last several centuries but only very very rarely, but because of global warming, this sort of thing happens far more frequently. The weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere have shifted in a way that makes the rain event in Colorado a fairly likely thing to happen somewhere in the world several times a year, and it happened to happen in Colorado this time around. Prior to global warming caused changes, this effect would be very rare, now it is common.

    The difference between these ways of looking at the weather is very important, because under option 3, we have a problem. Just as people who live along the Gulf Coast or the mid-Atlantic or south need to worry about hurricanes as a thing, or people who live in the middle of the US have to worry about tornadoes as a thing, or people who live in Minnesota have to worry about killer cold as a thing, it may be the case that people who live at latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere now have to worry about this new weather pattern, which some call “weather whiplash,” as a thing. When you build your mountain roads in the Rockies, you’ve got to figure that there is a reasonable chance that during the next few decades there will be a foot of rain in the catchment of the stream that road runs along. Either build the road differently, or plan to replace it now and then. Mountain valley settlements in high mountains like the Rockies may need to measure out a new “high water line” for the creek they overlook and plan for that water line being reached within the lifetime of the inhabitants of the village, once or more.

    Similarly, just as dense concentrations of rain are more likely under option 3, dense concentrations of dry conditions are also likely. In other words, weather whiplash is like my old broken sprinkler.

    Until recently I had one of those sprinklers that wave back and forth with a couple dozen high power streams of water. The water comes out of a bar, and the bar oscillates back and forth and back and forth so there is a long, linear, gentle rain storm that passes back and forth across the lawn over the zone covered by the sprinkler. But when my sprinkler got old it would get stuck sometimes. The bar would stop oscillating, and the streams of water would create a long linear rain storm on one strip of the law while the rest of the lawn simply got dryer. The broken sprinkler did something that resembles the weather in the middle-ish part of the United States for a week or so during September 2013. The midwest got a “flash drought” during which no rain fell but it as hot and breezy, while the Rockies and other areas got lots of rain from a big storm that sat there for days and days without moving. The main part of the storm was in Colorado but New Mexico got extra rain as well, and after the storm left Colorado it moved north in the Rockies and wet down Wyoming and Montana a bit as well (causing only some flooding).

    The jet stream is often a long, linear, fast moving necklace (well, more than one necklace as there is more than one jet stream) that encircles the earth at some distance from the equator. It is associated with the movement of air masses around the globe. These air masses alternately pick up and drop moisture. When the air mass is dry, it dries out the land beneath. When the air mass is wet, and it mixes with some other air along a front, it drops rain. But the rainfall (and correspondingly, the dry spots) are somewhat like an oscillating sprinkler that is not broken. A given area is likely to experience alternating rain and dry.

    Some regions experience more dry than wet, some regions are wetter, but the rainfall across a given region is typically doled out in chunks, some of which can be very heavy, but rarely more than a few inches in a given storm.

    Lately, the jet stream seems to have been very frequently changing its configuration. Instead of being a relatively straight circle around the globe it is all kinked up in the big “waves.” Where there are waves, several things happen. First, the movement of air along the jet stream slows down, and this interacts with other air masses. More importantly, it seems, is that the kinks create large very slow moving or stationary low and high pressure systems. The high pressure systems are south of the jet stream, the low pressure systems are north of it, but since the jet stream is kinked, these low and high pressure systems end up being next to each other. So, we get tropical stuff moving north, and subarctic stuff moving south, and there are vast differences in moisture and temperature. This can result in two things at the same time. Some regions have dry conditions and some have lots of precipitation. The key thing is this: Since these systems are very slow moving, or sometimes, just plain stuck, like my sprinkler, the dry conditions persist for many days, and the wet conditions persist for many days. Thus, Colorado.

    I wonder if is possible that the position of the waves in the jet stream will end up being more frequently located in certain spots. I have no reason to say this empirically, but since air mass movement is linked to the position of mountains and oceans and stuff, it seems a reasonable question to ask. If that ends up being the case, than we could end up with a new climate regime wherein certain areas tend to get repeated stalled rain systems (not every year, but just more frequently than average) while other regions get repeated stalled dry conditions. That might be good news, because it might be easier to adjust to weather whiplash with more predictability. But if this sort of pattern was to be strong, we would probably see it already, so don’t count on it. Most likely, a climate pattern where very rainy weather shows up out of nowhere and sits on top of you for a week while elsewhere dry conditions persist for a few weeks in a row is not good for agriculture or for mountain villages and roads.

    I got a new sprinkler. It wasn’t easy. This time of year it is hard to get sprinklers because they tend to stock up on them in the spring. Also, with the drought conditions were’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks in my neighborhood, there has been a run on the few sprinklers that are left. Climate change made it hard for me to find a sprinkler! (First World Problem #212124). But eventually I got one. I’m not sure how hard it will be to get a new climate.

    I went to pick the sprinkler up to try to make it oscillate properly and it literally (and I do mean literally) fell to pieces in my hand.  So I went and got a new one.
    I went to pick the sprinkler up to try to make it oscillate properly and it literally (and I do mean literally) fell to pieces in my hand. So I went and got a new one.