Monthly Archives: August 2015

Interview with John Abraham

John Abraham is a scientist at St Thomas University in the Twin Cities. John is famous for doing battle with a famous science denialist (that’s what the meme above refers to), for his blog at the Guardian, for his research in several areas such as ocean heat, and for keeping track of month by month increases in global surface heat caused by anthropogenic global warming.

Sunday, I had the honor of interviewing John Abraham about current developments in climate change. It was Sunday morning so you were probably either sleeping or in church, but don’t worry, there’s a podcast!

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

Or here.

Here’s a partial list of other Atheist Talk interviews I’ve done, in case you were looking to spend several hours listening to me asking interesting people questions.

Emily Cassidy
Sheril Kirshenbaum
Anastasia Bodnar
Shawn Lawrence Otto on “Sins of Our Fathers”
Michael Mann
Paul Douglas
Me talking about the 5th IPCC report (Interviewed by Stephanie Zvan)
Me talking about science denialism (Interviewed by Stephanie Zvan)
John Hawks
Shawn Lawrence Otto on Science Policy
Shawn Lawrence Otto on his book “Fool Me Twice.”
Don Prothero
Me, John Abraham and Kevin Zelnio talking about climate change
Me and Desiree Schell talking about skepticism
Martin Rundkvist and Yusie Chou
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Me and PZ Myers talking about controversy
Me, Maggie Koerth-Baker, Steve Borsch, Will Steeger and Lynn Fellman
Ed Brayton
Lynn Fellman and me talking about fossil hominins
Me talking about missionaries (Interviewed by Mike Haubrich)
Me and Genie Scott talking about creationism (interviewed by Mike Haubrich)
Me talking about the evolution of the human diet
Me talking about academic freedom

Bjorn Lomborg’s Academic Credentials Examined

I don’t care that the director or CEO of an advocacy organization concerned with poverty is an active academic. Indeed, my view of active academics is that many are largely incompetent in areas of life other than their specialized field. If that. So really, if you told me there is this great advocacy organization out there run by a well established active academic I’d figure you had that wrong, or I’d worry a little about the organization. On the other hand, everyone should care that university positions be given to active academics with credentials. So, when the University of Western Australia got paid off (apparently) to give Bjørn Lomborg a faculty position everyone looked at the UWA and said, “WUT?”

That was a situation up with which the members of that university community would not put, to coin a phrase, and the public outcry put a quick end to it. This is appropriate, because according to a new post by Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate, “… apart from one paper in 1996, Lomborg has never published anything in any field of science that was interesting or useful to other scientists, or even just worth the bother of contradicting in the scientific literature.”

I’ve talked about Lomborg here before. Here I noted,

There is currently a twitter argument happening, along with a bit of a blogging swarm, over a chimera of a remark made by John Stossle and Bjorn Lomborg. They made the claim that a million electric cars would have no benefit with resect to Carbon emissions. The crux of the argument is that there is a Carbon cost to manufacturing and running electric cars. When we manufacture anything, we emit Carbon, and when we make electricity to run the cars, we emit Carbon, etc. etc.

Lomborg is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. But here I want to focus on one aspect of why he is wrong that applies generally to this sort of topic….

We also talked about how Lomborg is wrong on electric cars here. Lomborg has been stunningly wrong on climate change, which is mainly what he is known for these days (being wrong on climate change, that is). And his wrongness on sea level rise and Bangladesh is not only stunning as well, but also, downright dangerous.

Stefan’s post looks in detail at two things (and in less detail at many other things). First, is the question of whether or not Lomborg is an actual practicing academic with a good publication record and all that. He is not. Stefan’s analysis is clear.

Second, is a more detailed look at Lomborg, sea level rise, Bangladesh, and all that. This is especially interesting because Stefan is one of the world’s leading experts on sea level rise. He has two peer reviewed papers on the “top ten most cited” on the Web of Science (which has well ove 40,000 sea level rise related papers), which are heavily cited. Stefan’s post is a must-read because of Stefan’s overview of sea level rise, aside from the stuff about Lomborg. Go read it.

So go read the post, learn about Bjørn Lomborg’s academic qualifications, how wrong he has been about sea level rise, and some other good stuff.

I suspect we are not going to see much more about Bjørn going forward.

Why did Skylab die?

Skylab came up in conversation the other day. And then I ran into Amy Shira Teitel’s video. So, naturally, a quick blog post.

Skylab was brought down, ultimately, by interaction with the upper reaches of the atmosphere, which was in turn made more likely by solar activity. But, both the nature and extent of solar activity of this type, and its effects on the atmosphere, were not understood when Skylab was being designed and deployed. Indeed, understanding this set of phenomena was a contribution made by Skylab science. Had Skylab been launched after, rather than before, this was better understood, it may have been put into higher orbit, or it may have been equipped with boosters (like the International Space Station is) to periodically raise the orbit.

Anyway, eventually, the orbiting research lab came down, and you may (or may not) remember all the press, the jokes, the anxiety, the fun…

Anyway, Amy has this piece on what NASA did and didn’t do about Skylab’s demise.

Katrina, Fire, Heat, Melt

Just a few pointers to some of today’s interesting climate stories.

First, this is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. After ten years, the costs of that hurricane are still being paid. See this overview. Also, astonishingly, or perhaps totally expectedly, one third of Louisiana blame a Democratic Senator from the Midwest for the lousy response to Katrina by the Republican executive branch.

Meanwhile, wildfires out west are really bad. A friend of mine drove way into the rocky mountains over the last few days and noted that for a long time he couldn’t even see any mountains the smoke was so bad. I suppose we’re lucky here in Minnesota. We get a LOT of smoke from fires in the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, but now most of the smoke is passing to our south.

Anyway, there are now tens of thousands of people fighting the fires, including many brought in from other regions, and even other countries. At the moment there are no fire fighters left. If you live out there in the chaparral and a fire starts near your house, you might not be able to get help. Check it out.

A quick update on sea ice melt. This time I decided to display, on a graph produced using the interactive tool made available by the NSIDC, the first 20 years for which there are data (to get the background) and the current year so far, of Arctic Sea ice extent:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 12.31.38 PM

The meme at the top of the post is available in higher resolution HERE if you want.

FrankenTrump

The Republican Party and its handlers, including the right wing talk radio jocks such as Rush Limbaugh, and the bought-and-paid-for media such as FOX news, did not create the Tea Party. Michele Bachmann and a few others did that.* But once the Tea Party got going, mainstream conservative Republicans, including and especially leaders in Congress, went right to bed with it. The Tea Party gave Republican strategists an easy way to garner votes and support. This was especially easy to do because America decided to elect an African American president. Make no mistake. The Tea Party is pro-white, anti-everybody-else, and having an African American Democrat as president made defining issues and shaping rhetoric trivially easy.

It is a mistake to think that the Tea Party comes with a set of positions on various issues. It does not. Yes, the Tea Party tends to be libertarian, conservative, and so on and so forth, but really, it is philosophically inconstant and mostly reactionary. This has been demonstrated over and over again, as President Obama embraced various issues that were previously held by prominent Republicans, and those policies were immediately opposed. Because they were the policies of the Black President. The merit of a policy had nothing to do with opposition against it. They were President Obama’s issues, therefore the Tea Party was against them. And since the Republican Party was so rapt with the Tea Party, the GOP was against them.

This worked well. It gave the Republicans massive victories in a gerrymandered Congress. It meant that absurd excuses for leaders won elections, or if they did not, lost by only a few percentage points, when they should have been largely ignored by the populous.

The reason for even doing this is abundantly clear. An informal tacit (maybe) cabal of 1%ers and various regulation-loathing industries, most notably the petroleum industry, paid for the campaigns and managed lobbyists, the Republican leadership managed the elections, calling in the Tea Baggers each November. Add a little voter suppression, a little Swift Boating here, a healthy dose of Fear of Terrorism there, a wartime setting, and the Republicans, who hold policies that when asked most voters are actually against, became far more powerful than even Newt Gingrich and his Republican Revolutionaries could have hoped for.

But there is a catch and the GOP got caught.

An actual Republican running for, or serving in, office, can go only so far in supporting absurd policies. Established politicians reluctant to take the final “logical” plunge through the Tea Party’s looking glass were often “primaried” and sometimes pushed aside by the emerging Tea Party candidates. By keeping up a full court press to overthrow everything President Obama tried to do the mainstream Republicans held a central place in this game, but there was plenty of nibbling around the edges of their power structure. They went from leaders (sort of) to managers. Worldwide Wrestling Federation mangers.

Then, purity happened.

Imagine a candidate that has never run for office before, but has greater name recognition than all but a fraction of a percent of the entire panoply of politicians that make up any and all American parties. Imagine that this candidate has excellent media presence. Imagine that this candidate has no established policy related views. Imagine the candidate has an arguably good resume of successes, even if many of those successes are either unrelated to governance, or are tainted by equally impressive failures.

Mostly, though, imagine that this candidate is perfectly willing to make over the top statements denigrating non-white people, and at the same time, statements endearing to the anti-government, libertarian-trending right wing. Imagine that candidate is willing to say, again and again in the style of Dale Carnegie, that all of our elected officials are stupid. How stupid are they? They are so stupid that the Mexicans are smarter. They are so stupid that the Chinese are smarter. They are so stupid that people the right wing disdains, and other people the right wing fears, are smarter.

This is something mainstream politicians can’t say, because it would require saying it about themselves. But there is one candidate that can say these things.

I am speaking, of course, of Donald Trump.

And the point of this missive is not anything about Donald Trump. I don’t have to tell you about him, he’ll be happy to do that himself. The fairly obvious point I want to make here is that Donald Trump is, in essence, a creation of the Republican Party. And, he is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.

Why is he a nightmare and not a darling of the GOP? For one reason I am certain is true and one reason I hope is true. What is certain: Trump obviates and invalidates every single Republican elected official (and the Democrats too). The less certain reason is that he can never win a national election, but in running for President as the nominated GOP candidate, he could bring down the party. Not that parties are easily, or really, ever, brought down (apparently). So maybe not all the way down, as in, “you’re going down, Republicans!” More like downish, relatively down, down and out, at least for a couple of election cycles.

And this is why I’ve decided to call The Donald by a new nickname.

FrankenTrump.

(CamelCase optional.)

Victor Frankenstein made a beautiful thing. He thought. And in the original text, he did. But I’m thinking more of the movies, where Shelley’s “The Monster” is known as Frankenstein (for some reason) and where The Monster is the hideous creation of a mad man who thought he could control and create life. But FrankenTrump is not life controlled or created. FrankenTrump is a distillation, an emergent entity, a possibly inevitable outcome of setting aside all efforts to govern or develop actual policy and do nothing but play politics, 100% of the time in every way possible, involving elected officials, the party itself, a good chunk of the press, and everything else that can be controlled. Victor Frankenstein melded this and that body part to make something he eventually could not control and that eventually became his ruin, after terrorizing the townspeople for a while. The Republican Party stitched together a lock-step party policy, a complex and insidious campaign of voter suppression, a panoply of pernicious pundits, an entire mega news organization, and piles of money, and created FrankenTrump.

And now they have to live — or die — with it.

More popcorn please.


*And for this I apologize. Back when Michele was still in the Minnesota State Legislature, I was one of her first targets, coincidentally having her son in my evolution class and apparently, at least according to him, inspiring her to introduce one of the first, if not the first, “academic freedom” bills ever. Sorry.

Erika Is A Remnant: UPDATED

Saturday Mid Day UPDATE:

Erika is now an ex-tropical storm. A real hurricane has an eye. Erika is a cartoon dead eye (see graphic above).

product_detailed_image_30838_925When the Hurricane Prediction Center woke up this morning, they found Erika, ripped asunder by the rugged terrain of Hispaniola, to have “… degenerated into a trough of low pressure.”

The latest update from the NWS says, “this will be the last advisory on this system by the National
Hurricane Center unless regeneration occurs.”

Which gives me an idea. If Erika, this year’s Atlantic “E” storm, does regenerate into a named storm, it should take the next letter, “F” but instead of Fred they should use a more appropriate name for a reanimated storm. It should be Frankenstorm.

Friday Mid Day UPDATE:

Erika is changing, and the forecast is changing. The somewhat more likely scenario is now that Erika will not form into a hurricane at all, but remain as a tropical storm, and pass along the east side of the Florida peninsula, or in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, or possibly pass over land staying mostly in Florida. This is completely different than the most likely scenario late yesterday, which had Erika reaching hurricane strength near Florida, but staying in the Atlantic but with the possibility of menacing the Atlantic coast somewhere.

Here is the cone map for that scenario:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.54.23 AM

(Note also that the image at the top of the post is the most current NWS forecast.)

The alternative is that after Erika finishes its pass over Hispaniola it will strengthen and curve to the north sooner and remain in the Atlantic.

Should be an interesting 48 hours.

UPDATE:

(Latest map added to the top of the post, Thursday evening.)

First, I would like to note that there has been an odd reaction in various quarters to me posting on this storm. It is as though those who wish to deny the importance of climate and weather, and changes therein, would prefer we not speak of tropical storms. I wonder why.

The original point of discussing Erika here was two part. First, it is a tropical storm. I blog about them. Second, this particular storm had a somewhat unusual prediction of being a TS until about landfall in Florida, when it would quickly strengthen to a hurricane. That is historically interesting, but just as a coincidence, because ten years ago Katrina did the same thing. Otherwise, it is just an Atlantic tropical storm that will likely become a hurricane.

Meanwhile, five days turns into four, and we can make a better guess as to what the storm will do. Erika still has a chance as mentioned earlier of fizzling out over the next two days or so. But if the storms survives past that point there is a good chance it will develop into hurricane. But the original prediction of making landfall somewhere near, north of, Miami is changed, with the storm now more likely to curve northwards and not make a full on strike of the coast of Florida (though it may well affect the coast). After that, the storm may hug the Atlantic coast and maybe even make landfall somewhere, or curve even more and go up the Atlantic. After that, who knows?

This is the the updated track:

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 9.49.38 AM

Still turning into a hurricane near Florida, but curving away from the coast.

Also, the 120 hour estimate had the storm reaching 75mph wind strength, and the current forecast has the storm becoming stronger in 120 hours (because the forecast moves forward with time, not a change in the nature of the storm).

Meanwhile, the storm is affecting the Leeward Islands. Flooding is occuring in Dominca. Weather Underground has this. As noted by Jeff Masters, the European Model is giving Erika the best chance of being strong, and near Florida.

I’ve looked at a handful of models and got some opinions of various experts, and most of the forecasts seem to show Erika staying in the Atlantic, but with a distinct possibility of making landfall somewhere. Florida is not out of the woods yet, North Carolina is a target in a handful of forecasts. A small number of models put Erika in the Gulf which puts it over some very warm water (and probably requires crossing the Florida Keys).

So, at this time, here is the basic question at hand. Which is more likely? Hurricane Erika forms and hits land, or Donald Trump gets the GOP nomination? At this point I’d bet on Trump but I would not take my eyes off of Erika.

Original Post:

On this ominous anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we have the North Atlantic Hurricane Gods playing with our heads a little.

Here’s the thing. One of the effects of recent global warming is the overall increase in tropical storm activity, in all ocean basins, in recent years, and projected through the 21st century (see this for important research on this topic). Even so, due in part to effects of climate change in Africa and in the Pacific, and also (at present) El Nino, there has been notable attenuation of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin. Generally, tropical storm activity has been rather impressive world wide over the last several years, and some of the tropical storms have done things that tropical storms don’t generally do, and those things are often likely attributable to global warming. For instance, Yolanda/Haiyan was extra strong, likely, because of extremely warm ocean waters at depth, rather than mainly near the surface. (Katrina was probably enhanced by this effect as well.) Obviously Sandy is an example. We have seen many days over the last couple of years with a very large number of Pacific storms existing simultaneously. We’ve seen tropical storms maintaining hurricane strength, or in some cases forming up, farther from the warmest equatorial regions than usual. And so on.

But, as noted, the Atlantic has mostly been relatively quiet, owing to a strong vertical wind shear and excessive Saharan dust, both predicted effects of climate change, but bad for hurricane formation. This year has been anemic as was last year, in the Atlantic.

(An important message here is this: If you live or have assets along the Gulf or the Atlantic, don’t become complacent!)

But now we have an interesting new storm that is doing two interesting things. The storm is Erika. The storm is heading towards the norther Lesser Antilles, and its effects may graze the northern regions of the Greater Antilles, as the storm track heads towards south Florida. The storm is predicted to remain as a tropical storm, not reaching hurricane strength, over this entire period. Then, the storm is (currently) predicted to make landfall in Florida, not far from Miami. The current track puts the storm’s center north of Miami (which would be good for Miami) but it is way to early to tell exactly where the storm will go.

So that’s one interesting thing: heading for Miami, which is a highly vulnerable population dense region in a red (thus denialist) state that has avoided a lot of tropical storm activity over many years.

The second interesting thing is that current models seem to have tropical storm Erika turning into Hurricane Erika just as it arrives in the Miami area. This is a Bizarro Storm if there ever was one. Instead of being a hurricane at sea and a tropical storm on land, it is, if the predictions hold, going to be a tropical storm (mainly) at sea and a hurricane (mainly) on land.

One of the things you may remember about Katrina is that Katrina hit south Florida as a tropical storm right on the border of hurricane strength, strengthened even as it made landfall, sauntered across the peninsula, entered the Gulf of Mexico where it weaved a bit, and turned north, turned into a powerful hurricane, and hit New Orleans. Like this:

plotsystemtrack_NT_2005_12_zoom1_640_480

Will Erika do this as well?

We don’t know. Or at least I don’t. There are meteorologists out there with models that they run way out in time. I remember hearing from the grapevine that Sandy was going to head north and hit somewhere around New York way before anyone was saying it publicly. Responsible meteorologist did not run around alarming people until they could be more sure. I’ve not even asked around about Erika.

The current path for Erika, as predicted, looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 11.25.35 AM

And up close (this is VERY far out so don’t use this to plan your evacuations or even your Hurricane parties) looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 11.27.23 AM

So somewhere between four and five days, “landfall” might occur near Miami, with currently predicted sustained winds at about 75mph.

It is clear that everyone in southern Florida (all across the peninsula, not just the Atlantic coast) needs to keep an eye on this, just for the heavy rainfall if nothing else. But things are very uncertain. The NWS is only issuing statements out to near the Bahamas at this point.

There is, of course, no such thing as ghosts. And there is no Hurricane God of the Atlantic. But Erika serves to remind us of Katrina, just in case anyone forgot (unlikely). And, Erika might be a serious storm, but will be interesting no matter what.

This from Eric Holthaus at Slate:

No place in America is more exposed than Miami, but amid a record-breaking lack of hurricanes in recent years, the booming city’s residents have grown complacent. Earlier this year President Obama traveled to the Everglades to highlight the region’s increasingly desperate battle to hold back the rising sea. Simply put, the region is overdue for a Big One.

Tropical Storm Erika is not that storm, yet. And the truth is, meteorologists won’t know how exactly powerful Erika could be for another day or two, at least.

Eric goes on to lay out his odds, very rough at five days out. Death in the Caribbean: 2 in 10. Weak landfall in Florida Panhandle, 2 in 10. Hurricane landfall in South Florida, 5 in 10. Worst case scenario (we shall not explore that here at this time): 1 in 10.

So, again, the binary message that I’m trying to stick to here. 1) This is something to pay attention to. 2) Five days is way to far into the future to say much. This storm could even totally fizzle out before hit hits Florida. Or not.

And to add a tri-nary to the binary, and to restate the original point of this post, Erika serves, because of its uncanny (but coincidental) similarity to baby Katrina, to remind us of that still unresolved disaster.

This might be a minor big deal. Or a bigger big deal. Only time will tell.

Sunday: Climate Change, Good Bye and Brunch

This Sunday, August 30th, at 9:00 AM, I’ll be on the radio with John Abraham, climate scientist. This will be an edition of Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio hosted by Mike Haubrich.

The discussion of climate change will be interesting and important and you should listen live or listen to the podcast.

But this is a special week for another reason. Mike Haubrich, host of this Sunday’s show (and many other shows on Minnesota Atheist Talk) will be leaving the Twin Cities in just a few days, to live in a different part of the country. It is up to him to tell you his story if he wants to. I’ll just say that Mike is a good friend and I’ll miss his presence, as will many others.

It is often the case that those doing the show gather at Q. Cumbers restaurant at around 10:30. This will be a week we will do that. Details are here. Please join us!

I don’t know at this time if John is going, but Mike and I surely are, and this is a good chance to catch up with Mike and get that five dollars he owes you before he gets out of town. And to say so long, of course.

Also, I pretty much only do science interviews with Mike as the host. Lynn Fellman and Mike Haubrich started this tradition years ago, and brought me into the picture some time after that. There have been a couple of other hosts who have done science interviews on Atheist Talk Radio, and I’m sure there will be more science, but since I was mostly working with Mike my interviewing days at that station are probably over or at least will be rare.

Both Mike and I have in the past mused about setting up a science podcast of some kind. Maybe this is the time to do it! Assuming they have The Internet where Mike is going, we could do that…

Anyway, see you Sunday!

Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

A new paper examines what is behind the ~2% of climate change related peer reviewed research that run contrary to widely accepted scientific consensus on climate change to see why those papers are wrong.

There is a scientific consensus that increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere causes surface warming, and that CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. This consensus is based on physics. We don’t need to observe the effects of human greenhouse gas pollution to know this. There is consensus that human burning of fossil fuel causes an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. We don’t need to observe this to know it, because we know how combustion works. But it is relatively simple to measure, and it has been measured, and it is true. There is consensus that the planet’s surface has warmed. This is expected from the physics and the fact that we are increasing atmospheric CO2, but it is also relatively easy to measure, it is measured, and it is true. There are varying levels of understanding the effects of this process, and varying degrees to which the effects of surface warming are thought to cause specific effects. One could probably characterize the scientific consensus as a widespread understanding that surface warming has had and will have a range of effects, with many of those effects being changes in weather patterns or regional climatology (how warm/cool/dry/wet a region generally is across he seasons) arising from a combination of “natural variability” (what would happen without greenhouse gas pollution) and anthropogenic global warming.

It is interesting, then, to see the results of various studies of scientific consensus related to climate change. Two kinds of studies have been done. One asks scientists what they think, the other reviews the scientific literature to see what the peer reviewed papers that address climate change say. In both cases we see a number between 90 (or, really, 95) and 100 percent agreement on the stuff in the paragraph above. It is not surprising that the vast majority of scientists, and the vast majority of research papers, have very similar things to say about climate change. This is not new science, and while climate is very complex, the basics of anthropogenic global warming are well understood. The results of empirical research closely match expectations derived from the physics. It all hangs together pretty well.

What is surprising is to see that 3-6% or so disagreement. Who are those scientists, why do they disagree, what do those papers say?

I would assume that since consensus research takes time, and often looks at several years worth of papers, that some of that non-consensus reflects older thinking and older research. Also, there are climate contrarians, including some scientists, who oppose the consensus for reasons not based on the science. That sort of denial presumably comes from the simple fact that some corporations or wealthy individuals will see reduced profits as we make the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels. So some of that non-consensus may be bought and paid for self interested maneuvering.

Rasmus Benestad, Dana Nuccitelli, Stephan Lewandowsky, Katherine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland, and John Cook, in “Learning from mistakes in climate research” (Theoretical and Applied Climatology) looks at the non-consensus peer reviewed literature.

The paper is here, and author Dana Nuccitelli has a writeup on the paper here. From the abstract:

Among papers stating a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), 97 % endorse AGW. What is happening with the 2 % of papers that reject AGW? We examine a selection of papers rejecting AGW. An analytical tool has been developed to replicate and test the results and methods used in these studies; our replication reveals a number of methodological flaws, and a pattern of common mistakes emerges that is not visible when looking at single isolated cases. Thus, real-life scientific disputes in some cases can be resolved, and we can learn from mistakes. A common denominator seems to be missing contextual information or ignoring information that does not fit the conclusions, be it other relevant work or related geophysical data. In many cases, shortcomings are due to insufficient model evaluation, leading to results that are not universally valid but rather are an artifact of a particular experimental setup. Other typical weaknesses include false dichotomies, inappropriate statistical methods, or basing conclusions on misconceived or incomplete physics. We also argue that science is never settled and that both mainstream and contrarian papers must be subject to sustained scrutiny. The merit of replication is highlighted and we discuss how the quality of the scientific literature may benefit from
replication.

The researchers found that cherry picking was the most common explanation for the non-consensus papers contrary results. In other words, it is not the case that a small number of paper simply found the physics, or some other aspect of, global warming to be different than other researchers found, or that they were looking at a part of the system that acts differently. Rather, these papers were wrong, and for a specific reason.

We found that many contrarian research papers omitted important contextual information or ignored key data that did not fit the research conclusions. For example, in the discussion of a 2011 paper by Humlum et al. in our supplementary material, we note,

The core of the analysis carried out by [Humlum et al.] involved wavelet-based curve-fitting, with a vague idea that the moon and solar cycles somehow can affect the Earth’s climate. The most severe problem with the paper, however, was that it had discarded a large fraction of data for the Holocene which did not fit their claims.

The authors attempted a replication of that particular research, and found that the model they used only worked for part of the underlying data. The data that were ignored by Humlum et al contradicted their findings.

Another problem identified by Benestad et al is the lack of a consistent sensible alternative explanation for their alleged findings. “…there is no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming. Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on. There is a 97% expert consensus on a cohesive theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific evidence, but the 2–3% of papers that reject that consensus are all over the map, even contradicting each other.”

Go read Dana Nuccitelli’s post in The Guardian for more discussion of this interesting new paper. Also, the lead author has a post on this paper at RealClimate.

Osama bin Laden 1; Railroads 0

The terrorists have defeated the railroads, and by extension, the people. Well, not totally defeated, but they won a small but important battle.

We have a problem with the wholesale removal of petroleum from the Bakken oil fields, and the shipping of that relatively dangerous liquid mainly to the east coast on trains, with hundreds of tanker cars rolling down a small selection of tracks every day. I see them all the time as they go through my neighborhood. These trains derail now and then, and sometimes those derailments are pretty messy, life threatening, and even fatal.

There has been some effort in Minnesota to get the train companies to upgrade their disaster plans, which is important because about 300,000 Minnesotans live in the larger (one half mile) disaster zone that flanks these track. A smaller number, but not insignificant, live int he blast zone, the place where if a couple of train cars actually exploded you would be within the blast area. For the last couple of years, my son was at a daycare right in that blast zone. I quickly add that the chance of being blasted by an oil train is very small, because the tracks are in total thousands of miles long, derailments are rare(ish), and the affected areas can be measured in city blocks. So a blast from a Bakken oil train may be thought of as roughly like a large air liner crash, or may be two or three times larger than that, in terms of damage on the ground.

But yes, the trains derail at a seemingly large rate.

Now, here is where the terrorists come in. And by terrorists I specifically mean Osama bin (no relation) Laden, or his ghost, and that gang of crazies that took down the world trade center in New York. When that happened, we became afraid of terrorism, and everyone who could use that fear for personal gain has since exploited it. I’m pretty sure that the rise of the police state in America has been because of, facilitated by, and hastened due to this event. For years the American people let the security forces and related government agencies do pretty much whatever they wanted. The Patriot Act, you may or may not know, is a version of a law that conservatives have been pushing in the US for decades, a draconian law that gives great power to investigative and police agencies. That law never got very far in Congress until 9/11. Then, thanks to Osama bin Laden, it seemed like everyone wanted it. Only now, years later, are we seriously considering rolling it back (and to some extent acting on that consideration).

So now, the railroads have been forced to come up with a disaster plan related to the oil shipments. And they did. But for the most part they won’t let anyone see it. Why? Because, according to one railroad official, “… to put it out in the public domain is like giving terrorists a road map on how to do something bad.”

What does he mean exactly? As far as I can tell, the disaster plan pinpoints specific scenarios that would be especially bad. These scenarios, if they fell into the hands of terrorists, would allow said terrorists to terrorize more effectively.

I’m sure this is true. But I’m also sure this is not a reason to keep the plans secret. There are three reasons, in my view, that the plans should be totally available for public review.

1) If you want to know what the worst case scenarios for a rail tanker disaster are, don’t read this report. It is easier to get out a map, maybe use some GIS software if you have it, and correlate localities where the train tracks cross over bridges, cross major water sources, and go through dense population areas. A high bridge through an urban area over an important river, for instance. This is not hard. Indeed, I call on all social studies teachers with an attitude (and most of the good ones have an attitude) to make this a regular project in one of your classes. Have the students try to think like terrorists and identify the best way to terrorize using oil trains. The reason to do this is to point out how dumb the railroads are being.

2) Secret plans are plans that can be exploited or misused by those who make them. We will see security measures taken that, for example, limit public access to information unrelated to oil trains, with the terroristic threat used as an excuse. I’m sure this has already happened. It will continue to happen. It is how the police state works.

3) The plans can be better. How do I know this? Because all plans can be better. That’s how plans work. How can you make the plans better? Scrutiny. How do you get scrutiny? Don’t make the plans secret.

MPR news has a pretty good writeup on this situation here. MPR is fairly annoyed at the secrecy, as they should be, but frankly I’d like to seem this and other news agencies, as well as the state legislators involved, and everyone else, more fired up. We should all be working harder against the police state.

I want to end with this: I like trains, and you should too. Trains are among the most efficient ways to move stuff across the landscape. Those of us concerned with things like climate change should be all for trains. Ultimately, I think we can increase the use of trains to move goods and people, and at the same time take the trains off fossil carbon. They are already mostly electric, using liquid fuel to run generators. That liquid fuel could be made, largely, from renewable biodiesel and a bit of grown biodiesel, and more of the trains can probably go all electric. But this secrecy thing is not OK.