Monthly Archives: September 2015

Hurricane Joaquin: Near Cat 5 On Way Out To Atlantic


Tropical Depression Eleven is currently located way east of Florida, and is predicted to become a tropical storm by Tuesday night some time. It would be nameD Joaquin. Some time Wednesday night, the storm is predicted to turn north and head straight up along the coast. There are no significant advisories or suggestions of a threatening situation from the National Weather Service, but it is always a good idea to keep an eye on these storms.

It was predicted that there would be about 12 named storms this season. There have been 9 so far, but we still have all of October and November. So this season is almost exactly on track. If it seems like a more anemic season than that, it is because several of the named storms died off far at sea.

Check this space for updates on Joaquin. Or not, if nothing interesting happens.

UPDATE Tuesday AM:

Eleven became Joaquin overnight.

The forecasts for what this storm will do are highly uncertain and seem to be divided into two different scenarios: Joaquin gets absorbed into an existing system along the US East coast, vs. Joaquin stays somewhat organized and travels up the Atlantic. The forecast currently settled on by the National Weather Service has Joaquin never forming into a hurricane but reaching top winds of about 65 MPH, but staying pretty far off shore.

UPDATE: Tuesday PM:

There is still all sorts of uncertainty about Joaquin, but it is not predicted that the storm once seemingly destine to be named but not a hurricane will likely become a hurricane pretty soon, and remain one all the way up the Atlantic, over the course of its current forecast. Click on the image to see it as an animated GIF:


UPDATE: Wednesday AM

Joaquin is now predicted to become a hurricane some time later today (Wednesday) classified as a hurricane. It will then now continue to move mostly west or west-southwest for a while then turn north.

This is when things get interesting. Depending on how far west the storm moves before turning north, and depending on other things, the hurricane will then move up the Atlantic well offshore and move out into the Great North Atlantic Hurricane Graveyard. Or, it will go north for a while, first getting stronger then getting weaker, before making left turn and hitting the US coast. The possible areas of landfall include the Chesapeake but other points as well.

In a way this is a battle between the Americans and the Europeans. The classic American hurricane models tend to show the storm striking the coast, while the European model tends to show the hurricane continuing harmlessly (unless you are a boat) into the Atlantic where it would dissipate.

In the past, according to Paul Douglas, my main source for these things, the European model has done a better job of predicting American hurricanes. (Obviously this is Obama’s fault, where’s Rush Limbaugh’s commentary on this?) But, the American models (and I’m simplifying the meaning of “American Models” here a bit) are not totally useless.

A pretty good prediction, which is based in large part on what the National Weather Service says, and what Paul and other meteorologists way, is that Joaquin will go west for a while, turn north, somewhere in there turning into a nearly but not quite Category 3 hurricane, quite possibly threatening the Bahamas, then move north fairly quickly as it weakens and makes a big wet spot in the North Atlantic.

Having said that, every update over the last couple of days has the storm becoming stronger, and the prospects of a landfall, while the lest likely scenario, have not really diminished. A land strike remains a plausible but less likely scenario. The place of landfall, should that happen, also remains highly uncertain, but it seems most likely that it would at or north of the Chesapeake. Even models that do not have landfall have lots of rain along the US coast (and inland a ways) so an important weather event is in the offing no matter what. From the Weather Underground:

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of Joaquin’s path, portions of the East Coast will still see multiple impacts from the evolving large-scale weather pattern, including flooding rainfall, gusty winds, high surf, beach erosion and some coastal flooding.

Paul Douglas provides this graphic of the many tracks produced by the many models:


One of the models, not the most likely one but possibly around a 20-35% chance, has the storm being somewhere around a Category 2 or Category 3 striking the area around the Chesapeake, like this (Also from Paul Douglas):


That would be as early as the weekend some time.

The prudent thing to do is to prepare for a land strike like this to the extent one might prepare days in advance, but to keep an eye on the forecast and stand down when it does not actually materialize.

Again, the National Weather Service is saying that the prediction of what the storm will do once it turns north depends a great deal on when it does so, because that influences the timing of the storm’s interaction with other weather systems. The turning may happen around Thursday mid day through evening. So, the forecast late on Thursday may be a much better estimate of the likelihood of a landfall.

UPDATE: Mid Day Wednesday

This is an important update.

The forecast for Hurricane Joaquin is still highly uncertain, but the National Weather Service has added an important new wrinkle (Number 2 below):


1. Confidence in the details of the track forecast late in the
period remains low, since the environmental steering currents are
complex and the model guidance is inconsistent. A wide range of
outcomes is possible, from a direct impact of a major hurricane
along the U.S. east coast to a track of Joaquin out to sea away from
the coast. It is therefore way too soon to talk about specific
wind, rain, or surge impacts from Joaquin in the U.S.

2. Should the threat to the U.S. increase, any further adjustments
of the forecast to the west would likely be accompanied by an
increase in the forecast forward speed, with impacts along the coast
occurring sooner than currently forecast. A hurricane watch could
be required for portions of the U.S. coast as early as Thursday

3. Many areas of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy
rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system. This
inclement weather is expected to continue over the next few days,
which could complicate preparations for Joaquin should it head
toward the coast.

The chances of a landfall in the US are still probably around one in five or so, but now the NWS is saying that IF Joaquin does ultimately make landfall (probably in the Chesapeake bay area) it will do so after having sped up quite a bit, and watches could be posted late tomorrow.

Also note that the eastern US is currently experiencing very rainy and windy weather, which may make preparation for the storm harder. Also, many rivers and creeks are already nearly flooding or flooding, so additional rain brought to a large area of the east coast (and by “coast” I mean large areas of any or all “east coast” states, not just along the Atlantic) will make that worse, even if the hurricane does not make landfall.
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.34.04 PM

Jeff Masters has a writeup on the storm here.

UPDATE Tuesday Evening

Interestingly the divergence between the two disparate set of models, one showing the hurricane going out to sea, the other hitting land, has increased rather than decreased since mid day. Also, the most likely area of landfall, IF there is landfall, has moved south, to the Carolinas. Also, the updated forecast is quite different in the pattern of strengthening, perhaps strengthening more slowly but staying stronger longer. So, while I promised you increased clarity the NWS is actually less certain.

The following graphic compares two of the models, ECMWF and GPS (top and bottom, respectively) generated using the Wundermap, for the position of Hurricane Joaquin in the wee hours of the morning next Tuesday.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 7.03.12 PM

Both of these models can’t be true in the version of the universe we live in. Also, don’t make too much of the timing, the storm could move at a very different rate than projected once it starts speeding up.

Below is a projected path for the storm, but don’t put much value in this. It is the consensus between two widely divergent sets of models So this is a bit like arguing over eating Vegan vs going out to a Steakhouse, and deciding to compromise. There actually is no realistic combination of the two.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 6.47.38 PM

Regardless of all of this, the Bahamas is potentially in trouble. Apropos that,


The Government of the Bahamas has issued a Hurricane Warning for
the Northwestern Bahamas including the Abacos, Berry Islands,
Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence, but excluding
Andros Island and Bimini.

The Government of the Bahamas has issued a Tropical Storm Warning
for the Southeastern Bahamas, including the Acklins, Crooked Island,
Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, and the Ragged Islands, but
excluding the Turks and Caicos Islands.


A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* Central Bahamas including Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island,
Rum Cay, and San Salvador
* Northwestern Bahamas including the Abacos, Berry Islands,
Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence, but excluding
Andros Island and Bimini

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* Bimini

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for…
* Southeastern Bahamas including the Acklins, Crooked Island,
Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, and the Ragged Islands, but
excluding the Turks and Caicos Islands.

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected
somewhere within the warning area. Preparations to protect life and
property should be rushed to completion.

A Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are possible
within the watch area.

A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are
expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.

For storm information specific to your area, please monitor
products issued by your national meteorological service.

UPDATE: Thursday AM: Dilemma

To be in a dilemma is to have the choice of which horn of the bull you prefer to be gored by. At the moment, there are many people facing a dilemma with respect to Hurricane Joaquin.

Pity the poor weather forecasters. If they say “Look out, this hurricane may strike land,” and the hurricane does not, they will be the Forecaster Who Cried Wolf, and in the future, many of those who were NOT hit by the hurricane will be less likely to pay attention to the forecasts. So forecasters can’t overplay the possibility of a landfall. On the other hand, if forecasters don’t jump up and down and shout a little, and there is a landfall, perhaps some of those who needed to be warned will have prepared less.

There is another dilemma of sorts. Over the last several years, the famous European Model has done a better job of forecasting hurricane position and strength than many other models. The European model forecast Super Storm Sandy pretty well, for example. This is a model that should be listened to. But for Hurricane Joaquin, the European model stands alone in forecasting that the hurricane will wanter out to sea and not make landfall as a significant storm anywhere. The other models all have the storm hitting something along the East coast.

These two sets of contrasts place people who might (or might not) be in the storm’s pat with various personal and domestic dilemmas about what to do and not do over the next few days by way of preparation or changes in plans.

There is another dichotomy of sorts as well. At this point it is fair to ask, as it is with any major weather event, how much of this meteorological problem is the result of anthropogenic global warming. For many (not me) the standard line is “you can never attribute a single weather event to global warming.” This, however, is incorrect for two reasons. The more subtle but more important reason is that many will read such a statement as “Weather events are not attributable to global warming,” which is wrong, and a dangerous proposition. The other reason it is wrong is that all weather is the short term function of climate, and the entire climate is changed by global warming. Weather (and climate) is made of heat, moisture, the movement of air, that sort of thing. Global warming has resulted in more heat, more moisture in the air, changes in the distribution of that heat and moisture at the global scale, and, apparently, changes in the nature of the movement of the air. There is not, in fact, a single weather event that escapes the influence of global warming.

In the case of Hurricane Joaquin, in particular, we have a fairly specific factor related to global warming in play. The sea surface temperature in the area where the storm is currently located, and the waters over which it will pass over the next day or two, are warmer than at any time in recorded history, making those seas warmer, likely, than they have been in many thousands of years. Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of years. This heat will cause Joaquin to read Category 3 or Category 4 status over the next couple of days. When a hurricane becomes that strong, it is harder for those factors that might weaken it to do so, so some of that extra strength plays through as the storm moves into extratropical regions. If Joaquin strikes land in the eastern United States while it is still a hurricane (as opposed to a weakened tropical storm) then we can fairly say that was a result of anthropogenic global warming.

So, is Joaquin going to hit something?

And if so, what will it hit?

We don’t know and we don’t know.

As noted, there is divergence among the models. The divergence has not reduced much over the last day or so, but in about 36 hours from now, it is likely that the models will converge and a much more accurate forecast can be made. At the moments, there are models that have the storm dissipate into the Caribbean (this is highly unlikely) and as noted the European model has the storm going out to sea. In between these projections there are scenarios where Joaquin makes landfall in the Carolinas, farther north in the Chesapeake, somewhere around New Jersey or New York, farther down-east in New England, or even eastern Canada. Within that rather broad framework, the storm could make landfall at any of a number of levels of strength, and do so at any of a number of speeds, but probably in all cases rather quickly. Quickly is not good, because it means that the storm can be affecting land areas as a stronger, not yet dissipated storm. On the other hand, slow is not good because the storm could pump more water into an already rain-soaked and flooding area. There really is no “good” scenario, just a variable number of different bad scenarios.

Here are a few graphics for what they are worth, which I’m afraid may not be much. They are cribbed variously from Weather Underground, Paul Douglas’s Blog, and the National Weather Service.

One generally reliable model (GFS) shows the storm menacing New England on or about October 7th:


The European model shows the storm out to sea on the same date:


The National Weather Service has settled, for now, on a forecast that has Joaquin strengthening to a Category 4 storm, then moving quickly north, transitioning through Categories 3, 2, and 1, grazing the coast and being somewhat ambiguous as to what it really ends up hitting.

pauldouglas_1443699211_10.1.15 Jtrack (1)

In science, there is a rule known as the “Law of Parsimony.” This is usually mis-stated (in my opinion) as “the simplest solution is most likely to be correct.” In the case of multiple competing models, this could be though of as the average of the models.

But really, the Law of Parsimony means something different. It means, given a number of alternative explanations, the simplest one is the most likely to be least wrong. This, I’m afraid, is what the National Weather Service is forced to work with on this forecast. This graphic shows most of the known models on one map:

pauldouglas_1443699274_10.1.15 models (1)

You can see that the NWS track, above, is a sort of average of all of these (it isn’t really, but many models are taken into account to produce the NWS forecast). But they are all so different from one another that any given track is highly unlikely to be wrong.

One pattern has emerged during the lifespan, so far, of Joaquin. Almost every one of the NWS forecasts has suggested a stronger storm than the previous forecast. Another pattern is that the level of uncertainty in the storm’s track has not gone down much, at least pertaining to the period of time after it makes a (very likely) turn to the north. After that turn happens, assuming it does, the forecasts should converge and we’ll now more.

When will that be?

In 12 to 24 hours from now. During the wee hours of the morning on Friday, or as late as mid day Friday, the storm will veer north and start to speed up. Probably. By two days from now, or about mid day on Saturday, the storm will be moving north very quickly, at about a Category 3 or Category 4 storm, and its subsequent direction will be much better understood. Whether or not the storm will make landfall in the US will be much more certain then. Probably.

However, given the direction and angle of approach, it will still likely be difficult to pinpoint an area of landfall even then. Also, and very importantly, look again at the graphic above. Look at all those sharp left turns, in contrast to the tracks that follow the coast more. Those would be two very different scenarios for this storm. An early sharp left turn could put a major hurricane in your home town, if you happen to live in just the right place. If, however, the storm tracks parallel to the coastline for a while, it could produce low-level havoc over a large area, and possibly come ashore as a big wet thing that is not a hurricane.

Which would you prefer? I know, right? Dilemma.

UPDATE: Thursday PM:

Just a quick update, I’ll have more later when there is both more information and I have a bit more time.

As expected, the diverse and disparate models have, according to the National Weather Service, started to converge on a narrow range of solutions. And, at the same time, the overall trend seems to be for Hurricane Joaquin to be likely to move farther from the coast than some models had earlier predicted. Here’s what the NWS says in their 5:00 discussion:

A strong majority of the forecast models are now in agreement on
a track farther away from the United States east coast. We are
becoming optimistic that the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states
will avoid the direct effects from Joaquin. However, we cannot yet
completely rule out direct impacts along on the east coast, and
residents there should continue to follow the progress of Joaquin
over the next couple of days.

Warning: I’ve already seen some reporters including possible meteorologists confuse the current heavy rains the Eastern states are experiencing with this hurricane. Many parts of the East Coast are flooding or will be flooding over the next few days, which has nothing to do with this hurricane. However, depending on exactly what Joaquin does, the hurricane may later contribute to this. So, if you were thinking you might be threatened with flooding, relatively good news about Joaquin moving out to sea does not apply to your situation at all.

And, of course, it is still too early to be totally confident in the model predictions. I would stick with what I said before: Tomorrow around mid day or early afternoon there should be fairly high confidence. Probably. We’ll see. Stay tuned.


Joaquin is fully into a turn to the north, is likely to strengthen more over the next several hours. But the various models have converged on a narrower set of likely outcomes. The NWS puts Tropical Wind Speed probabilities along the US coast or Eastern Canada at no better than 10 or 20%, and that applies only to far eastern New England.

I would keep watching this storm if you are in New Jersey or north, because it would not take much of a westward shift to change all this. Also, it is note entirely impossible (but unlikely) for the storm to make a sudden turn somewhere along the line. Such things have happened, though not usually without some indication in advance that it was at least possible.



Good news and bad news about Hurricane Joaquin.

The storm is still menacing the Bahamas and will do so for the net 24 hours, but it has now turned north and is likely to follow a path like this one:

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 2.58.38 PM

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Hurricane Joaquin is interacting with a major low pressure system in the eastern US to bring even more moisture to an already wet area. Jeff Masters has all the information on this. It is a pretty serious situation and needs to be paid attention to.

First, there is going to be “several days of coastal flooding and beach erosion” from “New Jersey to North Carolina” with especially heavy rain in North Carolina.

Second, in particular, “The latest 3-day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast from NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center is calling for 10 – 15″ inches of rain for the majority of South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia.”

This is with Joaquin staying AWAY from the coast. If the hurricane ends up shifting towards the coast, things would change.

The rain will be due to what meteorologists call a “Predecessor Rain Event” (PRE) … In a Predecessor Rain Event, tropical moisture well out ahead of a landfalling tropical cyclone interacts with a surface front and upper-level trough to produce heavy rainfall, often with significant inland flooding. The PRE can develop well to the left or right of the eventual track of the tropical cyclone. Slow-moving Hurricane Joaquin is perfectly positioned to transport a strong low-level flow of super-moist tropical air that has water vapor evaporated from record-warm ocean waters north of the Bahamas westwards into the Southeast U.S. Once this moisture hits land, it will encounter a cut-off upper low pressure system aloft, with a surface front beneath it, which will lift the moist air, cooling it, and forcing epic amounts of rainfall to fall. The air will also be moving up in elevation from the coast to the Piedmont and Appalachians, which lifts the air and facilitates even more precipitation. Satellite imagery is already hinting at development of this connection of moisture between Joaquin and the Southeast low and frontal system.

Here’s what that looks like on the big scary map:


There are areas of the Carolinas that will experience one in 1,000+ year events during this period.

UPDATE Sunday Morning:

Joaquin is not heading out to the Atlantic for sure, but the outer bands will affect Bermuda. Also, the storm is passing close to Category 5 strength as it does so. Meanwhile, a special kind of interaction (noted above) is happening between the storm and the US east coast causing really bad rain and flooding mainly in South Carolina but in other areas as well.

The storm may have taken a cargo ship with over 30 people on it.

Analysis of a recent interview with Seth Borenstein about Doubt cf Denial

There is no doubt that Associated Press’s Seth Borenstein is a top notch science reporter. However, he is a professional journalist, and for this reason I expect him to be part of, and to be guided by, the culture of journalism. The culture of journalism involves a critical feature that makes journalism work: When researching and reporting a story, seek the other perspectives, those that for one reason or another come to a different conclusion than the perspective that may have initially gotten one’s attention. The Pope speaks to the Joint Session of Congress, and the most obvious thing we see is that he doesn’t say much about climate change. But some astute observers note that he really did, but he was just being subtle. Now, the interplay between the Pope’s overt and subtle messages is central to the story, and a journalist can bring together observation and analysis by multiple voices to dig below the surface.

You already know that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, associated with the Center For Inquiry, recently took action in the form of a letter and a petition to encourage the Associated Press to stop using the term “skeptic” to describe those who reject mainstream climate science. The term “skeptic” and its derivatives was already in use by the community represented by CFI/CSI, who in fact call themselves skeptics. To be a skeptic means that you view claims and assertions made by individuals or organizations as a scientist might view data or propositions to explain them, using critically evaluated evidence in the context of provisional theories or models to come to a rational understanding of something.

Those who reject mainstream climate science are not skeptics.

AP agreed with that, and the reason I started out with a mention of Seth Borenstein is that he was involved in developing a proper response to CSI’s proposition. AP modified its owns style guide to recommend against the use of the word skeptic in this context. In truth, this has only a minor impact on the world, in my opinion, because we have many words that have multiple meanings, and it is not at all unusual for a word to connote very different things even in the same conversation. In theory, my friend is going to meet me for lunch so we can discuss my new theory about human evolution. I say “in theory” because my friend always forgets appointments, and spoken with a saccharine inflection I indicate that I suspect he isn’t going to show. But my new theory of human evolution is a carefully constructed set of interrelated propositions, based on several lines of evidence of varying qualities and subject to revision, contextualized in a set of basic biological and taphonomic principles that guide my scientific mind in interpreting this evidence, those principles also subject to revision. Vernacular theory, scientific theory. This is how we humans communicate, which makes our mode of communication both a wonderful and mysterious playground for the mind, and a very annoying place to think. We could probably have lived with the term “skeptic” having two distinct meanings.

But, the CFI/CFI had a legitimate, if somewhat self-concerned, beef, with which I fully agree. And it got fixed, and that is nice.

By now you also know that the AP decided that the term “skeptic” in the context of climate science should be replaced with phrases like “those who reject mainstream climate science,” which is very accurate and appropriate, or for short, the word “doubter.”

Unfortunately, the term “doubter” is abysmally incorrect and inappropriate.

Seth Borenstein did a very informative interview with Bob Garfield at On The Media. Listen to it here or here:

In this interview, Garfield isn’t having it. He is fine with phrases like “those who reject mainstream climate science,” but he is highly skeptical of the term “doubter.” Borenstein defends “doubter” but Garfield’s arguments, which are similar to those of most climate scientists and science communicators who have weighted in on this, stood.

During this important conversation, something was revealed (something already widely known) about journalism, and we heard an example of a top notch journalist, Seth Borenstein, being hampered at a fairly deep level by his own journalistic culture. The culprit here is that feature of journalism I mention above, the feature that gives journalism its power, and makes it an important part of, well, civilization.

First let me examine Borenstein’s argument for why “denier” is bad and “doubter” is good.

“Denier” is bad because of the existing association with the Holocaust. There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened, they are called “Holocaust Deniers,” and it is bad to associate people with such an obviously nefarious perspective.

This argument is incorrect for several reasons. Mainly, the term “denier” was already in use to describe the state of rejection of that which is well established. “Denier” was not invented to describe those who claim the Nazi Holocaust didn’t really happen. It was already there, and was simply applied to them. In theory, this could sully the term enough to make it undesirable for other uses. But, forms of the word “deny” are in widespread use. “Deny” and its derivatives are fallback words, words we English speakers automatically use. The Red Brigade was an organization of jerks who killed innocent people several decades ago, terrorists. We don’t say that we should get a different word for the color we call red because of that. That is a more extreme example than the case of Holocaust deniers, but it makes the point.

A second reason to not reject “denier” is that it is already in use to describe climate science, and other science, deniers.

So, the prior use argument, whereby “denier” as a term is indurated with ickiness, is not valid. Or, only a little valid, but not enough to matter.

Now we transition to Borenstein’s argument that “doubter” is better, and this starts with his assertion that denier is less precise and “doubter” is more precise, in describing “those who reject mainstream climate science.” Borenstein claims that this is true because among those who question climate science, there are some who agree that climate change is real, and human caused, but that it isn’t serious. Since there is a broad spectrum of claims among those who reject something about the science, a term must be used that applies to all of them.

And, he says, “doubter” is the word.

This is incorrect. “Denier” is the more precise term because it does not refer to a specific set of assertions, but rather, the denial of whatever assertions are on the table. This is a critical aspect of climate science denialism that is often missed in this conversation. I can show you the writings of a denier (I still use that word) who claims that the link between greenhouse gasses and surface warming is false. I can also show you the writings of a denier who claims that the link is real, but the effects are unimportant. And, I can do so by showing you the writings of the same exact person, at about the same time, but in different contexts where different sub conversations about climate change were happening.

Not all deniers do this, but most do, or have, and the community of climate science deniers as a whole does it all the time. They are not systematically and thoughtfully denying one or another aspect of climate science. Some are denying all of it, but many will deny one aspect and accept another aspect in one conversation, and swap that around for another conversation.

This is not doubting. This is systematic dancing like a butterfly stinging like a bee footwork sophistry.

Let me make the point about precision a different way. Doubting is skepticism, all skeptics doubt when they can, and pull back from doubt and “accept as pretty much true” when they are forced to by the preponderance of evidence. Doubter can also apply to deniers. Doubt is a very large, broad, word which can be applied across a wide spectrum. Denier refers to a specific community of individuals (and organizations), with specific tactics, and applies well to almost everyone in that community. There are few exceptions, but only a few.

“Doubter” will usually be wrong, “denier” will usually be right. “Doubter” is the imprecise term, “denier” is the precise term. Doubt means there is uncertainty, denial means refusal to accept a widely accepted truth.

So why is this happening, why does Seth Borenstein like doubter and not denier?

In the interview, Bob Garfield holds Borenstein’s feet to the fire, briefly, over the issue of false balance. That is a horrible thing to accuse a top notch journalist of, and Borenstein got a bit testy about it. Part of Borenstein’s argument is that it is the scientists, not the deniers, who use the word denier, so it comes from advocates of one of those alternative perspectives journalists are supposed to identify and report on. By downgrading the term “denier” because the scientists and many mainstream communicators use it, one is avoiding giving privilege to one “side” of an issue. Borenstein both uses this as part of his argument, but denies that he is doing so. I doubt Borenstein is being a bad journalist here. But he is being a journalist. As an anthropologist, I’ve learned to see this sort of surface incongruity as a possible indicator of a deeper culture-bound conflict in thinking. I think that is what we’ve got here.

Here is the part of the interview to which I refer.

SB: [the term denier] does most of the job pretty well according to one side. Granted, that side has the majority of science on it.

BG: [interrupting] Seth, I apologize, I’m going to cut you off here. One side? This is the very definition of false balance.

SB: No one has accused me of false balance. Don’t you go there. All you have to do is Google my name, Seth Borenstein, look at the images, and see what the group that you call deniers, we call doubters, look at what they’ve done to me personally, and to the AP. To say that I’m giving in to them, it is just not something that has ever happened. It is not something I’ve ever been accused of before.

BG: Can I say that there are two sides to the political debate, but if there is fundamentally no scientific debate, why would you think of this in terms of both sides that require fair treatment any more than you would treat holocaust deniers as having one side in the issue of history? …

SB: There is no false balance in the way AP covers the science. But there is a difference between the science and the semantics. We’re not talking, you and I, about the science right now. We’re talking about the semantics. And there are different sides on the semantics. I’ve been using climate doubter for months and no one has said anything.

Borenstein is right to be a bit defensive in this exchange. He has in fact been the subject of attack by deniers, and his record of excellent reporting on climate change, and his and AP’s rejection of false balance, are easily confirmed. If you look at what watchdog organizations like Media Matters say about AP in relation to “false balance,” AP gets good marks. Also, yes, Seth Borenstein has in fact been using “doubter” for a while.

Nonetheless, in this exchange you see one really smart well spoken person making a good case that giving sway to one group in relation to the semantics about what they say about science smells like false balance, and a second really smart well spoken person falling back on the “it is a semantic argument” argument. A nerve. It has been touched.

Don’t get me wrong. Borenstein, or the AP, is not exactly committing a false balance fallacy. If the main argument that “denier” is out and “doubter” is in came from the use of “denier” by mainstream science and the dislike of the term by, well, deniers, then we do have to ask why equal weight is given to both sides in considering this argument. But AP is primarily stepping back from a term that has a negative connotation because they don’t like to do that (see the original AP justification). This conforms to general practice in developing the AP style guide. Unfortunately, the outcome in this case is the substitution of a word that works very well with a word that does not work at all.

One only has to go slightly meta to understand why this is wrong. The term “denier” is in fact negative, but appropriately so. Science and journalism are carried out in different ways, and some of those differences can be rather startling when you try to mix the two. But both are professions involved in truth seeking. Deniers are truth obscurers. Deniers are lie-sayers. Deniers aren’t simply people with a non-mainstream opinion. They are individuals and organizations who identify the well supported mainstream thinking about a critically important issue, and actively try to subvert it. And they do it using an age old practice that has been called the same thing for a very long time. They deny. Not doubt.

The climate change consensus extends beyond climate scientists

Scientists in all disciplines agree with climate scientists that global warming is real and caused by humans.

The vast majority of climate scientists, very close to 100%, understand that the phenomenon known as “global warming” (warming of the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean, the sea surface, and that atmosphere at the surface of the land) is happening, and is caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. (eg. Anderegg W R L, Prall J W, Harold J and Schneider S H 2010 Expert credibility in climate change Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107 12107–9) Unsurprisingly, the vast majority, very close to 100%, of peer reviewed published papers that address these issues also indicate these conclusions. (eg. Cook J, Nuccitelli D, Green S A, Richardson M, Winkler B, Painting R, Way R, Jacobs P and Skuce A 2013 Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 But, only about half of the American public thinks either of these things to be true. (Weber E U and Stern P C 2011 Public understanding of climate change in the United States Am. Psychol. 66. See also this.) This is sometimes called the consensus gap.

Consensus_Gap_medBut what about other scientists, outside of climate science? If there was a similar consensus gap between climate scientists and other scientists in general, then maybe we could argue that half of the American population were Galileos, somehow knowing that the climate scientist were wrong, and being persecuted for it.

A recent study looks at this question. The study asked a large sample of American based scientists about their beliefs about climate change. At the same time, a subsample of these scientists were scored on “cultural value” spectra to ascertain the cultural and political frameworks they are operating in. In short, the results indicate that overall scientists are in agreement with the climate scientists. There appears to be no consensus gap within science.

The paper is “The climate change consensus extends beyond climate scientists, by J S Carlton, Rebecca Perry-Hill, Matthew Huber, and Linda S Prokopy. Click the link to see the paper, it is OpenAccess.

The survey polled 1,868 scientists in a wide range of science units at the 12 “big ten” US Universities. The response rate was 37.4 percent, with 698 responding. (That is not exceptionally small, perhaps a bit above average.) Two survey forms were given, one with the “cultural values” questions and one without. For the most part, the polled scientists agreed that global warming is real and caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. The rate of this belief was so high we can stop there and simply conclude that outside of climate science, scientists agree with the climate science consensus on this matter. But the survey did reveal some interesting, though generally small, differences between disciplines (more on that below)

(Note, I use the term “belief” here purposefully. We can discuss that another time if you like. The paper also uses that term, and provides this footnoted background for it: “In this manuscript we use the term ‘belief’ in a technical sense: beliefs are dispassionate, cognitive components of attitudes (Heberlein 2012) and represent people’s understanding of something. People’s ‘beliefs’ may or may not be consistent with accepted scientific facts.”)

From the study:

The results suggest a broad consensus that climate change is occurring: when asked ‘When compared with pre–1800’s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?’, 93.6% of respondents across all disciplines indicated that they thought temperatures have risen, 2.1% thought temperatures had remained relatively constant, 0.6% thought tem- peratures had fallen, and 3.7% indicated they had no opinion or did not know.

So now we know that just under 3% of university scientists can’t read a graph.

Is the rise in temperatures caused by humans?

Most respondents believed that humans are contributing to the rise in temperatures. Of those who indicated that they believed temperatures have risen, 98.2% indicated they believe that ‘human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean glo- bal temperatures’. Together, these two facts reveal that 91.9% of scientists surveyed believed in anthropogenic climate change. This number is slightly lower than the 96.2% of actively publishing climate scientists that believe that mean temperatures have risen and the 97.4% who believe that humans have a role in chan- ging mean global temperatures…

The use of a cultural values question allowed the researchers to parse out responses based on the respondents’ cultural framework. Here, the strongest result indicates that those who fal lhigh on the “Hierarchicalism” and “Individualism” spectra are those contributing most to that small percentage that got it wrong. Along the political spectrum, lots of people get it wrong, from conservative to liberal, but relatively few conservatives get it right, suggesting an ideological bias among conservatives but not necessarily among liberals.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 10.13.41 AM

The results of the study certainly fit with my own observations and expectations. Look at the graphic.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 10.46.01 AM

A key determinant in the likelihood that a scientist will get it right (believe climate change is real, anthropogenic, etc.) is obviously if the individual is in climate science or a closely related discipline. It is therefore not surprising to find high marks among climate scientists, ocean and marine sciences, and geological and earth sciences.

Another determining factor may be how much a particular area of science requires (on average) more interdisciplinary work. If you are very broadly interdisciplinary, you have to develop the skill of evaluating the science put forward by your colleagues in areas where you don’t have strong background. I’m pretty sure a large number of physicists almost never have to do this, while many biological scientists do. This seems to be reflected in the numbers.

Engineers are a mixed bag. Our experiences dealing with creationists have taught us (we evolutionary biologists) that engineers are very often creationists. I assume this has something to do with values linked to preferred discipline, or something. Having said that, there are those trained in engineering or in engineering schools who deal directly with climate science. Again, from experience dealing with creationists, chemists and engineers are similar, if not worse.

One shocking result seems to be the low performance of those involved in “natural resources.” Shouldn’t they be all over climate change? This is hard to explain but totally expected in my view. The natural resources community has been, as a whole, very sluggish in coming up to bat about climate change, even though the are often working where the rubber meets the road. I think it still may be the case that the impending extinction of moose in Minnesota, which is almost certainly related to parasites which were not a problem when things were colder, is still seen as a mystery by Minnesota natural resource experts.

The study also looked at scientists perception of climate science with respect to overall credibility, maturity of the field, and trustworthiness.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 10.20.17 AM

Overall credibility is high, with a similar pattern (mainly, engineers on the lower end) as belief in global warming, across the disciplines. Trustworthiness is middling across all disciplines. This is probably because academics don’t trust each other, or even themselves if they are any good, because they are all skeptics. The maturity results are interesting. Why do physicists think climate science is not a mature discipline? This could be because Newton was hundreds of years ago. Chemists, also; that is a field that goes way back in time. Oceanography is a very young discipline, with its roots in the early 20th century but not really developing until the 1960s. I’m not sure why Astronomy sees climate science as mature, but perhaps because astronomers have actually been doing climate science for a long time. Frankly, I would attribute a bit of apparent randomness in this question to the overall lack of training and scholarly work in the history of science (outside their own discipline) among scientists in general.

I have no doubt AP got this wrong: climate science contrarians are deniers.

The Associated Press has changed the AP Stylebook, tossing out a commonly used set of terms in favor of an entirely inappropriate word, for describing those who incorrectly and without foundation claim that climate change science is a hoax, or wrong, or misguided, or otherwise bogus.

The term “skeptic” has a long history, but has come to refer to those who regard claims, usually about nature, health, or anything where science may inform, with studied incredulity. The skeptic wants evidence, and they are organized. The Skeptics Society has a magazine, and the magazine has a podcast. The Center for Inquiry has multiple skeptical programs. The Amazing Meeting gathers skeptics from around the world in a Las Vegas hotel where everybody gets all skeptical. Science based medicine is a practice as well as a blog (and is linked to the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast). Skepchick: chicks that are skeptical. There are about fifty skeptical podcasts, with Science for the People best representing the skepticism-science link.

Then there are some other people who are called skeptics, and this pertains to global warming. The science is clear. Anthropogenic pollution is causing global warming and other changes in the climate. There is no legitimate contrary scientific position, though there is plenty of work within the science as yet undone. People who deny the scientific reality of global warming are wrong, and are probably motivated by a number of different forces. And they like to call themselves skeptics.

It has been convenient for deniers of global warming to be called “skeptics” because it makes denial of science sound like something it isn’t, like it is a good thing. Every single good scientist is a skeptic. So being called a “global warming skeptic” gives some cover. Actual scientists generally prefer to call deniers deniers, though there are a few other terms in the mix (including the widely used “contrarian”).

(If this does not all make sense, have a look at the MOOC known as Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.)

But actual skeptics didn’t like the use of the term “skeptic” applied to science deniers. There is a small, historically interesting irony here, which I’ll mention then move beyond. It wasn’t that long ago that three of the most famous “skeptics” (none of whom are scientists), magician James “The Amazing” Randi, and the two magicians known as Penn and Teller, espoused views of global warming that would put them squarely in the denier camp. So, among the leaders of the skeptic movement (movement is probably an OK word to use there) three were both skeptic and skeptic, in the two senses of the word. Perhaps because of this, a number of other skeptics, just regular people who participate in Internet discussions and so on, also denied the global warming science, so this incorrect perspective was part of the skeptic movement. Eventually, after a conversation or two with some actual scientists, Randi changed his mind, to his credit, and did so publicly. I’m not so sure about Penn and Teller.

Recently, the Committee for Skepticsl (CSI) called upon Associated Press (AP), and the world in general, to stop using the word “skeptic” to describe climate change science deniers. They wanted the word back, to not have it sullied by association. That was a reasonable thing to ask for, and the request was supported by many scientist who are not necessarily active in the skeptic movement. There was a letter, a petition, all that.

And AP went along with it. Just a couple of days ago, AP changed their style guide to specify that the word “skeptic” should not be used to refer to climate change science contrarians. That was good.

But the AP went further. They also said that the term “denier” should not be used, and in supporting text, indicated that this was in part because of the association of the word “denier” with “holocaust denier.” AP’s new guideline specifies, instead, that the term “doubter” instead of “skeptic” or “denier.”

This is wrong. This places contrarians who actively attempt to damage and derail the conversation about one of the most important existential issues of the day in a relatively good, and undeserved, light.

Climate change deniers are not “doubting” climate change, or any particular aspect of climate change science. A single denier might be seen on one day claiming that adding CO2 to the atmosphere does not increase global surface temperatures (it does). In another conversation a day later, the same individual can be seen arguing that yes, it does do that, but not much. Next day, OK, it does do that but it will stop doing it and the temperature will go down. Or the warming is good. Or the warming is real, and will have effects, but we can fix that. Or we can’t really fix it, but since the Chinese are not on board with changing things, what we do does not matter. And so on and so on.

And, no, that is not the rapid evolution of thinking of a denier. The same denier will go right back to the “CO2 does not cause warming” argument the moment they find a sufficiently uninformed audience.

This is not doubting. It is not being skeptical. It is denying, and it is denying pretty much the same way that Holocaust deniers are denying, in an irrational, politically motivated, goal-post moving, dishonest, and damaging way.

Denial expert John Cook, who was the lead developer of the above mentioned MOOC, pointed out to me that the term “denial” is already part of the academic and scientific conversation. “There is a great deal of research by psychologists, political scientists and other social scientists into the many aspects of science denial. Understanding the why and how of denial – why people reject science and how the scientific evidence gets distorted by misinformation – is essential to formulating an effective response. It would be ironic in the extreme if our response to science denial involved denying the social science research into denial. ”

Climate blogger Sou notes,

“Climate change doubters” is a poor euphemism. It doesn’t mean the same as a climate science denier. I sometimes refer to “those who reject mainstream climate science”, however it’s clunky and doesn’t lend itself to repeated usage. Why use five words when there’s a perfectly good single word that describes those people “deniers”? Or if there’s no other context that makes it clear who you’re talking about: “climate science deniers”.

Joe Romm at Think Progress talked to climate scientist Michael Mann about this.

“As they say, if the shoe fits, wear it. Those who are in denial of basic science, be it evolution or human-caused climate change, are in fact science deniers,” as leading climatologist Michael Mann emailed me. “To call them anything else, be it ‘skeptic’ or ‘doubter,’ is to grant an undeserved air of legitimacy to something that is simply not legitimate.”

Romm also notes, “Here’s another reason “doubter” makes no sense. The Senate’s leading climate science denier/denialist/disinformer James Inhofe (R-OK) still maintains “global warming is a hoax.” Is he expressing “doubt”? Is he expressing what Oxford Dictionaries calls “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.” No. He is denying the science.”

Climate scientist and communicator Things Break picked up on the “avoid Hitler reference” theme with this tweet:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.47.44 AM

The @AP will no longer call mustaches “mustaches” b/c Hitler had a mustache, & some might get offended by the term.

In retrospect (and I truly mean that, 20-20 hindsight and all, because I had a chance to suggest this before but did not think of it) the CSI should have given equal weight to the two arguments that a) skeptic is the wrong word and b) denier is the right word. And, for good measure, they should have thrown in c) some of the other words that are out there should not be used, such as “doubter,” while some other words might be OK in certain contexts, like “contrarian.” Perhaps the appeal to AP should have been written, or at least gone over, by lawyers who think of these kinds of things in advance! As it turned out, the organized skeptics may have been a bit too concerned about their brand and a bit under concerned about the big picture. Good lesson: If you want to effect change, be more clear about what you want the change to be to.

I’m not all that big on biblical references, but one comes to mind. When Peter denied Christ, Jesus got really pissed, and it was a big deal. But when Thomas doubted, not so much.

What do you think about Hillary Clinton’s climate plan?

Hillary Clinton just came out with her climate change plan. Here it is.

Hillary Clinton’s Vision for Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure

Flipping a light switch, adjusting the thermostat, or turning a car key in the ignition brings predictable results—the light goes on, the temperature changes, the car starts. But where the energy for those everyday tasks comes from has changed dramatically in recent years, due to massive gains in renewable energy and a boom in domestic oil and gas production. And the amount of energy required to perform those tasks has fallen thanks to historic advances in efficiency.

Our policies and infrastructure have not kept pace with recent changes to the American energy system. American communities have endured toxic pipeline spills and deadly rail explosions as the amount of oil produced and transported across the country has expanded. Our existing natural gas distribution network is increasingly antiquated and in need of repair, while new networks must be built to serve parts of the country still dependent on more polluting propane and fuel oil for heating and cooking.

Our electrical grid needs upgrading to harness new technology that reduces energy costs and increases consumer choice, and to address the growing threat of cyberattack. And we must invest in the new infrastructure that will make the transition to a clean energy economy possible, keep energy affordable and reliable, meet both base load and peak demand, protect the health of our families and our climate, and drive job creation and innovation.

This work starts at home, but we can’t do it alone. The United States is part of a deeply integrated North American energy market, with interconnected pipeline and electricity systems and a shared market for vehicles and clean energy technologies. We trade as much energy with Canada and Mexico each year as with the rest of the world combined. As we invest in modernizing the United States’ energy infrastructure, we need to do so as part of a continent-wide strategy that ensures safe, reliable and affordable energy delivery, unlocks economic opportunity for American businesses and workers, and accelerates the transition to a clean energy economy across the North American continent.

Hillary Clinton’s North American energy infrastructure plan will do this in several key ways.


The United States has more than two million miles of oil and gas pipelines, many of which are outdated and in need of repair or replacement. This increases the risk of oil spills, methane leaks that help drive climate change, and dangerous explosions. A 20-fold increase in the amount of oil shipped by rail over the past five years has led to devastating accidents. Our electric grid too often fails during extreme weather events – and is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack. These challenges extend beyond our borders to Canada and Mexico, and will be most effectively tackled if all three countries work together.

To address these issues Hillary Clinton will:

Modernize our Pipeline System

  • Repair or replace thousands of miles of outdated pipelines to improve safety and reduce methane leaks by the end of her first term in office.
  • Improve pipeline regulations, including instituting automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves and leak detection standards that have been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • Work to close the loophole that allows companies to ship oil sands crude without paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Increase Rail Safety

  • Accelerate the phase-out of outdated tank cars that create the greatest safety risk and make information on companies’ progress available to the general public. Ensure rail regulations are strengthened and enforced within the United States and across the U.S.-Canada border.
  • Instruct the Department of Transportation to guarantee that first responders and the public have better information on oil and hazardous materials passing through their communities.
  • Partner with rail companies in aggressively repairing track defects that cause derailments and evaluate whether shale oil presents unique explosion risks.

Enhance Grid Security

  • Create a Presidential Threat Assessment and Response Team to improve coordination across federal agencies and strengthen collaboration with state and local officials and the electric power industry in assessing and addressing cybersecurity threats.
  • Implement a cybersecurity strategy that integrates and protects the expanded use of distributed energy resources and other cutting-edge clean energy technologies.
  • Provide new tools and resources to states, cities and rural communities to make the investments necessary to improve grid resilience to both cyber-attack and extreme weather events.


From the Tennessee Valley Authority to the Hoover Dam to the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, when the United States invests in building, upgrading, and improving our national infrastructure, we create good jobs and careers, boost economic competitiveness, and give rise to entirely new industries. Clinton will galvanize the investment needed to help cities, states, and rural communities upgrade and repair existing energy infrastructure and build the new infrastructure we will need for a clean energy future through:

  • A National Infrastructure Bank: Establish a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage public and private capital to invest in critically important infrastructure projects, including energy infrastructure projects.
  • Challenge Grants: Award competitive grants through Clinton’s Clean Energy Challenge to states, cities and rural communities that take the lead in reducing carbon pollution by investing in renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration, and reducing energy costs by investing in efficiency in both new and existing buildings.
  • Accelerating Investment: Ensure the federal government is a partner in getting clean and affordable energy to market by making the infrastructure review and permitting process more efficient and effective.
  • Expanding Consumer Choice: Offer financing tools for grid investments that support the integration of distributed energy resources and for gas pipeline investments that enable households and businesses to switch away from heating oil and other petroleum products.
  • A New “Pipeline Partnership”: Help cities, states, and rural communities repair and replace thousands of miles of pipelines by leveraging big data, predictive analytics and innovative testing procedures to more quickly and effectively find and fix pipeline leaks through a public-private partnership between federal regulators, pipeline companies, local utility commissions and leading technology providers and research institutions.
  • Transportation Funding: Work with Congress to close corporate tax loopholes and increase investment in transportation solutions that expand transit access and reduce commute times, oil consumption, and pollution.
  • Innovation: Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.


The United States isn’t in this alone. The entire North American continent must accelerate the clean energy transition and develop more comprehensive approaches to cutting carbon pollution. As President, Clinton will immediately launch negotiations with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to secure a North American Climate Compact that includes ambitious national targets, coordinated policy approaches, and strong accountability measures to catalyze clean energy deployment, reduce energy costs, cut greenhouse gas emissions, guide infrastructure investment, and make our integrated energy and vehicle markets cleaner and more efficient. This will include:

  • Ambitious Targets: Drive greater ambition in the global fight against climate change through coordinated targets for clean energy and cutting carbon pollution, internationally recognized reporting mechanisms, and a binding review process.
  • Clean Power Markets: Build on the momentum created by the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first national limits on carbon pollution from the energy sector, and regional emissions trading schemes in Canada, Mexico, and the United States to drive low carbon power generation across the continent, modernize our interconnected electrical grid, and ensure that national carbon policies take advantage of integrated markets.
  • Clean Transportation: Work to harmonize vehicle efficiency, emissions and fuel standards, strategies for electric vehicle deployment, clean freight and logistics, and other low-carbon transportation solutions.
  • Methane Management: Establish continent-wide methane emissions reduction targets and coordinated strategies for reducing leaks from both new and existing sources.
    Infrastructure Standards: Develop common, world-class standards for North American infrastructure that create good jobs and careers, support prevailing wage and project labor agreements, and ensure energy transportation across the continent is clean, safe, reliable and affordable.

Clinton’s vision for modernizing North American energy infrastructure is one pillar of her comprehensive energy and climate agenda, which includes major initiatives in the following areas:

  • Clean Energy Challenge: Develop, defend and implement smart federal energy and climate standards. Provide states, cities and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy and exceed these standards with the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.
  • Energy and Climate Security: Reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world, guard against energy supply disruptions, and make our communities, our infrastructure, and our financial markets more resilient to risks posed by climate change.
  • Safe and Responsible Production: Ensure that fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible, that taxpayers get a fair deal for development on public lands, and that areas that are too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
  • Revitalizing Coal Communities: Protect the health and retirement security of coalfield workers and their families and provide economic opportunities for those that kept the lights on and factories running for more than a century.
  • Collaborative Stewardship: Renew our shared commitment to the conservation of our disappearing lands, waters, and wildlife, to the preservation of our history and culture, and to expanding access to the outdoors for all Americans.


CSI Gets AP To Change Style Manual. But They Got It Wrong

By “they” I mean AP. But, really, CSI kinda messed this up too.

Put this one on your list of examples of effective activism that backfired.

AP is throwing out the correct term, ‘denier’ in favor of a bogus term, to describe climate science deniers. CSI wanted them to stop using ‘skeptic’. But the baby got thrown out with the bathwater.

From the CSI:

A small but important victory for science was scored in the public debate over climate change Tuesday, as the Associated Press announced that it would no longer refer to those who deny the reality of climate change as “skeptics” — a change that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has been urging the entire journalistic establishment to make. However, the AP will begin to refer to science-deniers as “doubters,” which CSI believes remains problematic and confusing.

Last year, over 50 prominent scientists, scholars, and communicators associated with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) wrote a joint letter to the news media urging them to refrain from labeling those who deny the scientific consensus behind climate change as “skeptics.” As they stated in the letter, “Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” Those criteria do not apply to those who reject reality in favor of misinformation or half-baked conspiracies about climate “hoaxes.”

Signatories to the CSI statement included “science guy” Bill Nye, physicist Mark Boslough, Cosmos co-creator Ann Druyan, science advocate Eugenie Scott, Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, David Morrison of the SETI Institue, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, among many others. …

In new guidelines for its journalists announced today, the Associated Press instructed its writers to refrain from referring to those to refuse to accept the reality of climate change as “skeptics” or “deniers,” but rather to use the term “doubter,” or else refer to them as “those who reject mainstream climate science.”

“We’re very glad that the word ‘skeptic’ will no longer be used to describe deniers of climate science, such as Sen. James Inhofe, who claims to believe that global warming is a hoax,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Skeptics use reason and evidence to reach conclusions, and that simply doesn’t apply to those who reject the scientific consensus on our warming planet.”

However, Lindsay cautioned that replacing “skeptic” with the term “doubter” remains problematic. “The AP’s journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public’s understanding of crucial issues such as climate change. Referring to deniers as ‘doubters’ still imbues those who reject scientific fact with an intellectual legitimacy they have not earned. The general public, we fear, will still not get a clear picture of which public figures are basing their positions on reality, and which are not.”

Despite problems with the term “doubters,” CSI expressed that the longer classification of “those who reject mainstream climate science” was acceptably clarifying.

I think somebody forgot to suggest to AP what they should do if they stop using the word “skeptic.”

Hillary Clinton Opposes Keystone XL Pipeline

This just came in from NBC

Last week, Clinton said,

“I have been waiting for the administration to make a decision,” she said last week in Concord, NH. “I thought I owed them that. I worked in the administration. I started the process that is supposed to lead to a decision. I can’t wait too much longer. and I am putting the white house on notice. I’m gunna tell you what I think soon because I can’t wait. I thought they would have it decided way, you know, way by now and they haven’t.”

And moments ago she said:

“I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone XL pipeline as what I believe it is: A distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change, and, unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward and deal with other issues,” she said during a campaign event in Iowa Tuesday.

“Therefore, I oppose it. I oppose it because I don’t think it’s in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change.”

What Exxon Knew Then Is What We Know Now

Look at the graph at the top of the post.

This is a graph from the now famous Exxon documents that date to 1981, explaining how Exxon scientists were projecting global warming with continued release of the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere. There is a lot written about that work which remained secret until just a few days ago. The timing of this expose is interesting because it comes at about the same moment as a call to use US RICO laws to investigate and possibly prosecute those who seem to have been conspiring for a long time muddy the waters about the science of climate change in order to put off taking action that might financially hurt Big Petrol. (See also this.)

There are several interesting things about this graph. First, it was made in the 1980s, which proves that an IBM Selectric can make graphs. But never mind that. The graph shows the range of global surface temperature (vertical axis) over time (horizontal axis) in the past and future. If there was no effect from the human generated greenhouse gas CO2, global surface temperature would range, and had previously ranged, between about a half a degree C (Kelvin in the graph, but one degree K is one degree C) above and below a hypothetical baseline. However, given the influence of human generated greenhouse gas, the temperature rises.

When I saw this graph, I was reminded of several other graphs, such as the current surface temperature graphs showing rather shocking warming over the last few decades (since the Exxon graph was first typed). I was also reminded of the IPCC projections for warming, and the Hockey Stick graph of Mann, Hughes and others. It is notable that Exxon scientists, even before the marriage of the increasingly refined paleo-record with the increasingly detailed instrumental record that clearly demonstrated global warming, essentially had it right.

So I decided to see how right they were. To do this I made a graph that I’ll call a “Thumbsuck Estimate” (a phrase I picked up working in South Africa) of what the instrumental record of global surface warming, the IPCC projections, and Exxon ca 1981 indicated. My source graphs, other than the one shown above, included a graph of NOAA’s instrumental record (moving 12 month average) put together by my colleague John Abraham to include the most recent data:


And the graph found in Michael Mann’s book, “Dire Predictions” showing the instrumental record and the various IPCC projections.

For all three graphs, I estimated the center line of the variation indicated (the midpoint of the range shown on the Exxon graph, the midpoint of the range of IPCC estimates, the midpoints of relevant clusters of observed temperature values from NOAA) using simple interpolation with the help of a graphic application with moveable guides. I then recorded the available numbers (using years that matched across the graphics) in a spreadsheet, and specified for each data series a second order polynomial. The reason I used the second order polynomial is simply that the data consist of two parts, the background (roughly, pre-industrial though not quite) variation in surface temperature, and the upward swing of surface temperatures under anthropogenic global warming. By using the polynomial I’d get a curve that approximated this transition without using fancy statistics. Thumbsuck methodology.

This is the graph I got:


Notice that Exxon 1981 had it right. The revelations of the Exxon research, and the fact that it was kept secret and all that, is an interesting story. And, that story will develop over coming days, week, and months. But I don’t want to lose track of the other story, in some ways even more interesting. How surprised should we be, after all, that a major corporation would both look into and ignore, possibly even repress, the science associated with their primary activity? Not at all, really. But what is surprising is that we (and by “we” I mean scientists who have studied climate change) have understood the basic problem for a very long time, and decades of research have confirmed early findings, and of course, added important details.

With respect to the existential nature of global warming, we knew then what we know now, in broad outline.

(See this post for the tie in between a recent call to RICO various players in the fossil fuel industry and these revelations about Exxon.)

There are some great uncertainties associated with anthropogenic climate change. For example, we don’t know how much sea levels will ultimately rise, or how long that will take. We don’t actually know in detail what will happen to specific coastlines that are inundated. We don’t know everything we need to now about how weather, especially as it relates to important endeavors such as food production, will change. We know it has already changed and will change more, but we can’t at this point confidently predict exactly what will happen, where, and when. And there are other things we don’t know.

But the basic relationship between greenhouse gasses and surface temperature rise, given a certain (not small but not huge) amount of variability, is something we do have a good idea of. Our knowledge of this problem predates concerted efforts by science deniers to distract, ignore, and avoid the science. The actual amount of surface temperature increase given a certain amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses added to the atmosphere is of course subject to multiple variables, and I don’t want to give the impression that we know the precise march of surface temperatures over time. But if you stand back a way, squint just a little, and look at what science could have said in 1981 and what it says now, they are pretty much the same.

See also this from Weather Underground

NOTE: If you want a larger resolution version of my Thumbsuck graph, click here, then click on the graph.

Crocodile Nomadism: Size Matters

Every now and then an animal shows up where it is unexpected. Why just the other day a black bear had to be coaxed out of a tree down by the middle school, a couple of blocks form here. Even though our marshes, woodlands, and small patches of prairie house cougars, coyotes, deer, and all the smaller critters, both bears and wolves are not at present endemic to the Twin Cities suburbs.

When the unexpected appearance of a wild animal happens, there are usually one three factors at play. A migratory animal (typically a bird) is a bit off course, or lands where it normally flies over. The loon in the puddle by the gas station a couple of years ago, the rosette spoonbill up at the lake a few years ago, etc. A second reason, often used to explain moose in Massachusetts several years back, until it was realized that they were simply moving into the region, is disease. Some brain disease cause some mammals to wander aimlessly and that could result in the animal wandering far out of its range. The third reason which almost always applies, I think, to the occasional wolf or bear sighting ’round these parts, is dispersal. Without dispersal, nothing would be anywhere. Obviously. (Dispersal is linked to expansion of range, of course.)

And that, dispersal, is probably what is going on when a 3 meter long crocodile shows up at your barbecue in Queensland Australia. That, and of course, the steaks on the barbie which are irresistible to megafauna carnivores.

A team of researchers led by Craig Franklin, of the University of Queensland has been tracking crocodiles in the region for several years now. They discovered that smaller crocs don’t wander much, and the largest ones, those approaching five meters, don’t either. The small crocs are hiding out in good spots, and the larger ones are highly territorial, dominating a particular water hole. The in between size, mainly around 3 – 3.5 meters, are the the most nomadic. Some have traveled up to 1,000 kilometers over a year’s time, and up to 60 kilometers a day.

The team is now upgrading their equipment to include tracking devices that last longer.

You can observe the movements of some of their research subjects at the Franklin Eco-laboratory web site, here.

By saying a Muslim should not ever be President, Ben Carson disqualifies himself to be President

The second part of the first amendment requires separation of church and state, and elsewhere, the Constitution requires that there be no religious test for office. Ben Carson requires that there be a religious test for office. This is because Carson is, essentially, an Evangelical Christian, in the sense that he believes, as do many other Gops, that Christian belief and doctrine should be part of our governance and law.

In other words, Carson believes first in a higher power, God, to whom he owes primary allegiance and, critically, believes that the belief system that emerges from worship of that god should guide his actions and, if he is elected, governance. In other words, he is not inclined to separate his religious life from his job. But, if elected, he would take an oath to the US Constitution. By taking this oath with the equivalent of sworn belief to a different authority, his very first act of being president, the actual act of becoming president himself, will be an act of treason. You might as well just set up the impeachment proceedings in advance and get it over with.

Where To Buy Muslim Bomb Making Pencil Box

Huxley has not yet been required to use a pencil box. He had to buy one, but they’ve not used it yet. I guess they get to that later in Kindergarten.

So, I have time to get a new one, just ordered. Better get yours now, they are likely to sell out.

I’m wondering if this would hold the Raspberry Pi.

Anyway, note that there is also a version available for pirates.

Click here to get it at Amazon.

Do not build an actual bomb. This is for hoax bombs only.

Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO

The following is the text of a letter written by a number of scientists asking for a federal investigation of climate science denial under the RICO statute.

Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren

September 1, 2015

Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren,

As you know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change on human health, agriculture, and biodiversity. We applaud your efforts to regulate emissions and the other steps you are taking. Nonetheless, as climate scientists we are exceedingly concerned that America’s response to climate change – indeed, the world’s response to climate change – is insufficient. The risks posed by climate change, including increasing extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increasing ocean acidity – and potential strategies for addressing them – are detailed in the Third National Climate Assessment (2014), Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The stability of the Earth’s climate over the past ten thousand years contributed to the growth of agriculture and therefore, a thriving human civilization. We are now at high risk of seriously destabilizing the Earth’s climate and irreparably harming people around the world, especially the world’s poorest people.

We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. One additional tool – recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change. The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peerreviewed academic research (Brulle, 2013) and in recent books including: Doubt is their Product (Michaels, 2008), Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore, 2009), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), The Climate War (Pooley, 2010), and in The Climate Deception Dossiers (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015). We strongly endorse Senator Whitehouse’s call for a RICO investigation.

The methods of these organizations are quite similar to those used earlier by the tobacco industry. A RICO investigation (1999 to 2006) played an important role in stopping the tobacco industry from continuing to deceive the American people about the dangers of smoking. If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.


Jagadish Shukla, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Maibach, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Dirmeyer, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Barry Klinger, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Schopf, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
(continued on page 2)
Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren
David Straus, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Sarachik, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Michael Wallace, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Eugenia Kalnay, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
William Lau, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
T.N. Krishnamurti, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Vasu Misra, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Ben Kirtman, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Robert Dickinson, University of Texas, Austin, TX
Michela Biasutti, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Mark Cane, Columbia University, New York, NY
Lisa Goddard, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Alan Betts, Atmospheric Research, Pittsford, VT

Micro-Evolution In Greenland: Inuit Diet, Weight, and Stature

There is a new paper in Science linking genetic variation in people living in Greenland with long term selection for managing a marine-oriented diet, affecting stature, weight, and probably, physiological processing of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

The vast majority of the variation we seen in stature (height) among humans is not genetic. That is a fact hard to swallow by so many of us who were told in biology class that “height is a complex genetic trait with many genes affecting it.” It also seems wrong because the classic examples of variation in stature, the Pygmies of Central Africa (short) and the Maasai of East Africa (tall) are assumed to be populations under selection that caused them to be outliers. Of course, the Maasai are really not that tall by modern Western standards, but the story about them being tall, first told by relatively short European travelers who met them in the 19th century, persists, despite the fact that those travelers’ offspring, such as Modern Americans and Brits, are in many cases significantly taller than their own ancestors without natural selection being the cause.

But there are some genetic factors that control height and weight and account for some percentage of variation in those phenotypes. Pygmies taken from their homeland and raised among people with unlimited food supply do not grow tall. They may become obese, but not tall, because one of the main genes that regulates growth in almost all humans simply does not function in Pygmies. (One individual Efe Pygmy I’ve met who was raised among Italian nuns, in Italy, was short but rather wide.) There may be other short statured populations with a similar genetically determined stature. But as far as we can tell, something like 20% (and that is probably an overestimate) of variation in stature in living humans over the last century or so can be accounted for by genetic variation. The rest is a combination of diet and, I suspect, an epigenetic effect linked to maternal size and diet. When a population of relatively short people get unlimited food the next generation is taller. But then, the next generation is taller still. It is as though mothers won’t give birth to maximally sized offspring, just somewhat larger offspring, who then give birth to somewhat larger offspring, so the part of the demographic transition where everyone gets taller happens over a few generations. This is a well documented but not very well explained phenomenon, and the explanation I suggest here is merely a hypothesis.

A new study in Science looks at the Inuit people, and some Europeans living in the same place they live, in this case Greenland, and finds a genetic component to Inuit stature and weight. There are also other differences having to do with processing elements of their relatively unusual diet.

The key result with respect to weight and height is shown in the graph at the top of the post. The letters (GG, GT, TT) are the alleles (T is the derived allele). Homozygotes for the derived allele are quite a bit less massive, and a small amount shorter, than those without the allele, and heterozygotes are in between.

Here is the abstract from the paper:

The indigenous people of Greenland, the Inuit, have lived for a long time in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including low annual temperatures, and with a specialized diet rich in protein and fatty acids, particularly omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). A scan of Inuit genomes for signatures of adaptation revealed signals at several loci, with the strongest signal located in a cluster of fatty acid desaturases that determine PUFA levels. The selected alleles are associated with multiple metabolic and anthropometric phenotypes and have large effect sizes for weight and height, with the effect on height replicated in Europeans. By analyzing membrane lipids, we found that the selected alleles modulate fatty acid composition, which may affect the regulation of growth hormones. Thus, the Inuit have genetic and physiological adaptations to a diet rich in PUFAs.

How long have the Inuit been living this lifeway, in this environment? Actually, not that long. The researchers, in their supplemental information, suggest that it could be as long as 30,000 years, but this is unlikely, or at least, the story is more complicated.

There are several complications to understanding the history of the selective environment of the Inuit, the environment that would have shaped this genetic adaptation. First, the environment has changed. Not only have we gone from an ice age to no ice age during this 30,000 year time period, but with sea level rise during the Holocene, the ecology of the arctic has changed considerably. Large areas of the continent have been inundated by the sea. Prior to that, most of the ocean adjoining land was immediately deep. With the inundation of the continent, vast relatively shallow areas of ocean would exist. Nutrients well up along the continental shelf, but shallow areas are also potentially nutrient rich because of sediments coming off shore. During glacial melt periods, there may have been frequent large scale fresh water incursions which would have had occasional disastrous effects on the local ecology. The position of estuarine settings, which can be very productive, would change. As sea level rise slowed, near shore sediments may have had a chance to build up, causing regional increases in productivity.

The migratory patterns, overall distribution, and abundance of marine mammals and common shoaling fish would have changed dramatically, and multiple times, during the last several thousand years. It would not have been until about five thousand years ago that things would have settled down allowing long term regional foraging adaptations to emerge. Prior to that there may have been periods when the marine environment was significantly more, or significantly less, productive.

Meanwhile, the ancestors of the Inuit themselves moved a great deal during this period. They were not in Greenland, or anywhere in North America, 30,000 years ago, but rather, in an unknown location in Asia. The Inuit ancestors were part of a later migration into the New World. The association (population wise) of true Arctic people and others living farther south is not known.

A second factor is cultural adaptation. When we look at the traditional Inuit foraging patterns and associated technology, together with the preceding prehistoric Thule adaptations, we can’t help but to be impressed with the highly specialized effective approaches, both strategically and technologically, to acquiring marine resources. Boats, lamps, harpoons, and processing tools are highly refined and efficient. That material culture and strategic approach, however, is only a few thousand years old. Before that, in the region, were the Dorset, who simply lacked many of these tools. It is possible that the Thule and Inuit had sled and sled dogs, but earlier people in the Arctic did not. And so on. The ancestors of the Inuit, just a few thousand years ago, could not have had as specialized a diet as the traditional (modern ethnohistoric) Inuit. Cultural adaptations changing over time is as important as, if not more important than, the afore mentioned likely changes in environment.

So, I’m not going to argue that these adaptations are not 30,000 years in the making. Rather, I’ll argue that strong selection for these alleles could be as recent a few thousand years or even less, and that prior selective environments (the combination of the natural environment and human cultural adaptations to it) may have different and the situation may have been rather complicated for many years. In other words, the new, and very interesting, results looking at the Inuit genome need to be integrated with a better understanding of Inuit history, which is probably going to require a lot more research in the region.

There is a second point I want to make about this paper. We see research suggesting a genetic explanation for a lot of things, but often, in the past, that has involved finding a correlation between this or that genetic variation and a presumed phenotypic feature. Often, the next key step to establish the link isn’t, perhaps sometimes can’t be, taken. This is the link between the observed genetic variation and a good physiological story. The present research finds genetic variation associated with physiological features that seem to be associated with a marine-oriented diet in an Arctic or Sub Arctic setting. That makes this research really valuable.

Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation
Matteo Fumagalli, Ida Moltke, Niels Grarup, Fernando Racimo, Peter Bjerregaard, Marit E. Jørgensen, Thorfinn S. Korneliussen, Pascale Gerbault, Line Skotte, Allan Linneberg, Cramer Christensen, Ivan Brandslund, Torben Jørgensen, Emilia Huerta-Sánchez, Erik B. Schmidt, Oluf Pedersen, Torben Hansen, Anders Albrechtsen, and Rasmus Nielsen
Science 18 September 2015: 349 (6254), 1343-1347. [DOI:10.1126/science.aab2319]