Tag Archives: Science Denial

WaPo Opinion Piece: Extinction is fine, Climate Change is no big deal

R. Alexander Pyron, a professor of Biology at George Washington University, wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post urging us humans to care much less than we do about species extinction. In the essay he says: Continue reading WaPo Opinion Piece: Extinction is fine, Climate Change is no big deal

Back to School Science and Culture Stuff

I usually write my annual back to school post earlier than this, but I was distracted by various events. There are three themes here.

1) You are a science teacher and I have some stuff for you.

2) You have a student in a school and you want to support the school’s science teacher.

3) You have a student-offspring or elsewise and are looking for a cool back to school gift.

First, for themes 1 and 2, a mixture of traditional back to school blog posts and some items that may be useful and happen to be on sale at the moment so now’s your chance.

My For Teachers Page has posts providing some science content in evolutionary biology (about Natural Selection and some other topics)

On the same page are essays on teaching philosophy, supporting life science teachers, and evolution and creationism in the classroom, including this famous video.

Books that teachers might find helpful. Consider sending your kids in to school with one of them, focusing on evoluton-creationism and climate change-denial:

Classic text on fighting creationism: Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Genie Scott

This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

Teachers and parents of kids in school are in the trenches in the war on science. So you need to know what the war on science is and how to fight it. So, read Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

The Manga books on science and math. See this review of Regression Analysis, where you’ll find a list of others. Most recent and hot off the presses is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

A handful of recent science for various ages (Links are to my reviews):

The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

The Grand Canyon: Monument To An Ancient Earth. Great new book.

And finally, how to not get caught plagiarizing, and what does that pillow that says “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” really mean? Not what you think!

And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are

I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.

I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…

At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.

You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Unless you live in Florida

This is disturbing, but since civilization is ending as we speak, I suppose it is not surprising. From the Washington Post:

Any resident in Florida can now challenge what kids learn in public schools, thanks to a new law that science education advocates worry will make it harder to teach evolution and climate change.

The legislation, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) this week and goes into effect Saturday, requires school boards to hire an “unbiased hearing officer” who will handle complaints about instructional materials, such as movies, textbooks and novels, that are used in local schools. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. If the hearing officer deems the challenge justified, he or she can require schools to remove the material in question….

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Council for Science Education, said that affidavits filed by supporters of the bill suggest that science instruction will be a focus of challenges. One affidavit from a Collier County resident complained that evolution and global warming were taught as “reality.” Another criticized her child’s sixth-grade science curriculum, writing that “the two main theories on the origin of man are the theory of evolution and creationism,” and that her daughter had only been taught about evolution.

“It’s just the candor with which the backers of the bill have been saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go after evolution, we’re going to go after climate change,'” that has him worried, Branch said.

Here is the original

Honestly, New York Times? You are entitled to publish all the opinions, but not to endorse your own facts!

Honestly, it is hard to have an honest conversation about science with science obstructors or deniers. That is how you know you are conversing with a denier. You try to have the conversation, and it gets derailed by cherry picking, misdirection, faux misunderstanding, or lies.

I don’t care how far a person is from understanding a scientific concept or finding. I don’t care how complex and nuanced such a finding is. As long as the science is in an area that I comfortable with as a scientist, educator, and science communicator, I’ll take up the challenge of transforming scientific mumbo jumbo into normal descriptive language or an appropriate story, so the person gets from not having a clue to getting the basic idea. That’s for regular people having an honest conversation, which generally includes students.

But that is often not how it goes.

A common theme in the non-honest conversation is false balance. The fact that there is an opposing view, regardless of its merits or lack of merit, is sufficient to insist that that view be on the table and given a fair hearing. Someone recently said that global warming is not real because CO2 molecules are the same temperature as the other molecules in the atmosphere, an utterly irrelevant thing meant to confuse and misdirect. That statement is not a required part of an honest conversation, it is utterly non-honest, and should be ignored as nefarious yammering. But, we often see media giving equal weight to such yammering, ignoring the motives behind it.

You already know that the New York Times has hired an OpEd columnist who has a history of denial of science, including climate science. He also has a history of analyses of social or political things that has offended a lot of people.

When pressed to reconsider, by the scientific community widespread, the New York Times responded that lots of people agree with this columnist about climate change, therefore his hire is legit. Here, the New York Times is guilty of false balance, of giving credence to senseless yammering as though it was the same as real science.

I personally don’t like the idea of having a lot of far right wing (or even medium right wing) columnists in a publication that I pay for, so I don’t subscribe to such publications. But, major national media outlets are going to have a range of columnists and commenters, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. That is why I am happy to subscribe to the Washington Post even though there are a few right wing columnists there.

But here’s the thing. A columnist with a hard right viewpoint is one thing. An Editorial Staff that allows columnists, of any political stripe, to abuse reality and misstate facts about science in order to make a political point is incompetent.

Readers should expect editors to strictly enforce the concept that columnists are very much entitled to their own opinions, but in no way entitled to their own facts. The New York Times is making the mistake of confusing objections to this columnist with an attempt to silence a particular point of view. That is not what it is. Rather, the objections are to the New York Times editorial policy, on the OpEd page, supporting alt-facts.

The facts at risk of denigration and dismissal here are widely accepted and established, usually. In some cases, there are uncertainties that are dishonestly exploited and incorrectly characterized, which is pretty much the same thing as trying to have one’s opinions and one’s facts at the same time: not valid commentary and bad journalistic practice. This particular columnist has exploited the fact that there is variation in nature to assert that there is variation in scientific opinion. This is a misreading of both nature and science, coming from someone who knows little about either, and that misreading is being sanctioned by the people who run the New York Times.

I don’t care, and I think most don’t care, if he New York Times has a right winger like Bret Stephens on the OpEd staff. But if the editors of that section of this news outlet allow this individual or any columnist to misrepresent important aspects of reality, as he very much did in his very first column just out, then that editorial staff is acting unprofessionally and should probably look for a job at one of those entertainment outlets that disguises itself as “news.”

I’m pretty sure that at this time the editors at the New York Times do not understand this distinction. Keep your conservative columnist, Grey Lady, that’s up to you. Some will like that, some will not. But do know that you can’t keep being thought of as the paper of record if you allow frequent and unchecked abuse of facts and reality within that discourse. That is just a bad idea, beneath such a widely respected publication, and I and others expect it to stop soon.

Out of the gate, Bret Stephens punches the hippies, says dumb things

Right in the middle, between the Trump-inspired March for Science, and the Trump-inspired People’s Climate March, the New York times managed to come down firmly on the side of climate and science denial, in its editorial pages.

This week sees the first NYT installment by the ex Wall Street Journal columnist and author Bret Stephens (also former editor of the The Jerusalem Post). He is a professional contrarian, well known for his denial of the importance and reality of climate change, as well as other right wing positions. I assume the New York Times added Stephens to their stable of opinion writers to appease the new Republican Majority in Washington DC. And, maybe that is a good idea. But they should have gone with a principled conservative who is interested in things like facts, rather going with a modern philistine like this guy.

Just consider this all too cute sentence with which he attempts to dazzle his readers.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

First, let’s admit that time passes, so a 2014 report based on pre-existing information mainly from a year or two earlier is out of date in 2017, in a dynamic, rapidly changing field like climate change. As I note here, it is becoming increasingly common for climate science deniers to use the aging IPCC report to make an outdated point. The IPCC report is a good starting point for understanding the scientific basis of climate change, but it is not a current document and should not be treated like one. Editors of the New York Times, please take note of this and hold your columnists to a higher standard.

Or, for that matter, hold them to any standard at all with respect to fact checking. Stephens’ 0.85 degrees has to refer to the planet, not the Northern Hemisphere, as he claims. The editors of the New York Times still think the Earth is round, with hemispheres, right? I would hope so. Also, we understand that this average (the 0.85 for the globe, or the higher value for the Northern Hemisphere) is a low ball estimate for two reasons. One is statistical, as explained in the IPCC report Stephens pretends to have read. The other is because the estimates have a problem now being increasingly realized in that they ignore a lot of earlier warming. (This all has to do with baselines and confusions about them, and the often unexamined and incorrect assumption that the first century of burning coal does not count because it was so long ago. Trust me, it counts.)

And, that is not a modest number. It is a significant number, and the warming in the pipeline which will not go away on with wishful thinking from climate contrarian columnists, is an even larger and even more significant number.

But never mind the pesky details such as facts. Or that he separates the indisputable form the probabilistic, when it is all probabilistic and none is indisputable (science is not really ever indisputable). His overall argument is utterly stupid.

Listen: he says that Hillary Clinton read the polling data wrong, a certainty (her victory in November) turned out to not happen, therefore we should not put much stock in a widespread scientific consensus as we have for the basics of climate change. I note, however, that the chance of Clinton winning was around 50-50, and that only one candidate can win. And, oh, yes, she did win the popular vote, which is actually the measure were are talking about when referring to polling data. So, Stephens has that totally wrong. As your analogy goes, so goes the rest of your argument, Bret.

Stephens’ run up to this point involves some very attractive conspiratorial ideation (very attractive if you are a conspiracy theorist, that is) using the argument that the more sure science is of something, the more likely it is to be a complete lie based on a vast conspiracy. That whole idea is so conspiratorial that I was forced to use the word “conspiracy” or a form of it three times in one sentence and five times in one paragraph. How about that?

I’m pretty sure Stephens was listening to the widespread complaints about his hiring at the NYT, and perhaps heeding his masters’ voice in the editorial room, because he does in the end admit that climate change is real and mostly what the scientists say. He has, rather, adopted a rather Revkinesque view of climate change — and I know this is Revkinesque because Stephens blames this half assed idea directly on Andy Revkin twice in this one column. That view is this: Breathless yammering about climate change has now and then emanated from out of control hippies who don’t know the science. Therefore, the science is less certain than the scientists say it is.

OMG, what hogwash. I can rearrange the letters in the name of a great American President to spell hairball conman. Therefore that president was a hairball conman.

What is to be said about a columnist who responds in his first installment to an honest and widespread critique by scientists and their supporters by making so many foolish statements about science? I’m not sure, but wise people say this is a reason to cancel their subscription to the New York Times in protest.

The New York Times has often been a little iffy on climate change, but it has not been a total rag. The Grey Lady’s reputation took a real hit in this area with the addition of Stephens. Even the other writers at the New York Ties are put off by it.

More reactions to Bret Stephens

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper: <a href="http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2017/04/bret-stephens-lowers-bar-for.html">Bret Stephens lowers the bar for intellectual honesty and more @NYTimes</a></li>

In his very first NYT article you’d not have guessed that Bret Stephens had ever been awarded a Pulitzer. You’d not have known that he was a journalist at all, let alone one with any sort of reputation. You’d have thought he was a

<li>Graham Readfearn at Desmog: <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/04/27/another-leading-climate-scientist-cancels-new-york-times-over-hrting-climate-denialist-bret-stephens">Climate Scientists Cancelling Their New York Times Subscription Over Hiring of Climate Denialist Bret Stephens</a></li>

Stephens wrote several columns while at the WSJ disparaging climate science and climate scientists, which he has collectively described as a “religion” while claiming rising temeperatures may be natural.

The NYT has been defending its decision publicly, saying that “millions of people” agree with Stephens on climate science and just because their readers don’t like his opinions, that doesn’t mean

<li>Dana Nuccitelli at The Guardian: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/apr/29/ny-times-hired-a-hippe-puncher-to-give-climate-obstructionists-cover?CMP=share_btn_tw">NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover</a></li>

Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.” We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years. The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 1,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on

<li>Joe Romm at Think Progress: <a href="https://thinkprogress.org/the-ny-times-promised-to-fact-check-their-new-climate-denier-columnist-they-lied-72ad9bdf6019">The NY Times promised to fact check their new climate denier columnist?—?they lied</a></li>

The very first column the New York Times published by extreme climate science denier Bret Stephens is riddled with errors, misstatements, unfair comparisons, straw men, and logical fallacies.

Leading climatologist Dr. Michael Mann emailed ThinkProgress: “This column confirms my worst fear: That the NY Times management is now willingly abetting climate change denialism.”

<li>Osita Nwanevu in Slate on <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/04/26/let_s_read_bret_stephens_terrible_horrible_no_good_very_bad_vox_interview.html">Bret Stephens sexist and racist remarks about rape</a></li>

Here is Stephens’ exchange on campus rape:

Jeff Stein: You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?” My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?

Bret Stephens: Of course it is. But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.

(I’d like to point out that a traveller’s chance of rape in a “place like E. Congo” is not the same as the chance of a woman who lives there. Not that it is a particularly safe place to go, but Bret Stephens exhibits here an excellent example of the Ignorance of Privilege and how it can be used to make excuses for bad male behavior and scare the bejesus out of white people. – gtl)

<li>From Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: <a href="https://climatecrocks.com/2017/04/27/climate-scientist-to-nytimes-cancel-my-sub/">Climate Scientist (Stefan Rahmstorf) to NYTimes. Cancel my Sub</a></li>

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that

Selected tweets about Bret Stephens


How the IPCC becomes a climate change denial tool

About once a day, someone tells me that human caused climate change is not real because this or that thing in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contradicts something I, or some other scientists or science writer, has said.

I’ve noticed an uptick in references to the IPCC report by those intent on denying the reality of climate change. This even happened at recent congressional hearings, where “expert witnesses” made similar claims.

How can that be? How can the flagship scientific report on climate change, the objective source of information about the science of climate change, be used so frequently to argue that scientists have climate change all wrong?

Obviously, one way this can happen is if the information is cherry picked or misrepresented. That, certainly, happens and is almost always part of the recipe. But there is another only barely less obvious reason, and this is a reason that becomes more and more relevant every passing year. What is it? Hold on a sec, first a bit of context.

As a scientists and writer-about-science I often have access to temporarily secret information. Also, I make it a point to keep track of opinions held by trusted experts in the field, as they change and adapt to new findings. This secret information is, of course, peer reviewed research that isn’t published yet, and is under embargo.

To be embargoed means to be held in secret, but distributed to a small number of trusted individuals or agencies (often news outlets and science writers), with an “embargo date and time” after which the information is no longer secret. There are a few reasons this is done. One is that many scientific outlets rely on the splash factor to get readership, and having a paper that changes how we think about the world be released at a particular planned moment helps with that. Related is the idea that publishers, research institutions, and the scientists themselves want the paper published alongside other products to help the press and the public understand the material better, such as a press release, selected graphics, maybe a nice video. This all requires production time and effort, and it is pretty much wasted effort if it does not become publicly available at the same exact moment the paper becomes available.

A few papers exist as early drafts long before publication, and those are passed around for the purpose of getting some preliminary feedback, and to get the conversation about the topic going among experts. That is less common because many journals don’t like it, and how often this happens depends on the field of study. Indeed, there are entire “journals” that started as and still serve as semi-formalized outlets for early drafts of appers, academic theses, or reports are routinely published, sometimes years before a final peer reviewed product comes out, representing for example that year’s output from a long term grant. (NBER and BAR come to mind as examples of this.)

Authors and publishers send me embargoed papers they think I might want, or more commonly, ask me if I’d like to have a copy of an embargoed paper, giving me a chance to say yes. Often, I know of a subset of scientists who also have the paper (typically, the co-authors) and I can ask them questions about the paper before hand. Most outlets will provide a science writer with this sort of contact information. This is how all those fully formed news reports come out in the media the moment a paper is released. Days or even weeks of work has already happened, quietly and in secret, before the paper’s release.

Other research is available in other ways. I have colleagues who are always working on certain things, and they’ll say things like, “well, we don’t have it finalized yet, but this thing you said is probably wrong because X turns out to be larger than Y, even though we previously thought the opposite … we’ve got a paper coming out probably next summer on this…” or words to that effect.

All this is, of course, why I write the blog posts and you read them. You could do this too; You could have foreknowledge of the developments on the leading edge of a particular scientific field as well. You just have to become a credible quasi-journalistic outlet (I am not now nor have I ever been a journalist) and develop a pertinent Rolodex, and gain the trust of everybody. Takes a few years.

I mention all this because it makes this happen now and then: I have a concept of some aspect of climate change research that is not yet generally understood outside a limited range of experts. Then, of course, the dissemination of information catches up and everybody knows the same thing, and the revised, updated view of that bit of science is now added to general knowledge. Close behind, perhaps, follows a shift in, or refinement of, consensus. This is how science works large scale.

The scientific understanding of an active area of research is dynamic and requires currency. Six months old is old. A year or two old is ancient.

I’ll give you three examples.

A while back the generally understood consensus of sea level rise was that sea levels were going up at a certain relatively low rate, on average. However, that estimate was faulty because of a lack of integration of a full understanding of how water moves between fresh water reservoirs and the sea, and certain really cool research on ocean warming, gravitational effects, etc. had not yet been published. Also, some time was missing; there had been a couple of strange quirky sea level related events that turned out to be outliers, so data sets needed to be full updated, and a couple of years added over the passage of time. For this reason, what was generally known at one point in time was different from what came to be understood a few years later. People in my position saw it coming, people who were not tracking the literature held the old and incorrect view.

Second and related example: There was a set of estimates for how fast glaciers in polar regions (Greenland and Antarctica) would melt with global warming, and how much this process would contribute to sea level rise. However, there was some new research coming to bear on the issue that was starting to change that. Glaciers don’t just melt, but they also structurally fall apart, big chunks ending up in the sea and melting there. Some increase in understanding how that happens emerged. The upper limit of how fast that could probably happen, in the general publicly available knowledge base, was modest. But over a fairly short period of time, a previously highly speculative and closely held thought that the upper limit on how much ice could deteriorate was higher, and a similarly unexpressed thought that the lower limit on how soon that might start to happen, began to make its way into the more public discussion. This is still very much an area of uncertainty and very active research. Look for big changes and many surprises over the next 24 months. But today, the best informed experts have a very different view of what might happen, and what is likely to happen, than widely held a few years ago, because of this shift. Polar glaciers will likely fall apart and contribute to sea level rise more and sooner than the best guesses would have suggested five years ago.

A third example just went through a major change. A few years ago it was generally thought, and often repeated, that it was difficult to attribute human caused climate change as a reason behind any particular bad weather event. That has shifted dramatically over time. A set of studies a few years back failed to find any clear association in a majority of weather events. A year later, a similar number of studies, of new weather events, either attributed the events to climate change or resulted in “we can’t say one way or another.” The most recent papers are generally showing a likely connection. Meanwhile, certain research linking certain climate phenomena to a large set of bad weather events was developing. Note that the previous studies were conducted mainly ignoring this new and emerging research. I was a little like saying “We don’t know why so many more people are falling on the subway tracks these days” while ignoring a growing set of observations of bad people showing up at the subway stations and pushing people off the tracks on purpose. In the absence of consideration of this nefarious and willful behavior, one could not say that the increase in untoward events was anything other than a random uptick in numbers. Seeing and acknowledging an actual cause makes it impossible to not link the cause and effect.

This happened, as noted, slowly and in the background in the literature, and suddenly, just a few days ago, a crowing paper took that likely cause of severe weather, ran it in highly sophisticated and reliable models, and demonstrated that this is a thing. Humans release fossil carbon in greenhouse gasses (and do some other bad things), certain things about our climate system change unambiguously because of this, this causes an important but heretofore not fully understand change, which then causes additional droughts and floods across the globe.

Five years ago, that would have been regarded as speculation, worthy of consideration but nothing that could nail down our understanding of the greenhouse gas – severe weather link. Today, the link is sufficiently established to regard it as scientific fact rapidly becoming consensus, though there will certainly be a bit more fighting about it, and much refinement of the theory and data.

All of these examples can be rephrased in relation to the last IPCC report.

The most recent IPCC report was published nominally in 2014. It was restricted to existing peer reviewed literature, thus not including the pre-embargoed material (though there was an effort by many scientists to get stuff out in time to be employed in that process). The report took time to produce. The physical science basis part of the report, on which the rest is based, actually dates to 2013 nominally, though it includes some 2014 material.

It is now April 2017. A claim that “The IPCC Report said bla bla bla therefore you are wrong” is the same as “in or before 2013, at least 4 years ago, the best we knew was bla bla bla therefore your are wrong.

Let’s return to the sea level rise example and consider the thinking of how fast and how much glacial melting, and other factors, would cause sea levels to rise in the future.

There were several studies used in the IPCC report, mostly dating to or before 2011. I would regard the science in the IPCC report to reflect the thinking primarily of the first decade of the 21st century on this subject. The last 2 years, or even one year, of research on sea level rise contrasts remarkably with that early work, suggesting a faster rise and more of it. That is just what is published. I don’t happen to know of any new work coming out shortly, but I can promise you that the summaries, the estimates, and the graphics that would be produced by an IPCC-like agency working on a summary of the physical science of sea level rise as it stands right now would be significantly different than what the last such report by the actual IPCC provided in 2014.

Two IPCC reports back, it was estimated that global sea level could rise between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. The subsequent report, the most current one, estimated that sea levels can rise between 29 and 82 cm by 2100. A recent and well regarded paper, dating to early in 2016, and using the best available information and methodology, estimates that the global sea level could rise by more than a meter by 2100 from just the melting of Antarctic, not counting Greenland.

Longer term sea level rise estimates have also risen, with a key paper published in 2013 suggesting that we may be in for as much as two meters over the next few centuries, and the aforementioned most recent report suggesting “more than 15 metres by 2500.”

(I hasten to add that an estimate of between 8 and 15 meters has been on the table for a long time, coming from palaeoclimatologists, who have always seen higher levels because in the past, similar conditions today produced such high levels, indicating that current levels are actually unusually low.)

Climate science is progressing very rapidly, especially in some areas. There are things we know now, or that we feel fairly comfortable asserting as pretty likely, that one year ago, and certainly four years ago, were fairly uncertain or in some cases inconceivable.

Citing the most recent IPCC report about a climate change relate issues tells me two things:

1) You don’t read the literature or talk to climate scientists; and

2) You are not especially interested in an honest conversation about this important scientific and policy issue.

The recent work on sea level mentioned above is here, the IPCC report is here, and a summary of the IPCC and other sources is here.

Lamar Smith: Nothing more than a hippie puncher

Congressman Lamar Smith is a well known science denier, especially a climate science denier.

Recently, he admitted that the House committee he runs is a tool of the anti-science forces.

At a recent conference at the pro-Tobacco anti-Science Koch (and others) funded fake think tank Heartland, this happened:

Smith: Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.

Audience Member: I applaud you for saying you’ll be using the term climate studies, not climate science. But I also urge you to use the term politically correct science.

Smith: Good point. And I’ll start using those words if you’ll start using two words for me. The first is never, ever use the word progressive. Instead, use the word liberal. The second is never use the word ‘mainstream’ media, because they aren’t. Use ‘liberal’ media. Is that a deal? I’ll give you a bonus. When we talk about changing the Senate rules on ending filibusters, don’t use the word ‘nuclear’ option. That has a negative connotation. Use ‘democratic’ option.

Smith agreed with an audience member that the EPA should not be regulating air quality, and that there is no limit to how far he would go in dismantling the last 8 years of environmental regulation.

Smith (a Republican, but you already knew that) also noted that Trump (a Republican as well) would pretty much do whatever Smith and the Heartland Institute want him do to: Dismantle environmental regulations generally.

Smith’s top contributor last year was an energy company, and the top industry that funds his campaign is the Oil and Gas industry.

Source of the dialog.

Royal Society Puts Matt Ridley And His Friends On Notice

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest extant scientific society. And, it is a place where scientific controversy has a home. Both Huxley and Wilberforce were members back in the 19th century, when young Darwin’s ideas were first being knocked around.

More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Royal Society accidentally agreed to host a talk by coal baron and formerly respected science writer Matt Ridley. Matt Ridley has been a great disappointment to us scientists and science teachers. Many of us used his book as a supplementary reading in our evolution courses, for example (Ridley was a respected science writer back in the day). But more recently he has become a global warming science denier, and the suggestion has been made that this is because his personal wealth is tied up in coal mining.

Here are some resources to get up to speed on the Ridley controversy:

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/11/30/matt-ridley-and-benny-peisers-misleading-guide-to-the-climate-debate/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/01/19/testing-matt-ridleys-hypotheses-about-global-warming/"><strong><em>Testing Matt Ridley’s Hypotheses About Global Warming</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/10/mat-ridley-anti-science-writer-climate-science-denialist/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist</em></strong></a></li>

Anyway, the Royal Society accidentally allowed the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is an anti-science organization pretending to be a, well, a policy foundation of some sort, to book a talk by Matt Ripley. This was clearly an attempt to legitimize climate change denial. The real science community got wind of this, and objected. From Graham Readfearn:

The Royal Society is coming under internal pressure to cancel a booking on its premises made by climate science “sceptic” group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, DeSmogUK can reveal.

Several fellows and associates of the society – the world’s oldest scientific academy, founded in 1660 – are angry over an agreement to hire its premises to the GWPF for its 17 October annual lecture, to be delivered by Lord Matt Ridley.

DeSmogUK also understands some scientists intend to raise the issue at a meeting of the Royal Society’s governing council on 6 October, with a request to cancel the GWPF booking.

Well, they did. And the Royal Society thought about it and decided to allow the talk to continue.

And, we can get mad about that if we want, but I’m not. The Royal Society clearly made a mistake in making the booking, but this sort of mistake is one of the costs of at least trying to live in a world where the conversation over science can generally be an honest one, and nefarious shenanigans such as this booking by a fake think tank to have a fake expert talk about fake science circumvents that honest conversation.

I’m reminded of the time when Harvard’s Kennedy School of government accidentally booked Famous African Dictator Mobutu Sese Seku Kuku Kibombe of Zaire to give a talk as part of a series of world leaders talking about government. Not long after word of that got out, there was a move towards uninviting, but that is actually very difficult for an institution to do. That talk went forward, with protests, and Americans became suddenly much more aware of Mobutu and what he had been up to in the country formerly and currently known as the Congo. This actually helped with ongoing efforts to get the US Congress to cut ties with Mobutu (he had been a loyal mercenary extraordinary and plenipotentiary on behalf of the US for years, fighting the Libyans and other African bad guys …) but I digress. The point is, Mobutu’s talk at the Kennedy school ended up being an important nail driven into his eventual coffin.

DesmogUK’s Kyla Mandel now reports that the Royal Society will allow the talk to go forward, but promises that if the speaker throws science under the bus, there will be people watching and reporting.

When the Royal Society met to discuss the matter, there was general agreement that climate change was real, that Ridley was not a friend to the science, that they regretted giving the talk, etc. But they also felt that cancelling the talk would give more cachet to the cancelled speakers and his fake think tank than they deserved. Rather, they thought, let the talk go ahead and “If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.”

Sounds very Minnesotan. Passive aggressive counter attack, that.

Mandel’s report has more details, go read it here.

I look forward to the debunking of the talk by Matt Ridley, the 5th Viscount of Coal. Or whatever he calls himself. His career as a respected science writer is pretty much over, but there’s always room for one more nail.

The Argument Against Anthropogenic Climate Change Is On Drugs

First, a note on Lewis Carrol, Alice and Wonderland, and drugs. The current revisionist version of that work is that Carrol was not referring to drugs when he has Alice or other characters imbibe or smoke various substances (including ‘shrooms) and in so doing experience dramatic changes in reality. Uh huh, sure. The argument is based on the belief that Lewis Carrol did not do drugs. That argument is absurd, of course, because Alice in Wonderland and related works ARE FICTION. If these stories can only involve thematic metaphor to drug use by the author actually being on drugs while weaving the yarns, then what exactly do we expect Stephen King’s life to be like? But, I digress and we shall now get on to the point of this post.

There is a new paper by the Conspiracy and Consensus team exploring how climate science deniers, in a conspirational mode, are, essentially, on drugs. Not real drugs, just the metaphorical ones invoked when we think or utter, “What did he say? Man, he must be on drugs.” To be clear, this paper does not actually make the drug connection directly. The connection to the Alice down the rabbit hole metaphor is in the great disparity and incongruence among ideas proffered or claimed simultaneously by the deniers of climate science.

Here’s the details on the paper: Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. Synthese (2016). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6.

Click the link to get your free copy.

The authors make two key observations, and then explain them. First observation: The climate change denier community is capable of saying, seemingly at the same time, completely different things that contradict each other. Second observation: Same as the first one, but this also applies to individuals. In other words, the internally conflicting disparity of ideas does not solely represent heterogeneity in the denier community. It indicates a lack of need or desire for consistency or internal coherency. Science deniers do not care that they, as a group or as individuals, saying that even though paleo-temperature data from proxies are unreliable, a claim (which is incorrect) can be made that the middle ages were warmer than today. They can say that we can’t really measure atmospheric CO2 levels in the past, but they were higher in the past at particular points in time. And so on. The paper provides numerous examples.

The authors explain this lack of coherency by the fact that there is coherency, but at a different level. Given (or, as an assumption) that this is conspiratorial ideation in action, the deniers know (but are wrong) that there is a conspiracy at a higher level to obscure or hide the truth, or to make stuff up, etc. Therefore, any given idea, no matter how much conflict it implies with other ideas, is acceptable as long as it doubles as a finger pointing to the man behind the curtain, the deep and high level conspiracy. If an idea supports the idea that there is a conspiracy (any conspiracy, or just an unspecified conspiracy of some sort, not a particular one) then it is an OK idea.

I would either mildly disagree with this explanation, or take it one sept further and fully agree with it. I’m still thinking about it.

In dueling with deniers, one thing that very quickly becomes apparent is an utter lack of concern for honesty. One could ask the question, was honesty absent from the beginning, as a character trait of these individuals, or was it sacrificed in service of strong conspiratorial ideation? I think the lack of honesty is critically important, because this is what make it impossible, in a conversation, for the interlocutors to agree on what we are all getting at, or to acknowledge when we are going in a good vs. bad direction with intermediate conclusions or provisional ideas, or to in any way come to any kind of understanding about pretty much anything.

An honest conversation moves towards something, and that something is defined and redefined, and increasingly better understood, as part of the conversation itself. Deniers are not even moving towards a better and more coherent conspiracy. They are, rather, denying every aspect of the mainstream, coherent, consensus-seeking conversation, no matter what it is. You can test this, by engagement in comment sections of newspaper articles and blog posts. You can trick these folks into saying something that favors a normal interpretation of climate science, by simply letting them know that you are agin’ ’em, and then stating the opposite of what you want them to say. In the trenches, detailed positions are not necessarily developed and framed just in reference to the conspiracy by a higher power (the government, the academics, etc.), but also (or maybe mostly?) in simple opposition to whatever a scientist, climate change “believer,” etc. is saying.

That applies, by the way, to about everything one might talk about. On this blog, several folks who showed up as science deniers discovered a conversation about firearms, and engaged fully. And, the same tactics prevailed. I’m not sure how important that is, but those conversations might be worth a look.

This could be all about the Ultimate Conspiracy, and the dishonesty simply arises from the incoherence of the necessary arguments. Or, the Ultimate Conspiracy could be the final (and ultimate) excuse when everything else fails, and fail it must if ever the conversation goes on long enough for everyone to understand that the deniers have contradicted themselves and each other on everything they’ve said.

Either way, the utter lack of honesty must matter. The adherence to honesty in the normal, honest conversation about policy or science, or science policy, is critical. When that breaks down, and people involved in the conversation are working with other objectives, that is when you get serious problems (including post-modernism within academia, damaging political positions in state houses and national capitols, and utter craziness on the internet.) I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that disregard for honesty, or the inability to grok honesty, or something, is associated with a range of pathologies. I’d love to see this explored more.

<li><a href="http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/9/23/1573393/-Alice-in-Denialand-Mad-as-Hatters">ClimateDenierRoundup has more on this paper, here.</a></li>

<li>Graham Readfearn has this: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/sep/23/how-climate-science-deniers-can-accept-so-many-impossible-things-all-at-once">How climate science deniers can accept so many 'impossible things' all at once</a></li>

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper has this: <a href="http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2016/09/climate-science-denial-rational.html">Climate Science Denial: A rational activity built on incoherence and conspiracy theories</a></li>

And, now, a musical interlude.

The Wall Street Journal Is A Rag

But I’m sure you already knew that.

The Wall Street Journal is so far behind the curve when it comes to the science of climate change, and so deep in the pockets of the oil industry, that the following is now true: If you are in business or industry, and want to keep track of important news about markets and other important things, don’t bother with the Wall Street Journal. You no longer need it for the stock info (that’s on your smart phone). The editorial and analysis, and I assume the reporting, from the WSJ is so badly tainted and decades behind the times that the newspaper as a whole has lost all credibility.

Here’s an example.

It has been noted that,

The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces since October opposing state or federal investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated the law by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change, a new Media Matters analysis finds, far more than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today published on either side of the issue. The Journal has yet to publish a single editorial, column, or op-ed in support of investigating Exxon’s behavior, and many of its pro-Exxon opinion pieces contain blatant falsehoods about the nature and scope of the ongoing investigations being conducted by state attorneys general.

The graphic at the top of the post reflects this.

This is part of a larger pattern, of which the WSJ is the worst offender.

The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post all published climate science denial and other scientifically inaccurate statements about climate change on their opinion pages over the last year and a half, while The New York Times avoided doing so, according to a new Media Matters analysis of those four newspapers. The Journal published by far the most opinion pieces misrepresenting climate science, while all three instances of climate science denial in the Post came from columns written by George Will. The Journal and USA Today also published numerous climate-related op-eds without disclosing the authors’ fossil fuel ties, while USA Today, the Post, and particularly the Journal frequently published some of the least credible voices on climate and energy issues.


There’s more. You can read the full analyses HERE and HERE

I’d like to add something. It’s Not Just The Editorial Page: Study Finds WSJ’s Reporting On Climate Change Also Skewed.

Mad About Science Denial? This Book Is For You and your Uncle Bob!

Michael Mann has a specialty or two. Climate simulation modeling, analysis of proxy data, the study of global teleconnections, Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures over historic time scales, etc. A while back, Mann’s research interests and activities converged, I assume by some combination of design and chance (as is often the case in Academia) with a key central question in science. This question is, “What is the pattern of surface warming caused by human effects on the atmosphere, including changes in greenhouse gas concentration and other pollutants?”

Mann and his colleagues essentially solved that problem in 1998, with the publication of a study looking at tree ring data, ice cores, and direct measurements of the atmosphere and the ocean surface, to estimate “surface temperature” of the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere. NASA, NOAA, and other agencies already had a temperature record going back into the 19th century, about a century of data. But since human effects started way before that, and since there is a lot of non-human caused variation in the system, the only way the basic pattern of surface warming, and the relative role of human effects, could be ascertained was by extending that record back several more centuries. Mann and his colleagues did that.

What they did was to turn this graph:

What scientists used to think. This is not far from what is now known, but much less detailed.
What scientists used to think. This is not far from what is now known, but much less detailed.

Into this graph:

The results of several scholars' work, including and mainly Mann and Hughes, summarized in a key IPCC report.  This science clarified our position in the natural system we are so dramatically changing, and won the teams who did this work a Nobel Prize.
The results of several scholars’ work, including and mainly Mann and Hughes, summarized in a key IPCC report. This science clarified our position in the natural system we are so dramatically changing, and won the teams who did this work a Nobel Prize.

Ironically, that first graph is from the oil industry, a report by ExxonMobil to be exact. Scientists generally knew that greenhouse warming was a thing, but these ExxonMobil scientists hid their research in order to … well, you can guess their motivation. (And you thought they were just about oil!)

So, that should have been about it. A major question was clarified and science marches on.

But there were two other things that happened after that. One makes total sense, and is a good thing. The other is mad. Mad as in madhouse.

The first thing was clarifying the science even more. Mann and colleagues worked mainly on the Northern Hemisphere because that is where much of the data lived. They were not using all the proxy data that would eventually become available. The record had to be pushed even farther back in time. The direct surface measurements needed to be reanalyzed a few times by different people, using different approaches, in order to understand it better. And so on.

Also, climate needed to march along a bit, as it turns out. The years since 1998 or so have seen dramatic changes in surface temperature, and dramatic effects of warming.

So that all happened, and our understanding of climate change is much refined and pretty darn good, with a few interesting and important questions remaining. But we know enough to confirm several times over the existential nature of the problem.

But something else happened at the same time.

Your curmudgeonly old Uncle Bob got mad at the climate data because, well, it seemed like it was Environmentalism which is all Hippie and Communist and stuff. Your cousin the developer and your other cousin who works at the power plant got mad because it became clear that modern civilization’s present day technologies for making and using buildings, making and using vehicles, and making and using energy, were the cause of an existential crisis. So they got mad about being blamed, even though they weren’t really being singled out. And all the energy producing corporations, stock holders, and their … well, their wholly owned souls such as members of Congress, Republicans, talk show hosts, and, to bring it full circle, your curmudgeonly old Uncle Bob, all got mad because addressing climate change would ruin the American Dream.

The American Dream, by the way, is this: You are a poor slob living in dirt. Them something happens and the dirt is gone but somehow you are still filthy. Filthy rich! Every American would become filthy rich if only … if only Mike Mann would shut up and go away.

So, this second thing that happened involved intense harassment, often bought and paid for, of climate scientists, active opposition to truthful and honest science, and the organic development of what Mann and his coauthor Toles refer to as a “Madhouse.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 3.57.34 PMMann has been in the middle of the conversation about climate science, the needed energy transition, and the denial of climate science, for years now. (See his first hand historical account of the first half of that journey.) He’s also a great communicator of science. So, he’s one of the best people to tell the story of climate change.

Mann has done this before a couple of times (notably, see this DK publication authored by Mann that summarizes the IPCC report). And now he’s done it again.

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles, consists of Mann’s account of climate change, the denailism industry, the fight between science and anti-science, the energy transition, and all the important nuances of the problem. Well written and easily understood, an excellent and very current expose of the whole thing. And, along side all this, the cartoonish stylings of cartoonist Tom Toles.

One of the topics Mann deals with in this new book, that has not been dealt with enough, is the Breakthrough concept, especially as related to geoengineering. To quote from the text:

Many of those who advocate against taking action when it comes to dealing with the underlying problem—our ongoing burning of fossil fuels— have instead turned to possible technosolutions for counteracting climate change that involve other massive interventions in the Earth system: geoengineering. In some ways, for the free-market fundamentalist, geoengineering is a logical way out because it reflects an extension of faith that the free market and technological innovation can solve any problem we create, without the need for regulation.

Unsurprisingly, even many rather level-headed captains of industry, such as Bill Gates, have embraced the concept along with techno-Pollyannas, such as Bjorn Lomborg and the Breakthrough Institute. Price on carbon? Nah, the market doesn’t need it. Renewable energy? It’s a pipe dream. Massively interfering with the Earth system in the hope that we might get lucky and offset global warming? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

One of the important Stages of Science Denial (and there is a whole chapter on the stages in The Madhouse Effect) is to assume that this problem will be solved with one great technological advance.

We might have some helpful technological advances, but most of the key advances have already happened and now need some fine tuning. The laws of physics can’t be broken just because we want them to be. It takes energy to separate Carbon from Oxygen, and we get energy by combining the two (if we start with the right molecules). We can’t suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere and make it solid without either spending more energy, or violating the laws of physics. And at the scale we are talking about here, we can’t store the gas in some safe place. The bottom line: We have to keep the fossil fuel in the ground, and use the widely available, abundant, clean, inexpensive, and by the way, very cool alternative sources of energy that already exist but that don’t happened to be owned by the Koch Brothers.

Check out The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. It is available for pre-order as of this writing, but will be available for actual reading around Labor Day on line, and in print, ready to ship by mid September.

Roy Spencer Is The Worst Person In The World

Dr. Roy W. Spencer has a blog and a facebook page, is a famous climate science denier, and, it turns out, an unmitigated ass.

Peter Sinclair notes,

Roy Spencer is of course, most famous for consistently misreading his own data for some decade or more, insisting that the planet was cooling, even during some of the fastest warming trend of the last millennium.

He remains the “official climatologist of the Rush Limbaugh Show”.

Must be a good gig. The wronger you are, the more fans and funding you attract.

And now, following hard on the Paris attacks, he wrote this:

Why ISIS Should Support COP21 in Paris…

After the horrific terror attacks in Paris last night, there is considerable speculation over the possible cancellation of the COP21 climate talks in Paris in a couple of weeks.

I will remind you that President Obama has stated that the threat of climate change is greater than the threat of terrorism. I will also remind you that many believe that ISIS would not have arisen if not for climate change, specifically, drought in Syria caused by your SUV.

It is only logical that ISIS should be supportive of COP21 in Paris, and that the conference should go on as planned. To enlightened minds, terrorism is clearly just a consequence of climate change. Fix the weather, and terrorism will go away.

If terrorism is such a minor, contained threat (as Obama just stated yesterday), and global warming is really the overriding threat facing humanity, how can we consider cancelling – or even postponing – COP21?

After all, isn’t COP21 our last, final, last chance to Save the Earth?

Just ignore centuries of history which demonstrates that the strict followers of the Koran have a holy mandate to take over the world for Islam, killing anyone who will not submit.

Yes, all of the world’s politicians who have supported a COP21 agreement should still plan on attending. And they should reach out to ISIS to join them in building a better world…a world without droughts.

In fact, in solidarity with the gun-control measures many of those politicians support (and which French law follows), any personal security personnel accompanying them should be unarmed.

The twisted logic of this screed speaks accurately of how Dr. Spencer’s mind works. What is most astonishing here is equating a global effort to save the planet and at the same time make the energy we need from cleaner and more sustainable sources to a terroristic mass killing in Paris.

Look especially at the last two paragraphs. He is suggesting sarcastically that those concerned about climate change should join with Isis to create a world without droughts. Never mind the absurdity and misrepresentation. Spencer is trying to swing part of the climate change narrative around from one of its more serious conclusions, that one outcome of change may be failed states, unsettled populations, and heightened danger in parts of the world. He is, essentially, making fun of the refugees streaming across Europe. Could a person be more thoughtless and callous? Also, as we have seen on this very blog recently, he reifies the idea that those working against developing and using good science are gun nuts, at least some times. In case that question has occurred to you, there is your answer.

Most troubling is Spencer’s apparent call for ISIS terrorists to attack the actual peace talks. Or is hope that they do so. Hard to say how this demented fantasy plays out in his mind.

Spencer is an Islamophobe. He is a mean spirited fanatic.

ADDED: And it isn’t just Spencer.

Once Again, The #FauxPause Is Killed By Actual Research

We drove north for two days, to arrive at a place that existed almost entirely for one reason: To facilitate the capture and, often, consumption of wild fish. The folks who run the facility make a living providing shelter, food, boats, fishing tackle, easy access to a fishing license, and they can be hired as guides. The whole point is to locate, capture, butcher, cook, and eat the fish. The fish themselves have little say in the matter.

And while talking to the people there we got a lot of advice as to how to find and capture the fish, and offers were made to assist with the butchering and culinary preparation of the piscine prey. After a bit of final preparation and a few final words of advice, we were ready to go fish hinting.

“Except for those, fish,” the woman we were talking to said, pointing towards a particularly long dock extending into the vast lake, one of the largest lakes in North America. “Don’t catch those fish.”

“Why?” I asked perplexed.

“We named them,” she said. “You can go down and look at them, the fish that hang out at the end of that dock. A couple of Northern Pike. Don’t catch those fish.”

“OK,” I said. And off we went in the other direction to catch some different fish. I figured there were about 200 million fish of a pound or more in size in this particular lake. We could skip the ones with names.

For many decades, probably for over a century, there has been an observable, measurable, increase in global surface temperature caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. For the first several decades, this increase is a clear trend, but a mild one, and there is a lot of up and down fluctuation, with periods of several years of decrease as well as increase. Then the upward trend becomes stronger, and some time around 1970 it becomes virtually relentless, going up a good amount every decade. But still, there are fluctuations in the curve.

What causes these fluctuations? Several things. The total amount of CO2, the main greenhouse gas causing this heating, has been going up during this period without stopping. Because CO2 added to the atmosphere stays there for a long time, so even if the amount released into the air by burning fossil fuels varies, there is always an upward trend. This causes the general increase, and it is why the increase in the last 50 years or so has been stronger; more CO2 has been released each year more recently.

There are large scale interactions between the ocean, which is also heating up, and the atmosphere and sea surface, the latter being what is measured in graphs of “surface temperature.” These fluctuations are decades long, and influence the degree to which the surface is warm vs very warm. There are shorter term ocean-air interactions such as La Nina (periods when the ocean is taking in more heat) and El Nino (periods when the ocean is pumping out more heat).

As the Arctic has warmed, it has been less icy, and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have been less snowy, so there has been less sunlight reflected away, another source of fluctuation. Also, since we are talking about the Arctic, there are fewer measurements there so the traditional curves showing global warming have not included increased rates of warming there to the degree they should. Some of the fluctuations in the surface temperature curve are caused by this kind of bias, a shifting bias (because of relatively more warming in under-sampled areas) in the data set.

Humans and volcanoes make dust. Humans used to make a lot more dust before environmental regulation required that factories and power plants clean up their act. There are varying amounts of widespread low level volcanic activity and the occasional enormous eruption. This dust affects the surface temperature curve, and the dust varies quite a bit over time.

If the earth was simpler … a rocky surface, no ocean, no volcanoes, no vegetation (and thus no wildfires as well), but a similar atmosphere, changes in the amount of CO2 or other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would be reflected in changes in surface temperature much more smoothly. If that was the case, the amount of variation in energy supplied by the sun would probably be visible in the curve (that factor is so small compared to the other factors that it is very hard to see in the actual data). The curve on the simple earth would probably jiggle up and down a bit but there would be relatively smooth.

If you look at the temperature curve, you can see periods of greater or lesser upward change in temperature. You can even name them. I decided to do this. I chose common baby names, half male and half female, giving male names to the periods with slower increase, female names to the periods with faster increase. It looks like this:


In recent years, in what is at the root a corporate funded, and rather nefarious effort to delay addressing the most important existential issue of our time, climate change caused by human greenhouse gas pollution, science deniers have come up with their own name for one of the fluctuations in the ever increasing upward march of global surface temperatures. They call it “hiatus” (aka “pause”). The purpose of naming this part of the curve is to pretend that global warming is not real. It looks like this:


I am not impressed. And neither should you be. This is like those fish at the end of the dock. Except for the fish it is an affectation of a few people having fun, whereas with the science deniers it is a bought and paid for attempt to cause another hiatus, a hiatus in taking action to save our future.

There is a new study, the Nth in a spate of studies looking at the “Hiatus,” that asks experts on trends (economists, mainly) to look at the surface temperature trend as though it was something other than surface temperatures (they were told it was global agricultural production), to see if they identify the hiatus.

They don’t.

The study is by Lewandowsky, Risbey, and Oreskes, and is “The “Pause” in Global Warming: Turning a Routine Fluctuation Into A Problem For Science. It is here.

The abstract:

There has been much recent published research about a putative “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming. We show that there are frequent fluctuations in the rate of warming around a longer-term warming trend, and that there is no evidence that identifies the recent period as unique or particularly unusual. In confirmation, we show that the notion of a “pause” in warming is considered to be misleading in a blind expert test. Nonetheless, the most recent fluctuation about the longer-term trend has been regarded by many as an explanatory challenge that climate science must resolve. This departs from long-standing practice, insofar as scientists have long recognized that the climate fluctuates, that linear increases in CO2 do not produce linear trends in global warming, and that 15-year (or shorter) periods are not diagnostic of long-term trends. We suggest that the repetition of the “warming has paused” message by contrarians was adopted by the scientific community in its problem-solving and answer-seeking role and has led to undue focus on, and mislabeling of, a recent fluctuation. We present an alternative framing that could have avoided inadvertently reinforcing a misleading claim.

John Abraham, at the Guardian, has written it up.

The authors show that there is no unique pause in the data. They also discuss biases in the measurements themselves which suggested a slowing in warming that actually did not occur once the data were de-biased. Finally, they reported on recent work that displayed a common error when people compare climate models to measurements (climate models report surface air temperatures while observations use a mixture of air and sea surface temperatures). With this as a backdrop, the authors take a step back and ask some seemingly basic questions.

Speaking of John Abraham, he just sent me this new graphic based on the latest surface temperature measurements. This is a good moment to have a look at it: