Category Archives: Climate Change

Consensus in Climate Change Science

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This is an excellent video put together by consensus in science expert John Cook. John is the author of the excellent must-read book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers.

I have always been interested in the concept of consensus, even before that word became centered in the pro vs. anti science debate. In Anthropology, we have huge problems with consensus. In at least one branch of Anthropology, consensus can never be achieved because all good work is defined as breaking consensus. The moment you get close to consensus, you’ve failed. (That’s socio-cultural anthropology, modern style). In another branch of Anthropology, we deal with questions that can’t really be answered at that level, but sort of can be. So there is never consensus in the sense that of the many possible explanations for a thing, there will always be a list of possible, and often very distinctly different, alternative explanations. But, over time, the list changes. One hopes for the list we have now being better than the list we had a decade ago, even if both lists are approximately the same length. (Example: Reasons for the origin of bipedality in the human lineage.)

There is a particular kind of consensus that to my knowledge my friend John Cook does not talk about (yet, he’s got most of this covered very well): Beer pitcher consensus. It goes like this. Suppose there is a range of thought on a particular narrowly defined scientific question. Since this is about climate, let’s do a climate one. The question might be: What is the best value for “climate sensitivity.” This is the number of degrees Celsius that the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface will go up with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial values (say that was about 280ppm). (I’m oversimplifying the concept and the question slightly and I believe forgivably.) The answers range from a somewhat pedantic and absurd 2.0 to an alarming and probably alarmist 5.6 or so.

Now, get a bunch of experts on this question, say at a conference. Sit them down for a beer. After a couple of beers, tell them, “OK, folks, I’m giving each of you a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down a guess on the climate sensitivity value. Here’s the thing. Don’t show each other what you wrote down, only show it to me. And, if they are all the same value, I’ll buy pitchers of beer for the rest of your time at this conference, starting now.”

Had I simply asked this group of experts to tell me the climate sensitivity value, it would start a conversation that would go on for hours, and there would not be a single number. But if I do it as described here, they would all write down one number, and it would be 3.5 (I’m pretty sure).

That is the beer pitcher consensus.

Anyway, have a look at John Cook’s excellent video. It shows why most of the time you as a science oriented concerned lay citizen usually get this wrong, but in a harmless way. There is not a “97%” consensus. There is a full consensus; the number 97% is kinds of silly, and it is only part of the picture. The idea that global warming is happening and is human caused is, simply put, established scientific fact. There is no valid dissent. But, the number “97%” does have an important meaning and history in the debate. More to the point, not only is there a consensus on climate change and the human cause of it, but there is a consensus on the fact that there is a consensus!


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Greenland Ice Melt On Track to be Worst Case Scenario

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Ice has been melting from Greenland and Antarctdica’s glaciers at a rate six times greater than 20 or 30 years ago. According to NASA, “If the current melting trend continues, the regions will be on track to match the “worst-case” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of an extra 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) of sea level rise by 2100.”

Keep in mind two things, when you read this 6.7 inch statistic. 1) Historically, the most hand-wringing, pearl clutching ice melt experts underestimate the rate of melting. That trend has been consistent for two decades. 2) When talking about both Greenland and Antarctica, if Greenland is a big deal, but if Greenland is big, Antarctica is Humongous. Greenland experiences, melty summers and snowy winters, so there is a regular flux of ice mass, with the trend being net loss over time in recent years. Antarctica experiences below freezing temperatures even in the summer over most of its ice mass. Well, until recently. Recently, there have been daytime temperatures sufficient to melt the surface.

In all, the Greenland Ice Sheet has enough water to raise global sea levels by 7.4 meters, if it all melted. From the article in nature:

Over recent decades, ice losses from Greenland have made a substantial contribution to global sea-level rise, and model projections suggest that this imbalance will continue in a warming climate… [Recent research has shown a] five fold increase in the rate of ice loss from Greenland overall, rising from 51 ± 65 Gt yr?1 in the early 1990s to 263 ± 30 Gt yr?1 between 2005 and 2010. … There was, however, a marked reduction in ice loss between 2013 and 2018, as a consequence of cooler atmospheric conditions and increased precipitation. Although the broad pattern of change across Greenland is one of ice loss, there is considerable variability; for example, during the 2000s just four glaciers were responsible for half of the total ice loss due to increased discharge, whereas many others contribute today. Moreover, some neighbouring ice streams have been observed to speed up over this period while others slowed down, suggesting diverse reasons for the changes that have taken place—including their geometrical configuration and basal conditions, as well as the forcing they have experienced. In this study we combine satellite altimetry, gravimetry and ice velocity measurements to produce a reconciled estimate of the Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance between 1992 and 2018, we evaluate the impact of changes in SMB and uncertainty in glacial isostatic adjustment and we partition the ice sheet mass loss into signals associated with surface mass balance and ice dynamics. In doing so, we extend a previous assessment to include more satellite and ancillary data and to cover the period since 2012.

The result of this melting has been .7 inches of sea level rise, or a third of all sea level rise, during the study period.

From Real Climate, where you will see an excellent discussion of sea level rise: Past and future sea-level rise. For the past, proxy data are shown in light purple and tide gauge data in blue. For the future, the IPCC projections for very high emissions (red, RCP8.5 scenario) and very low emissions (blue, RCP2.6 scenario) are shown. Source: IPCC AR5 Fig. 13.27.
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/comment-page-3/

Previusly, the IPCC estimated that global sea levels would rise about 28 inches by 2100. That is enough to remove Cape Hatteras and possibly require New York City to build dikes or move to avoid flooding in much of its area. But, the IPCC gave a range of possible scenarios, and this study suggests that the worst of those is well within the range of possibility.

HERE is the link to the research team’s site.

Source: The IMBIE Team. 2019/2020 (first early publication Dec 10 2019, published in March 12 2020 issue). Mass blanance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018. Nature 579, 233-239(2020)


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Congratulations Kerry Emanuel

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The BBVA Foundation has awarded climate scientist Kerry Emanuel the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change.

MIT’s press release:

Emanuel’s research has provided fundamental contributions to understanding of tropical cyclones and how they are affected by climate change.

The BBVA Foundation — which promotes knowledge based on research and artistic and cultural creation, and supports activity on the analysis of emerging issues in five strategic areas: environment, biomedicine and health, economy and society, basic sciences and technology, and Culture — recognizes MIT Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science Kerry Emanuel’s body of research on hurricanes and their evolution in a changing climate, as well as his effectiveness for communicating these issues. The annually bestowed Climate Change award acknowledges “both research endeavors in confronting this challenge and impactful actions informed by the best science.”

“By understanding the essential physics of atmospheric convection…he has unraveled the behavior of tropical cyclones – hurricanes and typhoons – as our climate changes,” cites the foundation’s conferring committee.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, after completing degrees at MIT and later joining the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) faculty, Emanuel pinned down the mechanisms behind hurricanes and how warming surface oceans fuel storms and increase intensity as the climate changes. This issue is of particular concern to humanity because, of the natural events, tropical cyclones cause many deaths and bring about high economic costs. Further research has probed connections between anthropogenic global warming and cyclone frequency, intensity, development time, and geographical expansion of hurricane occurrence.

The selection committee noted Emanuel’s exceptional theories and research that “has opened new approaches for assessing risks from weather extremes.” He has expanded this work by co-founding the MIT Lorenz Center, a climate think tank which fosters creative approaches to learning how climate works.

For Bjorn Stevens, BBVA Foundation committee chairman and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, “it is hard to imagine an area of climate science where one person’s leadership is so incontestable.”


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Your Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change

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It is said that scientists are lousy at communication, lousy at telling everyone else about their science, in understandable and compelling terms.

This is of course absurd. There are tens of millions of scientists, and dozens of them are really excellent communicators!

This IS the book you are looking for.
Among the many sciences, there is a science of science communication. It overlaps, unironically, with the science of conspiracy ideation, and borrows a great deal from the broader communication fields.

One of the leading science communicators of the day is cognitive scientist John Cook. John is at George Mason University. He is so tightly linked to the founding and development of the Skeptical Science project that “Skeptical Science” is the name of his Wikipedia entry. This binds John and his mission to a lot of us. Where we once might have said, “I am Spartacus,” we now say, “I am Skeptical. Science!” For John, it is just “I am SkepticalScience.”

Cook is likely known to you for the Consensus project. There were two main projects, a few years back, in which scientist attempted to measure the degree of consensus over the idea that anthropocentric climate change is real. (It is real, and the consensus is near 100% in both peer reviewed literature and the conclusions of actual scientists.) John and his colleagues did one of those, and beyond that, widely promoted the results so that everyone knows about it.

Guy from 1917 (left) and cognitive scientist John Cook (right). Whatever made me think about that sticking the head up out of the trench analogy?
Like I said above, there are tens of millions of scientists. Developing and disseminating the results of consensus research in climate scientist was equivalent to being the only guy sticking your head up out of the trench in that movie, 1917. Science deniers, both avocational and bought-and-paid-for, got all over cook like skin on a grape. Didn’t phase him, though. He continued to develop a series of new projects including a massive online course (Making Sense of Climate Science Denial), an artificial intelligence system for detecting fake science, and most recently, the Cranky Uncle project.

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers” is a crowdsourced book (and an app). There will be a book launch on March 4th in Arlington. This book gives us the whole ball of wax that is the science of climate science denial in a very funny, really well produced, and compelling wrapping. It will amuse you, and it will advise you. Your cranky uncle is done for.

I don’t have a cranky uncle anymore (he died). But I do have a lot of neighbors who like to write in ALL CAPS. They show up when I give a talk on climate change, and they bring their conspiracy theories, logical fallacies, cherry picked “facts”, absurd expectations, and references to fake research done by fake experts. It is a lot to deal with. But now, I can use the Lewis Black technique for dealing with evolution deniers, but instead of pulling out a trilobite, holding it up and saying “Fossil!” I can pull out a copy of Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change and say “Oh yeah? Imma look up what you just said in this BOOK!” or words to that effect.

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers is the book now. Pre-order it!

For completeness, here is Lewis Black demonstrating the fossil technique:


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Where to go to get the info on Climate Science and its deniers

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My field is paleoanthropology, where I’ve focused on the relationship between large scale change in climate (like the spread of grassland habitats, or the cooling of the Earth since the Miocene) and the evolution of our family, genus, and species. So when people say “climate has changed before,” I get it. How does one understand the importance of ongoing anthropogenic climate change in the context of such large, long term change?

A partial answer to that question: 1) most changes in the past have been slower; 2) When they were fast they were devastating; and 3) our genius emerged less than 2 million years ago, and our species less than a half million years ago. Everything recently adapted about us is adapted to a cooler environment than the one we are heading for now. You think climate change super-charged storms are bad? Well, they are, but when a three degree latitude band around the equator becomes uninhabitable by mammals, that point will become very clear.

If you go to the Skeptical Science web site, my go-to web resource for climate science denial answers, you’ll see “Climate’s changed before” right at the top of the list of “Most Used Climate Mythis” (left sidebar). Click that, then click the “intermediate” tab, and you’ll find the Skeptical Science answer to that myth, with excellent graphics.

Skeptical Science does not shy away from complex and nuanced questions. It is the single best, and most comprehensive, source of description and explanation for both climate science denial and the science itself. Skeptical Science links peer reviewed research with the thoughtful study of communication and brings them right to your uncle Bob.


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Is Forbes Magazine a Danger to Scientists?

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The other day a friend asked me, “Is Forbes Magazine legit? Should I believe what it says about climate change?”

It was a good question, since there are many outlets that have clear biases in favor of climate inaction, or even, climate reality denial.

I’m actually not sure if Forbes is a trustworthy source. I’ve seen articles about energy that are informative, and I’ve seen articles about energy that are misleading. I don’t remember off hand any articles about climate change per se.

Until now.

Roger Pielke Junior has an op ed that does damage to Forbes’ reputation, and to Roger’s reputation as well. And, unfortunately, it is a sad story. In the OpEd Roger seems to be claiming that the volunteer organization, Skeptical Science, has done damage to a short list of academics, including his father, his colleague Judith Curry, and himself. What Roger does not understand is that the criticisms that come from Skeptical Science are true. The damage to these three was self inflicted.

Here is the story.

There are two Roger Pielkes: Senior and Junior. Both are academics, and both have produced work that has been criticized by the climate science community. I’m not actually all that familiar with Senior’s work, but Junior’s work has been on my radar screen for some time, and it is an enemy ship, as it were. Junior’s main point is to contradict the increasingly well established science on the frequency, level of impact, and importance of major storms like Atlantic Hurricanes. He has variously made claims that they have not gotten stronger, that climate change is unrelated to these storms, that they are not coming with more frequency, and that their impact is not important. I believe that way down deep in his analysis, there is a fundamental flaw. He shows that the overall economic status of the US is not impacted by hurricanes, but the former is measured by GDP, and GDP increases with increasing devastation by major storms. This is because when a major storm comes along and wipes out cities or coastlines or whatever, there is so much economic activity spent on recovery that GDP goes up.

Junior has taken criticism from other academics poorly, and he has taken it personally. He has teamed up with another academic who has also been criticized heavily. This is Judith Curry. Curry’s work has been criticized by the climate community for a few reasons, but mainly this: She claims that the trend towards increasing global surface temperature is predictable by a non-global-warming scenario in which some other internal variation explains the warming. This idea, however, seems to come from a misunderstanding of the underlying stochastic (and other) dynamics of the models she has used. She is, I’m pretty sure, wrong. There may have been a time, perhaps 15 years ago, when her interpretation of the data could stay alive while more information was gathered, but that time has long past, and sadly, she has not allowed her hansom hypothesis to die an honorable death by fact.

The third element in the current drama is the organization and web site “Skeptical Science.” It is a volunteer run entity that has help from a lot of scientists and communicators. Some of my own work has been reprinted there, and I use it as a reliable and well organized source of information on climate denialism, and actually, climate change itself. If you don’t know skeptical science, you should. It is an excellent resource.

Now, here is the sad part. Rumor has it that Roger Pielke Sr. has recently become ill, and it appears that Junior is in a state of upset, possibly depression, and almost certainly in some kind of socio-psychotic episody state of some sort. I’m not qualified to diagnose so I won’t, but in the vernacular sense Junior has gone ’round the bend, and is in a mode of attacking the Skeptical Science people who, over the years, have been hard on Senior, Junior, and Curry, all three.

This is not an over the top inappropriate hardness, that Skeptical Science has produced. In fact, it is relatively toned down compared to the feelings the three deniateers have produced when they hate on science and love on the fossil fuel industry, indirectly, in their writings, their congressional testimony, and so on.

Having said that, I can’t say what exactly is going on with Roger Junior other than that he is clearly upset. He has produced a large number of tweets attacking Skeptical Science and its volunteers. He has tweeted out personal and private information about Skeptical Science people and other scientists, information that was previously stolen by denialist hackers. His tweets have been, at least in part if not majority, taken down by Twitter, and his account was, at least for a time, suspended.

Roger Pielke Junior attacked volunteers and scholars who had been defending science, attacked them, and science, in inappropriate ways, and for his trouble he has been chastised by Twitter.

I and several colleagues have contacted Roger, or friends of Roger, to see if someone can talk to him, to see if someone can talk him down.

But what happened instead, is Roger published an OpEd airing his grievances in Forbes, raising the stakes, and making his attack official and sanctioned by a major publishing outlet.

This is a credibility hit for Roger, but not one that will matter to him. This is a credibility hit for Forbes. I have no idea if Forbes Magazine cares about its credibility in the science community, or in the environmental community.

Regardless of what Forbes intended, or wanted, it got this: Scientists and science communicators must now regard Forbes Magazine, or its editorial staff, as dangerous. Roger Pielke Junior, having some sort of apparent breakdown, was easily able to weaponize Forbes. That can only have happened if Forbes wanted it to happen. Stay away from Forbes, my friends and colleagues. Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole, unless your ten foot Pole is a very tall Eastern European attorney with experience in libel law.

This is a developing situation. Much of it is happening on Twitter. One of the more pertinent tweets I’ve seen so far is this one by Climate Scientists Gavin Schmidt:

And now (added) Dana Nuccitelli has tweeted this, with a link to a new Skeptical Science post addressing this issue:

And from Katharine Hayhoe:


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Bjorn Lomborg’s Little Idea

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Bjorn Lomborg is famous for downplaying the importance of climate change, and the urgency of acting on it. I don’t know anyone who quite understands why he does this. If you want to know more about him, click here.

You will remember his comment a while back about how sea levels actually went down for a while, but nobody ever talks about that. He was wrong. Sea levels are rising over time, but they do go up and down within that larger framework. His sea level comment prompted me to create the following graphic:

Lomborg’s latest is to make the incorrect claim that the recent and ongoing unprecedented, traumatic, and destructive fires in Australia are just kind of average. Nothing to see here. His claim is based on a misrepresentation of cherry picked data. Australia does have a lot of fire, so it is easy to find a way to describe this year’s as not abnormal. What is different, and worse, this year is where the fires happened, the kind of habitat that burned, and the timing. (See this.) The Twitter thread that Lomborg started, and many others chimed in on, is here.

And, here is the graphic I could not resist making in response. I’ve replaced the Picard Face-palm with the Greta Stern Look. This might be a thing from now on.

The graphic used in that image is a screen shot from this video:


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Climate Change New Year’s Resolutions

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Inspired by a post at the Northeast Metro Climate Action Facebook page, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions related to climate change.

1) Normalize climate concern. When a relative or friend smirks at the idea of buying electric, or scoffs at the link between climate change and severe weather events, don’t sheepishly demure. Correct them. How you do that is something I can’t give you advice on, as it depends on the person and your relationship. But don’t let it pass, ever, in 2020.

2) Foreground climate concern. Don’t wait for Uncle Bob to say something stupid. Take opportunities to say something smart and poignant, or ear-catching and clever, or inspiring and helpful. For example, don’t just say “wow, I got 65 mpg on the trip here in my hybrid.” Add to that “That is equivalent to almost two thousand pounds of Carbon Dioxide.”

3) Learn something and tell something. There are multiple resources you can use to learn about both climate denialism and climate change itself. I’ve put some resources below. And, when you do learn something, be sure to mention it incessantly at every social event and opportunity. OK, maybe not EVERY one, but at least, now and then.

4) Take personal action. Each one of these, or sets of them, can each be considered a new year’s resolution. A few suggestions.

  • Turn the heat down, use less hot water, all of that. Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already.
  • Insulate things. Every thing.
  • Get a home energy audit from your power company. They may give you free stuff, or great discounts, on LED lights.
  • Every light in your home should be an LED light. BUT don’t just remove the incandescent bulbs and screw in expensive LED bulbs in every case. Consider replacing built in fixtures with the new fangled fixtures that don’t actually take a bulb of any kind. Like this one.
  • Don’t automatically use warm or hot water when you do your laundry, and keep the loads reasonably filled.
  • Over time, replace all appliances that use gas with electric, and use heat pumps instead of traditional heating and cooling. This can save you loads of money, too. Remember this: There is no series of moral steps that lead to installing a natural gas appliance of any kind (including stove tops) in 2020.
  • Drive and fly less, replacing high CO2-footprint transport with less energy demanding ways. One long distance family trip in an airplane is worth a LOT of CO2. If your family does that every year, just stop it. Do it every three years or less, find a different, less planet-destroying way to amuse yourself!

5) Keep up the pressure on your representatives. Remember, a lot of climate related fight-backs happen at the state level, some even at the local level. Find out if your city is in any sort of program to its reduce carbon footprint (in Minnesota, it is called “GreenStep Cities“). If it isn’t, make them joint one. Join your state level environmental political group (in Minnesota, that would include the DFLEC, but feel free to suggest other choices below in the comments). There is a misconception that contacting your state or federal rep is meaningless because, either they are already on board and your message isn’t necessary, or they are totally against addressing climate change, so your message is useless. Neither one of these things is true. Anti-climate science representatives need to be pressured, and your contact is pressure. Pro-environmental representatives need to be able to say “I got a zillion calls and notes from my constituents, so no, I can’t compromise on this important climate related bill.”

6) Give a few bucks to candidates who support aggressive action on climate change. Then contact their opponent and tell them why they did not get your money. Do the same thing with campaign-supporting volunteer time. Hit the streets.

7) Change your diet sensibly and effectively. Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint. When you do eat meat, the smaller the animal the better with respect to carbon footprint. That’s easy. But not all diet decisions are easy. People may over-estimate the importance of local eating, especially if they are driving their SUV to the grocery store two or three times a week, and don’t go to the nearest store because it doesn’t have their brand of cranberry juice. It is not clear that there is a difference, or what the difference is, between organic and non-organically grown food. One of the biggest things you can do is to monitor and manage the food you do buy so that very little is wasted because you let it go bad in the back of the refrigerator. Americans waste about a third of our food this way. Resolve to develop an effective, personal, method to avoid this.

Learning Resources:

Books:*
The basics of climate change: Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change by DK Publishing (2-Jun-2015) Paperback

A long list of things that can be done by individuals, governments, corporations, etc.: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Personal financial decisions: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®

The fundamental political problem: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

On Line Classes:

Making Sense of Climate Denial

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

If you are in Minnesota, and want to organize a talk on climate change, contact me. I do one, and I work with Phil Adam, and he and I have multiple offerings in the area of climate change and energy, and there are other local excellent speakers I can put you in touch with. Church? Rotary club? Local environmental group or Indivisible group? Let me know what you need.


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Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.

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The tempo of storms has changed with global warming. A single storm that might drop X amount of water across a zone one thousand miles in length and hundreds of miles wide may now drop that same amount of water over a zone that is only a few hundred miles in length. Major floods in Calgary, Boulder, Southeastern Minnesota, Duluth, and other very wet rainfall events are now on record as examples of this, and the cause is quasi-resonant Rosbey waves. Continue reading Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.


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Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

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Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow. Continue reading Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout


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