CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: don’t be distracted by irrational assertions of global warming catastrophe and crisis

“Global warming crisis” and “catastrophic global warming” are common straw man arguments.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

There are a couple of terms commonly used by climate disruption deniers (those who deny that industrial climate disruption1 is derived from widely accepted scientific laws) that are nearly always attempts to distract the reader (aka “red herrings”). These terms often are used specifically because they appear to be both relevant and reasonable, but are actually neither. Instead, these terms are logical errors, specifically “straw men” logical fallacies.

These terms are “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” as well as their variants. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Faux Pause: climate contrarians lose favorite talking point

by Greg Laden

In an ongoing effort to discredit mainstream climate science, climate contrarians have incorrectly asserted that there is a “pause” in the rate of global warming. This was never true,  but now, it is even less true.

CATEGORY: ClimateGreg Laden teaches anthropology at Century College and blogs for National Geographic Scienceblogs.com. He is a long time resident of the Twin Cities and has written extensively on matters of climate change and other areas of science.

To any objective observer, the Earth is now a world warmed. The decade 2001-2010 was the hottest decade on record, and every single month since March 1985 has been warmer than the 20th century average.   Continue reading

Screen capture of Heartland email using AMS logo.

Heartland Institute email distorts American Meteorological Society study, admits it’s all about “spin”

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

Abstract: The Heartland Institute sent an email that inaccurately reported the results of a study into the scientific consensus about the nature of global warming. The American Meteorological Society objected to the deceptive nature of the email, and so Heartland’s President Joseph Bast defended the email. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, both the email and Bast chose instead to distort the study’s findings, quote mine, and ignore inconvenient results in the service of an admitted desire to fool the public into disbelieving that climate change is real, human caused, and likely to be harmful.

On November 26, the Heartland Institute sent a direct marketing email that distorted the results of a study investigating the level and strength of scientific consensus about industrial climate disruption among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In addition to the spam-like tracking features embedded in the email, it also prominently featured the seal of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and was only identified as coming from Heartland in the footer. Following a public complaint by Keith L. Seitter, the Executive Director of the AMS, Heartland President Joseph Bast published a defense of the email in which Bast claimed that everything in the email was true, that Heartland had done nothing wrong, and more or less told Seitter to quit complaining.

Given Heartland’s long history of deception, dishonesty, and hypocrisy with respect to industrial climate disruption, S&R compared the claims made in the email and by Bast in his defense with the actual study (“Meteorologists’s views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members,” hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). S&R found that the email and Bast’s blog both fail to accurately describe the results of Stenhouse et al 2013 in multiple ways. Both distort the study’s finding on the scientific consensus among AMS members, both caricature the study’s findings on how political ideology is related to thinking that global warming is happening, the email excises a critical part of a quote and Bast defends the quote mining, and both fail to mention that Stenhouse et al 2013 replicates another study into the scientific consensus. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

James Taylor of Heartland Institute twists new AMS study to cast doubt upon industrial climate disruption consensus

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

Abstract: James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute has published a Forbes blog in which he distorts the results of a new Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society study. Instead of accurately reporting the study’s results, Taylor chose to distort the study using logic errors, dishonest and misattributed quotes, and even lying about the study’s methodology. Taylor’s blog represents yet another example in a long history of twisting surveys and studies in a failed attempt to manufacture doubt the scientific consensus about global warming.

On November 20, 2013, James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute published a blog at Forbes where he discussed a new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled “Meteorologists’ views about global warming: A survey of American Meteorological Society professional members” by Neil Stenhouse and nine other co-authors (hereafter Stenhouse et al 2013). Stenhouse et al 2013 found, among other things, that 93% of the most knowledgeable climate experts think that climate disruption has occurred over the last 150 years and that human activity is part of the cause.

Rather than focusing on the main points of study, Taylor instead focused on a secondary conclusion (that only 52% of all respondents think that the last 150 years of climate disruption are “mostly” caused by human activity), failed to provide any of the study’s context for that conclusion, and in the process distorted the study’s results in an attempt to manufacture doubt about the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding industrial climate disruption1. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Daily Caller gets it wrong on global warming spending

Michael Bastasch’s shallow and oversimplified reading of federal spending for climate disruption vs. border security misleads his audience.

CATEGORY: ClimateAn article in the Daily Caller on October 28 incorrectly claimed that the federal government was spending twice as much to address industrial climate disruption as it was spending on border security. In the process, the author of the article, Michael Bastasch, misrepresented both the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget and the federal climate change expenditures for 2013. Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Typhoon Haiyan leads the storm arms race

Like nuclear weapons, storms such as Typhoon Haiyan need their own disarmament treaty.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of Typhoon Haiyan, Jim Pe, vice mayor of the town of Coron on Basuang, said the 150-plus miles-per-hour winds were “like a 747 flying just above my roof.” Or as Alan Boyle reports for NBC News

Experts say Typhoon Haiyan was about as strong as it could theoretically get when it swept through the Philippines. … If the higher estimates are correct, the warning center said Haiyan’s maximum strength would exceed that of its previous record-holder: Hurricane Camille, which hit the northern Gulf Coast in 1969 with sustained winds of 190 mph. [But] climate models suggest they will keep rising over the decades to come, with the potential for bigger and more devastating storms. Continue reading

Horror

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: a Halloween book review…

It’s Shelley – and  ideas – that scare us…

Since I’ve been skylarking, having left the original 2013 reading list in the dust long ago (except for the Christmas selections) and now having left the extended reading list behind, too, it seemed like a good idea, given that Halloween was approaching, to choose a book that fit the holiday. So I pulled my copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the book shelf. Couldn’t go wrong with the antecedent of all mad scientist stories as a choice for the spooky holiday, right?

As is the case with some other books on this list (Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the Austen novels Mansfield Park and Emma), I have read Frankenstein before – at least twice that I remember – and I think more times. I read the novel while in undergraduate school just because I wanted to and then read it in graduate school as part of a course on the Romantics. I believe I even taught it once in a freshman intro to lit sort of class – pretty sure I did, in fact. So there’s another time….

So I came to this reading with rather a healthy fund of knowledge about both the book and about its critical interpretations. To paraphrase my beloved Twain, however, I didn’t let my education get in the way of my learning this reading. So, on to the book… Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

IPCC physical science Summary for Policymakers: 95% certain that human activity is dominating climate disruption

[Update: several clarifications have been added in the best case scenario section.]

The complete, 2500 pages long Working Group One (WG1) report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has been published. While the devil is often in the details buried deep in those 2500 pages, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is a distillation of the key scientific findings that the WG1 authors and every national government agree upon. As such, the SPM is an inherently conservative1 summary of the science. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

BBC blows climate coverage, again

This is dispiriting. Why the BBC, of all media, continues to do this defies reason—although there probably is a reason for it, just a really stupid one. As we all know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) started releasing its next round of reports last week. And as we all know, the global warming deniers—those that are left, anyway—are all set to denounce it. Except the BBC apparently couldn’t find any scientist in the UK who was prepared to do this. The Guardian’s John Ashton takes it from here, reporting that when the IPCC Summary came along last Friday:

At breakfast time, Radio 4′s Today programme informed listeners that despite extensive efforts, the BBC had been unable to find a single British scientist willing to challenge the IPCC’s findings. At that point the BBC might have concluded that the IPCC’s views represent an overwhelming consensus and left it at that.

So then what happened? Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: Sometimes arguing from authority is the logical thing to do

For more posts in this series, please click here.

A common illogical claim among those individuals who deny industrial climate disruption is that any discussion of consensus or reference to a scientist’s expert opinion is an “appeal to authority.” Those who make this illogical claim are essentially trying to say that expert opinion doesn’t matter. This not only a misunderstanding of the logical fallacy, it’s also absurd given the realities of living in a complex world.

The actual fallacy is known as an “appeal to misleading authority.” In order for an authority to be “misleading,” it has to have at least one of the following:

  • The person being referred to as an authority may not be an actual expert on the subject in question.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may be biased.
  • The person being referred to as an authority may hold opinions that are not representative of his/her fellow experts in the subject
  • The reference to authority may be unnecessary.

With respect to climate disruption we find many examples of each of these types of misleading authorities. Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, and most of the NASA 49 are examples of individuals who have been identified as authorities on climate disruption but who are not actual climate experts. There is evidence that climate scientists Roy Spencer and Patrick Michaels are less than objective about climate disruption due to their religion, free market ideology, and/or fossil fuel industry funding. Richard Lindzen of MIT is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences due to his climate expertise, but his opinions about how the Earth supposedly cools itself (his “iris” hypothesis) are not representative of expert opinion on climate disruption, and so referring to Lindzen’s authority may be misleading. And at this point the increase in global temperature has been verified so often and independently that an appeal to any single scientist’s authority on the subject is unnecessary.

So long as these pitfalls are avoided, arguing from authority may be justified. This is especially true with respect to complicated subjects such as climate disruption and with respect to situations where people are forced to make decisions with incomplete information. We live in a complex world, and it’s not possible to rely exclusively on direct evidence from our own senses. Everyone must place their trust in the authority of someone else eventually.

One example of this fact is purchasing an automobile. People generally don’t purchase an automobile until after researching the vehicle, taking a test drive, etc. At each step of the process, however, the customer is forced to place his or her trust in the authority of someone else. When researching the automobile, the customer must decide whether or not to trust the reviewers, the crash reports. After all, its possible that the reports were fraudulent or the reviewers were paid to give positive reviews of a substandard vehicle. And the customer places his or her trust in the authority of the automobile’s engineers, manufacturers, and technicians to build and certify a safe automobile.

Given a proven track record of safety by the manufacturer, no major recalls on a given model, and safety testing monitored and certified by unbiased third parties, it’s not only reasonable to assume that the vehicle is safe, it’s justifiable. Essentially, the authority of the engineers et al is independently verified. And given that most people lack the ability to perform their own crash testing, relying on these types of authorities is not only reasonable, it’s also justified.

The process of verifying a person’s authority includes the person demonstrating a high level of understanding of key issues. In the example of an automobile that might be crash crumple zones, how wiring is routed in the engine in ways to prevent it from being melted by engine heat, or the effects of road grime on frame corrosion. In the case of industrial climate disruption the authority might need to understand how carbon isotopes prove that the excess carbon dioxide is due to burning fossil fuels, the physics of why carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation, and an understanding of blackbody radiation and how it interacts with greenhouse gases to create the greenhouse effect.

In addition, an authority is someone who has been verified to be an expert on a particular subject (automobiles above, or some aspect of climate science). The verification process is subject to some level of assumed trust, but is usually based upon independent, third party proxies such undergraduate and/or graduate degrees related to the subject, years of experience working with/in the subject area, a significant publication record of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, acknowledgment as an expert by multiple other experts on the same subject, and so on.

Finally, someone’s authority may be formally or informally revoked if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the proxies got it wrong. In the case of an automobile, if a test technician was falsifying safety reports, he or she could be fired or even charged with crimes. Meteorologist Joe Bastardi has repeatedly made claims about climate disruption that were easily disproved both mathematically and empirically, and as such he no longer has any real authority on the subject of climate disruption.

Arguing from authority is rarely if ever as good as arguing from first principles. When information is available and can be understood, arguing from that information will nearly always be preferable to arguing from the expert opinion of someone else who understands the information. However, when the subject being argued (say, climate disruption or a criminal proceeding) is sufficiently complicated that arguing from first principles is unrealistic, arguing from authority is not only justified, it is the logical thing to do.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

National Review’s new motion to dismiss Mann’s defamation lawsuit contains false claims

On July 19, DC Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene rejected multiple motions to dismiss climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against the National Review (NR), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), NR writer Mark Steyn, and CEI writer Rand Simberg. On July 24, NR and Steyn submitted a motion asking to reconsider her refusal to dismiss based on what NR and Steyn claim are “material mistakes of fact.” S&R has been investigating the accuracy of three of the claims made in the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider: that Judge Combs Greene had erroneously conflated actions of NR/Steyn with those of CEI/Simberg, that NR/Steyn had not been critical of Mann’s research over a period of years, and that these two claimed mistakes mean that NR/Steyn might not have been aware that they were making false claims against Mann. After reviewing the public record, S&R has found that while the first claim is likely false, the other two claims are clearly false.

National Review has called for investigations into alleged misconduct by Mann

According to the the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, Judge Combs Greene supposedly misattributed requests by CEI/Simberg to investigate Mann’s research conduct to NR/Steyn.

the Order conflates the conduct of co-defendant [CEI] with that of National Review and Steyn, who never petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate or otherwise pressured the agency concerning [Mann's] research. (emphasis original)

The very specific language of the prior quote leaves open the possibility that either NR or Steyn could have called for investigations in general or other specific investigations such as those conducted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) while still being factually true. Only the EPA investigation is excluded by this language, and as such it comes close to qualifying as an “equivocation” logical fallacy. As such, S&R’s investigation searched for examples of public investigation requests for both general and specific investigations by NR writers or Steyn himself. S&R was unable to find any examples calling for specific investigations, lending some support to this NR/Steyn claim.

However, while S&R did not discover any examples, Mann’s legal team did find several of varying strength, as seen in Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider. The strongest example is in an NR article written by Candace de Russy titled “Your Stimulus Dollars Lavished on Climate-Alarmist Prof.” where de Russy writes about the Penn State investigation into Mann’s conduct. At the end of the article, de Russy writes:

In these crushing economic times, is it too much to ask that university authorities, our political leaders, and the press jump on this case with a bit more rigor?

While this is not a call for a specific body to investigate Mann’s research, it is a call for thorough investigations by “university authorities, our political leaders, and the press.” As such, it demonstrates that, while the specific claim vis a vis the EPA investigation may be true, NR/Steyn did, in fact, call for investigations of Michael Mann’s conduct.

National Review and Mark Steyn have accused Mann of misconduct since 2009

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claims that Judge Combs Greene confused NR/Steyn with CEI/Simberg again when she took into account “all of the statements and accusations over the years” against Mann. NR/Steyn are essentially claiming that both CEI and Simberg have a history of attacking Mann, but that neither NR nor Steyn has a similar history. S&R’s investigation turned up 10 different NR articles and three Steyn articles going back to 2009 that disprove this claim. Note that most, if not all, of the allegations against Mann in the examples below have been investigated repeatedly and found to be without merit.

Examples of National Review criticisms of Mann

  • Global Warming: Science or Religion by Sterling Burnett on July 21, 2009. This post makes a number of indirect criticisms of Mann, who is the only named scientist in the article, and implies that he and other climate scientists are “fanatics” who, by supposedly making unprovable claims, engage in “sly but abjectly dishonest” activities.
  • Mann-made Warming Confirmed by Chris Horner on September 28, 2009. This post contains a brief history of Mann’s supposed errors and alleged cherry-picking to produce the MBH99 “hockey-stick.” “The conclusion is inescapable. The tree ring data was hand-picked to get the desired result. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate: Where Are We? by Iain Murray on November 30, 2009. Mann is explicitly mentioned as a “trickster” (a reference to a Climategate email that Penn State looked at specifically during their investigation) and is thus included in Murray’s “perpetrators.”

    “There have been attempts to muddy the waters with assertions that data were publicly available all along (ha!) and the insinuation that anyone using “stolen” emails is somehow more immoral than the perpetrators of the three frauds outlined above. (emphasis added)”

  • Peer Pressure by the NR Editors on December 1, 2009.

    Phil Jones of CRU, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and other leaders of the climate cartel discussed statistical tricks they used to “hide the decline” of atmospheric temperatures. Other data were fudged to cover up warm periods that didn’t fit their theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). (emphasis added)

  • Groupthink and the Global-Warming Industry by Jonah Goldberg on December 3, 2009.

    CRU scientists discuss with friendly outside colleagues, including Penn State University’s Michael Mann, how to manipulate the data they want to show the world, and how to hide the often-flawed data they don’t. (emphasis added)

  • Climategate: You should be steamed by Greg Pollowitz on January 4, 2010. “If only scientists had taken Dale Carnegie courses, the fraud and sloppy science of Climategate would never have happened. (emphasis added)”
  • Liberals and the Scientific Method by Mona Charen on February 12, 2010. The reference to Penn State in the following quote implies Mann’s involvement.

    The Climategate e-mails from Penn State and East Anglia University were not trivial revelations. They involved deception, intimidation, and manipulation of records by two of the leading research institutions whose data form the backbone of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (emphasis added)

  • Liberty, Tyranny, and the Globe by Mark Levin on April 22, 2010. “The true believers used to cite Mann’s hockey-stick curve as conclusive evidence of man-made global warming. The graph has been demonstrated a fraud… (emphasis added)”
  • Global Warming — RIP? by Victor Davis Hanson on October 27, 2011. While Mann is not mentioned specifically, he was at the time and remains one of the world’s top climate scientists and is one of the, if not the, most investigated climate scientist as a result of Climategate. Thus this passage refers to Mann indirectly.

    Corruption within the climate-change industry explains some of the sudden turnoff. “Climategate” — the unauthorized 2009 release of private e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom — revealed that many of the world’s top climate scientists were knee-deep in manipulating scientific evidence to support preconceived conclusions and personal agendas.

  • Scientists Behaving Badly by Jim Lacey on November 28, 2011.

    Virtually the entire warmist edifice is built around a small, tightly knit coterie of persons (one hesitates to refer to folks with so little respect for the scientific method as scientists) willing to falsify data and manipulate findings; or, to put it bluntly, to lie in order to push a political agenda not supported by empirical evidence. (emphasis added)

    In fact, McIntyre’s work was crucial in proving that Mann’s infamous “hockey stick graph” — the heart of the United Nations’ IPCC-3 report — was a fraud.

Examples of Mark Steyn criticisms of Mann

  • Climate Science and the Peer-Review Consensus Forgery on November 30, 2009. Steyn criticizes Mann and Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) for allegedly manipulating peer review in order to keep poorly refereed papers out of the IPCC, and Steyn agreed with a Wall Street Journal headline about forgery.
  • The science of global warming on December 3, 2009.

    The Settled Scientists have wholly corrupted the process of “peer review.” (emphasis added)

    Phil Jones, director of the CRU, writing to Michael Mann, creator (le mot juste) of the now discredited “hockey stick” graph… (emphasis original)

    Phil Jones and Michael Mann are two of the most influential figures in the whole “climate change” racket.

  • The emperor’s new carbon credits on December 17, 2009.

    The famous hockey stick graph created by Dr. Michael Mann played a critical role in persuading millions of people we’re all gonna fry…. It took two dogged Canadians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, to demolish the hockey-stick fraud (emphasis added)”

In addition to these various examples, there are many more that are similar to the second-to-last NR example above – where Mann is not mentioned specifically, but where the “hockey-stick” is used as a proxy for Mann, or where groups of which Mann would be a member are accused of scientific misconduct such as data manipulation. Whether such examples are sufficient for a court order to be based upon them is beyond the purview of S&R’s investigation.

These lists are by no means exhaustive – they stop in 2011 as the articles published in 2012 and 2013 are dominated by those related to Mann’s lawsuit and NR/Steyn’s responses. There are likely many other examples published by NR and Steyn that are not included above. Regardless, however, the public record demonstrates that both NR and Steyn both had at least a three-year history of criticizing Mann both directly and indirectly before publishing the article that provoked Mann’s defamation lawsuit.

National Review and Mark Steyn were aware of Mann investigations’ results

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claimed that Judge Combs Greene’s logic was flawed. The motion to reconsider essentially argues that a) there is no evidence that NR/Steyn had ever called for an investigation, b) their awareness of the results of those investigations was not demonstrated in the Court Order, and thus c) there is no evidence of actual malice.

This line of argument is not only based on arguably false information, it’s also illogical. As mentioned above, Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider provides five different examples, each of which could be interpreted as a call for an investigation into Mann’s conduct. But even if those examples are ultimately rejected by Judge Combs Greene, the NR/Steyn motion essentially argues that there is only one way that NR and Steyn could be aware of the details of the investigations’ results – if NR and Steyn had called for the investigations. Given the media coverage of each of the various investigations, this is an untenable claim to make for both NR and Steyn.

S&R investigated this claim as well and found that NR and Steyn were both aware of the investigations and were very likely aware of the investigations’ detailed results. As with above, the examples below include claims that have been investigated, in some cases repeatedly, and found to be without merit.

  • Climategate and the Scientific Elite by Iain Murray on May 26, 2010. “Few members of the public have accepted the findings of the inquiries exonerating the scientists; most dismiss them as whitewashes. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate Continues by Andrew Montford and Harold Ambler on May 24, 2012.

    the specific issue of the suppressed record appears to have largely been passed over by the panel, and Briffa’s explanation, like so many others given to the Climategate inquiries, appears to have been accepted without question. (emphasis added)

    However, their machinations have only succeeded in bringing renewed attention to their questionable science and ugly behind-the-scenes shenanigans, reigniting hope that more complete and more independent investigations — on both sides of the Atlantic — will yet be performed. (emphasis added)

  • Senator Inhofe Discusses His Call for a DOJ Climategate Investigation by Greg Pollowitz on February 24, 2010. This is an excerpt of an interview of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) by Neil Cavuto, excerpted extensively, including the following:

    [W]e have the minority report that we put together which shows that climate-gate, fixing the science, cooking the science, actually took place.

    We have it all documented. And people are being investigated right now (emphasis added).

  • ‘Climategate Inquiry Glosses Over the Facts’ by Greg Pollowitz on July 20, 2010. This is an excerpt from a commentary at the Washington Examiner by NR writer Iain Murray, and Murray’s quoted details, while arguably both cherry-picked and distorted, reveal that he was quite aware of the contents of all of the Climategate investigations:

    Yet the [UK Parliament] hearings did not include testimony from the most severe critics of the hockey stick graphic, such as Canadians Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who could have explained exactly why the e-mails did suggest impropriety.

    Yet Lord Oxburgh’s panel handed down a short report which did not examine the quality of the science at all. The panel simply reviewed a selection of CRU papers — selected by the UEA itself — and pronounced itself satisfied that the scientific process was fair and proper.

    The final review, conducted by former bureaucrat Sir Muir Russell, was compromised from the start. Its chief scientist, while purporting to be independent, was a former staff member of the CRU. Once again, it failed to interview the chief critics.This panel did not examine the other e-mails on the CRU server, as it was supposed to do.

  • Climategate Whitewash by Iain Murray on April 1, 2010. “Unsurprisingly, the U.K.’s parliamentary investigation into Climategate whitewashed the implications for climate science, although they did wag a disapproving finger at the University of East Anglia for being naughty about the Freedom of Information Act.”
  • The Climategate Graywash by Greg Pollowitz on July 12, 2010. This is a large excerpt from the Financial Post: “The third British investigation into the Climategate scandal — led by former civil servant Sir Muir Russell — amounts, at best, to a greywash.”
  • by Greg Pollowitz on February 10, 2010. This is a press release from Sen. Inhofe’s office:

    Penn State’s internal inquiry found further investigation is warranted to determine if Dr. Mann “engaged in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.”

    “As the University moves to the next phase of its investigation, I believe the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation should also commence an investigation to examine possible violations of federal laws and policies governing taxpayer-funded research.”

  • Lord Jones is Indisposed by Mark Steyn on December 2, 2009. “The reviled “skeptics” and “deniers” have forced Prof. Phil Jones in East Anglia to step down “temporarily” and prompted Penn State to investigate Prof. Michael Mann.”

These examples demonstrate that both NR and Steyn were aware of ongoing investigations, and that NR was certainly aware of the results of at least one of those investigations. Furthermore, it is not realistic to imagine that NR cultivated a culture where authors writing about the same subject (climate change/global warming) were so isolated from each other that they never discussed the results of the various investigations among themselves. As such, it is virtually certain that NR and Steyn were aware of the investigations’ results and thus cannot credibly claim ignorance of those same results.

S&R investigated three of the claims made in the National Review/Mark Steyn motion for reconsideration. Simple web searches demonstrated that two of the three claims investigated were clearly false, while a more in-depth investigation found that the third claim (that NR/Steyn had not called for investigations into Mann) was plausible. However, Mann’s legal response to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration addressed the third claim and argued that NR and Steyn had both called for investigations following the illegal publication of private emails known as Climategate. As would be expected, Mann’s legal response also addressed the various other claims that S&R did not investigate, such as NR/Steyn’s presentation of a new First Amendment-based argument for dismissal.

Generally speaking, judges react poorly to baldly stated and easily disproved false claims made in legal documents. While S&R’s reading of Judge Combs Greene’s original order finds no reason to believe that she will react any different to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, only time will tell.

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Arctic development: I’ll have that with ice, please

Ah, summertime—iced tea, the girls in their summer dresses, butterflies by day and lightning bugs at night, late summer evenings in moonlight, children staying up late, increased shipping in the polar seas…wait, what? Well, yes. For the fourth or fifth straight year, enough polar ice has melted so that the number of ships traversing the Northeast Passage—say, from the Bering Straits to around the northern tip of Norway, specifically from Kobe to Rotterdam—has increased. In fact, as of 30 July, some 270 vessels had received permits to make this trip. Specifically, 391 permit applications had been received by Russia’s NSR (Northern Sea Route) administration, and 52 of these were not approved. The difference in permitted approvals and the 270 is that not all ships will be doing the full route—quite a few stop off at various Russian ports. Not that there are all that many of them, but there are enough. This is up from 46 in 2012 doing the whole route, and just four in 2010.

Something transformational is happening here, at least for some. The NSR route shaves about ten days off of doing the traditional route through the Suez Canal. And it’s becoming more popular, obviously. China in particular has an interest here—its first ship just left for this route last week. Russia, which for centuries has had a foreign policy premised, in part, on a search for a permanent warm weather port, has an interest as well. Surprise, surprise, global warming is handing several ports to them at once. The fact that they’re not available year round yet doesn’t really matter—at the current rate of melting, that won’t be a problem in a couple of decades. The Russians can wait for this. Russia, of course, is a long-standing member of the Arctic Council—China only recently got observer status, but has made its polar intentions known. And that’s just one part of the world. On top of the other continent, an increasing number of ships are seeking to make the Northwest Passage a regular route—nearly 20 vessels in this case. Granted, it’s a more difficult route. But still, that’s nearly 20 more than there were a couple of years ago.

We’ve flagged this issue before. And it’s actually not as straightforward as the above implies—there’s still lots of ice, and therefore risk, in waters that are pretty far from anything like mainstream shipping routes, and where any environmental mishap (like a significant spill) is days away for any emergency cleanup operation. But still, a trend is a trend, and there’s no reason to think this will change. We certainly don’t expect the warming trend to reverse itself any time soon—certainly the shipping companies don’t, nor do the governments affected (except for the US, of course, where one of the two major political parties is still gripped by an insane global warming denialism.)

Because in addition to opening up a potentially valuable new trade route, melting arctic seas open up a lot more—mainly mineral resources in the sea bed, including lots and lots of oil and gas for development. If the statistics that industry analysts and reporters have any truth to them, we’re told that the Arctic alone (leaving aside the Antarctic) contains perhaps 30% of “the world’s undiscovered gas” and 13% of undiscovered oil. (“Undiscovered” simply means that gas and/or oil are expected to be there based on the known geology, but actual testing hasn’t been done to pinpoint the location.) And, in an often-repeated factoid, we are constantly being assured that Lloyd’s of London is estimating that investment in the Arctic “could reach $100 billion within ten years.”

Well, yes, this all seems like it might actually happen. But then there’s the methane issue, which could be significant—conceptually it’s an issue, but I suppose it depends on how development takes place. Sadly, experience tells us that it won’t proceed without some sort of large screw-up. We don’t really know how many oil spills or nuclear accidents have occurred in the past that are lost to memory and the Arctic seas. But with every environmental group paying close attention, you can be that any new screw-ups will receive at least some attention—just consider Shell’s disastrous and ultimately farcical attempts to do some test drilling in offshore Arctic waters in 2012. If the media coverage of the spills associated with the proposed Keystone Pipeline is anything to go by, there won’t be broad media coverage, but someone will at least be paying attention. And the numbers are potentially and wildly scary—as the authors of a recent paper in Nature pointed out, economic costs of methane released in Arctic areas could approach $60 trillion, yes, trillion—which would be about the size of the global economy in 2012. Is this alarmist? Probably, and hopefully. But still, methane hydrates are genuinely scary, as the authors point out:

As the amount of Arctic sea ice declines at an unprecedented rate, the thawing of offshore permafrost releases methane. A 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly. Higher meth­ane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The ramifications will be felt far from the poles.

And:

The methane pulse will bring forward by 15–35 years the average date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial levels — to 2035 for the business-as-usual scenario and to 2040 for the low-emissions case (see ‘Arctic methane’). This will lead to an extra $60 trillion (net pre­sent value) of mean climate-change impacts for the scenario with no mitigation, or 15% of the mean total predicted cost of climate-change impacts (about $400 trillion). In the low-emissions case, the mean net present value of global climate-change impacts is $82 trillion without the methane release; with the pulse, an extra $37 trillion, or 45% is added….

Nor will development be inexpensive. Americans, and much of the world, have gotten so used to the idea of energy being cheap that they now seem to feel it’s an inalienable right. We see this here in the UK as well—every time the cost of gas bills go up, there are cries that the government should “do something” to reduce them. But that’s not the way it should work—we’re in energy trouble, especially in the US, largely because we’ve been lulled into thinking it’s ok to not pay the full cost of energy. Instead we defer the cost of the externalities, and pretend that they don’t exist. Shale gas may be the exception, but let’s reserve judgment there for a couple of more years. About the only thing we know about those “undiscovered” reserves that the Arctic may contain is that getting the oil and gas out of there is a daunting task, and one that will cost money. Shell has spent $4.5 billion over seven years to develop its Arctic drilling infrastructure, and it still doesn’t work. And China is certainly interested in drilling as well. What their track record is on oil development I can’t say, so I suppose I should cut CNOOC and other Chinese oil companies some slack on the grounds that they haven’t screwed up yet. Strangely enough, I’m not prepared to do that.

So once again we face some questions about the massive experiment we are conducting on Planet Earth—mainly, do we want to go there? Well, that’s not exactly the question any more—we seem to be going there regardless. Next year we’ll probably see a doubling yet again of the number of ships crossing the Arctic. And I suppose that someone will derive some economic benefit from the fact that whatever it is they’re shipping from Kobe to Rotterdam will get there ten days earlier. Still, it may be a trend, but it’s not one I would want to encourage.

The above stamp, of the icebreaker “Lenin,” is one of a set of four icebreaker stamps issued by Russia in 2009. Of course, I don’t think anything is named after Lenin any more. The ship was commissioned in 1959, de-commissioned in 1989, and is now a floating museum. It was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

DC Judge: Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against National Review, Competitive Enterprise Institute allowed to proceed

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernmentOn October 22, 2012, climate scientist Michael Mann sued the National Review (NR), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), along with two writers, NR writer Mark Steyn and CEI writer Rand Simberg, for defamation. Mann’s lawsuit alleges that NR, CEI, Steyn, and Simberg’s (hereafter “the defendants”) allegations of scientific fraud and their comparisons of Mann to convicted Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky were libelous. The defendants answered Mann’s lawsuit in court with motions to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that their claims of misconduct were protected opinion speech and not provably false, that Mann was a public figure, and that Mann’s lawsuit qualified as a SLAPP against their right to free speech. On July 19, 2013, DC Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene issued two orders that denied all the motions to dismiss the lawsuit and permitted Mann’s defamation lawsuit to proceed.

The first part of the motions to dismiss that Judge Combs Greene addressed was whether or not Mann would be able to reach the evidence standard required by the DC Anti-SLAPP Act. This law was created to protect defendants from what are known as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuits, and the DC law requires that the plaintiff (Mann in this case) be able to demonstrate a “likelihood” of winning before the lawsuit is allowed to proceed1. The defendants argued that the “likelihood” standard required a high probability or even 100% certainty of winning in order to not dismiss the lawsuit, but Judge Combs Greene rejected those arguments. Quoting precedent from California (upon which DC based its Anti-SLAPP Act), Judge Combs Greene found that Mann need only meet a “likelihood to succeed on the merits” by way of “proof by a preponderance [majority] of evidence.”

In order to determine whether or not Mann reached the “preponderance of evidence” threshold Judge Combs Greene first had to address the defendants’ claim that their various accusations of fraud and academic misconduct against Mann were merely “rhetorical hyperbole” and opinions. However, according to Supreme Court opinions referenced by Judge Combs Greene, this argument requires that the defendants’ accusations not be based on factual information that could be proved wrong using available facts. Judge Combs Greene ruled that claims like “hockey-stick deceptions,” “data manipulation,” and “intellectually bogus” work were, in reality, based on facts, and specifically “provably false” facts at that. Judge Combs Greene wrote that the “hockey stick deceptions” statement

goes beyond harsh debate or “rhetorical hyperbole.” Rather the statement questions facts – it does not simply invite readers to “ask questions.”

She also wrote that the “data manipulation” statement “relies on the interpretation of facts (the [CRU/Climategate] emails).”

Lest there be any question about Judge Combs Greene’s dim view of the defendants’ claims with respect to their accusations against Mann, she also wrote that

Given the dictionary definition as well as the common readers’ thought about the use of these words (fraud and fraudulent) the Court finds that these statement (sic) taken in context must be viewed as more than honest commentary-particularly when investigations have found otherwise. Considering the numerous articles that characterize [Mann's] work as fraudulent, combined with the assertions of fraud and data manipulation, the [NR and CEI] Defendants have essentially made conclusions based on facts. Further, the assertions of fraud “rely upon facts that are provably false” particularly in light of the fact that [Mann] has been investigated by several bodies (including the EPA) and determined that [Mann's] research and conclusions are sound and not based on misleading information….

The content and context of the statements is not indicative of play and “imaginative expression” but rather aspersions of verifiable facts that [Mann] is a fraud. At this stage, the Court must find that these statements were not simply rhetorical hyperbole. (emphasis added)

The defendants also claimed to be acting as journalists offering “fair comment” and “supportable interpretation,” both of which are protected speech under DC law. However, Judge Combs Greene found that these claims were untenable since DC law required that the defendants’ reporting be “fair and accurate” in order to qualify. Judge Combs Greene wrote that

Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those investigations having found [Mann's] work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. (emphasis added)

Claims that are provably false are, by definition, neither fair nor accurate.

Finally, the defendants asked Judge Combs Greene to dismiss Mann’s lawsuit because the First Amendment guaranteed them freedom of speech. However, as with all the rights defined in the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech is not without its limits even when dealing with a limited public figure like Mann2. Essentially, the Supreme Court has ruled that even public figures can sue for defamation when “actual malice” is involved. The examples of “actual malice” offered by Judge Combs Greene were making provably false accusations and making statements with reckless disregard for whether the statements are true or not.

Judge Combs Greene found that, while there was as yet sufficient evidence to demonstrate “actual malice,” there was a “strong probability” that the defendants “disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.” And so Judge Combs Greene found that there was sufficient evidence of “actual malice” to permit the lawsuit to proceed to the discovery process, where both Mann and the defendants must open up their emails and documents to the court and each other and where evidence of actual malice by the defendants might be uncovered.

After considering the arguments and reviewing the record, Judge Combs Greene denied the motions to dismiss Mann’s defamation lawsuit. She found that the CEI had lobbied for investigations into Mann’s scientific conduct yet continued to allege that his research was fraudulent even after a dozen independent investigations had cleared him of those allegations. She found that the NR had been aware of the results of the investigations and yet it too had continued to make provably false allegations. And while she didn’t find that the evidence presented had risen to the level of “actual malice,” she also said that it was entirely possible that the discovery process could turn up that evidence. By denying the motions to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Combs Greene essentially said that Mann had presented a preponderance (majority) of evidence that he had been defamed by the defendants, and thus the lawsuit should proceed.

Mann’s lawsuit is proceeding. So long as there are no additional motions to dismiss3 or appeals of Judge Combs Greene’s orders, the next step is legal discovery. S&R will bring you updates in this case as they become available.

_____

1 SLAPPs have historically been a way to force public citizens and small organizations from criticizing large and powerful interests, but in this case the larger and more powerful organizations (NR and CEI) were claiming that the Act protected them from Mann’s claims of defamation.

2 Mann became a limited public figure as a result of political opposition to the conclusions of his original hockey-stick papers in 1998 and 1999 – that human activity had raised North American temperatures to the highest level in ~2000 years. Essentially, groups like the CEI and various Congressional Republicans didn’t like the fact that his scientific conclusions indicated that industrial climate disruption was unprecedented in the last several thousand years. The free speech argument put forth by CEI and NR was viable only because Mann had become a public figure due to the actions of CEI and their allies.

3 The National Review and Mark Steyn have filed another motion to dismiss based on what they allege are errors of fact made by Judge Combs Greene. S&R is in the process of reviewing the new motion and will be reporting on it soon.

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Six snake stories

It’s the dog days of summer, the time when it becomes hard to blog. Dedicated and serious bloggers push through it and write brilliant, meaty pieces on the new constitution or nuanced and warm offerings about choral singing and fly fishing or whimsical asides about larping. The less dedicated among us stare at the list of blog topics we intend to tackle, heavy duty pieces about entitlements or the positive role of corporations in politics, then turn away and go back to playing poker on our cellphones.

Better something than nothing, I figure, so today’s blog is about snakes, inspired by the comment thread on Booth’s recent post on fly fishing.

I don’t like snakes, but I don’t dislike them either. We have snakes here on our farm in Indiana and when I see one, I walk around it. Occasionally we’ll have to shoo an aggressive black snake away from the garage with a broom, and I suppose if we found a copperhead or rattler too close to the house I’d probably kill it, but for the most part they go their way and we go ours.

However, I’ve lived much of my life in places where there were snakes, poisonous ones, and have accumulated some stories. Growing up in south Georgia it was massive diamondbacks, huge snakes as thick as your arm that would stretch across the narrow, sandy roads as they sunned themselves. In West Africa, it was mostly cobras and green mambas. In Louisiana, it was water moccasins and in Australia tiger snakes.

1973—West Africa I

Peace Corps training was based in Kenema, where we were housed in a low cinder-block dorm, just a long row of concrete cubicles, each with a cot and a door that was nothing more than a thin piece of cloth on a string. We were playing cards when someone stuck their head in the door and yelled “Snake charmer.” Three of us jumped up and flip flopped across the compound to the street where the snake charmer was performing in front of a crowd of about thirty people.

Snake charmers traveled from village to village performing for tips. They wore black, pajama-like outfits and fluffy headdresses made from black-dyed rags. They carried their snakes in burlap sacks. There was no anti-venin available so locals were terrified of snakes and snake charmers. Snake charmers could handle snakes with impunity because they had “medicine,” what we would call black magic. In other words, they were evil men who’d made a bargain with the devil. If a snake charmer loaded his writhing sacks onto a local jitney bus, called a lorry, everyone else got off. If he came to a village and needed a place to sleep, he got not a room but a house, and afterwards the medicine man performed elaborate rites before anyone would sleep in it again.

This snake charmer was a scraggly man, with brown teeth and the faint odor of palm wine. His act consisted of pulling a snake from a bag, throwing it on the ground so that it faced the crowd, who immediately jumped backwards and screamed, “Wayah!” He’d then reach out, snag it by the tail and return it to the bag. We got there just in time for the spitting cobra. He reached into the bag, pulled the snake out, and threw it to the ground. It took off toward the crowd, who immediately bolted, except for me. I stood where I was and grinned at the snake. Behind me people screamed, “Wayah! Wayah!”

The snake crawled toward me. When it got about eighteen inches away, it rose and hooded, its head level with my bare knees. It swayed back and forth, deciding. The snake charmer looked at me as if I was crazy, then reached out and grabbed the snake by its tail, tugging it back and dropping it into the sack. He tied the top. We stood, legs akimbo and hands on hips, staring at each other. I am sure he was wondering, “Who is this smart ass ruining my act?” I was thinking that these snakes had to be defanged. With exactly the same hubris as a thousand white men in Africa before me, I refused to yield to silly native superstition. Instead of shorts and sandals, I should’ve worn starched khakis and a pith helmet.

After a moment he turned and walked back. Grunting, he lifted his biggest sack, and untied it. He walked over to me. By now I stood on my own little island because the crowd had retreated six feet or so behind me. Looking at me appraisingly, he untied the sack and dumped a cranky, fat Gaboon viper with a head the size of my fist into the dust. It crawled a few inches, felt the heat from my bare foot and coiled into striking position. The snake charmer watched me. I looked at him and smiled.

The crowd was going crazy behind me. Children buried their heads into their parents’ legs and wept. Adults slapped each others’ shoulders and whispered. Wayah! Wayah! The snake charmer looked back and forth from the snake to me. Finally, apparently resigning himself to the reality that I was now part of the act, he shook his head, reached down and grabbed the snake behind the jaws.

Another Volunteer snapped pictures like a photographer at a fashion shoot, racing around, kneeling, turning his camera sideways. Klick, klick, klick, klick. My fans cheered me on. The “wayah’s” of surprise morphed into “wayah’s” of encouragement. Wayah! Wayah! Wayah! The snake charmer hung the heavy snake around my neck and released his hands. He hugged me. He smiled for the camera. I smiled for the camera. The viper smiled for the camera. Klick. Wayah! Klick.

Then came the money shot. The charmer grabbed the snake, held it between us, flipped it over, pried its jaws open and using a small stick raised up a fang fully an inch long. A crystal drop of poison glistened on its tip. I stared at that hypodermic-sharp fang that had been less than an inch from my carotid artery and felt the blood rush down from my head. I felt my knees soften and struggled to hold myself upright. The world went silent. I no longer heard the klicks or the cheers. I couldn’t stop looking at that fang. My tongue was made of dust.

And then I did the single bravest thing I have ever done in my life: I smiled, waved to the crowd and calmly walked back to the dorm.

1973—West Africa II

After training we did visits in the villages of Volunteers who’d been there awhile. In Joe’s village, I went to the latrine. When I came out, I looked down and there, perfectly parallel between my two feet in their plastic sandals, was a short, flat arrow-shaped snake. I didn’t move. Nor did he. We remained like that for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, he slowly turned, his flickering tongue almost touching my bare foot, and crawled away.

Back inside the house, we looked up the snake in Joe’s book. It was a death adder—the same snake that killed Cleopatra.

“Why didn’t you kill it?” asked Joe.

I shook my head. “You kill it. Me and that snake had a deal. I wouldn’t kill it and it wouldn’t kill me. A deal is a deal.”

1974—West Africa

Since it was always warm in West Africa, some Volunteers slept on waterbeds they’d brought from home. Ray was sitting in his living room one day when out of the corner of his eye he saw a small black cobra slide around the corner and into his bedroom. Without thinking he jumped up and yelled, “Kalii!” which means snake. Instantly every adult male in the village poured through his front door, each with a machete. Ray tried to yell stop, but before he could get the words out his mouth a stream of pinkish water poured through the doorway. Inside his bedroom, the dead cobra lay in pieces on his shredded water bed.

1977-Louisiana

We were laying pipe through the Atchafalaya Basin. My job was to follow the excavator digging the ditch in a small aluminum boat. Once or twice a day I’d fuel the machine or lubricate something, but mostly I sat in the boat and watched, there more for safety than for anything else. Every day I’d wash my boat, prepare lunch for the operator of the machine, read and in the middle of the day when it got hot, slip into the bayou for a swim.

This drove the operator and the supervisor crazy, because they rightly thought swimming alone by yourself in a deep black-water bayou with snakes, strong current and the occasional alligator was unsafe. The supervisor would try to talk me out of it by telling me stories like the old urban legend where a man jumps into a river and comes out with fifty snakes hanging on him. I’d just laugh and say that was nonsense, that snakes couldn’t open their mouths underwater or they’d drown.

One day we were sitting on the tracks of the machine and a cottonmouth swam by. A cottonmouth is a very bulky snake and swims very high in the water. Instead of its head poking out of the water at an angle like most water snakes, they form a sort of “S,” almost like a camel’s neck with the top of its head parallel to the surface. This one held a fish in its mouth. The supervisor looked at me, but didn’t say anything. I never swam alone in the bayou again.

1989—Australia

Australia has 6 or 7 of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world, depending on how you count. (You’d think it would be straightforward, but it’s not. Some snakes have very toxic venom, like the sea snake, but have small fangs and rarely bite. Some have venom that is less toxic, like the tai pan, but are quick to bite and inject larger amounts, and whose bites are often fatal.)

A friend was burnt out from work. Another friend offered the use of his country retreat near Melbourne. The first friend went down at night and settled in. The next morning he got up, took his coffee out to the back veranda, and there sunning themselves on the stone path leading into the garden, were half a dozen fat black tiger snakes. Tiger snakes are very poisonous, very agro, and very dangerous. He took his coffee, slowly retreated into the house and went out to the front to sit and have his coffee, where there, laying on the welcome mat was another tiger snake. He quickly packed and left.

2013—Indiana

The other day I was running along Woodall Road and I saw a black snake, actually a Southern Black Racer, dart across the road. I stopped to look at it. It was about three feet long, as thin as a ribbon, and like most Racers, aggressive as all get out. This one coiled up in the leaves, hissed at me and then put his tail up against a dry leaf and began shaking it furiously. It was a pretty good imitation of a rattlesnake. I’m a believer in evolution, but it’s still amazing that behavior this specific could occur through natural selection.

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: industrial climate disruption is not a popularity contest

For more posts in this series, please click here.
UPDATE: see updated definition in Footnote #1 below

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Appeal to consensus,” also known as the “bandwagon fallacy,” is an illogical argument that something must be right because it’s popular. For example, “2 + 2 = 4″ would still be mathematically true even if everyone believed that the right answer was 5. Other examples of the bandwagon fallacy are less obviously absurd. For example, there is a popular movement afoot these days which claims that vaccines are dangerous. But while the claim is popular, it’s just as illogical as “2 + 2 = 5″ – overwhelming scientific evidence has demonstrated that vaccines are far safer than the diseases prevented by the vaccines.

People who deny that industrial climate disruption often illogically claim that genuine climate realists (those who respect the scientific data demonstrating industrial climate disruption) are simply joining the climate bandwagon. The error is even more common in discussions about the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and peer-reviewed studies. The problem is that climate disruption deniers are fundamentally misunderstanding and misapplying the bandwagon fallacy.

If a large majority of people accept industrial climate disruption as true because of the evidence, then claiming that industrial climate disruption is true is similarly based on the evidence. The fact that industrial climate disruption is “popular” is inconsequential. The reasons for the consensus matter, as does the expertise of the people who make up the consensus.

In the case of industrial climate disruption there are good reasons to believe that the consensus position1 is correct . There is a massive body of empirical data that describes how the global climate has changed in the past. There are the physical properties of compounds like carbon dioxide and water vapor. There are the many accepted scientific theories that would have to be dramatically wrong for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect. And there are climate models that combine all of the above to project the most likely course of the rest of this century. There is a consensus on industrial climate disruption because the science demonstrates that industrial climate disruption is real. Referring to that consensus is simply a way to refer to the science by proxy.

The expertise of the people who make up a consensus matters too. If someone were to use popular opinion among veterinarians as support for a claim that industrial climate disruption is real, that might well qualify as a bandwagon fallacy. After all, vets in general have no more expertise on the subject of climate disruption than any other educated member of the public. But publishing climate scientists2 are understood to have expertise on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because they are the people who know the empirical evidence, physical properties, and scientific theories supporting industrial climate disruption the best.

The actual argument would go something like this: “The most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject of climate have overwhelmingly concluded that industrial climate disruption is real, therefore you should too.” This argument is all about expertise, not popularity, and so it’s illogical to label this argument a bandwagon fallacy.

Evidence and expertise matter. And when genuine climate realists refer to the consensus on industrial climate disruption, they’re arguing by proxy that the body of evidence in support of industrial climate disruption is so strong that individuals, businesses, and governments should be factoring it into their decision making. Doing so is the only logically defensible position.

1 The consensus position is that the climate is changing, that the emission of greenhouse gases by human industry is the dominant driver of those changes, and that the changes will almost certainly be disruptive to human society and global ecology. [italicized section added following discussion in the comments below]
2 I include scientists who publish papers on climate-related fields of chemistry, geology, physics, optics, et al. For example, an oceanographer with expertise on the carbon cycle in the ocean and thus expert knowledge of the sources of ocean acidification would qualify as a “climate scientist” for the purposes of this discussion. Similarly, a physicist who studies carbon isotopes and publishes about the changing isotopic ratios due to the burning of fossil fuels would also qualify.

To the lost: a photographic tribute to Andrew Ashcroft and the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew

by Sarah Allegra

It was last Tuesday, July 2nd, that I found out about the tragic deaths of the 19 firefighters in Arizona a few days earlier. At the same time, I discovered my childhood friend, Andrew Ashcroft, was one of those lost. It took a while to sink in. Andrew, who I had played with for years, was gone.

Not only Andrew, but 18 others of Arizona’s finest firefighters were lost. They were called the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew; they’re essentially the Navy Seals of the fire world. They were trained to go into the deadliest, most dire situations and kick the fire’s ass. They went in to make a fuel break for the devastating forest fire when the wind changed and trapped them. There was no escape.

My heart breaks for Andrew’s widow, left to raise their four children, the oldest of whom is merely six, by herself. It breaks for Andrew’s mother Deborah, who has to bury one of her children. It breaks for the 18 others families in the same situation.

Andrew with his family

Andrew was only 29. He had been named the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Hotshot crew. He’d had to really work to get into the crew. That was what he wanted to do. He chose to be the best, bravest, most worthy of men. I am in awe.

It’s important for me to state that it had been a long time since I’d seen Andrew… I was probably 13 or so. But he and his brother TJ were a big part of my childhood. Our moms were friends and would frequently trade babysitting, so for years my brother and I saw and played with the Ashcroft boys several times a week. My brother was the oldest of us, TJ was next, then me and Andrew was the youngest, even though only four years separated us all. It was just enough of an age difference that the older two boys would want to go off and do Secret Older Boy Things together (mostly involving GI Joes, as I recall) so Andrew and I were often our own group… which sometimes involved merely of sulking about being left out of Secret Boy Things. But we made our own fun.

I can't find a photo of th four of us together, but here's a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

I can’t find a photo of the four of us together, but here’s a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

One of the clearest memories I have of the four of us is arguing heatedly over who got to be which character when we would play Batman. My brother, the oldest, was naturally Batman. When he and I played it at home, I was Robin, and I felt that was my part. But TJ’s slight age difference made a good argument in the logic of children for him assuming the role of Robin. The debate was settled when we found out about Batgirl, who I would obviously play, leaving Robin to TJ. But poor Andrew was always stuck being Alfred or some random henchman; he never got to play a really good character. I had laughingly told this story to my husband Geoff quite a while ago, not realizing the irony that was to come.

Andrew grew up to be a real, living, actual hero. He lived his heroism more than any person I know of. He went out doing what he loved, with the men he loved, and if he ever felt fear, he never let it stop him. I am so sad his family has lost him. I am sad that the world has lost such an amazing person. And I am sad that I never got to know Andrew at this age, that we lost touch, and I only discovered what an incredible person he was second hand. The world is 19 wonderful souls poorer.

As I cried into Geoff’s chest the day I heard the news, one of the first things he asked was how I was going to work through my feelings photographically. This is just one of the many reasons I love him, because I was already mentally hard at work trying out different concepts. As I was working through my grief and trying to put my feelings into a visual form, I was also talking a lot with Katie, who had recently experienced a similar kind of loss. It was a great comfort to have her and other people in my life familiar with grief to talk to. Katie and I already had a shoot planned in a few days, so I told her to just expect that we would shoot something to honor Andrew and the other firefighters.

This was another shoot done on a non-budget. It took just a few big, yellow smoke bombs and the fresh flowers. Also, HUGE thanks to Geoff for being my human shutter release!

Usually I edit things in order of them being shot, as that seems fairest, but this got bumped way up in line. I really wanted it to be released today, the day of the big memorial service in Prescott. You’ll see that Katie is playing the role of the rescuer, pulling me to safety, but not far from the danger herself. The smoke wrapping around my body and throat actually happened exactly like that, straight out of camera, and seems to want to pull me back and not let go. Katie is carrying 19 large orange, yellow and red flowers, symbolizing the fallen heroes, and I like that there are smaller yellow flowers connected to the stocks; they seem to symbolize the fireman’s family.

When I searched for a title for this photo, I immediately remembered what Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire says before each drink instead of the standard “cheers” or “bottom’s up;” he says “to the lost.” For Jimmy it was about his lost comrades during the war, but it seemed to fit here perfectly. This is also the only time I’ve ever done a square crop on a photo. For the most part I stick very strictly to my 2×3 ratio. This photo just called for something else, so I went with it. There are some detail shots of the photo below.

I hope Andrew’s family heals as quickly as it can, along with the rest of the families. There is nothing I can say or do that can make it better for them. How I wish there was. All I can do is try to honor the fallen heroes, with my words, my photos, and my many, many tears.

Andrew was a badass… but the very best kind, who hasn’t lost his softer side. He was a true hero, like Prince Lir. We didn’t know that Andrew was the biggest hero of us all.

He should have been Batman.

To The Lost

To The Lost

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

Australia takes Japan to court over whaling

It somehow slipped by me that there’s a big case coming up in front of the International Court of Justice this week. Actually, I think I knew about it at some point, but these things tend to drag out, and distractions are always coming along. Whatever. In any event, the case starts up this week. What’s the case? Australia, with New Zealand’s help, is taking Japan to court to end its annual practice of “scientific whaling” in the Antarctic. Japan is defending its right to continue to do this. And you can follow this case, it turns out, at the ICJ website. Along with all the other cases that land in front of the ICJ—and there are more of these than you might think.

It’s an interesting case, of course—Japan has been stretching the concept of “science” for years to continue its practice of whaling. Wait, wasn’t commercial whaling banned by the International Whaling Commission back in 1986? Yes indeed, although “banned” isn’t quite the right term. More like a moratorium was declared—which means it can be lifted, and Japan has been packing the IWC with non-whaling countries in the hopes of accomplishing this. Japan is not alone in its opposition to the moratorium—Russia opposes it as well, as do Iceland and Norway.

But there were two exemptions. First, native communities were allowed to continue subsistence hunting. But there was a further exemption made for whaling for “scientific purposes.” Countries can issue permits for “harvests” in the guise of scientific research. And Japan has, in the eyes of many (including me), been abusing that provision for a number of years. There’s a reason why Greenpeace is out there every year trying to stop Japanese whalers. The whale meat almost invariably ends up in Japanese supermarkets. This sometimes occurs with the knowing participation of some other countries—Iceland, for example, which has resumed whaling for export to Chinese supermarkets. So Australia, which of course isn’t exactly faultless when it comes to potential or actual environmental abuses, is leading the charge here. Their more specific charge is that not only is Japan flouting the current convention, it’s doing so in an area that Australia declared a marine sanctuary, in the waters off Antarctica. Good for them. I hope they win, personally. But it may be a difficult case to make, as some observers have indicated. Just consider the comments here—I feel no more enlightened after reading them then I did before.

Of course, not being an international lawyer myself, it’s not clear to be what happens if Japan chooses to ignore the Court’s judgment, if indeed the judgment goes against them. Does the UN send in the troops? That the court has powers is clear—they can clearly slap your ass in jail in The Hague if you’re complicit in or even charged with genocide in Bosnia, for example. I have only a hazy idea of what happens here. Does the Australian Navy get involved, for example?

But the ICJ does a lot. Looking over the cases they’re currently hearing, I’m struck by the breadth of them:

1. Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia) 
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2. Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda) 
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3. Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia) 
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4. Maritime Dispute (Peru v. Chile) 
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5. Aerial Herbicide Spraying (Ecuador v. Colombia) 
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6. Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) 
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7. Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Niger) 
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8. Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) 
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9. Request for interpretation of the Judgment of 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand) (Cambodia v. Thailand) 
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10. Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica) 
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11. Proceedings instituted by Bolivia against Chile 
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How many of these, I wonder, would be armed conflicts at this point without the Court? Some are sort of obvious—Ecuador and Colombia and herbicide spraying—what could Colombia possibly be spraying for? OTOH, I don’t even what to think about what some of the Africa cases are about. Especially since some of these probably stem from armed conflicts in the past. We’ve got enough small wars already, god knows. It’s a good thing the Court is worrying about them.

The Australia/Japan case has its own intellectual interests, since it will drag the Court into making some determinations about what “science” is, according to Philppe Sands, who is helping to represent Australia before the court. Australia’s position is simple—Japan isn’t actually doing any research—it’s just collecting data. Japan has taken an intriguing defence—yes, that’s true, but data collection itself is an inherently valuable contribution, and you never know when the data is gong to come in handy. Needless to say, Japan is also contesting the standing of the court to even hear the case. We gather that this is a frequently used defence that sometimes even works. What will get interesting is if it is determined that Japan is indeed abiding by the regulations of the International Whaling Commission (which does, after all, allow for “scientific” whaling,) but those regulations themselves are determined to be invalid in some way. Then what? Just musing.

So we’ll see how this plays out. Fascinating stuff, with some potentially dramatic real world implications for whales.

BlackForstFire

When it comes to judging America for its sins, God is an absolute doofus

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with God. And having no luck at all.

If you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve figured out that natural calamities are God’s judgment on America. Preachers preach it and Christians believe it. When a hurricane hits, for example, it’s usually because we’re being unholy in some way or another. Drinking, fornicating, gambling, etc. But mainly the queers.

Katrina was God’s judgment. And it’s just beginning. Because of the Pride Parade. (A Google search on “Katrina God’s judgment” returns 129,000 hits, by the way.) Sandy? God’s judgment.

Tornadoes are God’s judgment. Earthquakes are God’s judgment. Forest fires, famine, volcanos – God’s judgment. You get the point.

Fine. God isn’t happy and he’s sending us a message. A warning shot across the bow, as it were. But…you can’t help wondering. Is God stupid? Does he have a bad aim? And what does his recent spate of angry warnings say about history? There have always been natural disasters, even back in the ’50s when there weren’t any homosexuals. There were volcanos during the late Cretaceous. Who the hell was he mad at then?

Let’s take a closer look.

Oddly, most hurricanes target our godliest states. Yes, Louisiana has the modern-day Gomorrah that is New Orleans, but if you recall Katrina mostly missed the Big Easy. The front side – the big overhanded haymaker – hit the Mississipi Gulf Coast and the damage there was massive. Had God aimed further west busted NO in the lips the way he did Biloxi, Bourbon Street and everything else within 20 miles would be gone. So – what the heck did Mississippi do? They’re one of the best-behaved Christian states in the country.

Another state that gets stomped by hurricanes a lot is Florida. Now, the Sunshine State is a mixed bag. You have some wickedness down around South Beach, but you also have a bunch of old people who haven’t done anything wrong. Not in the last 50 years, anyway. And yet, God judges them like they were one big Frankie Goes to Hollywood video. Makes no sense at all. He even threatened last year’s Republican National Convention, and the GOP is HIS OWN POLITICAL PARTY.

W. T. F?

Among recent hurricanes, Sandy is the only one that sort of makes sense. NYC is a godless wasteland, for sure, home to every kind of decadence known to man, as well as a few others that are still in the development phase. But God, in judging NYC, blasted the shit out of New Jersey, which has a Republican governor, and some of the hardest hit areas of NYC are in Congressional District 11, home of Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican.

Apparently God can’t afford a laser and has to use a shotgun instead.

What about tornadoes? Ever heard of “Tornado Alley“?

The core of Tornado Alley consists of northern Texas (including the Panhandle), Oklahoma and Kansas. However, Tornado Alley can also be defined as an area reaching from central Texas to the Canadian prairies and from eastern Colorado to western Pennsylvania. It can also be disputed that there are numerous Tornado Alleys. In addition to the Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas core, such areas also include the Upper Midwest, the Ohio Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the lower Mississippi valley.

Overlay a map of Tornado Alley with an election results schematic. They might as well be the same thing. Bright red, Republican, God-fearing and prone to swirling black judgment from one end to the other.

If it weren’t for tornado activity you’d have never heard of Moore, Oklahoma. Only 11 F5s (the highest and worst rating) have struck the US since 1999, and two of them hit Moore. Two more pounded nearby El Reno, which means that God has aimed one-third of the most devastating twisters in the last 15 years or so at the Oklahoma City suburbs. That’s Oklahoma, which is about as close to Sodom as Peoria is to Proxima Centauri.

Clearly, something is amiss with the God’s Judgment Hypothesis. Even the sort of … umm … intellect prone to believing that God judges us this way … even that guy has to be a little confused. I know, I know – the whole Lord worketh in mysterious ways thing. Mysterious, sure. But barking batshit crazy?

Think about it this way. Say that you’re a) God, b) pissed off about the gays, c) determined to send a message, and d) wanting to make sure it’s understood. Duh. A lot of your followers aren’t exactly rocket surgeons, so you need to avoid as much ambiguity here as possible, right?

Do you spin hurricanes at states that vote exclusively according to their understanding of the Bible or do you, you know, smite the guilty? If I’m God, I’m going to dial up a 9.4 on the Richter Scale and epicenter that sumbitch under the manhole cover at Castro Street and Market. I’m going to point three or four category fives directly at South Beach. And the greater OKC metropolitan area is safe, because the new Tornado Alley is going to start in Seattle, wind its way down the coast, make several passes back and forth through Hollywood, skip across to Vegas, then skip again to the Upper Midwest where we’ll thump Minneapolis and then draw a bead on Taxachusetts. Just to show off, I’d drop a hurricane on Ann Arbor. And don’t even try to tell me that isn’t possible. With God, all things are possible.

Hammer down, bitches. But that’s just me, and I ain’t God.

Meanwhile, I can’t help noting that my own state is ramping up another epic summer of wildfires. The Black Forest Fire, the worst in Colorado history, has so far killed two, destroyed 379 homes and forced 38,000 people to evacuate. And it’s nowhere near contained. The God’s Judgment Hypothesis predicts that such a fire ought to be looming over Boulder or perhaps creeping down Highway 36 toward Denver.

But it isn’t. It’s in Colorado Springs, ground zero for America’s aggressive new evangelical Christian movement. Specifically, the fire is roughly six miles, as the crow flies, from the headquarters of Focus on the Family. Where it’s currently 90° with humidity in the low 20% range.

I wonder if God is judging someone.

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Illogic: the flat Earth consensus

Image Credit: Sinful Illusions


Correction added below
For more posts in this series, please click here.

The fact that the Earth is round has been known for at least 2300 years, but not necessarily known by everyone. We know that the ancient Greeks knew that the Earth was round because several of them wrote discussed the evidence and mathematics underlying their conclusion and wrote it down. But at that point, the consensus position that the Earth was flat would have been held by a large majority minority that lacked sufficient knowledge and education to know any different.

And that’s the problem with the flat Earth analogy as used by climate disruption deniers:

At one point, the overwhelming consensus was that the Earth was flat, a point that only a few people knew at the time was wrong. Therefore we can ignore the fact that there is a scientific consensus on ICD, since consensus positions can be wrong.

When climate disruption deniers make this argument, they’re equating, intentionally or otherwise, the ignorance of ancient Greek citizens with the knowledge of the educated Greek elite. The same situation does not apply to climate science today.

Today, the consensus of climate scientists is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the strength of multiple scientific theories that would all have to be seriously flawed for industrial climate disruption to be wrong. And the scientists who hold the consensus position are well educated and knowledgeable about the science.

On the other hand, the small minority that denies that climate is changing, that the changes are largely due to human industry, and that the changes will cause significant disruptions (or one of those three characteristics) tends to be less well educated and less knowledgeable about climate science. Expert credibility in climate change by Anderegg, Prall, Harold, and Schneider (Anderegg et al 2010), found that scientists with the greatest knowledge and expertise (as measured by published peer-reviewed studies, citations, and study co-authors) almost exclusively agreed with the consensus position on industrial climate disruption, while scientists with fewer published studies, fewer citations, and fewer co-authors were more likely to deny industrial climate disruption.

I asked Jim Prall to analyze the paper’s data to see how many signatories to “skeptical” lists had zero climate publications. He found that the number was quite large – 35.8% of all signatories of “skeptical” lists had no climate publications. This compares to 0.6% of the signatories to “consensus” lists who had no climate publications.

It is not reasonable to believe that the climate disruption deniers are more knowledgeable than the genuine climate realists given these statistics.

By using the flat Earth analogy, climate disruption deniers equate, intentionally or not, an uneducated or ignorant mass of people with an educated or knowledgeable few. It essentially claims that an infinite number of monkeys pounding away on word processors is equal in artistic brilliance to Shakespeare. But in reality, it is the large number of consensus scientists that have greater knowledge and expertise than the scientists and citizens who deny the reality of industrial climate disruption.

CATEGORY: Climate

The Galileo Fallacy: introducing Climate Illogic, a new series unmasking illogical claims made against climate science

The topic of industrial climate disruption (aka climate change or global warming) invokes strong passion by many. Unfortunately, passionate people often fail to make logically sound arguments in the heat of the moment, such as on comment threads.

I’ve spent some time collecting some of the most illogical arguments and I’m starting a series of short posts today that will identify some of the worst offenders and explain why the arguments are illogical.

Let’s start with one of the most common illogical arguments out there.

Climate Illogic: Galileo and denial of industrial climate disruption

Galileo facing the Roman Inquistion by Cristiano Banti (1857)

Galileo was one of the first, if not the first, modern scientist. He demonstrated, with keen observation and mathematics, that Copernicus’ heliocentric theory was correct. He concluded that the observed motions of the planets would all make much more sense if the Earth and planets orbited the Sun rather than having them orbiting the Earth. This claim, however, brought Galileo into conflict with the dominant European political entity of the time – the Catholic Church – which feared that Galileo’s ideas would somehow make the Earth seem less important and could threaten the Church. As a result the Church tried Galileo for heresy.

Galileo’s trial, recantation, and eventual substantiation is used by many to argue – incorrectly – that Galileo’s situation is analogous to that of climate disruption deniers (those who reject the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of industrial climate disruption).

The Galileo analogy is illogical (specifically, it’s a weak analogy logical fallacy) for at least two reasons.

First, Galileo was one of the first scientists in the modern sense of the word. He was a professional who used the scientific method (hypothesis, experiment, and data analysis) to deduce the nature of reality and who, when his beliefs failed to conform to what science was telling him, changed his own beliefs to match the science. Contrary to what Galileo did, climate disruption deniers would rather reject the overwhelming scientific evidence than alter their own economic, political, or religious ideology to match the data – that the Earth’s climate is changing, that industrial sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant source of the changes, and that the changes will cause significant disruptions to the natural world and human society by 2100.

Second, Galileo was not in conflict with other scientists over heliocentrism – the few other experimental scientists with whom Galileo could have been at odds over the issue (such as Kepler) were also Copernicans. Instead, Galileo was in conflict with the religious dogma of the Catholic Church. Modern climate scientists have been convinced by the scientific evidence since the early 1990s (see Figure 4e) that industrial climate disruption is real and a serious threat. In comparison, there was no scientific evidence to support the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, only Catholic dogma. Climate disruption deniers who attempt to use Galileo to justify their rejection of scientific evidence place themselves more on the side of the Catholic Church than on Galileo’s side.

Invoking Galileo in an attempt to claim that the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists and climate “super-experts” as well as peer-reviewed climate papers are somehow dogmatic is both illogical and a distortion of Galileo’s actual history and vaunted position in the annals of scientific advancement.

There is, however, an alternative analogy that could be made while still invoking Galileo. Galileo’s situation – a scientist struggling to force a reluctant church to accept reality and change – is much closer to that of modern climate scientists struggling to force a reluctant public (in the US, anyway) to accept the reality that they need to change their industry and their behavior.

For more posts in this series, please click here.