# UPDATED: Why do liberals hate science?

That is…

Shikha Dalmia at Reason.com had a few things to say about liberals and their penchant for ignoring inconvenient evidence in an article entitled, “The Myth of the Scientific Liberal.” Since part of the subject matter involves climate disruption, I’m sure Brian Angliss would ordinarily have much of weight and merit to contribute, but alas, time is short and even Superman can only save one world at a time. So I’ll be pinch-hitting, if only to shine a little light on Reason’s oxymoronic dereliction of integrity.

From Dalmia’s unfortunate lapse of reason:

For two decades, progressives have castigated those questioning global warming as “deniers.”

But the Economist, once firmly in the alarmist camp, recently acknowledged that global temperatures have remained stagnant for 15 years even as greenhouse-gas emissions have soared.

This may be because existing models have overestimated the planet’s sensitivity. Or because the heat generated is sinking to the ocean bottom. Or because of something else completely.

How should a scientifically inclined liberal react to this trend? By inhaling deeply and backing off on economy-busting mitigation measures till science offers clearer answers.

For starters, I’d like to share a little tradition I picked up from Wikipedia: [citation needed]

Why? Well, good lucking finding that reference in The Economist. If you have better luck with the search, by all means please share a link. A domain-restricted Google search for stagnant, further limited to results from the last year since Dalmia claims the acknowledgment is recent, turned up nothing useful. A search of The Economist for articles on climate change disruption actually turned up a piece far more favorable to the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate disruption. The closest thing I could find was a page of comments by one Mogumbo Gono, who, from what I can tell, isn’t actually affiliated with The Economist. Just who is Mogumbo Gono? Your guess is perhaps better than mine. My guess is just some person, at best, one that has registered to comment at a lot of websites, e.g., The Blaze. Make of it what you will.

A single, solitary reference would go far to substantiating Dalmia’s claim.

Secondly, Dalmia might want to look up cherry-picking.

Thirdly, Dalmia might want to look up single-study syndrome.

Perhaps the question isn’t, “Why do liberals hate science?” Maybe it should be, “Why does Reason hate rationality?”

Granted, I’m perhaps a rank amateur when it comes to critical thinking, but isn’t there something absurd about re-branding reason with this kind of nonsense? What other errors can you spot in Dalmia’s exercise in logical fallacy?

—-

Update

Thanks to Sam (in comments), we now have a link to the Economist article in question, “A Sensitive Matter.”  I apologize for my earlier sloppiness in not catching it. Sure enough, insofar as this may well be the article referenced by Dalmia, the first graf reads:

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

This might just solve the [citation needed] quandary. Of course, it does nothing to dispel my dismay at the presence of no less than two serious logical fallacies (cherry-picking and single-source syndrome) in Dalmia’s piece, especially since they serve to make the case that it’s the liberals who are intellectually dishonest on the issue.

But it gets so much better than this! As I understand it, Dr. Hansen is held in high esteem for his extensive work in climate science (thank you once again, Brian, for making such a wealth of information readily available). So when his words appear in what might be a truncated quotation out of context, I can’t resist the siren call of Google. Surely, if this is a verbatim quote I should be able to find something that will ease my perplexity. Neither Google nor Dr. Hansen disappoint.

Lo and behold, in Despite Rising Carbon Emissions – Global Mean Temperatures Have Been Flat, by Phil Covington at TriplePundit, we find:

In fact, the quote above which appeared in The Economist is actually incomplete. Hansen’s report actually says, “The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of net climate forcing.”

Then, after a brief explanation of climate forcing, Covington continues:

The Hansen report concludes that despite the slowdown in climate forcing effects, background global warming is continuing. The report says the 5-year running mean global temperatures may largely be a consequence of the first half of the past decade having predominantly El Niño (warming) conditions, while the second half had predominantly La Niña (cooling) conditions. The report also notes we have been in a period of a prolonged solar minimum – in turn having a cooling effect.

In addition, and this is important, the report points out that even though an observed flattening of temperatures has occurred, the “standstill” temperature is nonetheless at a much higher level than existed at any year in the prior decade except for 1998 (a strong El Niño year). Bottom line; the planet is still hotter.

It is therefore dangerous and incorrect to conclude that recent flattening of surface temperatures means climate change is over. Furthermore, the short period of observed temperature flattening is hardly a significant time scale in order to signify a change in trend. The University of Reading study (mentioned previously), shows actual temperatures are clearly trending in an upward direction since 1950 when their data begins. [emphasis added]

What’s the tally now? Dalmia at Reason engages in argument from authority by relying on the credibility of The Economist to make her point.  By failing to adequately cite, she also, unintentionally or otherwise, obscured the failings of the source. Then it turns out that The Economist starts out strong with a misrepresentation of Hansen’s analysis, which Dalmia either failed to catch or just failed to pass along for consideration. Whatever other flaws or merits The Economist exhibits, what remains is that Reason can’t seem to be trusted to reason when it comes to politically inconvenient facts.

If Reason’s credibility can be so easily brought into question on this one issue, on exactly what can they be trusted as a resource?

—-

Image credit: Daniel Lobo. Licensed under Creative Commons.

# Climate Science for Everyone: How much heat can the air and ocean store?

To read other articles in this series, click here.

Let’s look at how much energy the oceans can store compared to the energy storage of the atmosphere.

One way to describe the amount of energy that something can store is called “specific heat.” This is essentially the amount of energy required to heat up a mass of a material by a certain temperature. In our case, we’ll use 1 kg heated by by 1 degree Celsius (1.8° F) because those are the international standards.

The specific heat of air is about 1158 J/(kg*C) while the specific heat of seawater is about 3850 J/(kg*C), where a Joule is a standard measurement of energy. We can see that air has a specific heat a little more than 3x smaller than that of water. But we know from our day-to-day experience that water is a lot denser than air is, and that will matter a great deal to our calculations. (For reference, one Joule is about the amount of energy you need to expend to lift one pound 9 inches.)

While we could go through a huge amount of geometry to estimate how much air and seawater there is on the Earth, but there’s an easier way – use the measurements of experts. for example, this paper calculated that the total mass of the atmosphere is about 5.14 x 1018 kg, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has calculated that the total volume of the world’s oceans is about 1.34 x 10^18 m3. In order to get the total mass of the world’s oceans we need an estimate of the density of seawater, which I found at this MIT link – 1027 kg/m3 (other sources have similar values).

Using this, we can multiply the mass of the atmosphere times the specific heat of the air to calculate what the total heat capacity of the atmosphere is:

$5.14\times 10^{18} kg\cdot 1158\frac{J}{kg*C} = 5.95\times 10^{21}\frac{J}{C}$ (Eqn. 1)

In other words, it takes about 5.95 x 1021 Joules to raise the temperature of the atmosphere one degree Celsius.

For ocean we need to add one step – multiplying the volume of the water by its density to get the total mass of the ocean

$1.3410^{18} m^3\cdot 1027\frac{kg}{m^3}\cdot 3850\frac{J}{kg*C} = 5.30\times 10^{24}\frac{J}{C}$ (Eqn. 2)

This shows that the heat capacity of the oceans is about 1000x larger than the heat capacity of the Earth’s atmosphere.

So why do we care? First, it helps to explain why we care about El Nino and La Nina cycles in the Pacific Ocean. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, La Nina is a massive upwelling of cold water in the Pacific that, because ocean water has a much higher heat capacity than air, cools off the entire planet and affects weather patterns. El Nino is a massive pool of hot water in the Pacific that does the opposite – it dumps heat stored in the ocean back into the atmosphere, warming the globe and affecting weather patterns. Nearly all the energy absorbed by the Pacific Ocean during La Nina periods will eventually be emitted back into the atmosphere during El Nino periods.

Second, the heat capacity of the world’s oceans helps to explain why scientists are so interested in how much energy has been stored in the ocean. Since total ocean heat capacity is about 1000x greater than total atmosphere, it means that a barely measurable temperature increase in the ocean (1/1000th of a degree C) could drive a massive spike in global air temperature (1 degree C).

The difference between measured global surface temperature from various sources and the temperatures adjusted to remove the influence of El Nino, volcanoes, and the solar cycle. Note that the massive 1997/1998 El Nino spike is nearly completely the result of ocean El Nino dumping stored energy into the atmosphere. (Image Credit: Skeptical Science)

Lastly, we care because it demonstrates just why the average global temperature hasn’t been warming as fast over the last several years. We’ve had more La Nina cycles since 1998 than we’ve had El Nino cycles, and that means the Pacific ocean is storing more energy.

El Nino Southern Oscillation index.

The problem with this, however, is that it means that energy is going to come back OUT of the ocean again eventually. And when (not if) that happens next, the average global temperature will spike.

# A survey of climate science, crowdsourced

John Cook, editor of the climate website SkepticalScience.com and Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, is conducting a crowd-sourced online survey of 12,000 climate papers. S&R was approached by Cook to participate by posting a link to the survey website at the University of Queensland.

According to Cook, anyone who volunteers to participate will be given 10 random abstracts and asked to rate each one according to whether it endorses, is neutral, or rejects the consensus position on global warming. According to his announcement at SkS on May 2, Cook has contacted 58 different climate blogs, half of which are “skeptic” blogs, in order to attract the widest variety of perspectives in the volunteers. Cook wrote the following in his email to S&R earlier today asking us to participate

The survey involves rating 10 randomly selected abstracts and is expected to take 15 minutes. Participants may sign up to receive the final results of the survey (de-individuated so no individual’s data will be published). No other personal information is required (and email is optional). Participants may elect to discontinue the survey at any point and results are only recorded if the survey is completed. Participant ratings are confidential and all data will be de-individuated in the final results so no individual ratings will be published.

S&R recommends that anyone who has a spare 15 minutes participates in the survey. Here’s the link:

http://survey.gci.uq.edu.au/survey.php?c=GGB5IS4BFOO0

On behalf of Cook and his co-authors, S&R thanks you for your time.

# WTF? Happy May Day from Colorado (STFU weather, anyone?)

Monday it was in the 80s here in Denver. This weekend the forecast calls for pretty, seasonal weather in the upper 50s. But today is May Day, the midpoint of springtime. What better opportunity for Mother Nature to show off a bit.

Here’s Ronan MacScottie, out for his morning constitutional a few minutes ago.

Happy Beltane, everyone. Here’s hoping your day is as beautiful as ours.

# Five-day weather forecast for Denver, CO: STFU

Seems like everywhere I’ve ever been people like to say this: “If you don’t like the weather around here, wait 15 minutes and it’ll change.” It’s a funny thing to say, but it’s never true.

Today it was in the 80s here in the 5280. Here’s the forecast for the rest of the week:

Just sayin’….

# Unsolicited museum review: Ice Age Art, at the British Museum

The British Museum’s astonishing exhibit, Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Human Mind, is one of the best shows they’ve had since we’ve been in London. It’s a collection of carvings from the dawn of modern history in Europe, mostly on mammoth or reindeer ivory. The carvings are of a variety of objects—women, mostly, but also animals, and, more recently, abstract designs and even what appear to be maps. The list of superlatives becomes almost boring—the earliest puppet; the oldest known ceramic figure; the earliest known female figure; the earliest known animal carving. Ranging through the show is an astonishing experience. I find myself running out of superlatives to describe the experience.

These objects date back to the various periods of the past several ice ages in Europe, when ice sheets advanced and retreated across the European landscape, transforming it any number of times—most recently, 10,000 years ago, when the most recent retreat created the landscape of modern Europe. And it was during this period that Europe became occupied—and, indeed, re-occupied. We know, for example, the Britain was occupied by humans 40,000 years ago—but was then covered by ice sheets again, with the most recent withdrawal being just 10,000 years ago. We have several inter-glacial periods of human activity to deal with, which is cool. And numerous sites from which to draw—primarily caves in southern Germany, but in reality an arc that ranges from Spain to Siberia. As will always be the case with exhibits of this kind, one wonders how representative what we’ve recovered is of what was actually produced. We probably have no way to know.

But what’s on exhibit here is remarkable, and in some cases breathtaking. Over 100 objects, almost entirely Eurasian, made in a period ranging from 32,000 years ago to 12,000 years ago—as span of 20,000 years, remarkably—are on glorious display. Perhaps most famously, there’s the very famous pregnant woman, carved on mammoth bone, that so fascinated Picasso—the oldest known ceramic figure:

The oldest known puppet?

The astonishing Zaraysk Bison, from Siberia, from 20,000 years ago:

Some of these pieces are very small (less than an inch in length) carvings of women or just indistinct figures, or in many cases flying birds, again usually in mammoth ivory. This piece is called The Worshipper—and it’s small! Which raises, if it hasn’t already occurred to you, the issue of what tools were actually used to produce these objects?

And a very small flying bird:

Or, one of my favorites, a thin bone ornament (for which I have no picture, sadly) with a calf on one side, and an adult bull on the other, with a hole in the center—so that it resembles one of those toys that can spin and present an image while spinning. Is this really what this is—or are we, as one is so often tempted to do, simply projecting?

These items were not casual productions. There was clearly technology involved in their creation—knowledge of the appropriate substance to use, and, more importantly, knowledge of the appropriate carving tools in, for example, the creation of bone carved with the pattern of fish scales. This is very fine work, and there was clearly a process in making these items. What tools, exactly, were involved? There’s a lot of guesswork here—animal claws? Very fine flints? We don’t have metal yet, remember.

The organizers have done some very clever things here. First of all, it’s not an overwhelmingly large show, which is often the case here in London—the search for the next megablockbuster art show seems to pervade the cultures of London, Paris and New York to a tiresome extent. The organizers here seem to have wisely avoided that compulsion. And the show itself is nicely organized for viewing—since we’re mostly looking at sculpture, most of the displays are on islands one can walk around. Finally, there are drawings on the wall by 20th century artists who were, as it turns out, mesmerized by this art—Picasso, Matisse, the English artist Victor Passmore, and even some small sculptures of women by Brassai that look, well, “highly influenced” might be a polite way to put it. Picasso, of course, stole shamelessly from this art, as did, it turns out, Matisse. And their art is all the more interesting because of it. All of this makes for one of the most pleasant museum experiences I’ve had for some time.

And like all good exhibitions, it leaves me both highly pleased and a bit uncertain—not because of what’s on display, which is just remarkable, but because of the subtheme that the organizers are using—“Arrival of the Human Mind.” It may very well be that something changed in how humans processed visual information 40,000 years ago. This does not necessarily make it an emergent phenomenon—it simply means that what (some) humans did with their visual processing took on an additional dimension—abstraction. Much is made of the apparent fact that the statues of women became more abstract—indeed, more sexual—as time went on. And indeed this is a critical aspect of human cognition. Is this all sufficient for statements that the creators of these pieces had “the same modern visual brain as our own?” Or, more specifically, “cells that respond specifically to line orientation have evolved to construct complex illustrations from them.” I’m unconvinced. Brian Sewell has the same concerns:

…I am deeply sceptical of interpretations and assertions that none can prove — even the curator informs us that the terminology of the carbon dating that is the science behind this exhibition reveals “gaps and uncertainties”, and that “the chronological trend … lacks precision”. When British Museum director Neil MacGregor himself tells us that we enjoy the innovations of prehistoric artists because “they use the same parameters of expression that every artist has used since … because we all have the same remarkable complex brain …”, the sane man must raise an eyebrow.

There’s no question that these pieces are a significant artistic achievement. But we can’t really know if that was their intent. These pieces obviously had cultural value to their creators, but that’s not the same thing. There was significant enterprise associated with their creation as well—estimates (which appear credible, and not just made up) are that some of these pieces might have required hundreds of hours to create seem about right. So we’re talking of a culture that embodied not only the appreciation of representational something, but also the time required to create these objects.

But, as Sewell points out elsewhere in his astute review, these objects are free-standing. As much as Picasso, Matisse and Brassai were inspired by the rediscovery of prehistoric art,

I have always believed that in the history of art, nothing has come of nothing and that antecedence is inevitable (if only one can find it) — the recent reappearance from the Siberian permafrost of a scrap of carpet 8,000 years old precisely made my point — but I see no evidence of aesthetic continuity between this Ice Age material and the antiquities of Troy and Tassili, China and Catalhuyuk. Perhaps, like the Neanderthals (who, apparently — just to remind you of the caveat — had no aesthetic inclinations), all these Ice Age artistic colonies died out as surely as those of Cornwall and Brittany a century ago.

Does this matter, really? Probably not. This is not a show about prehistoric art as the precursor to everything that followed, so, even though I think Sewell is correct, it’s ok. The point of the show is that these are remarkable artifacts, like the paintings at Lascaux and Altamira, and they tell us something about the people who made them. In particular, they tell us something about how the minds of these people may have worked.

But did this ability to abstract, and then embody that abstraction (to oversimplify), arise in some sort of context-free state? There’s not much discussion here on this point in the exhibit itself—just some assertions about the brain. All the more surprising, then, that there is no reference, in the exhibit, or the well-produced and illustrated companion volume, to the work of Alexander Marshack or others who have looked into prehistoric peoples’ notion of time. Marshack spent several decades as a self-taught archeologist, and made some stunning discoveries, many of which were initially summarized in his book The Roots of Civilization. The most significant of these is probably the first lunar calendar, which involved some interesting research skills on Marshack’s part.

The fundamental lesson of Marshack’s work is that prehistoric man could count, and could devise an accurate calendar of sorts. And the dating on this? About 32,000 years ago, in one of the periods of interglacial warming that punctuated early human history in Europe. And the cognitive abilities on display in Marshack’s studies—computational abilities that seem comparable to those of modern humans—seem as impressive as those on display at the British Museum. And perhaps not too dissimilar either—the kind of abstraction on display in the exhibits seems likely to entail the kind of abstraction required for a notational system described by Marshack. Both involve imagination, after all. There are excellent discussions of some of these issues in New Scientist and The London Review of Books.

In fact, one might argue that these abilities are linked in fundamentally interesting ways. It seems somewhat remarkable, then, the Marshack’s work is not mentioned at all in the exhibit, and barely acknowledged in the otherwise excellent volume that accompanies the exhibit—which is otherwise chock full of broad generalizations about art and the mind. This suggests that the organizers are unfamiliar with the broad thrust of Marshack’s work, which would be unfortunate, or else they don’t find it relevant to discussions of the emergence of the modern mind, which is just bizarre. To state that the critical factor in the emergence of the modern mind was artistic expression, and the cognitive tools that underlay this, is just silly, and seems remarkably ill-informed.

There’s actually more, if one wanted to pursue this deeply. We know that hand axe technology was a critical milestone in human evolution—not just their use, but, just as critically, their manufacture. We know that humans in Africa were engaged in aesthetic activities thousands of years before the works on view here. But what we have here is figurative art for the first time (that we know of). We want to assign a certain level of significance to this—how can we not? But it’s a problematic exercise.

Perhaps I make too much of this. The exhibit is quite wonderful—with such material on display how could it not be? So if I were you, I’d ignore the baggage of the attempts at broad and grand generalizations about the human mind, and just go and savor the pieces on display. They can’t help but stimulate a whole raft of interesting questions. These objects are some of the earliest evidence we have for humans with minds like not unlike ours. But it’s not the only evidence, and it’s speculative to imply that what’s on display here is qualitatively different from what came before. It may be that that’s the case—but we just don’t know. Something hugely interesting happened to humans 30,000 to 40,000 years ago or so. I’m grateful that it did, and that we have at least some legacy of it to marvel at. It may or may not have been art. But it’s certainly something close to it, you feel.

Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind is open until 2 June at the British Museum.

# Climate and agriculture: Wheatless in Hampstead

According to an article in yesterday’s Independent, the weather in Britain, especially England, has been so lousy that the UK is set to go from a wheat exporter to a wheat importer for the first time in a decade. The culprit here, if there is only one, appears to be the long spell of cold temperatures we’ve had this winter, on top of what can only be called a terrible year of weather. First we had a severe drought in the spring, and then the rains came thundering down, so then we had a lot of flooding, pretty much all over the country. Then this ridiculously cold and long winter. So grain harvests have been ruined. Actually, not just grain harvests—the folks at Riverford Farms out in Devon, who supply us with our vegetables, have had a pretty bad winter for vegetables, on top of a pretty bad year last year. Of course, this is nothing compared with the wheat problem that Egypt faces. But still, it’s indicative of a pretty unfavorable trend.

And it’s put even more pressure on farmers, who have recently also seen near-record livestock losses due to unusually cold and stormy winter weather, and the continual squeeze from the supermarkets that respective Labour and coalition governments appear unwilling to address. To make matters worse, spring plantings are going to be late, and small. We’ve just had the coldest March in 50 years, after the coldest February ever recorded. As The Independent states:

The poor harvest represents the lowest wheat crop since 1985 and means the country will be a net importer of the grain this crop year for the first time since 2001. The NFU predicts next crop year – July 2013 to June 2014 – will be another year of net wheat imports, the first time this has happened in consecutive years since the start of the 1980s.

But while farmers will lose hundreds of millions of pounds and the fragile economy will suffer, British consumers are only like to see a small increase, if any, in the price of a loaf.

“Wheat only represents about a tenth of the cost of a loaf and energy costs and packaging probably have as large an impact on price,” says NFU chief economist Phil Bicknell. “But the wheat price is determined by global supply, rather than UK supply, and the price has actually dipped in the last few days.”

For sure, it’s been a very bad couple of years for British farming. As The Independent, which has been doing good reporting work in this area for some time, reminds us:

Britain’s farmers are facing the third poor harvest on the run as the coldest March in 50 years plays havoc with crop planting–already significantly down because of last year’s wet weather.

With the cold snap set to continue through April, farmers say crops such as potatoes, peas, tomatoes and ornamental flowers have either not been planted, are not growing or are being stunted by the lack of light.

This follows low winter planting levels of cereal crops–a fifth down on last year because of the wet weather. A shortage of spring seed is adding to the problems.

Lower UK crop yields will make UK consumers more reliant on imports and the vagaries of the international markets, which could push up prices. Livestock farmers have been struggling to cope for some time with feed shortages due to poor grass growth in the summer, and continuing snow hampering deliveries.

But wait—how can prices be going down? Aren’t global wheat stocks declining? Well, yes, but it depends on how you look at the world. Stocks are declining on a per capita basis, especially in the developing world where grains count for a lot. But global wheat production actually wasn’t too bad in 2012, in spite of severe drought conditions in a number of wheat-producing areas, because of the increase in planted acreage in other regions. In the US, for example, Minnesota and North Dakota had record wheat harvests. And wheat prices, like those of many commodities, are global—hence the recent weakening. The UN FAO report last month actually forecasts an uptick in wheat production in 2013, in part because of an increase in planting in Europe. However, this forecast was made a month ago, before Britain and Northern Europe had a month of such bad weather. It snowed in both London and Berlin last week. The next FAO forecast comes out on 11 April—it’s entirely possible there will be some negative revisions to 2013 estimates.

Moreover, consumption trends continue to outpace production trends for grain in general, although global consumption did fall in 2012. So what happens if the significant droughts that have been afflicting the United States, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Australia continue—as it appears they will? Fortunately, there has been no real drought in China, which had a record grain harvest in 2012 (but was still among the top ten grain importers globally). Meanwhile, the trend towards great consumption looks set to continue—simple demographics, after all. This means that global grain stocks will continue to be stressed. Grain stocks worldwide currently stand at 423 million tons—which covers 68 days of consumption. This isn’t a record low level—but it’s close, being just six days longer than the record low that preceded the 2007-2008 grain crisis.

So much turns on the current global droughts, and whether they look likely to persist. In the US, things look a bit better than they did last summer, but not at all great—half the country is still affected by significant aridity. Here’s the most recent US drought monitor, and it sure doesn’t look a whole lot better than it did a year ago in that Midwestern region that supplies so much grain. Texas is a basket case, of course, but jeez, look at Nebraska. Globally, while the Ukraine looks better, Russia and Kazakhstan sure do not. And Australia? Don’t ask. Rainfall deficiencies (as they’re called) have been declining, which is the positive news, one supposes. But really, it’s no change of any substance after the hottest summer on record. Wheat production declined 27% from 2011/2012, and there’s no reason to expect any near-term improvement, even though the USDA, strangely enough, is calling for just that.

We continue to balance precariously. We saw what happened in 2008 when that balance was distorted. It’s only a matter of time before the balance gets distorted again, and there’s not much that Monsanto is going to be able to do about it. Meanwhile, I’m just going to hope that things dry out here a bit so that a reasonably normal spring planting season can still take place. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

By wufnik

# Monsant-Oh No!

With every bill passed in Congress, there is good news and bad news. The good news of HR 933 passing the House: we avoided a government shutdown (for now). The bad news: Congress authorized a provision known as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” protecting the agricultural giant from litigation.

From The Russian Times:

The US House of Representatives quietly passed a last-minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 last week – including a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.

The rider, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, has been derided by opponents of biotech lobbying as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” as it would strip federal courts of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer health concerns.

Senator Jon Tester from Montana was the only opponent (which surely will come back to bite him in the ass in his next election cycle, when his opponent will say he “opposed preventing a government shutdown” and “wants us to fall into an economic rut” or something stupid).

The protection bill is dangerous for a few reasons. First, a lot of the people who voted for it didn’t know they were approving this particular addition because they didn’t read the whole bill. The protection provision was included anonymously, pointing to back-room wheeling and dealing, and it was packed into a bill trying to keep the government from shutting down.

Second, Monsanto has a history of litigation with their genetically engineered crops – they fought with DuPont over rights to genetically altered crops, they were found liable for a farmer’s memory loss and physical problems from inhaling their weedkiller, and recent studies have shown that the company’s engineered crops are leading to infertility in cattle and declining plant health. If they are protected from litigation, the company can continue to make dangerous products with no legal ramifications – allowing them to turn a profit while people, animals, and the environment suffer, not entirely unlike 2005’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and its protection of the gun industry.

And third, the Monsanto Protection Act is also dangerous because it sets a nasty precedent for future consumer protection cases. From the International Business Times:

“Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”

It’s a continuation on the trend of corporations getting away with shafting their customers out of millions, leaving consumers worse for the wear and letting corporations off scot-free. Big Banks, the ones Too Big to Fail, cost customers billions of dollars only to be bailed out and refuse to pay back the taxpayers after making record profits. They take up a huge chunk of our economy and can make higher profits risking working families’ money than conducting ethical banking business, and they’re not being held accountable for that. Even champions like Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fighting for consumers and hard-working Americans who got hosed, it’s still not enough.  Big Pharma has gotten away with murder for years – right now, they’re fighting pressure from the Obama administration to stop the “pay to delay” practice of keeping generics off the pharmaceutical market for years – keeping millions of Americans from being able to afford the drugs they need, and allowing Big Pharma to make millions off of their exclusive drugs.

With this deal, Big Agriculture is stepping up its game in consumer abuses and stopping consumers from holding them accountable for their actions. And that is wrong. The government should be protecting consumers, not big companies. If the products or services that a company provides to its customers are faulty, risky, or dangerous, they should be willing to either take them off the market or be held legally responsible for them.

This deal is nothing new – but it’s a disturbing pattern of “more of the same,” and further proof that our government isn’t doing enough to protect us from Big Business and special interests.

# The La Jolla Canyon Run: down and out in the Malibu hills

I am flying across America to participate in a race that isn’t.

The race is the La Jolla Canyon Run—31 miles of trails, up 5000 feet of elevation gain. It’s traditionally held in early March in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Malibu. This year it was cancelled because the organizers got crossways with park management, who then jacked up the access fees.

So there’s no race. But my son who lives on the coast just north of there has been training for this race since last fall. My wife and I had promised to do it with him, so we’re on our way to race it anyway.

On one hand, this is my kind of race. They like the hoopla associated with races—the podiums and medals and crowds. They’re disappointed this one has been cancelled. I don’t like hoopla. I tend to do smaller, lower key events. Show up, do the best you can, shake hands, go home. This event is exactly my sort of thing. You can’t get lower key than a non-race.

At the same time, I’m a little worried. I’ve never run that far or done a true trail run. Also, since the race has been cancelled, there’s no support on the course in case I break an ankle or run out of water. Oh, and I’m old—sixty this year—and still horribly out of shape. That extra ten pounds is going to hurt going up those mountains, especially with another five pounds of water on my back.

The course is four loops, up and over five mountain ridges, each a thousand feet high. That’s not that high, but these are steep. If you’ve ever driven the PCH from LA to Santa Barbara, you know that the mountains drop straight down into the sea, with barely enough room to site the road.

Since the race is cancelled, the route is not marked, so the three of us spend the night before the race studying maps and going over directions like “at mile 5.3 or maybe it’s 5.5, I can’t read my writing. Anyway, there’s a well-marked turn, but don’t turn there. Turn at the next one, which isn’t marked. The sign for that one is behind a bush. If you find yourself running straight up a mountain, you’ve gone too far.” I love my son, but having a dyslexic prepare your cue sheets adds a certain drama to the whole thing.

My wife only plans to do 7 or 8 miles. My son plans to do all four loops, 31 miles, and wants to break six hours, a time which would probably have put him on the podium. I plan to do all four loops, and am hoping for seven hours. But that is wildly optimistic. If Mike does six, then I should do eight and a half hours based on a comparison of our marathon times. My son asks me if I want to borrow a headlamp, just in case I’m out there longer than twelve. He’s not joking.

Loop 1:

The first loop goes up a steep ravine, up and over a dry waterfall, half-hike and half-climb, through a canyon and onto a hillside. The trail then winds up and around a series of mountains that put you looking right down onto the PCH and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a breathtaking view, up and down the coast for miles. The trail then goes through what looks like a high mountain meadow (even though this is not the high mountains,) past another mountain with a very creepy and enormous radar installation on it, then back down the canyon.

The original race was to start at 8 a.m. But we get there early and I start at 7:10. There aren’t many people about and I have the trail to myself. Mike and Liz wait until 7:30. It’s a beautiful, beautiful morning—high blue sky, birds riding the thermals, whitecaps on blue ocean. It’s a little cool, in the fifties, but that’s perfect for a run like this. I take off, making myself run slower than I’d like, freezing as I run through the shadows in the canyon and warming up as I move out of the canyon and up the hillside. Mike passes me about mile 2, just in time to show me a tricky turn. I keep him in sight as we scale the first mountain and make our way along the coast line.

It’s easy to zone out when you run on the road, just sort of settle into a pace and motor along with legs in gear and brain in neutral. That doesn’t work with a trail run. These switchbacks are narrow enough that the handful of hikers who have been up to Mt. Mugu for sunrise have to step off the trail for me to pass, and the long drop on the other side is steep enough and filled with enough cactus that it would hurt. The footing is rocky and treacherous. I’d hoped to do the first loop in under two hours, roughly 15 minute pace. I’d counted on really making up some time on the descents. That’s not the way it works. The descents are a lot easier than the ascents from a huffing and puffing standpoint, but I still have to pick my way down because of the uneven terrain. Still, I run as much as I walk and get through the first loop almost on schedule.

I feel good in terms of energy, but I worry because the trail is starting to take a toll on my legs. I feel a little nascent plantar fasciitis in my left foot, a bone bruise on my heel, a strange little tweak on the inside of my knee and my hip flexors ache. I stop to refill my water in the parking lot but I haven’t drunk any yet, so I simply open it, take a look, and close it. Liz is not back yet, which makes me uneasy. I am not that comfortable with women running alone in wilderness areas, even in relatively well populated ones like this one, and hope she’s okay.

Loop 2:

As I leave, I notice the parking lot is filling up. A wonderful diversity of people are climbing out of the parked cars. In addition to Californians, or at least people who look like I think Californians look, bless their windswept hair and stylish water bottles, there are Japanese and Indians along with people I guess to be of Mexican descent. I am wearing a t shirt, shorts and a hat. The Californians are wearing fleeces and shorts or jeans. The Asians are dressed for an Everest expedition, with thermals peeking out of shirt tops, fleeces, down jackets, full-fingered gloves and knit caps. I’m not sure who’s confused, but one of us has no idea what the temperature is today.

The second loop is the Ray Miller trail, almost three miles of switchbacks that go straight up. This hillside is angled so you can’t quite see the top. At every switch you think the top of the hill is just around the bend, only to turn the corner and see another series of switchbacks. I’m walking now, but tell myself that there’s no time to be gained running uphill and I’m better off saving my energy for the descents, which is sort of true. At last, I reach the top of the trail and get on the fire road, called Overlook Drive. From here, you can see the Pacific on one side and snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains eighty miles east. It is gorgeous.

When I’m halfway down the fire road I hear a shout, look over the side of the mountain and there’s Mike laboring straight up a tiny path. He runs up to me and we compare notes. I’m at mile eleven and he’s already five miles ahead of me. He looks good.

I run down the road, feeling immeasurably superior to the walkers and bikers. I reach the halfway point, turn and start making my way up the same trail I’d seen Mike scale, Fireline Trail. And I crack like an egg. All of a sudden I’m not running any more. Only sixteen miles in and I’m barely walking. I’m leaning into the trail, climbing the darn thing back up to the fire road.

I run/walk back up to the juncture with Ray Miller and try to run down, but I am moving so slowly that the king snakes sunning themselves do not even acknowledge me. I step over them on my way down. Halfway down I drain my water supply and finish the loop bone dry. I am back in the parking lot at five and a half hours. Liz is back also, to my relief, and I gulp down food and water and take a sip of her coffee, which Mike’s girlfriend has just brought from Starbuck’s. He races up as I finish refilling my water bottle.

“You’re on pace,” I say.

“I’m shot,” he says. “Average pulse is 170. My stomach is torn up.” It’s not surprising. When you run as fast as he’s running, your body diverts blood from digestion to the legs. As a result, food sits in an undigested lump in your stomach, doing nothing but making you nauseous. Then, since you’re not absorbing any nutrients, it becomes a game of timing: Can you finish the race before your reserves run out and you bonk, essentially shutting down? He kisses his girlfriend and runs off to do Loop 4. He’s now seven and a half miles ahead of me.

“Go home, get a shower and come back at 4:30. I’m on nine hour pace,” I yell to Liz as I head back up the mountain.

“I can’t leave you out here,” she calls back.

“Sure you can. I feel fine. I just don’t have any legs,” I reply.

Loop 3:

And I don’t. My legs hurt now—calves, shins, quads, and even worse, I’m not used to running for six hours so I haven’t put on any of the lubricant long distance runners use. I’m beginning to chafe. I’m walking bow-legged, my groin raw. It feels stupid that with all of this, the thing that hurts the worst is the place where my shorts rub. The good news about endurance sports is your brain can only process one pain signal at a time, so although everything hurts, only one thing really hurts at a time. Might as well be one thing as another. I am moving very slowly. I try to run a bit, but every impact is excruciating, so instead I try to hike fast, then hike, then just walk.

It’s becoming clear I’ve got no chance of making the eight hour official cut-off of the original race. Nine will be an accomplishment. But I don’t know if I can even do that. I am slowing down. On the descent back down the canyon, I am starting to slip and fall, my ankles turning and dropping me onto my butt on the rocks. I’m now over 22 minutes a mile on descents, about the same pace as an elderly man strolling around the block smoking an after-dinner cigar and walking a poodle. Finally, at just over eight hours and after 27.25 miles, I reach the parking lot.

Liz is waiting for me, having ignored my request to go home. I look up the hillside at Loop 4, then at my watch. Best case, I’m looking at two more hours. Worst case, I’m looking at being carried down off the mountain. I punch “stop” on my GPS watch and climb in the car. I’m done, and I failed.

Mike meets us back at the house. He did the entire course in 5:54, an excellent time, especially without the advantage of having water and food on the course as would have been the case in a race. I am very proud of him. I time out, finishing only 27.25 miles in eight hours, almost on the nose. My legs hurt so bad I can barely climb the steps to the apartment. I have to step up with my right, drag my left, then step with my right, drag my left.

I didn’t do what I came to do, and I am in pain.

Beautiful weather. Outdoors. My son. My wife. It’s hard to imagine a better day than this.

By Otherwise

# Unsolicited book review: Spillover, by David Quammen

This is a damn scary book. Quammen is perhaps our best science writer, and his subjects in the past have ranged widely, from island biogeography to large predators to whatever he fancies in his excellent collections of essays. And this time he’s picked something topical, timely and thoroughly terrifying. It’s zoonosis—the phenomenon of diseases that are directly transferable from animals to humans. You know, AIDS, Marberg, Ebola, SARS, and a bunch you’ve probably never heard of. Oh, and the massive influenza following the first World War that killed more people than the war did. These are all zoonosis, and a spillover has occurred with each one—that moment when the virus (which it usually is) jumps from one species to another. And Quammen has written a page-turner about them. To say that it’s wonderfully written almost seems out of place, but it is.

We all think we know what these diseases are capable of, but we’re wrong. It’s much worse. Not that Quammen is out to scare us—rather, he wants to put all of it in some perspective, and lay a few popular myths to rest. But still, you finish the book feeling that we’ve been damn lucky, and like much of the community of scientists and health professionals profiled in the book, we’re nervous. But we now know what can happen, why it will be difficult to stop, and what the potential damage might be—I say potential because only with AIDS have we so far seen a true global epidemic. With the rest of it, we’ve gotten off easy, so to speak.

Quammen has integrated a number of detective stories here. First, why are there suddenly a whole new raft of terrifying diseases? Second, where do they come from? Third, what can we do about them? The answers here are not particularly comforting. They relate to a wide range of factors—population growth, population expansion into areas inhabited by primates and bats, the phenomenal mobility of human beings in the late 20th and early 21st century, the critical population size required for an epidemic to take root, and the fact that most of these diseases are viruses, and therefore can’t be treated by antibiotics. This is quite a list, and if it seems that they have all converged in the past two or three decades, that’s because they have. Quammen seems to cover it all.

There are several diseases that Quammen investigates in considerable detail—Marburg, Ebola, Hendra, SARS, and, of course, AIDS, which occupies the largest section of the book. AIDS has been by far the largest killer, and is still not under complete control, but appears to have reached some sort of stasis. But they’re all lurking out there. And then, of course, there is the NBO—the Next Big One. Which everyone in the field appears to be resigned to, kind of like seismologists. This is not comforting, but it’s necessary knowledge. Quammen even covers Lyme disease, and it turns out that nearly everything I thought I knew about it was wrong. For one thing, it has almost nothing to do with deer.

And Quammen doesn’t skimp on the science, I’m glad to say. We learn a lot about viruses and how and why they can be so dangerous—for one thing, there are different kinds of viruses. And we learn even more about how difficult it is to track these things down. There’s an art of assessment getting profiled here—the people who have to make decisions about these things are almost always operating with incomplete knowledge—what is the reservoir (the incubator for the disease that seems itself to be resistant)? How can we determine what it is (hint—it’s probably a primate or a bat)? This turns out to be insanely complicated, and much of the book follows Quammen’s investigation of this search for the reservoir of several recent zoonotic outbreaks. This is both chilling and thrilling, and Quammen is an informed guide.

Quammen devotes a substantial amount of the book—pretty much the last 100 pages or so—to theorizing how AIDS got started—over a century ago. Yes, that’s how long AIDS has been around for. So far as we can tell, AIDS got it start in humans in 1908 as the result of what Quammen describes as “a single bloody encounter between a human and a chimpanzee” in Southeastern Cameroon. Bad for both, obviously. In fact, another thing we learn is how some of the primate populations in Africa are being decimated as well. So what made AIDS take off when it did, after remaining relatively dormant for decades? Quammen devotes considerable discussion to the various theories about this—it’s a complicated story, and Quammen does it justice.

The heroes are many—generally healthcare professionals, many no longer with us because of exposure to something; scientists roaming the rivers of Africa, or wherever some new strain of something really communicable and often of unknown origin has shown up; Public Health officials, whose decision-making is often bedeviled by vastly incomplete and rapidly evolving knowledge. This book is, among other things, humbling for those of us not involved in these various, and often noble, pursuits.

Quammen ends on a hopeful note. We’ve managed to avoid several potential disasters, and with each one, we get better at spotting these spillover outbreaks. But I can’t decide if he’s just telling us that to make us feel better, or if he really believes it. Because there’s no question that there’s the potential for massive global disaster here, and that our penetration into more and more previously sparsely inhabited regions just worsens the odds.

# Taylor attacks his critics instead of correcting his distortions of a peer-reviewed study

On February 13, James M. Taylor of The Heartland Institute published a deceptive and dishonest blog post at Forbes in which he falsely claimed that a new study rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus about the human causes of climate disruption. On February 20, Taylor dedicated a second Forbes blog to the same study, and instead of admitting his factual errors and correcting his original post, he chose to attack both his critics and the study’s authors. However, his second post was filled with yet more false claims that demonstrate yet again Taylor’s habit of deception and dishonesty.

# Taylor attacks a straw man

According to Taylor, climate disruption realists (those who accept the reality that human activity is the dominant driver of climate disruption) supposedly feel that “only atmospheric scientists are qualified” to comment on climate disruption and that geoscientists and engineers are not qualified. While having an understanding of atmospheric science certainly helps understand certain aspects of climate disruption, it is not true that only atmospheric scientists can be climate experts. Scientists who study glaciers and ice caps provide understanding of how the Earth’s glaciers will respond to climate disruption and how that may affect sea level rise. Chemists who are experts in geochemistry provide valuable information on how fast carbon dioxide is sequestered by chemical reactions with rocks. Biologists provide information on how plant and animals will respond to ocean acidification and higher temperatures. Some climate experts such as Ray Pierrehumbert were even engineers before they changed their focus and became climate researchers.

The problem with Taylor’s assertion (his “Argument #2″) and his related claims of hypocrisy by climate disruption realists is that they’re straw man logical fallacies. In this case, Taylor has falsely asserted that his critics are making a claim that they haven’t actually made, and he’s attacking the assertion instead of the real one because it’s easier and because it distracts his readers. In the process of creating his straw man, Taylor attacks both James Hansen and the head of the IPCC, Raj Pachauri

As Taylor says, Hansen is an astronomer by education. But Hansen’s original expertise, namely the atmosphere of Venus and how it’s resulted in Venus’ surface temperature being hot enough to melt lead, is directly relevant to climate disruption. Furthermore, Hansen has been publishing peer-reviewed studies about the greenhouse effect and the Earth’s climate since 1974. His publishing record and decades of work are what make Hansen an expert, not his original astronomy background.

And while Pachauri is a railroad engineer, he’s also an administrator, not a scientific expert. It doesn’t take a scientific expert to be a good administrator and manage scientists effectively. If it did, corporations run by MBAs without engineering backgrounds would fail because the managers and executives didn’t understand how to design a telephony circuit or an Ethernet switch. Whether or not Pachauri is a climate expert is immaterial – Taylor’s claim is a distraction either way.

S&R examined the nature of expertise in April 2012 when 49 former NASA employees wrote a letter insisting that NASA prevent its scientists from publishing their scientific conclusions about industrial climate disruption:

Expertise in the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide on astronauts doesn’t make one an expert on CO2‘s effect on ecosystems. Expertise in lunar geology doesn’t make one an expert in geochemical sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Expertise in heat transfer through space shuttle heat tiles doesn’t make one an expert in heat transfer between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Even expertise in weather forecasting doesn’t make the forecaster an expert on climate.

No amount of expertise on one subject can magically bestow expertise on any other subject. Expertise must be earned through dedicated effort day in and day out, over the course of years.

Taylor’s attacks are against a straw man argument that his critics have not actually made, and he fails to tar his critics as hypocrites in the process.

# Taylor falsely claims government scientists are guilty by association

Taylor continues his deceptions by resorting to yet another logical fallacy, specifically guilt by association, when he falsely claims that the scientists surveyed for the Doran and Zimmerman 2010 study (D&Z2010) are biased simply because they work for or are funded by government grants. As S&R wrote in response to another of Taylor’s failed attempts to discredit scientists using guilt by association,

Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. (emphasis original, links removed)

Furthermore, even if Taylor is correct that the source of money is corrupting, then by his own logic, scientists in the employ of fossil fuel-related industries are far more likely to have been corrupted than those scientists employed by the government. In 2010, S&R found that fossil-fuel related industries (those involved in the production, transportation, consumption, and refining of fossil fuels) were responsible for approximately $9 trillion, or 15%, of the entire global economy in 2008. In contrast, the entire global budget for climate research globally in 2008 is estimated to be about$3.8 billion, or 0.04% of the revenues of the fossil fuel-related industries.

Taylor can’t have it both ways. If Taylor wants to claim that scientists are automatically tainted by government money, then scientists are automatically tainted by industry money too. And there’s over 2,500 times more industry money than government money.

# Taylor dishonestly distorts yet another survey

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Taylor’s last deceptive claim borders on being dishonest. He falsely claims that “an often misrepresented survey claiming 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing a global warming crisis… (emphasis added),” a reference to the previously mentioned D&Z2010 survey. The problem is that D&Z2010 doesn’t say that 97% of scientists agree, it says that 97.4% of “climatologists who are active publishers on the subject of climate change” agree. The survey says that only 82% of all respondents (all scientists from various academic institutions and government research labs) agree that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

A related claim of Taylor’s, however, is dishonest. Taylor writes that D&Z2010 “asked merely whether some warming has occurred and whether humans are playing at least a partial role (emphasis added).” The actual question posed in D&Z2010 was “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? (emphasis added)” Note the difference in significance between Taylor’s “at least a partial role” and D&Z2010′s “a significant contributing factor.” This is a dishonest attempt by Taylor to downplay the results of the D&Z2010 study.

# Taylor repeats his dishonest allegations about the Lefsrud and Meyer study

But most of Taylor’s dishonest claims are made in reference to the survey of professional engineers and geoscientists by Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer. Taylor writes that Lefsrud and Meyer “claim their survey is not strong evidence against the mythical global warming consensus, therefore skeptics cannot cite the survey while debating the mythical consensus.” However, what Lefsrud and Meyer actually claim – three times just in their response to Taylor at his original Forbes blog – is that their results are not representative of all scientists.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …”

We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such! (emphasis added)

As S&R found last week, the authors correctly state that the study is not representative.

There is no mention [in Taylor's original Forbes blog] that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA.

Furthermore, Taylor repeats the false claim he that he originally made with respect to Lefsrud and Meyer’s “[frequent] use terms such as “denier” to describe scientists who are skeptical of an asserted global warming crisis.” S&R identified this lie of Taylor’s previously, writing that

the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

Taylor writes that climate disruption realists are “attacking the integrity of scientists” in an attempt to “minimize the damage” supposedly caused by Lefsrud and Meyer’s study. As demonstrated above and by Taylor’s critics previously, this claim is false for a couple of reasons. Since the study isn’t representative, there is no damage to be minimized. Similarly, Taylor’s critics aren’t questioning the integrity of the individuals who responded to the survey, only whether the respondents are a representative sample of all scientists like Taylor claims.

Ultimately, Taylor’s critics are not questioning scientists’ integrity, they’re questioning Taylor’s integrity.

# Recreating Shackleton’s unbelievable voyage

In the annals of polar exploration, there are any number of extraordinary journeys that have reached mythic status. Scott’s failed return from the pole, with its simultaneous overtones of tragedy and inspiration; the journey of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Birdie Bowers, Edward Wilson and Henry Robertson on that same expedition to harvest some Penguin eggs in the middle of winter, later recounted in Cherry-Garrard’s aptly named The Worst Journey in the World; Nansen’s improbable crossing of Greenland on skis in 1888, and his equally improbable attempt to reach the North Pole by getting frozen in the ice several years later; Amundsen, taking the idea from Nansen, locking himself in the ice and letting himself float his way (over three years) to be the first European to complete the Northwest Passage. And then there’s Ernest Shackleton, whose 1916 exploits following the sinking of his ship, the Endurance, in Antarctic waters still has an element of unreality to it.

The facts are straightforward. Shackleton was the leader of an expedition to chart Antarctic waters, and to attempt to cross the continent, if possible, since the South Pole had already been reached by this time. It was Shackleton’s third trip to Antarctica, and second as a commander of a naval vessel (in his first command, Shackleton and his men got pretty close to the South Pole, but were forced to turn back). The first two went fine, or about as fine as these things could go—no one died under Shackleton’s command. This one, though, was a different matter: the Endurance became trapped by a sudden freeze in 1915, and remained trapped for ten months before being crushed by the ice and sinking. And while Shackleton and his men were able to remove necessary supplies before the sinking, there they were on the ice, with a bunch of stuff the absolutely needed to survive, with no obvious hope of rescue. So they lived on the ice for a couple of months, and then, as what passed for the Antarctic summer was ending and their ice was breaking up, in April 1916 set sail, in three open lifeboats, for Elephant Island—over 340 miles north of where they were when the Endurance sank. After sailing for five days in heavy weather, they made Elephant Island, and then had to deal with—now what? There was still no hope of rescue unless someone could alert potential rescuers.

So Shackleton and four of his crew did what anyone would do—they set sail (again in an open boat) for the whaling station on South Georgia island, 800 nautical miles away. Well, they did that, but it took 16 days. But then they discovered they had landed on the wrong side of the island. So they had to climb the 2,950 foot mountain that separated the two shores of the island to reach the whaling station. Which they eventually did, got the rescuers, and returned to Elephant Island after four and a half months to rescue the rest of his crew. In all of this, not a man was lost—another extraordinary aspect of this widely celebrated voyage. There have been movies made about it, including one with Kenneth Branagh.

So a couple of sports decided to recreate Shackleton’s voyage, and they actually survived to tell the tale. But it was close, apparently—the weather appears to have been just as uncooperative for them as it was for Shackleton’s group. Still, it’s nice to know that the age of iron men and wooden ships has not completely passed. Good for them. This isn’t the first time someone has attempted to duplicate a Shackelton expedition—a couple of years ago, descendents of Shackleton’s 1909 failed attempt to reach the pole attempted it again, and made it.

Words are often insufficient to capture experience—we all know this. But they fail particularly badly when trying to capture being in an open boat in fifteen foot waves for days on end, or the effects of sustained cold on the human body—our metaphors just aren’t expansive enough. Not that people haven’t tried. But anyone who has actually been in that open boat knows the difference between words and experience. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of them all the time.

The stamp set above was issued in 2009 by South Georgia, where Shackleton was buried after his death on his fourth voyage to Antarctica in 1922. He rests there still.

# Heartland Institute’s James Taylor falsely claims a new study rejects climate consensus [Updated]

An update to this story has been included below.

James Taylor, managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News, recently wrote a Forbes blog post about a new study of professional engineers and geoscientists involved in Alberta, Canada’s petroleum industry. According to the authors of the study, however, Taylor got most of the details in his post wrong, and Taylor has not corrected or retracted the blog post even though his errors have been pointed out to him. Furthermore, Taylor republished his deceptive and dishonest post at The Heartland Institute this morning, three days after the study’s authors corrected Taylor. Taylor has a made a habit of distorting scientific studies in the past – his new blog post is no different.

Taylor claims in his post that a study of over a thousand professional geoscientists and engineers in Alberta is somehow representative of all scientists in the world. But the authors of the study, Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer, wrote in a response at Forbes (full comment reproduced below) that

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” (emphasis added)

Taylor’s post is based almost entirely on the incorrect claim that the study’s results are representative. There is no mention that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA. As the study’s authors say, their results are not representative of scientists in general.

Furthermore, Taylor fails to mention fact that 84% of respondents were actually engineers, not scientists. Yet Taylor incorrectly claims in the title itself that the survey applies to the “majority of scientists.” Engineers are only mentioned three times in the first four paragraphs and once more in the conclusion, yet Taylor generalizes “geoscientists and engineers” to just “scientists” 19 times. Given that Taylor quoted extensively from passages throughout the 24 page study, it is not realistic that he could have missed the authors’ repeated warnings about the non-representativeness of the study. As such, his failures to mention key points are not merely deceptive, they’re dishonest as well.

Taylor distorts the study in other ways too. He distorts the purpose of the study, implying that it’s a study of the beliefs of the respondents. According to the paper, the study is about the worldview(s) of the respondents, tactics and strategies they use when arguing with others, and how they justify their own claims to have expert opinions on climate science. Worldviews, tactics/strategies, and justifications are related to beliefs, but they are not the same.

Taylor also draws a line between “skeptics” and “believers” in a way that distorts the paper’s conclusions. The authors point out that Taylor got this wrong as well, writing in their comment at Forbes that

it is also not the case that all frames except “Support Kyoto” are against regulation – the “Regulation Activists” mobilize for a more encompassing and more strongly enforced regulation.

Given that four of the five groups identified by the authors believe that humans have some influence on climate disruption, it would be just as accurate (and just as distorted) to claim that 67% of respondents were “believers” in climate disruption.

In addition to his dishonesty about the representativeness of the APEGA study, Taylor also lies about a couple of other aspects of the study. First, he cherry-picks his quotes from the description of the “Regulation Activists” to make them appear more skeptical than they actually are. According to the paper, regulation activists “do not significantly vary from the mean in how they consider the magnitude, extent, or time scale of climate change.” Other quotes from the description of regulation activists demonstrate this point further:

Despite their seemingly ambivalent stance, they are most likely to believe that nature is our responsibility.”

“They believe that the Kyoto Protocol is doomed to failure, yet they motivate others most of all to create regulation”

“They also recommend that we define and enact sustainability/stewardship, reduce GHGs, and create incentives”

Taylor also dishonestly claims that the study’s authors are “unmistakably alarmist” and that they “frequently use terms such as ‘denier.’” The only problem with this is that the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

We agree with Hoffman that in order to understand this defense and resistance and to move forward with international policies, organizational researchers must gain more in depth understanding of the subtleties of the contestation and unravel the whole spectrum of frames including those of climate change deniers and sceptics. However, given the polarized debate, gaining access to the reasoning of deniers and sceptics, let alone unraveling their framings, is far more difficult than analyzing supporters of regulatory measures. (citations removed)

Finally, Taylor refers to another study whose results he distorted in 2010. When we investigated Taylor’s claims, S&R discovered that Taylor had incorrectly claimed that the study was representative of all meteorologists (it wasn’t), that the study’s purpose was to test the existence of a consensus among meteorologists (it wasn’t), and that experts on weather are also experts on climate (they aren’t). And Taylor’s claims about the AMS study have gone over two years without correction. Taylor’s recent Forbes post follows an very similar pattern, including his refusal to correct the distortions.

0.17% of climate papers since1991 reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

The reality is that, contrary to claims made by Taylor and others at Heartland, every serious attempt to measure the degree of consensus among scientists and climate experts has concluded that the overwhelming majority of experts agree that climate is changing rapidly, that humans are the dominant drivers of the changes, and that model projections indicate that the changes will be highly disruptive if they’re not planned for. And every attempt to disprove the reported consensus has been disproved or shown to be based on distortions. Just like this attempt by Taylor has been.

Taylor has been deceiving and lying to readers about scientific studies since at least 2010, when his distortions came to the attention of S&R. His recent blog post at Forbes represents a continuation of his habit of deception and dishonesty.

What follows is the full text of the authors’ response to Taylor as S&R received it in email and as it is posted at Forbes. As of publication Taylor has ignored the authors and has issued no corrections, has not retracted the post, and there is no evidence that he has attempted to correct the record at any of the other websites who have reproduced or reported on this post.

Dear Mr. Taylor

Thank you for the attention you are giving to our research and continuing the discussion about how professional engineers and geoscientists view climate change. We would like to emphasize a few points in order to avoid any confusion about the results.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …” Our research reconstructs the frames the members of a professional association hold about the issue and the argumentative patterns and legitimation strategies these professionals use when articulating their assumptions. Our research does not investigate the distribution of these frames and, thus, does not allow for any conclusions in this direction. We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

In addition, even within the confines of our non-representative data set, the interpretation that a majority of the respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of global warming is simply not correct. To the contrary: the majority believes that humans do have their hands in climate change, even if many of them believe that humans are not the only cause. What is striking is how little support that the Kyoto Protocol had among our respondents. However, it is also not the case that all frames except “Support Kyoto” are against regulation –the “Regulation Activists” mobilize for a more encompassing and more strongly enforced regulation. Correct interpretations would be, for instance, that – among our respondents – more geoscientists are critical towards regulation (and especially the Kyoto Protocol) than non-geoscientists, or that more people in higher hierarchical positions in the industry oppose regulation than people in lower hierarchical positions.

All frequencies in our paper should only be used to get an idea of the potential influence of these frames – e.g. on policy responses. Surely the insight that those who oppose regulation tend to have more influence on policy-making than the supporters of the Kyoto Protocol should not come as a surprise after Canada dropped out of the protocol a year ago.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such!

We trust that this clarifies our findings. Thank you again for your attention.

Best regards
Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer

# Photography: greenhouse

This greenhouse is part of a larger business that belongs to a friend of my father’s. It is currently non-operational and has been abandoned and up for sale for the last couple of years.

I can still remember watching them hunt snapping turtles in the summer and terrorizing the waterfowl on their small cattail choked pond when I was a kid. In the winters, we would wait for it to freeze over so that we could go ice skating. Skates were put on in one of the shuttered greenhouses; it was always so cold that my fingers would turn white and stop working. I have a vivid memory of my skate held carefully between my father’s knees as he laced them up for me one of those times my fingers became useless. My skates belonged to my mother when she was younger. They were a sort of roughed up, fuzzy old leather and I had used white shoe polish to try and make them look better. They had these ridiculous homemade pink pom-poms tied through the laces down at the toe and gave terrible ankle support.

When I got older, I worked a summer at the greenhouse when they were still running wholesale alongside their newly opened on-site store. I was always selected to pull flats of tomatoes, partly because their green house was short and so hot and humid it felt like there was no air to breathe, but also because I could drop down and sit cross-legged, scoop up several trays so they ran down the length of both arms, and smoothly stand up without losing my balance.

The guy who ran the place was always hatching the craziest schemes; my favorite was the one where he was going to have these fancy gardens in the middle of everything with peacocks living in them. The gardens never happened, but the peacocks did; they lived in a large shed towards the back with a huge chicken-wire wrap pen. They smelled and were absurdly loud, but the two females were nice enough; the male was kind of a jerk.

As the years have passed, age and economy made the place more than they could handle. It’s a rather typical farm sort of story: the kids don’t want to take it over, 24/7/365 is too much for the owners, and no one wants to buy it. So it sits there. The sheeting is ripping off of the two greenhouses that have managed not to collapse, and though plants grown up from seeds that were scattered still pop up and flower here and there, it is literally just a shell of what it was. Every time I see it, I have all these weird complex emotions about where I grew up, and what is happening to the space that I once knew as it becomes something new to which I have no connection.

# Heartland’s Taylor fails to discredit authors of National Climate Assessment

On January 11, 2013, the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) published its draft National Climate Assessment for public comment. The first paragraph of the Executive Summary found that

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that individuals and organizations who deny that global climate change is “primarily driven by human activity” would attack the report.

Yesterday James Taylor of The Heartland Institute wrote a blog at Forbes attacking the Assessment by questioning the objectivity of seven of the scientists involved in writing the report. However, Taylor’s entire argument is based on the false assertion that being associated with an environmental organization automatically biases the scientists’ judgement. This is known as the “guilt by association” logical fallacy and it’s an attempt by Taylor to defame the character of the scientists.

Taylor asserts, without proof, that scientists James Buizer, Jerry Melillo, Suzanne Moser, Richard Moss, Andrew Rosenberg, Donald J. Wubbles, and Gary Yohe are all supposedly “crooked” because they have current or former associations with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Second Nature. This assertion is absurd. Is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, inherently biased simply because he works at Princeton? Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? Are all registered Democrats inherently biased against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because most environmentalists are Democrats? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute.

When we look at the professional experience and scientific expertise of the seven scientists that Taylor names, the fact that Taylor is attempting to smear their reputations becomes clear.

And most of these seven scientists have also been asked to work on climate reports by the National Academy of Sciences and other expert panels just like the USGCRP itself. These seven scientists have nearly two centuries of cumulative experience in climate-related science and public policy. As such they can legitimately claim to be authorities in their climate-related fields.

Taylor, on the other hand, has a background in law and government, not science. There is no evidence that Taylor has written any peer-reviewed scientific papers or been intimately involved in crafting regulations relating to climate policy in the way that Moss and Rosenberg have. Taylor’s Forbes bio indicates that he “studied” atmospheric science while getting his government degree from Dartmouth, but he certainly hasn’t worked as a scientist or maintained any scientific expertise since.

More damning, however, is that Taylor has a habit of distorting scientific studies and taking other peoples’ words out of context. S&R found in early 2010 that Taylor had incorrectly applied the results of a small small self-selected poll of broadcast meteorologists to all scientists. In February 2011, S&R found that Taylor had incorrectly accused scientist Mark Boslough of lying and criticizing former astronaut Harrison Schmitt when Boslough did neither. S&R found in late 2011 that Taylor had dishonestly claimed that so-called “skeptics” merely question the source of industrial climate disruption – to not know that many of his fellow so-called “skeptics’ would require that Taylor be incompetent. In addition, S&R found in mid-2012 that Taylor deceptively took quotes out of context in ways that dramatically changed their meaning and implications.

Percentage of authors of the Assessment affected by Taylor’s fallacious criticism (Climate Nexus)

And Taylor continues his habit of distorting facts in this Forbes blog. While Taylor mentions that there are 13 senior scientists engaged in guiding the report (one chairman, two vice-chairmen, and 10 members of a “secretariat”), he fails to mention that the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee led by these 13 scientists was actually composed of 60 scientists and policy experts. And he fails to mention that the Committee “engaged more than 240 authors in the creation of the report.” As the graph shows, Taylor’s illogical and deceptive criticisms apply to only a small percentage of the report’s authors. Even if they had merit, Taylor’s criticisms would have insignificant impact on the Assessment’s science and data-based conclusions.

Taylor’s Forbes blog is a failed attempt to distract readers from the overwhelming data and objective facts documented in the Assessment. And those facts demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, namely that it is “primarily driven by human activity” and that it is “already affecting the American people.”

# China changes its mind on food

In something of a Big Deal, it has emerged that China no longer will pursue the goal of being self-sufficient in food. According to the South China Morning Post, Chen Xiwen, who is the director of the rural affairs policy-making committee of the Communist Party, and who therefore presumably knows a thing or two, the policy of self-sufficiency laid out with great fanfare in 1978 won’t work anymore. Xiwen is quoted as saying the following: “During the process of urbanization, we must pay attention to modern agricultural development and to farm product supplies, but of course, we certainly cannot pursue self-sufficiency.” I imagine agricultural commodities traders worldwide creamed their jeans when they heard this—because China is now going to have to decide what to import and what to keep growing. But the traders probably already knew this—in fact, most of us knew this, long before the Communist Chinese government could actually admit that this was going to be the case.

Rice is probably fine. But as the Chinese middle class grows and wants to eat more like the west, farmland is coming under pressure, so crops like corn are coming under more pressure as well. The corn, of course, is used for meat production, which is also growing rapidly. Then there’s the ongoing and very rapid urbanization that’s taking place over the past several decades, which has seen an estimated 260 million farmers leave the field (so to speak) according to the SCMP article, and the rural population decline by about 80 million since the early 1980s. The urban population, already pretty large, continues to grow, which is more or less the problem—or a significant part of it. All this is compounded by China’s increasingly serious water issues. As a result, China’s hunger for farmland outside of China has become significant enough that it has roiled local property markets in any number of regions.

I still remember the hoo-hah that accompanied Lester Brown’s book Who Will Feed China when it appeared in 1995. Brown’s central point was that there simply weren’t the global resources—to say nothing of indigenous resources within China—to feed the population of China to the standard of Western Europe or the US. At that time, the Chinese government pushed back strongly on this, and did so for many years, suggesting that Brown was full of crap. Hmmm, not so much now. But there was a corollary point as well, which was the pressure that Chinese demand would put on global food supplies. As the SCMP article cited above indicates, food imports are growing rapidly in China, and represent an increasing share of what’s available to Chinese consumers. And, of course Chinese food imports are actually food exports from somewhere else.

Everywhere we look we’re bumping into resource constraints, but we continue to deny this. Carbon in the atmosphere is just the most glaring example, but there are plenty of others—the imminent (but probably preventable) collapse of global fisheries being perhaps the best example. This year, 2013, we’re likely to see further strains on agricultural commodities as droughts persist, but demand continues to increase. Even with additional acreage being planted in North America in 2012, the crop was well short of targets. It would be nice to think we had political systems that could deal with this sagely—but we don’t. We do have an economic system that sort of knows how to deal with this—but we don’t know yet how successfully it will deal with food scarcity on a global level when the capacity to actually grow food is compromised. Pity.

By wufnik

# Media Trackers writer ignorant of academia and climate issues, hypocritical regarding ethics

On January 16, Alyssa Carducci published a story at Media Trackers-Florida in which she claimed that Michael Mann charges “$10,000 plus expenses for speaking fees.” Carducci went on to imply that greed was Mann’s reason for performing climate research and for speaking publicly about the reality of industrial climate disruption. However, Carducci’s reporting demonstrated that she lacks understanding of how much speaking engagements cost, how research grants actually operate, and of Steve Milloy’s well-documented history of being a “science denier for hire.” In addition, Carducci obtained her information by misrepresenting her affiliation when she contacted Mann’s agent to ask about Mann’s speaking fee, something that raises a number of questions about both Carducci and both Media Trackers – Florida and The Heartland Institute, where Carducci is an author for Environment & Climate News. Scientists who are experts in their field often get paid for speaking to the public, whether that’s businesses or universities or general audiences. The more famous the scientist is, the more he or she gets paid. According to an article from 1996 in The Scientist, a “typical” speaking fee was about$2,000, although that varied widely from industry to industry and audience to audience. The same article reported that clinical researchers presenting to pharmaceutical companies could command between $5,000 and$15,000. And “famous authorities on science and medicine” could demand fees of $25,000 per lecture. That was in 1996. If we adjust those values for inflation, that range changes to a typical fee of$3,000 to a maximum fee for “famous authorities” of about $37,000 per lecture. According to this article in Outside Magazine online from 2007, MIT scientist and National Academy of Sciences member Richard Lindzen (who is also someone who denies that human industry is predominantly responsible for climate disruption) asks between$1,000 and $2,000 from non-corporate groups and between$5,000 and $10,000 from corporate groups. Presumably this is because corporate groups have deeper pockets than universities or community groups. Mann is a famous scientist and a public figure. His name is arguably better known to the general public than Lindzen’s is, and as such he can command high speaking fees. And not incidentally, Carducci was claiming to be a representative of an industry group, not a university or community group. So the$10,000 she was quoted by Mann’s agent is not unreasonable given Mann’s fame and the expected audience.

Carducci also implied that Mann’s research grants were making him rich, writing that he brought about $7 million between 2006 and 2010 into Penn State’s research coffers. The problem is that no research grant, however large, makes scientists rich. There are rules in place at universities and imposed by the federal government (usually the National Science Foundation) that are designed specifically to prevent scientists from becoming rich with grant money (aka defrauding the grantor). Physical science professor Scott Mandia wrote two posts at his blog describing exactly how this works. Essentially, principal investigators have their salary reduced by some amount to account for the additional income from research grants. Furthermore, as two S&R investigations found, Mann’s contributions to the overall Penn State research budget was essentially negligible and that scientists who were primarily motivated by greed would fare better working for fossil fuel-related industries. Carducci also refers to science denier Steve Milloy as a “scientist” and implicitly rejects Mann’s claim that Milloy has been paid to manufacture doubt about the dangers of pesticides, second-hand smoke, etc. According to Sourcewatch, Milloy has a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences and Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from from Johns Hopkins University. However, simply having a general science degree does not confer upon anyone the “scientist” moniker – only working scientists or one-time working scientists get to make that claim. A search of Google Scholar turned up no peer-reviewed papers written by Steven J. Milloy, and there is no evidence that Milloy has ever worked as a scientist. There is a great deal of evidence that Milloy has been paid by the tobacco industry specifically to deny the dangers of second-hand smoke. According to Philip Morris documents stored by the Tobacco Legacy Project, Milloy’s group The Association for Sound Science Coalation (TASSC) was paid$480,000 in 1994 through Philip Morris PR company APCO International. TASSC was founded by Milloy in 1993 at the behest of APCO and Philip Morris. Before Milloy disbanded it, TASSC had a long history of denying the dangers of second-hand smoke.

And Milloy continues being paid to cast doubt upon scientific studies that identify risky products, most recently by pesticide maker Syngenta. In this case, the Center for Media and Democracy obtained court documents that showed Milloy had been paid $25,000 by Syngenta in 2008 to deny the risks of atrazine and that he’d asked for$15,000 in 2004. And one email clearly shows Milloy asking for Syngenta talking points that he can repeat in his weekly column.

After Mann posted his Facebook responses to her article, Carducci wrote that Mann was connected to Climategate along with several statements that implied he was guilty of misconduct. While everything she wrote was fastidiously factual, Carducci failed to mention that Mann was exonerated by two different Pennsylvania State University investigations and a subsequent National Science Foundation (NSF) investigation. So far as S&R was able to tell, Carducci has never before written about the details of Climategate or Michael Mann’s multiple exonerations, so it’s entirely possible that she is simply ignorant of the facts. However, writing about topics on which you know little is generally considered unwise in journalism.

As serious as her factual errors are, Carducci’s breach of journalistic ethics was much more serious. In order to obtain the \$10,000 figure she quoted in her Media Trackers – Florida article, Carducci misrepresented her affiliation to Mann’s agent, Jodi Solomon of Jodi Solomon Speakers. According to Mann’s account of what happened on his Facebook page, Jodi Solomon Speakers logs every call and email they receive and “there is no record that Media Trackers was ever in touch with us. If they claim otherwise, they did so by misrepresenting themselves to us.” An update by Mann reported that Jodi Solomon had found Carducci’s phone call and that Carducci had “said she was from the Association of Air Conditioning Distributors in the state of Florida and she was helping to plan their upcoming event for 300-500 people (emphasis added).”

S&R contacted Jodi Solomon in order to confirm that what Mann wrote on his Facebook page was correct. Solomon confirmed that Mann’s quotes were accurate of statements she had made with regard to Carducci and Media Trackers.

S&R also tried to ask Media Trackers-Florida for comment via their website, but there is no list of who is associated with the organization and no contact information. S&R asked for comment via the Media Trackers – Florida Facebook page but had received no response by publication time. However, given the behavior of the original Media Trackers organization as documented by PR Watch and Sourcewatch, it is not likely that S&R’s request for comment will be answered.

Carducci’s unethical misrepresentation of her affiliation with Media Trackers – Florida raises a number of other questions given that she is also associated with The Heartland Institute. While Carducci has been writing for Media Trackers – Florida since October, 2012, she’s been writing for Heartland’s Environment & Climate News (E&CN) periodical and the Heartlander zine since at least March 2009. Furthermore, she works with James M. Taylor, editor of E&CN, who has been with Heartland since 2002 and who has been one of Media Trackers – Florida’s most prolific posters since they started up in March 2012. In fact, since June 2012 there have essentially been only three authors responsible for all of Media Trackers – Florida’s content, and two of them are also associated with The Heartland Institute.

Heartland faced a similar situation last year when Peter Gleick misrepresented himself as a board member to gain access to confidential documents and then revealed that information. Carducci certainly knew about “Fakegate,” yet she still chose to misrepresent herself to Solomon and to publish what she acquired through unethical means. This indicates that Carducci represents another example of hypocrisy at The Heartland Institute, an organization that makes a habit of being hypocritical about a great many things. Just on the issue of misrepresenting one’s associations, someone from Heartland called Greenpeace activist Cindy Baxter during the 2007 Bali climate conference, and three days later Heartland later press release that contained the recorded audio of the phone call.

S&R contacted The Heartland Institute for comment but they had not responded by publication time.

While Carducci’s behavior is an example of The Heartland Institute’s habit of hypocrisy, misrepresenting herself is unethical regardless of her affiliations. But nearly as bad as her breach of ethics was the fact that she reported on topics that she clearly knew little or nothing about, such as speaking fees, research grants, and Climategate. Carducci would do well to apply the journalism adage “write what you know” to her own reporting.