CATEGORY: Climate

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

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

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

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

Climate Illogic: Galileo and denial of industrial climate disruption

Galileo facing the Roman Inquistion by Cristiano Banti (1857)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more posts in this series, please click here.

CATEGORY: Climate

Largest study of peer-reviewed literature to date finds overwhelming climate disruption consensus (UPDATED)

Public perception of the consensus among scientists on the human-driven nature of climate disruption vs. the measured consensus by Cook et al 2013

A new peer-reviewed study has confirmed again that there is an overwhelming consensus on the human-driven cause of climate disruption. The study, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature by John Cook and a large number of contributors to the website Skeptical Science (Cook et al 2013), looked at 11,944 papers over a 21 year period and assigned each to one of three categories on the basis of the papers’ abstracts: endorse, reject, or take no position on the consensus. Of the papers that either endorsed or rejected the consensus, 97.1% of the papers and 98.4% of the papers’ authors endorsed the consensus. In addition, 1200 authors of the analyzed papers were contacted and asked to self-rate their own papers for level of endorsement. Of the self-rated papers that either endorsed or rejected the consensus, 97.2% of the papers and 96.4% of the authors endorsed the consensus.

Cook et al 2013 represents the largest study to date of the consensus among the scientific community regarding the industrial nature of climate disruption (where human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is the dominant cause of the observed global warming). Prior studies such as Doran and Zimmerman 2009 and Anderegg et al 2010 had found that approximately 97% of climate experts and “super-experts” agreed that climate disruption was caused by human activity. However, some critics had attacked the studies for small sample sizes (Doran and Zimmerman 2009) or for using Google Scholar (Anderegg et al 2010) instead of the “official” scientific database, the ISI Web of Science. Cook et al 2013 addresses both criticisms by using a large sample of 11,944 papers from 1980 different journals and by using only peer-reviewed papers identified in the ISI Web of Science.

Cook et al 2013 Figure 2b – Percentage of endorsement, rejection, and no position/undecided abstracts. Uncertain comprise 0.5% of no position abstracts.

Figure 1b from Cook et al 2013 shows how the percentage of abstracts rated as “no position,” “endorse,” and “reject” have changed during the study period of 1991 to 2012. Note that the number of abstracts rejecting the consensus has stayed flat at nearly 0% over the entire period while the number of papers endorsing has declined slightly and the number of papers expressing no opinion has increased. Overall, 32.6% of the abstracts endorsed the consensus, 66.4% took no position, 0.7% rejected the consensus, and 0.3% were uncertain.

Cook et al 2013 explains why this result is expected. Specifically, when a controversial subject has been accepted and is no longer controversial, scientists move on to other subjects and no longer feel the need to explicitly endorse the consensus position. For example, scientists no longer argue about the general accuracy of the law of gravity, so there’s no point in restating why they think that gravitation applies except in unusual cases. Add the fact that abstracts are usually strictly limited in length and adding a few extra words to explicitly endorse the scientific consensus on climate disruption is a luxury most abstracts can’t afford.

Cook et al 2013 Figure 2b – Percentage of self-rated endorsement, rejection, and no position papers.

In addition, Cook et al 2013 contacted 8547 authors of the papers and asked them to self-rate their own papers. 1200 authors responded, and Figure 2b from Cook et al 2013 shows how they rated their papers as endorsing, rejecting, or having no position on the consensus. Overall, 62.7% of the papers endorsed the consensus, 35.5% took no position, and 1.8% rejected the consensus.

The authors who responded to the request to self-rate their papers provide additional clarity to the abstract-only ratings performed by Cook et al 2013. First, the authors made their ratings based on the entire paper, not just the abstract, and so they are better positioned to claim whether or not their paper endorses the consensus or not. Second, the self-ratings also provide a way to measure how much effect just rating the abstract has on the results, and the impact is significant. Cook et al 2013 compared the self-rated papers directly with the abstract-rated papers and found that the number of endorsing papers increased from 36.9% in the abstract-only ratings to 62.7% in the author self-ratings (see Cook et al 2013 Table 5 for more information).

And third, the self-rated papers provides some evidence that the large number of papers categorized as “no position” are categorized that way because the consensus position is no longer controversial. If the position that human activity was the dominant driver of climate disruption was still controversial among scientists, then that would be more likely to be stated in the abstract.

There are a few main areas of uncertainty in Cook et al 2013. The first is the aforementioned issue with short abstracts, but as mentioned above, the self-rating process minimizes this concern. The second is that using a “crowdsourcing” methodology using predefined categories is still ultimately subjective and could be influenced by the biases of the reviewer. However, this effect was minimized through using multiple reviewers and through the self-rating scheme. Possible biases toward the consensus position are ruled out by the fact that self-rated papers were more likely, not less, to endorse the consensus. But a possible bias by the abstract reviewers toward the “no position” category was analyzed and found to have minimal effect on the final results.

The third and final uncertainty is whether or not the papers selected are representative of the overall sample. The large sample size (11,944 papers) is suggestive of representativeness (the larger the sample, the more likely it is to be representative), but doesn’t guarantee it. As Cook et al 2013 points out, there are nearly 130,000 papers with the keyword “climate” in the ISI Web of Science.

However, the highly skewed results of Cook et al 2013 strongly suggest that the results are broadly applicable. The more skewed the results are, the smaller the sample size needs to be in order to accurately deduce the opinions of a population. As I demonstrated in this response to Joe Bast, President of The Heartland Institute, the results of Doran & Zimmerman 2009 had a margin of error of only 3.5% (for a hypothetical sample size of 100,000 scientists). Alternatively, Doran & Zimmerman 2009 could have statistically deduced a 97% consensus using only 39 respondents, not the 79 they actually had.

The results of Cook et al 2013 are even stronger because the sample size is so much larger. Cook et al 2013 found that 98.4% of the authors of the 4,014 papers that endorsed or rejected the consensus. That’s 10,188 authors vs. 168. If we assume that there are 100,000 authors publishing on climate disruption topics globally, then the results of Cook et al 2013 have a confidence level of 99.9% and a margin of error of +/- 0.48%. Increasing the number of climate authors to 1 million results in a margin of error at 99.9% confidence level of +/- 0.51%.

Every serious survey of the expert opinion of climate scientists regarding the causes of climate disruption has found the same thing – that an overwhelming number of climate scientists agree that the causes of climate disruption is dominated by human causes. Cook et al 2013 won’t be the final word on the subject by any means, but if “it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” we can fairly say that Cook et al 2013 indicates that she’s started to inhale.

UPDATE

I’ve been thinking about this paper a bit more and I have a few more thoughts about it that I didn’t include above.

First, in the discussion about sources of uncertainty in the analysis, Cook et al 2013 discusses the representativeness of the sample size. But something that isn’t discussed or mentioned in the Supplementary Information that I can find is a discussion of the representativeness of the paper authors who responded to requests to self-rate their own papers. Generally speaking people who respond to polls are the most energized by the questions being asked, so we could reasonably expect that the scientists who responded would be most likely to either endorse or reject the consensus. But it’s a relatively minor point.

Second, I feel that there was insufficient explanation of the 66.2% of abstracts that were rated “no position.” I would have preferred a few more sentences explaining why scientists don’t explicitly endorse or reject a consensus position, or maybe some attempt on the part of the authors to estimate the degree of consensus among the “no position” abstracts. For example, an analysis could have been done to cross-reference authors of the “endorsing” abstracts with co-authors in the “no position” abstracts and in the process develop a subcategory of “endorsement via co-authorship.” Or a bit more time could have been spent on the Shwed and Bearman 2010 study, which Cook et al 2013 references but doesn’t explain in much detail.

Shwed and Bearman 2010 looked at five historical (20th century) cases, including industrial climate disruption, where a scientific consensus developed and analyzed citation networks among peer-reviewed studies over time. What they found was that, as a consensus developed more and more papers cited a common core of studies that formed the nucleus of the consensus. In addition, Shwed and Bearman 2010 found that consensus leads to a dramatic increase in the number of publications, even as the number of references to the seminal studies remains constant. They describe the rationale as follows:

If consensus was obtained with fragile evidence, it will likely dissolve with growing interest…. If consensus holds, it opens secondary questions for scrutiny.

Essentially, once a consensus on the “big questions” is reached, scientists are free to dive into the details and argue over those instead.

The Shwed and Bearman 2010 analysis found that industrial climate disruption hit this consensus point sometime around 1991, by the way.

There is a lot of work that could be done still with the Cook et al 2013 dataset. I look forward to reading more about it.

Here’s a short list of links to several other sites and news articles about this study:

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

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

MT-FL_imgOn 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.

Image (1) heartland-tweaked-300x173.jpg for post 41844Carducci’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.

Climate scientist Michael Mann sues Competitive Enterprise Institute, National Review

Comparison of Mann’s original hockey stick to recent reconstructions confirming the basic accuracy of the original (AGU)

On October 22, climate scientist Michael Mann sued for defamation the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), The National Review (TNR), and two writers associated with the two organizations. The lawsuit is regarding accusations made by Rand Simberg of the CEI and Mark Steyn of NRO that Mann had committed academic and scientific fraud and for comparing Mann to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. Mann announced the lawsuit on his Facebook page. Mann and his attorney, John B Williams of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, originally demanded that the CEI and TNR retract their original articles under threat of a lawsuit, but both organizations refused to do apologize for or retract the articles.

The first article, written by Rand Simberg of the CEI, originally claimed that

Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.

To the CEI’s credit, the editors removed this sentence and another they identified as “inappropriate” shortly after the article was published. But other of Simberg’s claims were identified by Mann’s attorney, John B Willams as defamatory, specifically claims that Mann engaged in “data manipulation” and “academic and scientific misconduct” that was supposedly exposed by the illegally published “Climategate” emails.

Simberg and the CEI refused to retract the article, writing in their response that they “reject the claim that [Mann's research] was closely examined, let alone exonerated, by any of the proceedings listed” in the retraction demand. Myron Ebell, in another part of the statement linked above, continued his criticism of the Penn State investigation even though the National Science Foundation (NSF) independently conducted a second investigation that interviewed Mann’s critics and yet reached the same conclusions as the Penn State investigation.

Simberg’s original article has more than just inappropriate comparisons and possibly defamatory rhetoric. It also has a number of errors in fact, including one regarding a quote taken from S&R’s own reporting. First, Simberg incorrectly claims that Penn State “didn’t bother to interview anyone except Mann himself.” The Penn State investigation was broken down into two phases, an inquiry and an investigation. It’s true that inquiry phase did not interview of Mann’s critics, but it did interview Gerald North, lead author of the 2006 National Research Council report that cleared Mann of any misconduct regarding his hockey stick papers, and Donald Kennedy, former editor of the journal Science. The investigation phase interviewed other subject matter experts but also included one of Mann’s critics, specifically Richard Lindzen of MIT – one of the people that Simberg himself contacted for comment on his article.

Second, Simberg quotes from an S&R report on the NSF investigation, NSF confirms results of Penn State investigation, exonerates Michael Mann of research misconduct. But Simberg mistakenly refers to the National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as the National Academy of Science (NAS), a significant error. Furthermore, Simberg quote S&R’s report and neglects to mention that the very next paragraph contradicts his own point. Specifically, Simberg claims that “the NAS (sic) investigation relied on the integrity of the university to provide them with all relevant material, and was thus not truly independent (emphasis added).” The following section of the S&R report illustrates Simberg’s error – Simberg’s quote and emphasis is in italics/bold, the rest of the quote is original from the article linked above:

The OIG also independently reviewed Mann’s emails and PSU’s inquiry into whether or not Mann deleted emails as requested by Phil Jones in the “Climategate” emails (aka Allegation 2). The OIG concluded after reviewing the the published CRU emails and the additional information provided by PSU that “nothing in [the emails] evidenced research misconduct within the definition of the NSF Research Misconduct Regulation.” Furthermore, the OIG accepted the conclusions of the PSU inquiry regarding whether Mann deleted emails and agreed with PSU’s conclusion that Mann had not.

The OIG did conclude that PSU didn’t meet the NSF’s standard for investigating the charge of data falsification because PSU “didn’t interview any of the experts critical of [Mann's] research to determine if they had any information that might support the allegation.” As a result, the OIG conducted their own independent investigation, reviewing both PSU’s documentation, publicly available documents written about Mann and his co-researchers, and “interviewed the subject, critics, and disciplinary experts” in reaching their conclusions. (emphasis in second paragraph added)

Finally, Simberg implied that Penn State was more interested in the grant money that Mann had brought into the university than it was in investigating Mann, going so far as to claim that “Michael Mann, like Joe Paterno, was a rock star in the context of Penn State University.” S&R reviewed this allegation in detail in 2010, finding that Mann was responsible for only $4.2 million in grants between 2006 and 2009. Over the same period, Penn State made over $2.8 billion in research grants, and the Penn State football program made $160 million in profits on revenues of $280 million. Compared to the aggregate research grants or the direct profits brought in by Paterno, Mann’s research grants are small potatoes.

While Penn State was apparently willing to trash its good reputation for the public face of the university – the Nittany Lions football team – it would not have any reason to risk embarrassment over a few million dollars brought in by a controversial scientist. Risking the academic reputation of the university would threaten that $2.8 billion in research grants, and no-one would risk that for any single researcher, even one with Mann’s reputation. Quite the opposite – Mann’s reputation could be a drag on research grants, so if anything, Penn State was biased against Mann during the course of the inquiry and investigation.

The second article was written by Mark Steyn of TNR. It referenced the CEI post (complete with the “molested data” sentence that the CEI removed as “inappropriate”) and described Mann’s work as “fraudulent.” As with the CEI, TNR refused to retract the blog post or apologize for comparing Mann to Jerry Sandusky.

Steyn’s own article, short as it was, made some of the same mistakes that Simberg’s did. As an example, Steyn wrote that the Penn State investigation was “a joke,” yet the NSF disagreed. However, Steyn also made a mistake that Simberg did not – Steyn claimed that former Penn State president Grahm Spanier investigated Mann, yet the documentary evidence demonstrates that Spanier was not involved in the Mann investigation – the inquiry committee was composed of William Easterling (Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences), Alan Scaroni (Ass. Dean for Graduate Education and Research in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences), Candice Yekel (Director of the Office for Research Protections), William Brune (Head of the Department of Meteorology), Eva J. Pell (then Senior Vice President for Research), and Henry C. Foley (Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School). The investigation committee was composed of Sarah M. Assmann (Professor in the Dept. of Biology), Welford Castleman (Evan Pugh Professor and Eberly Distinguished Chair in Science in the Depts. of Chemistry and Physics), Mary Jane Irwin (Evan Pugh Professor in the Dept. of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering), Nina G. Jablonski (Department Head of the Dept. of Anthropology), Fred W. Vondracek (Professor in the Dept of Human Development and Family Studies), and the aforementioned Candice Yekel as the Research Integrity Officer. None of these individuals has been compromised by the Sandusky scandal.

As the lawsuit announcement points out, Mann has been repeatedly cleared of charges of academic misconduct by multiple different organizations ranging from the National Science Foundation in 2011 to the Pennsylvania State University in 2010 to the National Research Council back in 2006. And while the multiple “Climategate” investigations may not have mentioned Mann directly, none of them found any evidence of scientific misconduct on behalf of any of the scientists whose private emails were illegally published, including Mann’s.

Simberg wrote in the comments to his article that he felt Mann would not sue because “the last thing that Mann wants to do is go under oath with a discovery process.” Rich Lowry, editor of TNR, wrote that a lawsuit would result in Mann going “to great trouble and expense to embark on a losing cause that will expose more of his methods and maneuverings to the world.” The discovery process is when lawyers go through the opposition’s emails and documents to discover what is and is not true, and both Simberg and Lowry clearly believe that Mann has more to lose in that process than either of them do.

Mann’s work and private correspondence has been investigated repeatedly and thoroughly over the last decade. As a result, Mann has little to lose in this kind of lawsuit – unless he truly is guilty of the very misconduct of which his critics accuse him. On the other hand, the National Review and especially the Competitive Enterprise Institute stand to lose much more in the discovery process – donor lists could be exposed, private communications among the climate disruption denial community could be published, and so on.

That Mann chose to move forward with his lawsuit even knowing that his emails and documents would become public should give the CEI, TNR, and their various ideological allies pause. For even if Mann fails to win his defamation claim, this lawsuit could result in the kind of exposure for climate disruption denying organizations and individuals that the tobacco litigation did for Philip Morris, the Tobacco Institute, et al.

Time will tell.

NOTE: S&R has obtained a copy of the legal complaint and will publish its analysis of the document following a review. We’ll also continue to bring you updates and analysis of this story as it develops.

DC Superior Court Case number: 2012 CA 008263 B

DC appeals court rejects attacks on EPA's greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding

Part two of a series.

On June 26, 2012, a three judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals ruled against 26 legal petitions by states and industry groups that had sought to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. The Court’s Opinion (hereafter “the Opinion”) found that “the Endangerment Finding is consistent with the Massachusetts v. EPA and the text and structure of the CAA, and is adequately supported by the administrative record. [emphasis original]“

The Opinion focused on three main arguments made by the petitioners. The first, discussed below, was that the EPA erred when it found that GHGs were a “reasonable threat to public health and welfare” as defined by the Clean Air Act (CAA in quotes from the Opinion). In the Opinion, the appeals court found that the EPA had correctly interpreted the Clean Air Act, Continue reading

Historical context behind the court ruling that the EPA may regulate greenhouse gases

Part one of a series.

On June 26, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against various states and industry groups who had asked the Court to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) greenhouse gas regulations. The 26 petitions specifically asked the Court to do one of two things – either overturn the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases posed a risk to public health and welfare (aka the “Endangerment Finding”), or block enforcement of any regulations based on that Endangerment Finding. A three judge panel led by a Reagan appointee unanimously dismissed the arguments made in the 26 petitions for lack of merit or lack of legal standing. (Ed. Note: Some of the legal terms used in this post are defined at the bottom of the post.)

Over the next several days, S&R will be publishing a series of articles on this opinion, starting with some background on what led up to the June 26 opinion. Continue reading

Serious errors and shortcomings void climate letter by 49 former NASA employees

On March 28, 2012, 49 former NASA astronauts, scientists, engineers, and administrators sent a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. The letter requested that NASA in general and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in particular stop publishing the scientific conclusions about the human-driven causes of global climate disruption. The letter was filled with no less than six serious errors regarding the science, data, and facts of climate science. The errors, in turn, exposed that the signers had confused their fame and/or their expertise in unrelated fields with expertise in climate science. And in response, NASA’s chief scientist politely suggested that the letter’s authors and signers should publish any contrary hypotheses and data in peer-reviewed scientific journals instead of trying to censor the publication of scientific conclusions from NASA climate scientists. Continue reading

Climate Science for Everyone: Carbon dioxide increases in the air are mostly from burning coal, oil, and natural gas


Figure 1 – The carbon cycle

Update: To read other articles in this series, click here.

Over the last few decades, scientists have learned a lot about how life interacts with the air, land, and sea. And in the process, they’ve made observations that have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the increasing carbon dioxide in the air is from people burning coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

So how did the scientists put together all the pieces to make a complete conclusion? They started with an understanding of how plants use carbon during photosynthesis. That knowledge showed that the increased carbon dioxide in the air was from plants. Then they formulated some guesses as to where that much plant-based carbon dioxide could come from and, by process of elimination and careful accounting, determined that the source was human consumption of fossil fuels. Continue reading

Published Heartland documents become officially authentic in 14 days

It’s now been 17 days since confidential Heartland Institute documents describing the Institute’s budget and fund raising plan for 2012 were published on the web. In that time, Heartland has steadfastly refused to authenticate the content of the published documents even as they have implied the documents’ authenticity with email screen captures and multiple claims that the documents were stolen. It’s difficult to steal a document from someone if they’re not in possession of the document in the first place, after all.

Over the last 17 days, Heartland president Joseph Bast has been very busy, what with all the emails, interviews, blog posts, and detailed analyses of allegedly fabricated documents. So why hasn’t he officially acknowledged the authenticity of the Heartland documents? Has he simply been too distracted by begging for donations and threatening journalists to execute on his responsibilities as the head of The Heartland Institute? Continue reading

Climate science discussion between Burt Rutan and Brian Angliss

On January 27, I wrote an “open letter” to Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer and former CEO of Scaled Composites, expressing my disappointment that he would co-sign a commentary in the Wall Street Journal that contains incorrect and misleading information on climate science and economics. On January 28th, Rutan responded in the comments. He also CCed his response to Anthony Watts, who published Rutan’s response on Wattsupwiththat.com. What transpired is a huge number of comments that essentially drowned Rutan’s and my exchanges.

This post extracts from the original comment thread just Rutan’s and my responses, ignoring all the other comments, good, bad, or ugly.

Comments on this post are closed, and any further exchanges between Rutan and I from the original post will be posted here for clarity. If you have something to say about what we’re talking about, please comment in the original post’s comment thread instead – everything here is also there. Continue reading

Climate Science for Everyone: How scientists measure the carbon dioxide in 800,000 year old air

Update: To read other articles in this series, click here.

Climate scientists who study the history of the Earth’s climate (also known as paleoclimatologists) know that modern carbon dioxide levels are at their highest level in the last 800,000 years. They tell us this because they’ve been able to measure the carbon dioxide in air that is actually 800,000 years old. So how do they do that?

Scientists know how much carbon dioxide was in the air hundreds of thousands of years ago because they actually have small samples of ancient air stored in glacial ice. To get a feel for how this works, consider the following examples. Continue reading

An open letter to Burt Rutan, regarding his WSJ commentary on human-caused climate disruption

[Update: My original post, Burt Rutan's comments, and my responses to his comments have been copied here. That post has closed comments and will be updated with any further discussion Burt and I have, either in the massive comment thread below or independently. If you're interested in just Burt's and my discussion to date, minus the mass of additional commentary, please feel free to read the new post.]

Dear Mr. Rutan,

Ever since you won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 you’ve been a minor hero of mine. I’ve felt that the development of private human spaceflight was the critical next step toward moving humanity off our small blue marble since I was in high school, and SpaceShipOne was the first major step in that direction. The commercialization of space travel is a large part of why I work in aerospace myself designing satellite and space vehicle electronics.

This is why I was disappointed to find that you had co-signed a Wall Street Journal commentary regarding human-caused climate disruption along with 15 other scientists and engineers. The commentary was replete with incorrect and misleading information. So much so, in fact, that I was surprised that you, as an engineer, would attach your name to it. Continue reading

The 2011 Climate B.S.* of the Year Awards (corrected)

[*B.S. means “Bad Science.” What did you think it meant?]

by Peter H. Gleick
Crossposted at Forbes and Huffington Post. To see S&R’s climate-related posts, click here

[Correction: Katharine Hayhoe was misidentified as a Republican in the original post at Forbes and HuffPo. This has been corrected below.

Peter Gleick updated the original posts at HuffPo and Forbes and removed Ben Webster from the Second Place text. S&R has updated this post to bring it in line with Gleick's update.]

The Earth’s climate continued to change during 2011 – a year in which unprecedented combinations of extreme weather events killed people and damaged property around the world. The scientific evidence for the accelerating human influence on climate further strengthened, as it has for decades now. Yet on the policy front, once again, national leaders did little to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe consequences of climate changes, including rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea-levels, loss of snowpack and glaciers, disappearance of Arctic sea ice, and much more.

Why the failure to act? In part because climate change is a truly difficult challenge. But in part because of a concerted, well-funded, and aggressive anti-science campaign by climate change deniers and contrarians. Continue reading

Climate Science for Everyone: Why 3% annually is actually a lot of carbon dioxide


Atmospheric CO2 concentration data from ice core (blue, 1750-1975)
and direct atmospheric measurements (red, 1960-2010) vs. “compounding
interest” model described in post (purple). Click for a larger version.

In many ways, climate science is difficult. There’s a reason that the best climate models require some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world in order to run. But the most important concepts are easily understood by a non-expert with either a little mathematical skill or the ability to use some simple online tools. This is the inaugural post of a new series that seeks to illustrate how anyone and everyone can understand the most important concepts underlying climate science and the reality that is human-caused climate disruption.

Update: To read other articles in this series, click here.

Are people adding a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere? It’s such an easy question to ask, but the answer depends on what you mean by “a lot.” And it depends on what you’re referring to. Continue reading

Climate disruption denier Ian Plimer debunks climate disruption denier Ian Plimer

When you’ve been following, analyzing, and reporting on climate science and politics for as long as I have, a few things become apparent. First, most climate disruption deniers have no real clue about actual climate science and are instead simply regurgitating talking points they heard from their favorite denial-peddling think-tank, politician, commentator, or news source. Second, the arguments against human-caused climate disruption almost never change, so you’ll be rebutting the same thing over and over again. And third, most arguments you hear are incompatible or self-contradictory, although not always obviously so.

Today, John Cook of the denial-debunking uber-site Skeptical Science published a detailed examination of some of the many self-contradictory claims by Ian Plimer, the Australian author of the thoroughly and widely debunked book Heaven and Earth – global warming: the missing science. Continue reading

How much context is in the Climategate emails? (updated)

Given the release of a second batch of hacked emails yesterday, S&R decided to pull this analysis from 2010 back to the front. The conclusions reached in this analysis are as applicable to the emails published in 2011 just as much as they are to the original emails from 2009.

It is impossible to draw firm conclusions from the hacked documents and emails. They do not represent the complete record, and they are not a random selection from the complete record.
– Dr. Timothy Osborn, Climatic Research Unit (source)

After several hundred hours of studying the emails and looking at their references, I have no hesitation in stating that, to my satisfaction, the system is rotten to the core and has been from the start.
– Geoff Sherrington, former corporate geologist, (source)

According to Osborn, there is not sufficient context to understand the “true” story behind the published Climatic Research Unit emails and documents. However, according to Sherrington, the emails and references contained therein provide all the context needed in order to conclude that climate change research is complete hogwash. Reality lies somewhere on a continuum between these two extremes – the question is where.

S&R set out to determine whether the published CRU emails provided enough context for the public to condemn or vindicate the scientists involved. After investigating three primary options and reading a key study, S&R has concluded that the emails do not themselves contain sufficient context to understand what really happened in climate science over the last 13 years. Continue reading

Zombie climate emails rise again (updated)

See update at the end

If you follow climate news, you’re probably already aware that someone has illegally published another 5000 climate emails, probably from the original “Climategate” hack from two years ago. S&R is following the story and will publish a more in-depth analysis as we learn more. However, we feel it’s important to point out the following key facts about the original emails and their subsequent investigations:

Continue reading

Heartland Institute's latest climate-related media advisory filled with the usual distortions

The Heartland Institute has a history of distorting peer-reviewed papers, lying in newspaper editorials and Institute blogs, and claiming extensive scientific expertise where little actually exists with respect to climate science and the reality of human-driven climate disruption. Given this history, the distortions in the Heartland Institute’s latest media advisory regarding the results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project are only to be expected.

BEST analyzed more surface temperature data than any other study had previously and concluded that the established global temperature records were accurate. In this way, BEST confirmed what every climate realist already knew from three surface datasets and two satellite datasets – that the globe is warming and that the best available science indicates that the urban heat island effect has a minimal impact upon the measurements. However, the Heartland Institute’s media advisory claims that “the paper is seriously flawed,” attributing that statement to James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute.

It’s at this point, the second sentence of the media advisory, that the distortions start. Continue reading

Daily Caller's editor repeats falsehoods and half-truths about EPA's illusionary 230,000 new workers

Yesterday I reported on an article in The Daily Caller that turned reality on its head by claiming that the EPA’s attempt to avoid hiring 230,000 new employees to administer greenhouse gas (GHG) emission permits was actually the EPA planning to hire those employees. As I pointed out, the article had enough major errors that it needed either significant corrections or a full retraction.

Today the executive editor of The Daily Caller, David Martosko, attempted to justify the original article in an editorial. However, Martosko’s failed defense of an indefensible article means that The Daily Caller now has two articles that are so filled with errors and misrepresentations that they should be corrected or retracted entirely. Continue reading

Mann's critics not appeased by NSF investigation, extend unfounded "whitewash" accusations to NSF itself

Third in a series.

When the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) cleared Michael Mann of multiple “Climategate”-related allegations made against him, Mann’s critics cried foul. Since a National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General (OIG) report cleared Mann of research misconduct and concluded that PSU had adequately investigated Mann itself, however, many of those critics have been publicly silent about how their attacks were misplaced. In other cases, critics have instead directed new criticisms at the NSF instead of accepting Mann’s innocence or retracting their misplaced condemnations of PSU’s investigation.

In an “exclusive” for Fox News back in April, 2010, Ed Barnes wrote that the illegally published CRU emails “cast fresh doubt on Mann’s methodology and integrity” and that the PSU inquiry which exonerated Mann of those doubts was criticized for failing to inquire. Continue reading