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

Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

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

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

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

In addition, Bast’s defense of the email provided a peek behind the curtain and some new insight into Heartland’s long term goal with the email, with a Forbes blog published on November 20 by Heartland Senior Fellow James M. Taylor, and with Heartland’s other industrial climate disruption-denying actions over the past few years – to fool the public into disbelieving that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate is changing, that human activity is the dominant cause of those changes, and that the changes will be disruptive to both global ecosystems and human society.

## Heartland sends deceptive marketing email

Screen capture of Heartland email using AMS logo.

S&R acquired a copy of the email that Heartland sent on November 26. The email is from “2013AMSsurvey@gmail.com” rather than from a Heartland Institute email address. According to Bast’s response, this is “a common practice in email marketing” used to “maximize the open rate.” In other words, it’s common for the sender to use spammer tactics in order to trick recipients into opening the emails they might otherwise leave unread.

The email also used the AMS seal, making the email appear as if it could be from the AMS or that it could be an “AMS approved email” rather than an email from the Heartland Institute. In fact, if the recipient doesn’t read the email’s footer, he or she wouldn’t know that the email had been sent from the Heartland Institute instead of the AMS. It’s this aspect of the email that most disturbed Seitter. Seitter wrote

A disturbing aspect of this e-mail is that it seems some effort was placed in making it appear to have been sent by AMS. It was sent from an e-mail account with AMS in the name (though not from the “ametsoc.org” domain) and featured the AMS logo prominently (used without permission from AMS). Only in the fine print at the bottom was it clear that this apparently came from the Heartland Institute.

Bast’s response to Sietter? That “There was no attempt to deceive recipients about who sent the message,” that using logos in email and on websites without permission is “common practice,” and that the AMS should stop complaining. However, Heartland has a history of impersonating others in order to gain access to information, so it’s possible that Bast is not being entirely truthful.

Bast also wrote that the Heartland email “quotes from the report and provides a link to the document on the AMS Web site.” When S&R looked at the email’s HTML code we discovered that link Bast mentions does not go directly to the AMS website (ametsoc.org). Instead, it goes through a third-party relay site, namely “icptrack.com.” Icptrack.com doesn’t have a website – typing it into a browser window will get a “Forbidden – You don’t have permission to access / on this server.” error. But a “whois” query reveals that icptrack.com is a domain owned by iConnect, the firm that Heartland paid to provide direct email marketing for this email.

This is a form of click tracking, and it permits iConnect (and through them the Heartland Institute) to track the IP addresses of every click on that email. This data enables Heartland to track where the individual clicking on the link works, lives, and how engaged the clicker is with the email (the more engaged the audience, the more clicks). And since every link is unique to the email, Heartland can track which emails were forwarded.

The HTML code also revealed a tracking pixel embedded in the email. It’s a 1×1 pixel that has the same color as the background and it also contains a unique identification number. This number permits iConnect (and through them the Heartland Institute) to track every single instance of that email being read in an HTML-enabled browser. This pixel provides similar information as click tracking does, but it also tells Heartland which emails were forwarded and opened and provides a measure of how much the email is being discussed – every time the email is replied to, the tracking pixel is re-downloaded from icptrack.com. All of this information is collected and put into a database that permits Heartland to tie every single discussion of the email performed in an HTML-enabled (as opposed to plain-text) email program.

The Heartland email likely doesn’t technically qualify as spam according to iConnect’s strict anti-spam policy (although no-one at S&R is a lawyer, so we can’t say for certain). But given all the tracking features concealed within the email, it’s fair to say that Heartland intended to gather a great deal of information about every recipient of this email.

## Heartland’s deception by the numbers

The first distortion S&R identified in Heartland’s email was the deceptive claim that the January 2012 AMS survey found “52 percent believe global warming is happening and is mostly human-caused, while 48 percent do not.” What makes this claim deceptive is that it is specifically correct, but ignores a couple of important and relevant facts.

Relevant fact #1: The 52% result is likely too low. The survey used a 150-year period and that likely biased the survey’s results. From Stenhouse et al 2013:

Six respondents sent emails to notify us that their answers would have been different if we had asked about the most recent 50-year time frame rather than the 150-year time frame; the time frame used in the question may have also influenced other respondents. Our results therefore may represent a more conservative estimate of the consensus on global warming than would have been obtained had we asked about a 50-year time frame. (emphasis added)

Bast also fails to mention this important caveat in his defense of the Heartland email. S&R demonstrated previously that Taylor knew about this caveat yet chose not to include any mention of it in his blog, and as such we called Taylor’s failure to mention it “dishonest.” S&R can’t say for certain that Bast has read Stenhouse et al 2013 well enough to understand this issue, so his repetition of the email’s deceptive claim may be ignorant rather than dishonest.

Relevant fact #2: Both the email and Bast fail to mention just how few respondents thought that global warming was either not occurring or thought the causes were mostly natural. Only 5% thought that the causes of global warming were mostly natural, and only 4% of respondents thought that global warming wasn’t happening at all.

In his defense of the email, Bast makes several additional numerical mistakes that, taken in combination, create an inaccurate perception of both Stenhouse et al 2013 and the 2012 survey upon which it’s based – “American Meteorological Society Member Survey on Global Warming: Preliminary Findings” (hereafter the Maibach et al survey). First, Bast incorrectly claims that the Maibach et al survey found that “76 percent of those who believe in man-made global warming also believe it is ‘very harmful’ or ‘somewhat harmful’ (emphasis added)” What the Maibach et al survey actually found was that 76% of those who think global warming is happening, regardless of the cause, also think it will be somewhat or very harmful. Question #4 of the Maibach et al survey asks about the harm/benefit of global warming, but it was only asked of respondents who answered “Yes” to whether or not global warming is happening.

Bast also neglects to mention the other responses to the harm/benefit question. Specifically, an additional 12% of respondents thought global warming would generate both harm and benefit roughly equally while only 2.4% thought that the global warming would be somewhat or very beneficial.

Bast’s more significant error, however, is his calculation that “39.5 percent of all AMS members say they believe man-made global warming is dangerous.” Bast asked readers to check his math, so S&R did.

Bast arrives by his 39.5% number by multiplying the following: 52% of AMS members who say global warming is mostly human-caused multiplied by 76% of AMS members who, according to Bast, say “man-made global warming” is very or somewhat harmful. 0.52 x 0.76 = 0.3952 or 39.5%. Pretty straightforward, except that it’s wrong.

First, if Bast is going to do the calculation, he needs to stick with using just numbers from Stenhouse et al 2013 or just numbers from the Maibach et al survey – he can’t mix and match them. Since Stenhouse et al 2013 doesn’t have calculations for the harm question, Bast should stick to using just the Maibach et al values. In this case, the updated calculation would be 59% x 76% = 44.8%. But even that calculation is still wrong.

To do the calculation properly, one must have a basic understanding of statistics, specifically statistical independence. In this case, the way that the survey questions were asked creates statistical dependence – Question #3 (human activity) was only asked if the answer to Question #1 (global warming is happening) was “yes.” Similarly, Question #4 (harm/benefit) was only asked if the answer to Question #1 was “yes.” But because the relationship of the two questions to each other has not been determined, it’s not possible to know exactly what percentage of AMS members believe that man-made global warming will be harmful without having access to the the raw data. S&R does not have the raw data and, so far as we can tell, neither does the Heartland Institute.

## Heartland caricatures the study’s findings about ideology

The second distortion identified by S&R in the Heartland email is dishonest, not merely deceptive. The email incorrectly claims that Stenhouse et al 2013 “found that scientists with professed liberal political views were far more likely to believe global warming is human-caused than others (emphasis added).” What Stenhouse et al 2013 does say is that political ideology is correlated with respondents’ views on global warming. But the correlation is simply with the statement that “global warming is happening,” not with “global warming is happening and it’s human caused” as Heartland’s email claims. All Stenhouse et al 2013 found was that liberals are more likely to acknowledge that global warming is occurring, while conservatives are more likely to deny it.

Not only did Bast repeat the dishonest claim in his defense of the email, he tried to take it one step further. Unfortunately for Bast, that one extra step turned a false claim into an example of equivocation (a logical fallacy where two different words are treated as if they mean the same thing). What Bast wrote is that, since Stenhouse et al 2013 “identifies political ideology as the strongest or second strongest factor in ,em>determining a scientist’s position” on global warming, that “one has to suspect” that “all or just nearly all of the AMS members who believe man-made global warming is dangerous self-identify as being liberals” Bast’s used the word “determining” to allege that liberal politics is “the cause of or reason for” accepting human-caused global warming. But what Stenhouse et al 2013 actually found is that liberal politics was a “predictor” of acceptance of human-caused global warming, not a “cause.” Essentially, Stenhouse et al 2013 said that liberal politics was correlated with acceptance global warming, it’s human causes, and it being harmful. But Stenhouse et al 2013 specifically pointed out that their data could not determine which factor was the cause and which was the effect. It’s theoretically possible that acceptance of human-caused global warming could lead to a more liberal political ideology rather than the other way around (or that it goes both ways), as Bast would have his readers believe.

Furthermore, Stenhouse et al 2013 points out that perception of consensus, perception of conflict, political ideology, and climate expertise – the four factors being analyzed – all combine to explain only 37% of the variation in whether or not global warming is happening and only 29% of the variation in whether or not global warming will be harmful. And their methodology didn’t permit them to estimate how much variation in human-caused vs. natural could be explained.

Simply put, the Heartland email and Bast distorted Stenhouse et al 2013‘s ideology findings in multiple ways.

## Heartland’s dishonest quote mining

The most flagrant distortion in the Heartland email is an extended quote of recommendations from the abstract of Stenhouse et al 2013. The following is the complete, unaltered list of recommendations:

We suggest that AMS should: attempt to convey the widespread scientific agreement about climate change; acknowledge and explore the uncomfortable fact that political ideology influences the climate change views of meteorology professionals; refute the idea that those who do hold non-majority views just need to be “educated” about climate change; continue to deal with the conflict among members of the meteorology community. (emphasis added)

The section that is emphasized above was not included in the Heartland email. Given that the purpose of the email was to point out that meteorologists supposedly don’t agree with the scientific consensus behind industrial climate disruption, having a recommendation that mentioned “widespread scientific agreement” about it would have diluted the message. In this case Heartland chose to be dishonest rather than accurately report the Stenhouse et al 2013 recommendations.

## Replicating the findings of Doran & Zimmerman 2009

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Finally, no-one associated with Heartland has acknowledged what is perhaps the most important finding of Stenhouse et al 2013 – the replication of a study by Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman titled “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” (hereafter Doran & Zimmerman 2009). Doran & Zimmerman 2009 found that scientists with the greatest climate expertise were the most likely to acknowledge that global warming was happening and that human activity was a significant driver of global warming. Specifically, 90% of all respondents acknowledged that global warming was happening, but 96.2% of climate “super-experts” did, and 82% of all respondents thought human activity was a significant driver of global warming while 97.4% of climate “super-experts” did.

Stenhouse et al 2013 found that 93% of AMS members who could be identified as climate “super-experts” acknowledged that global warming was happening and that human activity was at least somewhat responsible (88% felt that human activity was at least 50% responsible). This compared to 73% of all AMS member respondents who acknowledged that global warming was happening and that human activity was at least somewhat responsible (62% felt that human activity was at least 50% responsible).

In general the percentages for AMS members in Stenhouse et al 2013 are somewhat lower than for the database used in Doran & Zimmerman 2009, but the trend is identical – the more knowledge about climate a particular expert has, the more likely he or she is to accept that global warming is both happening and driven by human activity.

This replication plays a key part in a response to Taylor’s Forbes blog by Stenhouse and his co-authors that was recently published on Climate Science Watch. In it, Stenhouse et al accuse Taylor of ignoring or distorting their findings “for ideological ends” and of creating a “caricature of the results.”

Table 1 from Stenhouse et al 2013 (click to enlarge)

In Bast’s defense of the Heartland email, he specifically points out that the results being distorted in the Heartland email are from Table 1 of Stenhouse et al 2013. But Bast fails to mention that Table 1 was specifically created to illustrate how Stenhouse et al 2013 replicated Doran & Zimmerman 2009. Given that Bast wrote an essay in 2012 titled “The Myth of the 98%” where he claims to disprove Doran & Zimmerman 2009, it’s not surprising that Bast wouldn’t want to admit that Doran & Zimmerman 2009 had been replicated. S&R reviewed Bast’s essay over the course of the Heartland Unabomber billboard debacle and proved that Bast’s criticisms were based on an erroneous understanding of the statistics involved.

## A peek behind Heartland’s curtain

The day after Heartland sent out their email, AMS Executive Director Keith L. Seitter wrote a post for the AMS blog in which he recommends that people read the Stenhouse et al 2013 study for themselves rather than relying on Heartland’s deceptive email. Seitter also wrote that he found it “disturbing” that Heartland had apparently tried to make the email “appear to have been sent by AMS.” As mentioned above, Bast in his defense of the email essentially told Seitter that Heartland hadn’t meant to imitate an AMS email and to quit whining about it regardless.

Seitter also wrote in his blog post that the Heartland email did not accurately report the results of Stenhouse et al 2013, suggesting that Heartland was trying to “spin” the results. Bast essentially agreed with Seitter, admitting that the purpose of Heartland’s email was to report Stenhouse et al 2013‘s results far differently than was reported in by the study itself. Bast also admitted that the email’s purpose was to attack the “belief” that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming.

Since 2004 at least five other independent studies have all looked specifically at whether or not there is a scientific consensus about industrial climate disruption – “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” by Naomi Oreskes, “Expert credibility in climate change” by Anderegg et al, the aforementioned Doran & Zimmerman 2009, “The Temporal Structure of Scientific Consensus Formation” by Shwed and Bearman, and “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature” by Cook et al (which also replicated the Oreskes results). While each has faced some amount of criticism, the fact remains that multiple different studies, using different approaches, and performed by independent researchers have all come up with the same result – that scientists in general and climate experts in particular overwhelmingly agree that the Earth is heating up, that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the dominant driver of the heating, and that the changes will be disruptive to global ecosystems and human society. And that’s doesn’t even include the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which found that the warming since 1950 is “unequivocal” and that there is a > 95% probability that the dominant cause for that warming is greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s not often that someone in Bast’s position publicly admits that his organization is trying to convince people to believe something that is essentially untrue. But his admission provides an explanation for why the Heartland email was designed the way it was, for what Bast wrote in his defense of that email, for what Taylor wrote in his Forbes blog, and for the Heartland Institute’s entire approach to climate science.

Given that Heartland’s goal is to fool the public into believing that global warming isn’t happening, using a spoofed sender address on the email makes sense – the more people who open their email, the better. And if people are tricked by the presence of the AMS logo into believing that the AMS either sent or approved of the email, so much the better. And for those people who aren’t fooled by Heartland’s near-spammer tactics, Heartland still has an opportunity to build a database on both their allies and their opponents.

Heartland’s goal of fooling the public also explains the distortions. Of course Heartland wouldn’t mention that Stenhouse et al 2013 identified a possible conservative bias to their results. Of course Heartland would ignore the fact that only 2.4% of AMS members thought global warming would be beneficial, that only 5% of members thought that global warming was mostly natural, and that only 4% thought it wasn’t happening at all. Of course Heartland would caricature the correlation between liberal political ideology and acknowledgment that global warming is happening. Including any of those points would only dilute Heartland’s message and make it harder to fool people.

Heartland’s goal also explains why Bast didn’t mention that Stenhouse et al 2013 replicated Doran & Zimmerman 2009‘s results. Mentioning that replication would have meant admitting that a previous consensus study was right and that would run counter to to the goal.

Just like including the first recommendation from the AMS study – “attempt to convey the widespread scientific agreement about climate change” – would have run counter to Heartland’s goal of fooling people into disbelieving the very real consensus on global warming.

Bast’s admission essentially demonstrates that he and his associates at the Heartland Institute aren’t really interested in facts. They’re not even interested in the truth insofar as they know what is is so they can better distort it. The Heartland Institute’s global warming initiatives exist for purely political reasons – to convince people that industrial climate disruption isn’t real when all the available evidence says it is.

Bast wrote “This is all about ‘spin’ and not, as Seitter says later in his comment, ‘transparency and scientific integrity.’” Indeed.

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

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

# Climate Illogic: industrial climate disruption is not a popularity contest

UPDATE: see updated definition in Footnote #1 below

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# Words Matter: Industrial climate disruption is not a religion

religion
a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (source)

Some people falsely allege that industrial climate disruption is a religion. This allegation is blatantly flawed, as is the related allegation that industrial climate disruption is a cult. But that doesn’t prevent deniers of industrial climate disruption from making the false allegation in an attempt to render the underlying science moot.

As shown in the definition above, a religion is a set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, with the key word being “religious.” Religion requires the worship of some greater power or divinity. Scientific disciplines do not. In general, religion concerns itself with faith and adherence to established doctrine whether or not the doctrine make sense. Science, on the other hand, concerns itself with what is observable, what can be explained using logic and mathematics, and what can be tested with experiments or future observations.

Industrial climate disruption does not postulate any particular greater power or divinity. This fact alone disproves the claim that climate disruption is a religion. But for the sake of argument, what greater power or divinity could possibly be invoked by industrial climate disruption? The measured infrared properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane make poor deities, seeing as they’re not imbued with any intelligence. Climate models also make poor greater powers since they are merely simulations based on fundamental physics that respond blindly to their inputs. And the various fundamental laws of physics used in climate models are as unintelligent as a molecule of carbon dioxide is.

The only way to make industrial climate disruption into a religion is to redefine the entirety of science itself as a religion. And at that point we might as well say that the Babel Fish is the proof of the non-existence of God, prove that black is white, and avoid zebra crosswalks thereafter (ref.).

And for those industrial climate disruption deniers who go even further and call industrial climate disruption a “cult,” cults are a subset of religions. Specifically, a cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” (source). If industrial climate disruption can’t be a religion, than it can’t be a cult either.

So why do deniers of industrial climate disruption make a blatantly flawed allegation? Some truly are ignorant of the differences between religion and science. Some may be so opposed to policies they fear will result from accepting industrial climate disruption as real that they have unconsciously chosen to ignore the blatant flaw. But the rest know that the allegation is false, but they allege it anyway in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption as a whole.

Since the Renaissance, science has earned a privileged place in human culture. Individuals and organizations make decisions every day based on what the best available science tells them will happen. For example, scientists knew that Mount Saint Helens was going to erupt weeks before it ultimately did – the evacuations ordered by the Governor of Washington as a result of the work of geologists monitoring the volcano saved thousands of lives. Given the privileged place science holds, if the science underlying industrial climate disruption is accepted, then naturally individuals and organizations will start changing how the interact with each other and with the world as a result. Those changes would naturally create winners and losers, and many of the people and businesses on top today would sustain massive losses in the process.

If successful, branding industrial climate disruption as a religion is a shortcut. Instead of having to challenge the expertise of each and every climate scientist one by one, they can all be tarnished as “high priests.” Instead of having to demonstrate errors in thousands of peer-reviewed studies, all the studies can be dismissed as mere holy writ. And instead of having to disprove multiple well-established scientific laws and independent lines of evidence that all demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, all that information can be conveniently swept under the rug with rhetoric

If industrial climate disruption can be branded as a religion, then it can essentially be ignored. The individuals and organizations (both businesses and governments) who stand to lose the most can dismiss industrial climate disruption by saying “We don’t have to change to satisfy the religious beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or pagans, so we don’t need to change to satisfy climate disruption either.” Governments of countries where separation of church and state is codified can go even further, claiming that creating policies to address industrial climate disruption would be in breach of that very separation.

Industrial climate disruption has no greater power or deity and thus cannot be a religion. But that won’t stop deniers from misusing “religion” in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption.

Words matter – and sometimes they’re misused on purpose.

# Climate Illogic: the flat Earth consensus

Image Credit: Sinful Illusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 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.

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

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.

# 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

# Libertarians and engineers should embrace industrial climate disruption, not deny it

Part Five of a series

Industrial climate disruption presents challenges to libertarians and engineers. As we saw in Part Three of this series, the likely policy responses to industrial climate disruption represent a threat to libertarian values, specifically the moral ideal of “negative” liberty. And we saw in Part Four that many engineers consider industrial climate disruption a threat to their jobs and to their employers, and industrial climate disruption runs counter to many engineer’s psychological need for certainty (as discussed in Part Two). And we saw how cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning can lead both libertarians and engineers to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting industrial climate disruption.

But not all libertarians or all engineers are industrial climate disruption deniers. Many have reviewed the evidence and concluded that greenhouse gases emissions by industry is the best explanation for all the facts related to climate disruption. Some have simply chosen to trust the experts. And others have concluded that it’s simply good personal and professional policy to plan for the worst – at least that way you’re prepared for whatever comes your way and any surprises are good surprises.

But these aren’t the only good reasons why libertarians and engineers, both as groups and as individuals, should embrace industrial climate disruption. Denying the reality of industrial climate disruption won’t get either group a seat at the negotiating table, but engagement might. There’s also a lot of money to be made adapting to industrial climate disruption and mitigating its causes. And the sooner we start working on the problem, the cheaper it will be in the long run.

Libertarians: fight, not flight

When something that you hold dear is threatened, there are essentially only two responses. You can stand and fight, or you can flee. Industrial climate disruption threatens the values and livelihoods of many libertarians, and many have chosen to flee to the perceived safety of denial. But that safety is illusory, as the crazy weather of 2012 (the increased incidence of extreme weather phenomena has been projected by climate models for years now) and the ongoing global temperature record demonstrate.

While the the threat to libertarian values could reasonably justify the denial of industrial climate disruption by a significant majority of libertarians, the best way to ensure that your values are protected is not to flee, but rather to confront the threat. Denial won’t prevent the enactment of policies that are a threat to the “negative” liberty valued by libertarians, but engagement might. At a minimum, engagement with liberals and conservatives who also accept the reality of industrial climate disruption will ensure that libertarians have a seat at the negotiating table, something that flat-out denial is unlikely to provide. After all, libertarians are only about 10% of the U.S. population – if the other 90% came to an agreement on their own, libertarians could find themselves, and their values, steamrolled.

There are all sorts of policies that are presently being considered as ways to adapt to and to mitigate the causes of industrial climate disruption. Most of them are potential threats to economic liberty, defined as the right of a person to spend his wealth however he sees fit. The Environmental Protection Agency has already put in place regulations to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the regulations have survived review by the DC Court of Appeals (and are likely to survive Supreme Court review as well). California has implemented a cap-and-trade scheme, and some economists and scientists are calling for outright carbon taxes. The cap-and-trade scheme is the least disruptive to libertarian values, but the other two have their proponents and both are more disruptive to people’s economic liberty. If more libertarians were involved in the process, a cap-and-trade system that minimizes economic disruption would become more likely than highly disruptive carbon taxes or regulations and the associated fees and fines.

With respect to being able to live your life however you see fit (lifestyle liberty), the costs of addressing industrial climate disruption will also have an impact. Any method that prices CO2 will necessarily increase energy prices. This will increase the costs of products, especially those manufactured overseas and/or trucked long distances as the price of marine bunker fuel and diesel increase. People will probably travel less for vacations as well. And the cost of living wherever you choose will also go up, as insurance rates skyrocket (or insurance simply goes away) for property near sea level, on floodplains, or in wildfire prone areas.

Industrial climate disruption will continue to threaten libertarian values so long as it threatens human welfare and the global economy. If libertarians want their ideology to survive the crucible of industrial climate disruption, they’ll have to engage. And the sooner that engagement happens, the less damage the libertarian ideology will suffer.

Captain Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)

Engineers: engage

Engagement is also the best approach for engineers, and those engineers who are not also libertarians will probably find engaging easier than most libertarians will. Partly this is because engineering is a professional discipline rather than an ideology, but it’s also partly a result of the corporate environment in which engineers work and that inculcates them with many of its values.

Corporations value short-term profits more than anything else, with one notable exception – staying in business. If it’s a question between either providing dividends this quarter or investing in the company so that it’s still in business several years from now, smart companies always choose to invest in themselves. That’s part of why engineers are asked to design new products – markets change, and corporations who fail to provide what the new market demands risk going out of business.

Engineers working in product development are expected to adapt to new market realities all the time. Often the adaptation is as simple as updating a prior design to a new set of requirements – different temperature ranges, different operating voltages, different types of materials, etc. Occasionally adapting requires doing something completely new, and many engineers live for that kind of intellectually stimulating challenge. Most engineers will find engaging with industrial climate disruption no more difficult than updating their requirements and initial assumptions. Once that’s done, the engineers will pick up the new changes and run with them. The challenge will be convincing engineers that their experience and expertise may no longer be applicable (depending on the industry and engineer) and that they may have to change career paths in order to adapt professionally to a new, climate disrupted reality.

Ultimately, though, engineers respond to challenges, and just as industrial climate disruption is perhaps the most important issue that modern humanity has ever faced, so too is it one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Engineers who can move beyond denial and engage with the creation of solutions will likely find the process remarkably rewarding.

Mining profits from industrial climate disruption

Beyond needing to fight for their values or rising to meet new technical challenges, both libertarians and engineers should engage with industrial climate disruption because there is a huge amount of money to be made in the process.

Many libertarians are economic or financial types who make their money trading stocks, commodities, etc. Assuming that a cap-and-trade market system is implemented nationally or globally instead of carbon taxes or direct regulations, that market is going to be largely the same as any other commodity market. As such libertarians will be able to buy and sell carbon credits, creating carbon liquidity much as traders create financial liquidity in the financial markets today. But this opportunity only materializes if a cap-and-trade market is created instead of carbon taxes or direct emission regulations.

For those libertarians who work in other fields, the all-encompassing nature of industrial climate disruption will create opportunities for anyone who has the courage to grab them. Libertarians working in construction can make money insulating homes and installing solar panels on rooftops. Libertarian farmers can make money figuring out how to grow crops using less water and fertilizer and then marketing those methods to fellow farmers nationwide. Libertarians working in the energy industry can make money by financing new power lines to transport renewable electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. And libertarians in transportation can make money by providing new, low carbon emitting cars, trucks, tractors, aircraft, and ships to carry people and goods from one place to another. But each of these opportunities requires that the individual libertarians working in these industries stop denying the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Engineers have at least as great an opportunity to make money as libertarians do. After all, who do you think is going to design all those products for all those industries listed above? Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to get PCs to consume even less power than they already do. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to turn small-scale carbon capture demonstration projects into full-scale installations at coal and natural gas power plants. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to boost the efficiencies of solar panels by combining photovoltaic panels with passive solar water heating and at a price point that consumers can afford. And so on.

Engineers excel when given a problem to solve and a set of parameters within which to solve it. And the engineers who are the best at it will make a great deal of money in the process. But to do so, they have to move beyond denying industrial climate disruption. After all, just because an engineer will to work on a project he doesn’t believe in, that doesn’t mean he’ll be motivated to do his best work that way. But give an engineer a project that makes him think “this is going to be totally awesome” and he’ll figure out a way to move Heaven and Earth for you.

Pay now, or pay a lot more later

Not everyone can be lured by wealth and a good, high paying job with good job satisfaction into changing their mind about denying the reality of industrial climate disruption. For some, avoiding the anticipated economic costs of industrial climate disruption is a greater motivator. Economists have been saying for years now that it will cost less to mitigating industrial climate disruption than the damage done to the global economy by doing nothing (or delaying action for decades). Essentially, most economists believe that the cost of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable (and possibly nuclear) sources of energy is much lower than the cost of sea level rise on property values, rebuilding communities built in floodplains, losses to crops due to drought and pests, and the disruption of the global economy due to tens or hundreds of millions of migrating climate refugees, among others.

There are fundamental disagreements among economists about the “correct” way to account for multi-generational issues like industrial climate disruption, with some economists (Nordhaus for one) approaching the problem strictly from a utilitarian perspective while others approach the problem from a “minimal regret” perspective. The utilitarians tend to weigh the economic status of people who are alive today much higher than they weigh the economic status of unknown future generations. This can result in a situation where you could mathematically argue that it would be OK for humanity to go extinct ten generations from now so long as the people alive today aren’t inconvenienced by having to pay more for gasoline. It’s not a coincidence that libertarians tend find themselves among the utilitarians, given that Iyer et al found that libertarians are utilitarian and also value themselves more highly than they do “generic others” like hypothetical great, great, great grandchildren.

The “minimal regret” economists, on the other hand, tend to approach the problem more holistically, applying value not just to a standard of living, but also to the quality of that standard of living. They also tend to apply different discount rates to different aspects of human goods and experience, and they try to incorporate the needs of human survival and health into their economic models. But at the extreme end of this end of the spectrum, “minimal regret” economics can mathematically conclude that destroying the global economy today is acceptable to ensure that at least some of humanity survives ten generations hence. The inclusive nature of the “minimal regret” economic models makes their conclusions more likely to be robust than utilitarian models, and it’s the models of the “minimal regret” school of thought that indicate the costs of doing nothing are much higher than the costs of mitigating industrial climate disruption.

(Scott Ambler)

But even if you reject the economic models and instead ascribe to utilitarian economics, there is a business concept that makes the same basic argument. In business, the costs of making changes to a project is very low early in the project’s lifecycle. But as the project moves through its various stages, it becomes more and more expensive to make changes until, finally, making changes simply isn’t possible at any price.

Businesspeople and engineers who work in product development tend to understand this idea almost instinctively. During requirement definition, the cost of making a change is maybe a few hours to updated a few documents. Once the design is complete the cost of making a change includes a few hours for several people to update a lot more documents. Once something physical is created, the cost increases even more to include changing hardware, possibly even throwing out the original design and starting from scratch. And if a change is needed after the product has been delivered, it may need to be recalled or it may not even be possible to implement the change at all.

We can look at adapting to and mitigating the causes of industrial climate disruption as a set of projects not too different from any other. As an example, adapting New York City to rising sea level may require sea walls around the harbor, major filling of land and reconstruction of buildings on the newly raised ground, or even the partial abandonment of low-lying areas such as those that were most affected by Superstorm Sandy. The sooner this process starts, the cheaper it will be to implement. First, inflation means that the longer a major construction project takes, the more the construction materials will cost. Second, the longer the process takes, the more likely it becomes that another another storm like Sandy sweeps into New York City and does tens or hundreds of billions more dollars in direct and indirect damage – damage that could have been dramatically reduced had the adaptation strategy been in place.

On a smaller scale, this same business axiom explains part of why you shop around for the right solar panels to put on your roof. Not only are you looking for a good deal, but you’re also making sure that you won’t want to change your mind later. After all, if the wrong panels are already on your roof when you discover they’re wrong, you’ll be lucky to get away with only having to pay someone to come out to remove the wrong panels and then pay to have the right panels put back up.

According to national polls, about 84% of all libertarians deny the reality of industrial climate disruption, and while there’s no data about the number of engineers who are similarly in denial, there are a lot of people who identify themselves as engineers on major denial websites. While it makes sense that both groups would feel threatened by industrial climate disruption, albeit for different reasons, both groups should embrace the overwhelming science and data and work toward solutions instead of denying the problem. There will probably never be a greater challenge to solve, or a greater opportunity to make money from creative solutions, than the challenges and opportunities posed by industrial climate disruption. And the sooner the solutions kick in, the less damage will be done to libertarian values, business, and the global economy.

Over the last few weeks, we have in investigated why there are so many libertarians and engineers among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers. We’ve looked at the values and personalities of both groups and we’ve looked at how those values and personalities lead so many libertarians and engineers to deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. And we’ve looked at why, as a matter of pragmatism, both groups should embrace industrial climate disruption instead of denying it.

There are some known areas of contention in climate science, such as the effects of clouds on global climate. But those few remaining areas of contention are very unlikely to change the scientific conclusion – human industry is emitting greenhouse gases and those gases are and will be largely responsible for disrupting the Earth’s climate. However understandable it might be for a libertarian or engineer to hunt for and cling to the few scraps of data that confirm their existing biases, doing so is no longer rational. There are just too many other fields of scientific endeavor that would have to be largely incorrect for the conclusions of industrial climate disruption to be wrong.

# Climate disruption denial: a natural by-product of libertarian values

Decrease in amount of carbon 13 isotope due to the burning of fossil fuels. Credit: CDIAC

Part Three of a series

Industrial climate disruption – the disruption of the global climate as a result of human activity, especially our industrial consumption of fossil fuels – is more or less settled scientific fact. In order for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect, over a century of well-established science would have to be overturned. Some of the established science that would need to be significantly wrong include the Stefan-Boltzmann Law (thermal radiation from a body in space), quantum mechanics, significant portions of chemistry, radioisotope dating and profiling, several laws relating to the behavior of gases, and innumerable measurements of the fundamental physical properties of materials. As an example, if quantum mechanics were significantly wrong, that would mean that microwave ovens, carbon dioxide industrial cutting lasers, and most of modern electronics and electronic imaging would all work differently from how quantum mechanics predicts.

The problem for libertarians is that accepting human responsibility for climate disruption creates a threat to their values. The Iyer et al paper detailed in Part One of this series found that libertarians are fundamentally driven by a single moral good, specifically the liberty to be left alone to do as they pleased. Industrial climate disruption challenges both the primacy of personal liberty and, as a result, libertarians are highly motivated to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning

There’s always a reason when a person denies something. That reason may be based on fact and verifiable reality, such as someone rejecting a claim that the sky is a beautiful shade of paisley. But sometimes denial is based not on facts, but rather on belief, values, or personality. For example, there is no question that the earth is older than 6,000 years old, yet fundamentalist Christians known as “young-Earth creationists” deny that fact because it conflicts with their literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. When beliefs or values conflict with fact and verifiable reality, certain psychological effects either force us to change our beliefs or to deny both fact and reality.

When people learn new things, they can suffer from a psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance. Simply put, cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are trying to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. What happens is the person feeling cognitive dissonance wants to eliminate their discomfort and quickly and as thoroughly as possible. In the example above, a young-Earth creationist who was also a paleontologist would have to either change his views about the age of the Earth or rationalize a reason for why God would want to deceive humanity into thinking the earth was 4.5 billion years old.

One way to alleviate cognitive dissonance is with another psychological effect known as confirmation bias. This is the process by which a person only seeks out or remembers only that information which confirms his or her existing beliefs while ignoring or forgetting information in conflict with those beliefs. Confirmation bias can also relate to the way in which a person interprets new information such that it supports his or her existing beliefs, whether the new information actually supports those beliefs or not.

Interpreting new information in a way that supports your own beliefs can reduce cognitive dissonance, but sometimes it’s more than that. Confirmation bias can also be part of what’s known as motivated reasoning. The modern concept of motivated reasoning began with a 1990 paper by Ziva Kunda, and he found that people let their personal motivations affect their reasoning. For example, if a person discovered that a coworker was behaving unethically at work, the person might be motivated to reject the information because he or she didn’t want to report the coworker to a superior for disciplinary action. Motivated reasoning is the process by which the facts are mentally adjusted in order to conform to a desired outcome instead of adjusting the outcome to conform with the facts.

A classic example of motivated of motivated reasoning goes something like this: it’s difficult to convince someone to accept something when their job depends on not accepting it. In this case, the outcome motivating the denial is the desire to stay employed. Many libertarians use motivated reasoning to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption because it is more than a mere threat to their jobs – industridal climate disruption is a threat to their most deeply held libertarian values.

Industrial climate disruption threatens libertarian values

According to Iyer et al, libertarians essentially have a single moral good – liberty. Specifically, they value the idea of “negative” liberty, which is defined as the right to do with your life and possessions whatever you please so long as you don’t infringe upon the right of others to do the same. Iyer et al also found that libertarians very strongly valued self-direction (the right of individuals to make their own choices in life) and achievement, more so than either conservatives or liberals.

The problem is that these values conflict with the strategies that have been proposed to adapt to and mitigate the effects of industrial climate disruption. As a result, libertarians have strong motivations to deny that industrial climate disruption is a problem.

By its very nature, industrial climate disruption is a global problem, and so the most effective responses to it will also be global in nature. Strategies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the dominant cause of industrial climate disruption) will necessarily require cooperation among nations, communities, and individuals. Similarly, strategies to adapt to those effects that cannot be mitigated, such as increased incidence of river flooding and higher coastal storm surges, will greatly affect individuals as well as communities.

From a libertarian’s perspective, if industrial climate disruption is real, then his property rights are likely to be limited “for the greater good.” But there is no such thing as a “greater good” to a libertarian than individual rights, so right away this entire approach would be unacceptable to a libertarians. Furthermore, reducing greenhouse gas emissions could very well mean that more land needs to be cleared and easements across private property purchased for power lines to carry renewable energy from wherever it’s generated to the communities and industries that consume it. Or maybe some land would need to be seized by the government via eminent domain to build a wind turbine to generate electricity for someone else. Or maybe the property is located near sea level where models project the ocean will make the land unsuitable for habitation in 50 years. In these cases the libertarian would be motivated to reject any science that results in outcomes that are so contrary to his values.

But it goes beyond just property rights. According to Iyer et al, libertarians generally value altruism much lower than either conservatives or liberals, and they value egalitarianism lowest of all. Multiple analyses have demonstrated that the effects of industrial climate disruption will disproportionately affect the poor, and so one of the adaptation strategies planned is to provide additional aid to the poor. One example is the government helping to pay any increase in energy bills due to pricing greenhouse gases. But libertarians reject these kinds of aid (along with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) because they interfere with the right of the wealthy to spend their wealth however they see fit. If industrial climate disruption means limiting economic liberty, then that provides yet another motivation for libertarians to deny industrial climate disruption.

In addition, both of the prior examples would require a strong national government in order to push through the kinds of changes needed to effectively address industrial climate disruption. A strong national government means a government that has the power to restrict individual liberties, and libertarians simply cannot accept that.

An example: values-motivated arguments regarding climate sensitivity

As shown above, industrial climate disruption is clearly a threat to the liberties that libertarians value the most. This means that there is tremendous motivation for libertarians to rationalize away the threat. Iyer et al found that libertarians are more systemizing than empathizing, meaning that they are more interested in systems with equations and variables to be fiddled with than they are interested in people’s emotions. This focus on rational systems makes libertarians particularly good at motivated reasoning – they’ll go hunting for data, process that data in a way that is subject to their confirmation biases against industrial climate disruption, and then create a superficially reasonable rationale for why the science is wrong.

We can illustrate this process in one of the many arguments that libertarians make against various aspects of climate science, specifically the argument that climate scientists have miscalculated how much the global temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, aka the “climate sensitivity.” Deniers of industrial climate disruption often refer to the work of Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, both of whom claim that climate sensitivity is well below the generally accepted range of 3.6 to 8.1 °F (2.0 to 4.5 °C). Lindzen proposed a hypothesis in 2001 that climate sensitivity was much lower because there was an “iris” in the tropics that would result in more efficient radiation of heat from the tropics into space. But that hypothesis was rapidly challenged, and other scientists have repeatedly shown errors in Lindzen’s work that cast significant doubt on the “iris effect.”

Roy Spencer has an alternate, but also cloud-related, hypothesis that not only suggests that climate sensitivity is low, but that nearly every other climate scientist on the planet is wrong about the feedback mechanism between tropical clouds and the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. Spencer’s latest version of the hypothesis was thoroughly refuted by at two independent scientific papers and the problems found with the paper were so severe that the editor of the journal that published the paper resigned as a way to restore the journal’s credibility.

There are dozens of papers that are based on multiple different lines of evidence (bottom-up climate models, directly measured temperatures, ice cores, even the measured response of the Earth’s climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo) that contradict both Lindzen and Spencer and that calculate climate sensitivity to be approximately in the accepted range – some are somewhat higher or lower, depending on the exact calculation methodology and data used. Yet libertarians regularly refer to one or the other of the two men as having the best estimates of climate sensitivity that is strictly based on observations instead of models. That both men use simplified models of their own devising (and that those models have been regularly found to be too simple for the purpose of estimating climate sensitivity) seems to be forgotten or justified in the service of reasoning away the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Another factor that is probably in play in libertarian arguments against high climate sensitivity is how libertarians process arguments. According to Iyer et al, libertarians focus on data and logic over “intangibles” like appearance or perceived credibility. This generally a good thing, but it can be taken too far, especially with respect to perceived credibility.

Lindzen and Spencer are both reasonably well-respected scientists. Lindzen is a professor at MIT and a member of the National Academy of Sciences because of his contributions to atmospheric physics. Spencer, along with his University of Alabama-Huntsville colleague John Christy, developed a methodology by which satellites could measure the Earth’s temperature at multiple altitudes using microwaves. But Lindzen and Spencer also have some credibility problems that should raise red flags about their objectivity on the issue of industrial climate disruption for anyone who’s reasoning is motivated by accuracy instead of ideology.

First, Lindzen has a decades-long history of proposing hypotheses about how the Earth’s climate works that have mostly turned out to be wrong. For a rundown of this by climate scientist Ray Pierrehumbert during his American Geophysical Union Tyndall lecture, skip ahead to about 33 minutes in the following video:

While Lindzen is often wrong, his questions and alternate hypotheses have largely improved the state of climate science and he’s mostly backed down from his ideas when they were thoroughly refuted. The same cannot necessarily be said for Spencer. Spencer and Christy have had to make at multiple significant corrections to their satellite temperature dataset, nearly all of which they had to make after others found problems with the satellites (annual variation in calibration targets, satellite orbital drift and decay, et al).

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

In addition, in 2012, Spencer manipulated the editor of the journal Remote Sensing into publishing a paper that purported to demonstrate that climate sensitivity was low. However, Spencer had provided a list of friendly reviewers to the editor and so the fundamentally flawed paper sailed through palpeer review with little to no oversight. Once the editor discovered he’d been used, he offered Spencer’s critics the opportunity to respond to Spencer in the journal and resigned as editor to restore the journal’s scientific credibility.

Finally, Spencer is a member of industrial climate disruption-denying, dominionist evangelical group the Cornwall Alliance. He wrote the science section of the Alliance’s white paper titled “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor,” a document that is filled with misinformation and denial. This is perhaps not a surprise given Spencer’s history and his evangelical faith. But the same document’s “Theology” section justifies denying predictions of sea level rise by saying that God swore he’d never send another flood (p15), and elsewhere on the same page the document says that the last ice age was a direct result of Noah’s Flood. These claims are in direct conflict with scientific theories and data about ice ages and ice sheet formation. While Spencer himself did not write the theology section, his association with a group that is more interested in making data fit their theology than looking clearly at what the data raises serious questions about Spencer’s scientific credibility on the subject of industrial climate disruption.

Iyer et al found that libertarians need to examine things, to feel rational, before they make decisions. This strong need to be and feel rational does nothing to protect a libertarian from cognitive dissonance or to insulate them from confirmation bias. And it does nothing to immunize libertarians from rationalizing away inconvenient data or conclusions that threaten their values. If anything, the libertarian need to feel rational makes libertarians more prone to motivated reasoning, not less – the more you know about a subject, the more susceptible to motivated reasoning you become.

No-one, of any ideology, is fundamentally immune to motivated reasoning. But libertarians tend to be highly motivated by industrial climate disruption because it threatens their core values. High motivation plus easily available misinformation equals lots of opportunity for confirmation bias to manipulate reasoning.

Given all these facts it’s no wonder that there are so many libertarians among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers.

In Part Four we’ll look closer at why engineers deny climate disruption.

# Libertarians, engineers, and climate disruption denial: part 1 – libertarians

National Park Service/Will Elder

Part One of a series

Industrial climate disruption, aka climate change or global warming, is perhaps the most important issue that humanity has ever faced. Scientists have concluded based on an overwhelming amount of data and over a century of well established and verified science that humanity has probably never faced the kind of disruptions to our world that are coming as a result of our emissions of greenhouse gases. But there is small and vocal minority of people who reject the science and data underlying this conclusion, and in the United States those deniers have successfully convinced the bulk of the Republican party to act as if that science is wrong and doesn’t matter.

Ever since I encountered my first example of a climate disruption denier I’ve wondered what kind of person could deny the reality that is industrial climate disruption. Over the years of writing on climate, however, it became clear that there were two groups of people who made up the majority of the serious deniers – libertarians and engineers of various stripes. As an electrical engineer myself, however, I didn’t understand how individuals trained in mathematics, science, and logic could fail to see glaring scientific, mathematical, physical, or logical flaws in their own arguments. Eventually, though, something clicked: most of the engineers I work with today and have worked with since earning my MSEE are either libertarians themselves or have some libertarian leanings.

This is the first part of a series of posts exploring the personality traits and moral values of libertarians, engineers, and the relationship of those traits and values to the denial of industrial climate disruption.

Libertarians: a distinct personality profile and moral ideal

If you think about the stereotypical traits we tend to attribute to libertarians – pro-small government, pro-property rights, anti-regulation, and anti-taxes, to name a few – it makes some logical sense that they’d be more inclined to reject the science supporting climate disruption. After all, if climate disruption requires government intervention, higher taxes, and restricts what a libertarian can do with his property, then he’d naturally oppose those types of solutions. But that resistance doesn’t explain why libertarians oppose the science itself instead of simply opposing policies that might be implemented as a result of the science.

In August, 2012, several researchers studying the psychology of political ideology released the results of three psychological studies they had performed into the values and personality traits of self-identified libertarians. The researchers compared the self-identified libertarians to self-identified liberals and conservatives and then compared and contrasted their values and personality traits. This paper (hereafter Iyer et al) concluded that libertarians were not merely a point on the traditional liberal/conservative values scale, but rather that libertarianism represented a third, unique approach that is distinct from both liberal and conservative values.

This paper served as the starting point for my investigation into why so many libertarians deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. But before we can understand their denial, we must first understand exactly what personality traits libertarians have and what they value.

Liberty as the only moral good

According to Iyer et al, libertarians really have only a single moral good – freedom from restrictions on their actions, or what Iyer et al call “negative” liberty. This differs from the more common “positive” liberty in that positive liberty means having the opportunity to pursue one’s own interests. In terms that many Americans are familiar with, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances described in the First Amendment of the US Constitution is a form of positive liberty, while having the freedom to do anything you want so long as it doesn’t interfere with the right of others to do the same is a form of negative liberty.

But Iyer et al indicate that this moral good is not well measured by traditional studies of morality, writing that “standard morality scales… do a poor job of measuring libertarian values” and that “if liberty is included as a moral value, libertarians are not amoral.” The flip side of this statement, however, means that libertarians do not share a common moral framework with either liberals or conservatives.

The data in Iyer et al demonstrate that libertarians have a similar profile (the relative order of importance of various values) to liberals on one test of moral values, the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ). Specifically, libertarians rate fairness highest, followed by harm, and both groups value authority and purity the least. But Iyer et al indicates that libertarians don’t think about fairness and harm in the same ways that liberals do – harm to a liberal often means injury to someone else, while harm to a libertarian means injury to the libertarian by others. Conservatives valued authority and being associated with the “in” group the most, above both harm and fairness.

This pattern of valuing the welfare of others less than one’s own welfare was again seen in the data from the Schwartz Values Scale. Given there are ten different values in this scale (instead of the five in the MFQ), there were more differences between libertarians, liberals, and conservatives. While all three groups valued self-direction the highest, libertarians valued it more than liberals and far more than conservatives. Libertarians valued achievement just after self-direction and over all the other values (benevolence, conformity, hedonism, power, security, stimulation, tradition, or universalism). According to Iyer et al, the libertarian profile looks “somewhat like liberals,” but with lower value placed on benevolence and universalism, the two Schwartz values that relate to caring about the welfare of others.

When Iyer et al looked at ethical positions, they found that libertarians were more likely to consider ethics “situational” instead of universal. This means that libertarians are more likely to feel that what is ethically acceptable varies from one situation to another. Iyer et al suggest that this is because libertarians “live in a world where traditional moral concerns (e.g. altruism, respect for authority) are not assigned much importance.” This is supported by the original research upon which Iyer et al’s survey was based, which found that people with ethical profiles like those of libertarians

‘reject moral rules’ and ‘base moral judgements on personal feelings about the action and the setting.’

Iyer et al further investigated the low valuation libertarians of traditional authority with a questionnaire that directly measures “the extent to which people are emotionally resistant to restrictions on their behavioral freedom and to the advice and influence of others.” Conservatives were the least resistant, followed by liberals. Libertarians were the most resistant to accepting restrictions on their behavior and even to listening to the expert opinions of others.

When asked specifically about their interest in economic and lifestyle liberty, libertarians valued both types of liberty the highest, well over either liberals (who valued lifestyle over economic liberty) or conservatives (who valued economic over lifestyle liberty). In this case, Iyer et al defined “economic liberty” as the right of successful people to “enjoy their wealth as they see fit” and “lifestyle liberty” as the right of everyone to “be as free as they choose” within the limitation that their freedom not infringe upon others.

The Iyer et al studies conclusively demonstrated that the single libertarian moral good of liberty, specifically “negative” liberty, is quite different from the morals of either liberals or conservatives. This single moral good is the driving factor from which all other libertarian values are derived.

The rational ethos of libertarianism

Beyond the moral good of liberty that libertarians espouse, Iyer et al found that they also feel a greater need to be rational than, and to perceive themselves as more rational than, either liberals or conservatives.

When Iyer et al looked at the Big 5 personality traits (an alternative method of determining personality to Myers-Briggs personality types) of libertarians, they found that libertarians were largely open to new experiences, felt a strong need to think about things, and were more introverted than either liberals or conservatives. In more common Myers-Briggs terms, libertarians have an INTx profile, where the “x” could be either judging or perceiving (J/P).

When it came to difficult moral choices, libertarians’ need to be rational about their choices produced utilitarian results. For example, libertarians were more willing to sacrifice one person to save many than either liberals or conservatives, with conservatives being the least willing to logically reason out the need for one to die so many could live.

When faced with questions that had two different answers, one of which was correct and another that was intuitive, Iyer et al found that libertarians were more likely than either liberals or conservatives to choose the correct answer. Iyer et al was careful to point out that this result does not necessarily mean that libertarians are smarter than liberals or conservatives, only that libertarians are mentally better at suppressing the intuitive reflex.

Finally, Iyer et al also found that libertarians needed to formulate their opinions based on arguments and data instead of on “peripheral cues, such as how attractive or credible a speaker is.” Again, libertarians had a slightly greater need to think about things than liberals and a moderately greater need than conservatives.

In every case that Iyer et al looked at, libertarians needed to think more about things before forming judgements, usually somewhat more than liberals and much more than conservatives. One possibility for why this is could be that libertarians are psychologically more comfortable with systems that have black and white rules than they are with people who only come in shades of gray.

Systemizing over empathizing

Iyer et al looked specifically at the preference of libertarians for systemizing or empathizing. According to Iyer et al, the creators of this particular personality scale define systemizing as “the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system.” Empathizing, on the other hand, is defined as “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion.” Given that libertarians tend to be introverts who value being left alone to do as they please, it’s reasonable to expect that libertarians would also prefer systemizing more and empathizing less than liberals or conservatives.

What surprised Iyer et al was just how strongly libertarians are systemizers. While liberals valued empathizing more than systemizing, and conservatives valued both about the same (with a slight emphasis on empathizing), libertarians valued systemizing more than empathizing, and nearly as much as liberals valued empathizing.

This result describes what Iyer et al and others call a fundamentally “male” mental process, as opposed to the “female” liberal mental process of empathizing. But there’s a problem with this characterization, namely that libertarians are overwhelmingly male – 79.6% in Iyer et al and 67% in polls of the United States as a whole. Since correlation is not causation, it’s not possible to know with the data from the Iyer et al study whether this dominant systemizing mental process is because so many libertarians are men, or whether men are more likely to be attracted to libertarianism because it’s dominant mental process is systemization.

Independent and solitary

Iyer et al found that libertarians are weak empathizers, have a strong need for rationality over emotion, and value their independence. These traits come together in a number of ways to describe how libertarians relate, or perhaps fail to relate, to other people.

One of the Big 5 personality traits that Iyer et al looked at is extraversion, and a low score means that you’re more introverted than extraverted. Libertarians were more introverted than either liberals or conservatives, who were roughly equal with each other. When asked about how they empathized with others, libertarians were the only group to use the “put yourself in their shoes” type of empathizing more than any other type. Not only that, but libertarians empathized with others’ personal distress the least of all.

Iyer et al also compared libertarians’ relative level of individualism and collectivism to both liberals and conservatives. As expected, libertarians valued both competitive, hierarchical individualism and peer-to-peer, horizontal individualism more than either liberals or conservatives and more than either form of collectivism. Libertarians valued peer-to-peer collectivism, described in Iyer et al as characteristic of an egalitarian attitude, the least and moderately lower than either liberals or conservatives.

Libertarians and conservatives had similar profiles in the Iyer et al data for how much each group identified with the rest of humanity (as broken down into community, country, and the world). Both groups identified the most with their country, followed by their community, and lastly with the rest of the world. Liberals, on the other hand, identified with the world first, then community, and lastly their country. But libertarians identified the least with community and country, and only barely more with the rest of the world than conservatives did. Iyer et al wrote that this finding was “consistent with the libertarians’ desire for personal liberty.”

Finally, when Iyer et al looked at the data for how libertarians felt love toward their partners, family, friends, or “generic others,” Iyer et al found that libertarians feelings of love toward all four groups of people were the weakest of all when compared to liberals and conservatives. Libertarians’ feelings were the strongest toward their partners, but even those feelings were slightly weaker than the feelings that liberals and conservatives felt toward their partners. Feelings of love toward “generic others” were the lowest of all for libertarians. Iyer et al considered these results to be “noteworthy” because

differences between liberals and conservatives were generally small (except toward generic others). Libertarians were the outliers. [emphasis added]

Iyer et al are not able to turn the correlations in values and personality traits they observed among libertarians into causative relationships. The data from Iyer et al cannot say, for example, that libertarians’ focus on negative liberty as their single moral good is because libertarians tend to be introverted and unable to empathize with others.

Furthermore, while Iyer et al is based on a large sample of data, it is not necessarily representative of the entire population of libertarians. For example, the demographics of Iyer et al are somewhat different from a nationally representative poll conducted by the Pew Research Center on the People and the Press that also included a breakdown of libertarian demographics. For example, Iyer et al had a significantly greater percentage of men, a slightly greater number of whites, and about the same number of college educated respondents as the Pew poll did. The greater number of whites and males almost certainly skews the data some, but it’s not possible with the Iyer et al data to say how much.

But when you look at Iyer et al‘s conclusions, they match well to the profile that Pew used to differentiate between libertarians and other ideological groups in their poll. Pew’s data shows that most libertarians reject strict environmental laws, something that is expected given Iyer et al’s finding that libertarians are resistant to external factors that would impinge upon their personal liberty. Pew found that libertarians were accepting of homosexuality, which is also expected given Iyer et al’s findings that libertarians are relatively unmotivated by emotional “disgust” reactions and highly value horizontal, peer-to-peer individualism. So while a similar study to Iyer et al would almost certainly generate somewhat different results using a nationally representative poll of libertarians, it’s unlikely that the results would significantly change Iyer et al’s overall conclusions.

Finally, Iyer et al points out that entirely possible that the moral good of negative liberty that libertarians value more than any other may be a moralization of their personal preference for living free of too many entanglements. In a culture where morality is generally defined along lines that libertarians disagree with and don’t feel, it’s easy to see why libertarians would have an emotional need to redefine morality in a way that reduces their cognitive dissonance. But whether this is the case or not will require more studies than just Iyer et al.

As an engineer with some libertarian leanings myself, I found Iyer et al to be fascinating. It explained much about so many of my fellow engineers, so many of whom are also libertarians. In Part Two I’ll discuss how being an engineer and working for a corporation affects the perspectives and values of engineers.

# New Arctic ice minimum set three weeks early

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, (NSDIC) “Arctic sea ice appears to have broken the 2007 record daily extent and is now the lowest in the satellite era.” This announcement was made earlier today, on August 27. The joint International Arctic Research Center/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency team out of Fairbanks, Alaska announced that Arctic ice area had reached a record low according to their measurements on August 20.