Model performance vs. measured global average surface temperature (IPCC AR5)

Supreme Court “Friend of the Court” brief challenges EPA’s climate change, greenhouse gas regulations

Playing fast and loose with both climate science and logic in a Supreme Court brief is a good way to destroy your own credibility.

CATEGORY: ClimateClick here for the other posts in this series

In June, 2012, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruled that the Clean Air Act permitted the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) as pollutants. Multiple industry groups and states appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court in March, 2013, and the Court agreed to hear part of the appeal in October, 2013. Specifically, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether or not the Clean Air Act automatically required the EPA to regulate stationary sources like power plants as a result of the EPA finding that motor vehicles were a source of pollution. The Court refused to hear arguments on whether or not the EPA had the authority to find greenhouse gases a pollutant, or to regulate them as pollutants.

Even though the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments related to the EPA’s science-based endangerment finding, a group of 12 self-described “experts” submitted a Brief of Amici Curiae, also known as a “Friend of the Court” brief [hereafter “the brief”], to the Court on December 16, 2013. The brief asks the Supreme Court to overturn the DC Appeals Court ruling and the entire endangerment finding even though the Court refused to hear arguments on those issues. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

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

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

James M. Taylor (from Heartland Institute bio page)

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

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

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

CATEGORY: Climate

Daily Caller gets it wrong on global warming spending

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

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

Venus’ surface temperature series updated

Venus terrain composite (NASA)

Venus terrain composite (NASA)

In early May, 2011 I posted a five-part series about the surface temperature of Venus. In it I demonstrated that the Venus’ surface temperature – hot enough to melt lead – was not a result of internal heating from Venus’ core. Instead, the greenhouse effect of Venus’ largely carbon dioxide atmosphere is the reason the surface is so much hotter than it would be without the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, I made a pretty significant error in my calculations and used the wrong value for a physical constant that made many of my calculations about 20% too high. While I acknowledged the error as soon as it was pointed out to me by an observant commenter, I had not taken the time to go back through all five posts and correct the calculations until last week. As I had pointed out as soon as my mistake was discovered, none of the conclusions changed as a result of the error, but I feel it’s important nonetheless to make admit mistakes and make corrections as required. I’m sorry it took so long to make the corrections.

Here are links to each of the Venus posts I made in one place. I hope you find them useful.

Venus’ climate I: How scientists know Venus’ surface is unusually hot (corrected)

Venus’ climate II: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from internal heating (Corrected)

Venus’ climate III: How scientists know Venus isn’t geologically young (Corrected)

Venus’ climate IV: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature isn’t from a “recent” astronomical collision

Venus’ climate V: How scientists know Venus’ surface temperature is a result of greenhouse heating (corrected)

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Has NASA discovered life on Mars? If so, what are the implications?

Something is up with the Curiosity rover mission. Except nobody will tell us what it is. But they’re sure acting like it’s a big deal.

It seems NASA and the Curiosity rover have found something exciting and nerd-tastic on Mars, but the space agency’s scientists are holding back for now, despite how painful it appears to be for them.

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca happened to be in the room recently when John Grotzinger, lead scientist for the Curiosity mission at NASA, started receiving data on his computer from the rover’s on-board chemistry lab, also known as SAM (sample analysis at Mars). SAM and NASA scientists on Earth have been busy analyzing a sample of Martian soil of late, and apparently the dirt from the Red Planet has a secret to tell.

“This data is going to be one for the history books, it’s looking really good,” Grotzinger said in the story that aired yesterday.

And that’s about all he said.

Grotzinger and NASA have remained mum on what exactly Curiosity may have found in the Martian soil, saying it could be several more weeks until they’re able to verify the data. The scientists need to make sure whatever earth-shattering find they have isn’t an error or perhaps some kind of stowaway molecule or whatever it may be that hitched one really long ride from Earth.

Hmmm. So the reporter turned to another source in search of some informed speculation.

Lewis Dartnell is a leading astrobiologist at The Centre For Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck in London. He makes it clear that with so little to go on, no one outside of NASA can know what the agency thinks it has, but, he says, “the SAM instrument is designed to detect organic molecules on Mars, so the smart money is on an announcement along those lines.”

That’s right, the smart money is on what we all were already thinking — LIFE ON MARS.

Wow. That would be one of the four or five biggest discoveries in human history, wouldn’t it? Or not. The agency has now trotted out a spokesman to hose the rumors down with cold water.

“John was delighted about the quality and range of information coming in from SAM during the day a reporter happened to be sitting in John’s office last week. He has been similarly delighted by results at other points during the mission so far,” spokesman Guy Webster told AFP.

“The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team. As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books,” Webster said.

So, what can we conclude from these mysterious events? For starters, let’s note that the spokesman with the cold water did not say the speculation was incorrect. He did not deny that Curiosity has found evidence of life on Mars (or, for that matter, actual life on Mars). This is perhaps significant. For sure, I know carefully crafted PR-speak when I see it (having carefully crafted a good bit of it throughout the course of my career), and this is official language that’s scrupulously saying not a damned thing. The whole “it’s all historic!” line is pure misdirection. In other words, the PR statement has made me more suspicious, not less.

Why the secrecy, though? There are a number of possible explanations. For one thing, this is science, and science is about gathering, analyzing and verifying evidence. The timetables this process employs are completely at odds with those preferred by ratings-mad media agencies on a 24/7 “news” cycle. They’re not trying to generate sensational headlines – on the contrary. Until they know precisely what they’re dealing with they’d rather generate no headlines at all, and I’m willing to wager that Dr. Grotzinger has been on the business end of a stern talking-to today for reacting that way in front of a reporter.

Another possibility is that they have uncovered a landmark moment in human history. If so, it so radically alters what we know about the universe and our place in it that official acknowledgement of the discovery requires deep consideration.

Let’s speculate a bit. Say that Curiosity has, in fact, discovered life on Mars. What does it mean? The dominant assumption throughout most of history, driven primarily by religious exceptionalists, was that Earth is home to the only life in the universe. More recently we’ve discovered that the portions of the universe that we can detect, observe and examine contain several Earth-like planets that could theoretically support life. These analyses employ narrow definitions and, obviously, we cannot yet study more than the smallest fraction of the universe. Basic probability suggests that it’s unlikely we’re alone.

Still, it is one thing to speculate that life might exist, or even that it probably exists, and another entirely to have evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

So if NASA has, in fact, discovered life on Mars, it turns our assumptions upside down. Instead of viewing life as something unspeakably rare, if not utterly unique to Earth, we overnight have to assume that life isn’t rare at all – it’s common as dirt. Instead of life being too complex to evolve more than once, it becomes something that evolves as a matter of routine. Put another way, at that stage we will have evidence that life exists on two-thirds of the worlds that we have knowledge of. Never mind what are the odds of life elsewhere in the universe – if it evolved on two planets that are side-by-side, what are the odds that they’re the only two? If you’ll pardon the expression, the chances would be astronomical.

For the moment, we have no idea what’s going on at NASA right now. We do know that there have been other bits of evidence suggesting that the conditions for life may have once existed on Mars, and we know what SAM was designed to look for. It’s therefore not unreasonable to speculate a bit in the spirit of the joy of discovery.

If Curiosity has uncovered extraterrestrial life, I personally cannot wait for the official announcement and the uproar to follow. It might do us arrogant humans good to learn that we have neighbors, even if they’re microscopic ones.

Image Credit: NASA

Space X's Falcon 9 launch leaves dreamers behind

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

I had a dream when I was 10 years old and was thrilled when Alan Shepard, in the first manned Mercury Mission, orbited the earth. Okay, we were a bit  behind the Soviets, but, still we had done it, and very soon, I knew we would eclipse them. And we did.

On that day, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut, too. To explore space. Never mind that women, including the legendary Mercury 13, were not part of NASA’s mission back then. It was a manly task in this pre-lib era. Never mind that my Coke bottle-thick glasses (in a fashionable blue metallic complete with fake diamonds) would have rendered me ineligible, I still dreamed the dream back then. Continue reading

Deroy Murdock's latest NASA column a nearly fact-free, logical fallacy-filled screed

Over the last week and a half, a column titled “Astronauts cool to global warming” by right-wing columnist Deroy Murdock has been making the rounds of editorial pages. Murdock’s column is filled with ad hominem attacks on actual climate realists (those who agree that there’s an overwhelming amount of scientific data supporting human-driven climate disruption), straw men, red herrings, appeals to emotion, and more. Essentially, the column is nearly 700 words of fact free inflammatory language and logical fallacies.

But since Murdock’s column came out a couple of weeks after the original media flurry had subsided, there are few if any responses to the column. Instead of writing a massive post debunking the legions of fallacies and factual deficiencies in Murdock’s column, I’ll simply point the reader to my earlier post on the letter that inspired Murdock’s screed: Serious errors and shortcomings void climate letter by 49 former NASA employees.

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

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

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


Figure 1 – The carbon cycle

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

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

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

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” Who said it? Continue reading

Crab Nebula gamma emissions and the Large Hadron Collider

According to the BBC, astronomers observing the pulsar at the core of the Crab Nebula have observed gamma rays with energies far in excess of what current stellar models expect. The BBC wrote

[Dr. Nepomuk Otte and his colleagues] spotted gamma rays with energies of far more than 100 GeV, and there were further hints that there may be teraelectronvolt rays; that puts them nearly on a par with particle energies at the Large Hadron Collider.

If you recall, back when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was about to be powered up in 2008 there was a great deal of fear expressed by non-scientists that the LHC could result in the creation of black holes that might eat the Earth, or that the LHC might create theoretical “strangelets” that might eat the Earth. Regardless of the theory, everyone agreed that they were afraid that it meant the end of the world. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

From Kitty Hawk to Cape Canaveral

Eighth in a series

It’s the village of Kill Devil Hills now, but once upon a time, this open field and grass-covered sand dune had been part of Kitty Hawk—a place made famous when Orville and Wilbur Wright first took to the air. Hundreds of people mill about, walking the trail to the monument, visiting the exhibition hall and visitor center, peering into the reconstructed hangar and workshop.

It’s hard to feel the history here, maybe because the summer sun makes everything hyperbright and hot, so different from the grainy black-and-white photo taken on that December day in 1903 that captured the Wright’s airplane as it wobbled up into the air. Or maybe it’s because of the rows of cars parked in the lot and the masses of people decked out in full beach-tourist regalia.

The air somehow carries a shared sense of pride, like everyone’s proud of Orville and Wilbur, proud of the brothers’ achievement, proud of the inventive spirit that allowed humanity to rise up above itself and above the earth itself. Continue reading

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

The Space Shuttle: first thoughts on the end of an era

Second in a series.

I just watched the space shuttle Atlantis take flight for the last time, and I’m trying to figure out why I feel so much like I did after my grandfather died.

Is it because so much of my life has been defined by my attitude towards space exploration, and because the space shuttle symbolized that?

Is it because the first shuttle went up when I was eight, I saw Challenger blow up at 13, saw Columbia break up on reentry when I was 30, and have now lived to see the end of American space flight for the foreseeable future at the age of 38? Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Heartland Institute VIPs misrepresent facts again

On January 24, Mark Boslough of the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories wrote an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican in which he criticized the Heartland Institute and Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut and retired geologist turned climate disruption denier. In response, the Heartland Institute ran several posts on their blog and submitted an op-ed to the New Mexican from the Institute’s president.

The blog posts and the op-ed each contain multiple errors and misrepresentations that are in character for an organization that has a thoroughly documented history of manipulating facts and misrepresenting science to serve their ideology. Continue reading

The perpetual debunking of Christopher Monckton

If you’ve been reading S&R for a while now, you’re probably familiar with the fact that I have issues with Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, and climate disruption denier. While he came to my attention as a result of his many errors of fact regarding climate science, my issues with Monckton are largely the result of the fact that he has labeled student activists “Hitler Youth,” has threatened legal action against his critics in transparent attempts at intimidation, and accuses his critics of resorting to ad hominem attacks while describing them as looking “like an overcooked prawn.” Pot, meet kettle.

Now, thanks to the miracle of massive databases and people who know how to code them, we have available a new Monckton debunking tool. John Cook, physicist and creator/editor of the website SkepticalScience.com has put together a page devoted exclusively to debunking Monckton’s many, many, many myths. Continue reading