Recreating Shackleton’s unbelievable voyage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Carson: the GOP’s great black hope

It’s logical in its own crazy racist way. The Democrats won the White House with a black candidate, so the GOP has decided they need their own black candidate. And now the GOP has the next great black hope.

It’s a forum that isn’t known for making news – so Dr. Ben Carson says the buzz created by his speech at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, including a Wall Street Journal staff editorial with the headline “Ben Carson For President” – came as a surprise.

“I don’t think it was particularly political,” Carson, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, told ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during an interview for ” This Week.” “You know, I’m a physician. I like to diagnose things. And, you know, I’ve diagnosed some pretty, pretty significant issues that I think a lot of people resonate with.”

With an audience that included President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Carson spoke out about political correctness, health care and taxes at the breakfast. In his roughly 23-minute address, Carson called for a private health care savings plan and a flat tax for all Americans. His address has since gone viral, racking up more than two million views on YouTube.

The speech isn’t Carson’s first foray into national politics. In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded the successful brain surgeon the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Of course it won’t work.

Not because there aren’t plenty of black crackpots out there that will fit right in with the crazies in the Republican Party. Rich, entitled black people don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes either. Religious zealotry and superstition are just as virulent in black circles or white. Black people also stockpile enough guns to fight a small war. There are plenty of black bigots out there, too, and plenty of blacks willing to sell out to get ahead. That’s absolutely great–it is a sign of a healthy democracy to have a range of views in every sub-population, and a range of people associated with every view.

The problem of course is that the Republicans are not really looking for a black candidate, they’re looking for a shill for bad policies. They’re looking for a puppet who will stand at the podium with a Koch brother hand up his ass. So on goes the search for someone to stand up there and look black (Herman Cain) or brown (Mario Rubio) but espouse the policies of old, white men. It’s not the man behind the microphone, guys, it’s the message.

And what of the sensation of the moment, Ben Carson? He will fade away like all the black tokens, either unable to stand up under the withering scrutiny of big time politics (Herman Cain) or unable to handle real debate (Alan Keyes) or unwilling to stick to the script (Michael Steele.)

Did John Brennan’s end run lead to the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi?

Who would you believe: JSOC operatives past and present or the U.S. government?

BenghaziBookBenghazi: The Definitive Report is the title of an e-book published on February 12 by William Morrow. It’s written by two editors at, the unofficial special operations site: Brandon Webb — a former Navy SEAL — and Jack Murphy — a former Army Ranger and Green Beret. What’s unique about the report is its bipartisan appeal. Its fodder for those who would attack the State Department, the administration, and the CIA from both the right and the left. Sure enough, it’s caused ripples in Washington and garnered significant attention from the mainstream media.

To sum up, Webb and Murphy allege that the Benghazi terrorist attack, during which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was mounted by Islamist militants in retaliation for attacks on them by JSOC forces. Worse, the authors claim, neither Stevens nor CIA director David Petraeus knew about the raids, which were ordered by President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, who was acting outside the command structure.

Webb and Murphy also declare that Petraeus’s affair with Paula Broadwell was leaked by the members of his personal protection detail in conjunction with members of the CIA who were unhappy with his emphasis on paramilitary activities over traditional espionage.

About Brennan, Murphy told Human Events:

The Senate should not confirm him as the new director of the CIA and Brennan should not continue in public life. … “I think we need to let this guy go.”

Meanwhile, Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, writes:

… while the book is filled with juicy revelations that promise to shock even the most casual followers of counterintelligence gossip, government officials, including spokesmen for the National Security Council and Special Operations Command, dispute some of the key claims. … Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, declined to discuss specific missions, but said “all U.S. Special Operations Forces work inside the established military chain of command,” and wouldn’t “work in a foreign country without the knowledge and permission of the U.S. ambassador or chief of mission.”

The book also claims elements of the U.S. government either allowed or ran an operation to funnel weapons collected in Libya to Syria. The authors write, “[Ambassador] Stevens likely helped consolidate as many weapons as possible after the war to safeguard them, at which point Brennan exported them overseas to start another conflict.” … but Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, says there was no program to send weapons from Libya to Syria. “This has no basis in reality and is completely made up,” he says. Hillary Clinton also denied any knowledge of this when she was asked about it by Sen. Rand Paul during last month’s hearings on the Benghazi attack.

Hmm, two spokespersons, plus Hilary Clinton during a hearing: that’s all you’ve got, Eli? From the Human Events piece:

Because of the sensitivities involved, the authors double-source the claims in the book, he said. Many more stories were left out because there was no independent confirmation.

It all comes down to who you want to believe: the U.S. government or JSOC operatives past and present? In my case, it’s more personal — who do I want to believe: the U.S. government or my nephew? (By way of “full disclosure,” as they say, Jack Murphy is my wife’s sister’s son.)

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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

An update to this story has been included below.

CATEGORY: ClimateJames 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.

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