Earthrise from Apollo 8, December 24, 1968 (image credit: NASA)

When reaching out to better understand my fellow Americans, facts are non-negotiable

Reality has facts, however poorly we see them sometimes. Reaching out to understand someone else’s experience requires common ground, and for me, that common ground must be based upon a shared understanding of objective facts.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about how I was living in a bubble that distorted my perspective on America. The point was that, while I’m living in a bubble, I’m hardly the only one, and I gave an example of a grandfather from Vigo County, Indiana, who felt that his America was populated by “real people,” as opposed to the presumably fake or inauthentic people in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. But after reading several excellent comments on that article that provided suggestions how to reach people – listen, talk with instead of at, stop dismissing, denigrating, and demonizing – I realized that there is a limit to my ability, even to my willingness, to reach out and have a meaningful discussion.

Facts. They exist. And they’re a non-negotiable entry point for any bubble-piercing attempts I’m going to be involved in.

Let me give a few examples of what I mean. Continue reading


I wept for America this morning

twin_towers_gettyI wept for my country this morning.

To say I feel sucker punched by Trump’s win is an understatement. “Sucker punched” falls so far short of how I actually feel today that it’s absurd.

Let me try to describe how I feel.

Remember at around noon on September 11, 2001, after all the planes had crashed, both towers had fallen, and the Pentagon was in flames. Remember how you felt a sense of dread, of horror, of unfathomable grief that seemed like it might never fade. That’s how I feel today.

But worse. Continue reading

Judy Greer

Big Bang Theory presents: top ten reasons men should pursue careers in the sciences

Hey boys – what should you be when you grow up?

I know a lot of young men out there are trying to decide what to do with their lives. Fireman? Policeman? CEO? Doctor? Lawyer? Low-level marketing manager?

Great ideas, all, but here in America it’s important to take your cues from our alpha arbiter of social possibility, network television. So, let’s have a look at what CBS has to say on the subject.

First: this is a scientist.

Now, here are some reasons to be a scientist, based on his experiences over the past few years of his life: Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

For Women’s History Month – five women who influenced the science of evolution

Next up, I offer some women of science.

Rosalind Franklin:

Rosalind Franklin was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made critical contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses,coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her DNA work posthumously achieved the most profound impact as DNA plays a central role in biology, as it carries the genetic information that is passed from parents to their offsprings….

Continue reading

In an alternate universe, life sucks for Manchester United but is AWESOME for me

Speculative journalism and Quantum Mechanics provide us all with a vision for a better life.

The other day I was lamenting to one of my online sports groups that the place would be a lot more fun if we had a couple of vocal Manchester United supporters on board. Normally I don’t long for the company of muppets, but this year is special for us Manc haters. See, the once-mighty Red Devils, having seen legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retire over the summer, find themselves in a really disappointing mess under new head man David Moyes. Disappointing for United fans, that is – the rest of the world can’t stop laughing.

Manchester’s supporters have gotten accustomed to winning, and not winning isn’t settling well. As sports fans everywhere know, few things on Earth are bitchier and whinier and altogether more entertaining than the entitled backers of a dynasty run aground. Hence my longing for the wailing of Mancs on the list. (The place hasn’t been totally unrewarding, I should note. We do have a couple of Arsenal fans, and they’re generally easy enough to stir up, especially after a 6-0 pasting at the hands of my beloved Chelsea.)

Continue reading


Roy Spencer calls climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis”

Roy Spencer’s rant on climate change “deniers” vs. “global warming Nazis” indicates that his signature achievements are in the past.

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

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

There was a point when climate scientist Roy Spencer was widely respected for essentially inventing the method that scientists use to measure the Earth’s temperature from satellites. But since the early 1990s, Spencer’s reputation has suffered a number of self-inflicted injuries. For example, Spencer’s evangelical faith has led him to reject evolution in favor of intelligent design. And he’s been quick to conclude that global warming is overblown while only reluctantly accepting corrections that have nearly always shown his conclusions were biased cold. In short, Spencer has demonstrated that he is no longer able to separate his biases from his science.

But Spencer’s post calling climate experts and global warming activists “global warming Nazis” in response to being called a “denier” of global warming indicates that Spencer – who has been called to testify before Congress at least three times – has finally gone completely off the rails. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

National Review’s new motion to dismiss Mann’s defamation lawsuit contains false claims

On July 19, DC Court Judge Natalia M. Combs Greene rejected multiple motions to dismiss climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit against the National Review (NR), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), NR writer Mark Steyn, and CEI writer Rand Simberg. On July 24, NR and Steyn submitted a motion asking to reconsider her refusal to dismiss based on what NR and Steyn claim are “material mistakes of fact.” S&R has been investigating the accuracy of three of the claims made in the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider: that Judge Combs Greene had erroneously conflated actions of NR/Steyn with those of CEI/Simberg, that NR/Steyn had not been critical of Mann’s research over a period of years, and that these two claimed mistakes mean that NR/Steyn might not have been aware that they were making false claims against Mann. After reviewing the public record, S&R has found that while the first claim is likely false, the other two claims are clearly false.

National Review has called for investigations into alleged misconduct by Mann

According to the the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, Judge Combs Greene supposedly misattributed requests by CEI/Simberg to investigate Mann’s research conduct to NR/Steyn.

the Order conflates the conduct of co-defendant [CEI] with that of National Review and Steyn, who never petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate or otherwise pressured the agency concerning [Mann’s] research. (emphasis original)

The very specific language of the prior quote leaves open the possibility that either NR or Steyn could have called for investigations in general or other specific investigations such as those conducted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) while still being factually true. Only the EPA investigation is excluded by this language, and as such it comes close to qualifying as an “equivocation” logical fallacy. As such, S&R’s investigation searched for examples of public investigation requests for both general and specific investigations by NR writers or Steyn himself. S&R was unable to find any examples calling for specific investigations, lending some support to this NR/Steyn claim.

However, while S&R did not discover any examples, Mann’s legal team did find several of varying strength, as seen in Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider. The strongest example is in an NR article written by Candace de Russy titled “Your Stimulus Dollars Lavished on Climate-Alarmist Prof.” where de Russy writes about the Penn State investigation into Mann’s conduct. At the end of the article, de Russy writes:

In these crushing economic times, is it too much to ask that university authorities, our political leaders, and the press jump on this case with a bit more rigor?

While this is not a call for a specific body to investigate Mann’s research, it is a call for thorough investigations by “university authorities, our political leaders, and the press.” As such, it demonstrates that, while the specific claim vis a vis the EPA investigation may be true, NR/Steyn did, in fact, call for investigations of Michael Mann’s conduct.

National Review and Mark Steyn have accused Mann of misconduct since 2009

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claims that Judge Combs Greene confused NR/Steyn with CEI/Simberg again when she took into account “all of the statements and accusations over the years” against Mann. NR/Steyn are essentially claiming that both CEI and Simberg have a history of attacking Mann, but that neither NR nor Steyn has a similar history. S&R’s investigation turned up 10 different NR articles and three Steyn articles going back to 2009 that disprove this claim. Note that most, if not all, of the allegations against Mann in the examples below have been investigated repeatedly and found to be without merit.

Examples of National Review criticisms of Mann

  • Global Warming: Science or Religion by Sterling Burnett on July 21, 2009. This post makes a number of indirect criticisms of Mann, who is the only named scientist in the article, and implies that he and other climate scientists are “fanatics” who, by supposedly making unprovable claims, engage in “sly but abjectly dishonest” activities.
  • Mann-made Warming Confirmed by Chris Horner on September 28, 2009. This post contains a brief history of Mann’s supposed errors and alleged cherry-picking to produce the MBH99 “hockey-stick.” “The conclusion is inescapable. The tree ring data was hand-picked to get the desired result. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate: Where Are We? by Iain Murray on November 30, 2009. Mann is explicitly mentioned as a “trickster” (a reference to a Climategate email that Penn State looked at specifically during their investigation) and is thus included in Murray’s “perpetrators.”

    “There have been attempts to muddy the waters with assertions that data were publicly available all along (ha!) and the insinuation that anyone using “stolen” emails is somehow more immoral than the perpetrators of the three frauds outlined above. (emphasis added)”

  • Peer Pressure by the NR Editors on December 1, 2009.

    Phil Jones of CRU, Michael Mann of Penn State University, and other leaders of the climate cartel discussed statistical tricks they used to “hide the decline” of atmospheric temperatures. Other data were fudged to cover up warm periods that didn’t fit their theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). (emphasis added)

  • Groupthink and the Global-Warming Industry by Jonah Goldberg on December 3, 2009.

    CRU scientists discuss with friendly outside colleagues, including Penn State University’s Michael Mann, how to manipulate the data they want to show the world, and how to hide the often-flawed data they don’t. (emphasis added)

  • Climategate: You should be steamed by Greg Pollowitz on January 4, 2010. “If only scientists had taken Dale Carnegie courses, the fraud and sloppy science of Climategate would never have happened. (emphasis added)”
  • Liberals and the Scientific Method by Mona Charen on February 12, 2010. The reference to Penn State in the following quote implies Mann’s involvement.

    The Climategate e-mails from Penn State and East Anglia University were not trivial revelations. They involved deception, intimidation, and manipulation of records by two of the leading research institutions whose data form the backbone of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (emphasis added)

  • Liberty, Tyranny, and the Globe by Mark Levin on April 22, 2010. “The true believers used to cite Mann’s hockey-stick curve as conclusive evidence of man-made global warming. The graph has been demonstrated a fraud… (emphasis added)”
  • Global Warming — RIP? by Victor Davis Hanson on October 27, 2011. While Mann is not mentioned specifically, he was at the time and remains one of the world’s top climate scientists and is one of the, if not the, most investigated climate scientist as a result of Climategate. Thus this passage refers to Mann indirectly.

    Corruption within the climate-change industry explains some of the sudden turnoff. “Climategate” — the unauthorized 2009 release of private e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom — revealed that many of the world’s top climate scientists were knee-deep in manipulating scientific evidence to support preconceived conclusions and personal agendas.

  • Scientists Behaving Badly by Jim Lacey on November 28, 2011.

    Virtually the entire warmist edifice is built around a small, tightly knit coterie of persons (one hesitates to refer to folks with so little respect for the scientific method as scientists) willing to falsify data and manipulate findings; or, to put it bluntly, to lie in order to push a political agenda not supported by empirical evidence. (emphasis added)

    In fact, McIntyre’s work was crucial in proving that Mann’s infamous “hockey stick graph” — the heart of the United Nations’ IPCC-3 report — was a fraud.

Examples of Mark Steyn criticisms of Mann

  • Climate Science and the Peer-Review Consensus Forgery on November 30, 2009. Steyn criticizes Mann and Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) for allegedly manipulating peer review in order to keep poorly refereed papers out of the IPCC, and Steyn agreed with a Wall Street Journal headline about forgery.
  • The science of global warming on December 3, 2009.

    The Settled Scientists have wholly corrupted the process of “peer review.” (emphasis added)

    Phil Jones, director of the CRU, writing to Michael Mann, creator (le mot juste) of the now discredited “hockey stick” graph… (emphasis original)

    Phil Jones and Michael Mann are two of the most influential figures in the whole “climate change” racket.

  • The emperor’s new carbon credits on December 17, 2009.

    The famous hockey stick graph created by Dr. Michael Mann played a critical role in persuading millions of people we’re all gonna fry…. It took two dogged Canadians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, to demolish the hockey-stick fraud (emphasis added)”

In addition to these various examples, there are many more that are similar to the second-to-last NR example above – where Mann is not mentioned specifically, but where the “hockey-stick” is used as a proxy for Mann, or where groups of which Mann would be a member are accused of scientific misconduct such as data manipulation. Whether such examples are sufficient for a court order to be based upon them is beyond the purview of S&R’s investigation.

These lists are by no means exhaustive – they stop in 2011 as the articles published in 2012 and 2013 are dominated by those related to Mann’s lawsuit and NR/Steyn’s responses. There are likely many other examples published by NR and Steyn that are not included above. Regardless, however, the public record demonstrates that both NR and Steyn both had at least a three-year history of criticizing Mann both directly and indirectly before publishing the article that provoked Mann’s defamation lawsuit.

National Review and Mark Steyn were aware of Mann investigations’ results

The NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration also claimed that Judge Combs Greene’s logic was flawed. The motion to reconsider essentially argues that a) there is no evidence that NR/Steyn had ever called for an investigation, b) their awareness of the results of those investigations was not demonstrated in the Court Order, and thus c) there is no evidence of actual malice.

This line of argument is not only based on arguably false information, it’s also illogical. As mentioned above, Mann’s response to the NR/Steyn motion to reconsider provides five different examples, each of which could be interpreted as a call for an investigation into Mann’s conduct. But even if those examples are ultimately rejected by Judge Combs Greene, the NR/Steyn motion essentially argues that there is only one way that NR and Steyn could be aware of the details of the investigations’ results – if NR and Steyn had called for the investigations. Given the media coverage of each of the various investigations, this is an untenable claim to make for both NR and Steyn.

S&R investigated this claim as well and found that NR and Steyn were both aware of the investigations and were very likely aware of the investigations’ detailed results. As with above, the examples below include claims that have been investigated, in some cases repeatedly, and found to be without merit.

  • Climategate and the Scientific Elite by Iain Murray on May 26, 2010. “Few members of the public have accepted the findings of the inquiries exonerating the scientists; most dismiss them as whitewashes. (emphasis added)”
  • Climategate Continues by Andrew Montford and Harold Ambler on May 24, 2012.

    the specific issue of the suppressed record appears to have largely been passed over by the panel, and Briffa’s explanation, like so many others given to the Climategate inquiries, appears to have been accepted without question. (emphasis added)

    However, their machinations have only succeeded in bringing renewed attention to their questionable science and ugly behind-the-scenes shenanigans, reigniting hope that more complete and more independent investigations — on both sides of the Atlantic — will yet be performed. (emphasis added)

  • Senator Inhofe Discusses His Call for a DOJ Climategate Investigation by Greg Pollowitz on February 24, 2010. This is an excerpt of an interview of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) by Neil Cavuto, excerpted extensively, including the following:

    [W]e have the minority report that we put together which shows that climate-gate, fixing the science, cooking the science, actually took place.

    We have it all documented. And people are being investigated right now (emphasis added).

  • ‘Climategate Inquiry Glosses Over the Facts’ by Greg Pollowitz on July 20, 2010. This is an excerpt from a commentary at the Washington Examiner by NR writer Iain Murray, and Murray’s quoted details, while arguably both cherry-picked and distorted, reveal that he was quite aware of the contents of all of the Climategate investigations:

    Yet the [UK Parliament] hearings did not include testimony from the most severe critics of the hockey stick graphic, such as Canadians Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who could have explained exactly why the e-mails did suggest impropriety.

    Yet Lord Oxburgh’s panel handed down a short report which did not examine the quality of the science at all. The panel simply reviewed a selection of CRU papers — selected by the UEA itself — and pronounced itself satisfied that the scientific process was fair and proper.

    The final review, conducted by former bureaucrat Sir Muir Russell, was compromised from the start. Its chief scientist, while purporting to be independent, was a former staff member of the CRU. Once again, it failed to interview the chief critics.This panel did not examine the other e-mails on the CRU server, as it was supposed to do.

  • Climategate Whitewash by Iain Murray on April 1, 2010. “Unsurprisingly, the U.K.’s parliamentary investigation into Climategate whitewashed the implications for climate science, although they did wag a disapproving finger at the University of East Anglia for being naughty about the Freedom of Information Act.”
  • The Climategate Graywash by Greg Pollowitz on July 12, 2010. This is a large excerpt from the Financial Post: “The third British investigation into the Climategate scandal — led by former civil servant Sir Muir Russell — amounts, at best, to a greywash.”
  • by Greg Pollowitz on February 10, 2010. This is a press release from Sen. Inhofe’s office:

    Penn State’s internal inquiry found further investigation is warranted to determine if Dr. Mann “engaged in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.”

    “As the University moves to the next phase of its investigation, I believe the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation should also commence an investigation to examine possible violations of federal laws and policies governing taxpayer-funded research.”

  • Lord Jones is Indisposed by Mark Steyn on December 2, 2009. “The reviled “skeptics” and “deniers” have forced Prof. Phil Jones in East Anglia to step down “temporarily” and prompted Penn State to investigate Prof. Michael Mann.”

These examples demonstrate that both NR and Steyn were aware of ongoing investigations, and that NR was certainly aware of the results of at least one of those investigations. Furthermore, it is not realistic to imagine that NR cultivated a culture where authors writing about the same subject (climate change/global warming) were so isolated from each other that they never discussed the results of the various investigations among themselves. As such, it is virtually certain that NR and Steyn were aware of the investigations’ results and thus cannot credibly claim ignorance of those same results.

S&R investigated three of the claims made in the National Review/Mark Steyn motion for reconsideration. Simple web searches demonstrated that two of the three claims investigated were clearly false, while a more in-depth investigation found that the third claim (that NR/Steyn had not called for investigations into Mann) was plausible. However, Mann’s legal response to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration addressed the third claim and argued that NR and Steyn had both called for investigations following the illegal publication of private emails known as Climategate. As would be expected, Mann’s legal response also addressed the various other claims that S&R did not investigate, such as NR/Steyn’s presentation of a new First Amendment-based argument for dismissal.

Generally speaking, judges react poorly to baldly stated and easily disproved false claims made in legal documents. While S&R’s reading of Judge Combs Greene’s original order finds no reason to believe that she will react any different to the NR/Steyn motion for reconsideration, only time will tell.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

CATEGORY: ClimateTo read other articles in this series, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El Nino Southern Oscillation index.

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


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

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: WordsMatter

Words Matter: a “denier” is someone who denies, nothing more or less

CATEGORY: WordsMatterThe English language can be confusing, absurd, and infuriating all at the same time. Words Matter is a new occasional feature where S&R authors deconstruct how English words, phrases, and colloquialisms are used and misused.

to refuse to accept the existence, truth, or validity of (Source)
one who denies [deniers of the truth] (Source)

As part of my climate and environmental reporting, I come across the term “denier” all the time, as in “climate denier,” “climate change denier,” “global warming denier,” and “industrial climate disruption denier.” And there are a lot of people identified as deniers who claim that the term is an attempt to place them on the same moral level as those individuals who claim that the Holocaust didn’t occur, aka Holocaust deniers. While there are certainly some who intentionally make that implication, the implication has nothing to do with the word “denier” itself. “Denier” means nothing more than a person who refuses to accept the existence, truth, or validity of something.

The definition of a denier is completely neutral. The definition doesn’t include any guidance about the values, ethics, morals, psychology, beliefs, or experiences of anyone who qualifies as a denier, only that the person is denying something. The definition also doesn’t define whether the thing being denied actually exists, is true, or has validity, only that it’s existence, truth, or validity is being denied. What’s being denied can be literally anything – evolution, that Han shot first, the existence of God, vaccine safety, that Picard was the best Star Trek captain, HIV as the cause of AIDS, that Shakespeare authored his plays, or even 2 + 2 = 4.

Since the definition of “denier” offers no guidance as to motivations or moral equivalencies, any good or bad properties associated with the term are necessarily a function of the term’s context, not of the term itself. In the context of a Sunday church service at a fundamentalist Christian church, someone being an evolution denier is unimportant. But change the context to a high school biology classroom and suddenly that denial may matter greatly. Similarly, a vaccine safety denier may well be harmless if he or she refuses to get the annual flu vaccine, but put that same denier in the context of child immunizations and public health ramifications of a pertussis outbreak and his or her denial may well be a serious concern.

But even in the case of vaccine safety deniers, their denial doesn’t mean they are necessarily immoral. They may simply be so afraid of vaccine side effects that their usual rationality is clouded by their own biases. Or they may not have the mathematical skill to realize that they’re actually making their children (and others) less safe by refusing to vaccinate. Their denial doesn’t mean that they’re stupid, either – everyone’s rationality is occasionally clouded by biases, emotions, and/or ignorance. It’s when someone knows that vaccines are safe and yet claims they aren’t for some other reason that vaccine safety denial becomes immoral. Of course, we tend to use different terms for these kinds of people – terms like “liars.”

It’s true that sometimes cultural context can mean that value-neutral terms can develop values that are partially independent of the term itself. A good example of this is the difference between “ethics” and “morals.” In philosophy they mean the same thing, but in the United State we tend to use “ethics” when we’re talking about professional behavior and “morals” when we’re talking about personal behavior. It’s possible that “denier” did originally have the cultural context of morally repugnant Holocaust denial, but even if that was the case years ago, it’s not the case any more.

Google is an occasionally convenient way to gauge the culture of the United States – search for something and the things that people are most interested in show up in the first few pages of results. When I did a search strictly on the word “deniers” earlier this week (1/14/2013), I found the following:

  • Links to definitions of “denier” were ranked #1, #6, and #17.
  • The Wikipedia disambiguation page was ranked #2.
  • A reference to the French denier coin came in at #27 and a reference to the denier as a unit of fiber measurement came in at #33.
  • The first Holocaust denial link was ranked #56, on page 6 of the results.
  • The first mention of Holocaust denial was in the “Searches related to deniers” options at the bottom of first page. The alternate search terms were “deniers definition,” “evolution deniers,” “climate change deniers,” “climate deniers,” “aids deniers,” “famous Holocaust deniers,” “Holocaust deniers claims,” and “Jewish Holocaust deniers.”

Every other link up to #56 was to a website or blog post or news article related to the denial of industrial climate disruption. It’s probably fair to say at this point that calling someone a “denier” is less likely to invoke Holocaust denial than it is to invoke climate disruption denial.

So why do people who deny one thing or another generally dislike being labeled as “deniers?” It’s probably not because of the spurious connection to Holocaust denial. Instead, people who take umbrage at the term do so because no-one likes being labeled negatively. We psychologically prefer to view ourselves in positive terms than in negative ones, and the term “denier” is a strongly negative term.

Furthermore, in most cases the term “denier” simply and accurately describes what the people so labeled are doing – they’re denying some aspect of objective reality. Vaccine safety deniers deny the reality that vaccines have repeatedly been demonstrated to be safe and that the risks of vaccination are much lower than the risks of going unvaccinated. HIV/AIDS deniers deny the reality that HIV causes AIDS. Evolution deniers deny the reality that species evolve and that God is not a necessary condition for the existence of humanity.

In my opinion, however, there is another aspect to the complaints about the word “denier,” one that goes to the heart of why so many industrial climate disruption deniers claim that “denier” is meant to imply Holocaust denial. I think that some deniers dislike that such a simple, value-neutral word as “denier” can be used to accurately describe them and would prefer that some other term be used instead (we’ll cover euphemisms and misnomers like “climate realist” and “climate change skeptic” another time).

There are over a dozen synonyms for the verb “deny.” Converting them from the verb form to a noun that describes the person doing the action generates the following list of alternate terms that could be used in place of “denier:”

contradictor, disaffirmer, disallower, disavower, disclaimer, disconfirmer, disowner, gainsayer, negator, negativer, refuter, rejecter, or repudiator.

With the possible exception of “rejecter,” however, each of the terms is more confusing than “denier.” How many people would know what you meant if you wrote “Holocaust gainsayer” or “HIV/AIDS disavower” or “industrial climate disruption disconfirmer?” Most people would become confused by the unknown word, lose track of the point you were trying to make, and then give up and move on.

The word “denier” is value neutral and it says nothing about the motivations or ethics of a person who is described as such. It’s only through context that “denier” can be given a moral or ethical dimension. While it’s possible that it was once culturally tied to Holocaust denial, that cultural connection is minimal now, and it probably has been ever since “denier” became so firmly attached to climate change/global warming/industrial climate disruption. Nowadays, “denier” merely means someone who rejects the existence, truth, or validity of something. Any other implications are strictly in the minds of the person calling someone a denier, and in the mind of the person being called one.

Words matter – use them carefully.

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:


The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

The God Test

Suppose the following:

  • Later today, an organization dedicated to studying science and religion announces it has devised a “God Test.” This process will conclusively reveal whether or not there is a god (or gods). Further, it will discern the nature of god, if one (or more) exists. Does it desire/require obeisance/worship? Of what specific sort? Or is it a distant superior being that doesn’t really concern itself with humans and human affairs?
  • Global religious, political, social, academic and scientific leaders review this test and universally agree that yes, it will in fact do exactly what its developers claim. Despite their many differences, they all agree that once the God Test is run, we will all know, without ambiguity, what there is to know about god. Continue reading

Can we be a little more careful how we abuse the word "science"?

Every once in awhile we will, for a variety of reasons, pick out a word that has positive connotations and proceed to flog that motherfucker to death. Like “engineer.” Engineer is a word with a meaning. From the Oxford:


  1. person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures. – a person qualified in a branch of engineering, especially as a professional: an aeronautical engineer Continue reading

Nota Bene #124: I'm a Doctor, Not an Engineer

“I don’t believe in this fairy tale of staying together for ever. Ten years with somebody is enough.” Who said it? Continue reading

And the Nobel Prize for Sticking Your Fingers in Your Ears and Yelling "I Can't Hear You" Goes To….

Case 1: In 1997 a prominent scientist made a bet with a colleague over a complex black hole issue that physicists were trying to figure out. This bet was very public and given the egos involved in the field of advanced quantum science, the stakes were huge.

Case 2: In a climate-related thread on S&R, a “skeptic” was asked point-blank: “What evidence would you accept that global warming is real? What tests would you have to see, in order to change your view?” This is a straight-up establishment of terms for consideration of any scientific question: what is evidence in favor of the hypothesis and what evidence disproves the hypothesis? Continue reading

Climate science discussion between Burt Rutan and Brian Angliss

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

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

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

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

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

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

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

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

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