Episode 18: Show Notes

On episode 18: Climategate again, stupidity from elected officials who are absolutely certainly wrong, against adaptation, and who think their legislative powers can repeal the laws of nature. Also Styrofoam is back, mega-droughts , the loss of Glory, un-skeptical skeptics, and bad reporting from Grist

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Climategate, again

For some more background see Episode 15 (show notes)

Inspector General’s Review of Stolen Emails Confirms No Evidence of Wrong-Doing by NOAA Climate Scientists

At the request of U.S. Sen. Inhofe, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails stolen in November 2009 from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and found no evidence of impropriety or reason to doubt NOAA’s handling of its climate data. The Inspector General was asked to look into how NOAA reacted to the leak and to determine if there was evidence of improper manipulation of data, failure to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures, or failure to comply with Information Quality Act and Freedom of Information Act guidelines…

The Inspector General’s report states specifically:

  • “We found no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the [Global Historical Climatology Network – monthly] GHCN-M dataset.” (Page 11)
  • “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures prior to its dissemination of information.” (Page 11)
  • “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the IQA.” (Page 12)
  • “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the Shelby Amendment.” (Page 16)

The report notes a careful review of eight e-mails that it said “warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA’s data,” that was completed and did not reveal reason to doubt the scientific integrity of NOAA scientists or data

The Inspector General report is available online.

Inhofe’s take, parroted by Watts:

Emails ‘Warrant Further Investigation’

“We found eight emails which, in our judgment, warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA’s data. As a result, we conducted interviews with the relevant NOAA scientists regarding these eight emails, and have summarized their responses and explanations in the enclosure.”

Now go back and read the bold text above.

The image in question:

Stupidity from elected officials who are absolutely certainly wrong, against adaptation, and who think their legislative powers can repeal the laws of nature

Montana to Repeal Global Warming

A BILL FOR AN ACT ENTITLED: “AN ACT STATING MONTANA’S POSITION ON GLOBAL WARMING; AND PROVIDING AN IMMEDIATE EFFECTIVE DATE.”

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:

NEW SECTION. Section 1. Public policy concerning global warming. (1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

(2) The legislature finds:

(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and

(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

(3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface.

(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

NEW SECTION. Section 2. Codification instruction. [Section 1] is intended to be codified as an integral part of Title 75, chapter 2, and the provisions of Title 75, chapter 2, apply to [section 1].

NEW SECTION. Section 3. Effective date. [This act] is effective on passage and approval.

Joe Read in an interview with Brad Johnson:

The science is driven by grant money. It’s all on the side for writing studies that global warming is happening. There’s nothing on the side that says I wish to write a paper that global warming is not an issue. Money has been flowing into the grant purse.

If you follow the money, the science has been pushed toward where the money is coming from. The money is coming from the federal government. I believe global science is an ideal, not a true science.

If climate scientists are in it for the money, they’re doing it wrong

You can’t make a bundle pushing the consensus

So, are there big bucks to be had in climate science? Since it doesn’t have a lot of commercial appeal, most of the people working in the area, and the vast majority of those publishing the scientific literature, work in academic departments or at government agencies. Penn State, home of noted climatologists Richard Alley and Michael Mann, has a strong geosciences department and, conveniently, makes the department’s salary information available. It’s easy to check, and find that the average tenured professor earned about $120,000 last year, and a new hire a bit less than $70,000.

That’s a pretty healthy salary by many standards, but it’s hardly a racket. Penn State appears to be on the low end of similar institutions, and is outdone by two other institutions in its own state (based on this report). But, more significantly for the question at hand, we can see that Earth Sciences faculty aren’t paid especially well. Sure, they do much better than the Arts faculty, but they’re somewhere in the middle of the pack, and get stomped on by professors in the Business and IT departments.

This is all, of course, ignoring what someone who can do the sort of data analysis or modeling of complex systems that climatologists perform might make if they went to Wall Street.

It’s also worth pointing out what they get that money for, as exemplified by a fairly typical program announcement for NSF grants. Note that it calls for studies of past climate change and its impact on the weather. This sort of research could support the current consensus view, but it just as easily might not. And here’s the thing: it’s impossible to tell before the work’s done. Even a study looking at the flow of carbon into and out of the atmosphere, which would seem to be destined to focus on anthropogenic climate influences, might identify a previously unknown or underestimated sink or feedback.

So, even if the granting process were biased (and there’s been no indication that it is), there is no way for it to prevent people from obtaining contrary data. The granting system is also set up to induce people to publish it, since a grant that doesn’t produce scientific papers can make it impossible for a professor to obtain future funding.

To sum up: climate research doesn’t pay well, the amount of money dedicated to it has been shrinking, and if the researchers were successful in convincing the public that climate change was a serious threat, the response would be to give money to someone else. If you come across someone arguing that scientists are in it for the money, then you can probably assume they are willing to make arguments without getting their facts straight.

The Denialists Progress: From Doubt-Mongering to Certainty

Over the weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives voted along partisan lines in favor of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri (pictured at left) to cut funding for the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When I flagged this incredible news on my Discover blog, the clean energy activist Michael Noble tweeted back: “Gone, even that old refrain: ‘needs more study.'”

The more I think about it, the more profound that little remark becomes…

A decision to defund the IPCC, rather than attack or criticize it, doesn’t bespeak a strategy of doubt-mongering. It signals extreme certainty that one is right, that we don’t even need to consider (skeptically or otherwise) any more new results from climate scientists.

So, for that matter, does the recent elevation and anointment of James Inhofe as the de facto GOP expert on climate science–implying that somehow his early, pioneering skepticism has been decisively vindicated by events…

Where we once had climate “skeptics”—always preserving the scare quotes–now we really do have deniers.

Conservatives oppose adaptation, too

Sen. John Barrasso continued his campaign yesterday to stop the Obama administration from incorporating climate change into federal plans and policies, taking aim at an interagency report released in October that proposed ways for the federal government to respond to increased frequency of severe weather events and other effects of global warming….

Barrasso said that even the climate change adaptation efforts recommended in the report “will kill jobs, weaken our energy security and decrease economic growth.”

Right-wing to Americans:  No mitigation, no clean energy deployment, no clean energy R&D, no adaptation.  In short, you are on your own!

Inhofe abandons reality: Mideast unrest isn’t causing gas price surge, a bill the Senate never voted on is!

A senior US senator on Thursday ruled out violent unrest across the Middle East as a main cause of surging oil and gasoline prices, placing the blame instead on plans to curb greenhouse gases.

“A lot of people are saying that the gas prices that are going up are a result, partially, of what’s happening over there. That isn’t the real problem,” said Republican Senator James Inhofe….

Even for an anti-science irrationalist like Inhofe, this is a quantum leap into an alternate universe.  But I’m not certain what is more bizarre — his denial of reality-based explanations or what he has chosen to replace reality with:

Inhofe said that “the real problem” was President Barack Obama’s efforts to enact a cap-and-trade plan to curb emissions of greenhouse gases blamed by scientists for global warming.

Yes, apparently a bill that never became a law — one that never even came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate — has some how been endowed with vampire-like powers capable of spooking global oil markets more than 6 months after it died.

Representative Ed Markey fighting the stupid

 

Styrofoam is back

Republicans recycle an old idea: the foam plastic coffee cup

A bit like the Republican party, they are white, seemingly indestructible and bad for the environment. But after an absence of four years, foam plastic coffee cups have made a comeback in the basement coffee shop of the United States Congress building after Republicans began reversing a series of in-house green initiatives undertaken byDemocrats.

The about-turn was announced by a press aide to John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, who tweeted on Monday morning: “The new majority – plasticware is back”.

Mega-drought

Mega-drought threat to US Southwest

The Dust Bowl — the seven-year drought that devastated large swathes of US prairie land in the 1930s — was the worst prolonged environmental disaster recorded for the country. But a study of the American Southwest’s more distant climatic past reveals that the catastrophic drought was a mere dry spell compared to the ‘mega-droughts’ that were recurring long before humans began to settle the continent.

The findings, reported in a paper in Nature1 this week, add to concerns that the already arid region might face quasi-permanent drought conditions as climate continues to warm…

Scientists fear that the Southwestern climate may in fact switch to an extended dry mode such as the ones that occurred during particularly warm Pleistocene periods.

“We won’t know for sure if it happens again until we get there,” says Fawcett. “But we are certainly increasing the possibility of crossing a critical threshold to severe and lasting drought conditions.”

Sudden shifts in carbon isotopes and lowered total organic carbon in the sediment record suggest that grasses and shrubs that depend mostly on summer rain died out during extended Pleistocene droughts. This is surprising, says Fawcett, because summer monsoon rainfall was thought to become more intense in a warmer climate. That summer rain was in fact strongly reduced, or had almost stopped, suggests that regional climate patterns must have shifted radically when Pleistocene temperatures crossed a threshold.

“The scary thing is that we seem to be very close to this point again,” he says.

The loss of Glory

NASA satellite crashes to Earth

In a serious blow to Earth observation and solar science, NASA’s Glory mission crashed today shortly after lift-off.

“All indications are that the satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere,” said a visibly upset Omar Baez, NASA’s launch director for the mission, at a press conference held early this morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, where Glory launched shortly after 2 a.m. local time.

The failure is the second major loss for NASA’s Earth-observation programme in as many years. In February 2009, NASA lost its Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) — intended to track atmospheric carbon dioxide levels — in a strikingly similar incident.

New Level of Limbaugh Inanity

Unskeptical skeptics

A Case Study in Climate Science Integrity

Everyone makes mistakes, including scientists.  Should we trust our science with those who admit to and correct them, or with those who deny and ignore them?

In the past week, two key examples have emerged illustrating how the two sides of the climate science debate react to mistakes. In both cases, the scientists made the same basic errors, but drew opposite conclusions (both wrong) about the near-term warming of the planet. The media responses to these miscalculations by each side show a sharp contrast.

Follow-Up Case Study in Skepticism

An approximate breakdown of the comments [in the Guardian story covering the two errors] (courtesy of Rob Painting):

19 comments defended Lindzen’s error

0 comments defended FEU-US error

47 comments were deleted (ad hominem or otherwise off-topic)

51 remaining comments were off-topic (on ocean heat content, blaming the IPCC, etc.)

The remainder consisted of arguments among commenters

In the end, The Guardian comments provided a secondary case study about the behavior of both camps.  The actual skeptics, who acknowledged the mistakes where they were made, happened to be in the AGW camp.  Those who refused to look at all the evidence with an equally critical eye and were unable to set their biases aside were in the “skeptic” camp.

In this follow-up case study, we are once again reminded who the true skeptics are.

A Case Study of a Climate Scientist Skeptic

Bad reporting from Grist

“Today’s tsunami: This is what climate change looks like”

Using the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis as a way to bludgeon people into believing that they’d better do something about climate change strikes me as terribly wrong-headed. There are plenty of sensible reasons for tackling climate change. This is not one of them. And making this particular connection simply invites disbelief, disdain — and worse.

Moreover, the magnitude 8.9 temblor that struck Japan was a subduction zone earthquake. It was caused by the inexorable movement of the Pacific tectonic plate as it thrusts underneath Japan at the Japan Trench. (Check out Joel Achenbach’s explanation at the Washington Post.) The Pacific plate is moving at a rate of about four inches per year, but in some places it gets stuck. When it comes unglued, a massive earthquake like the one Japan suffered through is the result.

Could melting ice cause crustal shifts that would help a plate get unglued at a subduction zone? Who knows? Grist’s story doesn’t come even remotely close to providing the evidence to back up such an astonishing claim. As a result, this is terrible, irresponsible journalism.

In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it is yellow journalism.

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