Monday, 28 June 2010

Commenting on lists and name-calling

Well, last week Marc Morano posted my email on his climatedepot website and his email blast, in the process of comparing me to the Stasi (secret police of the former East German one-party-rule Communist regime.) Over the past week I've had a stream of hostile emails in response.

Here I re-post an earlier reply I gave at Joe Romm's ever lively and thought-provoking site

As for web lists of statement signers: thanks Michael Tobis for saying it better than I ever could. Every list I compiled was from a statement already posted on the web. All the links are on my page of list sources ~prall/ climate/ list_sources.html

As for Marc Morano’s attempt to Swiftboat this as “Stasi-esque”: what amazing gall! He’s famous for having built a long list of climate skeptics during his term with Sen. Inhofe. Hypocrite! Why wasn’t that list “Stasi-esque?” Just because he agreed with their “side”?
Nothing in our PNAS paper justifies comparisons to the Stasi. We don’t *say* anyone should persecute or blacklist signers of either type of statement, because of course we *don’t believe* that. (Hard to believe I’m even having to say this at all.) What we say is that the media should consider people’s qualifications and standing (oooh!)
The only other way to spin this into something sinister is to argue that someone evil *might use* the lists to persecute people regardless of our intentions. That seems to be the main theme at Roger Pielke Jr’s blog.

That objection of what someone might do with the list really falls down on the point Michael makes so well, that all the source lists I compiled were already on the web. Anyone who could misuse my list could just as well have found the same names on the original sources, or many of the same names plus many more on Morano’s list – and not all on his list by choice.

Morano publicized his list relentlessly, and listed many more names as skeptics than I have. Morano also tended to quotemine, leading to false positives where the person in question would protest their inclusion as unrepresentative of their actual views, yet Morano would refuse to take them off. He’d just point to the mined quote he had, ignoring anything the source might say about being taken out of context or trying to tell him what their actual views are.

If the fear is that someone biased against supporters of one “side” could focus their bias on people on a list, why was it okay for Morano to subject people to that risk with his list? Was Morano’s list “Stasi-esque” as well? If not, why not?

Thanks again to those offering supportive comments on the PNAS paper. Since Morano published my email and compared me to the Stasi, let’s just say I’ve had a stream of unfriendly responses. (Oddly, people keep sending me really weak arguments like “there is no greenhouse effect” or predicting global cooling.)

That's the end of my posting on climateprogress. Site host Joe Romm aptly commented:

[JR: Remember, Morano publicly stated how he believes climate scientists should be treated: “I seriously believe we should kick them while they’re down,” he said. “They deserve to be publicly flogged.” He proudly linked to that interview on his blog.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Early reactions to Anderegg et al in PNAS

I'm the second author on the article "Expert Credibility in Climate Change" just out yesterday at It's been written up several places, and is quickly making the rounds on the web, attracting a lot of comment and critique. I'll try to address questions or challenges here as I get time.

Today I received email from an author in Germany who said he was on the Stasi's list under the G.D.R (a horrific world, one that we who've never been there can scarcely imagine.)

I wanted to address his concern about my online list. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Dr. _______,

I can't imagine what it must have been like to live in the shadow of the
Stasi. I would never want to see anything like that take place today. At
least now Germany is one country again and is a democracy, and I think a
good example of it as well. I admire the mixed-member proportional
system you have. Here in Canada we have winner-takes-all voting, and our
Green Party has never won a seat in Parliament despite polling over 11%
of the national vote. There is a group here promoting a change to such
an MMP system, though we are having trouble getting people to think
about this with so many other concerns on the agenda, especially the

As for seeing my listings as some kind of "blacklist" - I'm quite
disappointed that people are viewing it in that light; that was never my
intention. I've only listed those whose names were already on an
existing public declaration, available on the web, and I list people who
signed affirmative statements as well (may we never see a day where any
government would persecute members of either group for their opinions!)

I want the media to understand who has really researched climate and who
has not. Conversely, I certainly don't want to silence or exclude anyone
from civil policy debate; no one of us has all the answers on what
policies we should adopt to prepare for the future, and I do want to
hear from others on their views. The policy process must be democratic,
even though that can be painfully slow. In the U.S. there is a
distressingly strong role for corporate spending on political campaigns,
with no limits at all since their Supreme Court's recent "Citizens
United" case. Companies like Exxon can dominate the discourse, leaving
ordinary citizen's voices little heard. Here again I think most European
countries have far more rational approaches to campaign spending laws. I
see corporate spending power and P.R. tricks as a more immediate threat
to the common good than actual (state) censorship of free expression.
Currently our major democracies have fairly good laws against state
censorship, which courts defend actively.

I believe that rational public action to prepare for a future without
fossil fuels is one key to keeping prosperity and peace, and avoiding
the prospect of conflicts over scarce and declining non-renewable energy
sources. Again, Germany is far ahead of either Canada or the U.S. in
making those sensible preparations. The professor just down the hall
from me works on thin-film solar panels; the joint-venture company
developing his technologies opened their factory in Bischoswerda in the
former GDR thanks to strong support from the German government.

[ I see I mis-spelled "Bischofswerda" in the email. Oops. Here's their WP page: ]

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Pesky scientists - so annoying!

Scientists can be a real nuisance. They use big words, and act all smart and everything. Then they come around and tell us scary stuff like dangers we never even knew were there: radioactivity and cancer-causing chemicals and UV rays and nicotine. What a bunch of spoil-sports.

Plus, they are often very hard to pin down - we pick up some story (or rumour) about a new danger, and try as reporters to get their take on it, but as often as not, they can't even give a simple yes or no answer. It's all "likely" this and "probable" that, and "statistically significant" or "balance of the evidence" or whatever. Lots of "on the other hand" until you just don't have enough hands, or even fingers, to count the different angles they want to look at.

Now and then I think we'd almost rather not have those black and white answers that scientists hate to give. Take global warming, for example: if this is real, it's going to be quite a nuisance -- 'inconvenient,' so to speak. I mean, think about our lifestyle! It could cramp our ability to drive vehicles as big as some people's houses for personal security and -- let's face it -- ego gratification. I think a lot of us would just rather not know.

So now, we have to deal with scientists who keep coming out and saying 'yes, this is a real problem' - over and over again. They keep putting out declarations and open letters telling the world that our greenhouse gas emissions are already changing the climate, and forecasting that the problem has to get a lot worse if we keep on at the current rate. This is the problem with the IPCC - behind all the "very likelys" and "probables," they basically say the same thing: this is a real problem. This same theme keeps coming up in declarations signed by thousands of scientists - over 5000 of them, on eight statements issued since December 2009.

Okay, scientists, now you're just starting to scare us. You're also sounding uncharacteristically decisive. Those of us who aren't comfortable with your message may have to do something about this. Here are some of our options:
  • call your views "alarmist"
  • claim you are now too unified, so this must be 'group-think' and you're just bullying the numerous dissenters that we can't seem to find 
  • find the handful of you who don't see the problem, and get them on TV a lot - a whole lot
  • take out full-page ads in the NYT saying you are wrong, signed by over 100 non-experts
  • get Rush Limbaugh to call you "socialists" and imply you want the UN to run everything
  • host a string of anti-conferences with lots of non-experts, to make you look less convincing
  • if all else fails, we can turn to Fox News!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thousands of scientists worldwide push back against attacks on integrity of climate science

I've been quite busy updating my list of scientists who've signed statements on climate change. There have been several new declarations in the months since the posting of the stolen CRU emails; some of these have drawn signers numbering in the thousands.

These lists reflect a truly broad and widespread response from scientists to the attacks from contrarian bloggers on the integrity of climate science in general, the IPCC, and on individual climate scientists.

To emphasize just how broad the response has been, I've compiled a list of the names of the signers of these eight statements, with notations on which statements each one signed:

Five thousand scientists worldwide defend climate science

Here is a list of these most recent statements, with links to original sources. (The initials are the tag I've used to tag signers who are also authors in my database of climate author publication stats; after each I note how many signers already have their climate publication and citation stats collected in my table of climate science authors.)

  • NAS10: May, 2010 statement from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences defending the integrity of climate science, and condemning "McCarthy-like tactics" against climate scientists. Discussed at DeSmogBlog and at ClimateProgress. [23 are tallied in my stats table]
  • FR10: May, 2010 statement from over 400 600 scientists in France rebutting outrageous attacks on climate science by Claude Allegre. [55 are tallied in my stats table]
  • NL10: May, 2010 statement from scientists in the Netherlands; 50 initial signers; now 196 Dutch and 96 foreign signers [13 are tallied in my stats table].
  • OLFS10: March, 2010 Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC, 320 signers (list) [53 tallied in my stats table]
  • UCS10: March, 2010 US Scientists and Economists' Call to Action organised by the Union of Concerned Scientists. This builds on their similar 2008 statement, with over 2000 signatories. [178 tallied in my stats table]
  • CSW09: Dec., 2009 letter to US Congress from 25 climate scientists responding to the stolen email controversy, posted by Climate Science Watch [all 25 tallied in my stats table]
  • WWFC09: A Dec., 2009 open letter organized by the World Wildlife Fund--Canada to Canada's Parliament calling for action on climate, endorsed by 848 Canadian scientists. I've tagged over 60 already in my list.
  • UKsc09: Dec., 2009 Statement from the UK science community signed by 1700 U.K. scientists, from 67 universities and 55 other institutions, re-affirming the integrity of climate science and data sources, in response to the University of East Anglia email break-in, which begins:
    We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. The evidence and the science are deep and extensive. They come from decades of painstaking and meticulous research, by many thousands of scientists across the world who adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity. That research has been subject to peer review and publication, providing traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method.
    This is perhaps the strongest and certainly the broadest response from scientists to the UEA email controversy. [I've tallied 108 signers in my author stats data.]

Thursday, 22 April 2010

It's so not easy being green

With apologies to Kermit The Frog... it's getting to where nothing is quite as green as it might seem.

I just got an appeal by email from the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee, a group I've supported for some years, about their opposition to a proposal for a large new hydroelectric dam in B.C. (that's British Columbia, for you outlanders.)

Now I know there are real ecological impact issues with any large hydro dam, and the submerged biomass decaying in low oxygen conditions emits methane - so such dams are not truly climate neutral. However, their letter brought up the kind of unexpected negative spin off that could make your head spin (off?) Here's their beef:

Over half the power from the new dam would be sold to natural gas extraction operations in the nearby Horn River Basin (drilling? or at least pumping, de-watering, purification and compression.) That new gas supply in turn would be piped east into neighbouring Alberta, where it will be snapped up by ... big dirty TAR SANDS operations. Oh, yuck.

So much for the green image of B.C. Hydro.

You just can't win. It is sooooo not easy being green.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Prof. Mike Mann speaks out

Here's a great interview with Penn State U Professor Mike Mann by Randy Olsen, author of Don't Be Such a Scientist.
Randy gets right to the key points on the recent campaign of attacks on climate science and scientists. Also worth a read is Randy's "part 1" about the embarrassingly unprofessional CBS News (tv) segment that broadcast most of a libelous YouTube video attacking Prof. Mann as a scientific fraud who makes up data. They put a thin coating of "balance" over this, with a verbal mention of Prof. Mann's exhonoration over criticisms arising from the stolen UEA emails, but on screen they kept playing the scurrilous attack cartoon the whole time, complete with captioning.
I could go on and tell everyone to read Randy's book, and about how Prof. Mann's work stands up in spite of the harping about the hockey-stick graph, stolen emails and all. But it's late so I just wanted to get a quick post to link to the interview - check it out and see for yourself.

Confused about climate? There's an app for that!

John Cook's excellent resource skepticalscience has taken an innovative twist: he's repackaged his quick comebacks to tired talking points from global warming skeptics or deniers into an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. (This may be a 'tipping point' for me to take the plunge on an iPod Touch that I've been 'i'-ing for a while.)
The great thing about this is that John's neatly organized material actually lends itself to just such a platform. Now, I am saying this without having bought that iPod Touch yet - but I've been quite impressed with his website. John boils down the essential issues and backs up his responses with links citing original peer-reviewed research.
John's new iPhone app is getting plenty of buzz in the media and online. Today it was picked up in the latest post on RealClimate (now that's the big time.)
Congrats, John!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Pat Robertson, Haiti and Wikipedia

Today I heard an interview with a survivor of the horrific earthquake in Haiti last month, and it came up that some people in Haiti are blaming the earthquake on "the Americans." This is an intriguing twist, understandable perhaps from a people surrounded by a tradition which can impute malicious motives to almost any misfortune. It appears this claim may have originated with Hugo Chavez.

Coming from the rationalist culture that I do, it is hard for me to imagine inhabiting a mental world so utterly different. In my world, we know that earthquakes are caused by sudden slippage of huge tectonic plates sliding past each other. We know where the fault lines are, when the largest recorded quakes took place in the past, and how to detect a quake anywhere in the world as it is happening. But we have no capacity to either explain or predict any specific quake happening at a particular time. At most we can say a given region is 'due' or 'overdue.' In short, we don't know why this quake happened then and there, but we know it was simply a terrible natural occurrence. There is nobody to blame, aside from debating how Haiti came to be so poor that it has no building code and thus nearly all its buildings are unsuited to the high-risk earthquake zone they have the misfortune to occupy.

Then there are the people in our supposedly enlightened culture who continue to insist on imputing natural disasters to the moral blame game of divine retribution.
Right after the quake, America's most overexposed televangelist Pat Robertson opened his mouth to switch feet. He announced that God chose to send the earthquake to devastate Haiti because of some "pact with the devil" that Robertson claims the Haitian people made in the course of pursuing their independence from French colonial rule. Everyone else up to President Obama rushed to denounce this claim; CBN posted this charming non retraction.

Whoa. Where to begin? I decided to review this zany claim on the terms we would use in looking at some contentious edit on Wikipedia. On Wikipedia, anyone can contribute, but you are expected to cite Reliable Sources for whatever you put in. Your own first-hand accounts aren't eligible, and neither are unverifiable third party suggestions of the sort you might find on blogs or hear through the rumour mill.

Now, I'm having trouble picturing how Pat Robertson could back up his "pact with the devil" claim about Haiti. I doubt if Robertson is willing to argue that Satan has some kind of registry office where you can do a title search on all the souls the evil one has supposedly claimed under contract in return for hollow and fleeting fame, money or power in this life. I'm afraid whatever contracts may be out there binding souls are only written in some kind of invisible ink, legally binding beyond the grave and inaccessible to earthly investigators. So, not really suitable for attribution for the earthly Wikipedia.

This is of course just another sad example of smug and judgmental fundies choosing to blame the victim out of some twisted desire to make "sense" of everything bad that happens. Instead of having to reconcile that he can't explain why any given earthquake happens at a particular time and place, Robertson chooses to dump on the already suffering populace of Haiti by declaring them hereditary satanists, to blame for their own misfortunes due to some vicious rumour that Robertson is willing to propagate.

Here's someone who appears to have done some actual fact-checking on this subject, unlike Roberston: Michael Ireland on the Haiti 'pact with the devil' slur

If I could speak to Robertson, I'd warn him to think hard about the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour." Robertson has a higher responsibility as he commands the attention of an enormous audience through his own cable and radio broadcasting network, CBN. If repeating a vicious rumour imputing blame to someone you've never met, based only on a rumour, can be viewed as "bearing false witness" - I think it can - then Robertson has sinned, egregiously and publicly.

The people in Haiti who blame the USA for the earthquake are equally misguided about the absence of any link between geophysics and our ideas of right and wrong. However, I submit that we need not be too put out by the USA-earthquake suspicions harboured by some Haitians. They have experienced the ham-fisted interventions of successive U.S. administrations and a continuous stream of competing missionary groups. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere even before the quake, Haiti deserves some slack for being succeptible to rumours and looking for someone to blame.

Pat Robertson - not so much.

[Update - 2010-02-17: I just found this article citing a rabbi who claims that gay sex caused the earthquake - and Katrina, and the 2004 tsumani. What a country - the freedom to practice your religion in the most insane way possible.]

Climate comeback

Scientists and those who still believe in science are pushing back on many fronts against the recent wave of attacks against the IPCC.

UN climate panel's errors no excuse to put work on ice by UNEP head Achim Steiner ran in today's Toronto Star (and elsewhere I'm sure.) Steiner hits back directly at the absurd charges that have been flying about, launched by anti-science bloggers and parroted by the talking featherless bipeds on Fox and elsewhere:

One notion promulgated in recent weeks is that the IPCC is sensationalist: This is perhaps the most astonishing, if not risible claim of all. Indeed, the panel has more often been criticized for being far too conservative in its projections of, for example, the likely sea-level rise in the 21st century. Indeed, caution rather than sensation has been the panel's watchword throughout its existence. [...]

The fact is that the world would have to make a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient future even if there were no climate change. With the world's human population set to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion people in the next half-century, we need to improve management of our atmosphere, air, lands, soils and oceans anyway. Rather than undermine the IPCC's work, we should renew and redouble our efforts to support its mammoth task in assembling the science and knowledge

Toronto's own green energy guru Tyler Hamilton also takes on the overheated babble about the IPCC sinking and/or burning in his Clean Break column today:

In Canada, the Financial Post's resident libertarian Terence Corcoran wrote a column in late January with a headline that shouted "Climate agency going up in flames," while The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente wrote early in February that "the science scandals just keep on coming" and that the entire climate-change movement has been discredited. Columnist Rex Murphy, who has fittingly moved on to the National Post, is pretty much saying the same thing, only with bigger words.

Wishful thinking doesn't make it so.

Hamilton notices both Terrence Corcoran and Margaret Wente point for support to leading Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver at UVic. One problem: Weaver doesn't agree with them at all. As Hamilton writes:

Here's what Weaver had to say when asked by the Star about the recent coverage. "It would be nice if they actually called me," he said.

He said his comments from an earlier CanWest News Service story have been cherry picked and twisted. "It's all utterly ridiculous. The way it's being spun is that there's this sinking ship and the rats are trying to leave."

But the true sinking ship is the Earth's climate system, he said. [...]

Weaver points out that the 2007 IPCC report was, in fact, conservative with its conclusions. At the time it didn't have access to more accurate satellite data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission.

The new GRACE data, said Weaver, "has revealed that Greenland has been melting rather dramatically. Also, not only is Antarctica melting, but West Antarctica is melting quite rapidly."

As Hamilton sums this up:
Is this alarmism? Sure it is, and so it should be. Do climate-change scientists sometimes get worried and show it? Sure they do. Do we really expect them to go about their scientific duties with Mr. Spock-like precision that's void of emotion and human imperfection?

So we've got a top Canadian climatologist telling us there's a serious problem, and then three highly visible non-scientists editorializing that the problem is just "alarmists" and trying to point to Weaver as being with them on that. Hmmm.

To see how top Canadian climatologists feel about climate change, check out my list of Canadian climate scientists where Dr. Weaver ranks #1 (by far) in number of climate-related journal papers. Note that the top ten all signed one or both CMOS letters supporting prompt action to cut greenhouse emissions, as did 37 of the top 50; the only skeptic in the top 50 by paper count is an economist.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Recent finds on the web - new Wiley review journal 'WIREs Climate Change'

I saw Joe Romm's new project to post clear and simple overviews of the basics of climate science at Launching the Climate Science Project (with your help)

Seeing his appeal for suggestions, I chimed in with a few pointers off the top of my head. This got in as comment #28 of 50 posted in the first day.

As I commented on climateprogress, I first learned of the new e-journal "WIREs Climate Change" from Wiley Interscience, thanks to this Science Daily item). Here, I'll just restate my point that ScienceDaily does a great job covering climate science news (along with lots of other fields.)

So I went to add this new WIREs Climate Change title into my list of climate-related journals. While I was at it, I updated that list a bit, adding categories for the long list of unranked journals. I grouped several of them coarsely under "paleo", "glaciology and polar", "oceanography and ocean-atmosphere interactions", and "other" (sorry, 'others' - nothing personal!)

I've had a quick look at the premier issue of WIREs Climate Change (WCC for short?) and it looks promising. It's a review journal, meaning the articles can be longer (10-12 pg. in the print edition) and give more background/basics than a typical journal paper. This first issue is open access currently.

The articles by Judith Lean on "Cycles and trends in solar irradiance and climate" and David Parker on "Urban heat island effects on estimates of observed climate change" both look worth reading and perhaps recommending on the web.

I'm also looking forward to checking out some other titles from this issue including two on science communications.

Other useful-looking bits I found on the web today: essay on Ocean acidification - a greater threat than climate change or overfishing?

The UK Royal Meteorological Society homepage has several interesting looking links, including one to the above-mentioned WIREs, but with a flashier animated gif link, thus:

Finally, I'm also intrigued by their link to a new resource for middle school teachers called Climate4classrooms This one has just a static gif for the link, but at least it's a preview:

Sadly the site itself appears to be 'broken' (saying 'Your database appears to be turned off' - should I make that, 'just not quite done yet'?) They do say it is just launching, so perhaps growing pains. Check them out if they do come online.
[Update 2010-03-05 - Climate4Classrooms is online and working now. Do check it out if you're involved in teaching or just want to see ways to present climate science at a level for kids.]

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Climate Shifts blog on UEA, FOI and death threats

I've found a really worthwhile climate-related blog from a dozen Australian scientists entitled Climate Shifts

They've got a good post this week entitled Phil Jones and ‘climategate’: “The leak was bad. Then came the death threats.”

I recommend it, and the rest of their blog.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Scientists pushing back against critics

UK's chief scientific advisor backs climate scientists
(follow the link to listen to the 12 minute audio interview)

1 February 2010

In the wake of recent climate change controversies, including how fast the IPCC stated Himalayan glaciers would disappear, the Government's chief scientific advisor, Professor John Beddington, talks frankly to the Natural Environment Research Council about the issues.

He tells Sue Nelson why controversies don't undermine the science behind climate change, restates the case for urgent action and explains why communicating uncertainties is so difficult.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Jim Lippard on climate skeptics

I've discovered another blogger who has been tracing the links between climate skeptics, right-wing think tanks, and oily funding sources.

His recent post Who are the climate change skeptics? digs into the names and qualifications of the NIPCC report authors, "expert" panels of various think tanks, Ian Plimer, and various others. I found his page because it links to my site, and I discovered he's made good use of my data on degree dates to illustrate that climate contrarians come from a significantly older demographic than either the IPCC or activist statement signers.

In the comment thread, one commenter named Kahegi (who is critical of climate skeptics and anti-evolutionists) raised an issue of the validity of keyword searches to identify either expertise or supporters of a particular theory:

"Kagehi said...
With respect, counting citations isn't always helpful. Some bozo did that a while back, claiming that "evolution" isn't part of *any* of the papers found at PubMed. His reasoning? If it had anything to do with evolution, they should be using the word specifically. In actual reality, if you search on a related term, which is actually used to convey *specific* information about the subject of what mutations are being looked at, any such word can generate tens of thousands of documents.

Word searches are bad ways to look for this sort of stuff. What you think the experts are using, and what they do, isn't necessarily the same thing. "

Jim Lippard responded:
"Kagehi: I agree that counting the publications containing "climate" has the problem you describe. But that's not the only measure discussed; I also look at overall citation counts. Again, that's at best a rough proxy for relevant credibility, since a scientist may have a high citation count in a non-climate science field."

I felt this conceded too much to Kagehi's original objection to keyword searching. Here's a copy of the comment I posted there on the usefulness of keyword searches on "climate" (two typos in my original are corrected in []s):

For the question of word searches in collecting publication stats, I think searches on "evolution" are not that comparable. I'll argue that while some articles relevant to climate science might fail to contain the word "climate," it's hard to see how someone could be actively publishing on climate change or climate science without using this word fairly regularly. Furthermore, the disparity in the stats between IPCC authors and skeptic signers on this metric is just so glaring that complaints about the imperfections of the metric seem moot.

So what [if] using the word "climate" captures only part of the climate science literature? Surely what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and any shortfall in coverage with this term is not going to favor one group or the other?

The median number of papers mention[ing] climate for the 619 IPCC AR4 wg1 authors is 93. The median among the 472 signers of any of the ten climate skeptic declarations that I've tabulated is ... two (2). It's astronomically implausible for that difference to be a mere artefact of the choice of search term.

Wishing away climate change

Don't you just wish this whole climate change problem were a big misunderstanding? A joke, a trick, perhaps "a hoax"?

Plenty of people are out there willing to tell you just that - this whole issue is not actually real, the voicing calling for greenhouse emission cuts are all "alarmists", and scientists aren't actually sure we're in any trouble. They'll tell you scientists aren't unanimous; they'll claim the evidence is tainted, sexed-up by rogue alarmist conspirators devoid of integrity. All the claims that Earth is warming at an unnatural rate are down to someone cooking the data. All the forecasts of looming trouble from further warming were unnecessary: CO2 is just "plant food" and we'll all be better off with happier crops as we watch the CO2 level blow past 400, 450, 500, 550 ppm. Where will it end? Doesn't matter, no harm done. Oh, and ocean acidification from rising CO2 - that's another myth we can just ignore.

Can you imagine? Wouldn't that be so much easier? We could all just relax, head for the mall in our SUVs, and forget. The bookstore wouldn't need to have any books about Incovenient Truths, Chilling Stars, Weather Makers, Skeptical Environmentalists, or any of that. It would all be moot.

Maybe Richard Lindzen might turn out to be right, and temperatures should only be expected to rise very slightly as CO2 builds up -- but how sure can we be sure about that? What about the dozens of other experts all saying Lindzen's estimate is far too low? Can we be sure they've all over-reacted? Maybe they're all in cahoots together trying to scare us. Maybe all the reports that temperatures are still setting record highs have been faked. Fox News thinks that's what happened. Maybe next year it will all turn around and temperatures will start settling back down to the levels of the 1990s.

Maybe arctic sea ice will recover. George Will thinks it will. Maybe glaciers are all going to be fine, worldwide. Someone found a mistake about Himalayan glaciers in an IPCC report; maybe all the other glacier data, from every continent, is also a mistake -- or, another arm of the conspiracy!

Maybe all the reports of birds migrating and plants flowering earlier each year were a mistake, or perhaps even another branch of this huge conspiracy!

That's got to be it: all the bad news is just nasty corrupt scientists trying to scare us. The Canadian icebreaker expecting multi-year ice, and only finding floating fragments - maybe they faked the video, and all the data. The CBC film crew could have been in on it too.

I wonder if they faked the ice cores and lake-bed sediment records, too? What if they are faking the ocean acidification data, and the coral bleaching? It's amazing what you can do in LightWave and Maya these days.

Wow, it looks like almost every scientist, naturalist, and environmental journalist might be in on this vast eco-fascist conspiracy. They've got all the granting agencies and national science academies. It's everywhere! All the major science journals must be in on it too - except plucky little Energy & Environment, the last hold-out against the onslaught. Too bad nobody takes E&E seriously!

I wonder who's orchestrating all this massive deception? Who could get so many people from so many different countries, professions, areas of research and specialization? How would you manage all the different players, and ensure nobody ever let slip what they all really knew? A cover-up of such proportions would require a powerful secret army of enforcers and a mastermind to create and plant all the fake claims, the stories behind them and plans for how to keep the real data hidden.

Even Dan Brown could only dream of such a far-reaching empire of deceit.

Only one man could be this conniving, this cunning and ruthless. Only one man could marshall every journalist and videographer, every scholar and postdoc drilling in the mud or ice on every continent, every analyst, statistician and reviewer.

It can only be one man:

Al Gore!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Fool me five times...

This line on made me LOL - and I resolved to spread it around.

Philip Machanick wrote, in reaction to the appalling state of science journalism in general, and coverage of climate issues in particular:

"The biggest puzzle is why professional journalists (with rare exceptions like Monbiot) fall for this [repeated vacuous climate denial claims] every time. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me five times, I’m a journalist."

The Wrong Foot? Media coverage of a new denialist talking point

Here's another sad story of hasty journalism feeding the denial machine, with a belated twist of "balance."

A new attack on climate science is now echoing around the intertubes, thanks to CanWest writer Richard Foot. His Jan. 21 piece headlined 'Scientists using selective temperature data, skeptics say' simply regurgitates a scurrilous attack by Joseph D'Aleo (non-scientist, non-professor) and E. Michael Smith ('a computer programmer') posted on the website of the "Science and Public Policy Institute".

Foot openly admits "Both the authors, and the institute, are well-known in climate-change circles for their skepticism about the threat of global warming." Yet he makes virtually no effort to counter-balance their extreme ideological position. His whole article is just parroting their inflammatory attacks on science.

Two days later, Foot issued a much more sensible and balanced account of this flap, "Fewer temperature reports could mean warming underestimated: scientist" (Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 23) getting quotes from an Environment Canada spokesperson pointing out that fewer stations is just as likely to lead to an underestimate of warming, and finishing off with a forceful rejoinder from Gavin Schmidt calling D'Aleo's charges "appallingly defamatory and ignorant" (!) You go, Gavin! Being a wire service story, after it ran in the Citizen the story was picked up in many smaller papers across Canada and online news sites.

Here are links to the two original news stories at newspaper sites, followed by links to a Google query designed to find repetitions of each story anywhere online. As of 8:30 am Jan. 25th, hits are running A=325, B=36 (but A has a two-day head-start)

A) Scientists using selective temperature data, skeptics say

B) Fewer temperature reports could mean warming underestimated: scientist

A) google for 'just one thermometer' 'everything north of latitude 65 degrees'

B) google for 'appallingly defamatory and ignorant'

No points to Foot for starting off on the 'wrong foot' (Oooh, alternate title idea!) with a denial-only piece, then coming back two days later with the "balance."

Kudos to Gavin Schmidt for picking up on and strongly responding to this latest smear. Let's watch how the wire stories make their way around the web.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

SEPP - tying up loose ends

I've been updating my page on list sources, and while re-checking the name counts for various lists, I noticed I had only 46 of the 47 names on the oldest skeptic letter, the 1992 SEPP "Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming."

Thanks to my handy name-comparing perl script, I was able to pin down which name I'd missed: Terrance J. Clark, USAF meteorologist.

The only work he has indexed on Google Scholas is his 1988 MSc thesis at Texas Tech on the Lubbock tornado in 1971. At least it's been cited by two others. Zero papers mentioning climate.

While I was checking, I also noticed a name that I'd had to correct from how they are entered in the SEPP petition to get a positive match online:

William E 'Reifenyder' is actually William E Reifsnyder (2nd 'e' should be an 's'), former Yale meteorology prof; PhD (1954), he died in 2006.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tracking the Elusive Oregon Signer, part 2

Okay, in part one, I reported on one of two listed California signers of the Oregon Petition whose names matched one I'd already collected by other means, but who had not signed any other skeptic letter or petition - leading me to dig deeper to make sure the match was legit.

The other name of a California OISM signer with a PhD that evidently matched a name already on my list was John A Ogren, PhD. The John A Ogren I had found already earned his PhD in Civil Engineering from Washington State in 1983 ("Elemental carbon in the atmosphere"). Since 1991 he's worked as a Physical Scientist with the NOAA ESRL in Boulder, CO, and since 1994 an affiliate faculty member at Colorado State in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. His area of interest is aerosols and clouds.

His CV lists 57 journal papers, 51 conference papers and reviews, 30 invited presentations, five grad students supervised, and ten scientific committee memberships. (The CV looks a little out of date, with papers listed only up to 1998 or so; however, Google Scholar shows hits right up to the present with the author still at NOAA/ESRL.)

This is the CV of an active, publishing scientist. This might even pass the Wikipedia "prof test" for notability (not every prof is supposed to warrant their own WP page...)

So: is this the John A Ogren who signed the Oregon Petition? Nothing in his CV jumps out at me as fitting the climate skeptic type. But the big problem is that his CV shows he only lived in California for his undergrad degree and his first job from 1975-77. He left the state in 1978 - twenty years before the first Oregon Petition drive in 1998 - to take up a postdoc at Washington State. After that his career led him to Sweden for eight years, until he arrived in Colorado in 1991. He's been at NOAA/ESRL in Boulder throughout the 90's and up to the present.

So when the Oregon Petition mailings went out, this John A. Ogren was not a California resident; he was in Colorado the whole time. Even if you suppose he somehow listed his "home state", he was born in New York (in Sept. 1952, so he's 57.)

So it looks to me that this is very likely a false positive, and that some other John A Ogren of California must have signed the Oregon Petition.

But who?

Well, a bunch of Google searches on variants of John A Ogren california eventually got me to this directory of John Ogrens. Lo and behold, there is a John Allan Ogren, age 93, who has been listed in Guerneville, CA and Windsor, CA, and at some point also in Eugene, OR.

Clues! Windsor and Guerneville are right together, in Central Cal just outside of Santa Rosa. Eugene, OR is three hours by car from the OISM. The Calif/Oregon John A Ogren, now 93, would have been 81 in 1998 during the first OISM mailing. Might he have just mailed in the card? Or while in Oregon, might he have even associated with one of the seniors managing the Petition Project from the barn on Science and Medicine Road outside Cave Springs, OR?

In favor of this West coast JA Ogren is the actual California residence, and the age doesn't hurt either. However, there is no way to verify if this JA Ogren in Guerneville, CA had a PhD. Nothing turns up on line - unsurprising as he would have reached retirement age in 1981, so any publication output he may have had is basically locked away on paper.

Google Scholar does have digital records drawn from journal indices going back before the age of the internet. The Washington State/Sweden/Boulder JA Ogren began publishing around 1976, and using Advanced Search in Google Scholar with a date limit of 1976 or earlier brings up his earliest papers, matching what is in his CV.

So did the much older Oregon/California JA Ogren publish anything in the 60s or 70s? Here's a search to check: author:JA-Ogren with date range any time up to 1975. As you'll see, this returns a single item found as a citation in another work, reportedly from 1971. It's still the Washington/Sweden/Boulder guy, based on the title. I think it may be a typo/clerical error on the date, as the real match on those two authors with those title words was published in 2002 (quite the typo - no digits the same!?) Whatever went wrong with that citation, the search shows nobody named JA-Ogren published anything at all before 1976.

So the California John A Ogren, PhD, appears not to have had an academic or research career. We'll never know what he did for a living, unless someone wants to pay the $0.95 to to reveal his phone number, and then bother a complete stranger who is 93 to ask if he remembers this Oregon Petition thing, and what did he do for a living.

I'm not that nosy, myself.

One last thought: If this person used their state abbreviation on the petition card, "CO" could be mistaken for "CA" depending on one's handwriting (cursive "a" is round, Art Robinson is getting on and maybe his eyesight is going, or his typing...) So maybe the NOAA/ERSL aerosols and clouds guy actually does have doubts about manmade global warming, and expressed these in a single petition signing some time between 1998 and the present, but wrote "CO" as his state, and that was mistaken for "CA". After all, clouds and aerosols are one of those 'lots of uncertainties still' topics so popular among climate change contrarians.

Well, he hasn't gone whole hog into the climate contrarian movement, based on his CV. He's never published in Energy & Environment. He never signed any of the other dozen climate skeptic letters I've incorporated in my big list. Nor does anyone named Ogren shows up in the quotemining collections maintained by Marc Morano first for Sen. Inhofe, then more recently out on his own. It's pretty hard to fit this UWA/Sweden/Boulder guy in as the signer - very speculative.

So which John A Ogren, PhD, of California (or CO??), do you think signed the Oregon Petition - the one who now lives in California, age 93, no web traces, or the one who is a widely cited climate scientist who only lived in California briefly and left twenty years before the petition, and has done nothing else to suggest he is a climate change contrarian?

It's anybody's guess.

Or we could bother the Boulder JA Ogren by email and ask if he was the signer...

Tracking the Elusive Oregon Signer

I'm updating the notes and commentary on my climate scientists/petition signers list pages, including notes on one new skeptic letter, the "Copenhagen Climate Challenge", plus one one activist statement from 1700 UK scientists, re-affirming the integrity of climate science in response to the East Anglia email break-in. (More about those in another post.)

For now, I'm updating my rationale for not attempting to address the old, well-worn "Oregon Petition" or "Petition Project of the OISM." My page on Sources now includes over a dozen links to rebuttals or debunkings of the Oregon Petition.

Up to now I had only done a small random sampling of OISM signer names; much like other such efforts, I found very few active professors, journal article authors, or much of anything of note.

Tonight I decided to try a larger OISM sample, exercising a handy perl script I've written which can compare two lists of names, finding matches even where one instance is an exact substring match of the other, or has an initial and the other has either a full name starting with that initial, or omits the initial (works in either direction). It reports a match where file A has "Public, John Q" and file B has "Public, John Quincy", "Public, John", or "Public, JQ". It's something I'd been meaning to write for some time, and it's proving very helpful in semi-automating searches and comparisons, especially between lists of names from a petition, letter or statement, versus my existing list of names I've already gathered (2300 already traced for homepage and stats; 700+ still not done, just names or name + clue.)

So I looked at the petitionproject website, decided to try the list for one large state, and landed on California (lots of universities, plenty of liberal/left ideas in the air, although the state also has a strong conservative streak as well.) Anyway it was supposed to be pseudorandom, and to give a large enough sample for a meaningful test.

The petitionproject site has 3,766 names listed under California. I copied their list into a unix text file, did a bit of massaging to get one name per line, and then counted the listed degrees: 987 PhDs, 308 MDs, 32 DVM (veterinarians). I decided to start with just the PhDs. I ran my name-comparing script, checking OISM PhDs from California against my current list of names already in my web listings from other sources (other petitions, co-authors of someone in the list, found on a department website of someone I was adding, etc.)

The script matched up the following 14 names:
Baker, Don Robert
Berry, Edwin X
Chilingar, George V
Ellsaesser, Hugh W
Gruntman, Mike
Kunc, Joseph A
Lewis, William P
Maccabee, Howard D
Nierenberg, William A
Ogren, John A
Sharp, Gary Duane
Starr, Chauncey
Stevenson, Robert E
Whitten, Robert C

Don R Baker and William P Lewis were the only two not already tagged as signers of another skeptic declaration. The rest had also signed either the Leipzig Declaration, the 2009 APS letter, Manhattan Declaration, or in two cases, several other skeptic statements.

I haven't tracked down Don R Baker yet, but I wanted to blog about my tribulations trying to sort out William P Lewis and John A Ogren.

William P Lewis
There was already a William Lewis on my list, but on checking his homepage, I found his middle initial is M. He's a Fellow of the CIRES Center in Boulder, CO. I had his homepage but no stats for him yet - to do... Meanwhile, back to William P Lewis, PhD, OISM signer. Technically, he was a 'false positive' in my name-matching script, as I had not filled in William M Lewis' middle initial previously. No matter; let's make William P Lewis, PhD a blind draw for an online search for identity and credentials.

So I tried Google Scholar with author:wp-lewis and there were 79 hits, the tops ones from an engineer in Australia (scratch that one); a doctor from USC Medical School doing tropical medicine and parasitology, top cited works dating back to the 1960s. Hmm. Right state, not exactly climate-related, and MD != PhD, though he might have both. Wait! I found this article from Arch.Ophthalmol (1961) listing the lead author as William P Lewis, PhD - an exact match. Stuff about parasite infections. The most recent work that's clearly by the same author is from 1977. The same guy as the one publishing one paper in 1992 on TB and HIV, out of USC School of Medicine? Still around in 1998 or later to sign petitions? Who knows.

But has any WP Lewis published anything at all on climate change? Well, Google Scholar on author:wp-lewis climate returns three, one by someone else, an engineer, and two by the parasitologist; one mentions "amebic infections acquired in temperate climates". The other one is paywalled; the abstract doesn't mention climate; it's mainly about diagnostic tests for amebiasis. Hmm... climate expert?

Next I did a couple of google searches, and found there is one William P Lewis, P.Eng, working in Yuba City, California in wastewater treatment. He's even published a couple of articles that show up in Google Scholar, including one on how new aerators saved 1/3 of the power consumption for their treatment plant. Good on ya, WP. Three of his papers even mention the word "climate" (ties in with hydrology, affecting water services, I guess.)

So, are any of these William P Lewises the obvious candidate for OISM petition signer? Ummm... I'm not sure. One is a PhD in parasitology at UCLA, publishing up to 1977; one is an MD at USC med school, a single paper in 1992; was the WP Lewis, PhD who wrote on parasitology in the 60's this same doctor, or perhaps his father? (there's no 'II' or 'Jr') Or no relation?

The other one in Yuba City has a P.Eng. professional designation (implying perhaps an MSc or BSc in engineering - you can get a P.Eng without a PhD.)

None of them has published any research into climate science, but then we already knew the Oregon Petition was pretty "liberal", pardon the expression, on name inclusion.

So who signed the petition, exactly: the tropical medicine prof, the 1960s opthalmologist, or the wastewater treatment engineer - or someone else entirely, who has even less of a web presence?

This took me at least 20 minutes to research, not counting the time to write up this blog entry. By contrast, a match on a real climate scientist with a teaching job at a university can typically be traced and added to my list in under two minutes. That ease is what's made it possible for me to accumulate a couple of thousand completed listings; the legitimate experts simply show up quickly in a Google search for their name. Nearly everyone doing research at a university has a homepage on the university's website, and once they've published any peer-reviewed work at all, their name will show up in Google Scholar. There, a single article on a relevant topic may provide the author's full name (if they don't limit the printout to first initial(s) only, a vexatious and outdated convention) and institutional affiliation (at the time.)

It's not uncommon for a young scientist's career path to lead through various universities and research centres, often spanning the globe. It can require a bit more reading to see if it's the same person working at two different places at different times, but it can also be interesting to see a rising star get hired away by another school or lab halfway around the world (or be forced to settle for that, perhaps?)

I've still got John A. Ogren to cover - I'll split him off into another post.