Saturday, January 30, 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, January 25, 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, January 19, 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, January 17, 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.