Friday, February 19, 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, February 15, 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, February 14, 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, February 10, 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, February 7, 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.