Friday, 24 July 2009

How many sponsors does one conference need?

I just came across an interesting list in the great online encyclopedia SourceWatch.

This list counts FORTY TWO co-sponsors of the 2009 climate skeptics' conference in New York, in addition to the title sponsor and organizer, the Heartland Institute.

Some choice samples from the list:

"Americans for Prosperity"
"Asutralian Libertarian Society"
"Ayn Rand Institute"
"Carbon Sense Coalition"
"Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change"
"Climate Skeptics Party"
"Competitive Enterprise Institute"

and so on.

Forty two.

Fans of Douglas Adams will have their own reading of that number, but I digress...

Anyway, (A) why does one conference need that many co-sponsors? Did any real scientific conference ever drum up that many co-sponsors?

(B) Why is a "scientific" conference being co-sponsored by political parties, policy think tanks, libertarian and positivist groups (and no scrientific or academic bodies)?

Those are my questions for today.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Great Climate "Skeptics" Swindle

In my laboriously gathered list of climate scientists and people making claims about climate science, I've completed several milestones recently. I filled in the number of papers matching the word "climate" for the great majority of the list, including all 619 IPCC AR4 wg1 authors, all signers of the Cato ad, the 3 skeptics letters to Canadian PMs and to UN SG Ban Ki-Moon and all of the "scientist" signers of the Manhattan Declaration - basically nearly every skeptic I've had time to catalogue (though far from every name that Marc Morano has been accumulating - maybe he's just able to type faster than I can - but consider that this is his full-time job, while I've got both a day job and a life outside of work and the web - I spent last weekend adding insulation to my house.)

I've also started providing two versions of each listing: one sorted in descending order of number of citations (starting with the fourth-most-cited paper for each author, then sub-sorting on the #3 paper and the #2 paper as needed); the other version, new this month, is sorted on the number of papers mentioning "climate" by that author. I found this addresses the issue of people with long careers in some other field who begin making pronouncements on climatology without ever having published on climate themselves - such as phycists Antonio Zichichi and (particularly) Freeman Dyson. Both ranked in the top 100 when sorting on most citations to their entire published works - but these guys published very little academically actually talking about climate. Freeman Dyson has just 23 hits on "climate" in Google Scholar, versus over 435 in total, and a high-ranking 318 cites to his fourth-most-cited paper (which was nothing to do with the climate.) Zichichi? He's got six.

Sorted on matches for "climate," the list now gives more of an indication of which names are in fact climate scientists themselves. It also highlights just how far down the barrel the skeptic groups are digging to find names to fill out their open letters and political ads.

I've made separate pages for just the Cato ad signers, the "scientists" who signed the Manhattan Declaration, and one specific to Martin Durkin's overwrought documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle." In this page I list those who appeared in the film, plus the (larger) list of scientists who signed a letter of complaint to BBC4 Channel 4 critiquing the film and asking that it not be promoted until some of the most glaring inaccuracies are somehow addressed. The outcome of the sort for this list is particularly striking: the complaint letter drew three of the ten most widely published authors on climate - Philip Jones, Stephan Harrison and Sir John T. Houghton - and of the 21 authors with over 100 papers mentioning "climate" in this subset, seventeen were signers of the complaint letter and just four appeared in the film: John Cristy (186 "climate" papers), Pat Michaels (149), Richard Lindzen (140), and Fred Singer (110). I also note where each author ranked in my overall listings. None of these four even made it into the top 200. Meanwhile the skeptics featured in the film include three names with zero hits on "climate" and another two with just one match.

A similar trend carries through to other new sub-tables I've set up, including the one limited to just Canadian authors. The median number of papers mentioning "climate" for this group is 39. Four Canadian contributors to AR4 wg1 fall below this median value, while around 30 meet or exceed that level; AR4 wg1 included five of Canada's ten authors with the most papers on "climate" (of those I've catalogued, anyway).

Only three of the top 50 Canadians by number of articles on "climate" have signed skeptic declarations or letters: Cornelius van Kooten, Jan Veizer and Ross McKitrick. Of these, only Veizer is a scientist; the other two both write on economics.

I'll leave for another post the particulars of my table of signers of the 2009 Cato Institute ad directed at President Obama's stance on climate.

The Latest Neologism

Neologisms are newly-coined words that didn't exist until someone had the insight to boldly go where no man has gone before, word-wise. Here's one that turned up in an interview on one of the science podcasts I frequent, adding yet another compelling title to my painfully long list of 'must reads':


This one has the virtue of summing up nicely what is going on, without being too cutesy, and was evidently coined by the author who is an actual ... flotsametrician or whatever: Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Ph.D. oceanographer who built a network of volunteer beachcomers who gather data on ocean currents by reporting in what they find washed ashore on their local beaches. Ebbesmeyer shot to fame (at least among science nerds) when he discovered that a shipping container full of Nike sneakers had been washed overboard in the Pacific Ocean, broke open, and released its massive cargo of readily identifiable floating data points. As these began washing ashore, he was able to isolate a specific model that made up that shipment, and the dates and places of their arrivals on shorelines worldwide have proven a terrific source of new data on surface ocean currents. Not long after, the same thing happened again to a shipping container full of rubber duckies. As he likes to put it, he would never have been able to get permission to release such a collection of items on purpose.

So now I'm really trying to make time to get through the my stack of library books to clear the decks, since I've just GOT to get my hands on his book Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science.

(Okay, maybe 'revolutionized' is overselling it a bit - let's wait and see how the book plays out...) Ebbesmeyer is also a leading expert on oceanic gyres - the surface regions that act as "sinks" for floating rubbish such as plastic bags, lost fishing nets, refrigerators(!) etc., trapping them in slowing turning whirlpools of clutter that boggle the imagination with their scale (THREE times the size of Texas?!) and pose a real threat to marine life with their bright colors and chewy textures.