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Heat Rising at the Washington Post

Filed under: — group @ 4 April 2006

The Washington Post has published a second op-ed in as many days about global warming (“Spinning Global Warming”, By Robert D. Novak, Page A19, April 03, 2006–story is no longer available on the website, but the Chicago Sun Times version is available here). In this one, Novak claims that Hansen in 1988 over-predicted global warming by 400% (a story originated by Pat Michaels and subsequently propagated by Michael Crichton). This story is a fabrication that has already been set right by us in 2004.

Smearing Hansen, a leading climate scientist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to have become sport among contrarian commentators (see our earlier discussions here and here). As ad hominem attacks and “shoot the messenger” strategies are often the last refuge for those losing the substantive debate, this might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become.

We are Earth scientists. We are not part of a vast conspiracy to perpetrate a hoax, nor are we crowd-following herd animals. We are concerned about the world we are leaving to our children. We have not asked James Hansen, but we would venture a guess that his motives are similar. As scientists we have a duty to speak out when our findings strongly suggest that a dangerous and harmful development is underway – just like someone who sees smoke billowing out of a house has a duty to call the fire brigade.

As scientists we are of course not above criticism. The public, or the fire brigade, is very welcome to ask critical questions. What exactly do you see – is it just smoke, or do you see flames? How much smoke? Are you sure you’re not exaggerating this? Could there be some other explanation? Readers of this site know that we are very happy to discuss every piece of evidence publically, critically and in great detail – that’s what this site is for.

We’ve become used to a crowd of by-standers hanging around the phone booth while we’re making the call. “Hey, you’re making it all up to be in the media and get rich!” they shout. Or “Hey, you actually care about the fire being put out, so you’re politically motivated!” Or they shout: “How dare you call the fire brigade when you’re only 90% sure there is a fire! Talk more about uncertainty!” We do care, of course. And we are professionally trained to not let this distort our judgement, to take a step back and critically examine all the evidence.

What is happening at the Washington Post, unfortunately, has nothing to do with a critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger. It has nothing to do with a quest to come to a real understanding of the issue. The editorials mentioned above show no respect for the truth; they shamelessly use distortion and deception to discredit climate science and climate scientists. It is hardly new that us humans can go to great lengths when it comes to denying unwelcome truths – what is surprising and disturbing, however, is that the Washington Post does not seem to have a quality control in place that ensures minimal journalistic standards, such as intellectual honesty and basic fact-checking.


141 Responses to “Heat Rising at the Washington Post”

  1. 51
    Jim Redden says:

    To Jamie Schwartz, #47, on how to argue “global warming” is normal. From one who has concluded the opposite, much to my morose chagrin, your task is easy.

    You do not need credible sources to craft rhetoric to assert a “global warming” is normal–you just need published sources. Get a copy of the book, “Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths” for the library. Read quotes from it. Wave it around. Present an air of outrage. Show charts–any charts will do. Show the ice cover retreat from North America, and point out how ice has been retreating for years. Tell your audience that the deep ocean is still warming from the last ice age. Yes, the climate is warming, as it should be. Humans thrive in a warm climate, and so do plants. That is so obvious. We need to use common sense, says you…

    And ask people, how often have they been mislead. Here it comes again. Get some Richard Lindzen quotes on the NASA website on the Iris Hypothesis. Select your evidence for your case and ignore contrary evidence. Make a simple message, and repeat it over and over. Be taken aghast.

    Just to be clear: as one who has concluded that Anthropogenic Climate Change is expressing a very clear signal, with all the work done to lay a framework for confusion by Western Fuels Association, et al, I’d think that opposite point of view–in the relativistic world of argument–in lieu of the true evidence realm of science–would be a piece of cake… If you opponent makes headway, retreat to the simple message s you have made easy pickings for the audience.

    Key message words are: common sense, proven variability, obvious.

    [Response: Good advice, but don't follow it all, Jamie. Don't cite Lindzen's so-called "Iris Effect", because it does not support your claim that global warming is normal - rather it means that global warming cannot happen because a strong negative feedback prevents it. -stefan]

    [Response: Yes, the Iris effect, if correct, would seem to indicate that global warming cannot occur by ANY means, natural or anthropogenic. It raises the question of how we got out of the last ice age, how Cretaceous climates got warm, etc. If one accepts that there is indeed a 20th and 21st century warming trend, the Iris idea would make problems for any plausible explanation for the trend, not just anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases. I'm somewhat caricaturing the implications of the Iris, but not much; these considerations point in the right direction to see where the problems lie. --raypierre]

  2. 52
    Hank Roberts says:

    “at b.com”
    Chuckle. Don’t bother, single-letter domains aren’t used.
    whois b.com->
    Domain Name: B.COM
    Registrar: RESERVED-INTERNET ASSIGNED NUMBERS AUTHORITY

    [Response:I think that was Ray's point. We would not publish someone's real e-mail address without their consent. -stefan]

    [Response: Exactly. In fact, to make sure I wasn't jumping to conclusions, I verified that this was an invalid email address before posting it. If it had checked out, of course I wouldn't have posted it. --raypierre]

  3. 53
    Matthias Brun says:

    About the climate debate being “just” an unproven theory: considers this extended Gaia-theory. To the open mind it will maybe put the whole climate debate in a greater context.
    So consider this: the earth got a consciousness, so do we as mankind. What if mankind recently declared itself ready to learn â?? then mother earth will answer, of course in its physical boundaries. So we get what we asked for. And it will lead to a massive rise in consciousness instead of self-destruction.
    With Central Europe on the doorstep of another century flooding that is exactly what is happening right now in Europe. And what will happen in the U.S. once the next big hurricane will hit this year: another wake-up call from mother earth to mass consciousness. So wait and see: considering the law of time (www.lawoftime.org) and the physical boundaries it might as well be the 13th month this year for you guys. Yes 13 months or moons, this is the natural time, it is the rhythm of biology, the rhythm of the female cycle as well. Change your time, change your mind, and change what will be materialized out of the flow of time. There is even a U.N.-petition you can sign in to change the calendar 2012. And with the fall of the modern Babylon towers (9/11) the old artificial time table originating from Babylon has fallen already. Like rats in a most of purely mind-oriented mankind just has not taken notice yet.
    Yes this is only a vision: the closing of the (26â??000year) cycle in 2012/2013. But it is the only one I know, that is able to turn around the steering wheel in due time.
    Well of course it is easy to say: this is nonsense. But maybe you consider it as a wake-up call as well and first you just study the subject, then you study your soul and get within the flow of time. After that you will maybe not only know, but just feel earth consciousness. And instead of making pictures of a deadly Tsunami approaching you, you will be able to read again the signals of the earth and like the natural people find shelter on higher ground way before the Tsunami hits. We call it telepathy or telepathic synchronisation, and of course it works (for your scientific mind consider the results of quantum physics), you will find out eventually.

  4. 54
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jamie, read Bill Ruddiman’s piece here. You can argue right off a big graph that what’s natural is sudden fast heating episodes followed by long slow erratic cooling periods — and the only exception on the chart starts about 8000 years ago with human activity. Up through around 1970, over 8000-odd years, humans burned up X amount of carbon (agriculture, logging, burning, erosion, siltation, killing things). Instead of a long slow cooling after the last ice age ended 8 to 10 thousand years ago, we got a long steady stretch of climate with a few bobbles in it.

    So X amount of carbon over 8000 years – counterbalanced the natural slow uneven cooling trend.

    That was true up through the mid-1970s. Since then we burned the same amount of carbon again. Don’t go there.

  5. 55
    C. W. Magee says:

    Re 53, and Ruddiman’s hypothesis.
    Why was the comment section of the Ruddiman blog closed before the Broeker & Stocker Eos article (2006; 87,3,27), which shows that the d13C deviation expected from Ruddiman’s hypothesis isn’t found in the fossil or ice core record?

    I apologise for harping on this point, but I think it is important. The vampire-like perseverance of dead hypotheses long after they are slain makes science education difficult. It does not matter if those hypotheses are contrarian, like the satellite “cooling” data of a decade ago, or alarmist, like Ruddiman’s “Anthropocene”. Killing one’s cherished baby ideas is part of the scientific method; responsible scientists do it all the time. But on the internet, these vanquished hypotheses have a habit if coming back to haunt us, unless we, as a community, are vigilant about keeping them dead.

    [Response: At EGU, Ruddiman gave a talk on his hypothesis; he has now decided that the CO2 cannot all (40 ppm) have been due to deforestation, etc, as there isn't enough forest. So its now 10 from forest, and the remaining 30 from ocean feedbacks (err...). Neatly, this gets rid of the isotopic signature problem too. See-also http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2006/04/egu_monday.php - William]

  6. 56
    Randolph Fritz says:

    It does seem worth pointing out that it is entirely within the rights of a newspaper’s editors to control its editorial content; it is not censorship for them to choose not to run an article. It speaks poorly of the Washington Post that they choose to print Novak’s libelous (though perhaps not actionable) comments.

  7. 57
    Alan says:

    RE #53

    This is word for word, the same comment you made in the last article (incurious george: #82), I won’t bother to cut and paste my reply (comment #83).

  8. 58
    C. W. Magee says:

    Re: inserted response to 55:
    If even Ruddiman is backing off from his hypothesis, then that gives you guys all the more reason to keep that portion of your site up to date. As for his suggestion that only 10 ppm is human, I wonder if he would drop that to 5 if we doubled the precision of the measurements. From a practical point of view, I see no difference between retracting a hypothesis, and moderating it to a value that is no longer experimentally testable.

  9. 59
    Jeff Harvey says:

    Specifically to answer da Silva’s point:

    I was one of the scientists to ‘get in a lather’ as you put it over the publication of Lomborg’s book (I co-reviewed it with Stuart Pimm for Nature). I have no regrets whatsoever in slating the book and Lomborg, and I would definitely do the same were I to review a similar published work that is similarly full of errors, personal smears and other nonsense.

    The scientific community was justifiably angry for several reasons. First, the book contains more scientific distortions than pages, and yet was published by a respected Academic Impramatur (CUP). When the book was published, many of its more egregious errors were covered in the mainstream media as if they were facts – at the same time, scientists working in the complex fields whose work was badly distorted by Lomborg were given a pass. In review after review in the print media, we were told that “the truth about the environment is now made clear” when in fact much of the book is pure gobbledegook. Aside from Lomborg’s personal and professional ambitions, whatever they are, its clear that many of the errors stem from his complete ignorance of earth and environmental science. This is why his credentials were considered to be an issue. They still are. If a taxi driver writes a book claiming that the Earth is flat, and the book gets pusblished by a prominent publisher, I am sure that qualified geophysicists would be pretty annoyed. The same is true for those who comment on climate science like George Will and Robert Novak. Their views conflict with the vast majority of climate scientists, and yet they are political/business columnists. Thus, the professional background of a scribe is a issue.

  10. 60
    Glenn Sills says:

    Guys heres the deal.

    People like Robert D. Novak are not ‘journalists’ so you really can’t hold them to any journalistic standard. Robert Novak is a ‘commentator’. He writes about his opinions. He probably would know the truth if it bit him on the butt, but he’d just kick it. Like a criminal lawyer, commentators make the best argument possible for their side. The assume some other guy is going to make a competing argument for the other side. Best dog in the fight wins.

    Michael Crichton isn’t a journalist either. He writes these things known as ‘stories’. Sure some nuts mistake his fiction for gospel, but then lots of idiots actually believe in the ‘Divinci Code’ and the ‘Left Behind’ series. There’s people for you.

    Earth scientist need to simply focus on their jobs and report their findings. When somebody likes Novak or Crichton makes a factual error it is important to speak up and explain their mistake and move on.

  11. 61
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    In comment # 8, I criticized RC’s original posting’s ending paragraph for what I see as unrealistically, and also unwisely, advocating the Washington Post’s active policing of the content of Will’s and Novak’s climate-science-related op-ed columns. My comment drew two RC responses. It seems to me that the comparative moderation in the second of those is a welcome sign. But even that more moderate RC response continues to insist that somehow the Post has failed in a perceived journalistic duty to ensure what the first responder called journalistic ethics and the more moderate responder called journalistic quality.

    I completely agree that the op-ed columnists Will and Novak conveyed appalling science judgments. I also agree that Novak was distastefully harsh about Dr. Hansen, though I’m flabbergasted that anyone could believe that somehow the political hardball condemnation of anyone’s political activities could be actionable in court. Please see item 1 in Roger Pielke’s comment 17: “Novak’s column was absurd. Welcome to the political rough and tumble.”

    And I agree with the posting’s ending paragraph, the paragraph that I’m otherwise criticizing, when it says that what’s actually needed from responsible commentators is “a critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger.” Precisely. Very well said.

    That’s why it’s unwise for people who misunderstand how the op-ed biz works to head down a dead-end side road making accusations, including some shrill ones, against the Washington Post itself. That dead-end side road leads nowhere when it comes to promoting the needed critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger.

    Also: Roger Pielke (comment 17, item 2) can probably make a sensible case that Will’s and Novak’s op-ed-page pieces must be called columns, not op-eds, though Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Op-ed) doesn’t seem to focus on any such hard distinction concerning signed opinion essays on an op-ed page. In any case the important distinction, neglected in the RC posting’s ending paragraph, is between op-eds and columns on the one hand, which are the signed opinions of individuals, and on the other hand unsigned editorials, which represent an editorial board’s collective opinion.

    [Response: Steven, as the person who actually wrote that last sentence you disagree with, I find your comments very interesting. And as you very nicely phrase it, I indeed "insist that somehow the Post has failed in a perceived journalistic duty". Perhaps my perception is just a European one (although I hope not): namely that newspapers are not just another business like selling cars (interestingly, you talk about the "op-ed biz"), but rather that they play a special and necessary role in the functioning of a democracy, and that with this comes a special responsibility and journalistic ethics. -stefan]

  12. 62
    Lawrence McLean says:

    The comment made by Scott Nance (#7) is very good and seems to me explains the agenda of the Washington Post articles.

    I have great respect the people behind this web site and they should be congratulated for their effort.

    I have used the information I have learned here to explain Global warming to many friends, relatives and acquaintances.

    I disagree with the idea suggested by some of the comments in this thread that the best policy for Climate Scientists in dealing with ridiculous skeptics is to ignore them and carry on quietly with their own work. This may be the best thing to do with some poor mentally ill person on the bus. However, for highly funded voices that are given unrewarded credibility and access to the media, a great effort, even a fight is justified, as the cause is most certainly worth it.

    My comment to Anonymous (#24 #30), people keep secrets so they can tell lies.

  13. 63
    jae says:

    re: answer to 33: A conspiracy against scientists, huh?

  14. 64
    John L. McCormick says:

    Re#24

    Anonymous, I confess to being weary of your confrontational approach to others on this web. HOWEVER, I do offer thanks for your motivating me to ask google what is an expert on dynamical systems and modelling. The second link was a gold mine for me:

    Two strong papers on the role of your expertise –system dynamics simulaltion modeling — to assist supporting effective participation in the climate change debate. See http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/siclimate.PDF

    I highly recommend otheres read this and an appendix paper: Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming, MIT, Sterman and Sweeney at:

    web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/cloudy_skies1.pdf

    Your colleagues have helped me understand better the challenge we face in communicating our concerns to the public..even the highly educated public; i.e., elected officials and corporate execs, the media and sceptics.

    I do hope you will contribute a comment on those papers and describe how system dynamics simulation modeling is a tool to be applied to that challenge.

    This page is taking a turn and I hope it maintains its civility and respect for one and all. You inadventently led me to those papers and I owe you thanks and respect for the league in which you play.

    John McCormick

  15. 65

    Gavin (re#21),

    Don’t want to get into debating what the meaning of “is” is, but “ONLY” [your emphasis] must mean something different to you than it does to me.

    I have gone back and reread Dr. Hansen’s testimony and the 1988 JGR paper and have determined that the 4th viewgraph shown during Dr. Hansen’s oral testimony is most likely Figure 6 from the 1988 JGR paper’s Figure which again shows the results of all three scenarios when used to calculate the probability of a summer in Washington DC and Omaha, NE being ‘hot’. In his oral remarks, Dr. Hansen is recorded as saying the following:

    Then my third point. Finally, I would like to address the question of whether the greenhouse effect is already large enough to affect the probability of extreme events, such as summer heat waves. As shown in my next viewgraph [the one I believe is Figure 6 of the JGR paper -chip], we have used the temperature changes computed in our global climate model to estimate the impact of the greenhouse effect on the frequency of hot summers in Washington, DC and Omaha, Nebraska. A hot summer is defined as the hottest one-third of the summers in the 1950 to 1980 period, which is the period the Weather Bureau uses for defining climatology. So, in that period the probability of having a hot summer was 33 percent, but by the 1990s, you can see that the greenhouse effect has increased the probability of a hot summer to somewhere between 55 and 70 percent in Washington according to our climate model simulations. In the late 1980s, the probability of a hot summer would be somewhat less than that. You can interpolate to a value of something like 40 to 60 percent.

    The range of probabilities that Dr. Hansen is referring to is the range between the probability predicted from Scenario A and that predicted by Scenario C as shown in JGR Figure 6.

    Dr. Hansen went on to show on more viewgraph on the spatial changes in temperature in the future that was only based on Scenario B.

    In all, he showed 5 viewgraphs during his oral testimony, 2 were on the observed global temperature history, and 3 were on model output. Of the 3 model output viewgraphs, 2 of them included the results of all three scenarios. And 1 of them only showed the results of Scenario B. To me at least, this is a far cry from “In fact in his testimony, Hansen ONLY showed results from scenario B, and stated clearly that it was the most probable scenario.” [again, your emphasis].

    And while I appreciate your trend calculations (BTW, I calculate the GISS temp trend from 1988-2005 as 0.24ºC/dec. (met. stations) and 0.21ºC/dec. (land-ocean), your time period of interest is the wrong one. The difference between Scenario A projections and observations was pointed out to be large (“300%”) for the period 1988-1997 (as referred to in Pat Michael’s testimony and Novak’s article). The difference between the scenarios and observations has decreased in the intervening 10 years, as you point out. And clearly, Dr. Hansen’s scenario B is the one closest to really 20 years later (fortuitously or not – BTW, the scenarios DID include other trace gases besides CO2) and turned out to be a good prediction. As far as Pat’s justification for only focusing on Scenario A and not showing the predictions from Scenarios B and C, I can’t fully say. However, again, I’ll point out that is his oral and written testimony, Dr. Hansen never indicated a preference between the three scenarios – this was only done in the JGR paper (attached to his prepared written testimony) where he wrote that “Scenario B is PERHAPS the most plausible of the three cases.” [emphasis mine and also note the word "plausible" not "probable"]. This is hardly a ringing endorsement – and one that was not pointed out in his remarks in front of Congress that day.

    [Response: Chip, despite your declaration not to want to get debating semantics you are doing exactly that. Focus on the real question: do model predictions made 17 years ago stack up against what has happened or are they '300%' in error? There is only one answer to that (and you know very well what it is). Even if Hansen had not made clear any preferences for the scenarios, the spread still encompasses what happened (which is the best we can hope for going forward). Was Novak justified in using the the '300%' error description? No. Was Michaels? No. Are you? No. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors. -gavin ]

  16. 66
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Thank you, Stefan, for your responses to 8 and 61 and for thoughtfully considering my criticism of what I call the dead-end side road of going after the Post for its perceived failure to police the content of the op-ed columns of the actual offenders Novak and Will. I believe that you and I agree absolutely that newspapers, as you put it, “play a special and necessary role in the functioning of a democracy, and that with this comes a special responsibility and journalistic ethics.” What we don’t agree on, I believe, is two things:
    * what it actually takes, as a practical matter
    from day to day and from decade to decade, for
    the Post’s editors to exercise that
    responsibility in running their important
    democratic forum, and
    * what the criteria are for the Post’s editors
    to intervene in the policing way that RC and
    some RC commenters have advocated.
    It just seems to me that Washington and the country are full of angry people who are flat outright certain that their causes are not only just but pre-eminent, and it seems to me that that reality is what the Post’s editors must deal with across the board on zillions of issues every day. The fact that I believe that _your_ legitimately anger-stimulating cause, Stefan, actually _is_ pre-eminent is precisely why I wish you guys would lay off the Post and concentrate instead on what I see as the actual problem and what you yourself see (I suspect) as the main problem.

    [Response: Steven, I don't think we are "going after the Post" - we criticised two columns that happened to appear in the Post, which we would have criticised no matter which important paper they appeared in (and would have ignored had they appeared in a lesser paper). I am pretty sure that no German quality paper would have printed anything comparable to these columns. The editors would have thought: what's this nonsense? Because they know the basic science on climate change, and they know about the attempts by interest groups to obfuscate the issue. You seem to excuse the editors by saying they have to deal with "zillions of issues every day", so they could not have made a simple judgement and recognise those texts for what they are. But climate change is not just one of "zillions of issues" - it is a prime issue of international policy at least since the Earth Summit in 1992, and a prime issue of political disagreement between the US government and most of the rest of the world. If political editors are not well-informed on this issue, and cannot tell a well-founded opinion from cheap propaganda, that to me is simply unprofessional. -stefan]

  17. 67
    da silva says:

    Jeff Harvey, thanks for your comments re: Lomborg and my initial comment (#35). I certainly understand why many scientists took exception with The Skeptical Environmentalist, but I still maintain that the response should have been more dispassionate, and that the pile-ons published in Scientific American, Grist and elsewhere unintentionally lent his work stature. The critics, by and large, adopted a dismissive tone that not only made them seem haughty, but also raised the suspicion that Lomborg was an especially vexing opponent.

    Yes, some of the mainstream media (hardly a monolith, despite the broad-brush epithet) praised his work and may even have reported it ‘as truth,’ but let’s weigh that against the sum total of environmental reporting out there. When reporters takes some of the mistaken or inflated claims of, say, Lester Brown, and runs with them, do you take equal exception? Or to take an example directly from Lomborg’s book, when Norman Myers’ estimate of the rate of species extinction becomes received wisdom and is passed off not only in the mainstream media but also in the scientific literature as fact, (despite any hard data to support it) is your indignation equally aroused? I’m guessing not and I’m guessing that’s because it’s still in line with what you believe. That’s not meant as an attack on you, but as an observation on human nature.

  18. 68
    Mark A. York says:

    I had one naysayer claim that I was dismissing the orbital fluctuation’s responsibilities for ice ages (I wasn’t) and that water vapor was a much bigger forcing than CO2. That Pat Michaels denier group is quite large it seems from the website I found listing a global warming up-is-down fact sheet.

  19. 69
    Mark A. York says:

    Novak is not a regular Post columnist like Will so his was a guest op-ed. Some decision was definitely made there whatever that means. Looks like a need for false balance even if one side is a lie. Things really are that bad in the he said she said dichotomy in journalism.

  20. 70
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    To Stefan (re response to #65):
    * I’ll bet you’re right that German newspaper editors discern more readily, and with more sophistication, among scientific (and pseudo-scientific and anti-scientific) judgments, even in opinion pieces. I wouldn’t know, but I’ll bet you’re right. Once after Anne Applebaum at the Post apologized profusely for daring to venture informed laywoman’s opinions about microbiology in her op-ed column, I wrote to encourage her not to assume newspaper writers can’t have scientific understanding. It was clear from her reply that she just didn’t get at all what I was saying — and when I brought it back up months later, she didn’t answer. American newspaper editors’ and writers’ science awareness and outlook are a problem, I agree. And I’ll even predict that if I look back a year from now and decide that I was more wrong today than you were, this problem will be why.
    * When I mentioned that I think your cause actually is a pre-eminent one, and a legitimately anger-stimulating one, I believe I explicitly stated — in advance — my agreement that your issue is, as you now emphasize to me, not just one of zillions.
    * With all due respect, I’ve focused from the start (in comment 8 and thereafter) only on RC’s posting’s ending paragraph — the plain language of which plainly contradicts what you now claim about not going after the Post.
    * I think our contrasting views are pretty clear now. So I won’t right at present seek new ways to debate you on what we actually disagree about. I respect what you are saying, and I’ll think about it, and I thank you for it, and for indulging my long-windedness. I’ve worked for and with physicists for 20 years, and I think RC is the best breakthrough yet in the effort to have science and society interact sensibly and effectively. Nature’s editors were right, in my view, when they publicized RC in an editorial in December of 04.

    [Response: Steven, thanks very much, I appreciated this enlightening discussion. With "not going after the Post" I just meant: we have no reason to single out any particular newspaper (especially not me from my European vantage point); if the NYT had printed several such columns, I would likewise have criticised the editors for doing so. One final point I forgot last night in the rush to get home: I don't understand your concept of editors "policing" columns. I think they select and buy them, from a great choice offered to them, like me selecting fruit when I go to the market. If I come home with rotten apples, my partner will rightly criticise me. I criticise the editors for making a similar bad choice, albeit with several orders of magnitude greater consequences and responsibility attached. -stefan]

  21. 71
  22. 72
    Don Baccus says:

    #65: “Also: Roger Pielke (comment 17, item 2) can probably make a sensible case that Will’s and Novak’s op-ed-page pieces must be called columns, not op-eds”

    Ummm … “op-ed” is shorthand in the American press for “the page opposite the editorial page”.

    Traditionally, unsigned editorials appear on the editorial page, and represent the official position of the newspaper.

    Traditionally, signed columns representing the opinion of the signees only appear on the page opposite the editorial page. The op-ed page. These columns are sometimes called “op-eds” because of this. Will’s column is an op-ed piece. Physically “opposite of the editorial page” but also the place where ideologically opposite opinion pieces appear.

    Modern newspapers aren’t so rigid in their formatting. For instance, this morning’s Oregonian (my local daily) carried a signed opinion piece by one of its editors – an op-ed piece – on the bottom of the editorial page itself. However, it’s signed by one person and understood to represent the opinion of that one person only.

  23. 73
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah that last link when you get to it contains the source I was arguing with.

    http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/ice_ages.html

    “3. Total human contributions to greenhouse gases account for only about 0.28% of the “greenhouse effect” (Figure 2). Anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide (CO2) comprises about 0.117% of this total, and man-made sources of other gases ( methane, nitrous oxide (NOX), other misc. gases) contributes another 0.163% .

    Approximately 99.72% of the “greenhouse effect” is due to natural causes — mostly water vapor and traces of other gases, which we can do nothing at all about. Eliminating human activity altogether would have little impact on climate change.”

    So when a naysay-prone lyman sees this presentation it’s easy to see how they could fooled.

    [Response: Well 'caveat lector' is appropriate here. That linked page is complete nonsense as we discussed here when it came up in some other context: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/01/calculating-the-greenhouse-effect/ - gavin]

  24. 74
    Pat Neuman says:

    Two questions were asked in 38.

    (1) Should the rules of journalistic ethics be more inclusive than normal when dealing with global warming?

    (2) Is it unethical for journalists to ignore important material related to global warming?

    I say yes to both questions because global warming is so important that it could mean the end to life on earth as we know it.

    Does anyone disagree?

  25. 75
    Coby says:

    In case Jamie Schwartz is still looking for debate advice, be sure to say “I used to be very concerned” and “I was sure the scientists were right” things like that, “until I started looking into it for myself”. Then go on about how shocked you were at the bad science and unfounded alarmism.

    Play to the emotions, you can’t win with logic!

    (Don’t forget to shower afterwards)

  26. 76
    Matt says:

    Re: 72, I will let the scientists go over the water vapor issue again.

    I would just like to say, everyone should keep handy graph of the Vostok ice core data, and any other readable graphs of other cores and sediments.
    For Example

    This ice core data is Nobel prize material, and we could all be educated enough to argue the basics from that. I need an online version with all the core and sediment measurments, smoothed somewhat and easily accessible.

  27. 77
    Hank Roberts says:

    >clearlight.com
    Last updated in 2002, but the charts and cites are from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
    Frozen in time.

  28. 78
    David B. Benson says:

    Several have mentioned this before: Another site is needed to consider various means of ameliorating GW which have enough impact to be meaningful. Does such a site already exists? If not, I hope somebody with both the webmaster knowledge and time will start one, one with enough integrity that eventually RealClimate will link to it on the sidebar. While I am still learning about climate, I believe I could contribute a few useful pointers and directions to such a site. Thanks.

  29. 79
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    A distinction between op-eds and columns is important because a paper’s editorial staff selects op-eds to publish that are submitted. Columns appear on a schedule and if a decision is to made by the newpaper it would be to reject it. These different decision processes are important in whether or not one decides to get lathered up about the Wash Post in particular or Novak more generally. Thanks.

  30. 80
    Doug says:

    Another columnist playing the skeptic game!
    How exciting!

    It’ll be interesting to see if they try to keep it up. Perhaps itâ??s just coincidence. There’s been an awful lot of global warming stories lately. Antarctica warming, Antarctic glacial melt with new measurement method, sea level rise with new measurement method, Greenland melt, Hurricanes, change in ocean current.

    You’ve got to expect some contrary opinion.

  31. 81
    Don Baccus says:

    #78: “A distinction between op-eds and columns is important because a paper’s editorial staff selects op-eds to publish that are submitted. Columns appear on a schedule and if a decision is to made by the newpaper it would be to reject it. These different decision processes are important in whether or not one decides to get lathered up about the Wash Post in particular or Novak more generally.”

    Not to get too worked-up over terminology but there’s no difference between “op-eds” and “columns” such as you describe. “Guest column” describes what you’re calling an “op-ed”. Traditionally both regular signed columns and guest columns (which are often one-shot submissions by a writer) appeared on the op-ed page …

    In fact, if you go to the New York Times website you’ll see they list their stable of columnists, such as Thomas Freidman, as “Op-Ed Columnists”. And, of course, the Times still runs their op-eds on the op-ed page, editorials and letters to the editor on the editorial page …

  32. 82
    Eli Rabett says:

    Notice how in the set to about op-eds and columns ontology begets epistomology. This is a trivial issue. Now think about how the same principle affects such issues as anthropic climate change and why controlling the dictionary controls the debate.

  33. 83
    Mark A. York says:

    Yeah but Roger P has a point in the process. Op-ed’s per se are guest spots to put it into TV terms which as a SAG member I can easily. Columnists are regular cast members under contract. Novak was a guest star that week at the WP. He’s not regular cast. Op-ed’s pay roughly $375 at the NYT. They’re prime freelance expert territory and thus very competitive to land.

    [Response: The exact nomenclature applied to Novak's column is a somewhat peripheral issue. Newspapers do have the power to decline publication of material that is blatantly false or misleading. One rather illumination example is that the Chicago Tribune last year banned an Aaron McGruder "Boondocks" cartoon strip (on the cartoon page, not the editorial page!) because it had President Bush making a statement that he hadn't literally made -- to quote the Tribune "Today's original Boondocks strip presents inaccurate information as fact." I don't want to argue about whether the Tribune's action was excesssive in that instance, but certainly that characterization applies in spades to Novak's column. Curiously, newspapers do seem to be cavalier with regard to the veracity of what they publish on their op ed pages. When a well-known columnist like Novak or Will present inaccurate information as fact, there should be consequences. I'm open to suggestions as to what those consequences should be. Generally, the best answer to the bad consequences of free speech is yet more free speech. The problem is one of how to compete with the large audience of a columnist like Novak, and the amount of credibility accorded to him by his position. --raypierre]

  34. 84
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    As any dunce should know, science is evidence/theory dependent & uses vigorous techniques for validation & reliability. And, ergo, it’s a field whose knowledge changes (unlike journalism, I guess). So, just for argument’s sake, supposing a scientist were wrong 10, 20, 30 years ago (but came to his/her conclusions honestly & based on the best evidence/theory to date), that means absolutely nada about the science going on today.

    We’d expect better and more refined data & theory as time passes. And that’s what we’re getting. Thanks so much for all your hard work & brain straining.

    I think certain journalists should go back to elementary school and learn the basics about science. They really goofed off during those classes.

  35. 85
    Mark A. York says:

    Ray they definitely made a conscious decison to run the Novak follow up so I agree with you completely. It was deliberate. I think you need to write one and submit it as a rebuttal. You have the stature and they respect that despite running these shill pieces from ideologue like the two columnists in question. Do it now while the iron is still hot.

  36. 86
    Matt says:

    Endless opinions, mine included.

    Everyone in the debate is talking about, one way or the other, adjustments to human population, due to climate changes. But the changes due to resouce constraints are happening right now; in terms of changes to fertility rates, population migration, famine, refugees, and the like. What is hapening to humans right now is of the same scale as what will happen to humans in 50 to 100 years because of climate change.

    Everyone freaks about New York flooding, but we just evacuated New Orleans in the USA, in a few days, and it was hardly a blip on our economic radar. We worry the Los Ageles population of 10 million, but we absorb that many refugees every few years. European demographics is already being changed by other resource constraints.

    Really, you guys are always complaining about the weather.

  37. 87
    Mark A. York says:

    As a biologist I can tell you life at carrying capacity is a tough row to hoe. It’s all related.

  38. 88
  39. 89
    Paul G. says:

    ===Post #74=======================================
    Two questions were asked in 38.

    (1) Should the rules of journalistic ethics be more inclusive than normal when dealing with global warming?

    (2) Is it unethical for journalists to ignore important material related to global warming?

    I say yes to both questions because global warming is so important that it could mean the end to life on earth as we know it.

    Does anyone disagree?

    Comment by Pat Neuman â?? 5 Apr 2006 @ 3:36 pm
    =============================================

    I am unsure what you mean by the “inclusive” in regards to journalist’s ethics in regards to global warming. Or is it “self-censorship” that you are really advocating?

    Journalists can not be accused of ignoring the issue of AGW. For the most part, they unquestioningly regurgitate whatever new information is presented to them. Unfortunately, intimidated by the complex science, there is little, if any, critical analysis attempted on this admittedly complex subject.

    The reporting on AGW has tended to exaggerate the risks of AGW by constantly highlighting worst case scenarios. This is a greater journalistic failure then any column that Robert Novak has written.

  40. 90

    Gavin (re #65),

    I absolutely agree with you that Scenario B has proven over the course of the past 17 years to have been a pretty darn good forecast. At the time it was made, back in 1988, it represented a forecast that was pretty much on the low of things. For that matter it still is. Scenario B shows a warming between 2000 and 2050 of just under 0.75ºC. Very close to the same number that Dr. Hansen has set forth in his series of PNAS papers of the past several years. In fact, this is very nearly the same number that Pat Michaels has been saying through time. The only difference is, as we have pointed out on numerous occasion in our WCRs (e.g. here ) is that Dr. Hansen thinks that this amount of temperature increase will cause disastrous sea level rise and Pat doesn’t. So I guess, besides this point, we are all pretty much in agreement.

    That said, however, you are taking the original “300%” error thing out of context. Pat made that calculation back in 1998. After asking him about why he selected only Scenario A in his 1998 testimony, this is what he told me:

    In my testimony to the Committee on Small Business of the U.S. House of Representatives, in July, 1998, one of my bullet points was that I would:

    - Document that observed climate change is several times below the amount predicted by the climate models that served as the basis for the Framework Convention on Climate Change (Hansen et al., 1998).

    Hansen and friends continue to claim that this was a serious misrepresentation of his work, which is based upon his 1988 paper in Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR, Vol 93, 9341-9364). In the light of the facts of that paper, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Hansen has three “scenarios” in that paper for future emissions. Remember that it was published in 1988 and my testimony was in 1998, but we are comparing what was believed in 1988 to be mainstream and plausible to what ultimately transpired.

    Here’s his scenario A:

    - Scenario A assumes that growth rates of trace gas emissions typical of the 1970s and 1980s will continue indefinitely; the assumed annual growth averages about 1.5% of current emissionsâ?? (page 9343 JGR).

    “The range of climate forcings covered by the three scenarios is further increased by the fact that scenario A includes the effect of several hypothetical or crudely estimated trace gas trends (Ozone, stratospheric water vapor, and minor chlorine and fluorine compounds) which are not included in scenarios B and C” (page 9345 JGR).

    “Scenario A, since it is exponential, must eventually be on the high side of reality in view of finite resource constraints [not by 1998!] and environmental concerns, even though the growth of emissions in scenario A (1.5%/year) is less than the rate typical of the past century (4%/year)”.

    “Scenario B is perhaps the most plausible of the three cases”. (p 9345 JGR),

    But in his 1988 testimony, Hansen said that “We have considered case ranging from business as usual, which is Scenario A…”

    From the 1988 JGR paper: “Note that our scenario A goes approximately through the middle of the range of likely climate forcing estimated for the year 2030 [italics added] by Ramanathan et al (1985), and scenario B is near the lower limit of their estimated range” (9345 JGR).

    As of that writing, Ramanathan et al. (1985) (JGR, 5547-5566) was the standard reference on radiative forcing. While Hansen may say his scenario B is the most plausible, the standard reference (that he made reference to) does not. You can’t have it both ways, not from the perspective of 1988.

    So, in summary, Scenario A was in the middle of the range of scientifically accepted forcing at the time it was written and the relevant congressional testimony occurred in 1988. And that’s why I brought it back to the attention of Congress in 1998.

    [Response: Chip, A good principle in debating is never to find yourself defending the indefensible. Michaels in 1998 was completely aware that scenario B forcing had been closest to the forcing over the intervening 10 years, and he was also completely aware that the model response was very close to the observed rate of change . However, he not only choose to not discuss that, but even went as far as to erase them from the figure as if Hansen had never produced a range of scenarios (as we continue to do). That can only be read as a deliberate attempt to mislead. However, both Novak and Crichton quoted Michaels' senate testimony very recently when it was clear that the quote was even less valid. I take it you have been as fastidiuous in communicating the correct information to them? -gavin]

  41. 91
    John Monro says:

    Re posting number 84

    Lynne, you say “As any dunce should know, science is evidence/theory dependent & uses vigorous techniques for validation & reliability”

    Sorry, 90% of the population don’t know this. 90% probably don’t even know what validation means, or theory for that matter.

    You acknowledge the public’s and the media’s lack of understanding, calling them dunces, but 90% of the population cannot all be dunces, indeed some are politicians, economists, solicitors, artists etc, with high IQs, great learning and wisdom, and have put a great deal into society.

    The simple fact is that the vast majority of people have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what science is, how it works, and perhaps even more importantly, how it doesn’t work. It is this latter problem that bedevils the climate debate. The fact that science is not absolute; that uncertainty is, and always has been part of science (I have made this same point elsewhere on this site).

    I have four daughters, brought up by a medical practitioner father and a nurse mother. I have a great interest, and always have had, in all sorts of science, and I have tried hard to instill into my children an interest in, and an understanding of science. Yet I would say that only one of my daughters has truly cottoned on to what science is, the other three, intelligent, lively lasses, all having attended or attending university, are probably counted among the 90% I have already mentioned.

    I cannot stress just how difficult it is to instill this understanding into the general population, which probably accounts for the fact that only a few well known scientific names really can connect with them. I am thinking of people like Sir Patrick Moore, Sir David Attenborough and David Belamy in the UK, and Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen J Gould in the US and many others. (Though David Belamy has rather blotted his copy book in regard to global warming). Add in a number of very intelligent and powerful but cynical and self-interested people who are actively campaigning to discredit global warming science, and a media beholden to commerce and the status quo, then it is not surprising why the alarm bells are still not sounding in the masses. We urgently need to have a populariser of climate science, though Jim Hansen and Sir David King are doing their bit. But of course we also need a media sympathetic to the global warming issue, and which encourages knowledge, not stifles it.

    So yes, this discussion about the media is important. Their combined failure to take on board and understand the revolutionary changes to our society from global warming, or worse, their denials and distortions, will be seen in the future as something truly appalling and incomprehensible, in the same sort of league of absurdity as NAZI propaganda, or McCarthyism. But sometimes I wonder if we don’t get the media we deserve, we demand so little, and we’re given even less.

  42. 92
    pat neuman says:

    re 89.

    Paul,

    By more inclusive than normal I meant that sufficient news coverage on global warming and climate change should be provided to the public, not ignored. Local news in the Midwest has been ignoring global warming material by nearly 100 percent of the material available. Many people get their news (if at all) from local sources or the Internet. They are not getting what scientists are seeing and talking about.

    I disagree with your comment that for the most part journalists unquestioningly regurgitate whatever new information is presented to them. I don’t think journalists are intimidated by the science, there is no reason they should be. I think there should be more critical analysis attempted on this subject. I think reporting on AGW has tended to underestimate the risks of AGW by constantly downplaying the odds of a horrendous future for today’s young people. Many people need to do a rethink on how bad global warming could get.

    Example
    ——-
    Expert Says It Was Hotter 247 Million Years Ago
    April 05, 2006
    CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. â??

    Excerpts:

    Scientists aren’t certain what caused the episode some 247 million years ago. They estimate that temperatures ranged in the low 100s year-round for thousands of years, …

    … new evidence suggests that “we had a runaway hothouse effect because of the excess carbon dioxide. There was so much carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere, mostly from methane from the oceans.”

    … carbon dioxide build-up alone would have killed off most oxygen-breathing species, …

    http://www.enn.com/today.html?id=10206

    2nd example
    ———–
    “Senators call for National Academy auditing of government reports on climate change”
    March 29, 2006
    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/

    Mar. 29, 2006 letter by Senators Frank R. Lautenberg, Daniel K. Inouye and John F. Kerry to James R. Mahoney, Deputy Administrator, NOAA DOC

    Excerpt:

    “We are writing specifically to request that you empower the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) with an oversight and auditing role in the preparation of the upcoming “Our Changing Planet” reportâ?¦..Global warming is one of the most serious challenges we face, and Congress mandated reports summarizing the results of federal climate research to provide a solid scientific basis for public policy. Political interference has now tainted these reports and diminished their usefulness to Congress and the American people,” …

    http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/~lautenberg/press/2003/01/2006329921.html

  43. 93
    Mark A. York says:

    RE#83 Thanks Gavin I spent half a day going over your answer for my story. If we could get people to cite you instead we’d be somewhere.

  44. 94
    Peter Backes says:

    I’m happy to report that ABC News seems to be on the ball:

    Phoenix Rises (Again) on Global Warming

  45. 95
    Coby says:

    Some more bad news from north of the 49th parallel. I think we are witnessing an all out media assault, in retaliation for Time and 60 Minutes recent work.

    http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/04/oh-canada.html

  46. 96
    Jeff Harvey says:

    Da Silva,

    Sorry I can’t reply as soon as I’d like but I have a critical experiment underway!

    Re: your points: the mainstream media has created the impression that the viewpoints of people like Lester Brown and Paul Ehrlich are ‘extreme’ and thus they are marginalized or dismissed. Yet what they say (if you read their recent books as I have done) makes quite a bit of sense.

    Second, by citing Myers 1979 estimate of extinctions per annum as his baseline, Lomborg was in effect attacking a straw man. There have been many other estimates provided since that Lomborg gives a free pass to, simply because they don’t fit in with his thesis. Moreover, the 40,000 figure may actually be an UNDERESTIMATE if we use some models to predict extinctions on the basis of a species longevity (I could gve you the details if you wish). I’ve given talks where I state that the actual extinction rate may be between 7,000 and 120,000 species per year, depending on the exact number of extant species (which may be anywhere from 5 million tom 80 million, depending upon whom you speak with). I presented these calculations at a debate I had with Lomborg in 2002 and he made no effort to refute them, even though he was given the opportunity (because he couldn’t argue with the stats).

  47. 97
    Tom Brogle says:

    The media exagerate and misrepresent science.
    A good example comes from the BBC which recently headlined an article on the rise in the tropospheric temperature above Antarctica as a rise in the in the ground level temperature and never fails to suggest that the whole of te Antarctic is melting raptdly leading to an imminent sea level rise.
    We kow that the E Antarctic Ice sheet is not going to melt any time soon because it is so cold.

    [Response: Who is doing the misrepresentation? (if you're really interested in misrepresentaiton, I look forward to your condemnation of George Will). If you read the BBC article (did you?) it clearly says its "Winter air temperatures over Antarctica" and continues "Until now, very little was known about air temperatures above the vast continent. The new work uses meteorological data collected from weather balloons...". I like the idea of Antarctic melting Raptly, though - William]

  48. 98
    David Kidd says:

    I would just like to support and reinforce what I consider to be excellent professional advice from some of the above respondents to the moderators and indeed all scientists trying to get their message over to a non scientific background.
    1. Take every opportunity to speak and write about your subject. Not only at scientific congresses and in peer reviewed publications but in the popular press and media.
    2. For the media shy, cultivate contacts with trustworthy science jounalists and publishers.
    3. Stick to your field of expertise in your articles and just as groups of you combine to produce your peer reviewed publications; so you should combine to produce articles for the so called popular press.
    4. Never! appear to be condescending, angry or vengeful and vituperative. Although mild, seleffacing humour is good.
    5. Leave no stone unturned when looking for publishing opportunities.
    5. Trust your journalistic partners to edit for your audience.Remember when it comes to presentation they are the experts!
    6. Deal with any flash backs graciously, patiently, use goodhumour without being malicious or “clever” and never ever stoop to sue. Leave that to these angry airheads that seem to inhabit the US media
    7. Just keep going and going, developing the story as the data accumulates.
    8. Review and get on with plugging (Sorry I mean In Depth Reviewing) books such as “The weather Makers” by Tim Flannery. Newly published and very up to date and covers all hemispheres it could well be recommended to site visitors and sceptics alike.

  49. 99
    pat neuman says:

    re 94

    Coby, I believe that we have been witnessing a media assault on those who’ve spoken out on global warming and climate change for years, and now (as you said) we may be witnessing an All-Out assault in retaliation for the Time and 60 Minutes’ recent work.

    However, I think it has been a lot more than a media assault which has hurt the efforts by many to inform the public about global warming. It’s been a media, political, corporate and government agency supported assault and retaliation against people who’ve done research on or spoken out about their concerns dealing with global warming and climate change.

    For example, in a March 29, 2006 letter from three senators to James R. Mahoney, Deputy Administrator, NOAA DOC, it states:

    “In particular, the Fiscal Year 2003 edition of the annual “Our Changing Planet” climate change report and the 2003 “Strategic Plan for the United States Climate Change Science Program” were tainted by allegations of political interference and editing that altered those reports’ robust scientific findings.”

    http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/~lautenberg/press/2003/01/2006329921.html

    Also, for a second example, in my June 23, 2004 statement to the National Academies I wrote:


    “NOAA Administrators (John Mahoney and Jack Kelly), National Weather
    Service(NWS) directors in headquarters, NWS Central Region directors,
    and my local supervisor at NOAA NWS North Central River Forecast
    Center(NCRFC) in Chanhassen, MN, Daniel R. Luna are not allowing me to do work related to the changing climate in the Upper Midwest. I have concluded that consideration and modeling to account for changes in the climatology and hydrology of the Upper Midwest due to climate warming is very important in carrying out our duties in serving in the public interest, at NCRFC.” …

    “I continue to encounter very serious difficulty at work resulting from my study and other efforts dealing with the changes in the climatology and hydrology within the Upper Midwest due to climate warming.”

    and: Article on snowmelt and dewpoints in the Upper Midwest:
    http://www.mnforsustain.org/climate_snowmelt_dewpoints_minnesota_neuman.htm

    No action was taken to stop the assault on my effort to deal with climate and hydrologic change in the Upper Midwest while I was employed by NOAA NWS, and no action was taken to stop NOAA and NWS management from issuing a memorandum dated July 15, 2005 [Decision to Remove] me from public service, after I had served 29 years and 7 months as a hydrologist dealing with snowmelt runoff, hydrologic modeling, flood prediction and water supply within the NWS Central Region. Additionally there has been no justice or accountability to those who acted to issued me four (4) suspensions without pay from Mar. 2000 to Jun 2004. Several of the suspensions and the removal memorandum included claims against my personal behavior for being too argumentative in regards to climate and hydrologic change which I showed was happening in the Upper Midwest. Those claims were false, but as you may know, it is difficult to defend ones character and behavior when allegations made by ones immediate supervisor and others have been issued within a government agency.

  50. 100

    Re #74 and “global warming is so important that it could mean the end to life on earth as we know it.”

    No, it probably couldn’t. Humanity will most likely survive global warming, and so will global civilization. The danger is of massive economic upheaval, famine, unemployment. That sort of thing.


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