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Calling All Science Teachers

Filed under: — group @ 15 January 2007

“An Inconvenient Truth,” the Davis Guggenheim documentary on global warming starring Al Gore’s presentation on the subject, provides an accurate, engaging, accessible, thought-provoking and (at times) even humorous introduction to one of the most important scientific issues of our time ( see our review of the movie). In some countries, viewing “An Inconvenient Truth” has actually become a required part of the science curriculum, and with good justification, we think. Given that the DVD is currently selling for $19.99 through, you’d think that the National Science Teachers’ Association ( NSTA) would jump at the chance to quickly get 50,000 free copies quickly into the hands of their members. Yet, when Laurie David, one of the producers of the film, made this offer to NSTA last November, it was summarily turned down on the grounds that the NSTA has a 2001 policy against “product endorsement” (as if Laurie David were trying to shop some new deodorant to high school science teachers). What in the world is going on here?

Before continuing with the history of NSTA’s bizarre decision, let us provide you with the most important information: Up to 50,000 US science teachers can receive a free copy of the DVD by filling out a simple request form here . The deadline for requesting your copy is January 18, so if you want a copy, take a few minutes to put in your request right away.

Laurie David described her correspondence with the NSTA in a Washington Post Op-Ed, where she notes that an email sent to her by NSTA invoked not only the product endorsement issue, but also a fear that distributing the film would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.” David goes on to point out that one of these supporters is in fact ExxonMobil (whose efforts to spread confusion about climate change are described in a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.) Is NSTA for sale? Did concern about losing ExxonMobil funding lead to NSTA’s timidity about accepting the donation of the DVDs?

The NSTA responds to David’s charges here , pointing out among other things that they offered to sell David the NSTA’s commercial mailing list and that the email to her regarding the fundraising issue was unauthorized. We ourselves find the NSTA’s defense unconvincing. While it is impossible for us to know the extent to which ExxonMobil funding has compromised NSTA’s objectivity on global warming, a perusal of the NSTA web site shows that their teacher resources are rather short on support for teaching about the fundamental science of global warming. This contrasts strongly with their in-depth support for the teaching of Evolution. Indeed, the NSTA’s “compromise” of providing a link on their homepage to the independent DVD giveaway strikes us as uncomfortably similar to placing a sticker on a biology textbook disclaiming Evolution as “Theory, not Fact.” Their willingness to link to the giveaway without providing it directly to their members conveys a distinct impression that the film is somehow tainted.

Doing a search on “Global Warming” on the NSTA site turns up only a paltry supply of useful educational material. It is also illuminating to go into their “recommendations” section and type in “global warming.” That will turn up this recommended book by Kenneth Green, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute whose article Clouds of Global-Warming Hysteria in the National Review endorsed Michael Crichton’s view of global warming and called supporters of climate change action “One-worlders and other socialist sorts.” Needless to say, the NSTA recommendations (as of today) did not turn up “An Inconvenient Truth” either in its DVD or book form. Nor did it turn up Revkin’s book directed at juveniles “The North Pole Was Here,” nor any of the other scientifically respectable introductions of which we are aware

Perhaps the NSTA policy has not been compromised by its funding sources, but it will have to work a lot harder to convince us. The best way it could do that would be to bring their support for teaching about global warming up to the same standards as their support for teaching about Evolution.

Meanwhile, there have been scattered reports of outright censorship of “An Inconvenient Truth” in the classroom. In a widely reported case, one Seattle school district has essentially banned the film. We have also heard from a science teacher in a populous East Coast state, who was forbidden from showing the film after some parents complained that in fact the earth was “cooling, not warming.” (We have been asked to keep this teacher’s identity confidential so as to prevent reprisals). Hopefully these are isolated instances. We are eager to hear from our readers, not only on the issue of censorship of the film, but also with regard to their experiences with teaching about human-caused climate change in the K-12 classroom (and the extent to which “An Inconvenient Truth” has proved a useful tool).

198 Responses to “Calling All Science Teachers”

  1. 151
    JanieBelle says:

    Just popped in to say thank you to Raypierre for noticing my piece on the NSTA and their duplicitous actions regarding the film. I spent quite a bit of time on that, and I’m happy to see it put to good use.

    Although my piece was aimed specifically at the process by which the film was rejected for distribution, Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle makes a sound argument for the film’s inclusion in Science Curricula, basing her thoughts on (wait for it) the science, rather than the political PR campaign against science by the current resident of the White House.

    Don’t take my word for it. Go ask …y’know… a scientist. Scienceblogs is full of them.

  2. 152
    Dan says:

    Typo re: 148. Should read “NSTA” both times. My apologies.

  3. 153
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #150: Do you (or anyone else reading this) actually have a copy of the 2001 non-endorsement policy? I was unable to find it on the NSTA site, nor have I seen it quoted anywhere else during the course of this imbroglio. Being a picky sort, I wonder if the policy a) exists and b) actually did bar sending out the DVD under these circumstances.

    Also, it may be that there is a major practical difference between the NSTA sending out the DVD to its entire mailing list vs. selling the list to the producers for them to send out independently, which is that the list that is sold is smaller and potentially far smaller if the NSTA requires a positive opt-in. Does anyone know how big the for-sale list is? As well, the NSTA would have charged for that list. One begins to understand why the producers got upset when this is the kind of option the NSTA gave them.

  4. 154
    Thom says:

    Raypierre does not provide a link to NSTA endorsing AEI scholar Kenneth Green. Here it is:

  5. 155
    Julia R says:

    Several comments have been made about how AIT could be used in the classroom. My husband is a high school social studies teacher in Seattle and is planning to show AIT as a part of an economics unit – understanding the economic costs of environmental issues – both costs and benefits of addressing these issues and costs of ignoring them. So it’s not just science teachers using this fabulous film.

  6. 156
    SecularAnimist says:

    As Thom points out above, NSTA endorses Global Warming: Understanding the Debate by Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute on the “NSTA Recommends” section of its website.

    Here are some of Kenneth Green’s contributions to the “debate”, from his articles found on the American Enterprise Institute’s website:

    “Environmentalists, who have long espoused a version of humankind as an energy-powered cancer on the Earth, see greenhouse-gas controls as a way to starve out the tumor of humanity.”

    “Temperance fiends of all stripes — who’ve hated fossil fuels, cars, large houses, urban sprawl, highways, rich people, fat people, industrial economies, airplanes, meat consumption, non-recycled paper, and just about everything else that might make someone smile — see energy rationing via greenhouse-gas controls as the answer to their prayers.”

    “One-worlders and other socialist sorts have seen the potential for finally giving the U.N. control over all the commanding heights of the world by giving them control of a key driver of development.”

    “Alarmist climate scientists are increasingly the object of derision by people with enough power to reach even the general public. Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, for example, has educated millions of readers about climate science.”

    “While the would-be greenhouse gas police will continue to wave away critics, the inconvenient truth is that greenhouse gas reduction is not simply a matter of plugging in compact fluorescent bulbs or driving hybrid cars — it’s a matter of having the government impose controls over virtually all energy-related aspects of our daily lives.”

    “Here’s the plain truth: There is significant evidence that human actions may well be a major factor in global warming — but it is not conclusive, and there are still fundamental questions to be answered.”

    I would like NSTA Executive Director Gerald Wheeler to explain why the NSTA endorses a book by the author of the above comments, recommending it to science teachers via the NSTA website, while NSTA asserts that endorsing An Inconvenient Truth would violate its policy.

  7. 157
    Tosh says:

    Hi RealClimate, I am a big fan of your site and I am hoping someone there can help out. I am in Melbourne, Australia and we continue to get these type of articles in our press.

    I feel I have the understanding to show that what this guy has written is tripe, but with no credentials in the field, probably wouldn’t get it published. Is it possible for someone there to whip up a response and send it to The Age?

  8. 158
    Sashka says:

    Re: 148 (comment)

    I wonder whether Lindzen agrees with your assessment that it turned out to be wrong. Also, didn’t you propose another feedback mechanism in the “Radiator Fins” paper?

    [Response: Lindzen no longer defends either the negative water vapor feedback or the super-adiabatic lapse rate feedback. Among other things, the 1980’s paper on the convective lapse rate feedback had a major error in the radiation calculation, which allowed the emissivities to become bigger than one for very moist atmospheres (a physical impossibility for actual atmospheres). That wasn’t the main problem with the hypothesis, but it’s worth keeping in mind that being smart does not protect you from making major errors — a remark that I think sums up Lindzen’s whole approach to climate change rather well. I don’t know that he has ever formally withdrawn his support for the hypotheses in print, but he was on my IPCC chapter in the Third Assessment Report and did not raise any objections to either the standard adiabatic picture of tropical lapse rate or the general idea that fixed relative humidity turns out to be an approximately correct picture of what water vapor does. He still gives talks on the Iris cloud feedback idea, so he hasn’t given up on that (yet) but I haven’t seen anything new that really addresses the problems with the idea. I don’t know of any independent cloud experts that have found any real support for the idea that warming will cause a reduction in cloud fraction, and quite a number have examined it. The data and the physics are difficult though, so I wouldn’t say that the Iris idea is as dead as his other ideas. Just not very well supported, if at all. There’s more literature on this than would reasonably fit into a comment, and I’m aware that we ought to do a RealClimate piece on the Iris one of these days. It’s just not much fun,it’s messy, and there are more interesting things to talk about — like the piece on recent discoveries in the Eocene arctic which I keep promising but never seem to get around to! –raypierre]

    [Response: I forgot to respond to your question about the Radiator Fin paper. You’re a good reader! I’m gratified you know about this. That paper was an attempt to clarify the way subtropical water vapor affects the climate,and so I considered some rather extreme and peculiar limits. I like extreme and peculiar limits, because a lot of issues are best revealed in the extremes. In the one I focused on in that paper, there are circumstances in which increasing the water vapor content of a dry part of the atmosphere can indeed have the perverse effect of cooling the entire tropical atmosphere and reducing the maximum temperature of the tropics. However, in my later Chapman water vapor article from the millennial variability book (available on my web site), I pointed out why the Earth’s real tropics isn’t in this regime. I also pointed out there that in the other extreme limit — where the subtropical relative humidity increases from its present value, which it has plenty of room to do — the warming can be amplified far in excess of what standard climate models predict. The point of that is that water vapor effects actually have a great potential to alter climate in the catastrophic change direction. Still, as an example of a physically possible situation where increasing a GHG can decrease a surface temperature, this one serves. It’s quite similar to the more familiar case of the stratosphere, which cools in response to increased CO2. The conclusion that the Earth’s atmosphere is not in the regime described in my JAS paper is based on pretty robust reasoning. –raypierre]

  9. 159
    Dan Hughes says:

    #138 and #142. I am sorry to see that the decline of RC from scientific objectivity to political subjectivity continues to accelerate. Perhaps frequent visits over to here might assist with slowing the decline. Based on the opening statement in #138 I did a search on the thread for ‘hate’ and got no hits. How does one rationally/objectively determine that a post reflects hate of Al Gore if the words are not in the post? I don’t know how to do a search for ‘swift-boating’. How does one objectively determine that a post contains ‘swift-boating’? And all the while mike continues to make subjective judgements based on a reader’s post containing the word ‘Algore’. And all at the same time RC insists that the political leanings of its leaders should have no place in RC. The political leanings of the leaders of RC have been made very clear by the leaders themselves. And that in itself is proof of the decline of the scientific content of RC.

    This thread would have much-better served the scientific basis of RC if a discussion of a peer-reviewed paper was the subject.

  10. 160
    Paul G says:

    === Post # 139 raypierre commented: ====

    [Response: (long verbatim quotation deleted by raypierre. Scroll back to comment –raypierre)]


    Raypierre, do you have expertise on the policies and procedures of the NSTA or are you just spouting whatever comes to mind?

    Did you ever ask whether Laurie David followed correct procedures in asking for AIT to be offered to teachers?
    Or was she just itching for a fight (which the public already knows she has a tendency to do)?

    From what I’ve read, she simply e-mailed the NSTA, was rejected, then recounted her biased view of the issue in the Washington Post. And she’s too cheap to cover the postage when offered a legitimate avenue to get AIT into classrooms.

    Your slur against the NSTA and their corporate funding verges on slander and demeans this site also. I am VERY disappointed in the intimidatory stance you have taken on this issue, especially on this site.


    [Response: I’ve provided links to all the sources, including Laurie David’s op-ed, the NSTA response, and further analysis of NSTA’s activities. People can read this for themselves and judge whether the situation is as cut-and-dried as you make it out to be. Also, people can look at the NSTA web site for themselves and pass judgement on whether the coverage of global warming is adequate. They don’t have to take my say-so. In fact, if there are NSTA members out there reading this, I would be very interested to hear about NSTA materials or activities relating to climate change which they have used. Please defend NSTA not just by repeating their official policy statement, but by showing concrete examples of the way they support teaching about climate change. I would love to be proved wrong, but even if it is the case that NSTA has resources that I haven’t found, it is a pretty firm conclusion that their web site does not make it particularly easy to find them. The object is not to “intimidate” NSTA, but to cause things to get better in this regard. That requires less defensiveness on the part of NSTA, and more constructive response to the issues people have raised. –raypierre]

  11. 161

    “And BTW, there is another film about GW that could also be used in school, though I haven’t seen it and don’t know how good it is (I read it’s making the rounds of churches). Can’t remember the name.”

    Re: #113 – As a Catholic I can tell you that the Church is beginning to develop a perspective toward and teaching about global climate change, led by statements of the Pope. The impact of climate change on the undeveloped world is of particular interest.

    I regret to say, though, that public figures like Gore are not acceptable spokesmen on the issue for many Catholics because of postitions they have taken toward other social issues.

    Therefore, if there are other materials and other spokesmen (grammatical gender intended) who are not involved in tangential issues, please do hunt them down.

    You can contact me at:

  12. 162
    SecularAnimist says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan wrote: “there is another film about GW that could also be used in school, though I haven’t seen it and don’t know how good it is (I read it’s making the rounds of churches). Can’t remember the name.”

    Pavel Chichikov wrote: “public figures like Gore are not acceptable spokesmen on the issue for many Catholics because of postitions they have taken toward other social issues. Therefore, if there are other materials and other spokesmen (grammatical gender intended) who are not involved in tangential issues, please do hunt them down.”

    I think the film that Lynn was thinking of may be The Great Warming. It is narrated by singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette and actor Keanu Reeves.

    The website for the film has an “information kit” for “churches or synagogues” that are considering showing it, with letters of endorsement from several religious leaders.

  13. 163

    Re: #160 –
    “I think the film that Lynn was thinking of may be The Great Warming….

    “The website for the film has an “information kit” for “churches or synagogues” that are considering showing it, with letters of endorsement from several religious leaders. ”

    The film looks interesting. Evangelicals are considered allies in many cases, but an endorsement of the film by the National Council of Churches might not go over well with many Catholics.

    A friend of mine sits on the committee for Social Communications, which meets in the Vatican. The Catholic Church can mobilize literally millions of people if motivated.

    This is going to be tough – but one has to start somewhere, some time.

    [Response: Of the many global warming talks I’ve given this year and last fall, one was at the Sheil Catholic Center, which is the student/faculty Catholic association at Northwestern University. The experience was very gratifying. The turnout was great, they gave me two hours to talk so I could cover both science and ethics, and still stayed around for another hour for questions and discussion. I found a great deal of common ground with this very devout bunch. It is important for groups to be able to work together on things they agree on, even if there are other areas where they are completely at odds. –raypierre]

  14. 164
    Charles Muller says:

    Thanks for new references here and in the other post. Alas, except Soden 2005, that’s not of real concern for water vapour trend in the different layers of the troposphere. Hydrological cycle, rivers flow or ice melting does not tell us if there is an increase in WV unsaturated absorption band, mainly in middle and upper troposphere (even Soden 2005 methodology from T2-T12 channels is limited to clear sky conditions, but for sure, it’s an interesting preliminary result).

  15. 165
    Dan says:

    re:158. The very use of the term “Algore” is nothing but pejorative. You can easily research the origins of the term. To imply otherwise is quite disingenuous to say the least. Especially when the original post (post #12) failed to provide any scientific comment or criticism about AIT. Interesting that you did not criticize that but you complain about the political responses to it. The science behind global warming is quite sound and solid. Political views are irrelevant to the overall sound scientific results and conclusions as presented in AIT. Al Gore or anyone else presenting factual information about global warming should be cheered, not jeered.

  16. 166
    S. Molnar says:

    Re #150: I have read that several years passed between the death of Gore’s sister and the cessation of the family’s tobacco farming. I’m not certain that this is true (and I hesitated to give ammunition to the Philistines before I remembered that truth is irrelevant to them), but if so, it puts a different light on that part of the film. All autobiographies are works of fiction to some extent, of course, and personal history is distinct from science, but I see this as a legitimate concern. We (North Americans) live in a culture where figures from popular culture command much more respect than legitimate authorities. I would prefer to see a lecture by raypierre at a chalkboard rather than a celebrity-announced movie with whizbang graphics, but I’m not the intended audience; I’m afraid competence at science is rarely found in combination with good salesmanship.

    [Response: Ah, but you didn’t see me playing accordion and giving away compact flourescents last fall at the Evanston Farmers’ market! You should see what I can do when they pry the chalk loose from my fingers. –raypierre]

  17. 167
    Steve Latham says:

    Re Sashka’s comment 118 and Ray’s response:
    First, despite his efforts to discredit the consensus, I doubt it is fair to say Lindzen is not part of it. He was part of the IPCC process and, I assume, had some agreement with the output in the TAR.

    Second, more Lindzen. He’s an interesting character to me because he actually does seem to do some climate science unlike most of the other ‘sceptics’. At least I thought he did. This is from some sceptic meeting in Finland:
    In this slide show, he doesn’t refer very much to recent work.
    Down at slide 38 he refers to his own work in 1981. It’s hard for me (a non-climate scientist) to figure out what he’s saying exactly, but it seems like he’s saying that old results regarding heat transfer obviate the assumptions used in GCM’s. Ray, are you referring to this idea in your comment and, if so, is this a common problem with Lindzen? In another presentation at that meeting he defends his Iris hypothesis (rhetorically at least) from “unfounded attacks”.

  18. 168
    Paul G says:

    === Re: raypierre’s comment to Post # 160 ===

    Raypierre, you provided a link to the NSTA site, however, you failed to accurately quote any of their responses nor allow them some benefit of the doubt before swallowing Laurie David’s story lock, stock and barrel.

    Before tarring the NSTA and all teachers, it is incumbent upon YOU, not the NSTA to offer a compelling arguement before making gratuitous slanders against them.

    I assume you are not a member of the NSTA, and I assume you don’t intend to become one, so since you know so little about the organization, it would be nice to see you take the effort to learn more about them (other then a quick browse of their website) before condemning them on Real Climate.

    Ignored has been my question why Ms. David could not afford the sum of approximately $1.00 per DVD for mailing. She can afford it and if her commitment to the environment is so strong, her stinginess about postage might be less.

    Also ignored is Ms. David’s role as producer of AIT. Igniting false controversy benefits her financially and since you are as quick to level slurs at the NSTA, I have to question Ms. David’s blatant self-promotion in this matter.


  19. 169
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paul G wrote: “Before tarring the NSTA and all teachers …”

    Neither Raypierre nor anyone else here has said anything about “all teachers” and you know it.

    It would be nice to see you take the effort to learn about the NSTA’s “partnerships” (their word) with oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute to produce, endorse and distribute materials that promote fossil fuel extraction and use; and about NSTA Executive Director Gerald Wheeler’s clearly disingenuous claims about a “no endorsement” policy when NSTA has not only “endorsed” such materials, but he personally has been the executive producer of a ConocoPhillips video; and about NSTA’s distribution of oil industry materials to teachers at their conferences; and about NSTA’s admission in their letter to Laurie David that they would not be willing to distribute the Gore film because it would “put at risk” their relationship with their oil company donors; before you call criticisms of these actions “gratuitous slanders”.

    There is nothing “false” about this controversy.

  20. 170
    Rod B says:

    A film making the church rounds, the National Council of Churches contemplating, and finally the Pope makes a declaration. I guess that settles it — AGW is now a full-fledged religion. Pity. It once was a decent science.

    My use of the term Algore is more of a friendly barb, not a true pejorative — though I do disapprove. You guys need to lighten up. This particular thread is appropriately (in this instance) quasi-political (how to convince and sway people) and related to the science, but not the science per se. I said the scientific discrepencies in AIT ought to be mentioned, even if they are “only minor” as Mike pointed out, along with the showing for science students.

    [Response:The Pope now also admits that Galileo was right. Does that make heliocentrism a new religion? –raypierre]

  21. 171
    Steve Latham says:

    About my comment above, I meant post 148, not 118. And I see Ray has already answered part of my question in answer to another post by Sashka. Thanks for your efforts here, Ray, in spite of our straying from the topic at hand.

  22. 172
    Mark A. York says:

    I was browsing in a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library yesterday and happened upon the global warming atmospheric sciences section. Next to Al Gore’s book was two thin volumes entitled Global Warming: the other Side of the Story. I didn’t read much beyond the publisher: I believe it was the Ayn Rand Institute offshoot press in San Diego. Very fringy self-publishing. I didn’t notice Ross Gelbspan’s books either.

  23. 173
    Mark A. York says:

    “false controversy benefits her financially and since you are as quick to level slurs at the NSTA, I have to question Ms. David’s blatant self-promotion in this matter.”

    Very telling and quite Crichtonian. That’s the damage SOF has done all the way to the White House.

    What’s false is the denial of a proven problem. Solutions are open for debate but not the premise. That Marohasy crowd in OZ is the same way.

  24. 174
    Paul G says:

    ==== Post # 169 by SecularAnimist ====

    “There is nothing “false” about this controversy.”


    Everything is false about this fake controversy cooked up by Ms. David. It is telling you ignore her direct and sizeable financial conflict of interest in this issue.

    Because of Ms. David’s direct financial stake in AIT, one should be doubly cautious in her financially conflicted role of advocate. This should be self-apparent to anyone yet not a *single* post here has mentioned her financial stake in the film.

    Your other slurs against the NSTA (and all teachers who are members) belies your prejudices on this issue SecularAnimist. We should ignore your opinions also (though feel free to express them).

    And in regards to post # 173 by Mark A. York, Mark, you too appear to be in deliberate denial concerning Ms. Richard’s sizeable and blatant financial interest in this self-promotion of her film. She attempted to circumvent the normal procedures for having material approved for schools and then cried fowl because the NSTA wouldn’t play (foul) ball her way. Good for the NSTA for standing up to this bully.

    Lastly, and still unanswered is why Ms. David can not afford $1 per DVD for mailing. Anyone??


    [Response:The issue wasn’t the $1 per DVD of mailing, but rather full access to the membership of NSTA and getting the NSTA’s help in putting the DVD directly into the hands of science teachers. The offer to sell the commercial mailing list didn’t address that issue. The issue was also the asymmetric and unjust treatment of A.I.T. relative to the way NSTA. has treated certain materials produced by the oil industry — materials that, in places, do a far less fair job of describing the global warming issue than does A.I.T. I’ll leave it to Mark York and other readers to address the comment regarding the suggestion that David makes a big profit by trying to give away 50,000 free copies to people who might otherwise have bought the DVD (to be shown to students whose parents might otherwise have bought the DVD). Rather than hear people taking defensive potshots at Laurie David, I’d rather hear people address the fundamental issue raised by the problems David had with NSTA: Just what, if anything, is NSTA doing to help science teachers communicate valid information about global warming. I’m still waiting to hear anybody say anything substantive and positive addressing that question –raypierre]

  25. 175
    Sashka says:

    Re: 158

    Thank you very much, Ray!

  26. 176
    Ike Solem says:

    Since when is a peer-reviewed article in Science an “interesting preliminary result”? Here is the abstract and a brief press release is available here for the 2005 Soden et al paper, “The Radiative Signature of Upper Tropospheric Moistening”. What’s missing, in your opinion?

    Climate models and basic theory suggests an intensification of the global hydrologic cycle; for a discussion see by Thomas Karl, NOAA, 1997 That was a decade ago – and the other references given are very relevant to the issue of water in the atmosphere. Things at NOAA have changed since then; their global warming faq page could use a lot of updating.

    Are you saying that the intensification of the hydrologic cycle and the issue of water vapor feedback are unrelated?

    [Response: We’re a bit off topic here, but to set the record straight, the intensification of the hydrological cycle and the issue of water vapor feedback are indeed somewhat unrelated. The reason is that the water vapor feedback depends mostly on mid to upper level water vapor, whereas the hydrological cycle (i.e. rainfall) depends mostly on low levels where most of the water is. They’re obviously not completely unrelated, but they can go in different direction. Also, the intensity is a rate of water flux through the system, whereas the water vapor feedback depends on the amount left behind in the atmospheric reservoir — a different thing with different units. Much observation and data does support the positive water vapor feedback and the correctness of the way models handle water vapor dynamics. As to the strength of the hydrological cycle, the recent Held and Soden paper (discussed in my piece with Rasmus on the Vechhi et al paper) does say that the AVERAGE hydrological cycle in some sense gets weaker as the climate warms. That does not preclude precipitation in extreme events from getting stronger, or even from getting stronger at a rate faster than Clausius-Clapeyron would suggest. Midwest precip in fact appears to be trending that way right now. It doesn’t even preclude precip over land from intensifying, since land precip is a small part of the total. I can’t remember at this point what launched this thread, but I hope this information helps to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. –raypierre]

  27. 177

    Ike, Ray
    sorry for going on with this offtopic discussion.
    Yesterday I was seeing Lindzen at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) invited by our never-ever-published-anything-on-climate-sceptics Claude Allegre and Vincent Courtillot.
    His presentation was nearly a copy of a presentation he gave five years ago in Paris. 30-40% polemics, some old outdated observations. I asked him if he sees that there is a contradiction between his strong negative feedback Iris (and so 0 positive net feedback) hypothesis and observed climate change in the tropics (notably tropical temperatures of about 3C cooler than today during the LGM based on UK37,MG/CA/Noble Gases etc etc observations). Lindzen answered that he does not believe in paleo observations mumbling something about the Eocene. Moreover, Ray, he was citing you with a statement that “there is no physical 1st order process/explanation that would lead to rising water vapour in the troposphere when there is warming”.
    By the way, from a pure marketing point of view the Iris feedback sounds much better than water vapour feedback.

    [Response: That’s a really dishonest and deceptive misquote of my work that Dick made. What he’s referring to are some things I wrote which merely pointed out that the increase of water vapor aloft with temperature is not a direct consequence of Clausius Clapeyron as it is for the boundary layer. That’s just because the air aloft is not in direct proximity to the water vapor reservoir. However, both in the IPCC chapter (and elaborated much more in my papers, esp. in the water vapor chapter for the Caltech general circulation book) I state that this only means one has to think harder to see that something like the fixed relative humidity behavior must be right. In particular, if one phrases the problem suitably in terms of certain statistics of temperature along trajectories, one indeed recovers the clausius-clapeyron behavior. One gets it exactly, if one takes as a “zero order” model that the statistics of air trajectories remain fixed as the climate warms. Changes in the trajectory statistics can then lead to deviations from the ideal behavior (in principle), but in practice we find that they just compensate other deviations due to the changes in vertical structure of temperature. It’s all pretty robust. I referred to the basic idea as the “zero order” model, which captures the fixed-RH behavior. I don’t know what Lindzen means about “no first order model,” except that maybe we don’t know how to compute the correction from first principles yet. Given that we do know how to compute the main part of the effect, Lindzen is being dishonest, but at this point who’s surprised? –raypierre]

  28. 178
    Charles Muller says:

    #176 and comment
    OK for me, Raypierre, and thanks for your precisions. Ike, I just wrote “preliminary result” because Soden 2005 is one but few measure of upper tropo WP / RH (and clear sky conditions exclude nebulosity, so it’s hard to make a statement on interannual trends). Sea Coleman 2006 (global) or Minschwamer 2006 (tropical) for recent reviews. But that’s off-topic, I leave here.

  29. 179
    Charles Muller says:

    Off-topic, but just a bibliographical precision to Georg post : Courtillot did published on climate topics, contrary to Allegre. For example :

    On long-term variations of simple geomagnetic indices and slow changes in magnetospheric currents: The emergence of anthropogenic global warming after 1990?, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. (2005) 232, 273-286

    Massive pollution following the largest historical basaltic fissure eruption: modelling the climatic effects of the 1783-1784 Laki event, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. (2005) 236, 721-731

    (Otherwise, I’d be happy to fully understand the link between LGM tropical temperature and Iris effect, but I think this discussion must go back to never-ever-published-anything-on-climate-topics Al Gore). :D

  30. 180
    science ed says:

    Moderator: I’m not sure if this is an appropriate comment. My apologies if it isn’t

    I opened the New York Times this morning to see amazing images from their report on the wind and rain storms sweeping Europe. My first thought was I have to get to the library this weekend to collect the weather map and articles from last two or three weeks. Perhaps I could put together an activity about tracking the effects of currents and air masses. I am not a science teacher, but rather a science editor who works for a publisher of school textbooks. Indeed, I am working on a new edition of a high school earth science textbook this year. I think that climate change should be a big part of that revision in the same sense that evolution is or should be a big part of any biology textbook. Then again, I wonder what would a teacher who has the textbook still in his or her classroom five years from now think about such a story. How does one get a fix on a moving target?

    NYT link (I have Times Select, so I can’t tell if this is behind the wall, but I don’t think it is):

  31. 181
    Jason says:

    I’m trying to write a good letter to the higher ups in the federal government about climate change. So far I its a rambling of everything I know about it and I’m trying to make it more cohesive. I mentioned McCain’s Climate Stewardship act in it, although it isn’t very strong I think its commendable that he is making an effort to try to do something about reducing carbon emissions. You guys seem extremely knowledgeable on the subject. Would any of you be able to look over the letter to help me write it effectively?

  32. 182
    Ike Solem says:

    Just a brief point – the qualities that make for a good teacher / educator often do not correlate with the qualities that make a good researcher; attacking Al Gore for ‘not having published’ is silly in that respect. Some scientists are great at both aspects (Feynman, for example – but Dirac wasn’t known for teaching).

    Thanks for the comment, Ray, and for your previous article on water vapor. Perhaps it’s the other direction; water vapor feedback (assuming the moisture increase in the mid-to-upper troposphere is robust) can positively affect the hydrologic cycle by increasing surface evaporation rates, according to “Effect of the water vapor feedback on internal and anthropogenic variations of the global hydrologic cycle, Hall & Manabe JGR 2000”. They use two models, one of which doesn’t include the water vapor radiation. It seems the main immediate effect is an increase in precipitation variability on large scales, though they do also show a greatly intensified hydrologic cycle. They summarize that “These model results demonstrate the importance of water vapor feedback both for internal variations in global-mean precipitation and for greenhouse-gas-induced intensification of the hydrologic cycle.”

    To get back on topic, how should high school science teachers explain this issue to their classrooms? Perhaps, “Global warming is expected to produce more variable weather and a greater chance of flooding in coastal regions, and there are several reasons why this is expected”; the teacher could prepare a simple experimental demonstration of how warm air over water results in more evaporation then cold air – and then begin a discussion of Clausius-Clapeyron and relative humidity.

    [Response: In the same spirit of getting back on topic, one of the things I would have done differently if I had been making A.I.T. is to incorporate some rudimentary description of water vapor and cloud feedbacks into the early material in the film on the basics of radiation balance and how it changes. I know Gore was trying to keep it simple, but I could envision an animation that describes (without saying just why) more water vapor coming out of the ocean and into the atmosphere, enhancing the greenhouse effect. Then the animation would add clouds, pointing out that they reflect light (cue animated arrows) and also have a greenhouse effect (cue more animated arrows), and that the delicate balance accounts for much of the uncertainty in the forecast — both on the high side and the low side. –raypierre]

  33. 183
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paul G wrote: Your other slurs against the NSTA (and all teachers who are members) belies your prejudices on this issue SecularAnimist.

    I made no “slurs” against the NSTA. I stated several facts about the NSTA’s “partnerships” (their word) with oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute to produce and distribute “educational” materials that promote fossil fuel use and the industry’s views on global warming, and the NSTA’s endorsement on their website of a book about global warming by an author from the American Enterprise Institute who has, in fact, published “slurs” against proponents of actions to address climate change.

    And neither I nor anyone else has made any “slurs” or for that matter any comments whatsoever about “all teachers who are members” of the NSTA. Your assertion that I have done so, or that Raypierre has done so, or that anyone has done so, is simply a lie, and you know it.

  34. 184

    Re: #170 – “A film making the church rounds, the National Council of Churches contemplating, and finally the Pope makes a declaration. I guess that settles it — AGW is now a full-fledged religion. Pity. It once was a decent science.”

    When the Pope wants to issue a religious opinion he clearly indicates it as such. He can see for himself when he vacations in the Alps how the glaciers have receded. He is also well-informed about how global climate change may affect the poor of the Earth, for example in the coastal regions of Bangla Desh.

    No doctrine of the Church need be altered for her to respond to the crisis of global climate change.

    Many if not most of the people on this planet belong to one religious confession or another. They have the same stake in this world and in this species as anyone else.

    “[Response:The Pope now also admits that Galileo was right. Does that make heliocentrism a new religion? –raypierre]”

    The Galileo affair (off-topic?) involved considerations for the Church which are understandably difficult for non-Catholics to comprehend. If I remember correctly John Paul II indicated that members of the clergy had incorrectly used Scripture as if it were a scientific text.

    [Response: The point of the Galileo comment is that a thing (e.g. global warming) isn’t transformed from science to religion just because people of faith decide that it’s true and important. Indeed, the interesting issue of how the doctrine of papal infallibility collides with the evolving scientific understanding of the natural world would be off topic, and I didn’t mean to get into that. –raypierre]

  35. 185
    Paul G says:

    Re: # 183

    Well SecularAnimist, I take a different viewpoint on the issue then you do. However, as my posts are being deleted as I am not properly toeing the line, any comments by myself are probably moot.

    ExxonMobil’s contribution to the NSTA constitutes about 0.5% of the NSTA’s budget, while Ms. David’s financial stake in her own movie is likely far, far higher then that, yet a viewpoint totally supportive of Ms. David is touted here.

    In assessing this brouhaha, it is necessary, whatever one’s position, to properly assess all the information before coming to a conclusion. Unfortunately, this objectivity is sorely lacking on this thread.


  36. 186
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paul G wrote: “Ms. David’s financial stake in her own movie is likely far, far higher then that …”

    You have yet to explain what you think “Ms. David’s financial stake” is in offering 50,000 copies of the DVD of An Inconvenient Truth to the NSTA free of charge.

    If anything, Ms. David stands to lose money on the offer since some of the recipients of the free copies might otherwise have purchased the DVD.

    Also, with regard to your previous, completely false accusation that I have made “slurs” against “all teachers” who are members of the NSTA, I would point out that I have quoted and linked to articles critical of the NSTA written by John Borowski, who is a science teacher of some 20 years, and a member of the NSTA.

  37. 187
    Paul G says:

    In the corporate world, SecularAnimist, which Ms. David also belongs too, free giveaways are a common and effective promotional tool to increase overall sales.

    While I don’t doubt Ms. David’s environmental commitment, her financial linkage to the same movie she attempted to place in the shcools classrooms can not be discounted out of hand. This places her in a conflict of interest.

    If the movie AIT is to be placed in the schools classrooms, the push to do so should come from people with no direct attachment, financial or otherwise, to the movie. Also, proper procedures for accomplishing this with the NSTA must be followed.

    Concerning what you consider my false accusation that you had made slurs against all teachers, I simply pointed out that the NSTA is composed of teachers and that the unfair and unbalanced criticism of the NSTA is, by default, a besmirchment against all teachers who are members of this organization.


  38. 188
    Dan says:

    re: 185. “…a viewpoint totally supportive of Ms. David is touted here.”

    It is not a matter of “viewpoint”. The science is sound and unequivocable. To deny the factual, peer-reviewed, consensus science is a direct insult to the thousands of climate scientists around the world. And a similar insult to the scientific method which has been followed and to science education as a whole.

  39. 189

    For raypierre: For your eyes only, for this is indeed off-topic, but papal infallibility has been invoked only twice in the 2000 year old history of the Church, and involved religious doctrine exclusively, and not remotely any matter of physical science.

    I would not characterize the Church as anti-scientific, not even in Galileo’s day. Indeed, she had her own excellent scientists in his time, as she has to to this day. I know one of them personally. He holds a doctorate from MIT in astrophysics, and an undergraduate degree in geo-chemistry.

    With best wishes,


  40. 190
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paul G wrote: “Concerning what you consider my false accusation that you had made slurs against all teachers, I simply pointed out that the NSTA is composed of teachers and that the unfair and unbalanced criticism of the NSTA is, by default, a besmirchment against all teachers who are members of this organization.”

    Criticism of the actions of the executive leadership of the NSTA is in no way a “besmirchment against all teachers who are members of this organization.”

    Indeed, science teachers who are members of the NSTA have been complaining to the NSTA’s management about its decision not to accept the donation of 50,000 free copies of An Inconvenient Truth. See for example the comments posted by NSTA members on NSTA’s online discussion board — many of their comments about NSTA’s decision are considerably harsher than anything that has been posted here:

    It was certainly not a decision that was made by the NSTA’s membership as a whole, and no one here, including me, has suggested that the general membership of the NSTA is at fault in any way.

  41. 191
    Eli Rabett says:

    The controversy forcing NSTA’s corporate sponsorship policy out in the open is a good thing.

  42. 192
    Paul G says:

    Eli, the NSTA’s corporate sponsorship policy has always been out in the open. The information has been available to anyone who had any curiosity whatsover.

    Secondly, it is as important that Ms. David’s corporate and financial links to AIT be addressed.

    [Response:Virtually every piece written about this issue has described Laurie David as “a producer” of A.I.T., so it’s a bizarre fantasy to say her relation to the film is in any way concealed. Further, even if your dubious claim that she had any financial stake in stirring up this controversy were true, that wouldn’t actually change anything: It wouldn’t change the fundamental issue that SCIENCE TEACHERS had something to gain by getting free copies of this film, and the fundamental issues (matters of verifiable fact) she raised regarding NSTA’s corporate financing, the inconsistency of treatment of A.I.T. vis a vis other materials (esp. those favorable to oil industry views), and the possibility that NSTA’s decision was compromised by its funding. These are all issues that need to be on the table for public discourse, regardless of David’s motivation (though I myself don’t find the profit motivation argument at all credible). Surely, you’re not saying that profit is intrinsically bad, and that people should avoid a worthwhile activity just because it (gasp) might conceivably also yield some profit. Why, that would be downright anti-capitalistic! Besides, this is a case (in fact, the best of capitalism) where David’s profit motivation is completely aligned with her altruistic motivations: if giving away 50,000 free copies results in an increase in sales of A.I.T. beyond the profit loss from the donation, that means that not only do science teachers get to show the film for free, but that the action results in more total people seeing the film. If this action has the side result of Paramount not losing money on the donation, why that means there’s also more total money in the world to do good. What’s not to like? If your breed of vitriol is the best argument that can be presented in defense of NSTA, then NSTA indeed is in bad shape. I would not like to think that is the case. –raypierre]

  43. 193
    PHE says:

    Re Dan (188). The two most fundamental conclusions of the IPCC TAR were: (i)”There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” and (ii) “It is likely that the rate and duration of the warming of the 20th century is larger than any other time during the last 1,000 years. The 1990s are likely to have been the warmest decade of the millennium in the Northern Hemisphere, and 1998 is likely to have been the warmest year.” A careful read of the TAR shows that these conclusions are derived principally from two pieces of work: the hockey stick and computer modelling. Whichever way you look at it, these methods do not represent ‘facts’, but mathematical and statistical studies. The conclusions drawn from them are ‘viewpoints’, even if 99.9% of scientists were to agree. In reality, agreement is from rather less than 99.9%, even if you believe its a majority. And as has been argued many times, scienctific truth is not derived by a vote.

    [Response: The two statements about the IPCC TAR are a gross misrepresentation of both the conclusions and the methodology. As we have amply discussed elsewhere, it is not even of central importance to the forecast whether the 1990s were actually the warmest decade in the millennium (though there is a good and increasing liklihood that they really were. And, a computer model is nothing more than an embodiment of 200 years of independently tested pieces of the physical theory. If you’re going do dismiss any result that requires a computer to help with the calculations, you’re going to have to dismiss most of 20th/21st century science and technology. –raypierre]

  44. 194
    Hank Roberts says:

    Science teachers should have copies of AIT to show the kids, when they begin asking questions about the IPCC report in the news this coming month. Not as the last word, but as a snapshot from a year ago about what was known at the time, and a basis for learning how to check the statements against both contemporary sources and current research. First question is can you verify that what was said then was accurate at the time; next question is what’s new.

    If NSTA is serious about supporting science teachers and if the organization can walk away from the history of ownership by big business contributors, then they ought to be working very hard for the next week or two with the climate scientists to put together a teaching module about how to read, check and follow research.

    Not this stuff from the fuels lobbyists they’ve been distributing.

    The NSTA has not only removed the most embarassing material from their public page, as mentioned earlier in this thread

    they prevent the Internet Archive from showing people the history of the website. That’s something to be truly ashamed of, for a teaching organization.

    The history of what we used to say and believe and teach is important, as a way to know how what kids are being taught changes over time.*/

    Check it for yourself with that link. Don’t fail to follow the Archive’s link that shows you the robots.txt file — which lists the history of what they don’t want you to be able to see.

  45. 195
    Eli Rabett says:

    While NSTA’s corporate sponsorship program may have been known to many, I venture to say that the fuss stirred up by their refusal to distribute An Inconvenient Truth may have consequences.

    If a broad enough coalition forms (and I have some Rabett rousing time free, but organization would be needed) this can be used to get more appropriate materials into K-12 education.

  46. 196
    David Graves says:

    The NSTA/AIT incident has a parallel in the Heidi Cullen/Weather Channel kerfluffle. (See#134 in this thread.) The common element is that an attempt to bring information about AGW to a wide audience has met with a degree of pushback that at first blush seems surprising. However, upon reflection, the pushback shows how deeply held is the view/belief/dogma that 1) the science of AGW is not really science at all, but part of a vast left-wing conspiracy and 2) that public policy response to AGW is really a Trojan horse for a collectivisit/secularist attempt to destroy free market, personal liberty, all that we hold dear and the American way of life. And if the defenders of the actions of the NSTA’s board and executive director seem unable to realize that they abandoned the moral high ground long ago, when they bedded down with ConocoPhillips, Western Fuels, and Kenneth Green. Lost it for good, and Laurie David is now being attacked for pointing out the obvious.

  47. 197
    Ike Solem says:

    One of the issues that links global climate to biological activity is the coral reef issue. There has been a well-measured decline in living coral reefs over the past few decades, and while some uncertainty surrounds the issue, higher water temperatures are though to be involved. Some recent publications verify that this is the case.

    NSTA, in conjunction with NOAA, has now released “educational material” on this issue as well: NSTA press release, and the NOAA sponsorship is shown at Preview: Coral Ecosystems. The actual guide costs $6 – but none of the ‘preview materials’ mention sea temperatures or global warming.

    The actual situation is described in more detail at : Coral Reef Decline: Not Just Overfishing.

    See also : Global Warming may have Damaged Coral Reefs Forever.

    The pdf file is at Dynamic fragility of oceanic coral reef ecosystems, Graham, PNAS May30 2006 v103 n22 p8425

    I don’t think it’s just NSTA that’s skewing the science – the head honchos at NOAA are in this up to their necks as well. If someone wants to pay the $6 and see what the NSTA ‘teaching guide” says, I’d be happy to hear about it. This guide was probably prepared as a rebuttal to the above paper (guide prepared Sept 2006, paper published May 2006) – this just seems like an absolute perversion of scientific integrity on the part of NSTA and NOAA.

  48. 198
    raypierre says:

    I think this thread has run its course and it’s time to close it off. I was hoping to hear more from NSTA about what they propose to do to improve GW education at the K12 level, and I was also hoping to hear more about experiences using AIT in the classroom, or using other materials, but no more of that seems to be coming in. I think we’ve wrung out of this topic all the more we’re going to get for a while, it’s time to put it to sleep.

    Thanks to all who have contributed to the discussion. I will try to find some suitable lead-in to reopen a discussion on K12 global warming education in a few months, once the free AIT DVD’s have had time to go out. I will also keep my eye on developments at the NSTA and see if there’s anything notable regarding their GW educational activities that should prompt a new article.