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Broad Irony

Filed under: — group @ 13 March 2007

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

[update 3/20/07: The New York Times has run a short letter from us w/ a link to RealClimate for more info (scroll down to 5th letter; the 2nd letter from James McCarthy of Harvard is quite good too, as are some of the others).]

The first rule when criticizing popular science presentations for inaccuracies should be to double check any ‘facts’ you use. It is rather ironic then that William Broad’s latest piece on Al Gore plays just as loose with them as he accuses Gore of doing.

We criticized William Broad previously (Broadly Misleading) for a piece that misrepresented the scientific understanding of the factors that drive climate change over millions of years, systematically understating the scientifically-established role of greenhouse gases, and over-stating the role of natural factors including those as speculative as cosmic rays (see our recent discussion here). In this piece, Broad attempts to discredit Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” by exaggerating the legitimate, but minor, criticisms of his treatment of the science by experts on climate science, and presenting specious or unsubstantiated criticisms by a small number of the usual, well-known contrarians who wouldn’t agree even if Gore read aloud from the latest IPCC report.

Broad starts out by quoting Don Easterbrook (Western Washington University) with a statement,

there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.

Thrown in for good measure is a similarly poorly-supported quote by Kevin Vranes (who is referred to as a climatologist, but who now works on science policy) that

questioned whether his [Gore’s] presentations were overselling our certainty about knowing the future.

Unfortunately, neither Easterbrook’s inaccuracies nor Vranes oversold certainties are mentioned. We reviewed the movie ourselves, looking hard for such ‘inaccuracies’, and could only find one minor area (the explanation of the complex relationship between the global surface temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations over glacial/interglacial cycles) where justified criticism might be levied (and here, the accusation was only that Gore simplified a complicated relationship, something that is arguably unavoidable in a movie intended for mass popular consumption).

Broad then draws upon the same false dichotomy used previously which seems to equate the mainstream of scientific opinion (that global warming and climate change is real, almost certainly in large part anthropogenic, and likely to lead to substantial and potentially deleterious changes in our environment if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) with “alarmism”, and places contrarians at the very fringe of scientific thinking on an equal footing with mainstream scientists. He goes on to trot out a number of the usual suspects, reciting the usual specious claims and half-truths.

Among the worst, is this one

Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

This is dishonest in at least two different ways. First of all, Broad conveniently forgets to mention that the 2006 Hurricane season was accompanied by a moderate El Nino event. It is well known that El Nino events, such as the 2006 El Nino, tend to be associated with stronger westerly winds aloft in the tropical Atlantic, which is unfavorable for tropical cyclone development. The season nonetheless produced a greater than average number of named storms in the tropical Atlantic (10), 3 more than the typical El Nino year. But El Ninos come and go–more or less randomly–from year to year. The overall trend in named tropical Atlantic storms in recent decades is undeniably positive. We can have honest debates about the long-term data quality, but not if we start out by misrepresenting the data we do have, as Broad chooses to. Additionally, this is a clear misrepresentation of what Gore actually stated in his book. Gore indicated that it is primarily Hurricane intensities which scientists largely agree should be expected to increase in association with warming surface temperatures, and specifically notes that

There is less agreement among scientists about the relationship between the total number of hurricanes each year and global warming.

Next. Roy Spencer, best known for his satellite work arguing against warming of the atmosphere (which turns out to have been an artifact of a combination of algebraic and sign errors), criticizes Gore for pointing out that recent warmth appears to be anomalous in at least the past 1000 years. Spencer does this by both mis-characterizing the recent National Academies Report on the subject which indeed pointed out that there are numerous lines of evidence for precisely this conclusion, and by completely ignoring the recently-released IPCC Fourth Assessment report, which draws the stronger conclusion that the warmth of recent decades is likely anomalous in at least the past 1300 years.

We also find it amusing that Broad takes anything Robert Carter has to say seriously, given that he doesn’t even believe that current rises in CO2 are human caused (judging from his Senate performance). Sea level rise statements from the IPCC Summary are horribly mischaracterised. Easterbrook’s implication that global temperatures have varied by more the 20 times the medieval temperature anomaly over the Holocene is simply laughable (only if you include the deglaciation might that be true, but since that was before the onset even of settled human communities it seems less than relevant).

This article is very disappointing, not just because it gets things so wrong, but because it misses an opportunity to address a much more substantive issue. It is inevitable that working scientists will find popular presentations of their work lacking in depth and nuance (after all, depth and nuance are what we do!). Whatever you may think about Al Gore’s movie, it is indisputable that it has raised awareness of the issues and left a substantial part of the public hungry for more information. That hunger can only be fed by people who are closer to the science than Gore, and it is inevitable that the AIT will be used as a springboard or contrast for further presentations. A better article would have investigated how that is happening and how that is affecting public awareness of the science. Unfortunately, this article does nothing to improve public awareness, and that is deeply ironic.


[Hat tip to David Roberts for pointing out his own article on the Broad piece. David picks up on some additional morsels we left out]

[Update 3/14/07: See also excellent discussions by Tim Lambert and Andrew Dessler]


166 Responses to “Broad Irony”

  1. 1
    Thom says:

    I looked up Vranes’ CV.

    http://tinyurl.com/2lhaqc

    It doesn’t appear that he has a single peer-reviewed article on climate change. Yet, he’s spouting off on the issue. This fits a pattern in which Roger Pielke Jr. has also been quoted as a climatologist in other news stories. Although, he’s been lately positioning himself as a policy guy ever since the policy of climate change became more important.

    Now I’m sure that both of them will say that these were mistakes on the part of the journalist….but there does seem to be this pattern.

  2. 2
    George Ortega says:

    [edit]

    Hopefully sometime before it’s too late to prevent the global economy from shrinking 20% as the Stern report suggests is a possible outcome of delaying action too long.

  3. 3
    Mark A. York says:

    I sent Broad an email that minced no words. As someone with a science background and a journalism degree, I find this kind of crap disturbing and insulting. The general atmosphere at newspapers is that editors don’t want anyone on staff that knows more than they do. They don’t understand science, and thus don’t hire anyone who does. Revkin is the exception. This guy is typical. They ony want to report a false controversy, because that’s the hook the editor demanded.

  4. 4
    Ethan says:

    Are you going to submit a version of this to the NYTimes? It would be useful.

  5. 5
    Daniel C. Goodwin says:

    The conclusion of this fine article strikes a naive note in treating this particularly blatant instance of deceptive intent as some kind of “missed opportunity.” Functionaries such as Broad (and institutions such as the Times, and cultures such as ours) are obviously getting thing wrong on purpose. The reason they do so is expressed eloquently by the unnamed Bush aide who disdained those of us in the “reality based community”:

    When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality â�� judiciously, as you will â�� we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

    People like Broad suffer from a kind of sociological schizophrenia, intentionally conflating perceptions with realities, which is a sign of the times.

  6. 6
    Ed Arnold-Berkovits says:

    If only newspaper articles were accompanied by error bars or %.

    “But part (4 people out of 1800) of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks (.1%), articles (.05%) and blog entries (.5%) that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some (1%) of Mr. Goreâ��s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.” The other 99% of scientists fear for our future based on thousands of scientific studies and believe that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid drastically harmful effects.

    and, of course, this line is hilarious: “Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind”. Well, he told his peers, so he must be telling the truth. I’m not saying he does, of course, but pretty much noone can say he doesn’t without mind reading.

    This article is attempting to create an issue where there is none – at least none that wasn’t shot down a year ago. I guess that sells newspapers. I would be more impressed if the article didn’t roll out the few professional skeptics left to say their standard things. I mean, really, did the writer have this article under a stack of papers and only just found it and send it to his editor?

    The article contains lies. Not “inaccuracies”. Outright lies. I wish I knew why. Global climate change will affect the writer’s family and children as surely as it will affect mine. For example (no, I’m not listing the rest of them. But they’re there.)

    “â��Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,â�� Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. â��Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.â��” THIS is untrue. Gore *does* specifically shows how this is OUT of the natural range. The writer should probably see the movie and/or read the book. It’s not the “natural range of…the planet” that’s the concern anyway, duh. It’s the range for OUR civilization and OUR agriculture and OUR growing seasons and OUR coastlines. It’s time to wake up, it really is.

  7. 7
    David Graves says:

    So last night, I’m sitting in my easy chair, reading the next day’s NY Times on the web, as I am wont to do. I am sipping wine and speculating to myself about the effect of climate change on the vines that supply the Beaujolais I am drinking. I read Broad’s piece. I splutter, I fume, I am at first baffled at the conflation of opinions, mis-statements of fact, self-serving tut-tutting tripe presented as balanced reporting. Then I get mad, fire off an e-mail to Mr. Broad regarding Lindzen and the “iris”, Peiser and his swing and a miss on Oreskes, and the Huntsville Two (radians? degrees?) Spoiled my sleep, this piece did, but I am happy to see it spoiled Mike and Gavin’s also….

    [Response: Yes, indeed it gave me a bit of digestion. Now in fairness to Spencer, he is only responsible for a combination of algebraic and sign errors that led him to a cooling trend from satellite data that correctly analyzed, actually indicated warming. The degrees vs. radians error that compromised the Michaels and McKitrick “bombshell” claim that the global surface temperature record is compromised by non-temperature related biases, was all McKitrick. -mike]

  8. 8

    [[When are we going to stop dithering about these reckless obstructionists, and make misinformation on global warming a crime?]]

    On the Greek kalends, I hope. Misinformation should be fought with information, not with the coercive power of the state. Your repeated attempts to portray AGW believers as some kind of fascists have never worked, and never will work. No responsible climatologist would say anything like the kind of thing you say above.

  9. 9
    tamino says:

    That hunger can only be fed by people who are closer to the science than Gore…

    Which is why, I repeat, you guys need to do a major documentary of your own, with a prominent director and publicist, for theatrical release rather than just PBS.

  10. 10
    Charles Muller says:

    Debate on scientific details is one thing, on the better way to popularize scientific understanding of climate another. The main (and recurrent for some months) question is: has Al Gore AIT done the “mainstream” science community a favour? IMO, the answer is: no.

    Make the test with your circle, picking persons not particularly responsive to the details of GW debate. I did it. After viewing AIT, these lay spectators conclude that CO2 is the main and nearly sole driver of temperature change during geological past, that the link between hurricane activity and AGW is now clearly established, that sea-level rise will reach catastrophic values in a near future, etc. Maybe Al Gore wanted to put more “nuance and depth”, but in this case, he clearly failed.

    So, when the same lay spectators are explained than CO2 is not the sole forcing during interglacial transition, than there’s no real consensus for the moment about hurricane intensity trends and causes, that sea-level rise for the near future is better expected at 18-59 cm, etc., part of them logically conclude they’ve been presented a one-sided and exaggerated view on climate change. And if this one-sided view is simultaneously presented as a very good reflect of “mainstream” science view, they further conclude that this “mainstream” science view may itself be biased in its communication toward medias and politics.

    I confess I’m pessimistic about these questions. Each new report of IPCC should diminish the controversies, but we can state that the contrary happens (look at most recent discussions here as an evidence). Alarmist-skeptic discussions indefinitely go around the same topics and whatever your “side”, it’s evident there’s no “killer argument” appearing in the debate. And it’s unlikely there will be, because the ultimate basis of controversy will remain (that is: models must deal with uncertain measurements and uncertain parametrizations on a very complex system, so models conclusions are just the temporary expression of our limited knowledge, expression whose likelihood is quite difficult to quantify).

    Discussions centered on the explanation of recent scientific results would be more fruitful for everybody.

  11. 11
    Tom Boucher says:

    The critical error made was in allowing Al Gore to become the face of “global warming” in the first place.

    In the USA, Al Gore has no credibility, being known as, at best, a fanciful liar.

    We remember his campaign to save the USA from satanic subliminal messages in recordings of rock music, his invention of the internet, his being the inspiration for “Love Story”, and so on…

    To pick him to star in this movie was simply foolish.

  12. 12
    Don Thieme says:

    Broad does seem to have beaten the bushes to find dissenting voices. I hope that your criticisms of his piece will appear in the NYT as well as in this blog.

  13. 13
    Dan says:

    re: 11. Separate your political views such as they are from the science. Science, particularly data, is not political. The messenger does not matter. And attacking the messenger is irrelevant to the science.

  14. 14
    Bryson Brown says:

    Comment 11 repeats ridiculous anti-Gore canards invented by right-wing smear operations (and, sad to say, spread by the lazy and credulous mainstream media which echoes these assertions without ever investigating or correcting them). Pre-emptive attacks on his opponents’ strengths are a fundamental part of Karl Rove’s political tool kit (Swift boats, anyone?). Those who still fall for these tricks have only themselves to blame.

  15. 15

    [[In the USA, Al Gore has no credibility, being known as, at best, a fanciful liar.]]

    That may be the view on the right; it is not the view on the left or in the center. Most Americans have a favorable impression of Al Gore according to polls. Note, also, that he won the popular vote in 2000.

  16. 16
    cce says:

    Gore and another person were the inspiration for the male lead in “Love Story.” He never claimed to have “invented” the internet, either. He did claim that he “took the initiative in creating the internet” when he was asked about his Senatorial accomplishments in an interview.

  17. 17
    OccamsAftershave says:

    The liars are those who claim Gore said he “invented the internet”. He actually said “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Vincent Cerf, Marc Andreesen and many others have explicitly credited Gore for provoking ‘net investment.
    The liars are those who deny that Erich Segal, author of Love Story, corroborated that both Gore and his Harvard roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, were indeed the models for the story’s main character.
    The liars would be those who claim Gore ever said anything about “satanic subliminal messages” in rock music.

    But, yes, Gore’s problem is that, given so many lies told about him by the same crowd that now finances denialists, a large portion of the population find him not credible.

  18. 18
    George says:

    Re 13: It is indeed too bad that a former politician like Gore is the messenger on this. Many people in this country voted against him and many who voted for him think his badly run campaign and post-election strategies did not demonstrate adequate leadership skills. And in the movie it was Gore who couldn’t separate his politics from his science and included clips from the Florida recount.
    Many people don’t trust politicians and they are justified in their belief. Had Walter Cronkite (or his modern day counterpart) made Inconvenient Truth the other side would have much less ammunition for personal attacks.

  19. 19

    Nice piece, guys.

    I wrote a longer piece on the article myself, covering some of the inaccuracies y’all missed:

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/3/12/233737/021

    Plenty of inaccuracies to go around! This one is an embarrassment to the Times.

    [Response: Thanks for the heads up David. Nice piece yourself! We’ll put in a link to it at the end of our post. -mike]

  20. 20
    Harry says:

    One interesting thing is that Dr. Hansen’s remarks were melded with the ones on the muted 2006 hurricane season:

    Still, Dr. Hansen said, the former vice president’s work may hold “imperfections” and “technical flaws.” He pointed to hurricanes, an icon for Mr. Gore, who highlights the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and cites research suggesting that global warming will cause both storm frequency and deadliness to rise. Yet this past Atlantic season produced fewer hurricanes than forecasters predicted (five versus nine), and none that hit the United States.

    He then continues with his quoting of Hansen. (‘We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is,’ Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. ‘On the other hand,’ Dr. Hansen said“…).

  21. 21
    Donald A .Brown says:

    The writing about all of this needs to be looked at through an ethcial lens for so many reasons. For instance, the skeptics usually conflate the magnitude of scintifically plausible impacts with proven impacts. In other words, unless impacts are absolutely proven, they want to call anything else alarmist. Yet scientfically plausible impacts are very relevant ethically even when they are not proven to 95% confidence levels. In fact, science should be allowed to speak about all scientiflcally plausible climate change impacts particularly when proof is illusive as a matter of ethics. (This by the way, is now what IPCC does) As a matter of ethics, that is, if impacts are scientifically plausible and suffficiently dangerous, the burden should shift, according to most ethical theories. to those who want to continue to behve in a way that is dangerous to others. In fact, at some point, the victims of climate change have rights to participate in decisions about uncertain impacts when decision makers will be placing bets about uncertain impacts that affect others. As we have said the the White Paper on the Ethicl Dimensions of Climate Change, http://rockethics.psu.edu/climate/index.htm. scientific uncertainty is an ethically inappropriate excuse for not taking action to reduce the threat of climate change given some undisputed scientific facts about climate change and other issues that establish scientifically plausible impacts. (Note the scienfiic facts are still relevant to the ehical analysis) These facts include many things about climate change including the fact that:(1) before all of the uncertainties are resolved, harm will either occurr or be put in motion and, (2) the longer we wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to stabilize GHG in the atmosphere at safe levels, etc.

    So in addition to correcting the climate skeptics’ misstatements about the facts, clarity will come in this debate only when we examine the unstated normative assumptions that are often hidden in the scientific debate including the notion that some want to call alamist anything that is not proven. Limiting this debate only to scientific issues plays into the normative assumption that nothing should be done until the science has reached high levels of ertainty. Because of this the questions that should be asked of the skeptics, given the burden of proof should shift, what have you proven will be the impacts. In other words, the skeptics should not be silenced but they should be seen to now have the burden of proof if they are implicitly arguing for no action until higher levels of certainty are achieved. They should be asked directly such questions as (1) Are they now saying that high levels of climate sensitivity are not possible, or (2) Are they now saying that some of the climate surprises including more rapid releases of carbon from the stored carbon are not possible. And if so, what is their proof. This is an issue that needs to integrate normative questions with scientific questions.

  22. 22
    Ike Solem says:

    I think that the main efforts to politicize climate science come from the small but vocal contrarian camp; while Lindzen says he is worried about ‘shrill alarmism’, he himself can be characterized as a shrill, stubborn polemic-minded scientist who repeatedly ignores scientific advances and who refuses to admit to any past errors or inaccuracies in his own scientific work.

    A more balanced discussion of the political aspects would surely have included Pat Robertsons comments during the AUg 2006 heat wave: …But I tell you stay in doors ladies and gentleman. Stay cool. Get fans or whatever. And the poor, they need emergency fans and ice to cool down â�� the number of people dead. I have not been one who believed in the global warming. But I tell you, they are making a convert out of me as these blistering summers. They have broken heat records in a number of cities already this year and broken all-time records and it is getting hotter and the ice caps are melting and there is a build up of carbon dioxide in the air. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels. If we are contributing to the destruction of the planet we need to do manage about it.

    The fact of the matter is that global warming doesn’t pick and choose over politics, despite the best efforts of Roger Pielke Jr. to portray the issue as a political rather than a scientific issue. It is also verifiably true that certain sectors of the fossil fuel industry have been running a massive disinformation campaign that mirrors tactics used by, for example, the tobacco lobby over lung cancer and other smoking-related health issues: you’ve got CEI’s “CO2: We Call it Life” campaign, the Western Fuel Associations “The Greening of Planet Earth”; and so on. On the other hand, the reinsurance industry is worried about being bankrupted by global warming. A balanced view of the economics has to include a discussion of fossil fuels, renewable energy, and the insurance industry outlook on global warming.

    What’s diappointing is that all of the above are not scientific issues, but journalistic issues related to fair coverage of the topic. William Broad goes directly to the small, shrill group of contrarians and joins in the attempt to make global warming a political rather than a scientific issue, while (apparently deliberately) ignoring many of the economic issues involved. Even if you ignore the science, this is slanted journalism.

    If you look at the discussion of the science itself, however, Broad’s coverage is just very poor and displays a high level of ignorance of basic scientific concepts. People who do science journalism should have a background in science and should be able to explain scientific issues without having to rely entirely on ‘expert soundbites’. There is a complete lack of mention of the basic physical phenomena that influence climate – the atmospheric composition in particular – not even a word about the mechanisms that are responsible.

  23. 23
    jre says:

    It is as unfortunate as it was probably inevitable that Al Gore’s person, rather than his argument, should have become the focus of attacks on AIT — but let’s not forget that the image of Gore as a “fanciful liar” is the creature of a disinformation campaign. He never, for example, claimed to have “invented” the internet. Similarly, his statements on the Segal novel, childhood in Tennessee, service in Vietnam, etc. — so widely reviled by the hackosphere as fabricated or exaggerated — turn out on closer examination to have been … well, true. It is not necessary to believe Gore is a model of perfection to note that his track record of accuracy and truthfulness is actually better than that of most public figures. The way the contrary meme took hold (in some quarters, at least) is a tribute to the power of aggressive PR. It should also be a cautionary tale for those trying to educate the public on climate, or anything else. That whiff of brimstone you may smell is your clue that Frank Luntz has not left the building.

    [Response: Actually Frank Luntz is on record (late last year) as saying that action needs to be taken on emisisons. Quote: “Not everything is about politics” – gavin]

  24. 24
    Andrew Dessler says:

    And I blogged on this thing here. It’s a blog-o-sphere feeding frenzy!

  25. 25
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Pielke comments here from time to time. I think it reasonable to ask him to explain himself.

    The piece was shameless.

  26. 26
    Geoff_59 says:

    re:2
    The day it becomes a crime to speak out against AGW, is the day I switch sides and become a AGW-denier.
    Propaganda machine or not, if the truth – the science – is on the side of AGW ocurring, it will carry the day, no matter what some contrarian says.

  27. 27
    Alex says:

    Along with all this blogging, I trust the NYT also received a response that will reach their many readers. After all, mass media is largely where public perception is formed.

  28. 28
    jre says:

    Point well taken re/ Luntz. I’d not been aware of his comments to the BBC:

    Luntz: “It’s now 2006. I think most people would conclude that there is global warming taking place and that the behavior of humans are (sic) affecting the climate.”

    BBC: “But the administration has continued taking your advice. They’re still questioning the science.”

    Luntz: “That’s up to the administration. I’m not the administration. What they want to do is their business. It has nothing to do with what I write. It has nothing to do with what I believe.”

    In my view, he still has some ‘splainin to do, but let’s be generous.
    sed = seventh_circle_of_hell | ‘s/Luntz//'; Luntz >>> sixth_circle_of_hell

  29. 29
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    The accusation of GW “alarmism” is beginning to irritate me. First I took it with humor, suggesting that, yes, there might be some mad dashing and shopping cart clashing at Home Depot as people rushed to buy CF bulbs and weather stripping.

    Let’s get this very very straight now: There will be time to walk, even crawl away from the seashore as it heads inland due to sea rise. DAY AFTER TOMORROW was fun & thrilling sci-fi, so, no one need pack bags for Mexico. And we don’t have any code red or orange on this — just a persistent code yellow, like a reminder to keep on searching for ways to reduce GHGs, and I’d really really suggest looking into cost-effective ways first, but no one has to listen to me.

    If by alarmism, they mean yelling GW in a crowded theater, that just ain’t happening. There are people, however, informing others that GW could cause great harm to the earth and to their progeny, and that if one wants to prevent that he/she will have to pitch in with the others and reduce GHGs. This is more like informing the theater crowd politely of a problem, letting them know there are good ways out, and encouraging them to file out orderly so no one gets hurt.

    So if Exxon does not want to diversify into alternative energy, well, forewarned is forewarned.

    The sooner people act on this, the less harm to the earth & people there will be, and the less drastic the political measures that may have to be taken. If people persist in harming others through AGW, well, perhaps some laws may have to be enacted. Let’s hope everyone does the right thing without having to enact a whole lot of laws and rules.

    Even contrarians in a burning theater would appreciate being informed of the fire and the various exits, you’d think. So, if that’s alarmism, then what exactly is wrong with it?

  30. 30
    gtpunch says:

    Welcome to Planet Earth. From time to time there are floods, droughts, tidal waves, and hurricanes. Sometimes the weather is warm, and sometimes it is cool.

    From time to time this warming and cooling caused the humans that live on Planet Earth considerable alarm:

    70,000 BC: Coldest temperatures on record. Turned out to be the start of an Ice Age.
    10,000 BC: Highest temperatures for tens of thousands of years. Turned out to be the end of an ice age.
    1970 AD: A few cooler than average years caused panic. Early arrival of next Ice Age predicted. Turned out to be… a few cooler than average years.
    2000 AD: A few warmer than average years and a few more hurricanes than average caused panic. Turned out to be… a few warmer than average years.

    The humans on Planet Earth liked to blame themselves for things, to make themselves feel important. These superstitions now seem bizarre to us.

  31. 31
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    And I’m just sick of hearing negative things about Al Gore. He seems to be a very nice and wholesome person. In fact his slight awkwardness is actually more endearing to me and makes him seem more like a real person, than the smooth wheeler-dealer personalities of Bush and Clinton.

    I know the Religious Right is upset that Gore changed from anti-abortion to pro-choice (which is the only complaint about him that I am aware of), but it would be the height of hypocrisy for them to refuse to listen to him as he tries to save lives by informing people about AGW. It also makes their anti-abortion clammer ring very hollow, and gives me the impression that they only want to point their fingers at other people’s sins, but do nothing about their own short-comings (accept kill the messenger).

  32. 32
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #29, gtpunch, are you kidding? Where I come from (obviously not the same planet earth), people like to blame anyone or anything but themselves. Even I do that now & then, but my choir leader when I was a kid showed us that when we point the finger at others, there are 3 fingers pointing back at ourselves (try it & see), so sometimes after I point the finger at others, I also look to see where I might be guilty of the same thing.

    Another point, if people really were blaming themselves for AGW, then the human emission of GHGs would be declining, rather than increasing.

  33. 33
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Dr. Don on the Little Screen Trashes Al Gore and IPCC on the Small Screen

    Don Easterbrook late of Western Washington Univ. on “Tucker” on MSNBC today around 4:45pm, repeated at around 6:45pm. Easterbrook said that the most recent IPCC report was only written by a few people, 143 geologists and not the “real scientists” who number in the thousands.

    He said that at least 10 times in the last 10K years there has been climate change greater than predicted by IPCC and Gore. However, he said that some warming is occurring and although not due to humans, may require us to adapt to a 1 degree F rise in temperature by 2100. It’s going to be 84 degrees F here tomorrow, Don. How should I adapt?

    Finally, he said that the hurricane relationship Gore gave in the movie is specious and that the oceans should cool between now and 2010.

    Tucker, taking a break from beating up on his president, seemed relieved.

  34. 34
    Chris Mooney says:

    Folks,
    Good post, but how do we explain the James Hansen quote criticizing Gore on hurricanes in the article? Okay, Broad made a very simplistic argument about 2006 in the Atlantic that ignored El Nino. But presuming that Hansen was indeed quoted correctly, I rather doubt that was his objection….I suspect it was something else.

  35. 35
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #29: gtpunch — Yes, there was a stadial about 70,000 years ago. And then another about 20,000 years ago, called LGM for Last Glacial Maximum. (Helps to get the facts right.)

    But what has been occuring for the last 250 years, and most noticably for the past 50, is that humans are taking a huge slug of carbon from the ground, where it did not participate in climate, and putting into the air as carbon dioxide, where it does participate in climate.

    That is, it is becoming noticably warmer. The fact are well understood and it is not a superstition. Sorry, but you’ll have to adjust to it.

  36. 36
    Thom says:

    Well, it looks like Bill Broad’s fair and balanced article got picked up by a network.

    http://tinyurl.com/2h656k

    Fox News…who would have guessed?

  37. 37
    Lou Grinzo says:

    26: You would switch sides in the AGW issue solely as a protest or reaction to an obviously ridiculous law, and not because scientific evidence had changed your mind?

    Yowza.

  38. 38
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #28

    Luntz: “It’s now 2006. I think most people would conclude that there is global warming taking place and that the behavior of humans are (sic) affecting the climate.”

    BBC: “But the administration has continued taking your advice. They’re still questioning the science.”

    Luntz: “That’s up to the administration. I’m not the administration. What they want to do is their business. It has nothing to do with what I write. It has nothing to do with what I believe.”

    Do you have a url for that? I’d like to be able to link to an authorative source for that quote.

    Dave

  39. 39
    Dave Rado says:

    Propaganda machine or not, if the truth – the science – is on the side of AGW ocurring, it will carry the day, no matter what some contrarian says.

    The issue is time. The tobacco industry managed to fudge the issue of smoking and cancer for nearly 30 years before finally being forced to admit there was a link. We can’t afford to wait 30 before acting on global warming.

  40. 40
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s the source of that famous quote:
    October 17, 2004
    Without a Doubt
    By RON SUSKIND
    http://www.cs.umass.edu/~immerman/play/opinion05/WithoutADoubt.html

    “… In the summer of 2002, …I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

    “The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

  41. 41
    Randy Ross says:

    I am always wryly amused by those who would agree with Dick Cheney that a 1 percent probability of a terrorist threat:

    ‘In his new book, The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind quotes the Vice President as follows: “We have to deal with this new type of threat in a way we haven’t yet defined. . . . With a low-probability, high-impact event like this . . . If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.”‘

    will treat a 90 percent likelihood of environmental disaster as too unsettled for us to do anything without further study.

  42. 42
    Ray Ladbury says:

    It is sad when the gray lady has come to this–Broad must have studied at the same journalism school as Judy Miller. I’m not a great fan of Al Gore. However, he hardly butchered the science in “An Inconvenient Truth”, and I think he does do a service in popularizing the science. Unfortunately, there is a lot of hatred for anyone from the Clinton years, which conservatives view as a dark regency between Bush I and Bush II. And given the way Bush II has turned, they have to demonize Gore to justify their vote.

  43. 43
    Tom Yulsman says:

    I haven’t seen one aspect of Broad’s article mentioned in other blog postings, and it is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t be passed over. Broad quotes this from a blog posting by Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama: the IPCC report shows â��that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.â��

    Oh really? That�s the only solid conclusion to be drawn from all 8,488 words and 21 pages of the IPCC report? Not that �paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years,� as stated in the IPCC? Or that �the last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise�?

    Both of these findings, two of many described in the IPCC report, support points made by Gore � points that Broad�s sources say have no scientific backing.

    What possible justification could there be for printing something so patently untrue and profoundly absurd? I can only conclude that Broad has a mission when writing about climate change: To correct what he perceives to be errors in the record and restore a sense of balance to journalistic coverage that he thinks has tilted too far in the direction of climate alarmism. Nothing wrong with trying to correct the record, maintaining journalistic skepticism, etc. But as Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt pointed out in their original posting this morning, if you�re going to do it, you�d better get your facts straight.

    For more reactions to the article, go to Environmental Journalism Now, the blog of the Center for Environmental Journalism.

  44. 44
    gtpunch says:

    @Lynn Vincentnathan – I think you misunderstood, by “humans blame themselves” – I mean blame humans in general, not each human shouldering their own blame.

    @David B. Benson – You are confusing facts and speculation.

    1. “What has been occuring [sic] for the last 250 years, and most noticably [sic] for the past 50, is that humans are taking a huge slug of carbon from the ground […] and putting into the air as carbon dioxide.”
    – True.

    2. “it is becoming noticably [sic] warmer”
    – Debatable, it depends where and how you measure, and what timescale you are comparing to.

    3. “carbon from the ground, where it did not participate in climate, and putting into the air as carbon dioxide, where it does participate in climate.”
    – Care to comment on how changes in C02 levels follow temperature changes in the data, rather than the other way around? The Earth has recovered from far higher temperatures and C02 levels in the past.

    This winter has been cooler in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and colder in others. There have been fewer than predicted North Atlantic Hurricanes.

    I’m just astonished that so many people are quick to jump on one single variable in a complex system as the sole cause of so many evils- hurricanes, extinction, malaria, floods.

    You’ll look back on this issue one day, and somehow your mind will prevent you from remembering how wrong you were.

  45. 45
    Dave Rado says:

    I’ve found a good source for the Luntz quote: http://thinkprogress.org/2006/06/27/luntz-gw/

  46. 46
    Anna Haynes says:

    Who is the NYTimes’s acting science editor, and is this person new on the job? Last week they ran an article poo-pooing peak oil (“…broke their near silence on peak oil…A very disappointing piece from a normally top-notch NY Times energy reporter…. basically transcribes the industry talking points…”)
    Please look into the personnel situation – my guess is that something has changed, and it could turn out to be interesting.

  47. 47
    Arthur Smith says:

    On Bob Carter – I contacted him by email a few months back after hearing some statements of his that I thought were being misinterpreted to mean the 20th century rise of CO2 wasn’t human-caused. I couldn’t believe anybody claiming to be a legitimate scientist could look at the CO2 data and claim it was natural. My question to him was:

    “A friend quoted to me a comment of yours: “historically, temperature increases have been followed by – not preceded by – CO2 increases.”. I was wondering – do you believe this statement applies to the dramatic increase in CO2 during the 20th century? If so, when do you believe the preceding warming occurred and how much was it? ”

    His response (and I do very much appreciate his taking the time to respond):

    “Dear Arthur,

    Published work would indicate that the 20th century CO2 rise is largely due to human influence.

    That said, there is a paper in preparation by a German scientist which shows a strong relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide between the early 19th and late 20th century.

    The issue is complex, and not well suited to yes-no answers.

    Kind regards.

    Bob Carter”

    How do you like that? :-)

    I think RealClimate would do the world a huge service by publicly listing each of these guys who are at least somewhat qualified, as scientists, to comment on the issues, and get as clear quotes as we can from them on where exactly they stand. They certainly are in the public eye often enough!

  48. 48
    Hank Roberts says:

    >same journalism school
    Coauthors, actually:
    Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War
    by Judith Miller, William Broad, Stephen Engelberg
    Simon & Schuster, 2001

  49. 49
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #44: gtpunch — I’ll just address your point 3 and a bit on point 2, leaving you to read

    W.F. Ruddiman
    Earth’s Climate: Past and Future
    W.H. Freeman, recent

    to help you gain a better understanding of climate.

    Let us just concentrate on the warming from LGM (20 kya) to the Holocene Thermal Optimum (10 kya). For the first few centuries, following orbital forcing and ice sheet decay properties, the climate warmed a bit. Then atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations began to rise, which helped the climate to warm a bit faster and somewhat further.

    The climate warmed about 6 K. The increase in so-called greenhouse gases explains about half of that. Why? The effect of so-called greenhouse gases has been studied for over a century now and the physics is rather well understood. Start by reading Ruddiman’s book, for example.

    So the effect of the additional carbon slug going into the air is understood. It is warmer and it will become still warmer, even if no more fossil carbon is added to the atmosphere. (Of course, more will be, at a rate increasing every year.)

    Regarding warmer recently, the IPCC report says it is now warmer than at any time in over the last 300,000 years. Homo sapiens sapiens is, as a species, younger than that. We are adapted to cold (global) climates. Seems to me that ought to be enough to start being rather alarmed, yes?

  50. 50
    Anna Haynes says:

    Looking at the nytimes archives, it appears that Mr. Broad’s area of expertise (or at least coverage – I can’t judge his expertise) is threats with mustaches – Iran, uranium, bombs, star wars stuff. And research fraud.

    (not climate)


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