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2008 Year in review

Filed under: — group @ 31 December 2008

Way back at the end of 2006, we did a review of the year’s climate science discussion. It’s that time of year again and so we’ve decided to give it another go. Feel free to suggest your own categories and winners…

Most clueless US politician talking about climate change (with the exception of Senator Inhofe who’d always win):
Sarah Palin:

Well, we’re the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there with the changes in climates. And certainly, it is apparent. We have erosion issues. And we have melting sea ice, of course. [....] You know there are – there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate.

Most puzzling finding from 2006 that has yet to be convincingly replicated:
Methane from plants

Most reckless extrapolation of short term trends:
Michael “All global warming has been erased” Asher (Daily Tech)

This year’s most (unsurprisingly) abused study:
Keenlyside et al. initialised climate forecasts (and no, they didn’t take our bet).

Climate scientist with biggest disconnect between his peer-reviewed papers and his online discussions:
Roy Spencer

Most worn out contrarian cliche:
The “Gore Effect”. This combines the irrelevant confusion of climate with weather and the slightly manic obsession with Al Gore over the actual science. Do please grow up.

Most bizarre new contrarian claim:
Global warming is caused by undersea volcanoes (and pirates!).

The S. Fred Singer award for the most dizzying turn-around of a climate pseudo-skeptic:
Dennis Avery: “Global warming is likely to continue” (2006) , to global warming is “unstoppable” (2006), to “Say Good-Bye To Global Warming And Hello To Global Cooling!” (2008).

Pottiest peer on the contrarian comedy circuit:
Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

Least unexpected observations:
(Joint winners) 2008 near-record minima in Arctic sea ice extent, last decade of record warmth, long term increases in ocean heat content, record increases in CO2 emissions.

Most consistently wrong media outlet:
The Australian (runner-up the UK Daily Telegraph). Both comfortably beating out the perennial favorite, the Wall Street Journal – maybe things have really changed there?

Best actual good news:
The grown-ups being back in charge starting January 20 (compare with this).

Most inaccurate attempted insinuation about RealClimate:
‘The Soros-funded Realclimate.org’ Chris Horner

Most revealing insight into some US coal companies and year’s best self parody:
Frosty the Coalman (video available here)

Most disturbing trend for science journalism:
The axing of dedicated science units at CNN, the Weather Channel and elsewhere. Can Climate Central and blogging journalists take up the slack?

Happy New Year to all of our readers!

Books ’08

Filed under: — group @ 22 December 2008

As is usual, we have a brief round-up of books we have found interesting or noteworthy this year. While we mainly focus on new books, we include a couple of new editions of older books, and of course, our previous reviews might still be of some interest (2005, 2006, and 2007).
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2008 temperature summaries and spin

Filed under: — gavin @ 16 December 2008 - (Italian)

The great thing about complex data is that one can basically come up with any number of headlines describing it – all of which can be literally true – but that give very different impressions. Thus we are sure that you will soon read that 2008 was warmer than any year in the 20th Century (with the exception of 1998), that is was the coolest year this century (starting from 2001), and that 7 or 8 of the 9 warmest years have occurred since 2000. There will undoubtedly also be a number of claims made that aren’t true; 2008 is not the coolest year this decade (that was 2000), global warming hasn’t ‘stopped’, CO2 continues to be a greenhouse gas, and such variability is indeed predicted by climate models. Today’s post is therefore dedicated to cutting through the hype and looking at the bigger picture.

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Ozone holes and cosmic rays

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 December 2008 - (Italian)

ozone hole sept 2007Browsing through the blogosphere recently, I came across an interesting little story about the scientific method, scientific progress, and un-scientific spin (h/t Hank Roberts). The subject concerns the polar ozone hole in Antarctica and a possible role for cosmic rays in its variability on solar cycle timescales. The proponents of this link are a small research group at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, who find themselves up against the mainstream stratospheric chemistry community and whose ideas are twisted out of all recognition by the more foolish of the usual suspects.

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Contrarians and consensus: The case of the midwife toad

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 December 2008

I recently came across an old copy of Arthur Koestler’s “The Case of the Midwife Toad”. Originally published in 1971, it’s an exploration of a rather tragic footnote in the history of evolutionary science. Back in the early years of the 20th Century (prior to the understanding of DNA, but after Mendelian genetics had become well known), there was still a remnant of the biological community who preferred the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics over the Darwinian idea of natural selection of random mutations. One of the vanguard for the Lamarckian idea was Paul Kammerer whose specialty was the breeding of amphibians that apparently few others could match. He claimed that he could get his toads and salamanders to acquire characteristics that were useful in the new environments in which he raised his specimens. This was touted loudly (in the New York Times for instance) as proof of Lamarckian inheritance and Kammerer was hailed as a ‘new Darwin’. It all ended very badly when one toad specimen was found to be faked (by who remains a mystery), and Kammerer killed himself shortly afterwards (though there may have been more involved than scientific disgrace).

The details of the experiments and controversy can be read online (with various slants) here and here, and a more modern non-replication of one of his experiments is described here. However, the reason I bring this up here is much more related to how the scientific community and Koestler dealt with this scientific maverick and the analogies that has for the climate science and its contrarians.
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