RealClimate logo

Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

Antarctic warming is robust

Filed under: — gavin @ 4 February 2009

The difference between a single calculation and a solid paper in the technical literature is vast. A good paper examines a question from multiple angles and find ways to assess the robustness of its conclusions to all sorts of possible sources of error — in input data, in assumptions, and even occasionally in programming. If a conclusion is robust over as much of this as can be tested (and the good peer reviewers generally insist that this be shown), then the paper is likely to last the test of time. Although science proceeds by making use of the work that others have done before, it is not based on the assumption that everything that went before is correct. It is precisely because that there is always the possibility of errors that so much is based on ‘balance of evidence’ arguments’ that are mutually reinforcing.

So it is with the Steig et al paper published last week. Their conclusions that West Antarctica is warming quite strongly and that even Antarctica as a whole is warming since 1957 (the start of systematic measurements) were based on extending the long term manned weather station data (42 stations) using two different methodologies (RegEM and PCA) to interpolate to undersampled regions using correlations from two independent data sources (satellite AVHRR and the Automated Weather Stations (AWS) ), and validations based on subsets of the stations (15 vs 42 of them) etc. The answers in each of these cases are pretty much the same; thus the issues that undoubtedly exist (and that were raised in the paper) — with satellite data only being valid on clear days, with the spottiness of the AWS data, with the fundamental limits of the long term manned weather station data itself – aren’t that important to the basic conclusion.

One quick point about the reconstruction methodology. These methods are designed to fill in missing data points using as much information as possible concerning how the existing data at that point connects to the data that exists elsewhere. To give a simple example, if one station gave readings that were always the average of two other stations when it was working, then a good estimate of the value at that station when it wasn’t working, would simply be the average of the two other stations. Thus it is always the missing data points that are reconstructed; the process doesn’t affect the original input data.

This paper clearly increased the scrutiny of the various Antarctic data sources, and indeed the week, errors were found in the record from the AWS sites ‘Harry’ (West Antarctica) and ‘Racer Rock’ (Antarctic Peninsula) stored at the SCAR READER database. (There was a coincidental typo in the listing of Harry’s location in Table S2 in the supplemental information to the paper, but a trivial examination of the online resources — or the paper itself, in which Harry is shown in the correct location (Fig. S4b) — would have indicated that this was indeed only a typo). Those errors have now been fixed by the database managers at the British Antarctic Survey.

Naturally, people are interested on what affect these corrections will have on the analysis of the Steig et al paper. But before we get to that, we can think about some ‘Bayesian priors‘. Specifically, given that the results using the satellite data (the main reconstruction and source of the Nature cover image) were very similar to that using the AWS data, it is highly unlikely that a single station revision will have much of an effect on the conclusions (and clearly none at all on the main reconstruction which didn’t use AWS data). Additionally, the quality of the AWS data, particularly any trends, has been frequently questioned. The main issue is that since they are automatic and not manned, individual stations can be buried in snow, drift with the ice, fall over etc. and not be immediately fixed. Thus one of the tests Steig et al. did was a variation of the AWS reconstruction that detrended the AWS data before using them – any trend in the reconstruction would then come solely from the higher quality manned weather stations. The nature of the error in the Harry data record gave an erroneous positive trend, but this wouldn’t have affected the trend in the AWS-detrended based reconstruction.

Given all of the above, the Bayesian prior would therefore lean towards the expectation that the data corrections will not have much effect.

The trends in the AWS reconstruction in the paper are shown above. This is for the full period 1957-2006 and the dots are scaled a little smaller than they were in the paper for clarity. The biggest dot (on the Peninsula) represents about 0.5ºC/dec. The difference that you get if you use detrended data is shown next.

As we anticipated, the detrending the Harry data affects the reconstruction at Harry itself (the big blue dot in West Antarctica) reducing the trend there to about 0.2°C/dec, but there is no other significant effect (a couple of stations on the Antarctica Peninsula show small differences). (Note the scale change from the preceding figure — the blue dot represents a change of 0.2ºC/dec).

Now that we know that the trend (and much of the data) at Harry was in fact erroneous, it’s useful to see what happens when you don’t use Harry at all. The differences with the original results (at each of the other points) are almost undetectable. (Same scale as immediately above; if the scale in the first figure were used, you couldn’t see the dots at all!).

In summary, speculation that the erroneous trend at Harry was the basis of the Antarctic temperature trends reported by Steig et al. is completely specious, and could have been dismissed by even a cursory reading of the paper.

However, we are not yet done. There was erroneous input data used in the AWS reconstruction part of the study, and so it’s important to know what impact the corrections will have. Eric managed to do some of the preliminary tests on his way to the airport for his Antarctic sojourn and the trend results are as follows:

There is a big difference at Harry of course – a reduction of the trend by about half, and an increase of the trend at Racer Rock (the error there had given an erroneous cooling), but the other points are pretty much unaffected. The differences in the mean trends for Antarctica, or WAIS are very small (around 0.01ºC/decade), and the resulting new reconstruction is actually in slightly better agreement with the satellite-based reconstruction than before (which is pleasing of course).

Bayes wins again! Or should that be Laplace? ;)

Update (6/Feb/09):The corrected AWS-based reconstruction is now available. Note that the main satellite-based reconstruction is unaffected by any issues with the AWS stations since it did not use them.

375 Responses to “Antarctic warming is robust”

  1. 201
    James says:

    Chris Says (12 February 2009 at 5:57 PM):

    “I suggest that the more you can avoid the labels “denial”, “denialosphere” etc (c.f. “civilly” above?), the more success you may have. I can’t see what it achieves, and would suggest “skeptic” is more polite.”

    It might be polite, but it wouldn’t be accurate, since a true skeptic should be impartially skeptical. Those people are anything but impartial: they freely extend willing belief to the flimsiest theories that accord with their pre-existing world view, while exercising their “skepticism” only on what conflicts.

    Furthermore, if they want to be treated politely, perhaps they should take to heart the old saw about getting what one gives…

  2. 202
    Mark says:

    OK, misread then Mike, sorry.

  3. 203
    pete best says:

    Re, RE #190, Gavin, Of course you get a mention:

    Perhaps the most prominent place to see how climatologists mix their science with their opinions is a blog called, primarily run by Gavin Schmidt, one of the computer jockeys for Nasa’s James Hansen, the world’s loudest climate alarmist.

    He is not happy obviously with the idea of something warming and cooling. Apparantly the WAIS does not matter much, its all about the EAIS. It aint warmed much if at all and the warming hapenned in the 1960 and 70 with nothing since so as Antartica is not warming neither is the world ;)

  4. 204
    Anne van der Bom says:

    12 February 2009 at 5:57 PM Chris:

    Of course, she also mentions the strong evidence pointing to “a complete loss of summer sea ice much later this century”. Sure, that’s a more reasonable starting point for debate in my opinion.

    Is it more reasonable only because the statement is more in line with your opinion? What you like and what is reasonable are different things.

    and would suggest “skeptic” is more polite.

    By definition, a skeptic is someone who has not yet made up his mind. That does not apply to the majority of the ‘denialists’. Try again.

  5. 205
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Denialist” etc. are used because they are accurate terms. Take a look at the Scienceblogs site denialism blog, for documentation of the similarities between AGW denialism and other denialism such as creationism, HIV-AIDS denialism, etc. It has all the same pathologies: quote-mining, conspiracy theories, lack of any coherent theory of its own or significant empirical work, constant repetition of already-refuted objections, mutually inconsistent claims…

  6. 206
    pete best says:

    Re #204, Anne, does she not have a point, natural variability can cause a lot to seemingly happen when it isn’t yet ? The last time I looked climate sensitivity was the same as the Charney limit in the IPCC reports and hence 3C for 550 ppmv. It could happen faster if the sensitivity is higher (cooling agents are not as cooling as thought perhaps) and longer term feedbacks may double the charney limit but as yet no IPCC update but one from James Hansen which although coming from him might be see as true only means it needs to go through the IPCC process to be true to world opinion and our reaction to it.

    Science is a slow process, IPCC reports are probably about right every 5 years. Do we need anything else quicker of a more disasterous nature to get our Governments to do something more urgently? Is that the message of the so called alarmists I wonder.

    The precautionary principal.

  7. 207
    Hank Roberts says:

    James, seriously, it’s worth understanding the difference. This is good:
    See “Antarctic warming derangement syndrome” and
    “How real people (aka non-cranks) debate science”
    “a useful way to differentiate between skeptics and deniers”

    Avoiding using the word accomplishes nothing except to give them free rein in the blogs they haunt. And there are paid professionals posting to blogs advocating notions that deny the science, in climate topics.

    I started tracking some of the pros with Google — it led me to more climate scientists’ blogs than I knew existed. The paid pros have time and staff to locate them and copypaste their talking points.

    Check this thread out:

  8. 208

    Chris, my recommendation of civility was just that–not a claim that this is what invariably happens on this site (or any other.) I don’t recall participating much in the debate around 2008 sea ice extent, but if you’re angling for a tip of the hat for predicting that we wouldn’t reach a new minimum record, then it is freely yours. You called that correctly, IIRC.

    As to the “denial” label, that has been debated here before. My take, for what it is worth, is that as several posters said above, it is recommended by accuracy. The Wattses of this world are *not* skeptical–let me use an example from this week. As I am sure many here are aware, the Audubon Society released a study documenting northward shifts of a great many bird species in response to warming. One denialist of my online acquaintance responded by looking at their data (a good thing to do, of course) and noting that a significant number of species had increased populations (a perfectly good observation.) However, he then went on to attribute that increase to the warming as well–with no additional support of the idea whatsoever. Extreme *lack* of skepticism, needless to say! (I’m guessing the explanation of the population increases lies in the DDT ban, not in climatic factors–the timing would be about right.)

    Did I call him out on this lack of skepticism? Yes. Did I call him a “denialist”? No. (Except just now.) I think the label is much more useful in third person than in second. In third person, it accurately names the phenomenon; in second, it tends to sound a whole lot more like simple name-calling. And you are, of course, quite right to say nobody appreciates being called names.

    I’ve had multiple interactions with the particular poster I referred to above. We have disagreed constantly. But I’ve always kept it respectful, and always tried to take the discussion back to the evidence (while trying to follow Hank’s suggestion to repeat the nonsense as little as possible–though this partially conflicts with maintaining some level of comprehensibility for readers jumping late onto the thread.) Unfortunately, I haven’t convinced him on the merits yet, but I notice he’s stopped branding everyone who accepts the science as an hysteric.

  9. 209
  10. 210
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, I’d be more likely to use the label “skeptic” if denialists showed any real,…well, skepticism. Instead, I see a willingness to grasp at any straw no matter how tenuous if it justifies inaction. They tell us, “It isn’t happening!” Then when we point to incontrovertible evidence that it is, we get appeals to explanations that have no workable mechanism and that contradict the evidence. We get accusations of scientific fraus on a scale that would make even the most committed grassy-knoll or moon-landing conspricist blush. It seems that such “skeptics” will embrace any theory except the one that has all the evidence (and the physics) in its favor. That ain’t a skeptic.

  11. 211
    Rod B says:

    Kevin, Blindly accepting prima facie global warming as the cause of the northern migration is perfectly proper? But attributing increased population to global warming shows a serious lack of scientific questioning? What is the difference pray tell?

  12. 212

    Rod, the study in question made the attribution–presumably on the basis of the evidence they presented. (“Presumably,” because I have only read the news summary, not the original study.)

    On the other hand, the commenter offered no support for his–shall we call it a “suggestion?” He took a correlation (eyeballed at that), assumed causation, and then presented his conclusion as fact, with no apparent thought for the possibility of confounding variables.

    A clear enough difference for you?

  13. 213
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod, Where did you get that the cause of northward migration was being blindly accepted. Hank has produced studies that provide pretty good evidence that the northward migration is climate related. I’ve seen bupkis for evidence that the population increase can be similarly attributed. Do YOU have any evidence?

  14. 214
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, the difference is the the animals move to stay within the climate/temperature zone. That’s what’s moving.

    You’ve known this for years.

    As climate changes, garden zone map does too, Climate change is happening a lot … the USDA interactive computer format…. means that the new zone map can in fact indicate temperature shifts ….

    Slight increases in temperature can force a species to move toward its preferred, … Common Garden Plant Threatened By Climate Change

  15. 215
    dhogaza says:

    Kevin, Blindly accepting prima facie global warming as the cause of the northern migration is perfectly proper?

    But of course we don’t blindly accept it. For many species of plants and animals we have a damned good idea of the climatic environment in which they thrive or perish. To say that ecologists blindly assign changes in ecological patterns to global warming is just another denialist-style smear of science of the kind you insist you don’t do (but do frequently, anyway).

    It’s like the fact that horticultural zones are moving northward in the eastern US. We know it’s due to warming because 1) we know that the plants thriving in those northward-moving zones require more warmth and could not grow so far north in the past despite gardeners trying and 2) we measure temperature and have records of the same.

  16. 216

    Here’s a link to the Audubon report. Curiously, I didn’t find the population data tables that my antagonist said he looked at. Maybe elsewhere on the Audubon site?

  17. 217

    OK, here they are:

    A lot of squinting required here. Interesting that a conclusion was alleged in very little time. Maybe the “refuting” comment came from somewhere else in denialworld?

  18. 218
    MC says:

    I was interested in the use of RegEM to fill in the AWS data using information from the satelite data. I also think that making the source code for an analysis available is helpful but as other posters have pointed out, all you really need is adequate method documentation and the data.
    To this end, as a physicist, the first thing I would do to check what was produced in the paper would be to overlay each station’s data with the satelite data, with error bars included. Then make a judgement as to proceed. RegEM is a mathematical method that should be consistent with the much slower hand cranking method of checking each station, having a think and providing a conservative estimate.
    In post 182, you are quite right, Jeff. The data is paramount.
    I see that the AWS data is available. I take it the satelite data is on its way?

  19. 219
    Rod B says:

    Anne, Nick, et al. And if you keep it up long and loud enough “denialism” and denialist” might eventually even make it into a dictionary as a real word. ;-)

  20. 220
    Rod B says:

    Kevin (212), I haven’t read the study either but think I can still make a pretty solid assessment that the study contains a bunch of population data that seems to indicate a northern migration. That the migration is caused by global warming can not be anything other than a broad inference — reasonable as it may be — made by the Audubon Society which is exactly what your commenter did. I presume (with much confidence) that they did not actual poll the birds. But if I’m wrong there, I’m curious: what percent said they’re moving because of the climate, what percent for the change of scenery, percent for a better job? ;-)

  21. 221
    Rod B says:

    Hank and Kevin: Anyone can infer with reason almost anything from a large set of data, given enough math manipulation and scientific wording. But, taking you all at face value that the Audubon and others studies show a reasonable correlation — leading to an indicated causation — of migrating bird populations and climate change, how do those same analysts explain the increasing populations?

  22. 222
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. said: “Anne, Nick, et al. And if you keep it up long and loud enough “denialism” and denialist” might eventually even make it into a dictionary as a real word.”

    No, Rod, I would say that if YOU keep it up long enough, denialism will become a persistent enough phenomenon that the woud will have to be included.

  23. 223
    Mark says:

    221. Do you have the proof of the increased population that

    a) explains the increase
    b) explains undoing the removal of a large possibility of death

    Because you already have “removal of pesticide stops killing pests” which you would expect could lead to an increase of the pest (else why develop a pesticide).

    So, much like “the sun is heating up” is included in AGW, you must include in your model the removal of pesticides increasing population.

    Odd, isn’t it that you are doing exactly what you complain others in AGW of doing (worse, they aren’t even doing it): attributing to one element a result that is clearly attributable to several.

  24. 224
    Sekerob says:

    Can we plz return to the topic instead of the usual attempts of derailing. Rod B and others have allot of reading to do on bird behaviour driven by climate change. Start e.g. reading up on the Great Tit and the Bewick swan. The death of hundreds of Magellan penguins flushing onto the coast of Brazil.

    Back to the robustness of Antarctic warming… winter Sea Ice peak was 1.2 million km2 square lower than in 2008 over 2007. Current Sea Ice minimum is over 1 million less than the same time 2008 minimum! Sign of cold clime weather noise?, sea currents such as a Indian Ocean hot spot effects?, hidden volcanoes (tongue in cheek)?, air temps? Global cooling in general? I’m sick of these to the 4th decimal “unresolved discrepancy” detractors on a insignificant data point.

  25. 225
    cugel says:

    Rod B :

    If you look at page 5 of the Audubon report you will see how the attribution of cause is made. You may, of course, suspect that this is the result of data-manipulation for some nefarious purpose; nobody can or would stop you from doing that.

    The question of population numbers (as opposed to ranges) is entirely separate, and would best be addressed directly to the Audubon Society, I think.

  26. 226
    t_p_hamilton says:

    Rod B said:”Anyone can infer with reason almost anything from a large set of data, given enough math manipulation and scientific wording. ”

    Makes you wonder how scientists ever decide if a theory is right or not. This kind of statement is the last refuge of those who don’t have the ability to show how the data supports their ideas. For example, it is common to hear creationists (another species of denier) make the statement that they just interpret the data differently.

  27. 227
    dhogaza says:

    I presume (with much confidence) that they did not actual poll the birds.

    Wah, birds can’t talk, plants can’t talk, so we have no way of knowing if they’re responding to climate change!

    Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds, Rod B?

  28. 228
    dhogaza says:

    Anyone can infer with reason almost anything from a large set of data, given enough math manipulation and scientific wording.

    And, this is just as bad.

    There’s a reason we use the “denialist” word to describe you.

  29. 229
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, you know you’ve asked this sort of thing, maybe even this exact question before. Have you made the slightest effort to look it up for yourself this time? It’s really easy to learn how to learn.

    J. Field Ornithol., 51(3): 220-228

    In a series of papers by Wallace and his students the effects of DDT
    on the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) on the campus of Michigan
    State Univeristy (MSU) and surrounding East Lansing area were doc-
    umented over a 15-year period (Wallace, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962; Meh-
    ner and Wallace, 1959; Kettunen, 1961; Wallace et al. 1961, 1964; Ber-
    nard, 1962, 1963; Boykins, 1964; Tweist, 1965; Wallace and Boykins,
    1965). DDT spraying on the MSU campus began in 1955 and ended in
    the fall of 1962. After a year of no spraying, DDT was replaced by
    methoxychlor in 1964 but residues of DDT and its breakdown products
    (DDE, DDD) remained high, especially in earthworms. As a result, die-
    offs continued for three years (Bradfield, 1972). Robins began to show
    signs of lessened mortality by 1967 in probable response to decreasing
    levels of DDT in earthworms and soil (Bradfield, 1972). Success of re-
    production was monitored for only one season in 1962 (Tweist, 1965).
    McWhirter and Beaver (1977) noted some successful hatching of robins’
    eggs on the campus, but no formal study has been conducted in the
    intervening 10 years since the last study by Bradfield (1972). The purpose of this paper is to report on the condition of the robin population at MSU 17 years after the last use of DDT to control Dutch Elm disease.

    Just an example from dozens of papers that Google Scholar finds using a few search terms from the paper and your question. This is not _the_ answer for _all_ populations of _all_ birds. But you knew that too, of course.

  30. 230
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Note also that flightless birds are in severe decline: Most penguin species in rapid decline.

  31. 231
    Rod B says:

    Ray (222), fair enough retort. But it is still humorous, if not really odd, that so many of you are sometimes eruditely, often stridently trying really hard to label us skeptics with a word that isn’t even recognized in civil societies (other than in wiki…)

  32. 232
    dhogaza says:

    This is not _the_ answer for _all_ populations of _all_ birds.

    And certainly not for the increasing populations of all birds, given that overall we’re seeing a decline in rather than increase in songbird numbers in the United States …

  33. 233
    James says:

    Rod B Says (13 février 2009 at 11:38 PM):

    “Anne, Nick, et al. And if you keep it up long and loud enough “denialism” and denialist” might eventually even make it into a dictionary as a real word.”

    It’s not? : “1 the action of denying. 2 Psychology refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.” Add standard English suffixes -ist and -ism, and there you are :-)

  34. 234
    Rod B says:

    Mark (223), et al: While missing my point you have also aided it. You simply hypothesize and conjecture (albeit maybe reasonably) a cause for the population increase — the same thought process that Kevin’s commenter gets beat up over. I wasn’t supporting or refuting either scenario. (I actually think there is some justification for the warming scenario, though on the surface seems weaker than claimed — less than 60% moving north, more the 40% moving south doesn’t seem very striking.) I instead questioned the reaction that readily accepts a thinking process and conclusion if it supports your view and blasts the very same process or totally rejects the conclusion if it violates the orthodoxy. (This past year’s heat wave in Texas — probably the highest sustained since good measurements were taken — being solid proof of global warming; that the next worst heat wave was in the early 1920s is insignificant cherry picking by the skeptics, e.g.) More to the point I have no quarrel with making reasonable inferences and conjectures based on the data. I think Audubon probably did just that. But their (or rather other readers) taking it to the level of unassailable irrefutable proof, and contrary or mitigating ideas absolutely not allowed is a bridge too far.

    For those who incredibility believe there is one and only one way to analyze, group, combine and otherwise manipulate a data set, you need more exposure (which is really strange since some of you do this professionally!!??) Cugel, I don’t mean nefariously at all. The Audubon report itself went through a range of conclusions from the same analysts with the same data set: 1. could be anything, 2. climate might be one cause, 3. climate seems to have decent correlation, 4. THAT’S IT! None of that was nefarious, I’m sure; and it might be right. And don’t forget the statistical analysis of correlation and causation is a mathematical construct developed by man, and is not a pure rule of nature bestowed by God (or whoever does this), even though one has to run with the best guess.

    I think this is related to the thread’s topic, though, as Sekerob says, it’s a bit of a stretch. Sorry.

  35. 235
    Rod B says:

    James, adding suffixes to words is one way to make up your own new words. :-P

  36. 236
    Jim Eager says:

    “…trying really hard to label us skeptics with a word that isn’t even recognized in civil societies (other than in wiki…)”

    But then necessity is the mother of invention.

  37. 237
    Hank Roberts says:

    —-excerpt follows—–
    The Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS) provides access to data portals for the NSF-supported Ridge 2000 and MARGINS programs, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Data Synthesis, the Global Multi-Resolution Topography Synthesis, and Seismic Reflection Field Data Portal. These portals were developed and are maintained as a single integrated system, providing free public access to a wide variety of primarily marine geoscience data collected during expeditions throughout the global oceans. In addition to these Data Portals, MGDS also is host to the US Antarctic Program Data Coordination Center (USAP-DCC) which provides tools to help scientists find Antarctic data of interest and satisfy their obligation to share data under the NSF Office of Polar Programs (OPP) data policy.

    The MGDS expedition catalog and data repository is powered by a relational database, which can be queried through web-based keyword and map searches, and is accessible through web services that follow the specifications of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)….

  38. 238
    Rod B says:

    Jim E., that’s true. As I said, use it long and loud enough and it will eventually get in. ;-)

  39. 239
    Eli Rabett says:

    MC, the satellite data is for a few km up. It necessarily is different than surface data due to the lapse rate. The best you could do is compare trends/anomalies. As a physicist, the first thing you should do is figure out what each measurement measures.

  40. 240
    Hank Roberts says:

    “… To avoid extinction, emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages. However, given the future projected increases in GHGs and its effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth.”

  41. 241
    Eli Rabett says:

    An important point often missed is that people who do research on physical systems are quite happy to use mathematical/statistical methods that are imperfect, but Planck’s constant unlikely (sorry Tamino=:), to be so for the systems that they study. This drives mathematicians and statisticians wild.

    The first MBH papers were such a case. Yes, the method was not standard, yes, if you picked stupidly unrealistic parameters you could force a much smaller hockey stick shape under some conditions. McIntyre and McKitrick exploited this.

    Without a doubt, just about any piece of programming for scientific papers has such an issue. It is a feature, not a bug, because, by understanding the system very well, and the math a bit, one makes progress at a much more rapid rate.

  42. 242
    James says:

    Rod B Says (14 February 2009 at 4:11 PM):

    “James, adding suffixes to words is one way to make up your own new words.”

    Sorry, but that’s just the way the English language works. Make up a new noun, say “quark” for a type of subatomic particle, then you pretty much automatically get “quarks” for more than one of them, though you’re not likely to find it in the dictionary because it’s not a new word, just the (main) way English forms the plural. Same with the -ist suffix for a person who does such & such. Invent the bicycle, and you get bicyclist for free – which I think most people would consider a legitimate, recognized word though it’s not in the Webster’s Dictionary on my desk, and in the on-line OED only as a link to bicycle. Indulge in denial, especially in the psychiatric sense of the second definition above, and you can be labeled a denialist :-)

  43. 243
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Perhaps you guys would prefer the terme “selective skeptics,” since your skepticism only extends to matters of science where the theory is solid and the evidence incontrovertible. You guys seem more than willing to grasp at any straw to justify further inaction.

  44. 244
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ray, there’s a perfectly good word for the behavior — it’s a general aspect of human cognition, quite well established and understood widely.

    Explained and illustrated here:

  45. 245
    Sekerob says:

    Rod B et al, for the occasion composed a new word “Ortichitis” the affliction of advanced Denialism. (The Ostrich farmer I knew in France gave them diapers. The reason was not incontinence, but to catch the eggs before falling to the ground and break. It was a robust system from own observations :-)

  46. 246
    Sekerob says:

    new keyboard required… “Ostrichitis” of course

  47. 247
    Chris says:

    This is not specifically on topic but I can find no other place to post an inquiry. Sorry.

    George Will in today’s Washington Post resurrects the 1970s global cooling myth and adds this statement:

    “[A]ccording to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade….”

    The global cooling part is easy enough to debunk, but what is that? He provides no reference, and I can’t find anything on the WMO site to support it. (It certainly is not supported by their press release titled ““1998-2007 Is Warmest Decade on Record”!)

    Does anyone know what he’s talking about?

  48. 248
    David B. Benson says:

    Chris (247) — Methinks he is just MSU (Making Stuff Up).

  49. 249
    David B. Benson says:

    Chris (247) — For a more thorough fisking of George Will (and the specfic point you raise), see

    [reCAPTCHA points out that "grandchildren asked".]

  50. 250
    Rod B says:

    James (242), I don’t disagree with your general thesis: it’ll get in sometime. But, just for the record, “bicyclist” is in all of my spellcheckers (5) and listed in a ton (24 actually — 8 less than that for “cyclist”) of dictionaries at It’s also listed in my Webster’s of 1956 — don’t know what’s wrong with yours. “Denialist” is in none.

Switch to our mobile site