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Forbes’ rich list of nonsense

Filed under: — group @ 6 January 2011

Guest commentary from Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia with input from Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth

While it is no longer surprising, it remains disheartening to see a blistering attack on climate science in the business press where thoughtful reviews of climate policy ought to be appearing. Of course, the underlying strategy is to pretend that no evidence that the climate is changing exists, so any effort to address climate change is a waste of resources.

A recent piece by Larry Bell in Forbes, entitled “Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts”, is a classic example.

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop”, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

The approach also works somewhat in print, if the references are sufficiently obscure and numerous. Ideally, someone will take the time to answer such an attack, but there is a fundamental asymmetry of forces at work. It is, in fact, easier to form an allegation than to track down a reasonable explanation of what it means and how it really fits in to the balance of evidence. Also, the skills required to reflect the science are deeper than the ones required to attack it; hence the defenders are outnumbered and outgunned. Still, sometimes an article is prominent enough that it merits a detailed response.

The slightly out of the ordinary thing about Bell’s piece is that he casts his attack not as an attack on science (his usual method) but on the media:

As 2010 draws to a close, do you remember hearing any good news from the mainstream media about climate? Like maybe a headline proclaiming ‘Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported: Global Warming Theorists Perplexed’? Or ‘NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase: Alarmists Fear Climate Science Budgets in Peril’?” he begins.

But the remainder of the article is true to the form. Bell gallops through all the purported “good news” that the media ignored. The implication is that the media is complicit in overstating the climate change story.

But these aren’t the sorts of observations that most people generally receive from the media. Instead, they present sensational statements and dramatic images that leave lasting impressions of calving glaciers, drowning polar bears and all manner of other man-caused climate calamities.

Many intentionally target impressionable young minds and sensitive big hearts with messages of fear and guilt. Take, for example, a children’s book called The North Pole Was Here, authored by New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. It warns kids that some day it may be “easier to sail than stand on the North Pole in summer.” Imagine such images through their visualization: How warm it must be to melt that pole way up north. Poor Santa! And Rudolph! Of course it’s mostly their parents’ fault because of the nasty CO2 they produce driving them to school in SUVs.

Lots of grown-ups are sensitive people with big hearts too. Don’t we all deserve more from the seemingly infinite media echo chamber of alarmism than those windy speculations, snow jobs and projections established on theoretical thin ice?

Whether the enemy is the “mercenary” scientific community, the “power hungry” liberal politicians or the “sensationalist” press matters little. What matters is to suggest the public has been manipulated, before starting the manipulation in earnest. The strategic point is to divert attention from what most scientifically informed people consider the key facts: the climate is changing as a result of human intervention. The longer we delay taking policy action, the more damage we will take and the more an effective policy will cost. It is conceivable and increasingly foreseeable that we will delay long enough that useful policy becomes infeasible and both human civilization and the biosphere will be permanently damaged.

The near-silence of the media on these matters is considered by many to be a key part of the problem. Yet, in this context, Bell suggests we are ignoring “the good news”.

Does he have a point? Is there really much of substance that qualifies as good news justifying his conclusion? The value of his piece depends crucially on how newsworthy his good news was, and how these items fit into the big picture.

We counted eleven assertions of fact in his gallop. Let’s look at each of them and place them in context. Bell especially emphasizes his first two points, so we examine them in detail (quotes from the article are bolded).

Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported

Bell’s first claim is not a confidence builder.

It’s possible that Bell is referencing a specific metric of hurricane activity (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), but that does not give a full story, nor does it show ‘record lows’. According to NOAA the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Dec 31, was one of the busiest on record. In the Atlantic Basin a total of 19 named storms formed – tied with 1887 and 1995 for third highest on record. Of those, 12 became hurricanes – tied with 1969 for second highest on record. Five of those reached major hurricane status of Category 3 or higher. 2010 was just behind 2004 and 2005 for earliest occurrence of a third category 4 hurricane.

It is true that none of the 12 hurricanes made landfall in the US (though tropical storm Hermine made landfall in US and hurricane Karl made land fall in Mexico but caused major flooding in Texas. But the climate system cares nothing for national borders. This may be just a lucky break . Looking in detail it is attributable to some other features of the prevailing winds last year.

What is certainly untrue is that there was “record low” cyclonic activity in the Atlantic!

What about elsewhere? A tie for the strongest eastern Pacific hurricane on record (Celia). A category 5 hurricane hitting the Philippines (Megi).

Did the press ignore this story? Even on this Bell’s leading point is dubious. But in the context of climate change, sea surface temperatures continue to increase and strong tropical cyclones continue their upward trend. So Bell leads off with a real clunker.

NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase

Bell’s second point, also from the lead paragraph:

According to two separate NASA studies, one conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the other by the Langley Research Center, the oceans now appear to be heading into another natural periodic cooling phase within a typical 55- to 70-year dipolar warm/cool pattern.

We traced this claim to an internet article by Justin Berk that says:

Two separate studies through NASA confirm that since 2003, the world’s oceans have been losing heat. …

Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, published his first report about the warming oceans. The article Correcting Ocean Cooling published on NASA’s Earth Observatory page this week discussed his and other results. Willis used data from 1993-2003 that showed the warm-up and followed the Global Warming Theory. In 2006, he co-piloted a follow-up study led by John Lyman at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle that updated the time series for 2003-2005. Surprisingly, the ocean seemed to have cooled. He was surprised, and called it a ‘speed bump’ on the way to global warming.

But the excellent article “Correcting Ocean Cooling” which Berk references (and to which Bell is implicitly referring) for this actually explains how Willis went back and found that his earlier report of cooling was erroneous!

So the new Argo data were too cold, and the older XBT data were too warm, and together, they made it seem like the ocean had cooled,” says Willis. The February evening he discovered the mistake, he says, is “burned into my memory.” He was supposed to fly to Colorado that weekend to give a talk on “ocean cooling” to prominent climate researchers. Instead, he’d be talking about how it was all a mistake.”

Berk is so happy to find the word “cooling” in an article that despite the title “Correcting Ocean Cooling” he doesn’t bother to read or understand the whole point of the article. It’s really a very compelling example of how superficial this kind of journalism is; Berk gets something backwards, Bell picks it up, and Forbes, no less, uses it to lead off an article (albeit an op-ed column).

What’s more, the NASA article itself is from 2008, so even if the press had reported it as news as Larry Bell suggests, it would not have been in 2010. But in fact, the news was that the previous evidence of cooling was erroneous. Bell’s second point is simply wrong as well.

Now that we have some sense of the quality of Bell’s research, we’ll go a little more quickly through most of the other points, saving for last a case where he might have a stronger point.

A special press conference called by IPCC spokesman Kevin Trenberth announced “Experts warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense activity.” Christopher Landsea, a top U.S. expert on the subject, repeatedly notified the IPCC that no research had been conducted to support that claim–not in the Atlantic basin, or in any other basin.

This famous controversy occurred in 2004 and is not 2010 news. Nor was it ignored by the press. We doubt that Landsea went so far as to claim that “no research had been conducted to support that claim” but if he did he is certainly incorrect. This topic goes back at least to 1987 with a paper in Nature by Kerry Emanuel. Kevin Trenberth offers some salient points about the controversy from his point of view:

  1. I was not an IPCC spokesperson and I was not advertised as such. Landsea claimed otherwise.
  2. I did not call the press conference, it was called by Harvard university (Paul Epstein and Jim McCarthy), I participated.
  3. There was a ton of research including my own on changes in the hydrological cycle that were pertinent but not specifically Tropical Storm based, as well as Kerry’s work.
  4. Landsea did not notify IPCC once, let alone repeatedly. He called a press conference and resigned from IPCC but he was not even part of IPCC. He had been asked by me to write something as a contributing author. It was a horrible distortion of many facts.

A globally viewed December 2005 BBC feature alarmingly reported that two massive glaciers in eastern Greenland, Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim, were melting, with water “racing to the sea.” … Only 18 months later, and despite slightly warmer temperatures, the melting rate of both glaciers Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim not only slowed down and stopped, but actually reversed.

This again is not 2010 news since it happened in 2007. It is a fact that after a massive retreat from 1991 to 2005 Kangderlugssuaq regained a tiny fraction, less than a tenth, of that retreat by 2007. This may be of interest to glacier dynamicists, but its climatological importance is nil. Glaciers worldwide are in massive retreat. Indeed, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier lost another 5.2 square km in 2009.

[The] ice cap has been accumulating snow growth at a rate of about 2.1 inches per year

The top of the ice caps are growing slightly as expected, since warmer air contains more moisture which will fall in those places as snow. The issue that the public ought to pay attention to is the much larger and accelerating melt at the edge of the ice sheet. This is not especially 2010 news, but in any case it is sleight of hand. The real action is the instability at the edges, which already dominates the accumulation in the interior and looks likely to overwhelm it.

The new sea level, which has been stable, has not changed in the last 35 years.

Just wrong:


Figure showing the last 18 years of sea level rise derived from satellites and validated against tide gauges. (Update: longer records available here).

Next:

… if you want a grant for a research project in climatology, it is written into the document that there ‘must’ be a focus on global warming.

There are many grants supported by the grant agencies. Some are very broad and some very narrow. While it is possible that some grants specify “global warming”, it is relatively unusual. Currently open climate calls in the US through NSF can be seen at here. The claim simply isn’t true.

The Indian Ocean, for example, was higher between 1900 and 1970 than it has been since.

This is at least a current topic. It probably is based in Patterns of Indian Ocean sea-level change in a warming climate, Han et al. Nature Geoscience 2010. They conclude that “sea level has decreased substantially in the south tropical Indian Ocean whereas it has increased elsewhere. This pattern is driven by changing surface winds associated with a combined invigoration of the Indian Ocean Hadley and Walker cells, patterns of atmospheric overturning circulation in the north–south and east–west direction, respectively, which is partly attributable to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.”

So yes, there are apparently parts of the Indian Ocean where sea level has declined. This just leaves more water to pile up elsewhere. In fact, it shows how powerful the forces of climate change already are, in order to be able to outweigh the generally rising ocean volume in a limited area. It is hard to see how this rises to a general interest topic or how it qualifies as “good news” though.

The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before.

This is untrue in recorded history. The traversals prior to 2007 were in very specialized boats and often took years. In 2007 and 2010, genuine shipping lanes opened up for the first time. It was possibly open in the mid-Holocene about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago and was certainly open millions of years ago. But since the opening of the passage itself received far too little attention (in our opinion), it is hard to see what Bell is complaining about.

in February 2009 it was discovered that scientists had previously been underestimating the re-growth of Arctic sea ice by an area larger than the state of California (twice as large as New Zealand)

“Previously” is grossly misleading. This was an instrumental glitch that lasted a few weeks. And February 2009 was not in 2010 either.

… previous estimates of Greenland and West Antarctica ice melt rate losses may have been exaggerated by double.

We’ve saved this for last because here Bell has a fraction of a point; as far as we can tell the only thing he raises that is 1) current and 2) arguably of general interest and 3) arguably good news. The use of the word “exaggerated” however is malicious and unjustified.

There are a number of ways of estimating the large scale mass balance of the ice sheets. Prominent among them uses information from the GRACE satellite, which measures the gravitational field of the earth. By its nature, the resulting measures are very large scale. They are complemented by precise local measures of ice altitude, for example, which are precise but cannot give broad coverage. To estimate ice cap melting the GRACE results also have to be combined with an estimate of the post-glacial rebound from the last ice age (which is still affecting the mass distribution of the Earth’s crust). Observing a planet is tricky business.

A recent publication by Wu et al makes the claim that:

“these [previous] results were not properly corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment, the phenomenon that the Earth’s crust rebounds as a result of the melting of the massive ice caps from the last major Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. These movements of the Earth’s crust have to be incorporated in the calculations, since these vertical movements change the Earth’s mass distribution and therefore also have an influence on the gravitational field.”

There is some contention here. If it proves true, it is an example of science at its best; a sequence of corrections converging on objective truth. The original estimates would have been corrected, pretty much by a factor of two as Bell says.

So this is current, substantially good news, and possibly salient for a general audience. On the other hand it is only good news about bad news; the ice retreat may have been overestimated, but we are still talking about hundreds of billions of tons more ice melting than accumulating every year, and this rate still shows signs of accelerating.

In this case, it is worth noting that all the evidence is that the ice sheets are losing mass and that the loss is accelerating. The Wu et al paper would be simply a recalibration of the net loss. This is good news, but not great news, and is certainly no evidence at all that climate change is negligible.

Please notice how we are trapped in a polemical double bind here.

What the naysayers will do is celebrate every correction that makes matters look less dangerous and criticize every correction that makes matters look more dangerous. In the former case, the older measure will have been “exaggerated”, and “corrected” by some noble and courageous hero. In the latter case, the newer measure is treated as the “exaggeration”. Thus, every single change in the estimate of any quantity is treated as evidence of the grand conspiracy.

What should be celebrated as advances of truth are instead recast either as the bad scary science defeated by the good non-scary science or the other way around. This is especially evident in the clumsy way the Willis tale is told, wherein the casting is confused because one person takes both roles.

So what remains of the criticism Bell raises? Very little indeed! The only unreported good news is that ice cap melting might have been overestimated, though it is still large and probably accelerating. The other ten of his eleven points are essentially nonsensical. I am not being partisan or oppositional here. I examined every point with an open mind and came up with ten points that boil down to complete nonsense and the last one a bit heavy on the spin.

Ultimately, though, the criticism of the press is ludicrous. The naysayers ought to be thrilled at the lack of interest in climate change shown in the press, at least in North America. The longer we delay, the bigger the topic gets, and the more ridiculous the refusal of the press and policy sector to grapple with it becomes.

Yet widely respected publications like Forbes seem eager to promulgate great clouds of rhetorical ink to make the problem seem ever more trivial and distant. If there is good news of general interest, of course it should be reported. But Bell seems to want, instead, to invent it.


334 Responses to “Forbes’ rich list of nonsense”

  1. 1
    MarkB says:

    “The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before.”

    The better “skeptic” argument in this case would be that the Northwest Passage is open for the first time in recorded history, which is a rare good thing that helps commerce. But such an acknowledgement is an admission that Arctic sea ice is decreasing. Can’t have that.

  2. 2
    John Mashey says:

    This is not new, and ocne upon a time, Forbes magazine was a favorite of mine. Sigh.

    Here is Steve Fores in 2007, Fantasy Fears. A big chunk of that is based on Mary Ellen Tiffany Gilder’s Diagnosing Al Gore: Truth in the Balance. She was at the time a medical student. Note that is posted at OISM.

    She of course is the daughter of Forbes’ colleague (and contributor to magazine) George Gilder, who cofounded the Discovery Institute (i.e., Intelligent Design, among other things).

    See Gilder’s Telecosm 2007 conference.

    href=”http://www.discovery.org/v/30″>Global Warming Myth by Noah Robinson (OISM), and entity with several long-deceased board members, 2 of whom are shown in the picture at that web page.

    Put your coffee down, then watch the first 2 minutes as George extols the virtues of the great Arthur Robinson and then introduces Noah.

    For those readers unfamiliar with Arthur, he ran for Representative, unsuccessfully (but with mysterious financing), and did provide a legacy of an amazing interview with Rachel Maddow. Be careful with coffee there also.

  3. 3
    Adam R. says:

    I do not know what Mr. Larry Bell’s motives might be in writing this article, but I know what the results will be: many Forbes readers will take away the idea that the conclusions of climate science are spun to further a leftist agenda. The particulars of his arguments are irrelevant; doubt, as always, is the product.

  4. 4
    Jim Redden says:

    Thank you all for the analysis placing this article in context. Sounds like more of the same distraction game away from the facts. Simple known non-controversial scientific observations and facts that point out the huge risk of hydrocarbon dependent business as usual: pesky one’s like the known energy properties of greenhouse gases, the accurate temperature observations of the lower and upper atmosphere, and a careful analysis of the protracted paleoclimate history.

    The sleight of hand illusion, prevalent in this article and similar, that plays to the ignorant is immoral lying at best, and really rather criminal in the context of humanity.

  5. 5
    William P says:

    Big Oil is THE most powerful corporate force in America, and perhaps the world.

    There are many only too happy to do their bidding – like writing this Forbes article.

  6. 6

    Gosh… I went to read the article in Forbes… http://www.forbes.com/2011/01/03/climate-change-hoax-opinions-contributors-larry-bell.html – and was first confronted by a full screen splash page advertisement by Microsoft.

    Strange, because Microsoft is a product line that depends on rigid application of logical expression. And I KNOW that advertisers like to shy away from controversy. I hope Microsoft notices what they are doing.

    The phrase “don’t be stupid” seems to fit capitalism quite well these days.

  7. 7
    Peter Hartmann says:

    Nice article.

    Here’s another memorable quote from Bell, from the Oct 28 Forbes article “It’s time to pardon carbon“:

    “It’s high time we recognize that carbon dioxide has been treated unfairly. Not only have the good deeds of that wonderful molecule so essential to rain forests, begonias and plants that feed God’s creatures been ignored, it has even come to be demonized as an endangering pollutant and climate-ravaging menace. What real evidence has been offered up to support these defamatory charges? Absolutely none.”

    Bell is weekly editor at Forbes for some months now, let’s see what else he’ll come up with.

  8. 8
    Esop says:

    Mr. Bell obviously could not even get the name of Amundsen right.
    He forgot to mention that it took Amundsen 3 years to get through the Northwest passage back in 1903-06, while another great Norwegian polar explorer, Børge Ousland sailed through both the Northeast and the Northwest passage in a few months last fall.

  9. 9
    Peter Hartmann says:

    the link “recent publication by Wu et al” is empty.

  10. 10
    SecularAnimist says:

    The group wrote: “Ultimately, though, the criticism of the press is ludicrous. The naysayers ought to be thrilled at the lack of interest in climate change shown in the press, at least in North America.”

    There is a recent article by Joe Romm at ClimateProgress that is very relevant:

    Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010

  11. 11
    S. Molnar says:

    The link “an instrumental glitch that lasted a few weeks” is also self-referential.

  12. 12
    pointer says:

    This was flagged as spam; let’s try again:

    Forbes also ran with a ridiculous piece of nonsense about how Obama learned his hatred for America from his father’s cancerous postcolonialism.
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0927/politics-soc**lism-capitalism-private-enterprises-obama-business-problem_print.html

    There’s a whole lot of lib-hating going on in that site!
    * Replace the asterisks in the address with the correct letters. For some reason, soc**lism is flagged as spam. Laugh!

  13. 13
    Andy Revkin says:

    Bell’s errors extend beyond his treatment of the science into his descriptions of media coverage and my book on the changing Arctic, as well, as described here:
    http://www.twitlonger.com/show/7p9lrk
    He did backtrack a bit:
    http://www.twitlonger.com/show/7pqj3n

  14. 14
    Bill Walker says:

    The tag line on the article makes it pretty clear what we’re dealing with here:

    “Weekly columnist Larry Bell is a professor at the University of Houston and author of ‘Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax’, which will be released on Jan. 1, 2011.”

    He is a professor of Space Architecture. No doubt this makes him eminently qualified to analyze climate science. Being in Houston, I would have guessed he had something to do with oil.

  15. 15
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, when I read something like this in a journal that purports to give me advice on financial matters, it discredits everything the journal says about any subject. If there is nothing else one learns from being an expert in a subject matter, it is the value of expertise. If you are truly an expert, then you will have had the experience of coming into a room of people running around like decapitated chickens and being able to provide critical pieces of information that allow the activity to become productive.
    That Bell and the rest of the Forbes staff can so cavalierly dismiss the expertise of the worlds scientists suggests to me that theyve never possessed any expertise…in any subject matter. They think one can simply come in and bullshit one’s way through…that bluff and bluster will carry the day. All I take from this and the other pieces Forbes has run on climate is that it is yet another journal that should come printed on 4-inch squares and wrapped around a cardboard tube.

  16. 16

    Let’s not forget another “underlying strategy” also prevalent for most “bottom line” (not triple) media companies… publish articles on “controversial hot topics” for the mere sake of increasing ad revenue.

    Note the irony of Forbes.com’s bread crumb navigation trail leading to Bell’s “The Climate Crisis Hoax” article, categorized under “Opinions -> Fact & Comment”. Plenty of ads; plenty of opinion; plent of comments; light on Fact. Oxy”morons”.

  17. 17
    Snapple says:

    It would be nice to know more about Larry Bell’s business interests. Also, I don’t think this article is published in the Russian Forbes, at least not so-far.

    I read Bell’s book promotion site because he is something to do with space exploration and NASA. He is an “endowed professor of space architecture.” What is that all about?

    http://www.climateofcorruption.com/about_author.html

  18. 18
    JiminMpls says:

    Groovy man. The long-hair, anti-establishment radical hippies at Forbes finally have have uptight establishment suits at GISS up against the wall.

  19. 19
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Wasn’t there a paper recently that just counted the research papers with good news vs bad new, and bad news won by about ten to one?

  20. 20
    GFW says:

    Just a little proofreading here: The sentence that begins \Berk is so happy\ should start \Bell is so happy\.

  21. 21
    Mike Roddy says:

    Great job, and thanks to all five of you, who don’t fit the stereotype of scientists who are content to put on their white coats and retreat to the laboratory. I hope that the next time you make this effort it will be about a general interest magazine article or TV show segment. It’ll probably be futile, but, as Gandhi said, you still have to do it.

    John Mashey- thanks for the Maddow link. You guys all deserve a laugh today, so check this out- the first three minutes of this segment also summarizes the bizarre mental architecture of Larry Bell and his sources:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzFDg_GD0n4

    Maybe you will also discuss the recent horrendous articles in Nature and Scientific American (with sage commentary from Joe Bastardi). It’s a never ending battle, unfortunately. When I was a kid we had the Bell Science Hour, still better than anything on TV today, even with 200 cable channels.

    We need a You Tube show featuring people like the five of you, which could unscramble the truth for a lot of people pretty quickly.

  22. 22
    Balazs says:

    I hope, Larry Bell will defend his paper if he can, but there are at least two points were I think, he is right. The number of land falling hurricanes were indeed low, which is the metric commonly used since nobody has any idea about the number of hurricanes forming over the oceans before satellite era. Comparing 1887, 1969 and 2010 is mixing apples and oranges.

    This commentary might be right about the that “global warming” might be rare in NSF and other solicitation, but “climate change” is almost mandatory. Even in NASA solicitation (which are expecting the use of their satellite assets), addressing climate change is a must, which is a non-sense, given the short life-span (couple of years) most the NASA satellites.

    I keep testing the idea of submitting proposals, without touching climate change without much success so far. I guess, I will need to write better proposals.

    Cheers,

    Balazs

  23. 23
    plonkerinn says:

    The caption to the sea level rise figure states it shows 30 years but only shows approx. 18 years.

    [Response: Our bad. The caption has been fixed. – gavin]

  24. 24

    Great piece. Have you asked Forbes to print it? Forbes readers should be shown just how sloppy their expensive magazine can be when dealing with topics outside its sphere of expertise.

    But … how does a graph of sea level rise from 1994 to 2010 show “30 years of sea level rise”?

  25. 25
    Lou Grinzo says:

    E&E: “Let’s not forget another “underlying strategy” also prevalent for most “bottom line” (not triple) media companies… publish articles on “controversial hot topics” for the mere sake of increasing ad revenue.”

    Agreed. This is why I have been describing some (but by no means all) of the traditional media outlets fighting for survival (including many newspapers and magazines) as being arms merchants in the war of words over climate change or any other topic they can use to whip their readers into a frenzy. I would contend that most of the people involved don’t actually know enough to hold an informed opinion of CC; they simply see it as a means to an end. As long as they’re filling pages with lots of “controversial” material and it draws paying readers/viewers, they’re happy.

  26. 26
    John Mashey says:

    re: #24 I believe that Forbes is as likely to print this as the WSJ.

    Houston? Aerospace? [Jastrow/Baliunas; Seitz is cited in Bell’s book); Intro by Singer; at Amazon, first review by Jay Lehr (Heartland). Astronauts?
    Finally, there’s the continuing SoCal Aerospace connection exemplified by ex-JPL/(USC) Wegman’s correspondent, Donald Rapp.
    Greenleaf Book Press is a new one on me., but doesn’t look like Regnery, so maybe they didn’t know better. It seems different from their other material.

    Not a positive pattern. You won’t turn Bell around. Someone might take on the project of:
    a) Getting the book.
    b) Analyzing it for errors and [possible defamation].
    c) Letting Greenleaf know and see what they do.
    d) Of course, it may be a fine book they can be proud of, but if not…
    [People go off and write these things, and some publishers are tipoffs and hopeless, but others might be.]
    Presumably thintkanks will appear and buy some to give away.

    NOTE: as far as I know this is a tiny fraction of aerospace people. The JPL folks I know tend not to do this.

  27. 27

    That Justin Berk, a TV meteorologist, would be an unreliable source for climate science information should be no surprise to residents of the Baltimore/Washington area.

  28. 28
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Great rebuttel of an insideously deceiving forbes article. In relation to the ice caps..area does not tell the story it’s more the internal structure of the ice..the average density across the plate and vertically down the sea. The arctic regions have the highest rate of warming of any latitute and that tends to not just melt the ice around the edges as is happening but actually permeate deep into the frozen substrate and erodes the crystalline structure..like swiss cheese. Thus polar ice mass decline is not a linear process, it will no doubt happen in sharp steps..like a simulataneous sudden massive splitting of a number of antarctic ice sheets which could well occur tomorrow, in x months or in few years time. The only way to get a real handle on what is actually happpening is to invest in researchers to take thousands more ice samples in as many places of the poles as humanly possible. When sea level suddenly goes up by a foot overnight due to a number of gigantic ice shelf breaking free maybe the likes of Bell will reexamine his fallicious standpoint..then maybe not?

  29. 29
    Heraclitus says:

    I note a possible good-news story – bacteria bloom found to have consumed methane released in Deepwater Horizon disaster, suggesting that methane release may be less of a threat than anticipated.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110106145436.htm
    Maybe this can be a test case for how much attention the main-stream media gives to good-news stories on climate?

  30. 30
    Russell Seitz says:

    As a former Forbes columnist I second the notion that the editor ferguson should provide a link to this

    Bell , whose current metier is space advertising- placing corporate logos on Proton rocket boosters declined to identify his favorite climate science textbooks, if any, and said instead that Fred Singer urged him to write his new book. It’s really sad to see Steve Forbes being snookered by Gilder and various escapees from the Abramoff law firm.

  31. 31
    Edward Greisch says:

    Bell’s article reads like an article in Christianity Today. It sounds great until you go back to look for a fact. You find that there are no facts. You very soon tire of reading such articles because they accomplish nothing but a waste of time. The more you read to try to find out what they are talking about, the more frustrated you get because they aren’t talking about any real thing.

    In order to see what is going on, you have to leave their level and learn some science. When you look back, you will see that they are generating nothing more than hot air. That is the nature of propaganda: Soldier words meant to die, preventing you from thinking by wasting time; generating interminable pointless arguments.

    Again, an intelligent person must leave their level and get an education in reality, by which I mean science. Most people cannot do so on their own or at all. That is why we are stuck where we are. It takes many years for a good student, born into such a muddied thinking family, to work his way out of it. A good university and isolation from the previous culture are necessary to break free.

    The whole point of Bell’s article is to prevent readers from breaking free to think for themselves. He is succeeding in many cases.

  32. 32
    Simon Matthews says:

    To follow up on Balasz’s comment:
    The global cyclonic activity for 2009 and 2010 is at its lowest for 30 years, which is what Larry Bell writes. You counter that argument by giving numbers regarding the North Atlantic cyclones; this is disingenuous, to say the least. Pointing out a few specifics (2 cyclones) for the rest of the world is irrelevant; again, the overall activity is clearly what matters, not one or two cyclones.

    Regarding storms and hurricanes that have made landfall on the USA, it is a subset of all North Atlantic storms, and therefore of lesser value in general. But when you compare storm count today with a century ago, where many storms and hurricanes that did not make landfall were not counted, the best way to compare such count is to restrict it to this subset, where the comparison is much more valid.
    That said, the fact that there were no hurricanes making landfall in the US in 2010 is not that important (except for those living on or near the US coast of course); it’s only one year. What is relevant is the general trend over several years, or decades.

  33. 33
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Balazs@22
    Landfalling Hurricanes? Hell, why not just limit it to Hurricanes that hit North Carolina or Florids or Miami for that matter. Somebody needs to understand Poisson statisitics and what happens when your mean gets too small.

  34. 34

    The salient point in all of this is that he (Bell) has a venue for misinformation that reaches a very large audience. It is a mass media problem and no matter how good the arguments are in dispelling and correcting his false and misleading statements, we are stuck with speaking to the converted since the corrected manuscript will never see the light of day other than on this web site. It is also equally unlikely that the B&B would ever respond, recalibrate any of what they have said. In the media…ALL attention is good and the fact that your comments and corrections are volumous and well researched plays into their hand, since in this day and age of media consolidation and manufactured consent they know full well, short and pithy beats out correct by a long shot. Yes indeed we are stuck between a rock and hard place. The solution? Education of scientists on all media. Every peer reviewed paper should also be prepared for media interpretation in advance, before the mass media hacks it apart themselves.

    Great analysis and dissection. Too bad it has to be done.

  35. 35
    Snapple says:

    It might be good to look at some of the business interests that own/control publishers/magazines. They probably become gatekeepers.

    Sometimes it’s pretty involved. The Russian Forbes is reportedly owned by a Russian-owned subsidiary of a German company called Axel Springer.

    Rapp’s publisher is Praxis/Springer.

    I don’t know if these two publishers are connected, but I know that in Russia the major media is often owned by fossil-fuel interests.

  36. 36
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > The JPL folks I know tend not to do this

    Same for the JPL folks I know…

  37. 37
    jgarland says:

    @19: Academic journals are not generally in the habit of publishing good OR bad news. They are in the habit of publishing peer-reviewed data and hypotheses about that data.

  38. 38

    A pretty minor quibble in this warmed-over denial-fest, but does the idea of a negative (“reversed”) *melt* rate seem a bit conceptually dubious to anyone else?

    Anyway, I think the bit about “cyclonic activity” probably goes to the posts by Ryan Maue throughout the hurricane season, which crowed about “record low” global values, IIRC. Ah, yes, here is his end of year update:

    http://www.coaps.fsu.edu/~maue/tropical/

    I’m guessing that an active Atlantic and quiet Pacific/Indian Ocean scenario would probably be what you would expect in a La Nina-dominated hurricane season. And the bigger point would be that the hurricane trend would be observable over multi-decadal timescales, not just a few years. So this would be just another cherry-pick–but if Dr. Maue’s data are correct, Bell’s point would not be technically wrong.

    By the way, finding this took me by WUWT (a place I generally avoid) and they include a crow about “RC owing Bell an apology” on this subject–apparently referring to this very post. Watts remains consistent in logical inconsistency by adding a sneer that “nobody pays attention to RC anymore.” How can anyone take notice of a post in less than 24 hours, “refute” a claim, then say they (as a subset of “everybody”) aren’t paying attention? Oh, well. . . self-reflectivity has never been one of his strong points, has it?

  39. 39
    sHx says:

    @Esop #8

    “Mr. Bell obviously could not even get the name of Amundsen right.
    He forgot to mention that it took Amundsen 3 years to get through the Northwest passage back in 1903-06, while another great Norwegian polar explorer, Børge Ousland sailed through both the Northeast and the Northwest passage in a few months last fall.”

    Amundsen undertook that task without the aid of gyroscope, GPS, radar, detailed and accurate marine charts, and daily/hourly satellite weather and ice updates. Modern conveniences are great enablers. Last year, a lone, 17 year old Aussie girl did non-stop what Magellan couldn’t do: circumnavigate the world. The impact of technological advancements on Northwest passage navigation has been greater than reduced arctic Ice extent.

    Of course, whether Northeast and Northwest passages are navigable is not the issue, but whether they are open for business is. So far the navigation has remained at proof of concept level.

    One day, perhaps, convoys of specially designed cargo ships led by powerful ice-breakers will make the navigation routinely for one or two months of the year.

    For that to happen, Arctic ice has to melt well below 2007 level every northern summer. Until then, Northwest passage remains closed for anyone but adventurers.

  40. 40
    bratisla says:

    @39 : you missed the memo :
    http://www.gpsworld.com/transportation/marine/news/commercial-ships-traverse-northwest-passage-8878

    Northeast passage is open for foreigner commercial ships.

  41. 41
    Russell Seitz says:

    sHx

    Nix on the High Tech navigation factor- a century after Amundsen two guys sailed a Hobie 16 through the NWP !

  42. 42
    Mike Mangan says:

    I’m sure Larry Bell is tickled pink that you chose to respond even if it was by your third string. One likes to know they have pushed the right buttons.

  43. 43

    #39–Just wrong. The first commercial operation to use the Northwest Passage was in 2008:

    On November 28, 2008, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Canadian Coast Guard confirmed the first commercial ship sailed through the Northwest Passage. In September 2008, the MV Camilla Desgagnés, owned by Desgagnés Transarctik Inc. and, along with the Arctic Cooperative, is part of Nunavut Sealift and Supply Incorporated (NSSI),[65] transported cargo from Montreal to the hamlets of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak. A member of the crew is reported to have claimed that “there was no ice whatsoever”. Shipping from the east is to resume in the fall of 2009.[66] Although sealift is an annual feature of the Canadian Arctic this is the first time that the western communities have been serviced from the east.

    IIRC, that pattern continued this year, for three consecutive years now. If you count cruise ships, the first trip actually goes back to 2006:

    “In recent years at least one scheduled cruise liner (the MS Bremen in 2006) has successfully run the Northwest Passage. . .”

    Moreover, while the term “adventurers” for recreational sailors of the Northwest Passage is still appropriate, the level of difficulty today is nothing like what it was for Amundsen, nor for the St. Roche.

    Meanwhile, the Northeast Passage, AKA the Northern Sea Route, has had several commercial transits, the first coming in 2009 with icebreaker-escorted ships of the Beluga group. Beluga claimed to have saved about 600,000 Euros.

    As far as we know, the opening of deep-water routes on both sides of the Arctic is strictly a phenomenon of the present decade, and no amount of satellite imagery, radar, or high-tech gear would have enabled the many transits we’ve seen without that. So I’d have to regard the claim that “The impact of technological advancements on Northwest passage navigation has been greater than reduced arctic Ice extent,” as deeply mistaken.

  44. 44
  45. 45
    George says:

    I can’t go into everything in this post, but the 2010 global ACE is definitely very low:
    http://www.coaps.fsu.edu/~maue/tropical/global_running_ace.jpg

    NOAA records and predictions are set as a % of mean, rather than actual numbers, so it is a bit of a dig to get a comparable graph. But, given the fact that hurricane/tropical storm activity varies a lot from year to year 2010 is definitely on the low side of recent levels. As best I can figure, worldwide 2010 was at about 95% of the NOAA median, compared to an August prediction of 170-190% of median. The Atlantic was at about 80%. Obviously, as you say, not a record low, but also nothing at all exceptional to get excited about.

    Hurricanes and tropical storms don’t seem to track global CO2 rises very well, if at all. Too many other factors stir up the storms to lay the blame on any simple correlation with temperatures or CO2 levels.

  46. 46
    Balazs says:

    Responding to post 32 and 33, I went back to the article, and I have to admit, that I am not sure, how to decode this paragraph:

    “But there was a problem. Christopher Landsea, a top U.S. expert on the subject, repeatedly notified the IPCC that no research had been conducted to support that claim–not in the Atlantic basin, or in any other basin. After receiving no replies, he publicly resigned from all IPCC activities. And while the press conference received tumultuous global media coverage, Mother Nature didn’t pay much attention. Subsequent hurricane seasons returned to average patterns noted historically over the past 150 years, before exhibiting recent record lows with no 2010 U.S. landfalls.”

    The only clear statement here is 150 historical record (that is normally limited to land falling hurricanes as far as I know). I am not a hurricane expert, but I read a lot regarding climate change (both pro and con). I understand that the number of forming hurricanes is a more relevant number, but our records over the oceans is limited to satellite era. Land falling hurricanes might not be a good metric, but it definitely will coincide with public perception better than the number of hurricanes seen by a handful of experts at NOAA’s hurricane center. For the same reason, I hoped that NASA-GISS would not claim 2010 the hotest year on record even if it was true according to some creative calculations. This is simple PR. If the hotest year keeps coinciding record cold weather (from Englad to Florida), the public will rapidly loose interest.

    My biggest problem with climate alarmism is that it will totally erode the trust in science and people won’t listen even if climate scientist really have the answer. I don’t think the current level of uncertainties in climate science are acceptable for policy making. Those, who keep pointing fingers to Big Oil are welcome to turn off the heat and walk bare foot (which is about the level of energy conservation needed for carbon free economy).

  47. 47
    Dan H. says:

    Kevin,
    I strongly suspect that Bell was referring to Maue’s work. During a strong La Nina, as recently observed, a more active Atlantic and less active Pacific cyclone season occurs. Since the Pacific produces significantly more storms than the Atlantic, an overall decrease would be expected. Based on Maue’s work, cyclonic activity has decreased in recent years, but not outside of natural variability. This is accurately portrayed in the Forbes piece. The idea that cyclonic activity will increase in a warming world has generally been dismissed anyway.
    Comparing recent events, like the Norwest passage, to historical events makes for nice reading, but does not necessarily have any meaningful scientific results unless direct comparison can be made. Do we know how the opening compared to Amundson’s traverse, no, but he still should have gotten his name right.
    Comparing the growth or recession of an individual glacier, especially over a very short time frame, is nice, but tells us little about the local climate. Many factors affect the growth or recession of the glacier which may or may not be attributed to local temperatures.
    As mentioned in the rebuttal, Bell does have a point with the GRACE measurements from Greenland and West Antarctica. The Wu paper, which is one of the most recent, did make the claim that the previous GRACE reports overstated the glacial recession by double.
    He raised some legitimate points. I do not see why so many people have been so quick to dismiss the entire article. It seems to me that they are the ones who wish to ignore scientific data, instead of looking for answers.

    [Response: Why does Bell feel the need to make up so much rubbish in order to include one vaguely interesting point? Compare the reaction to a couple of errors in the IPCC report (out of thousands of pages), do you not see somewhat of a double standard here? Mainstream science has apparently got to be perfect before it’s worth listening to, while ignoramuses like Bell only need to 1/11 points right before they are worthy of respect. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. – gavin]

  48. 48
    Donna says:

    To the posts saying that the claims about record low cyclonic activity were right – given that there is no explanation of where he got the values to support the claim, how do you know he is right? He has set up the classic ability to continually shift the goal posts. When you point out that certain facts don’t match what he has said, then he can say that set of facts was not what he was referring to and then avoid stating what specifically he was referring to.
    If all he is referring to is US landfalls and using that as some measure of global cyclonic activity, it takes about two secs for the problems with doing that to leap out of you.
    I also consider it interesting that this is used to give his credentials as it were – “Larry Bell is a professor at the University of Houston” – it’s very interesting that it doesn’t say professor of what. I guess for some, they see professor and think he must know what he is talking about. I see that he left the discipline off and instantly figure that the reason is because it is in a field outside what he is commenting on. Just because you are a “professor” hardly means that you are an expert in what you are writing about.

  49. 49

    One has to wonder why a presumably busy Professor of Architecture spends all that time and money to self-publishes a book on climate change? (Green Leaf Publishing looks to be a pay-to be published outfit).

    And why would Forbes give a weekly column slot to Bell ?

    Just wondering how all this has come to pass at this point in time.

  50. 50
    John Mashey says:

    re: #35
    One never knows with big media entitities, but Springer Verlag (of which Springer/Praxis is part) and Axel Springer have no obvious connection I could see.


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