Skeptics noise broad; no deep effects on American opinions

July 2, 2010

A commenter with the handle Klem complained about my outlook on global warming issues, in a recent post about the desperation I see in the warming denialist world.  Klem finds my views not pessimistic enough:

Those purloined emails have ultimately destroyed the IPCC, it has no credibility with the public anymore. You seem like a smart guy but I can’t believe after this amount of time you still don’t understand this. And you say it’s the anti-warming camp which is desperate? Oops I think you’re in denial.

I’ve been involved in environmental issues since well before the first Earth Day.  Lack of understanding among the public at large is a constant issue, and not a recent development.  Lack of support for a clean environment rarely is an issue, however.  The old progressive era push for clean water, clean air, outdoor activities, and healthy living, continues probably stronger today than ever before.  No one defends smoking stacks as symbols of progress anymore.

Even petroleum companies spend millions in advertising to tout their “green” tendencies.  Big Oil doesn’t spend money like that if they don’t have clear indicators that it’s effective.

One indication of how deep is the desire for environmental protection is the mini-movement chronicled and maybe led by conservative writer Rod Dreher, known as “crunchy conservatism.” Dreher wrote about conservatives who, from most outward appearances — Birkenstock sandals, organic-food heavy diets, environmentally-friendly yards and homes — might be considered lefty environmentalists, but who adhere to conservative social and economic policies, and the Republican party (yes:  educated people who vote against their own best interests; go figure).

No matter how odd their views on economics, no matter how odd their views on their fellow humans, they recognize the basic benefits of the progressive movement on their own lives, and they would like to conserve those benefits.

Have the so-called skeptics changed those trends?  Did the stealing of e-mails convince most Americans that scientists are evil, conniving, and wrong?

Rather than take the denialists’ methods, the famous MSU technique*, how about we actually ask people what they think?

Recent polls with some depth on environmental issues show most Americans to be quite  level-headed about warming and other environment issues, and not so subject to the hot winds of talk-without-fact from Fox News, the Heartland Institute, or other paragons of science denialism.

Most Americans remain concerned about global warming

Pay attention to reality for a moment; the headline on the press release is, “Large majority of Americans still believe in global warming, Stanford poll finds”:

Three out of four Americans believe that the Earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it, according to a new survey by researchers at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

The survey was conducted by Woods Institute Senior Fellow Jon Krosnick, a professor of communication and of political science at Stanford, with funding from the National Science Foundation. The results are based on telephone interviews conducted from June 1-7 with 1,000 randomly selected American adults.

“Several national surveys released during the last eight months have been interpreted as showing that fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is real, human-caused and threatening to people,” Krosnick said. “But our new survey shows just the opposite.”

For example, when respondents in the June 2010 survey were asked if the Earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent said yes. And 75 percent said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred. Krosnick has asked similar questions in previous Woods Institute polls since 2006.

“Our surveys reveal a small decline in the proportion of people who believe global warming has been happening, from 84 percent in 2007 to 74 percent today,” Krosnick said. “Statistical analysis of our data revealed that this decline is attributable to perceptions of recent weather changes by the minority of Americans who have been skeptical about climate scientists.”

In terms of average Earth temperature, 2008 was the coldest year since 2000, Krosnick said. “Scientists say that such year-to-year fluctuations are uninformative, and people who trust scientists therefore ignore this information when forming opinions about global warming’s existence,” he added. “But people who do not trust climate scientists base their conclusions on their personal observations of nature. These ‘low-trust’ individuals were especially aware of the recent decline in average world temperatures; they were the ones in our survey whose doubts about global warming have increased since 2007.”

According to Krosnick, this explanation is especially significant, because it suggests that the recent decline in the proportion of people who believe in global warming is likely to be temporary. “If the Earth’s temperature begins to rise again, these individuals may reverse course and rejoin the large majority who still think warming is real,” he said.

Ah, the Fickle Public — it appears only a small fraction of the public is fickle, after all.  Shifts in public opinion on the reality of warming were driven by weather, not weather men.

The poll also specifically addressed the effect of the computer break-in that exposed a few thousand e-mail messages from climate scientists under attack by anti-green critics:


“Overall, we found no decline in Americans’ trust in environmental scientists,” Krosnick said. “Fully 71 percent of respondents said they trust scientists a moderate amount, a lot or completely.”

Several questions in the June survey addressed the so-called “climategate” controversy, which made headlines in late 2009 and early 2010.

“Growing public skepticism has, in recent months, been attributed to news reports about e-mail messages hacked from the computer system at the University of East Anglia in Britain – characterized as showing climate scientists colluding to silence unconvinced colleagues – and by the discoveries of alleged flaws in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC),” Krosnick said. “Our survey discredited this claim in multiple ways. ”

For example, only 9 percent of respondents said they knew about the East Anglia e-mail messages and believed they indicate that climate scientists should not be trusted, and only 13 percent said the same about the controversial IPPC reports.

That may explain why Anthony Watts’ logo for his Australian tour shows a kangaroo whose rear end has just been kicked (you can tell by the stars).

Climate skeptics butt-kicked in Australia logo

In cartoons, stars show where a character has been punched or kicked, right?

No agreement to control greenhouse gases came out of the Copenhagen conference last fall.  So-called climate skeptics patted each other on the back, claimed victory, and proceeded to send Christopher Monckton on his Bonnie Lies All Around the World Tour.  In cool light of morning, however, the facts can’t be silenced:  Warming continues, science shows the extremely high probability that humans cause it, official investigations show that climate scientists who had their e-mails stolen were victims of crime, not perpetrators, and climate skeptics failed to stop warming with their big-dollar, nice-banquet meetings with the Heartland Institute, or anywhere else.

If they are skeptics, they are pretty bad at it, falling like chumps for a story that fourth-grade science project made the case they have failed to make everywhere else, and for the story that one of their comrades was sent a bomb in the mail (it turned out to be a misdirected fuel filter).

No wonder Americans remain concerned about warming.


* Make S[tuff] Up

More, resources:

Chinese government behind “climategate” hacking?

January 1, 2010

Conspiracy fans — a category which appears to include almost all climate change denialists — won’t like the news from Planet Green’s “Planet 100.”  This little news show claims evidence that China was the source of the hacking of the University of East Anglia’s climate related e-mails.

Why won’t the denialists like it?  They won’t like it because it makes sense:  Who stood to profit from embarrassing scientists just before the Copenhagen meetings?  China, who wished to avoid any binding agreements, would gain simply by sowing confusion.

Evidence is pretty thin, but for the first time since the hacked e-mails were published, there’s a plausible motive.   Also, the source is also not wholly pristine or reputable in science stuff — the Daily Mail of London, which specializes in gossipy tabloid news.  Watch that space.

P.S.  — Don’t miss the squid invasion story in the same newscast.


What if Al Gore were wrong about global warming? That would be great news.

December 6, 2009

It’s a point that the denialists just don’t get.  If Gore were wrong, if warming isn’t occurring, or if the warming were found to be part of a deeper cycle and all we need to do is hang on for another five or six years until the cycle shifts, that would be great news.

No one would complain about a study that actually showed that.

But no study shows that.  And the e-mails that somebody purloined from an English research center, if the worst allegations about scientists were true, can’t affect warming.  In fact, as I understand it, the chart that was “doctored” got its new, non-tree-ring data from actual thermometer readings — which, of course, show warming.

Worse, the chart’s predictions for following years turn out to be low!  Warming is outpacing some of the pessimists’ predictions.

Johann Hari, a columnist with the internet-fueled London Independent, discusses how good the news would be, in a missive at Huffington Post.

Every day, I pine for the global warming deniers to be proved right. I loved the old world – of flying to beaches wherever we want, growing to the skies, and burning whatever source of energy came our way. I hate the world to come that I’ve seen in my reporting from continent after continent – of falling Arctic ice shelves, of countries being swallowed by the sea, of vicious wars for the water and land that remains. When I read the works of global warming deniers like Nigel Lawson or Ian Plimer, I feel a sense of calm washing over me. The nightmare is gone; nothing has to change; the world can stay as it was.

But then I go back to the facts. However much I want them to be different, they sit there, hard and immovable. Nobody disputes that greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, like a blanket holding in the Sun’s rays. Nobody disputes that we are increasing the amount of those greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And nobody disputes that the world has become considerably hotter over the past century. (If you disagree with any of these statements, you’d fail a geography GCSE).

Alas, there is no significant or credible evidence that warming is not occurring, nor that we humans are not playing a huge role.

So, in Copenhagen where the world’s leaders and other policy makers are meeting this week to discuss the situation, there will be no champagne to toast an end to global warming.

That would be good news.  It’s not the news we get.

Also see:

Smoking guns in the CRU stolen e-mails: A real tale of real ethics in science

November 22, 2009

Climate skeptics fear that some climate scientists have cooked their data in order to produce a pre-ordained outcome from their research.  Many of these people are excited this weekend at the public release of e-mails purloined from Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in England, from one of the leading climate research labs.  Every crank science and crackpot political site has a story touting the end of research on global warming.

Sure enough, with just a few minutes of searching the e-mails, I found references to ethical breaches in cooking of data, and a discussion about how to talk about  the data and the issue in public.

The paper involved is this one:

David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearsona and S. Fred Singer, “A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CLIMATOLOGY, Int. J. Climatol. (2007).  Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/joc.1651

Unless you follow this issue closely, you probably don’t see the problem with publicizing the ethical breaches scientists thought they saw in this paper and its publication.  Also, if you are a “skeptic” who is chronically apoplectic over Al Gore’s success in informing people about climate change and winning prizes and making money, you may be thrilled that there is a scientist anywhere worried about ethical lapses by scientists involved in this controversy, and you can’t wait to see them brought to justice (cooking data is a federal crime in the U.S., if done with federal research money).

[Yes, I think there are ethical questions about publishing anything from these e-mails, let alone links so the viewing public can read them completely.  However, since much of this material has already been cherry picked and quote mined by political activists who hope to stop action to mediate and stop global warming, I think a good case can be made that, to be fair, we should look at the entire collection to see what they really reveal.  There may be criminal liability for some of the disclosures I’m discussing here — but that liability does not fall on the scientists who have been unfairly impugned in the last few days.  The liability falls instead on the critics of warming.  Let’s be fair.  In  a fair fight, truth wins.]

So, hold your high-fives and “I-told-you-sos” until you look at the data, at the information found.

One of the e-mails is quite explicit:

I think the scientific fraud committed by Douglass needs to be exposed. His co-authors may be innocent bystanders, but I doubt it.

Fraud?  Right there in front of everyone?  In the climate debate?

In the end, the scientists in the discussion determined not to hold a press conference to announce a finding of fraud, but instead to hunker down and work on publishing datasets that would contradict the alleged fraudulent paper, and establish their case with data instead of invective and press conferences.

They even declined to rush to inform the public of the fraud after a lengthy series of attempts to duplicate the results with well-known, accurate methods on accepted data:

Bottom line: Douglass et al. claim that “In all cases UAH and RSS satellite trends are inconsistent with model trends.” (page 6, lines 61-62). This claim is categorically wrong. In fact, based on our results, one could justifiably claim that THERE IS ONLY ONE CASE in which model T2LT and T2 trends are inconsistent with UAH and RSS results! These guys screwed up big time. [emphasis added by MFB]

Anthony Watts and others may be justified in asking that the scientists who wrote this fraudulent paper should be summarily dismissed, and in questioning why other scientists dallied in exposing the fraud.

But there is this to consider:  The paper in question is a paper critical of warming hypotheses, and it was co-authored by at least a couple of the most strident critics of Al Gore, James Hansen, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The smoking gun was used to shoot down a hasty effort to brand climate-change critics as unprofessional and wrong.  The smoking gun was used to enforce the hard ethical rules of science:  Don’t speak until your data allow a fair conclusion.

The smoking gun e-mails show correct and careful behavior by the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report, but unethical behavior by the critics whose backers, we might assume, stole the e-mails in the first place, and published them without understanding the depth of moral character demonstrated by most scientists in the conduct of their professions.

Now, I have not analyzed every possible permutation of this thread, only those with the title shown.  I used the “Alleged CRU e-mails — searchable” cited by Anthony Watts and others.  I stumbled into the thread discussing the paper by “Douglass, et al.”  I then did a search for e-mails discussing “Douglass,” and limited it to the thread on this point.  I suspect there are other e-mails in that thread in which Douglass’s name is wholly missing, and which did not turn up  in the search.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Fred Singer is a leading denialist, one of the organizers of the political campaign to blunt the publication and discussion of evidence of global warming and what to do about it.  The Douglass, et al. paper under discussion was a key component of the denialists’ campaign in 2007.  The purloined e-mails point to unethical behaviors by the scientists on the anti-warming side, the so-called “skeptics.”

So, from a quick dive into the data we learn:

  1. Climate scientists talk like Boy Scouts trying to impress a Board of Review.
  2. Climate scientists are extremely careful with data.
  3. When they think no one is looking, climate scientists behave ethically.
  4. When they think have found a piece of fraud, climate scientists are careful to recheck their numbers several times and in several ways before saying anything.
  5. Instead of holding a press conference, climate scientists like to keep the fisticuffs in the confines of juried journals.
  6. Climate “skeptics” are full of themselves, and probably wrongly accuse climate scientists of fixing data.
  7. Fraud in climate science may occur, but generally on the side of those who argue against warming or who advocate inaction as a response.
  8. The claims of smoking guns that negate the case for doing something about global warming are most likely hoaxes.

Here are the texts I looked at:

Update, November 25, 2009: Be sure to check out these posts, at George Monbiot’s blog in the comments, at Stoat,  and here at the Bathtub. This is the best judgment on the affair, I think, from Our Kingdom at Open DemocracyRespect to any climate-deniers who invest all their pension funds in seashore hotels in the Maldives… otherwise, they should step aside, and let the work of saving the future begin.”

Smoke this:

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Newtongate shakes anthropogenically-generated mathematics at the foundation

November 22, 2009

Satire, hoax, fact — how can we tell the difference?

Maybe more importantly, how can we tell early on that the “Climategate” kerfuffle, involving purloined, but otherwise dull e-mails from climate scientists, is nothing to worry about?

Look at history!  Remember Newtongate?  Read it here, at Carbon Fixated.

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

What kind of conspiracy keeps calculus being taught to innocent children today?  Exactly the same conspiracy that causes scientists to sound the alarms about climate change.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Tim Lambert at Deltoid.

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