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Friday, November 27, 2015

Seth Borenstein, AP FACT CHECK: On climate science, most GOP candidates fail miserably -- all of them deny the science of global warming

by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, AP, November 23, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to climate science, two of the three Democratic presidential candidates are 'A' students, while most of the Republican contenders are flunking, according to a panel of scientists who reviewed candidates' comments.

At the request of The Associated Press, eight climate and biological scientists graded for scientific accuracy what a dozen top candidates said in debates, interviews and tweets, using a 0 to 100 scale.

To try to eliminate possible bias, the candidates' comments were stripped of names and given randomly generated numbers, so the professors would not know who made each statement they were grading. Also, the scientists who did the grading were chosen by professional scientific societies.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had the highest average score at 94. Three scientists did not assign former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley a score, saying his statements mostly were about policy, which they could not grade, instead of checkable science.

Two used similar reasoning to skip grading New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and one did the same for businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had the lowest score, an average of 6. All eight put Cruz at the bottom of the class.

"This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner," Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor, wrote of Cruz's statements. "That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with an 87, had the lowest score among the Democrats, dinged for an exaggeration when he said global warming could make Earth uninhabitable. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scored the highest among Republicans, 64, but one grader gave him a perfect 100. Bush was the only Republican candidate who got a passing grade on climate in the exercise.

Below Clinton's 94 were O'Malley with 91; Sanders, 87; Bush, 64; Christie, 54; Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 47; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 38; Fiorina, 28; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 21; businessman Donald Trump, 15; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 13; and Cruz with 6.

For the Republicans, climate change came up more in interviews than in their four debates. But Rubio did confront the issue in the Sept. 16 debate in a way that earned him bad grades from some scientists.

"We are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing, to change our climate, to change our weather, because America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely," Rubio said. "But America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore. China is. And they're drilling a hole and digging anywhere in the world that they can get ahold of."

Scientists dispute Rubio's argument that because China is now the top emitter, the U.S. can do little to change the future climate. The U.S. spews about 17 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, "so big cuts here would still make a big difference globally," said geochemist Louisa Bradtmiller at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Rubio's inference that China is not doing much about global warming "is out of date. The Chinese are implementing a cap-and-trade system in their country to reduce emissions," said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University.

At an August event In California's Orange County, Cruz told an interviewer, "If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there's been zero warming. ... The satellite says it ain't happening."

Florida State University's James Elsner said ground data show every decade has been warmer than the last since the middle of the 20th century and satellite data-based observations "show continued warming over the past several decades."

In fact, federal ground-based data, which scientists said is more reliable than satellites, show that 15 of the 17 years after 1997 have been warmer than 1997 and 2015 is on track to top 2014 as the warmest year on record.

Scientists singled out Sanders for overstatement in the first Democratic presidential debate.

"The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we're going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable," Sanders said.

Dessler said, "I would not say that the planet will become uninhabitable. Regardless of what we do, some humans will survive." Harvard's Jim McCarthy also called the comment an overstatement, as did other scientists when Sanders said it. Recent research on the worst heat projections in the hottest area, the Persian Gulf, finds that toward the end of the century there will be a few days each decade or so when humans cannot survive outside, but can live with air conditioning indoors.

Trump brought out some of the more colorful and terse critiques.

"It could be warming and it's going to start to cool at some point," Trump said in a September radio interview. "And you know in the 1920s people talked about global cooling. I don't know if you know that or not. They thought the Earth was cooling. Now it's global warming. Actually, we've had times where the weather wasn't working out so they changed it to extreme weather and they have all different names, you know, so that it fits the bill."

McCarthy, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called Trump's comments "nonsense," while Emmanuel Vincent, a climate scientist at the University of California, Merced, said, "the candidate does not appear to have any commitment to accuracy."

The eight scientists are Mann, Dessler, Elsner, McCarthy, Bradtmiller, Vincent, William Easterling at Pennsylvania State University and Matthew Huber at the University of New Hampshire.

Online:  What We Know" on climate science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science on climate science:

"Climate Change: Evidence and Causes" by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society of United Kingdom:

Follow Seth Borenstein at; his work can be found at

EDITOR'S NOTE _ This story, assessing political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don't tell the full story, is part of an occasional series focusing on the science, the costs and the challenges of climate change around the world ahead of a summit in Paris.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Judith Curry ejects herself from a tribe that exists only in her own mind

by ...and then there's physics, November 26, 2015

David Rose has a new article about Judith Curry called I was tossed out of the tribe. Well, here’s problem number one. There is no tribe. If you’re a scientist/researcher, then you should be aiming to do research that is honest and objective, the results of which should not depend on who you regard as being your contemporaries. If you think there’s some kind of tribe to which you need to belong, then you’re doing it wrong.
Apparently, also, Judith Curry’s record of peer-reviewed publication in the best climate-science journals is second to none. Sorry, but this is simply not true. It’s pretty decent, but it’s not second to none. The article also says: Warming alarmists are fond of proclaiming how 97 per cent of scientists agree that the world is getting hotter, and human beings are to blame. Ignoring the term Warming alarmists, the reason people say this is because it is essentially true.
Judith Curry apparently also says
‘…..A sensitivity of 2.5 ˚C makes it much less likely we will see 2 ˚C warming during the 21st century. There are so many uncertainties, but the policy people say the target is fixed. And if you question this, you will be slagged off as a denier.’
Firstly, a sensitivity (ECS, I assume) of 2.5 oC does not make it much less likely that we will see 2 oC during the 21st century. Not only do the ranges of projected warming already include the possibility that the sensitivity might be 2.5 oC, but what we will see depends largely on how much we emit. Also, the target is fixed in the sense that it is defined according to giving us some chance of keeping warming below 2 oC; normally a 66% chance. It already includes the uncertainty about climate sensitivity and uncertainty about carbon cycle feedbacks. Maybe when Judith questions this, she gets slagged off for appearing to not understand this basic concept; something a scientist with a record that is apparently second to none should be able to understand.
Judith Curry also added that
her own work, conducted with the British independent scientist Nic Lewis, suggests that the sensitivity value may still lower, in which case the date when the world would be 2˚C warmer would be even further into the future.
Well, yes, but there are many reasons why their ECS estimate is probably too low. Just because you’re proud of your own work, doesn’t mean you get to dismiss everything else. That climate sensitivity could be lower than we currently think is likely, does not mean that it probably will be.
There are numerous other examples of nonsense, such as
Meanwhile, the obsessive focus on CO2 as the driver of climate change means other research on natural climate variability is being neglected.
No, it’s not.
solar experts believe we could be heading towards a ‘grand solar minimum’ — a reduction in solar output (and, ergo, a period of global cooling) similar to that which once saw ice fairs on the Thames. ‘The work to establish the solar-climate connection is lagging.’
Firstly, there isn’t some lag in work on the solar-climate connection, and the solar experts were rather clueless about climate.
The article finishes with
She remains optimistic that science will recover its equilibrium, and that the quasi-McCarthyite tide will recede:
Rather than it receding, Judith Curry appears to be helping it to start.
So, as far as I can tell, Judith Curry gets criticised because she says things that – for a senior scientist who has a record that is apparently second to none – are embarrassingly wrong. She also appears to have ejected herself from a tribe that only exists in her imagination. Good thing there are credulous journalists, like David Rose, who are willing to write supportive articles.

Jeff Masters & Bob Henson: An Unprecedented Thanksgiving Visitor: a Category 4 Hurricane

by Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, wunderground blog, November 26, 2015

Remarkable Hurricane Sandra exploded into a Category 4 storm with 145-mph winds overnight, making it the latest major hurricane ever observed in the Western Hemisphere (November 26). The previous record was held by an unnamed Atlantic hurricane in 1934 that held on to Category 3 status until 00 UTC November 24. Sandra is also now the latest Category 4 storm ever observed in either the Eastern Pacific (previous record: Hurricane Kenneth on November 22, 2011) or the Atlantic (previous record: "Wrong Way" Lenny on November 18, 1999). Prior to Sandra, the strongest East Pacific hurricane so late in the year was 1983’s Winnie, which topped out on December 6 at 90-mph winds. Sandra is the first major hurricane in the Western Hemisphere that has ever been observed on Thanksgiving Day. According to WU contributor Phil Klotzbach (Colorado State University), Sandra is on track to become the latest landfalling tropical cyclone on record for Mexico, beating out Tara (November 12, 1961). An Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission is scheduled for Sandra on Friday afternoon. 

Figure 1. VIIRS infrared satellite image of Hurricane Sandra taken at 3:15 p.m. EST, November 25, 2015. At the time, Sandra was a Category 3 storm with 115-mph winds. Image credit: Dan Lindsey, NOAA/CIRA.

Figure 2. Latest satellite image of Sandra.

A rare Thanksgiving Day hurricane
Sandra is only the second Thanksgiving Day hurricane in modern records for the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific, and the strongest by far. The other hurricane was Hurricane Karl of 1980, which spun harmlessly as a minimal Category 1 hurricane far out in the central North Atlantic on Thanksgiving Day that year. Several other weaker storms have had NHC forecasters issuing advisories on Thanksgiving Day. This includes 1987’s Tropical Storm Keith, which struck Florida as a tropical storm on Wednesday, November 23, and persisted as a strong tropical storm east of Florida until midday Thanksgiving Day (November 24). In 1998, minimal Tropical Storm Nicole weakened to a depression east of Bermuda early on Thanksgiving Day (November 26), with advisories discontinued at 10 a.m. EST. Nicole did get a new lease on life several days later, becoming a hurricane on November 30 and persisting to become one of just five Atlantic hurricanes on record during the month of December. In the hyperactive Atlantic season of 2005, Tropical Storm Delta roamed the eastern Atlantic on Thanksgiving Day (November 24). And in 2011, a weakening Tropical Storm Keith well out to sea in the eastern Pacific prompted advisories on Thanksgiving Day (November 24). Prior to the establishment of NHC as we know it, an unnamed tropical storm dissipated on Thanksgiving Day 1953 (November 26) well east of Bermuda. Hawaii takes the cake for the worst U.S. hurricane-related impacts during Thanksgiving Week: Hurricane Iwa passed near Kauai on Tuesday, November 23, 1982, during the run-up to the “super” El Niño of 1982-83. Iwa caused one death and inflicted $250 million in damage in Kauai.

Figure 3. Projected 5-day precipitation totals (rain and melted snow/sleet) for the period from 7 a.m. EST Thursday, November 26, through Tuesday, December 1.

Thanksgiving travel troubles in store across the Central U.S.
Some of the biggest impacts from Sandra may occur with a prolonged heavy rain episode in the Southern Plains, increased by Sandra’s remnants. The strong upper-level low settling over the U.S. Southwest will help pull Sandra northeastward, and the storm’s moisture will flow atop a very shallow cold air mass that will spill across the Southern Plains later this week. Such setups involving Eastern Pacific hurricanes are notorious for giving the region some of its heaviest rains on record, but they are far more typical of September or October than late November. 

Flash flood watches are already in effect from far north Texas to southwest Illinois, and localized flooding may become a major travel headache. Rainfall totals of 5-10” are expected from Thursday through Monday across north Texas, southeast Oklahoma, and much of Arkansas. These rains will fall over areas that have been doused repeatedly over the last few months. With 50.75” of rain for the year through Wednesday, the Dallas-Fort Worth area may well break its all-time annual precipitation record of 53.54” (set in 1991), before November is done.

On the northwest edge of the heavy rain swath, there will be a parallel strip with low-level temperatures cold enough for widespread freezing rain, sleet, and/or snow, from Thanksgiving Day into Friday. An ice storm warning has been issued for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, with some places expected to get 0.5-1.0" of ice.

Stay safe, everyone, and have a great Thanksgiving!

Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

RealClimate: Hiatus or Bye-atus?

by Stephan Lewandowsky, James Risbey and Naomi Oreskes (guest post), Real Climate, November 26, 2015

The idea that global warming has “stopped” has long been a contrarian talking point. This framing has found entry into the scientific literature and there are now numerous articles that address a presumed recent “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming. Moreover, the “hiatus” also featured as an accepted fact in the latest IPCC report (AR5). 

Notwithstanding its widespread use in public and apparent acceptance in the scientific community, there are reasons to be skeptical of the existence of a “hiatus” or “pause” in global warming [Ed: see also this previous post]. We have examined this issue in a series of three recent papers, which have converged on the conclusion that there is not now, and there never has been, a hiatus or pause in global warming.

We are not alone in coming to this conclusion; evidence for this has also been reported by Cahill and colleagues in a recent statistical change point analysis, which failed to identify a slowing in warming at any point in time during the last four decades.

But because this conclusion is potentially controversial, it requires a careful analysis of the conceptual landscape of research on temperature variation over the recent period.
To date, research on the “pause” has addressed at least 4 distinct questions:
  1. Is there a “pause” or “hiatus” in warming?
  2. Has warming slowed compared to the long-term warming trend?
  3. Has warming lagged behind model-derived expectations?
  4. What physical mechanisms underlie the “hiatus”?
Those questions are not only conceptually distinct, they also involve different aspects of the data and entail different statistical hypotheses. Nonetheless, those questions have frequently been conflated in the literature, and by using a single blanket term such as “pause” or “hiatus” for distinctly different phenomena and research questions, unnecessary confusion has resulted.

To reduce this confusion, our recent work has been exclusively concerned with the first question: Is there, or has there recently been, a “pause” or “hiatus” in warming? It is this question—and only this question—that we answer with “no,” based on multiple lines of evidence:

In an article published in BAMS this year (Lewandowsky et al., 2015), we reported on the results of a blind expert test by professional economists. Blind tests are the methodological gold standard in many fields of enquiry, from pharmaceutical research to cognitive science. The economists in our sample were shown the global temperature data (NASA’s GISTEMP) but it was labeled as “world agricultural output” as shown in the figure below.

The experts had to evaluate a statement accompanying the graph which read: “A prominent Australian critic of conventional economics, Mr. X., publicly stated in 2006, that ‘There IS a problem with the growth in world agricultural output—it stopped in 1998.’ A few months ago, Mr. X. reiterated that ‘…. there’s no trend, 2010 is not significantly more productive in any way than 1998.’ ” This statement was an exact translation, into economic terms, of a series of public statements by an Australian contrarian (Bob Carter) claiming that global warming had stopped.

The experts in our sample clearly disagreed with the notion of a pause or hiatus: 

Experts rejected the idea that the data confirmed the statement and they instead found the data to contradict the accompanying statement. The experts also found the statement to be misleading and ill-informed. And nearly two thirds of our experts endorsed the possibility that the claim of a pause or hiatus might be fraudulent in light of the data.

In a second article, just published in Scientific Reports (Lewandowsky et al., 2015b), we followed up on this experimental test with a formal statistical analysis that buttressed the conclusions of the blind expert test. We began by considering a corpus of 40 peer-reviewed articles that have addressed the pause and inferred from those publications what those authors considered to be the onset year of the pause. Did the pause commence in 1998? 2001? Or some other year? We found that there was considerable variation, shown by the blue histogram in the figure below, which shows the distribution of presumed onset times together with global temperatures during the modern record of global warming.
The histogram shows that the presumed onset of the pause spanned an entire decade (19932003). The mean presumed duration of the pause across the 40 articles was 13.5 years. We next took the onset and duration of the pause reported by each article and compared the associated decadal temperature trends against the distribution of all possible trends of equal duration during the last few decades. If there were a pause, we would expect the distribution of trends in the literature to differ considerably from the distribution of all trends of equivalent duration.

Because there is some disagreement about the onset of modern global warming, we used three reference dates for our comparison involving all possible trends: the year 1951, used by the IPCC in AR5, and 1964 and 1976, which are 2 standard deviations below and above and below the mean estimate of the year of onset of modern global warming derived by the Cahill et al. change-point analysis.

The results are shown in the 3 histograms below, with onset times 1951, 1964, and 1976, from left to right. The vertical red lines in each panel represent the long-term trend (1951–2012) used by the IPCC in the AR5. The solid line is for the GISS dataset analyzed here, and the dashed line is the long-term trend for the same period (0.12 K/decade) in the UK Met Office’s HadCRUT4 data set.

This analysis shows that the distribution of warming trends labeled as the pause by the literature is indistinguishable from the overall distribution of trends that have been observed from the middle of the 20th century onward. When 1964 or 1976 are instead used as onset of warming, then the distribution of trends labeled as a pause does sit at the lower end of the overall distribution, but it is still by no means consistently extreme or unusual.

Additionally, virtually all articles on the pause referred to a time period during which the decadal warming trend exceeded zero (the black vertical line). This is incompatible with standard dictionary definitions of a pause or hiatus, which cite a process that has been suspended or stopped. Periods in which warming continued (>0 K/decade), by definition, cannot be a pause or a hiatus.

For the notion of a hiatus in warming to be scientifically well-founded, there must either be a demonstrable and statistically-relevant absence of any trend in global temperatures or, minimally, the observed trend must differ in a statistically identifiable way from the historical record. With conventional frequentist statistics, the absence of a trend is difficult to establish, and results can be affected by vantage point. That is, different results may arise depending on when one chooses to look backward in time, not because anything notable has happened but because natural variability can override a long-term trend if only brief periods of time are considered and if the end points of the trend are varied.

We therefore compared the alleged pause against all possible historical trends once more, but this time across all possible historical vantage points during the last three decades. From each vantage point, we look backward in time a varying number of years and determine the magnitude and significance of the trend. The results are shown below using GISTEMP:

The top panel (A) shows the warming trends that were observable at any vantage point between 1984 and 2014 (horizontal axis). For each vantage point, between 3 and 25 years were included in the trend calculation (vertical axis). So, for example, looking backward from 2014, no matter how many years were included in the trend, all trends were positive. When 15 years are included, then the trend becomes statistically significant (hence the dot in the cell at latitude 15 for the last column). By contrast, in 2000, the most recent 3 or 4 years exhibited cooling, but by the time 15 years were included the trend was again significant. The bottom panel of the figure (B) presents the same data using a ternary classification of p-values for the linear trend into non-informative (p > 0.10; beige), partially informative but not conventionally significant (0.10 > p > 0.05; gray), and significant (p < 0.05; terracotta). This panel also includes three diagonal lines that identify the earliest calendar year included in the analysis. Any observation to the below and to the right of the line labeled “1975” only includes observations later than that, and so on for the other two lines. The observations above and to the left of the 1965 line go back to 1960 (top-left corner; looking back 25 years from 1984 inclusive).

The figure shows that at every year during the past 30 years of modern global warming, the immediately preceding warming trend was always significant when 17 years (or more) were included in the calculation. In a number of cases—including in 2014—fewer years were required to reach significance, but never more than 17. This result should not be surprising: Significance requires statistical power to be detected, and the more observations are considered the greater the power of the analysis. The fact that a trend fails to reach significance with, say, only 5 or 10 years of data is therefore non-informative: no matter how robust the warming trend, once natural variability is superimposed on the trend, it will escape statistical detection with a small sample. To conclude from that that global warming has “stopped” is unwarranted. Nevertheless, a number of papers in the peer-reviewed literature have done just that. That is, they concluded that there was a pause in warming using a time period that was too short to achieve conventional statistical significance.

To illustrate, we used the definitions of the pause found in our corpus of articles (mean duration 13.5 years), and asked how often the null hypothesis of no warming would fail to be rejected during the last 30 years. It turns out that during those 3 decades, the 14-year trend escaped significance 10 times and the 13-year trend 13 times, suggesting either that global surface warming “paused” between 30% and 43% of a time period during which the Earth warmed 0.6 K overall, or that global surface warming never paused and what we have been observing are routine fluctuations superimposed on a warming trend.

Taken together, the statistical and behavioral evidence demonstrate that the notion of a pause or hiatus—as commonly understood—is incorrect. The evidence from the blind expert test suggests that it is also misleading.

The question of a recent pause in warming is distinct from the matter of fluctuations in warming rates over any particular time period of interest. It is uncontroversial that the climate system is highly variable and, as our analysis shows, there have been many fluctuations, both positive and negative, as compared to the longer term warming trend. It is a valuable research endeavor to examine why these fluctuations occur, and to what extent models and observations may on occasion diverge. Such research has the potential to improve our overall understanding of the climate system.

This brings us to our final issue: If there is no pause and there was no pause, why did the recent period attract so much research attention? We can suggest a number of reasons. One is a matter of semantics. Many articles on the pause addressed not the absence of warming but were concerned with a presumed discrepancy between models and observations. We do not believe that those articles should have been framed in the language of a “pause,” but that does not mean their method or findings are compromised.

A second reason is that owing to the incessant challenge of climate science by highly-vocal contrarians and well-organized Merchants of Doubt, scientists may have become not only reticent in reporting the full spectrum of risk they are concerned about for the future (see for example Brysse et al., 2013), but have also subtly changed the way in which they approach their science. We explored the possible underlying mechanisms for this in an article earlier this year (Lewandowsky et al., 2015c). In a nutshell, we argue that scientists have unwittingly been influenced by a linguistic frame that demonstrably originated outside the scientific community, and that by accepting the word “pause,” scientists have subtly framed their research in ways that our statistical and behavioral analysis has revealed to be inappropriate.

When scientists use the terms “pause” or “hiatus” they may indeed know—and their colleagues may understand—that they do not mean to imply that global warming has stopped. The problem is that words such as “pause” or “hiatus” have vernacular meanings, and when scientists use a term from the public vernacular to describe a feature of science, confusion results when the vernacular term is an inappropriate description of that feature. Scientists might tacitly understand that global warming continues notwithstanding the “pause,” or they may intend “pause” to refer to differences between observed temperatures and model-derived expectations, but the public is not privy to that tacit understanding.


  1. N. Cahill, S. Rahmstorf, and A.C. Parnell, "Change points of global temperature," Environ. Res. Lett., 10 (2015) 084002.
  2. S. Lewandowsky, J.S. Risbey, and N. Oreskes, "The “Pause” in Global Warming: Turning a Routine Fluctuation into a Problem for Science," Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., (2015) 150914120309001.
  3. S. Lewandowsky, J.S. Risbey, and N. Oreskes, "On the definition and identifiability of the alleged “hiatus” in global warming," Sci. Rep., 5 (2015) 16784.
  4. K. Brysse, N. Oreskes, J. O’Reilly, and M. Oppenheimer, "Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?", Global Environmental Change, 23 (2013) 327-337.
  5. S. Lewandowsky, N. Oreskes, J.S. Risbey, B.R. Newell, and M. Smithson, "Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community," Global Environmental Change, 33 (2015) 1-13.

Monday, November 23, 2015

WaPo: Why are so many Americans confused about climate change? Corporate money funding disinformation, duh!

Emissions spew from the smokestacks at Westar Energy’s Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant near St. Mary’s, Kansas (AP)

by Joby Warrick, The Washington Post, November 23, 2015

Climate change has long been a highly polarizing topic in the United States, with Americans lining up on opposite sides depending on their politics and worldview. Now a scientific study sheds new light on the role played by corporate money in creating that divide.
The report, a systematic review of 20 years’ worth of data, highlights the connection between corporate funding and messages that raise doubts about the science of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. The analysis suggests that corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.
“The contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust,” said Justin Farrell, a Yale University sociologist and author of the study, released on Monday in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Numerous previous studies have examined how corporate-funded campaigns have helped shape individual views about global warming. But the Yale study takes what Farrell calls the “bird’s-eye view,” using computer analytics to systematically examine vast amounts of printed matter published by 164 groups—including think-tanks and lobbying firms—and more than 4,500 individuals who have been skeptical of mainstream scientific views on climate change.
The study analyzed the articles, policy papers and transcripts produced by these groups over a 20-year period. Then it separated the groups that received corporate funding from those that did not.
The results, Farrell said, revealed an “ecosystem of influence” within the corporate-backed groups. Those that received donations consistently promoted the same contrarian themes—casting doubt, for example, on whether higher levels of man-made carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere were harmful to the planet. There was no evidence of such coordination among the non-funded groups.
The existence of corporate money “created a united network within which the contrarian messages could be strategically created” and spread, Farrell said.
“This counter-movement produced messages aimed, at the very least, at creating ideological polarization through politicized tactics, and at the very most, at overtly refuting current scientific consensus with scientific findings of their own,” he said.
The report did not examine the impact of outside money on the messages of groups that encourage activism on climate change. Farrell suggested that there were qualitative differences between such groups and those that sought to advance corporate interests by promoting skepticism about science.
“Funders looking to influence organizations who promote a consensus view are very different from funders looking to influence organizations who have the goal of creating polarization and controversy and delaying policy progress on a scientific issue that has nearly uniform consensus,” he said.
The publication of the report comes two weeks after New York prosecutors announced an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil misled the public and investors about the risks of climate change. The probe was prompted in part by reports first in the online publication InsideClimate News and then in the Los Angeles Times, alleging that Exxon researchers expressed concerned about climate change from fossil fuel emissions decades ago, even as the company publicly raised doubts about whether climate change was scientifically valid.
Exxon has declined to comment on the investigation while acknowledging that its position on climate-change has evolved in recent years. “Our company, beginning in the latter part of the 1970s and continuing to the present day, has been involved in serious scientific research, and we have been supporting since that time scientific understanding of the risk of climate change,” Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs Ken Cohen told reporters after the New York probe was revealed.

[Latest news:  Exxon spent $10 million a year on promoting confusion.]

Siberia's thawing permafrost fuels climate change

Frost mounds in Reindalen, Svalbard, form as permafrost confines groundwater, which is pushed up to the surface under hydrostatic pressure and re-freezes [Alfred Wegener Institute/Jaroslav Obu].
by Lowana Veal, Al Jazeera, November 23, 2015

Reykjavik, Iceland - Over the past year, a number of giant, mysterious holes have emerged in Siberia, some as deep as 200 metres.
Scientists say the craters may be emerging because the frozen ground, or "permafrost," that covers much of Siberia has been thawing due to climate change, allowing methane gases trapped underground to build up and explode.
Permafrost is ground that is permanently frozen, where the ground temperature has remained below 0 °C (32 °F) for at least two years. It covers about a quarter of the northern hemisphere's land surface.
When permafrost thaws, microbes digest the plant and animal remains that were locked in the permafrost and release greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
The phenomenon is a self-feeding cycle, explained Sarah Chadburn, from the University of Exeter.
"Permafrost soils contain vast amounts of carbon, nearly twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. As the permafrost thaws in a warming climate, the soil decomposes and releases carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. These are greenhouse gases, and they warm the Earth even more. This leads to more permafrost thawing, more carbon release, and so the cycle continues," Chadburn said.
At the recent Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, Max Holmes from the US-based Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) said in a presentation that the Siberian sinkholes "are an additional indication that vast changes are under way in the Arctic."
"I don't worry about them too much in and of themselves," the researcher said. "But they do reinforce the notion that big changes are already happening, and that we are likely to have more unpleasant surprises in the future."
Recent research has found that a third greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide (N2O), is also emitted in some areas covered by thawing permafrost.
"We now know that a lot of nitrogen is released during permafrost thaw and that the microbes responsible for N2O production are present in virtually all Arctic and boreal systems," said Ben Abbott, a France-based scientist who studies permafrost in Alaska.
He added that it was unclear whether nitrogen gas emissions from thawing permafrost are significant compared with those of carbon dioxide and methane.
Despite scientists' concern that thawing permafrost could exacerbate global warming, Chadburn noted that "most climate models do not include the warming aspect of permafrost emissions," including the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Although the IPCC has acknowledged that permafrost contributes to global warming, a lack of data on the phenomenon has meant that they have not been able to include it in their reports.
Chadburn estimated that thawing permafrost would raise global temperatures by an average of 0.3 °C but could be as much as 0.7 °C.
Given predictions that permafrost thaw could cause warming, Hugues Lantuit from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany said that "the objective for the COP21 climate summit should really be a temperature increase of no more than 1.7 °C  to take account of emissions from permafrost," referring to the annual global conference on climate change to be held next month in Paris.
Walter Oechel from San Diego State University and the Open University and Donatella Zona from the University of Sheffield have been measuring methane fluxes in the Arctic for more than a decade. "We expect methane emissions from the Arctic to increase dramatically with warming of the Arctic," they said.
"And, the potential is there for this release to become catastrophic."
Meanwhile, the frequency of fires has been intensifying in Arctic areas, noted Scott Goetz from WHRC. More than two million hectares of land have burned in Alaska this year, he said in his presentation at the Arctic Circle Assembly.
"Climate warming and drying are intensifying the fire regime. These fires burn roots and the trees then fall over… Fire disturbance deepens thaw depth and mobilises permafrost carbon," Goetz said.
In addition to contributing to global warming, thawing permafrost also affects wildlife and indigenous populations in the Arctic.
Courtney Price, of the Arctic Council's Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna organisation, said continued thawing of permafrost is one factor endangering thermokarst lakes. These lakes are formed by the thawing of permafrost and accumulation of surface water in the depression.
But if permafrost continues to thaw, there is no structure to hold the water, and the lakes can drain completely, Price said.
"Thermokarst lakes act as 'hot spots' of biological activity in northern regions… Such biologically productive systems are important to Arctic peoples for supporting traditional lifestyles, and for providing water to rural/urban communities and development, especially where groundwater resources are unavailable," she explained.
The phenomenon also affects public safety: Around 70% of the world's permafrost is found in Russia and, in Siberia, entire cities, of which Yakutsk is the largest, are built on permafrost. When permafrost thaws, buildings can tilt and become uninhabitable.
The solution? WHRC scientist Sue Natali said that "to save permafrost, we have to reduce fossil fuel use and manage forests globally to enhance carbon dioxide uptake by the biosphere."

Lamar Smith completely rebutted on his accusation that NOAA rushed to publication

An image obtained on November 16, 2015, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the satellite sea surface temperature departure for the month of October 2015, where orange-red colors are above normal temperatures and are indicative of El Nino. (NOAA via Agence France-Presse)

by Lisa Rein, The Washington Post, November 23, 2015

The escalating struggle between an influential House Republican and government scientists over their pivotal study of global warming now turns on accusations that they rushed to publish their findings to advance President Obama’s agenda on climate change.
But a spokeswoman for Science, the prestigious peer-reviewed journal that in June published the paper by climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an interview that their research was subject to a longer, more intensive review than is customary.
“This paper went through as rigorous a review as it could have received,” said Ginger Pinholster, chief of communications for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science. “Any suggestion that the review was ‘rushed’ is baseless and without merit.”
She said the paper, submitted to the journal in December, went through two rounds of peer review by other scientists in the field before it was accepted in May. The number of outside reviewers was larger than usual, and the time from submission to online publication was about 50% longer than the journal’s average of 109 days, Pinholster said.
During the review, the research was sent back to NOAA for revision and clarification, she said. And because it was based on such an “intensive” examination of global temperature data, the reviewed was handled by one of the journal’s senior editors, she said, “so it could be more carefully assessed.”
The study is widely considered to be a bombshell in the climate change world because it contradicted the notion of a “pause” in global warming and thus undercut the arguments of global warming skeptics. Among them is Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. NOAA’s data sets are used by climate scientists to take temperature measurements worldwide.
Smith has subpoenaed four top NOAA officials seeking internal e-mails and documents relating to the study, which he alleged last week in a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker was “rushed to publication” and may have violated the agency’s scientific integrity standards. The chairman also has threatened to subpoena Pritzker, whose department includes NOAA, if she does not turn over the internal deliberations.
What makes this feud so difficult to referee is not just the complexity of climate science. Smith and his committee have yet to offer details of the allegations that the research was rushed.
Smith told Pritzker in his letter that his claim is based on information from whistleblowers who have told the committee that some employees at NOAA had concerns about the research. But committee staff members have declined to provide details about these concerns, saying that disclosing the specifics could jeopardize the panel’s sources and their anonymity.
Pressed for more details, committee aides last week pointed as an example to new temperature data that was made publicly available earlier this month and questioned how the scientists used it. The data came from a larger number of measuring stations around the world than previous data sets.
“NOAA should not be publishing headline-grabbing results based on data sets that have not been adequately vetted and were not available to the public,” an aide to the House committee said.
Smith has said the scientists were in a hurry to have their findings published because they wanted to influence Obama’s Clean Power plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants, and upcoming international negotiations in Paris on climate change.
“This isn’t an easy high school science experiment where you do it and you get results and write them up,” another aide said. “There are huge data sets from all over the world. They need to be studied. Every time the sets are changed they have to be worked on to make sure the data set is now valid.”
The scientists, however, say their research was based on an earlier version of the data that had been made public and examined by other climate experts. The study published in Science was not based on the updated data released earlier this month, although the two versions are very similar, according to NOAA officials and one of the study’s authors.
That author, Thomas Peterson, described in an interview some of the internal tensions at NOAA between the scientists and computer engineers who were writing software code for the data and wanted more time to make sure it was reliable. The scientists felt confident using the data that had already been made public and were ultimately vindicated by the latest version.
The conclusions of the Science paper were based on corrections and adjustments to even earlier land and sea temperature measurements. These were intended to address what scientists described as measurement biases in readings taken of ocean temperatures and land temperatures that did not fully account for the rapidly warming Arctic.
NOAA published the first updates to the land temperature data set in October 2013 in the Geoscience Data Journal. The revised sea surface data were published in the Journal of Climate in October 2014. These updates were the basis of the study in Science, NOAA officials said.
That combined data set was available publicly in July 2014, officials said.
As NOAA scientists examined the data, they discovered that warming trends over the past few decades would be substantially larger than what the earlier data set indicated, recalled Peterson, who retired from NOAA as principal scientist in July.
“Was there a rush to get [the research] out? No,” he said. “Did we want to get this out to advance the science? Of course.”
Peterson acknowledged that tensions over timing developed between the scientists and a team of computer engineers — some contractors, some civil servants — who were rewriting the software code to process the data once it was collected from stations worldwide. The engineers wanted more time to test and retest the software to ensure its reliability, he recalled. The scientists argued that it was taking too long.
“We’re talking about a time lag of years between the science and when they thought the software testing would be ready because of this question of whether one piece of software might develop a glitch, ” said Peterson, now president of the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Climatology.
To accommodate the engineers, he said, the submission to GeoScience was delayed by six months.
Still, the engineers were frustrated that the scientists were pressing ahead with research based on the data. “They viewed it as putting the cart before the horse,” Peterson said. “Those of us, like myself, who knew the importance of getting this work out literally years ago were very frustrated by the process … that slowed the the release down.”
Peterson stressed that the scientific analysis itself was not rushed. “Indeed just the opposite is true,” he said.
Peterson and NOAA officials said the scientists decided to submit their research to Science before the most recent data set was ready for release this month. They said the new version, which contains even more data than the set used for the Science study, confirms its findings.
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