A certain truly badly done story is making its way through the skeptical blogosphere. It’s a story that NPR did about a certain teenager who has decided that she doesn’t believe the science behind global warming and has published a website to “debunk” it. What’s bad about the story is not that a teenager decided she doesn’t believe something. What’s bad about the story is that it utterly fails to distinguish between a teenager showing actual skepticism (as in challenging an accepted contention based on sound reasoning and good science) as opposed to showing pseudoskepticism (as in looking for data that supports her stepfather’s preexisting disbelief of the science behind global warming, selectively citing the scientific evidence, posting it on her website, and as a result becoming a darling of the right wing anthropogenic global warming denialist contingent). Worse, as James Hrynyshyn points out, a good argument can be made that the girl responsible for this website, Kristen Byrnes, libels James Hansen in the process.

I’m supposed to be impressed by this?

PZ Myers and Janet Stemwedel have covered this as well, but one passage in this truly awful NPR story stood out:

Mainstream scientists would argue that many of the issues on her Web site are red herrings or have been put to rest — and Kristen did get emails from people challenging her science. But after a few exchanges, she says, her opponents backed down. “A few of them gave up and figured they can’t win against a 15-year-old,” she says. Mike laughs as she says this.

What Kirsten counts as a “victory” is probably scientists deciding that they have better things to do with their time than to argue with a scientifically ignorant teen with the arrogance of ignorance added to the arrogance of youth the only things going for her. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard cranks exult that they “defeated” scientists who “couldn’t stand up to their arguments” simply because said scientists got tired of refuting the same stuff over and over. I myself have made the mistake of getting into prolonged e-mail exchanges with such people before (a mistake I most definitely do not make anymore), and I’m pretty sure that I’m probably right about this. I get tired of responding to the same canards again and again too, and I usually end up just dropping out of the exchange. Add to that the normal human wish not to be too harsh with a youngster who, at least at first, seems genuinely curious about science, and it’s far easier just to drop out of the exchange rather than waste one’s time with her once it becomes apparent that she’s recycling the same old talking points or risk looking like a bully beating up on a teenage girl (intellectually, speaking, that is).

What’s sad about this is that Kirsten is clearly bright and has a lot of potential. She just needs some patient guidance to help her learn some humility and how science actually works. (Hint: It isn’t through looking only at the evidence that supports your viewpoint.) Unfortunately, her stepfather does not appear to be providing anything resembling that; indeed, he is clearly egging her on, apparently to push his own agenda:

Kristen says when her determination sagged, Mike encouraged her.

“Kristen! MOTIVATION!” she remembers him saying. Mike is deeply skeptical humans are behind global warming and pulls up a graph on the computer to help make the case.

To me, this isn’t a skeptical teen who came to her own conclusions through her own investigation. This is a teen who’s trying to please an authority figure, and she’s clearly been “encouraged” (i.e., coached) by her stepfather.

There’s also a lot of other positive reinforcement for her to continue on this path, too. Think about it. It must be a heady experience for a 15- or 16-year-old to post her writings about a topic like climate science and suddenly find herself being taken seriously and getting letters from Senators. Even as a forty-something-year old, I have an inkling of how heady it could be for her. When my blog first started to take off, I was amazed at actually being taken seriously by bloggers I admired, being cited as a believable source, having first hundreds and then a few thousand people a day reading my verbal meanderings, and eventually even meeting in person prominent skeptics and other bloggers who had inspired me. If that rather minor level of notoriety was heady to a grown up (presumably) man like me, imagine what it must be like for a 16-year-old.

I’ve thought about it a bit, and Kirsten reminds me somewhat of Jenny McCarthy. True, she’s probably a lot smarter than Jenny McCarthy, but she’s also only 16. Both have embraced dubious science. Both have become famous (or, in the case of McCarthy, has rejuvenated her waning popularity) thanks to their embrace of that dubious science. They both demonstrate very well the arrogance that ignorance brings, not recognizing that one of the traits that training in skeptical thinking and science brings is a sense of just what one doesn’t know, as opposed to brash confidence that one knows better than experts who have devoted their lives to studying a problem. It’s also important to differentiate between skepticism, which is open to evidence that might change one’s conclusions, and pseudoskepticism, in which a “critic” expresses “skepticism” of a well-established principle (such as evolution) and then goes looking for data to confirm her own bias, dismissing contradictory evidence. It’s very depressing to see that NPR apparently can’t distinguish between the two.

Sadly, the one thing that Kirsten could have used is a public smackdown on NPR from a climate science who really knows his or her stuff, someone who could demonstrate in excruciating detail just how thin her knowledge base really is. Some might say that’s too harsh, that Kirsten is only 16, and that she shouldn’t be humiliated like that. Certainly, such an encounter would risk humiliating her. However, I say: If you think you can play with the big boys and can dismiss them as being wrong and promote yourself as being right, then you have to be ready to take the consequences of that behavior. Age is irrelevant. Of course, NPR couldn’t do anything like that. It would indeed have been perceived as picking on a teen. By doing the piece, though, NPR put itself in a no-win situation. If it criticized Kirsten’s denialist arguments, NPR would have looked as though it was making fun of a teenaged girl who’s clearly smart but not well trained in science or critical thinking. If it didn’t, well, the results are easy to see: A puff piece that portrays the plucky outsider taking on the scientists and apparently beating them at their own game.

Just like Jenny McCarthy.

It’s a narrative I’ve grown really, really sick of seeing when it comes to how journalists cover science “controversies,” and it irritates me more as I get older. Maybe I’m just turning into a curmudgeon. Or maybe it’s because I appreciate now just how seldom such a narrative ends up being true.


  1. #1 sirhcton
    April 15, 2008

    . . . But after a few exchanges, she says, her opponents backed down. “A few of them gave up and figured they can’t win against a 15-year-old,” she says. . .

    Yes, the not unusual thought of someone who does not really engage the ideas. Sort of like those who find a months old, abandoned discussion thread, post some grand exegisical (or not) comment and then announce that they must have been right, since no one has replied to their comment in the following three days.

    Perhaps the young lady will learn better.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    April 15, 2008

    There is absolutely no reason to expect any better from NPR. Since Bush and his merry band of psychopathic affirmatively incompetent partisan hackfuck shitbags have destroyed all semblance of rational balanced governance on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR has become just another purveyor of sick-fuck right-wing propaganda.

  3. #3 has
    April 15, 2008

    “Dog walks on hind legs. News at eleven.”

  4. #4 AL
    April 15, 2008

    There’s also the fallacy of “people believe in anthropogenic climate change because it’s the consensus, not because they’ve thought critically about it. But look at me, I’m in the minority and my position is different. That obviously means I’ve thought critically about it.” This fallacy is a common theme too.

  5. #5 Harry Eagar
    April 15, 2008

    The one who was confused was Kestenbaum, the reporter, who actually said that the girl had neglected the “evidence” (word he used, astonishingly) in the models.

    As I don’t have to tell you, Orac, there cannot be evidence in a model. Or do you go right from the computer model of a novel drug to administering otherwise untested medications?

    The only evidence of global warming, as opposed to theorizing in computer models (without an actual theory behind the model, as it happens), would be measurements of, you know, the actual globe.

    But there aren’t any before the 21st century. (This is the place you hit the delete key on this post , as you did two days ago.)

    The evidence (for example, Argo and NASA satellite data) shows either cooling (very slight, Argo) or no trend either way (NASA).

    There are no GLOBAL measurements that show warming.

    None, nil, nada, not any.

    At least, none of the first three posters nor Orac has said the teenager is in the pay of Big Oil, but no doubt that will come soon enough.

  6. #6 Plutarch
    April 15, 2008

    In regard to Harry’s comment:

    I believe this is a case of classic goal post moving. It has been convincingly demonstrated that there has been a warming trend over the past ~100 years (Mann & Jones 2003 – doi: 10.1029/2003GL017814). As soon as this is demonstrated to a rational observer, the threshold for “proof” magically becomes “global measurements” of temperature data (whatever that means). The implication is that the physical principles behind using ice core data or dendrochronology are somehow flawed. This is of course incorrect; ice cores and tree rings accurately reflect the facts we already know about the past 150 years.

    I cannot understand the denial of the laws of physics and objective measurements that consistently show the same trend. In “science,” it’s hip to be contrary to the popular opinion; you get famous for showing them to be incorrect. The fact that so many climatologists and physicists have looked at the facts and arrived at the same conclusion is rather striking. There are very few research areas in which there is such agreement. That alone should say something about the issue of global warming.

    What you’re railing against, and I think what most GW denialists are opposed to, is the political question of what to do about it. Any real solution has to be at least as cost-effective as current power generation methods, and nuclear power and solar energy are rapidly approaching the point of being competitive with coal and natural gas. These solutions also have to be affordable enough to implement in developing countries, and things like “carbon credits” just don’t pass that test. The point is that on the political debate there is ample room for discussion of how to proceed; however, denial of objective reality is, quite frankly, insane.

  7. #7 jre
    April 15, 2008

    There are no GLOBAL measurements that show warming.

    Yes, there are.

    Creationists and climate denialists look more and more alike to me with every passing day.

  8. #8 Sara
    April 16, 2008

    Arguing with a teenager is a lot like arguing with a drunk person. Good luck on succeeding. 😉

  9. #9 Susan
    April 16, 2008

    Ive recently noticed a lot of anti-AGW proponents mentioning the data collected by ARGO/NASA. I most assuredly am not part of the anti-AGW crew but I am curious about the data. Any links?

  10. #10 davidp
    April 16, 2008

    But this is so old! Eli Rabett discussed it in July 2007.


    But it’s in the media so the delayers get excited all over again.

  11. #11 Coin
    April 16, 2008

    I can’t help but wonder, if a 15 year old had made an equivalent website affirming the AGW hypothesis, would this have made the national news?

  12. #12 Harry Eagar
    April 16, 2008

    So, jre, I follow your link and find a graph displaying:

    ‘Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present’

    I would like you (or NASA) to explain to me where the measurements were made globally in 1880.

    And, no, I am not moving any goalposts, since I raised the same question in the first newspaper column I wrote about this subject, about 20 years ago.


    A second point is that, in the course of a whole year, NPR/National Geographic paid exactly zero attention to ANYONE, whether that person had gotten past high school or not, who had questions about the science of global warming. No interviews with, or even mentions of, the Pielkes, Michaels, the Idsos etc. (All publishers of peer-reviewed
    papers on the subject.)

    No interview with McIntyre with (of course) no mention of how he had corrected elementary NASA temperature series mistakes.

    As a newspaperman, I considered this final feport with a high school student to have been unethical and incompetent. Exactly like, in fact, “Expelled,” since the attempt was to show that no critics rise above the capacity of a bright high schooler.

    I understand that our host is extremely busy, but the Argo folks are in his neighborhood.

  13. #13 Armchair Dissident
    April 16, 2008

    So, Harry, assuming you bothered to read Orac’s post, and assuming you didn’t just skip over the bit about “arrogance of ignorance”, what’s your training in climate science?

    If you are an actual climate scientist, where are your peer-reviewed published papers demonstrating clearly that everyone else is wrong and Harry Eagar is right?

  14. #14 Jeffrey Boser
    April 16, 2008

    I would like you (or NASA) to explain to me where the measurements were made globally in 1880.

    Ah this is the old “we weren’t there so it couldn’t have happened” argument from creationists.

    It goes something like this: I find some dog droppings on my lawn some morning. But, since I was not looking outside last night, I could not possibly have seen a dog doing his business on my lawn. Hence, a dog was not only not on my lawn last night, there wasn’t even one in the neighborhood. I didn’t see it, I couldn’t have possibly measured it, therefore it conveniently didn’t happen, regardless of me having to clean up the mess.

    I see this from the ‘we have not seen speciation’ camp all the time.

    Seriously, Harry, just because there weren’t thermometers all over the planet, in an arrangement to your liking, before 1800, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of evidence of temperature change that can be correlated very accurately. You throw out the word ‘globally’ as if somehow you require an infrared thermometer on a satellite pointed at the planet for thousands of years.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    April 16, 2008

    This sort of “debunking mainstream science” website is nothing new. Nor is the first run by a student. My interest in space science has led me to a large number of “Apollo was a hoax!” websites. They have an awful lot in common with Miss Byrnes’ website. (Including design, interestingly enough; a lot of websites of this ilk favor website designs that might’ve been impressive ten years ago.) It even includes a self-aggrandizing and eponymous “truth seeking” organization (in this case, the Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation).

    I will hazard a guess, without deeply delving into the site, that it is considerably saner than a Moon Hoax website. But that’s not saying an awful lot. The general tone appears to be quite similar, and gives the impression of a person who is impossible to reason with. Consider this passage: “Senior Scientist at NASA GISS and Al Gore’s Scientific Advisor, James Hansen: Will his history of allowing money and politics to affect his science stop him from fixing the recently discovered human errors in the temperature record as photographed by researchers?” This is not an unbiased statement, by any stretch of the imagination.

    The site also contains the oddest argument I’ve ever seen for buying a hybrid. I had to get to the end of the article to even deduce whether she was for or against them, and she seems to feel that the only reason to get one is to stick it to the oil companies (though she bases that on woefully incomplete data). Also, the hybrid treatise read like . . . well, frankly it read like something written by a high schooler at a school that doesn’t emphasize writing instruction sufficiently.

  16. #16 David Marjanovi?
    April 16, 2008

    arrogance of ignorance

    Egnorance, in one word.

  17. #17 JDP
    April 16, 2008

    Coin said:

    I can’t help but wonder, if a 15 year old had made an equivalent website affirming the AGW hypothesis, would this have made the national news?

    To be fair, the story was part of a series. Monday morning, they profiled a young lady at Washington University aiming to save the world from global warming.

    I suspect that Tuesday’s entry was a prayer to the false idol of “balance.” Every issue has exactly two sides. To act otherwise is “biased” no matter the insanity of one of the sides. I’ll always remember a couple of years ago when NPR did a story on water fluoridation and aired arguments from supporters and detractors.

    That said, NPR is still better than most American news providers.

  18. #18 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    Yes, looking at the full picture, I think we can cut NPR a little slack.

  19. #19 me
    April 16, 2008

    Global warming is a scam perpetrated by anti-American leftists.

  20. #20 Natalie
    April 16, 2008

    Sometimes I wish NPR would take the gloves off a little, but I’d still rather listen to them (and their affiliated music stations) than anything else on the radio in my area. I’ll take the fluff story on a high schooler rebelling on the internet in exchange for not having to listen to my only other options: right wing bloviation and morning zoo crew crap.

  21. #21 Laser Potato
    April 16, 2008

    “Global warming is a scam perpetrated by anti-American leftists.”
    The polar bears tend to disagree with you on that point, and it’s not a good idea to get into an argument with a bear.

  22. #22 Harry Eagar
    April 16, 2008

    No, Jeffrey, I am not a climate scientist. I am a newspaper reporter. Every day, people say things and before I turn around and report them, I ask: How does he know that?

    In 1880 (and for some time after), there were no people and therefore no temperature measurements above 70 degrees N, below 50 S, in interior Africa, in interior Asia, etc.

    The areas where there are temperature series going back more than a few decades amount to 3 or 4% of the globe’s surface. Is that enough to be sure of the global temperature to a hundredth of a degree (that was the claim)?

    Decide for yourself, but I am skeptical.

    Well, today, we do have some global records. They don’t go back very far (5 or 10 years only), but they don’t show warming. So what are you going to believe, a wild extrapolation or your own lying eyes?

    There are arguments to save warming (masking, for example) but these are not trivial objections.

    There are plenty of astronomers (some of the very best work down the street from me and I listen to them) who calculate (with a great deal more accuracy than any surface temperature series) that changes in orbital geometry should be enough to account for any warming.

    If the course of evolution through natural selection is the most overdetermined concept in earth history (as it has been called), then the concept of global warming through atmospheric change is the most underdetermined.

  23. #23 me
    April 16, 2008

    The polar bears tend to disagree with you on that point, and it’s not a good idea to get into an argument with a bear.

    You do realize that there are more polar bears alive today than was the case 30 years ago, do you not? No? Well, now you do!

  24. #24 Joel
    April 16, 2008

    I can’t help but wonder, if a 15 year old had made an equivalent website affirming the AGW hypothesis, would this have made the national news?

    Posted by: Coin | April 16, 2008 1:03 AM

    Since there likely are 15 year olds who agree with the AGW hypothesis and they likely have websites expressing their views and it appears nobody has done a story…

  25. #25 Carlie
    April 16, 2008

    Yes, looking at the full picture, I think we can cut NPR a little slack.

    Not much, though. When it comes to multi-part series, you have to assume that a certain percentage of your listenership will not have heard the other parts, and each part must be able to stand alone as well as be part of the whole. A person could come away from that single piece with exactly the impression that NPR was uncritical of how this girl came to her conclusions and what those conclusions were. If that wasn’t their intent with the series, then someone fell down on the job for this segment.

  26. #26 me
    April 16, 2008

    A second point is that, in the course of a whole year, NPR/National Geographic paid exactly zero attention to ANYONE, whether that person had gotten past high school or not, who had questions about the science of global warming. No interviews with, or even mentions of, the Pielkes, Michaels, the Idsos etc. (All publishers of peer-reviewed
    papers on the subject.)

    What do you expect from National Proletarian Radio?

  27. #27 Harry Eagar
    April 16, 2008

    Nothing better, for sure, although not necessarily because of any political bias.

    Commercial newspapers, like the one I work for, really have achieved a workable form of editorial independence (not the same thing as wisdom) that other forms of newsmongering have not.

    NPR is a scary case, since it has such a broad audience of (probably) civicly conscious listeners. Unlike newspapers, which (with rare exceptions) don’t get in bed with advertisers, NPR’s awkward financing strategy has made it agree to some, IMO, dishonest bargains with, eg, Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Many (most) newspapers got suckered by the NRDC Alar hoax, but that was because they were stupid, not because they were corrupt.

  28. #28 Joel
    April 16, 2008
  29. #29 Jim RL
    April 16, 2008

    If I was as smart as I thought I was at 16 then I wouldn’t be in grad school right now. Sadly, gaining knowledge has only made the world a more confusing place to live in. What was once black and white is now shades of gray. What was once blindly accepted has been completely rejected. It’s sad that a 16 year old parroting unoriginal talking points is somehow news.

  30. #30 Davis
    April 16, 2008

    Is that enough to be sure of the global temperature to a hundredth of a degree (that was the claim)?

    In science, that would be an empirical question, not a rhetorical one. So no, you don’t “decide for yourself” — you do some explicit calculations of uncertainty based on the data you have, and use those calculations to come to a conclusion.

    Do you have any evidence that the uncertainties computed by experts in the field are inaccurate? Have you done any of the calculations yourself?

  31. #31 Hank Roberts
    April 16, 2008

    Harry, you mention Alar and “hoax” in the same sentence. Have you bothered to look this up recently? Opinions may not change; facts do, as research comes in. This is an interesting one.

    It’s discussed here, for example.
    You’ve been misled by a long-sustained PR ploy.


    … the movement for “sound science” continued to build through the late 1980s and early 1990s. Part of its later swell in power came from the retelling of certain stories seen as justifying the need for advocate efforts.

    One example is the 1989 controversy over the pesticide, Alar (daminozide). In 1989, 22 years after carcinogenicity was first documented, the manufacturer provided new data to the EPA showing increased rodent tumors after exposure.41,42 The EPA began work to cancel Alar’s registration but, in the process, extended its tolerance. Frustrated, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a report with a risk assessment indicating that childhood exposure to apples could eventually cause cancer in thousands of current preschoolers.42-44 The EPA staff calculated a risk about 10 times lower, although still significant.42 After a 60 Minutes exposé, there was great public concern and a major impact on the apple market. The manufacturer voluntarily withdrew daminozide from the market that fall.35,41,45

    Among the most vocal critics of the so-called “Alar scare” was the American Council on Science and Health, which received $25,000 from Alar’s manufacturer, among other industry grants.46 The American Council on Science and Health has since produced at least five reports claiming to debunk the scare and paid Walter Cronkite $25,000 to narrate a television documentary that he later stated “was meant to be propaganda.”46-51

    There remains disagreement as to whether the course of events regarding Alar was appropriate.51,52 Critics have convinced the media and public that the Alar story reflects an environmental group using “unsound” science to frighten the public and force the company to overreact by withdrawing its product.50,53 Yet, daminozide continues to be listed as a “probable human carcinogen” by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (the latter for the breakdown product, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) and as a carcinogen by the State of California.54 In response to a libel suit against the NRDC, a federal court held that NRDC’s 1989 report was “not a polemical tract preying on raw emotions and irrational fears.”55 Furthermore, there is no evidence that either NRDC’s or EPA’s risk estimates were based on implausible or rarely used assumptions that would have been grounds for rejection in scientific review and plenty to support the notion that prompted regulatory action by EPA could have prevented the publicity about Alar’s risk and, thus, averted this “food scare.”42,43,52
    ——end excerpt——
    See full text and footnotes for more info.

    That’s from

    July 2005, Vol 95, No. S1
    American Journal of Public Health S81-S91
    © 2005 American Public Health Association
    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.044818
    Regulatory Parallels to Daubert: Stakeholder Influence, “Sound Science,” and the Delayed Adoption of Health-Protective Standards

  32. #32 Hank Roberts
    April 16, 2008

    Dang. Message said the posting had failed due to a server error, try again. So I did. Now it’s there twice.

  33. #33 Natalie
    April 16, 2008

    “In 1880 (and for some time after), there were no people and therefore no temperature measurements above 70 degrees N, below 50 S, in interior Africa, in interior Asia, etc.”

    Sorry, what? The earth has only been populated for the last 130 years? I can only assume you’re trying to say something else here, but I can’t parse it.

    “there are more polar bears alive today than was the case 30 years ago, do you not? No? Well, now you do!”

    Aside from the fact that 1978 isn’t a good baseline year to measure polar bears (gas guzzling land yachts, anyone?) the World Conservation Union, Polar Bears International, and Defenders of Wildlife seem to disagree with you. So perhaps you should find a citation.

  34. #34 Hank Roberts
    April 16, 2008

    Dang. Message said “server error” and I retried it. Now it’s there twice. Tried to write this, got the same “server error.” Will this also show up twice? Let’s find out….

  35. #35 Tlazolteotl
    April 16, 2008

    The fact that so many climatologists and physicists have looked at the facts and arrived at the same conclusion is rather striking.

    And not only that, but using different methods – tree rings, ice cores, historical accounts, and even models. All of these methods independently reached the same conclusion. It isn’t just a thread of evidence now, we have a rope we can call ‘the international scientific consensus.’

  36. #36 Laser Potato
    April 16, 2008

    “You do realize that there are more polar bears alive today than was the case 30 years ago, do you not? No? Well, now you do!”
    I’ve seen this talking point pop up a lot, and never EVER backed up with evidence of any sort.

  37. #37 Harry Eagar
    April 16, 2008

    Hank, even Ames doesn’t believe in the Ames test any more.

    I must have two dozen consumer products in my house that are known by the state of California to cause cancer, but I’m still here.

  38. #38 Natalie
    April 16, 2008

    To piggyback on Laser Potato (I posted earlier but it disappeared into one of the tubes), a Google search found one reference saying that polar bear populations had increased since 1968 because of restrictions on hunting. So it’s probably strictly true that numbers have increase in the past 30 years. But it seems to me that 1978 is probably not a good baseline year if we want to talk about global warming, considering this country was in one of the worst points in it’s petroleum addiction and the environmental movement was very young. If we want to use polar bear populations to measure climate change caused by petroleum usage, maybe we should start sometime before the 1970s, the era of gas-guzzling land yachts.

  39. #39 Laser Potato
    April 16, 2008

    “I must have two dozen consumer products in my house that are known by the state of California to cause cancer, but I’m still here.”
    …wait, what the hell does this have to do with the topic?!

    So where’s the evidence to back up that polar bear claim, then, hm?

  40. #40 John Mashey
    April 16, 2008

    1) It’s well worth listening to the 58-minute video by Naomi Oreskes, “The American Denial of Global Warming”, whose first half describes the history of the science through about 1990, i.e., when George H. W. Bush thought it was a problem.

    The second half describes the originals of climate denialism at the George C. Marshall Insitute.

    2) I also recommend John Cook’s Skeptical Science website, which offers a nice list of common, long-refuted arguments, with a web page apiece that describes the argument and examples of its use, explains the errors, and points at good scientific sources in real journals.

    This is very useful, as the same dumb arguments get claimed again and again and again.

  41. #41 Terrance King
    April 17, 2008

    Good for that teen. I just read “State Of Fear” Michael Crichton’s 2004 book about GW. I recommend it to all of you above. Although a work of fiction, it gives excellent references (footnotes) to both sides of the GW debate. I was skeptical about GW before, but now I think it’s arrogant that people believe they can change the global direction of environmental mechanics. I think managing our own small contributions(recycling,renewable energy, etc) is important, but let’s not give in to the fear machine of the political-litigation-media complex.

  42. #42 John Mashey
    April 17, 2008

    Terrance: I’m sorry you think Crichton is a good source for climate science. I’ll end with pointers to thorough discussions about the book.

    *I’m* lucky to live where real scientists are thick on the ground, just up the hill from Stanford, and within an hour of UC Berkeley. These places offer constant streams of public lectures by world-class scientists, i.e., real ones.

    Anyone who lives anywhere near a good research university can probably find good public talks if they *want* to. Some places offer outreach lectures. If geography disallows, then at least one can start with *real* science sites, like from NASA, NOAA, UK Met. Even Wikipedia, while not authoritative, is a good starting point.

    For various reasons, I know well, have worked with, or at least talked to a lot of scientists (including climate scientists) worldwide, such as:

    * Nobel Physics winner
    * members of US National Academy of Science, including one whose climate talk I got to be the discussant for.
    – UK Fellow of Royal Society
    – various authors of IPCC
    – other real climate scientists
    – relevant university Department Heads, Deans, President of Stanford
    * ex-Chairman of Shell Oil
    – Recently-retired CTO of Chevron
    * CEO of PG&E (big utility in North and Central CA)

    *Burton Richter is a Nobel Physicist at Stanford, and he gave a talk to a 30-person group in our little town, 3-4 years ago. It was a subset of the talk:

    Gambling with the Future: Energy, Environment and Economics in the 2st Century.

    Ideally, get the PowerPoint version and read the comments at the bottom.

    Slides 1-13 are about global warming, then he addresses energy issues.
    Slides 25-26 have nice summary of different sources.
    30-40 give nuclear issues (and he skipped this piece for a general audience.) 40-42: summarize.

    Burton was asked why there was argument about the existence of global warming among climate scientists. He said there wasn’t, but noted a few scientists he knew had stopped doing science and had gone off into denialism for ideological reasons. [I have a good idea who he’s talking of: Of four, one died in 2000, and two died recently.]

    Al Gore could have used the first bunch of slides as is, I’d guess because both Gore and Richter got the slides from the same scientific literature.

    *Lord Ronald Oxburgh is a PhD geologist, once Rector (head) of Imperial College (sometimes called the MIT of the UK, but in any case, a highly rated school). For a few years recently, whe as brought in as Chairman to clean up some problems at Shell. He speaks of both Peak Oil and Global Warming in this interview.
    One never knows with interviews, but he’s actually an old friend of ours, he says what he thinks, and I think this is fairly representative.

    *Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E: [not scientist, but relevant] says
    this about global warming .

    *Stephen Schneider is a well-known Stanford climate scientist and US NAS member, and has good website.

    A useful list of opinions by scientific societies is here.

    Given that scientists by nature usually talk in probabilities, with lots of caveats, when *they* say they are scared, I get terrified. All of the above (not jsut the *’d ones) think global warming is real and that we’re doing it, and fervently wish it weren’t true.

    Although I’m a AAAS member, read Science every week, have read IPCC reports, many other real science books and articles, have a technical PhD and relevant experience, … these folks are certainly smarter than I.

    Just because someone is a Nobel physicist, or President of Stanford, or ex-Chairman of Shell … doesn’t make them always right, but only someone truly brilliant … or arrogantly stupid … ignores what they say.

    If you don’t interact with such people, you’d be surprised at how willing many are to answer even quite skeptical questions they must have heard many times.

    The scientists *I* know get money to do research, not to find pre-specified answers. Do much of the latter, and you are *dead* professionally.

    Nobody gets Nobel prizes for confirmations of well-understood phenomena. Any climate scientist would *love* [read: Nobel] to find something that overturned a well-established mesh of theories like that around AGW, but they don’t waste their time, because that’s simply not going to happen, as too many well-established laws of physics would need breaking.

    Heartland, Marshall, SEPP, SPPI, etc, etc do *not* do science research, that gets published in peer-reviewed journals. Crichton certainly doesn’t, either. They do lots of OpEds, websites, letters to editor, interviews, etc.

    In *1989*, George H. W. Bush recognized there was a serious climate problem with CO2.

    If you want to understand how climate science developed over 100+ years to about that time, and then what happened, see The American Denial of Global Warming, by Professor Naomi Oreskes, a geoscientist+science historian at UCSD.

    The general problem was understood by 1989, and the President bought in, and the evidence has only gotten much better since then …

    Well, we’ve only wasted a lot of 20 years. I just attended a meeting today for SF Bay Area governments planning how to deal with sea level change and other warming problems, and it is going to be very, very expensive …

    Regarding Crichton, here’s one discussion, but RealClimate has many more if you use the search box.

  43. #43 SimonH
    April 17, 2008

    Good for that teen. I just read “State Of Fear” Michael Crichton’s 2004 book about GW. I recommend it to all of you above. Although a work of fiction….

    Quite simply, this discussion is about FACTS not FICTION. Mr Crichton takes contemporary science issues, adds a good dose of fantasy, then trots out a genre known as Science Fiction.

    He’s about as likely to be taken seriously by climate scientists as JK Rowling is by aeronautical engineers.

  44. #44 Orac
    April 17, 2008

    Although a work of fiction

    Key phrase: Work of fiction. You should have stopped there, because that’s all anyone needs to know: That State of Fear is a work of fiction.

  45. #45 Barn Owl
    April 17, 2008

    Also, the hybrid treatise read like . . . well, frankly it read like something written by a high schooler at a school that doesn’t emphasize writing instruction sufficiently.

    I read that part of Byrnes’ website after you pointed this out, and I agree. In spite of all her “research” and experience with internet self-promotion and screed-writing, she still can’t compose a coherent essay on hybrid cars. One of the best reasons not to buy a hybrid (assuming that you have a serviceable vehicle that gets decent gas mileage) is that the manufacture incurs a large proportion of its lifetime energy consumption. I considered buying a hybrid this year, but since I have a 7-year-old Honda Accord that’s in excellent condition and gets decent gas mileage, I’ll stick with it for a few more years at least.

    I must have two dozen consumer products in my house that are known by the state of California to cause cancer, but I’m still here.

    So in addition to the ignorance about climate change, you’re also displaying your lack of knowledge about mutagenesis, mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and statistics?

  46. #46 outeast
    April 17, 2008

    I’ve said this before about Michael Crichton, but…

    I read some of his stuff as a teenager (Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, etc.) and was really impressed by the way he made complex scientific ideas really clear – outstanding layman’s explanations of chaos theory, genetics, stuff like that – in the context of novels.

    I found the chaos stuff so interesting that I picked up a couple of textbooks at my local library: and discovered that he was So. Very. Wrong. Verging on the absurd (and I’m not sure about the ‘verging’).

    He’s great at seeming to really know his shit, but when it comes to science he’s really no great shakes: he thinks he’s got it, and boy does that assurance come across, but he really, really does not. A classic case of being unqualified to recognize his own incompetence…

    I went on to read a few more Crighton books later on; I finally dropped him completely once I read one novel in which he actually rejects the germ theory of disease. There’s no conming back from that, credibility-wise.

  47. #47 Laser Potato
    April 17, 2008

    “I finally dropped him completely once I read one novel in which he actually rejects the germ theory of disease.”
    Oh man. That’s just…oh man.

  48. #48 Eli Rabett
    April 17, 2008

    Besides failing graph cut and paste, Kristen also learned to build strawmen in arts class. First time around everyone tried to be nice to her, but it is clear that nice don’t get her attention.

  49. #49 Natalie
    April 17, 2008

    outeast – which book rejects germ theory?

  50. #50 Andrew Dodds
    April 17, 2008

    John M..

    This is true, and the sad thing is that when looked on as a scientific/engineering problem, it is not even that hard to fix.

    It has almost become a culture-war issue now, where Global Warming=Leftie Commie Sandal Wearers, which is why you will often find perfectly reasonable people having fairly extreme views on the subject.

  51. #51 Liesl
    April 17, 2008

    Andrew Dodds:

    Sentence structure is your friend and it misses you; please give it a call once in awhile.

  52. #52 Bud
    April 17, 2008

    I find myself in an unusual position of defending Crichton here, but in ‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’, Crichton seems to credit Pasteur for standing against scientific consensus.

    ” And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy…the list of consensus errors goes on and on. ”


    The lecture is so much BS. But I don’t think he rejects germ theory.

  53. #53 Harry Eagar
    April 17, 2008

    You were rolling till you got to Schneider, John. As we all know (don’t we?), he’s on record as saying the AGW scientists have to lie to us proles in order to stampede us.

    Back to Orac’s first question, why should he be impressed by a teen’s view, of course, there’s no reason he should. Nor should anyone be impressed by Al Gore and his faked graphs. (Perhaps Orac was not impressed by Gore, either, I don’t know.)

    But NPR could have — should have — used anothere lede: “Why should 16-year-old Kirsten believe in global warming when for over half her life, the globe hasn’t warmed?”

    I, too, live down the street from top scientists, and I, too, go to their public lectures. (Professionally, I also get to interview them.) They believe that orbital geometry is sufficient to explain recent warming.

    The science is in fact unsettled.

    Interestingly, the history is not. If you don’t have observations, then history is your next best guide. (I expect they teach this in the differential diagnosis course in med school. I hope so.)

    So, we have, upthread, claims about, eg, glaciers. But we also have historical records of glaciers (at least in the eastern Alps), and they have been conveniently collected for us by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (as emininent an historian as Burton Richter is a scientist), and Le Roy Ladurie’s evidence has an advantage over GCMs — his is absolutely bulletproof.

    Guess what? Glaciers were retreating, and fast, during the Medieval Warm Period, just those centuries that Mann (also cited upthread) says were not warm.

    Well, when you find a chapel under ice, it may not prove that someone didn’t build it under the ice; but, as Thoreau about finding a trout in the milk, it suggests a conclusion.

    But if there was an MWP, and if Mann claims that dendro disproves MWP, then maybe that raises questions about the ability of tree rings to preserve temperature. Dendrochronologists, by the way, never said they do; only ax-grinding global warmers say that. If tree rings preserve any information about climate, it’s moisture.

    (Natalie, get out a globe and look for 50 degrees S latitude. Now tell me how many people you think were in the region south of that area in 1880. Sheesh.)

  54. #54 John Conway
    April 17, 2008

    Harry, show us the peer-reviewed research on climate change your scientists have done. Particularly that orbital geometry accounts for the current observed rates of climate change.

  55. #55 Plutarch
    April 17, 2008

    Harry can’t show us any legitimate peer-reviewed evidence to support his assertions. That’s precisely why he’s citing unnamed Top Scientists(tm) (who he interviews, of course) and making unsubstantiated claims, all while simultaneously ignoring the mountains of peer-reviewed evidence that are contrary to his (untenable) position. It’s denialism at its finest.

  56. #56 Harry Eagar
    April 17, 2008

    Subscribe to CCNet. It aggregates thousands of them.

    Anyhow, John, my point, which is obvious, is that there are no observed rates of climate change before the 21st century, No global observers, no global observations.

    The Argo observations show cooling.

  57. #57 Natalie
    April 17, 2008

    Harry, I’m at work so I don’t have a globe at the moment, but let me remind you of what you said: “In 1880 (and for some time after), there were no people and therefore no temperature measurements above 70 degrees N, below 50 S, in interior Africa, in interior Asia, etc.”

    Now perhaps I’m misreading you, or perhaps your writing is atrocious, but this sentence says that there were no people on the planet in 1880. I’m sure you meant to say something else, but the fact is you did not. The only other obvious interpretation of your sentence is that you think there were no people in Central Asia or Central Africa in 1880. Again, demonstrably wrong. So why don’t you rephrase yourself until you make fucking sense, rather than try to get all snarky with me because you can’t write in English.

  58. #58 Natalie
    April 17, 2008

    I think I’ve finally managed to make something sensible out of your muddle, Harry. If what you were trying to say is that no one had measured temperatures at the poles, what the hell is Central Africa and Central Asia doing in your sentence?

  59. #59 John Mashey
    April 17, 2008

    re: Stephen Schneider:
    See beware of partial quotes or see Stephen’s thoughtful original.

    Gore graphs ~ Richter graphs.

    Glaciers & MWP: See Bill Ruddiman’s “Plow, Plagues, and Petroleum”; based on orbital geometry, it *should* have been warmer back then. See Climate Progress article and following thread, which includes a long comment by me, with many references, about Swiss glaciers, and further comments by Mauri Pelto, a well-published glacier researcher.

    Ladurie seems a fine historian, but he’s no physicist, and I don’t care about popular press exaggerations and complaints thereof – I don’t get my science from them. I like Brian Fagan’s work because he covers different places in the world where we don’t have as well-known history as in Europe.

    Top scientists who say orbital geometry is enough to explain current warming?


    With all due respect, having seen Harry post many a time, I’ll reserve judgement about his calibration of “top”-ness till I see the names and pointers. The Dunning-Kruger Effect might be applicable.

    Finally, back in the real world, I spent all yesterday at an ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) meeting “Preparing for sea level rise in the Bay Area”, in which people whose opinions matter in the real world (not the blogosphere

    – start with the best science the y can get (folks from Scripps, USGS, etc)
    – look at likely and potential effects
    – and then work on policies about investment, development, relocation of sewage plants, where to build dikes and where not, especially given earthquakes
    – and try to figure out what it’s going to cost us [a lot].

    Of course, we had a lot of discussion about water supplies, given the shrinkage of the Sierra snowpack.

    These people actually *care* about livability here 50 or 100 years from now, and think it’s better to be planning now than just leaving it as a problem for the next few generations. I know that’s a strange concept to some…

    If someone is not in CA, and doesn’t care, well, that’s OK, although I will point out, that in 2001, CA Contributed $63B more to the Federal Government it got back, the largest net contributor. Just to pick a state at random, Hawaii got $2B more back than it sent. We’ll see how long such subsidies last…

  60. #60 Harry Eagar
    April 18, 2008

    Well, if you unfilled all the part of San Francisco Bay that you filled in, sea level rises would be taken care of the natural way.

    For free

  61. #61 The Crack Emcee
    April 19, 2008

    “Do you have any evidence that the uncertainties computed by experts in the field are inaccurate?”

    Posted by Davis

    “The models are telling us something quite different from what nature seems to be telling us. There are various interpretations possible, e.g. a) The big increase in hurricane power over the past 30 years or so may not have much to do with global warming, or b) The models are simply not faithfully reproducing what nature is doing. Hard to know which to believe yet.”

    — Kerry Emanuel, M.I.T. climate scientist, who has moderated his views on Global Warming

    Man – I can’t believe you guys are doing this to me – I wish you people could see yourselves:

    Several posts (Orac’s, Sirhcton’s, Sarah’s, and Jim RL’s) make the assumption – based on nothing – that people gave up talking to the girl because she’s 15. What happens when you ass-u-me things, people? You look like total asses to everyone but yourselves.

    Arguing from authority is everywhere on this thread.

    Several posts attack the station for even doing the piece – starting with PhysioProf’s insane rant that NPR is a right-wing station (news to me) plus several posts are *almost* conspiracy theories (Coin, Joel, Carlie) speculating on why NPR would run it. A bunch of nonsense that should’ve ended by Steve Bloom’s post to “cut NPR a little slack” but, somehow, didn’t.

    And a message to John Mashey: you aren’t the only person from the Bay Area – you might want to check out Chris Locke’s Mystic Bourgeoisie site – start on this page – so you can look up the loony history of Stanford University, whose founder, Lewis Terman, got his cred through the “scientific racism” that inspired Hitler and the eugenics movement, and teaches a whole lot more idiocy (Yea, that’s the same Stanford which is now having Oprah give this year’s commencement address. Obviously, a great institution – with no common fucking sense.) Quite a few quacks from the wackily New Age Esalen Institute teach there as well. (Everyone should check out that last link to assess Mr. Mashey’s “real scientists” who are “thick on the ground” when he should find such biased operatives “thick in the head”). Try going to a lecture on “bullshit”, Mashey, then you might learn something,…but, I’m sure, they don’t encourage such courses at Stanford: it would fuck up the whole curriculum.

    I swear, the biases of you so-called “scientists” are flashing so brightly they might as well be in neon – and, since you’re swimming in the deepest end of the New Age cesspool – I’m surprised you can claim to know up from down.

    A 15 year old girl doubts GW. Just like it took a 4th grade girl to disprove Therapeutic Touch – where were all you big brains on that one? Why does it take kids – fucking kids – to do your jobs?

    You science types will forever be a major disappointment. I can’t start to tell you how depressed you make me.

    I’m just a black guy from South Central, Los Angeles, and I feel light years smarter than all of you.

  62. #62 Laser Potato
    April 20, 2008

    Don’t feed the troll.^

  63. #63 Harry Eagar
    April 20, 2008

    John, your committee needs to consult Orrin Pilkey’s ‘Coastal Design.’

    It isn’t sea level rise you need to worry about, it’s the idiots building on the foreshore and filling in the bay.

    Nothing to do with putative global warming.

  64. #64 The Crack Emcee
    April 20, 2008


    Whatever, man, the proof of your bias is here in the thread for all to read: self-serving blanket assumptions, conspiracy theories, and everything else – from scientists.

    My faith in you is restored – and my series on you will continue,….

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