The Island of Doubt

16-year-old libels James Hansen

I’m sure James Hansen has better things to do with his NASA paycheck than hire a lawyer to sue a 16-year-old over a libelous statement on her website. Give the amount of time he’s spent crafting public letters to governors, prime ministers and corporate CEOs, though, perhaps he could find the time to write a small note expressing his concern to the parents of Kristen Byrnes of Portland, Maine.

Ms. Byrne was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition this Tuesday. She’s a top student at her school, and to her credit has recognized the importance of skepticism in science, something it took me an extra couple of decades to fully grasp. Her parents have set up the “Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation” to help raise funds to “allow Kristen to continue studying and promoting quality climate science.”

Wow. Imagine if all budding scientists had such supportive parents, and the added benefit of national radio exposure — Morning Edition has upwards of 30 million listeners, I believe — to attract like-minded philanthropists to their websites. (By the way, while I can’t guarantee that my 17-month-old son will pursue a career in the sciences, the modest income generated from traffic to this site will benefit his college fund. So tell your friends.)

And what a site it is. I am so envious. Unfortunately, Ms. Byrne’s skeptical philosophy seems to be directed only at peer-reviewed science, and not the amateur propaganda masquerading as honest criticism of that science. For example, she calls her website “Ponder the Maunder,” in a reference to the Maunder minimum in sunspot activity a few hundred years ago. The minimum is associated with a cooling trend in the Northern Hemisphere known as the Little Ice Age. The implication is that a corresponding increase in solar activity is responsible for today’s warming.

That idea has been considered and soundly rejected by those who earn their living studying such things. See “Pattern of Strange Errors Plagues Solar Activity and Terrestrial Climate Data” (Eos,Vol. 85, No. 39, 28 September 2004), in which the authors note that “the apparent strong correlations … have been obtained by incorrect handling of the physical data.”

Misreading the science is excusable for a 16-year-old, even one as obviously intelligent and curious as Kristine Byrne. What’s more troubling is her disdain for those who don’t agree with her brand of skepticism. On her home page, she asks, not so rhetorically, of 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.”

Them’s fighting words. I have been known to engage in similar tactics, but I try to have science on my side. Truth is after all, the best defence against a libel suit. But Ms. Byrne’s opprobrium is based not on evidence that Hansen deliberately distorts his science to suit his politics or financial supporters. Instead it stems from blatant misreadings of Hansen’s own words. For example, to support her contention that

Hansen continues to make extreme claims. One such claim that contradicts even AGW scientists is that sea level is and will remain rising one meter per 20 years…

she refers to an interview Hansen gave to Der Spiegel in April of 2007. What Hansen actually said in the interview is that “During the last melting period, the sea level went up 20 meters in 400 years, which is one meter every 20 years.” He was talking about conditions 11,000 years ago. It’s called paleoclimate data, and it’s one of the only tools we have at our disposal to anticipate the consequences of changes to global ecosystem. Yes, Hansen does worry about sea level rise, and he does suspect it will likely rise faster than many of his colleagues do. But he isn’t saying it’s rising at a meter every 20 years right now. That’s just plain silly.

I am hopeful that someone as obviously intelligent as Ms. Byrne will eventually learn to tell the difference between ideologically driven pseudoskepticism and genuine science. If she does indeed continue her climate studies through the post-secondary level, that’s bound to happen. But to do that, she will have to overcome the inertia of success brought on by her naive enthusiasm. From the NPR story:

Kristen had no fear. She took on Al Gore the Nobel laureate, Academy Award winner and former vice president. She went after Jim Hansen, one of NASA’s top climate scientists. E-mail poured in, mostly from skeptics happy a young person had taken up the cause.

“I got a letter in the mail on my birthday from a senator,” she says.

Someone runs off into another room to track it down and returns with an envelope from the office of Sen. James Inhof[e], the Oklahoma Republican famous for calling global warming a hoax.

“Dear Kristen,” the letter begins. “Thank you so much for your letter and e-mail and for your kind words. I appreciate your help in the fight against global warming alarmism. You are a common sense young lady and an inspiration to me. I want you to keep up the good work. We are winning.”

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.

She’s probably right. But just wait until she’s old enough to take responsibility for her arguments. The next time NPR profiles her, I doubt the reporter will be wearing the same kid gloves. I just hope it’s not too late by then for her opinions to make a difference.

[Update: Janet Stemwedel goes into waaaay more detail as she deconstructs the entire NPR report, and finds it wanting. Which it is.]

Comments

  1. #1 caerbannog
    April 15, 2008

    I wonder what megachurch her parents drag her to every Sunday…

  2. #2 pough
    April 15, 2008

    But he isn’t saying it’s rising at 20 meters a year right now. That’s just plain silly.

    Um… I don’t think you got that bit quite right. Looks like you reversed the numbers.

  3. #3 James Hrynyshyn
    April 15, 2008

    Thanks Pough. Writing too fast for my own good (and trying to keep an eye on aforementioned 17-month-old).

  4. #4 Dr. Free-Ride
    April 15, 2008
  5. #5 SpotWeld
    April 15, 2008

    I guess it all comes down to the question: is she striving to teach herself how to create good science, or is she striving to teach herself how to create effective rhetoric.

    She seems to be very good at synthesizing the criticisms put forth by others, but is she going to be able to put forth an argument of her own? (Presumably she’ll have to if she wants to follow this topic though college.)

  6. #6 Rev Matt
    April 15, 2008

    The NPR piece was one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever heard on there. 100% credulous, the only person they had on supporting the scientific viewpoint was a friend of hers who admitted she didn’t really know anything about global warming, but she thought that people have something to do with it. The ‘reporter’ clearly had no interest in actually presenting a balanced story but in emphasizing “Hey look what a great thing it is that kids are getting involved in something, regardless of how uninformed they are.”

  7. #7 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    April 15, 2008

    I remember when I was young and knew everything.

  8. #8 Robyn
    April 15, 2008

    Actually, I don’t find it surprising or troubling that a teenager would have disdain for viewpoints or approaches that don’t dovetail with her own. Fortunately for me, when I was a teenager, I didn’t have my own blog so I can continue to believe that I wasn’t nearly as know-it-all as other teens without fear that my own writings will someday come back to bite me in the butt.

  9. #9 Levi
    April 15, 2008

    Damn right Robyn. Around that time I was reading the works of Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Dniken, the book The Holographic Universe, stuff on the Kennedy assassination, and a bunch of other questionable selections.

    I find many of this girl’s views troubling, but then again, I’d say the same thing about myself at 16 (or 18 or 20). Hopefully she drops the whole “I’m a skeptic” identity and do actual research into the areas she cares about.

  10. #10 Reginald Selkirk
    April 15, 2008

    Here’s another opinionated youngin:
    Liberals are annoying

  11. #11 Kerry
    April 15, 2008

    Ms. Byrne sounds like a pretty average teenager with very creepy parents. A 16-year old rejecting conventional wisdom and authority is pretty par for the course. The national media attention she’s getting, the “foundation” in her name… that smells like the work of parents using their child to further their pet cause.

    If Ms. Byrne actually does want a career in climate research, I hope she is able to find a mentor to help direct her criticism in constructive ways. If she takes her “You’re wrong but I don’t have to prove it” attitude into the average undergrad science course at a large university, she’ll win few friends among the professors she’ll need later in her academic career. And unlike teenage diaries of yore, what she writes on her blog will live on to haunt her forever.

    Perhaps that’s the point though… maybe in 10 years we’ll all be cringing at “Expelled 2: How the Nazi Fascist Scientists Persecuted a Poor Girl Who Just Wanted To Defend Your Freedom to Burn Fossil Fuel”.

  12. #12 Thaumus
    April 15, 2008

    I suggested to the delightful Ms Byrne that she may have woefully misinterpreted Hansen’s Der Spiegel interview some months ago. Her charming reply was to suggest I, having a non-US email account, was from another country and so didn’t understand.

  13. #13 Michael Jankowski
    April 15, 2008

    Byrne may be only 16 yrs old, maybe some people find her parents to be strange, she may be opinionated, etc…but she appears to at least be as competent and reasonable on the issue of climate change as Al Gore.

    Additionally, she doesn’t dodge any exchanges of debate the way Gore does. I find her “libelous” statements towards Hansen similar to but tamer than those slung by many climate scientists – including Hansen himself – towards skeptics. Her statements are far more reasonable than the AGW crowd (including Gore and Hansen) comparisons of skeptics to Creationsists, Holocaust deniers, etc…and far more reasonable than Gore-funded promotions claiming acting on climate change is akin to the Civil Rights movement, landing on the moon, and D-Day.

    Maybe someone should shake their finger at this 16-yr old once in awhile. But explain to me why these same folks (look in the mirror) shouldn’t do the same thing a hundredfold for adults like Hansen and Gore who should know far better.

    If Byrne were an AGW crusader and flung “libelous” statements at skeptics, couldn’t “tell the difference between ideologically driven pseudoskepticism and genuine science,” etc, she very well could be a hero. The same folks who praised “An Inconvenient Truth” and overlooked any errors, omissions, and exagerrations would likely do the same for Byrne. Al Gore and others would likely make her the poster teen for AGW messages. She’d have a full-ride waiting for her at practically any university she wanted to attend when she’s done with high school (and maybe she still will). She might even have a share of a Nobel prize (if someone 16 yrs old can win).

  14. #14 Onkel Bob
    April 15, 2008

    As a nontraditional graduate student, I am asked to present a workshop on resumes and interviewing to Art & Design students. One thing I emphasize to them is to be careful what information they put on the web/internet. I tell them to get a “clean” e-mail address and to create a professional persona on their blogs and such. I tell them this because future employers may hesitate to interview or hire students that demonstrate a willingness to advertise questionable behavior. It’s one thing to put up pictures of friends at a party, it’s another to include drunken escapades in the mix.
    That said, I wonder what the university admissions officer will think of this applicant? While she demonstrates an ability to gather information, she also has shown an inability to evaluate the material nor the necessary comprehension skills. Agreed, she has “wonderful” high school grades; however, these are poor indicators of future performance. I suspect this wunderkind is in for a rude awakening if and when she applies to and arrives at college.

  15. #15 Christopher Wing
    April 15, 2008

    Hey Michael Jankowski,

    Really? Gore’s wrong? Pretty much anyone who studies this science for a living will tell you to check your facts.

    Would you mind pointing me toward some peer-reviewed papers that back up your claim? From scientists? I’ll check back for your reply.

    Which division of Exxon is paying your salary?

  16. #16 Bruce
    April 15, 2008

    You are lying about what Hansen said.

    Combine the two quotes and Hansen is clearly saying a 25m rise is inevitable.

    “There’s another half degree Celsius in the pipeline due to gases already in the atmosphere, and there’s at least one more half degree to come due to power plants which we’re not going to stop immediately. Even if we decide now we’ve got to slow down as fast as is practical, there’s still going to be enough emissions to take us to the warmest level that the planet has seen in a million years.”

    “Because if temperature goes up another two or three degrees Celsius, it will be the temperature of the middle Pliocene about 3 million years ago. That was a very different planet. There was no sea ice in the Arctic in the warm seasons, and the sea level was about 25 meters higher. We will be headed towards this situation if we continue with business-as-usual.”

    Ms. Byrne can read. You clearly can’t.

    Hansen is predicting a 25m rise. Very soon.

  17. #17 Will TS
    April 15, 2008

    I looked at Byrne’s website and was not impressed. She attempts to present ‘experimental’ evidence that global warming is a hoax. The crux of her argument seems to be primarily supported by imaginary lines that she drew on NOAA climate figures. There isn’t a coherent explanation or even a labeled axis on her graphs. I think people are giving her too much credit for being an intelligent sixteen year-old. She can’t construct an intelligible graph and she doesn’t know what an experiment is. I expect more from high school honor students.

  18. #18 wolfwalker
    April 15, 2008

    Christopher Wing wrote:

    “Would you mind pointing me toward some peer-reviewed papers that back up your claim? From scientists?”

    Good question…

    “Which division of Exxon is paying your salary?”

    … followed by a very bad one. In fact, that’s the kind of question that makes me write off GW advocates as not worth listening to. If you have the truth on your side, you shouldn’t need to resort to such fallacious tactics. And if you had any sense of honor, you wouldn’t yourself use tactics that you decry when the other side uses them.

  19. #19 VG
    April 15, 2008

    In a couple of years the libelling may be going in different direction, especially if the world cools and people have spent money being told it was definitely going to warm up. You may not have noticed but many mainstraim scientists (emmanuael just one on hurricanes) are cooling it in the event that could occur.

  20. #20 On a mission from PZ
    April 15, 2008

    I read Kerry’s comment:

    “If she takes her “You’re wrong but I don’t have to prove it” attitude into the average undergrad science course at a large university, she’ll win few friends among the professors she’ll need later in her academic career.”

    and all I can think is that this girl will bypass the traditional academic trajectory, pass through the conservative meme-machine (e.g. Liberty University), and eventually become the recipient of serious wingnut welfare as part of the echo chamber, a la Jonah Goldberg.

  21. #21 Bruce
    April 15, 2008

    James Hrynyshyn … you owe her an apology.

    You lied about what Hansen said. He is predicting a 25m sea level rise.

    By the way, there is not one peer review paper that proves CO2 has caused any or all of the miniscule warming recently.

    By the way, both satellite temp measuring systems have the “warming” at close to 0 for Jan/Feb/Mar 2008.

    http://www.junkscience.com/MSU_Temps/Warming_Look.html#UAH%20MSU

    Lower Troposphere:

    UAH has March 2008 at .10C
    MSU has March 2008 at .08C

    Only Hansens propaganda arm (NASA) puts it at .8C.

  22. #22 robz
    April 15, 2008

    “You are lying about what Hansen said.

    Combine the two quotes and Hansen is clearly saying a 25m rise is inevitable.”

    Hansen tells us that 1 degree increase is unavoidable. He also tells us that a 2-3 degree increase will result in a 25m rise. Happily, those two statements do not combine to tell us that a 25m rise is inevitable.

  23. #23 David Marjanovi?
    April 15, 2008

    If Byrne were an AGW crusader and flung “libelous” statements at skeptics, couldn’t “tell the difference between ideologically driven pseudoskepticism and genuine science,” etc, she very well could be a hero.

    No, she’d be an embarrassment.

    Ms. Byrne can read. You clearly can’t.

    Hansen is predicting a 25m rise. Very soon.

    He is predicting a 25-m rise — but he doesn’t say how long it will take! The ice cap of Greenland would take several hundred years to melt even under the most extreme scenarios, and that would only be enough for a 7-m rise.

    A 20-m rise in a single year is something different.

    In fact, that’s the kind of question that makes me write off GW advocates as not worth listening to. If you have the truth on your side, you shouldn’t need to resort to such fallacious tactics. And if you had any sense of honor, you wouldn’t yourself use tactics that you decry when the other side uses them.

    We’re just getting tired at having the ever same long-disproven “arguments” thrown at us again and again and again and again like the Duracell rabbit.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    April 15, 2008

    He is predicting a 25-m rise –

    Oops, he’s not. My bad. Bruce, 1 million years ago it was already much cooler than 3 million years ago.

  25. #25 Kevin
    April 15, 2008

    I think you are missing the fact that “stay at home da Mike” is the driving force behind this:

    “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. ”

    and Mike is, like, God and knows everything….

    I wonder about abuse….

  26. #26 John M
    April 15, 2008

    pz (and others worried about the poor girl’s reputation)

    “…pass through the conservative meme-machine (e.g. Liberty University)”

    Or maybe that hot-bed of right-wing reactionary thinking, Georgia Tech

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=1816#comment-120092

    But then, what would Judith Curry know?

  27. #27 Bruce
    April 15, 2008

    “Because if temperature goes up another two or three degrees Celsius, it will be the temperature of the middle Pliocene about 3 million years ago.”

    Its already gone up .8C (so he claims).

    Then he lists another 1C “in the pipeline”.

    That is so close to the 2C to rise the sea level 25m, there is no doubt that he was predicting a 25M rise soon.

    Within a decade or two.

    Hansen is a nut.

    Especially with satellite data showing almost no warming remains.

  28. #28 Bruce
    April 15, 2008

    Here is Hansen predicting a 5m rise this century.

    “That time constant yields a sea level rise of the order of 5 m this century. Of course I cannot prove that my choice of a ten-year doubling time for nonlinear response is accurate,”

    http://climateprogress.org/2007/05/25/yet-another-must-read-by-james-hansen/

    I guess we didn’t do enough so he is now predicting 25m.

    The IPCC official wild eyed guess was 18cm to 59cm this century.

    Even his 5m threat is 10 times what the IPCC is claiming in a worst case scenario.

    You owe her an apology.

  29. #29 SpotWeld
    April 16, 2008

    Okay Bruce, you don’t like the results that Hansen is deriving from his research. What has your research shown?

  30. #30 Hank Roberts
    April 16, 2008

    Bruce writes that he thinks he knows

    > what the IPCC is claiming in a worst case scenario

    Bruce, the IPCC description is
    “over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia”

    And you just proved you take your text from PR sites instead of reading and thinking for yourself. C’mon, do better.

    Here:

    There is medium confidence that at least partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1-4C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea-level rise of 4-6 m or more. The complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet would lead to a contribution to sea-level rise of up to 7 m and about 5 m, respectively [Working Group I Fourth Assessment 6.4, 10.7; Working Group II Fourth Assessment 19.3].

    That’s not a worst case scenario.
    This may not be either, but it’s far more up to date:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7349236.stm

  31. #31 Lurker
    April 16, 2008

    Can skeptics sink no lower than to hide behind the skirt of a 16-year-old girl?

  32. #32 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    Hank, Hansen is an alarmist kook no different than chicken little claiming the sky is falling.

    Sea level has risen almost 130m since the last ice age, and none of it had anything to do with CO2 from human beings.

    And Antarctic Ice is at record levels. It isn’t melting.

    “the amount of ice surrounding Antarctica is now at the highest level ever measured for this time of the year, since satellites first began to monitor it almost 30 years ago. This represents a continuation of the record set last winter (our summer).

    Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we can also look at the departure from the average for ice mass in a given month. At present, the coverage of ice surrounding Antarctica is almost exactly two million square miles above where it is historically supposed to be at this time of year. It’s farther above normal than it has ever been for any month in climatologic records.

    Around now, because it’s summer down there and the ice is headed toward its annual low point, there should be about seven million square miles of it. That means, as data in University of Illinois’ Web publication Cryosphere Today shows, there is nearly 30 percent more ice down in Antarctica than usual for this time of the year.”

    http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=22943

  33. #33 John Mashey
    April 16, 2008

    1) For everybody, I really recommend Firefox + greasemonkey + killfile.

    2) When ponderthemaunder appeared, references to it spread like wildfire over the blogsophere:
    Google: ponder maunder
    and see who loved it.

    3) Observe that if you were a fervent AGW disbeliever and created that website, nobody would care. But:
    “Ponder the Maunder was an extra credit project for Honors Earth Science, Portland High School, by Kristen Byrnes of Portland Maine.” is what the website says, although it sounds from the interview that there was a lot of help…

    There seems to be reasonable Earth Science at PHS.

    4) And of course, they are accepting money, which you might want to read carefully. Interesting, I wonder if that’s a charitable deduction?

    5) Needless to say, if you wanted to pick somebody that is relatively immune to attack and especially well-protected by privacy laws (OK), a 15-year-old girl is a pretty good choice. Also makes a much better story.

  34. #34 Nick Barnes
    April 16, 2008

    Bruce, you are mistaken on a number of points. Addressing just one, the numbers you quote for Antarctic sea ice area are incorrect. The current area, as reported by Cryosphere Today today (2008-04-15) is 5.56 million square kilometres. That’s 2.15 million square miles. The current anomaly is +1.438 million square kilometres (0.56 million square miles). The 1979-2000 historical average for this date is 4.122 million square kilometres (1.59 million square miles). These numbers are from http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/iphone/images/iphone.recent.antarctic.png
    which I recommend you check for yourself.

    As you can see, these numbers bear very little resemblance to those in the heartland.org article. heartland.org says “there should be about seven million square miles of it”. 7 million square miles is a little over 18 million square kilometres. As you can see from the CT graphs, this is well in excess even of the winter maximum antarctic sea ice area, never mind the amount in the antarctic autumn, which it now is.

    heartland.org also asserts that “it’s summer down there”. No it isn’t.

    In fact, everything that the heartland.org article says about antarctic sea ice is incorrect, apart from the fact that at the moment there is a positive area anomaly. I recommend against trusting heartland.org as a source of data. I strongly recommend against quoting heartland.org articles in comments on scienceblogs.com, as they will get torn apart.

    I don’t have time to discuss other errors at length, but one more is that you say:
    Antarctic Ice is at record levels. It isn’t melting.
    The amount of sea ice does not affect sea level, because sea ice is floating (so melting sea ice does not contribute to sea level). Sea level concern is about ice sheets, which rest on rock. Antarctic ice sheets are, in fact, melting, albeit slowly at present.

  35. #35 P Goselin - Germany
    April 16, 2008

    LOL! Sue for libel?

    It really hurts when a 16-year old beats the pants off you, now doesn’t it? How annoying it is when a little brat has the temerity to disagree with green doctrine.
    I hear a lot of bitterness and frustration in your post. It really is frustrating when science abandons your beliefs, is it not?

    How else should you feel?
    If I had a brand of hysteria that led to a food crisis that brutally killed millions, I’d certainly feel ashamed and betrayed by those who had spurred me on. You’re in denial.

    Anyway, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble living by what you’ve implied in your own words: “What’s more troubling is her disdain for those who don’t agree with her brand of skepticism.”
    Being the progressives you are, I’m sure you’re all sophisticated, open-minded and tolerant enough to welcome other views. Tolerance my friends!
    Finally, just see it as a trait of intelligence…skeptics think for themselves, while Stalinists take care care of the rest.

  36. #36 guthrie
    April 16, 2008

    Thats a nice well reasoned post with lots of scientific evidence, P Goselin, clearly you know what you are talking about…
    /sarcasm.

  37. #37 robz
    April 16, 2008

    “Its already gone up .8C (so he claims).
    Then he lists another 1C “in the pipeline”.
    That is so close to the 2C to rise the sea level 25m, there is no doubt that he was predicting a 25M rise soon.”

    Hansen said “Because if temperature goes up *another* two or three degrees Celsius, it will be the temperature of the middle Pliocene about 3 million years ago. That was a very different planet.” (The asterisks are my insertion.)

    Please think about what the word “another” is doing in there.

  38. #38 Mr.Mom
    April 16, 2008

    This little know it all is only expressing her parents viewpoint.

  39. #39 outeast
    April 16, 2008

    Here’s a direct and recent quote from Hansen on sea level rise:

    “If we follow business as usual I can’t see how west Antarctica could survive a century. We are talking about a sea-level rise of at least a couple of metres this century.” source

    So Hansen is predicting higher sea-level rises than anyone else, but nothing even close to 20 metres in a century (still less ‘within a decade or two’, as Bruce bizarrely maintains).

    Not that Hansen’s opinions are taken as gospel by climate scientists who support the conclusion that AGW is a reality: in fact, he is quite widely regarded as being too pessimistic without adequate grounds – especially when talking to the media, when qualifications tend to get left out.

    William Connolley (aka Stoat here at ScienceBlogs) is one obvious example of a climate scientist who is very much on the AGW ‘side’ but who is commonly highly critical of Hansen (and less than massively enthusiastic about Gore, for that matter).

    My three key points: Hansen does not say what Byrne (and Bruce) claim; his opinions should not be taken as representative of the state of the science anyway (the IPCC is good for that); and those who give credibility to AGW frequently do ‘shake their fingers’ at people like Hansen (as Michael Jankowski put it).

  40. #40 Tony Edwards
    April 16, 2008

    Just for the record, to those above mumbling about libel, honest belief that what you write is true can be a defence. And just to add to the strange things that Hansen has done, check out
    http://www.foe.org/textbook/Hansen_Letter.pdf
    What sort of behaviour is this, and even putting it on official NASA paper?
    The other question is simply, how much actual evidence, not computer models, for any of this alarmist rubbish? One final small point. If you could collect all of the CO2 currently in the atmosphere, at NTP, and put it into a spherical balloon, you would have a total volume of 400,000 cubic miles. If you collect all of the people currently on the world and put them in a box, (not comfortably), you would need a one cubic mile box! Don’t believe me, work it out for yourself, allow 6ft x 2ft x 1.25ft per person and get your calculator out.

  41. #41 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    “The current anomaly is +1.438 million square kilometres ”

    Ok. Which means we are way above average. 25% above average.

    No melting.

    Hansensen said “Because if temperature goes up *another* two or three degrees Celsius” and a realistic reader would interpret that as being from today.

    Hansen is trying to freak people out by lying.

    5m one day … 25m in another interview.

    Scare tactics unfounded in reality.

    He’s the kook.

  42. #42 Julian
    April 16, 2008

    Come on Bruce, how long do you need to stick your head in the sand? Mountain glaciers all over the world are dwindling, river levels are dropping, and anyone over 25 who lives within a latitude or two of the equator can provide anecdotal evidence of how weather patterns have shifted just in their lifetime. You folks just don’t want to be convinced on this.

    And do you realize your arguments contradict her supposed stance as much as they do Hansen’s? Ms. Byrne is claiming that global warming is occurring but that its a natural occurrence; or at least, thats what she states in the interview. By throwing all this cherry-picked, inaccurate, and misinterpreted data at us to claim that there is not warming going on, you’re attacking both arguments. This doesn’t surprise me though. The natural climate change argument was put together in the early 00’s by scientists working for the oil industry. Its nothing but a smokescreen meant to 1) mask the true nature of the Global Warming denialist movement in the face of a world populace increasingly unable and unwilling to ignore the problem, and 2) deflect attempts at industry regulation and consumption control meant to ameliorate global warming by claiming there’s nothing we can do about it. Hell, I can remember the very day that my Republican scientist friend’s argument changed from being “God gave us the Earth to exploit and we should” to “Oh well, its just a natural warming cycle, there’s nothing can be done.”

    The facts are though that the damage HAS already been done. The ozone depletion we’re seeing today is just the beginning; cfc use continued well into the 80s and it takes decades for that stuff to get up there, so we still have until ~2020 or 2030 before the full effects of just the industrialized world’s use of those chemicals is seen, not to mention India’s and China’s. Far from decreasing our output of greenhouse gasses since the 70’s, when this problem was first discussed seriously, we’ve actually increased it with 30 years of bigger, less efficient cars, greater energy consumption fed by fossil fuels, and lax enforcement of scrubber installation, and again, there’s India and China and Brazil, and soon sub-Saharan Africa, to think on too.

    The world’s already warming because of our pollution, and the odd weather we’ve begun to see as a result of this over the last 15 years is only going to get worse. You can tell yourself whatever you like to feel good about it, but thats not going to stop flooding in Britain, or drought in Germany, or the expansion of the world’s deserts.

  43. #43 minimalist
    April 16, 2008

    It really hurts when a 16-year old beats the pants off you, now doesn’t it?

    It’s amusing when denialists declare “victory” simply because they haven’t been convinced to abandon their irrational beliefs.

    Well, guess what. When we undertake these debates in public, it’s not about convincing you. Denialists simply will not be convinced by any level of evidence.

    And you know what else? You’re a statistical blip. The lot of you congregate on a few denialist sites to create an echo chamber, to reinforce your discredited beliefs, so you convince yourselves that you are many. You are not.

    Because, you see, the majority view of the public is that AGW is happening, and something should be done. The majority creates political will. When even an American President deeply in the pocket of the energy industry admits there’s a problem and something should be done, you know you have lost.

    You’ve lost. You’re a loopy, insignificant minority, screaming to be heard, but those screams are fading daily.

    Because, you see, the energy industry, their paid shills, and the tiny community of basement-dwelling enablers like you (who fancy themselves Internet Science Experts) have brought out the biggest guns you could find… and still lost.

    The only thing that can save your lost cause is to produce some actual research that puts AGW to rest once and for all. I think we all know how likely that will be.

    Well, maybe you don’t. But your opinion doesn’t matter, now does it?

  44. #44 Tom Davidson
    April 16, 2008

    It would be interesting to see such a lawsuit pursued. To be libelous a statement must be demonstrably false, and the falsity must be known to the party making the statement. I would like to see Hansen try to prove a libel, since that would require him to prove which of Byrnes’ statements are false.

    The peculiar difficulty with libel suits is that they place the plaintiff on the defensive, while the defendant has a constitutionally protected right to express an opinion.

    Then there are the additional burdens placed on the plaintiff to prove the defendant *knew* the statement(s) is/are false, and then to also prove the defendant acted with malicious intent.

    Not an easy proposition…

  45. #45 Nick Barnes
    April 16, 2008

    Bruce:
    “The current anomaly is +1.438 million square kilometres ”
    Ok. Which means we are way above average. 25% above average.
    No melting.

    You just demonstrated that you either can’t read or you can’t understand the distinction between sea ice and ice sheets. Antarctic sea ice, which don’t affect sea level, is above average (unlike arctic sea ice). The antarctic ice sheet, which does affect sea level, is melting (like the greenland ice sheet). I’m not going to waste any more time on you. >plonk<

  46. #46 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/anttemps.htm

    “A new report on climate over the world’s southernmost continent shows that temperatures during the late 20th century did not climb as had been predicted by many global climate models.

    This comes soon after the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that strongly supports the conclusion that the Earth’s climate as a whole is warming, largely due to human activity.

    It also follows a similar finding from last summer by the same research group that showed no increase in precipitation over Antarctica in the last 50 years. Most models predict that both precipitation and temperature will increase over Antarctica with a warming of the planet.

    ——————————————————————————–

    �The best we can say right now is that the climate models are somewhat inconsistent with the evidence that we have for the last 50 years from continental Antarctica. We’re looking for a small signal that represents the impact of human activity and it is hard to find it at the moment,� he said.
    ——————————————————————————–

    David Bromwich, professor of professor of atmospheric sciences in the Department of Geography, and researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, reported on this work at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at San Francisco.

    �It’s hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now,� he said. �Part of the reason is that there is a lot of variability there. It’s very hard in these polar latitudes to demonstrate a global warming signal. This is in marked contrast to the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula that is one of the most rapidly warming parts of the Earth.� “

  47. #47 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    Nick “The antarctic ice sheet, which does affect sea level, is melting ”

    Nope. Read above Nick. They can’t find any warming except in a really small part of Antarctica near Chile. And East Antarctica is cooling.

    Try not to believe what makes it to the front page of newspapers.

  48. #48 Ian
    April 16, 2008

    Do I hear a cry of “EXPELLED!!” waiting in the wings? Is Ben Stein all over this?! LoL!

  49. #49 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    Tom Davidson, it’s even harder for a public figure (which Hansen is) to successfully sue for libel. As in impossible. Not that Byrnes didn’t commit the offense.

  50. #50 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    Bruce, that link provides a rather distorted view of the state of the science on Antarctica. Please check for and link the up-to-date material.

  51. #51 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    Steve, that study is pretty up to date.

    Please post any links you have.

    Until then …

    “Satellite radar altimetry measurements indicate that the East Antarctic ice-sheet interior north of 81.6S increased in mass by 45 7 billion metric tons per year from 1992 to 2003. Comparisons with contemporaneous meteorological model snowfall estimates suggest that the gain in mass was associated with increased precipitation. A gain of this magnitude is enough to slow sea-level rise by 0.12 0.02 millimeters per year.”

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/308/5730/1898

  52. #52 slpage
    April 16, 2008

    “Finally, just see it as a trait of intelligence…skeptics think for themselves, while Stalinists take care care of the rest.”

    Clever.
    Conservatives tend to exhibit a one-way skepticism – they seems to be skeptical only of the things Limbaugh and Hannity tell them to be skeptical of.
    I didn’t realize that Limbaugh and Hannity were Stalinists.

  53. #53 SpotWeld
    April 16, 2008

    Okay.. I’m very much not an expert, but isn’t increased precipitation over the Antarctic a bad this. Cold air is dry air. The Antarctic is usually considered an arid (but cold!) climate. Desert-like.

    Warmer air has a larger capability for holding” water content. So, doesn’t an increase in precipitation indicate that the temperatures are cycling up to higher temps more often before (as opposed to staying reliably below the dew point and never having enough moisture to cause precipitation in the first place?)

  54. #54 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    Spotweld, The Antarctic Ice Sheet holds “30 million cubic km of ice”.

    It didn’t just show up there is the last decade ot two.

    In fact, its been shrinking for 20,000 years (since last ice age).

    “During the last 20,000 years, the west Antarctic ice sheet lost two-thirds of its mass and raised the sea level 10 meters”

    http://www.cnn.com/TECH/science/9902/03/antarctic.ice.sheet/

    Because of kooks like Gore and Hansen, people are left with the distinct impression that climate was static until the last few decades.

  55. #55 Mark
    April 16, 2008

    Is there a good website that explains the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, and takes apart the counterarguments, like talkorigins does for evolution?

  56. #56 Levi
    April 16, 2008

    sipage: That tendency does not seem to be unique to Conservatives. Mahoney, M.J., Publication Prejudices: An experimental study of confirmatory bias in the peer review system. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 1, 1977, pp. 161–175 found that reviewers were more critical of the methodology of the papers which did not support their personal views. This is the classic paper I have encountered and I would be glad to see more recent research into this.

    And no, Bruce et al, this doesn’t mean anything goes (a la Feyerabend).

  57. #57 Bruce
    April 16, 2008

    Liberals prefer useless and even dangerous expensive gestures designed to expunge their guilt.

    Case in point: Biofuels help to cause food prices to skyrocket .. leading to death in riots and starvation because the price of rice and corn and other grains are going thru the roof.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-other-global-crisis-rush-to-biofuels-is-driving-up-price-of-food-808138.html

    It turns out biofuels give off a more potent GHG like N2O.

    But at least you’ve lessened you guilt right?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrous_oxide

    “Recent research by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen suggests that emissions of nitrous oxide in the production of biofuels are more than enough to offset the advantages that biodiesel was hoped to have in terms of carbon dioxide emissions”

  58. #58 Michael Le Page
    April 16, 2008

    Other people have said it already but, yes, Hansen is saying a metre every two decades:

    http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/mg19526141.600-huge-sea-level-rises-are-coming–unless-we-act-now.html

    Frightening, yes. Ridiculous, no.

  59. #59 Nick Barnes
    April 16, 2008

    On Antarctic ice mass balance: EAIS is more-or-less static, WAIS is undergoing accelerating melt and we don’t have any working models for the dynamics of melting ice sheets so we really don’t know what to expect, but many of the leading ice sheet experts are quite alarmed. Recent article with data on EAIS and WAIS: Rignot et al in Feb issue of Nature Geoscience. Also recommended: last autumn’s presentation on ice loss to the AMS, video of which is available online.

  60. #60 Jon H
    April 16, 2008

    SpotWeld wrote: “So, doesn’t an increase in precipitation indicate that the temperatures are cycling up to higher temps more often before (as opposed to staying reliably below the dew point and never having enough moisture to cause precipitation in the first place?)”

    Also, the way I think it would work, the colder the air is over the land mass, the faster the moist ocean air would dump its moisture. So as snowfall happens farther inland, it suggests that the air is warmer, allowing the moisture to stay airborne longer/farther.

  61. #61 Samia
    April 17, 2008

    “Can skeptics sink no lower than to hide behind the skirt of a 16-year-old girl?”

    I found that statement sexist. I appreciate the rest of the discussion, though. Lots of food for thought. :)

    I think it’s worth noting that projects like BESC are working on overcoming plant cell wall recalcitrance, which could mean that non-food crops could well be providing our biofuel in the future. I’m trying to nail down a tentative comparison of conventional and cellulosic biofuel production as far as type/quantity of pollutants generated. I’d really appreciate it if someone could point me in the right direction.

  62. #62 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.

  63. #63 Bruce
    April 17, 2008

    “Hansen is saying a metre every two decades”

    Sea-level has risen about 130 metres (400 ft) since the peak of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago.

    The satellite mesaurement of sea level shows a constant rise of about 3.4mm per year recently.

    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_ib_ns_global.jpg

    In fact, looking at the graph, it has slowed down in the last year and is now no higher than it was in 2004.

    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/results.php

    With 0 rise in 4 years, I think Hansen is kook.

  64. #64 Jim
    April 19, 2008

    I think this says far more about the sad state of our media than it does about a sixteen year old. Lots of (most?) sixteen year olds are contrarians.

    But NPR must be really hard up for news if they will report on this — and report on it in the totally uncritical way that they have done.

    What amazes me most about this is that the NPR reporter who interviewed Byrnes (David Kestenbaum ) has a BS in physics from Yale and a PhD in physics from Harvard. (Yikes!)

    Forget Byrnes. She’s a sixteen year old. I want to know what Kestenbaum has learned about critical thinking in all his years at what are touted as the “pinnacle” of our nation’s Universities. based on this story alone, I’d have to say “Not much.”

  65. #65 NJ
    April 21, 2008

    Bruce above:

    …I think…

    All evidence to the contrary…

  66. #66 ab
    April 23, 2008

    Bruce 17 April-, Hansen is definitely not a kook, which he demonstrated when he acknowledge a period of global cooling from 1940 to 1970 back in 1981 several years before he made himself know as expert on AGW, thus demonstrating his cleverness not to explain the cooling that would be to difficulty for him, as claimed by http://www.oceanclimate.de/.

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