On Attribution, Global Warming and Disclosures

By Keith Kloor | June 29, 2011 9:33 am

The issue of special interest/advocacy funding is ever present in the climate change debate. Several months ago, Matthew Nisbet challenged the conventional wisdom that environmental organizations were being vastly outspent by industry-affiliated associations and deep-pocketed conglomerates with an anti-regulatory bent.

One of the things that perpetuates the monolithic climate skeptics-are-funded-by-industry meme is the lack of transparency by some contrarian scientists, as revealed in stories like this one from yesterday. Additionally, as Reuters reports, it’s not just the considerable sum of money that climate skeptic and astrophysicist Willie Soon has received in the last few years, it’s recent stuff like this:

Soon co-wrote a May 25 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called “The Myth of Killer Mercury.” In the piece, Soon was identified as a natural scientist from Harvard, but the newspaper did not disclose that he receives most of his funding from the energy industry.

Hell, I would have accepted even a simple acknowledgement that he receives some money from coal companies. I have to think that WSJ readers would have appreciated knowing this about someone who co-authors an op-ed claiming that mercury (emitted from coal-generated power plants) is not harmful to your health.

Speaking of disclosures, on the same day the story broke on Wille Soon’s lucrative side gigs with the energy industry, Scientific American put up a feature headlined,

Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is A Product Of Climate Change

The writer, John Carey, reports:

Scientists used to say, cautiously, that extreme weather events were “consistent” with the predictions of climate change. No more. “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened the same way without global warming,” says Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

That’s a profound change””the difference between predicting something and actually seeing it happen. The reason is simple: The signal of climate change is emerging from the “noise”””the huge amount of natural variability in weather.

If you read to the end of the piece, which is the first in a three part series, you’ll also learn this:

Reporting for this story was funded by Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Now that’s how you do a disclosure!

Then again, I have to ask: why is a highly reputable science magazine letting a foundation-supported organization (whose “mission is to provide credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change”) financially underwrite a story about global warming and extreme weather?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not unheard of for foundations to help fund specific articles in magazines, but often those are for investigative or enterprise stories that require a significant expenditure of time and resources. And even then, these stories are usually published in political or advocacy-oriented magazines (such as Mother Jones or High Country News). And by the way, I don’t have a problem with that. I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism as a supplement to the traditional advertising and subscriber-based model, as it allows reporters to pursue stories that might otherwise not get written, especially given the tight budgets at many publications.

I just question whether it’s appropriate for a magazine like Scientific American, which I consider to be a top flight science journalism outlet without any stated political or ideological agenda. (Of course, they get periodically hammered from partisans that inhabit the polar ends of the climate debate, but that’s par the course.)

There’s also another odd aspect about this SciAm story funded by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It’s advancing a controversial claim (for a global warming link to individual weather-related disasters) that is largely contradicted by a “white paper” issued yesterday by…you guessed it, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Here’s from the paper’s introduction (my emphasis):

The fact that 2010 was one of the warmest years on record as well as one of the most disastrous, begs the question: Is global warming causing more extreme weather? The short and simple answer is yes, at least for heat waves and heavy precipitation. But much of the public discussion of this relationship obscures the link behind a misplaced focus on causation of individual weather events. The questions we ask of science are critical: When we ask whether climate change “caused” a particular event, we pose a fundamentally unanswerable question. This fallacy assures that we will often fail to draw connections between individual weather events and climate change, leading us to disregard the real risks of more extreme weather due to global warming.

None of this is to say that Carey’s SciAm story is without journalistic merit, even if it leans heavily on one source–Kevin Trenberth–who is known for unreservedly advancing the extreme weather event/global warming link. Trenberth is again a central source in part two of Carey’s article that is posted today, but this time he is juxtaposed with another scientist with a counter view:

This science of attribution is not without controversies. Another case in point: the 2010 Russian heat wave, which wiped out one quarter of the nation’s wheat crop and darkened the skies of Moscow with smoke from fires. The actual meteorological cause is not in doubt. “There was a blocking of the atmospheric circulation,” explains Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, also in Boulder. “The jet stream shifted north, bringing a longer period of high pressure and stagnant weather conditions.” But what caused the blocking? Hoerling looked for an underlying long-term temperature trend in western Russia that might have increased the odds of a heat wave, as Stott had done for the 2003 European event. He found nothing. “The best explanation is a rogue black swan””something that came out of the blue,” he says.

Wrong, retorts NCAR’s Trenberth. He sees a clear expansion of the hot, dry Mediterranean climate into western Russia that is consistent with climate change predictions””and that also intensified the Pakistan monsoon. “I completely repudiate Marty””and it doesn’t help to have him saying you can’t attribute the heat wave to climate change,” he says. “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”

Hmm, this kind of dueling seems exactly the kind of counterproductive debate that Daniel Huber and Jay Gulledge caution against in their “white paper” for Pew. They conclude that,

it does not make sense to focus on whether individual events are supercharged by climate change. It does make sense, however, to take lessons from actual events about our current vulnerabilities and the risks to society caused in unabated greenhouse gas emissions that drive extreme weather risks ever higher as time passes.

The case they make for a “risk management framework” is well worth reading alongside Carey’s SciAm articles exploring the evidence for a link between specific extreme weather events and climate change.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, global warming
  • Dean_1230

    “I completely repudiate Marty””and it doesn’t help to have him saying you can’t attribute the heat wave to climate change,” he says. “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”

    And here’s the gist of the problem.  The evidence clearly shows that neither the number nor the strength of tropical cyclones has increased with the current warming.
    http://www.coaps.fsu.edu/~maue/tropical/
    So Trenberth can claim he’s repudiated Marty, but the data doesn’t support that claim and especially the anecdote of Katrina he uses to show he’s repudiated Marty!
    Imagine the damage that would be done to the gulf coast if Camille hit today…

  • Sashka

    OK, the attribution issue is clear enough. Of course it’s a must.

    Trenberth, I thinks, has firmly secured his place in the science hall of shame. I hope his peers will eventually refuse to shake hands with him. Not that I count on it.

    I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism

    That’s an interesting bit. If so, what is the difference between journalism as such and special interests-paid propaganda?

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Sashka,

    I trust the editors at magazines that I respect (such as MoJo, High Country News, and Sci Am) to ensure the editorial integrity of individual articles that receive funding support.

    But I think funding from mission oriented organizations (such as Pew) for specific stories is more problematic in terms of appearance for a magazine like Scientific American.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “Even if we can tackle ONE single chapter down the road but forcefully
    and effectively … we will really accomplish A LOT!”
    — Willie Soon on AR4

    I wonder what chapter they went after… hmm…

  • NewYorkJ

    I’m still trying to figure out what you’re griping about, Keith.  First, you jumped the shark, not noting the SciAm article is one of a 3-part series.  Second, you seem to be under the impression that everyone at Pew or every scientist needs to be in 100% agreement over the issue of whether specific weather events can be attributed to climate change in any way, or there must be some scandal.  Here are additional quotes from the SciAm article:

    This doesn’t mean that the storms or hot spells wouldn’t have happened at all without climate change, but as scientists like Trenberth say, they wouldn’t have been as severe if humankind hadn’t already altered the planet’s climate.This new science is still controversial. There’s an active debate among researchers about whether the Russian heat wave bears the characteristic signature of climate change or whether it was just natural variability, for instance.

    Whereas it will never be possible to say that any particular event was caused by climate change, new science is teasing out both the contributions that it makes to individual events””and the increase in the odds of extreme weather occurring as a result of climate change.

    You also might note Sherwood’s apt comment in the 2nd article.  It’s certainly getting harder for anyone to deny the broader point.

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1831

  • Sashka

    I trust the editors at magazines that I respect

    That’s a different statement. Conversely, you don’t trust the editors at magazines that you don’t respect. But they would print the (how shall I put it?) byproducts of right-wing grant funded journalism and some people would appreciate it and use it as their propaganda. You sure there is nothing wrong with that?
    And, of course, different people respect different magazines and editors. Where is the journalistic standard then?

  • Dean

    Leaving aside for the moment the attribution issue and focusing on disclosures and bias, as far as I can tell, the attitude in science has been that they don’t really care who you work for or who funds you, they evaluate the quality of the work. The attitude in politics of conflict of interest – where motivation is enough to disallow participation, is not common in science that I have seen.

    The left has often been critical of industry-funded science, but science depends on funding from many self-interested parties. It’s one thing to force a judge to recuse himself – there are other ones. Or to make a politician on a council or legislative member do the same. I think that many drug studies used by the FDA are funded and run by the drug mfr. Hardly a disinterested party.

    But science is highly compartmentalized and specialized. There aren’t always a huge pool to draw expertise from. So the issue of how to deal with conflict of interest in research funding is a huge dilemma. Whatever one thinks of IPCC policies, I don’t think they are out of the norm for science. But the political impact of their work are outside of the norm.

  • harrywr2

    I also trust the editors at Publications I respect..like the Wall Street Journal.
    Of course the only reason I trust the editor’s at the Wall Street Journal is that most of what they publish conforms to my world view.
    To avoid fooling myself I have to read publications with editors that have different world views.
    The proverbial…A man that only has one watch is always certain of the time, a man that own’s two is never quite sure.


     

  • John Mashey

    KK: Can you explain why you think WSJ readers, especially readers of the OpEd section would have 1) appreciated knowing about Soon’s coal funding?
    2) That he’s not at Harvard (but Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Lab, which is *not* Harvard).
    3) That he’s an astrophysicist, not an expert on mercury and public health issues.

    Really, why would readers of WSJ OpEds want to know such facts?  Far better that they know about the corruption at SciAm, clearly much worse than any minor issues with Soon’s funding and research record on mercury and public health.  Look, he works for an entity that has Harvard in its name, he’s a scientist who must know about Mercury, sicne it’s near the Sun, and he wriites OpEds for the WSJ.  Surely that is enough to dismantle the EPA.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “None of this is to say that Carey’s SciAm story is without journalistic merit, even if it leans heavily on one source”“Kevin Trenberth”“who is known for unreservedly advancing the extreme weather event/global warming link. ”

    This isn’t true.  His comments are reserved and in line with the best known knowledge of the connection.  Please point out where his comments are inaccurate in regards to the “link” please.  The only “advancing” he does is that we have changed the atmosphere, and that some changes increase the risk of extreme events, most notably, the change in the hydro-logical cycle, an area which he is most deserved to comment on.

  • Dean_1230

    #10 grypo,

    Except that there’s no evidence of either increased storm numbers or increased storm strength.  See my earlier post for refutation that Katrina “proves” global warming is an example of a strengthened hurricane.
    Let’s look at his logic.  He states: “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”  His logic is “just as Katrina was caused by global warming, the heat wave was caused by global warming”.  Too bad the first part of that logical statement has been proven to be wrong.

    In looking at past hurricanes a bit more since I made the earlier post, it looks like Katrina was very close to a repeat of Camille.  The landfall was about 10-15 miles apart, Katrina was a bit wider, but lower wind speeds.  So when I asked what Camille would look like today, it would look much like Katrina.
    Let’s now reverse his logic:  If Katrina is explainable only by global warming, then why did Camille hit in 1969?  The world was a much cooler place then so hurricanes shouldn’t have been so strong!

  • Jeff Norris

    Keith
    I agree with your overall concern but why did you not mention that both the Guardian and Reuters articles were all based on the same Greenpeace report with a quote from Soon thrown in for balance?  Did they  not essentially  rely on one source?
    http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/CASE-STUDY-Dr-Willie-Soon-a-Career-Fueled-by-Big-Oil-and-Coal/#a19
    My point is that these “news stories” were nothing more than a condensed reworded version of the Greenpeace report that came out on the same day.     Reuters did not dig into the Greenpeace report or even verify it; all they did was “see” the report.   Does it not bother you as a journalist that agenda driven organizations (even ones you might agree with) have to or are allowed to spoon feed reporters?
    The Greenpeace report mentions this once with no detail but neither “News Stories ”  felt it worth for context  to mention in their unbiased news reporting. 
    Since 2001, Willie Soon has received direct funding for his research of $1.033 million from Big Coal and Big Oil interests. In contrast, he received $842,079 from conventional government or university funders in the same period.
    Bottom line.  Is the story a reproduction of what Greenpeace found or is it about where Soon get’s his funding.  If it is about Soon, how about the same level of detail on those conventional funders as with Big Oil?

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Here is the science behind his statement:
    “Another event with a clear global warming component, says Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., was Hurricane Katrina. Trenberth calculated that the combination of overall planetary warming, elevated moisture in the atmosphere, and higher sea-surface temperatures meant that “4 to 6 percent of the precipitation””an extra inch [2.5 centimeters] of rain””in Katrina was due to global warming,” he says. “That may not sound like much, but it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back or causes a levee to fail.” It was also a very conservative estimate. “The extra heat produced as moisture condenses can invigorate a storm, and at a certain point, the storm just takes off,” he says. “That would certainly apply to Nashville.” So climate change’s contribution to Katrina could have been twice as high as his calculations show, he says. Add in higher winds to the extra energy, and it is easy to see how storms can become more damaging.”
    It’s simple.  A changed atmosphere is going to have a mix of natural and anthropogenic causes.

    “just as Katrina was caused by global warming”
    He never says that, so whether you think that is his logic or not, is irrelevant.  He gives a rather conservative estimate of what anthropogenic effects from Katrina were.

  • Dean_1230

    Grypo,
    So what you’re saying is that even tho the overall storm number and strength are either stagnant or going down, according to the data, global warming is making things worse?
    He says it’s easy to see how they could, and I would tend to agree.  The “thought experiment” clearly would make one think that increased temperatures would cause increased numbers and intensities.  But since neither of those are increasing, there’s obviously something wrong with that thought experiment.
    His calculations simply do not hold up against the data…

  • Tom Fuller

    What we’re seeing here is what has happened in the past when politics steps in front of science and commandeers the stage.

    It all gets gray. The range of literature used to support a position gets extended further and further as political decisions get more controversial. Organisations with funds and a desire to influence those decisions will finance polls and research designed to reinforce their points of view.

    The only funny thing is people thinking that the climate controversy is in any way exceptional in this regard. It is not.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”

    That’s the link.  Weather won’t be the same.  But we can be pretty damn sure how the hydrological cycle works.  he does not say what trends would be detectable currently.  The atmosphere has changed the weather will reflect that.  I guess we just roll the dice and hope it all works out nicely.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    I meant to highlight,the words, “the same way” in Trenberth’s statement.

  • Sashka

    @ 13

    This is a calculation of what the GW contribution could have been, not of what it actually was. The difference is not very subtle. Failure to mention is essentially a lie.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    @5

    Do you even read what I write, or just turn purple at the parts you don’t like and get brainlock. To whit, you say:

    “First, you jumped the shark, not noting the SciAm article is one of a 3-part series.”

    And here’s what I wrote:

    “If you read to the end of the piece, which is the first in a three part series…”

    As for the rest of your gibberish, I’m not suggesting any scandal, just surprise that SciAm would have Pew fund one of its stories, and I also note how that story is at odds with the argument advanced in a Pew paper put out yesterday. That’s all.

    Sashka (6),

    I don’t follow you. I never mentioned any other publications. But go ahead think whatever you want.

    Harrwr2,

    I too trust the WSJ–the news side of the paper. But clearly the editorial side is another matter, if they don’t think it’s necessary to include a disclosure about Soon’s funding from coal companies–especially for an op-ed about mercury regulations.

    John Mashey (9):

    I think you’re generalizing a bit–obviously in a sarcastic manner. I read the WSJ op-eds, in addition to the NYT op-eds and the WaPo op-eds. I like diversity of opinion.

    Grypo( 10)

    If there were other scientists willing to go as far as Trenberth, they’d be quoted. That’s why he’s become the go-to source for Romm and others who want to hammer home the individual weather event/global warming link. If there were others saying as much–in an strong and unqualified a manner, they would be quoted.

    Jeff (12):

    Greenpeace got the funding information. It could have been anyone that got it. Do you have a problem with the information obtained? It seems pretty clear to me. Interest groups across the political spectrum do this sort of thing all the time and then when they become fodder for news stories.

  • NewYorkJ

    So what you’re saying is that even tho the overall storm number and strength are either stagnant or going down, according to the data, global warming is making things worse?

    In the Atlantic (where Katrina originated, and where the period of record is most reliable vs other ocean basins), the strongest tropical cyclones have trended upward, with the recent decade having the most.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Category_5_Atlantic_hurricanes#Category_5_Atlantic_hurricanes

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Category_4_Atlantic_hurricanes#List_of_Category_4_hurricanes

    See also the Jeff Masters link I posted.  Total number of hurricanes isn’t expected to necessarily increase, and some studies project a decrease, while at the same time projecting an increase in the strongest storms.

  • NewYorkJ

    Keith (#19),

    Perhaps you should wait until the end of the three-part series before making sweeping conclusions about it.

    I’m not suggesting any scandal, just surprise that SciAm would have Pew fund one of its stories, and I also note how that story is at odds with the argument advanced in a Pew paper put out yesterday.

    Thanks for summarizing the irony in your piece.  On the one hand you express outrage that Pew funded one of their articles, implying the conclusions are just dictacted by Pew.  On the other hand, you express outrage that the article doesn’t follow exactly from a whitepaper Pew put out, as if it’s supposed to.  Which is it?  It seems that no matter what the conclusions, you’d be complaining.  I guess that’s one form of “balanced” reporting.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    No Keith, it has not been “unqualified”.  It’s been qualified and on the mark.  As for, ‘That’s why he’s become the go-to source for Romm and others who want to hammer home the individual weather event/global warming link”.  This is again wrong.  Trenberth has become a target because of who he is and his willingness to say these things, and you are falling for the ruse.  He has not done the “individual” link, he’s been saying exactly what scientists have been saying forever.

    Do you read Jeff Masters?

    “Human-caused climate change has fundamentally altered the atmosphere by adding more heat and moisture. Observations confirm that global atmospheric water vapor has increased by about 4% since 1970, which is what theory says should have happened given the observed 0.5°C (0.9°F) warming of the planet’s oceans during the same period. Shifts of this magnitude are capable of significantly affecting the path and strength of the jet stream, behavior of the planet’s monsoons, and paths of rain and snow-bearing weather systems….
    A naturally extreme year, when embedded in such a changed atmosphere, is capable of causing dramatic, unprecedented extremes like we observed during 2010 and 2011. That’s the best theory I have to explain the extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011–natural extremes of El Niño, La Niña and other natural weather patterns combined with significant shifts in atmospheric circulation and the extra heat and atmospheric moisture due to human-caused climate change to create an extraordinary period of extreme weather….”

    Kerry Emanual

    “Emanuel and his colleagues have investigated how average hurricane intensity has been increasing in recent years, and he says there is a clear climate connection.

    “There is a truly remarkable correlation between the power dissipation, or the destructive potential of a storm, and the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean during hurricane season,” says Emanuel.
    While there is still little consensus among researchers regarding whether future ocean warming will cause the number of Atlantic hurricanes to increase or decrease, several studies have found that on average, hurricanes around the planet could become up to 10 percent more powerful over the next century. ”

  • Tom Scharf

    grypo,
    What a tangled web we weave…
    You can also say that Katrina would have been different if I hadn’t moved to Florida in 1985, thus affecting regional weather in incalculable ways over the last 25 years by my breathing.  This is a trivial statement, try working with the whole truth.
    There is zero evidence that global warming has had a material affect on hurricane number or strength.  RPJ has posted data on this repeatedly.  We are at an all time low for the past 5 years of global cyclone activity.  Do you think this is relevant?  A better case can be made that AGW causing decreases in cyclone activity.
    Cyclone trending is quite erratic even without any AGW influence, it will take probably 50 years of trending to parse out what minimal influence AGW has on hurricanes because you cannot extract signal influences from erratic noisy patterns without a lot of data.
    Try explaining the whole truth of your assertion without the appeal to authority, it is looking like you are practicing not so artful deception here.
    Show me data for global cyclone activity that correlates with CO2 increases.



     

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “You can also say that Katrina would have been different if I hadn’t moved to Florida in 1985, thus affecting regional weather in incalculable ways over the last 25 years by my breathing.”

    If you are comparing your moving and the CO2 that’s been naturally added to atmosphere, I can’t see any reason to go on pretending like this will be a fruitful discussion.   The rest of your post is a strawman.

  • Tom Scharf

    The decade of 2000-2009 hurricane disaster losses are average, even with Katrina.  See also the US landfalls, global cyclone frequency and cyclone energy trends below.
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/01/hurricane-damage-risk-and-predictions.html
    It has been 2046+ days since a CAT3-5 hurricane has made landfall in the US:
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/05/when-hurricane-drought-ends.html
    Tornado trending:
    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/tornado/tornadotrend.jpg
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-n7JBI841jc8/TbnkkF1gtbI/AAAAAAAAA6c/K1i7ACqz4yU/s1600/us.torn.jpg
     

  • Tom Scharf

    For the record, my interest and sensitivity to disinformation on the hurricane vs. global warming subject is driven by the fact that home insurance rates have been jacked up in FL over the last ten years because re-insurance providers have dropped using historical models to calculate risk.
    Instead they changed to computer modeling simulations and estimated a 30% increase in hurricane damages and changed rates accordingly.  The increase in damages hasn’t happened (yet), and my insurance rates continue to go up.
    The Sarasota Herald Tribune won a Pulitzer prize in 2011 for exposing this, it is truly a scandal.  So I get a little riled up when Trenberth starts yapping with very little data to back up his assertions.  It costs me real money.
    http://cf.htcreative.com/insurance2/insuranceriskhome.html
    The whole series is a fascinating read.  This part is particularly relevant:
    Florida insurers rely on dubious storm model
    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20101114/article/11141026
    “RMS, a multimillion-dollar company that helps insurers estimate hurricane losses and other risks, brought four hand-picked scientists together in a Bermuda hotel room…”
    Hopefully winning the Pulitzer prize will help with the trustworthiness of the data here.
     

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    New York J

    “Perhaps you should wait until the end of the three-part series before making sweeping conclusions about it.”

    That’s silly logic, since SciAm is publishing them clearly as stand-alone stories over three days. By your logic, they should have just published the piece in one swoop.

    The rest of your comment and the language you use just confirms why it’s such a waste of my time to engage you. The language of my post was not one of “outrage”–so yet another willful mischaracterization of what I said, nor have I implied that Pew dictated the story. (See my comment #3 about why I trust the story has editorial integrity.) I merely noted the irony of how the story is at cross purposes with the white paper Pew put out yesterday. You’re the one reading into that on my behalf.

    Look, I’ve already pointed out how you can’t accurately read what I wrote, and now I’m pointing out how you also mischaracterize what I wrote.

    You’re welcome to keep commenting here, but don’t expect me to continue having these exchanges with you. Clearly, you’re not engaging in good faith.

  • Sashka

    Keith,

    You said

    I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism

    If what you meant is

    I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism in the magazines that I respect then I have no further questions. If you meant any and all publications then it’s irrelevant whether you mentioned other publications by name or not.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Grypo (22)

    We’ll have to disagree on the interpretation of Trenberth’s quotes. I see him pointing to a level of attribution for individual extreme weather events that goes beyond the comfort zone of many of his colleagues.

  • EdG

    Keith wrote about “a magazine like Scientific American, which I consider to be a top flight science journalism outlet without any stated political or ideological agenda.”

    Think you are living in the past Keith. The first clue that SciAm just ain’t what it used to be was their obviously “political and ideological” concerted attack on Bjorn Lomborg’s ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist.’

    Many clues since, including this new article you just reported on. Is that is supposed to be ‘science’? Or even objective?

    Another very, very large clue is who owns Scientific American. They also own Nature.
     

  • Tom Fuller

    Hate to keep harping on the same point, but I know a company that’s expanding its geographic range over the next few months. They have hired a public relations company to do public opinion surveys of the general population on vaguely related issues to generate talking points they can take to the media in hopes of getting coverage.

    This is such a common practice that there are herds of companies engaged in it at different levels, many of them well-respected and extremely profitable.

    It is the norm in the world of marketing and PR. It is a shame that this gets hijacked into the world of public policy. But it is common to the point that I wonder why anyone is acting surprised–gambling in the casino?

    It just means those of us consuming this information need to be more on our toes.

  • Jeff Norris

    Keith (19)
    Don’t have a problem with the information although it would be interesting if they gave more info on those conventional funders but as Tom said.
    “Organisations with funds and a desire to influence those decisions will finance polls and research designed to reinforce their points of view.”
    If interest groups are now the  unfiltered suppliers of information that make the system work, So now what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment?
    Your point about anybody could have requested the data is partially my point.  Why does it now take an agenda driven organization to ask for the data?   Journalism is not supposed to give us just what we want today but anticipate what we the public will need tomorrow.  It is partially this competition to supply the public with only the sensational aspect of issues that has forced the established Media into decline.

  • NewYorkJ

    Keith,

    Parsing through your ad homs, I find a sentence worth addressing, and one that reiterates one of my points.

    I merely noted the irony of how the story is at cross purposes with the white paper Pew put out yesterday.

    It’s only “irony” if you believe a SciAm article should follow the Pew white paper, as if everyone at Pew is in 100% agreement on the topic, or that the article can’t possibly present independent views.

    The topic is whether or not some individual weather events can be attributed, at least in part to climate change, which is a topic of genuine debate within the scientific community, and one the SciAm articles so far cover well.  The consensus is more closely the broad “load the dice” argument.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    EdG,

    Many excellent magazines–including Scientific American–are routinely flogged for perceived failures.

    Not too long ago, Joe Romm (and many of his faithful) were fuming over Michael Lemonick’s interview with Richard Fuller. And before that he/they were pissed off at SciAm for some other supposed egregious journalistic sins….and so it goes.

  • Tom Fuller

    At this point the most we can expect is:

    Have a point of view
    Declare your point of view

  • Jeff Norris

    Tom
    Any thoughts on how we got to this point?  I don’t hold some golden age worship of journalism but I do believe there was a more cynical approach to reporting in the past.  Maybe I am wrong.  Perhaps  PR firms have always provided journalist with not only the answers but also the questions.

  • Dean_1230

    Jeff (#36),
    Interesting question!  If we look back in time, I’m not sure “balance” was much of a goal of journalism.  For example, during the American Civil War, there were probably half a dozen newspapers in NYC.  Each of them had a different viewpoint on what the proper course of the war was.  Some were “radical abolitionists”, some were supportive of secession, some were in the middle.

    Looking back it’s easy to see their biases.  Did they at the time claim to be balanced in their reporting? Or instead, did they wear their biases on their sleeves as a badge of honor?

     

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    “We’ll have to disagree on the interpretation of Trenberth’s quotes. I see him pointing to a level of attribution for individual extreme weather events that goes beyond the comfort zone of many of his colleagues.”

    Perhaps there is a bit of a semantic problem with our dissidence.  On one hand you have the view, “no one event can be attributed to AGW”.  On the other we have, “All weather is a combination of AGW and natural factors.”  I can tell you from reading literature that science thinks in terms of the latter.  The dice rolling analogy, although correct, isn’t as informative as thinking of the atmospheric change’s effect on all individual events.  It does not mean that all will be “bad” or “good” or “extreme”, but that the way in which these events happen would not be the same as the event taking place without the additional changes to the atmosphere.   So I think the attention given to Trenberth is more because he is trying to get people to see a clearer picture and dispensing with the old analogy.
    Several more scientists are now chiming, giving similar warnings

    I think it’s more useful to get people thinking in these new terms, and not argue so much about the scientists’ comfort level or their reticence on how it should be said.  Neither explanation is perfect, and will be abused, but I imagine you and I have similar goals on people adapting immediately to the changing atmosphere.  It’s a mistake to paint Trenberth as an activist or outlier, when he is really one of the world’s foremost experts and very much within the consensus.  Our inability to perfectly attribute exact changes at this point (fingerprinting is hard but not impossible) should not give people the comfort it seems to.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    +1 @38
     

  • Sashka

    @ 38

    On one hand you have the view, “no one event can be attributed to AGW”.  On the other we have, “All weather is a combination of AGW and natural factors.”

    There is no contradiction. Just think about it.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    I just noticed that Jay Gulledge, a co-author of the Pew “white paper,” has a related blog post clarifying the Pew/SciAm arrangement:

    The Pew Center is teaming up with Scientific American to explain the link between climate change and extreme weather. In a new three-part series featured on Scientific American.com, award-winning science journalist John Carey dissects the science, impacts, and actions to take regarding the record-breaking floods, heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires experienced across the United States and the world in the past year. The first installment appears today. (Part two. Part three coming Thursday.)

    The Pew Center commissioned the article, and the author and Scientific American had complete editorial control.

    Also today, the Pew Center releases a new white paper explaining that the recent spate of extreme weather events is part of a longer trend in rising extremes that reveal a pattern of increasing risk as the planet warms. That paper and a variety of other extreme weather resources are available on a new web page.
    ***
    What’s apparent to me is that Pew released its white paper to coincide with the publication of the Pew-funded SciAm story. To put it charitably, I find this arrangement between SciAm and Pew odd.

  • Dean_1230

    @38,

    Taking “All weather is a combination of AGW & natural factors” as basically true, (which I will stipulate to),  then there’s a real problem when you look at the data as it shows that the quantity and severity are down! And if we limit it to just individual storms being different than “normal”, then Trenberth’s supposition is inherently unprovable!  You cannot prove that Katrina was stronger than it “should have been”.  We cannot repeat Katrina in any meaningful way!

    With that said, the implication of Trenberth’s claim should be visible in the histories of storms as you should see an increase in severity and quantity compared to the historical record and yet the data shows the opposite.  If “different” doesn’t result in “stronger” or “more numerous” storms, then why worry about it?  He clearly says it’s worth worrying about. He clearly feels that the storms are stronger and/or more numerous (as his analysis of Katrina shows) and therefore he pushes that this is something to be concerned about.

    Another problem with Trenberth’s claim, even if as you imply that it’s only stating things are “different” than they would be is that it’s impossible to rule out all the things that could make things “different”.  Do jet contrails make a difference?  What about wind turbines/farms?  How about temperatures over concrete vs. farmland?  And then there’s the farming methods.  Taken to the extreme, you could even argue that the butterfly flapping it’s wings in the mountains of Mexico are affecting a change.  Most of these can be ruled out as there’s no data that they have changed the storms.  But then again, there’s no data that says AGW has changed the storms either!

  • Dean_1230

    Getting back to Keith’s main point, the last quoted block, from Huber and Gulledge:
    “It does make sense, however, to take lessons from actual events about our current vulnerabilities and the risks to society caused in unabated greenhouse gas emissions that drive extreme weather risks ever higher as time passes.”

    But if the data shows that there is no risk of increased number or severity of storms, then why change because of it?  Huber and Gulledge clearly believe Trenberth is correct in saying strength and numbers are increasing, but the data doesn’t support that!

  • EdG

    “On the other we have, “All weather is a combination of AGW and natural factors.””

    The question, of course, is how much does the AGW component contribute?
    As written, it is true if you replace the term ‘AGW’ with ‘butterfly wingstrokes’.

    On one hand you have the view, “no one event can be attributed to AGW”.
    Copenhagen, Cancun, and many ‘events’ can all be directly attributed to the theory of AGW. In terms of weather and actual AGW, nothing can be attributed to it… unless one chooses to do so. If one makes that choice then anything and everything can and has been ‘blamed’ on AGW.

    Obviously the AGW crisis industry, with missionaries like Trenberth who puts faith over evidence, and helped by misnamed magazines like Scientific American, wants the public to believe that AGW causes everything bad. Its the modern version of blaming witches for bad weather in the Middle Ages. 

  • kim

    Forty comments in and finally Dean weighs in.  Accumulated Cyclone Energy is at a 30 year low.  Apparently Pew, Scientific American, and quite a few others don’t even know the science.

    I’ve asked Chris Mooney when he’s going to write ‘Calm World’.
    ======================

  • kdk33

    And if we limit it to just individual storms being different than “normal”, then Trenberth’s supposition is inherently unprovable! 

    Thus we have uncover the AGW dilemna (or the alarmists propoganda tool, depending on your persuasion): non-falsifiability.  My comment some time ago on one of these Trenberth attribution threads (whose title I cannot remember) is that, per Trenberths theory, AGW should be blamed for all good weather.  Alas, I think most missed my point.

    A similar dilemna arises around the time constant argument.  “there is warming in the pipeline”; “if we wait for confirming evidence, it will be too late”.  MT seemed to pick up on the quandry and made a brief post on OIIFTG (does that qualify as 15 minutes of fame for kdk33 – being that I sometimes enjoy MT’s writting – till he loses site of brevity).  Alas, the OIIFTG audience concludes I do not understand time constants and “rates of heat transfer” and Fourier’s law, and other such stuff.  Non-falsifiability was never addressed in a meaningful way (though I haven’t checked back lately).

    Which reminds me of warmists most disturbing tendency:  consistently and significantly underestimating their audience.

    cheers

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    I’m always amused when I see sentences or headlines like this.

  • Sashka

    @ Keith (41)

    To put it charitably, I find this arrangement between SciAm and Pew odd.

    There is a word for it. It’s called propaganda. I told you right away even before you mentioned the white paper. So much for the grant funded “journalism”.

  • Jeff Norris

    Dean (42)
    Prior to the Civil War and during the war papers were clearly and proudly biased.  Just lo0k at some of their names for confirmation.   Some suggest that it was the war itself that led to the more balanced reporting.  Newspapers sold their reports to both sides via the telegraph so the reporters had to write in a more neutral tone.  I think “Fair and Balance” started out as more of a marketing scheme by publishers to sell news stories and give cover to the acquisitions and conglomerations of the Industrial Revolution.   Bias became confined to the editorial pages or overt political issues, reporters out of various necessities where more of just the facts.  

    IMO it has been the belief that the overriding purpose of reporters is to achieve Social Change has been where we went astray.  To be clear I am not against the reporting of injustice, abuse, or wrong doing; but the constant framing of these  instances as to the need for  a certain Social Change.  
     

  • Tom Scharf

    From the article:
    “But one of the predictions of climate change models is that extreme weather””floods, heat waves, droughts, even blizzards””will become far more common.
    Show…..me…..the……data.
    This thing reads like Al Gore’s recent epic.  The world is warming, here is a big list of climate events.  Obviously the conclusion is unquestionably true that A causes B.  How could one possibly question that powerful line of argument?
    No need to show actual trends, no need to actually prove causation.  No need to assess how much the alleged AGW link “helped” the disaster.  0.1 inches? 1 inch?, 10 inches?  Unquantifiable?
    Yet they are exceeding careful to not make a falsifiable statement.
    The only relief from this never ending stream of propaganda is that nobody is listening anymore.  Environmental scientists declare end of the world!  Yawn, who’s on Dancing with the Stars tonight?

     

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    Tropical cyclone power dissipation and time correlate well with SST numbers since 1950.  There are other signals and fingerprints that are giving scientists more confidence in their models.  This is the consensus of the experts who study this directly, and it’s shown in the literature. Perhaps consulting Emanuel’s work would be helpful.

  • Tom Scharf

    grypo, you are talking in circles.
    Warm oceans fuel hurricanes more than cool oceans do, congratulations.  This is independent of any CO2 link.  The fact is that cyclone energy is not correlating well with CO2 increases.
    The point here was whether there was an AGW – hurricane extreme event connection, you seemed to support this assertion, but I can’t even tell if you still agree with yourself at this point.
    Do you believe there is “meaningful” link between hurricane frequency and intensity and AGW?  Point me to the source.
    Please state and answer the question you believe is relevant here if I’m missing what you are trying to say.
    I think what they are finding is that it is the temperature difference between the atmosphere and sea that is a bigger factor, not the absolute temperature of either.  Also shearing winds are a major factor in not allowing a hurricane to gain strength.  It is simply not all about AGW, not even a little.
     

  • EdG

    Keith,

    Here’s what I don’t get. You obviously have an interest in and knowledge of archaeology which means that you must know that climate change is the norm. That is reflected in the changes we see on the archaeological ground.

    So why is anything happening now supposed to be ‘unprecedented’ or profoundly different?

    Please, don’t fall back on ‘the CO2 rise is different so therefore’ because there is no real evidence of that. Just models.

    My doubts about the AGW story were founded on my interest in and knowledge of past climates, partially through archaeological evidence, and I have yet to see anything that convinces me otherwise. Indeed, all the dishonest and misleading statements and rhetoric coming out of the AGW campaign  just confirm my doubts. 

    And now we have this latest desperate move to try to justify how they can blame anything and everything on AGW. Too late. Humpty IPCC fell off the wall. Its ‘missing credibility’ not ‘missing heat.’  

  • http://hro001.wordpress.com Hilary Ostrov

    Tom Fuller Says:

    What we’re seeing here is what has happened in the past when politics steps in front of science and commandeers the stage.

    It all gets gray. The range of literature used to support a position gets extended further and further as political decisions get more controversial. […]

    The only funny thing is people thinking that the climate controversy is in any way exceptional in this regard. It is not.

    With all due respect, Tom (and – for the most part – I do respect your views), how  much does the proposed “scientific” resolution of other such controversies hold the potential for such phenomenal (if not astronomical) cost?

    And while I’m here … in his post, Keith observed that:

    Kevin Trenberth […] is known for unreservedly advancing the extreme weather event/global warming link.

    Quite so. And in some circles, Trenberth is also known for what might most charitably be called his false memory syndrome.

  • Dean_1230

    Jeff (#49)
    And with the advent of the single-newspaper city, any “balance” is suspect.  A newspaper can now claim balance, but isn’t really held to it because there’s no other paper to claim otherwise.

    I don’t actually have a problem with biased reporting… I just have a problem with biased reporting being touted as being fair and balanced.  In other words, just because it’s biased doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    It does mean I’ll double-check their report, however (and that’s why I read both Drudge and Huffpo)

  • Word

    The climate AGW alarmists remind me of the jesus freaks who claim Jesus is coming on march 25, 2011.
    When it doesnt happen its “oh we misread the tea leaves”  Its actually 2021, then 2031 and then 2041.
    They dont have to prove anything.  The people who are vastly disappointed, sold everything for the 2011 date, embrace the new 2021 date an continue preaching the end of the world.

    Much as the the 70’s and 80’s scientists told us that in 2010 we were going to be hip deep in doo doo if we didnt solve mother natures weather problems for her.

    Well here we are in 2010 and now its 2020, or 2030 or 2050.  They dont have to prove anything……they simply have to keep preaching it and the “true believers” will believe and shout hallelujan.  The only problem is while the MSM claims the jesus freaks are idiots……they SHOUT HALLELUJAH right along with the AGW “true believers” and the rest of us must endure their idiocy.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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