Pay No Mind to These Harassed Scientists

By Keith Kloor | April 13, 2012 10:38 am

Did you know that a group of scientists whose work has stirred public controversy are under siege? That their findings are vehemently contested? That they are harassed by zealots and that some have endured death threats?

No, not climate scientists or animal researchers. I’m talking about plant scientists working on genetically modified crops.

The latest attack against them occurred this week in New Zealand. Vandalism has become a preferred tactic of mainsream NGO greens and grassroots groups.  It’s called “Field Liberation.”

In Europe, virulent anti-GMO opposition has been building for over a decade. (New Scientist has a nice rundown of how the alarmist campaign against GMO’s took root and spread in the UK.) This despite abundant evidence that worrisome impacts to public health and ecosystems are unfounded, notwithstanding hysterical media reports to the contrary.

No matter, opposition to GMO’s is passionate and in some parts of the world shows no signs of abating. By now, scientists are likely resigned to it. Indeed, as Emily Waltz wrote in Nature several years ago:

No one gets into research on genetically modified (GM) crops looking for a quiet life. Those who develop such crops face the wrath of anti-biotech activists who vandalize field trials and send hate mail.

But as she reported, some of these same researchers have also become hostile to their own colleagues–or at least those who are investigating potential safety or contamination issues. The case (and behavior) she discusses has some notable parallels with the gatekeeping charges leveled against the climate science community. Part of the rationale rings a similar bell, too: The concern that shoddy science (in this instance, a paper that asserted GM corn could have “unexpected ecosystem-scale consequences”) gives ammunition to opponents (anti-GMO activists).

The comparisons with climate science do not carry over in one notable respect: Outrage over the harassment of GMO scientists and the destruction of their research. Environmentalists, who have rallied to the aid of climate scientists under attack, stay mum about the continued destruction to GMO field crops and the intimidation campaign against biotech researchers. Why do you suppose that is?

Perhaps they are just taking their cue from scientists themselves. As the NYT reported last year:

There is a ripple of unease among many scientists who study the warming of the planet these days. Some have faced harassment, legal challenges and even death threats related to their research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports.

On Tuesday, the board of directors of the association, which publishes the journal Science, released a strongly worded statement “vigorously opposing” such attacks on researchers, saying that the tactics inhibited the free exchange of scientific ideas.

“Reports of harassment, death threats and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas, and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policy makers and the public,” the board said. “This both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the application of science to the solution of global problems.”

This led one biotechnology researcher to observe:

Unfortunately there is no mention of the plight of genetic scientists who have also been subject to legal threats by anti-GMO lobby groups, and by certain organic organisations. These threats suppress free-speech on important human welfare and safety issues.

Evidently, not all scientists are deemed worthy of coming to the defense of.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, GMOs
  • Marlowe Johnson

    It’s a fair point. 

    I think  that at least some of the difference comes down to the perception that GMO research is being driven by large, unaccountable, and rapacious agribusiness multi-nationals like Monsanto, ADM, DuPont, etc. 

    Given mainstream environmentalists historic distrust of these companies, it’s not hard to see how some would then justify harassing the scientists that are aiding and abetting these firms. Consider, for example, how the public would react to the harassment of tobacco researchers who were looking into ways of making smoking a little bit safer.

    Personally, my own concerns with GMOs are about the economic arrangements that they lock farmers into rather than the risks that they present from an ecological point of view.

  • grypo

    I’ve often about this myself.  My guess would be that GMO’s just don’t get the attention that evolution and climate change gets.  Perhaps aligning all the harassers into the same group that harass abortion doctors will do the trick.  

  • grypo

    There’s a missing ‘wondered’ in my first sentence, last comment

  • BBD

    Marlowe

    Personally, my own concerns with GMOs are about the economic arrangements that they lock farmers into rather than the risks that they present from an ecological point of view.

    A serious concern, but developing countries are evolving noncorporate GE research programs tailored for specific regional needs. The best way to beat the corporate enclosure of beneficial agricultural technologies is to ensure that GE research proliferates. The lawyers will lose out to the farmers in the end.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Not just those who work on GMOs. Those  testing animals get it in the neck too.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @4I hope you’re right, but  consider me more than a little skeptical. the lack of effective governance structures combined with the obvious financial resources of the multi-nationals — who have a pretty clear incentive to game the system in their favour — suggests that the farmers will ultimately lose out.

  • BBD

    Marlowe @ 6

    [...] suggests that the farmers will ultimately lose out.

    How, exactly? It is in nobody’s interests. If one agribusiness tries to lock in farmers in, say, Brazil, to a GM soya, then another will come along with a cheaper alternative of similar or better characteristics. And all the time, the GE technology is going to be escaping the corporate fence as noncorporate regional research continues. Time and technology favour farmers, not lawyers.

    I’m not saying the buggers won’t try to screw the producers, mind you. But it will be interesting to see just what big agribusinesses will be allowed to get away with when there are a billion more people to feed and CC is starting to bite on agricultural productivity. Will they be permitted to profiteer? Or will they be compelled to behave at least borderline acceptably? Will the role of noncorporate GE research grow in response to profiteering?

  • Mary

    I worked in a building where they did stem cell research and cow cloning. We got some security threats there too.But yeah–I would love to see people who shout about relying on science on climate science say the same thing on plant science. In fact, I’m trying to use the phrase “plant science” all the time now to remind people of what it is. The hazard of these conversations is, of course, the agricultural Godwinning, aka Monsanto. You can’t tell people about the virus-resistant beans that the Brazilian government developed, or the transgenic tiliapia they’ve had in Cuba for a decade, because everyone’s hair is already alight when you arrive….

  • hunter

    The genetic concerned community is not correct about this?

  • http://planet3.org Dan Moutal

    Environmentalists, who have rallied to the aid of climate scientists under attack, stay mum about the continued destruction to GMO field crops and the intimidation campaign against biotech researchers.Well not all environmentalists. This is the article I wrote last year after the  destruction of a GM wheat crop in Australia.

  • Matt B

    Only one explanation for the anti-GMO mania in the Old Country – Heartland Europa has proven “effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science”………..

  • Keith Kloor

    Dan (10)

    That was a good post you wrote last year. But you are in a very small minority, as indicated by your post. Also, some interesting comments, especially that one from your colleague at Planet 3.0, Steve Easterbrook.

  • David in Cal

    I’m amused at the New York Times combining the seriousness of death threats with a not unreasonable legal challenge for Michael Mann to release e-mails involving publicly funded research.  If Mann has done nothing wrong,  these e-mails shouldn’t embarass him,

  • Marlowe Johnson

    what keith said @ #10.

    Dan’s post reminded me of why i ‘waste’ my time on blogs. i read what Dan wrote and initially i said ‘fuck yeah!”. then i read what MT and SE wrote in the comments and i was like “oh…right…good points”. and then i read what  Dan wrote back and i thought “good counter-points on some but not on others… so what do i think exactly?”

    genuine conversations are interesting :)

  • Nullius in Verba

    #10,

    Dan, that’s a good article! And my congratulations to you on joining the well organised and well funded denial machine. How do you like the pay?

    On GMOs, I see a large part of the problem being a lack of education on food science generally.

    First, I make a distinction between genetic modification and genetic engineering. Genetic modification has been practiced for about 6000 years now by plant breeders. They find mutations and variations and cross-breed them to modify the genetics of a crop. The difference between modern crop plants and their wild ancestors is vast. Genetic engineering is when you bring about genetic changes by design, based on understanding. Virtually all the food you eat is genetically modified. Carrots are not orange in the wild.

    Second, you have to address another common green phobia which is the matter of “chemicals”. People tell me they want to eat food that doesn’t have chemicals in it. That’s an amazing thing for people to say, when you think about it. What the heck do they think food is made out of?!

    99.9% of the pesticides in food you eat are natural. Plants produce them naturally as part of their ‘immune system’ seeking to deliberately poison anything trying to eat them. Most of these chemicals are unknown and untested for safety, and of those few that have been tested, about half prove carcinogenic. When the plant breeders breed ‘pest resistance’ into a plant, how do people think the plant achieves it? And is it safe?

    This can have some unexpected results. Organic foods raised without artificial pesticides fall back on the natural ones. And when a plant is attacked by pests, it sometimes reacts by increasing production, loading its flesh with extremely high doses of toxic chemicals. Think for a moment about the implications of that.

    Genetically engineered foods are not 100% safe, but they are safer than ‘natural’ foods. Natural foods are safe too. It’s a question of perception – we notice the tiniest risks in the artificial because we go looking for them, we assume the natural is benign because we don’t think to look. The risks of the natural are tiny, the risks of the artificial even tinier – but with our distorted risk perception we make the wrong decisions.

    On nuclear power, the problem is similar. We have no intuitive feel for the scale of risks. In Fukushima, 20,000 died as a result of what you might call ‘wave power’, the infrastructure devastated, the land polluted with salt and with industrial chemicals from iron foundries and petrochemicals, but the only thing people can talk about is the tiny traces of radioactivity. It’s a phobia.

    The naturalistic fallacy is at the heart of a lot of the Green thinking that outsiders find annoying. I don’t think it’s something Environmentalists have deliberately chosen to exploit; I think the problem is that people subject to naturalistic thinking are naturally attracted to Environmentalism. They join in vast numbers, and their worldview overwhelms that of the more scientifically minded.

    Likewise, I don’t think the Green movement is a radical left-wing conspiracy. I think that radical left-wingers saw it as a movement they could use, and sought to infiltrate it and take it over. It’s good camouflage – they hide among the flock, and take the lead in political activism. You could think of them as wolves wearing woolly jumpers and sandals. On the contrary, I think most Greens are ordinary well-meaning people who just like nature, and don’t like to see it spoilt. Mostly they haven’t thought very hard about it. But they’re not the ones running things.

    The right do care about the environment. We care about air pollution from cooking fires. We care about access to clean water. We care about smog, and people dumping toxic waste. We care about wildlife. But we understand there is a trade-off between people’s interests and the rest of nature’s and that sometimes the rest of nature will have to adapt. We would like to do it in the least damaging way, but nature red in tooth and claw extends to us too. We are still having to play the great game. Nature itself is about conflict and exploitation and self-interest, and we are an integral part of it. Nature is not a Walt Disney movie, where the bunnies and foxes sing songs in harmony. It is also tough and adaptable and can survive and recover from damage. We think nature can very well look after itself. But we do care, and we want to do what we can to help it.

    But being the right, we have different views on the best way to do it. We think the best protection for the environment results from prosperity. When people can spare resources from bare survival, they are more willing to devote them to making the world a nicer place to live in. We believe in the power of human ingenuity to find ways to do so. We sometimes makes a mess getting there, and accidents are unfortunately inevitable, but we can (and should) clean it up later. The West cleaned up its act voluntarily as soon as it had the resources to do so. The faster the rest of the world catches up, the less damage there will be to fix.

    I don’t know if there’s any way to reconcile the two worldviews. But it is certainly true that the current state of environmentalism alienates the right and pushes them away from wanting to. I wish you well, but I don’t have much hope for anything fixing that.

  • Dave H

    I believe that the more rational end of criticism of GM crops comes from the acceptance that the practice is a necessary and positivie development, but that self-interested corporations are perhaps not the most trustworthy stewards of the technology. Human history is littered with examples of invasive species having disastrous consequences for native ecosystems and biodiversity, whether their introduction was intentional or accidental. Add a profit motive for downplaying risk, and cause for concern is understandable.The more emotive end, particularly in Europe, can be largely traced to BSE. That was a situation where governmental, scientific and corporate reassurances that the foodchain was not in jeopardy turned out to be so disastrously wrong that when – not long afterwards – those same bodies were making similar pronouncements about GM food, a large section of the populace declined to trust in those messages.

  • Keith Kloor

    Marlowe,

    I was being a bit facetious about Easterbrook’s comment. His remarks about nuclear and GMO’s were pretty astonishing, but I suppose reflective of the general enviro mindset.

    NiS (15)

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but not all. You put a nice sheen on the right’s attitude towards the environment. Not sure which “Right” or representative conservative you have in mind. Here in the U.S, even moderate Republicans (what’s left of them) will tell you that today’s Tea Party dominated GOP is not exactly cut from the Teddy Roosevelt wing of the party. Perhaps in the UK, the right is more sympathetic to balancing environmental protection with economic interests. Here in the U.S. today’s “Right”-as we saw in the last Bush Administration–that is not the case.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @16

    +1

    @17
    care to elaborate?  I thought that SE’s points about the tension between local vs. global risk of nuclear to be spot on. similarly, his observation about the proponents of GMOs (i.e. monsanto et al). what part did you find astonishing?

  • Keith Kloor

    @18 He makes incredibly sweeping statements, such as this one:

    From SE: “nuclear power is dangerous, and poses a massive risk to communities who live close to nuclear power plants, a risk that is, at least locally, much greater than any other means of generating power.

    As Dan said in his response, this is a “massive overstatement.” 

    Then there’s this one from SE (my emphasis)

    “GMs have been deployed almost universally as a way of further industrializing and centralizing food production, via massive deployments of herbicides and pesticides.” 

    What do you think of that one?

  • http://planet3.org Dan Moutal

    @ KK (19)I actually don’t disagree much with Steve Easterbrook on the GMO issue. The major problem with GMO foods is not the science or their safety record, but rather the actions of Monsanto and others.This is a real issue of concern. My disagreement is translating the very real  policy concerns regarding GMOs into a stance against all GMOs.The same goes for nuclear power. If isn’t difficult to find nuclear operators cutting corners, but I think the correct response to that is better operators and regulators, rather than a ban on nuclear power.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #17,

    It’s possible that I’m over-generalising again. I talk about the right I know. While I know quite a few who don’t like environmentalists, I don’t know any who don’t like the environment.

    While I have less knowledge of the situation in the US, I do wonder how much of that reputation is down to the anti-capitalist cant. George Bush and the Tea Party are subject to a lot of politically-motivated opposition. While I’m not in a position to compare, I’ve heard of plenty of examples of environmental action from the likes of Bush, and plenty of examples against it from the American left.

    Bush signed in the Clear Skies initiative, the Healthy Forests initiative, the Brownfields legislation, the Great Lakes Legacy Act, and created the world’s largest marine protectorate in Hawaii. He did on the other hand promote oil drilling in Alaska, although with stringent regulation, and of course there is the Kyoto Protocol, which was actually killed by the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, but which for some reason Bush always gets the blame for.

    As for the Tea Party, again, the only two environmental issues I’ve ever heard them speak out on are domestic oil drilling and global warming. From what I’ve heard, their primary issues are all economic, to do with government spending.

    I’ve even heard that Bush is personally quite green.

    But I haven’t done sufficient research to tell if it’s true or not, so I don’t insist.

    To be honest, I was trying to be positive about your post and Dan’s and to build a few bridges. I think it’s worthwhile, and I think most of the people I know on the right would think so too. But I’ve no doubt people will be able to find fault if they try hard enough.

    #18,

    Even on a local scale, nuclear is very safe compared to many other industries. Do you think a hydroelectric dam up-river from civilisation is ‘safe’?

    I said it before. People think living in houses is ‘safe’, even though if you hit the average house with a force 9 earthquake followed by a 10 metre high wave of water travelling at 100 mph it’s liable to collapse on you. What do you mean by ‘safe’?

    As for Monsanto, I’m no more keen on the protectionist tactics used by big business than you are. But the same applies to all sorts of businesses, ranging from the music industry to the supermarkets. It’s got nothing to do with GM, or the environment.

    It’s not enough to justify threats and vandalism.

    And I do wonder, given the violent animosity towards genetic technologies, how much of what they say about Monsanto is true.

  • Anteros

    An interesting discussion.I too enjoyed Dan Moutal’s article and the comments. Reading NiV’s input above about the environmental movement perceiving risks in a very skewed way as a consequence of the perspective used, I was reminded that in the comments following Dan M’s article, the one that stood out the most to me was Michael Tobis saying “High radiation readings are being found all over Japan. Fukushima is a whole prefecture. 2 million people lived there a year ago. Is it ruined forever?”This is a perfect example of NiV’s point about bringing something into relevant existence merely by staring in its general direction and then letting imagination take over. As far as I know the health effects of post-Fukushima radiation are precisely zero and it is actually obscene to still be staring at something that doesn’t exist when there is so much genuine suffering in the same vicinity. It is already safer to go back to the outskirts of Fukushima than it is for the the ex-residents to move to somewhere like Tokyo [air-pollution] even though Tokyo itself is still a ridiculously safe place to live.I think one of the most pernicious influences of the green movement has been the demonisation of a whole raft of things – fear-mongering on a grand scale – but particularly nuclear radiation. As a result we’re still at the stage where we see nuclear power like the early motor vehicles – we’re still terrified of letting them go faster than 4mph and insist they are preceded by a pedestrian waving a red flag. I feel its time to move on and I agree with professor Wade Allison’s suggestion that we raise the ‘safe’ threshold of radiation by a factor of about a thousand and therefore gain a better sense of proportion. 

  • Anteros

    Input your comments here…Aah. So the paragraph breaks aren’t as easy as they used to be. I’ll work it out eventually..

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    The correct way to address issues brought up in the latter part of this thread is with education. Sadly, what is being touted as education about the environment is sometimes little more than propaganda. I would like to see everyone worried about nuclear radiation in Japan demonstrate they know what a sievert is, and everyone talking about GMOs to show they have a basic understanding of what an allele is. // This is obviously true on both sides of the issue, environmentally speaking. However, when discussing nuclear power and genetically modified organisms the ignorance is displayed by many on my side of the political spectrum. On many resource issues the same level of ignorance is on the other side. So, as with climate change, the issue is once again which experts the public is willing to trust. Do you trust Amory Lovins about nuclear power? Do you trust Prince Charles about GMOs? Do you trust Paul Ehrlich about the carrying capacity of the planet? Do you trust Peter Gleick about water issues?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #23,

    Type your comment.

    Switch to html view – the blue < > button.

    After every end paragraph tag </p>, press Enter twice to leave a blank line.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Testing line breaks here.

    Testing line breaks here.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Thanks NiV.

  • BBD

    Tom

    So, as with climate change, the issue is once again which experts the public is willing to trust.

    Surely this is false equivalence? Lovins isn’t a nuclear engineer, Chuckles isn’t a plant scientist and whether Ehrlich or Gleick are right or wrong isn’t relevant to the robustness of the standard position within atmospheric physics.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    BBD, I see precious little disagreement about the physics. (I do, however, see many people who think that discussion about sensitivity is on the same plane as the physics of the greenhouse effect, which it clearly is not.)The fact that the range given by the IPCC for plausible sensitivities ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 C should be evidence enough that it is not determined by physics. Neither does it seem at this point to be confirmed by observation.

    All of the debate is about the non-physics stuff, except for iron sun-heads and sky dragonauts.

  • BBD

    Tom, look at paleoclimate. Milankovitch is a weak forcing. Yet we get deglaciation. How does this fit with a low climate sensitivity?

  • BBD

    We also have to account for the MWP and LIA. Impossible with low climate sensitivity.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @19dunno. ag policy is not my strong suit, but when i see articles like this,  and reflect on the fact that gmo seeds are deliberately sterile (helps to ensure repeat customers), i’m inclined to think that SE has a point. 

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @BBD

    you’ll notice that Fuller is trying to hoodwink us by suggesting that all of the values in the 1.5 to 4.5 range are equally likely. now tom being such an honest fellow surely knows something that you and i do not. like you, i eagerly await enlightenment.

  • BBD

    Marlowe, see # 7.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    #33, seems like just yesterday you were saying how nice it was to have a real conversation. Oh–it was just yesterday.

    Reflect on why they are so rare when you are involved.

  • BBD

    Marlowe @ 33 – yes, the concept of a *most likely* value seems to escape wide boundary fans.

  • BBD

    Tom, # 30 and # 31?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    BBD, I, along with everyone else who has delved into this issue, have looked at Milankovitch. I have looked at the MWP. I have looked at the LIA. None of them bear directly on the resolution of an accurate figure for sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of concentrations of CO2. You are free to speculate, as have we all. But the fact is that after four IPCC reviews the range of sensitivity offered for our consideration is the same–1.5C to 4.5C. That is a non-scientific range given GAT of 15C–it’s equivalent to saying it is bigger than a breadbox and smaller than Yugoslavia. Well, the former Yugoslavia.

    About a year ago over at Bart’s, someone (Pat Cassen, I think) made a brilliant summary of what we know about the greenhouse effect in about 8 concise bullet points. And everybody agreed to them. When I proposed that someone do the same regarding sensitivity, the quality of the discussion declined precipitously.

    Because we don’t know, BBD. You don’t know. James Hansen doesn’t know. Marc Morano doesn’t know. I don’t know.

  • BBD

    Tom, how do we explain deglaciations and climate variability such as the MWP and LIA with a *low* climate sensitivity?  

    The current best estimate of ~3C fits paleoclimate behaviour. Lower estimates don’t. I’m the messenger. Shooting won’t change the message.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    But you send mixed messages, BBD. Temperatures are rising at less than 2 degrees per century. Models run hotter than observed temperatures. Your best estimate of 3C just isn’t very good.

  • steven mosher

    “We also have to account for the MWP and LIA. Impossible with low climate sensitivity.”

    Neither the MWP nor the LIA constrain the sensitivity estimate. That is why gavin says the MWP is uninteresting. The LIA, on some interpretations, was caused by successive volcanism.

    Put another way. MWP ( what little we know about it ) and LIA ( as we learn more) are conistent with the accepted range of 1.5-4.5.

    And as you all know the lukewarmer position ( sensitivity more more likely to be less than 3C than greater than 3C) is already the IPCC position and this past year several new studies support figures of less than 3 for the mean.

  • Dave H

    @Steven Mosher

    Firstly, I don’t think you could get a consensus from all those claiming to be “lukewarmer” that that is an acceptable definition, which makes one doubt the usefulness of the label.

    Secondly, if you accept 2.7C as a most likely sensitivity, what exactly distinguishes this position from the mainstream?

    Thirdly, given the much greater uncertainty on the upper bound, isn’t this position downplaying uncertainty?

  • BBD

    steve mosher

    Put another way. MWP ( what little we know about it ) and LIA ( as we learn more) are conistent with the accepted range of 1.5-4.5.

    They are most consistent with the *most likely* value of ~3C (AR4 WG1). Is there anything uncontroversial in the literature that supports the assertion that the MWP, LIA and indeed deglaciations are consistent with a low CS – eg 1.5C? 

    I’ve said to you before that I have no problem with best estimates of 2.7C or 2.8C. I’ve also pointed out that you are on a hiding to nothing trying to pretend that 2.7C is ‘lukewarm’. It’s mainstream. Consensus. ‘Lukewarm’ is not consensus in the normal usage of the term. Some might think you are trying – rather clumsily and artlessly – to reposition yourself.

  • BBD

    Tom

    Your best estimate of 3C just isn’t very good.

    It’s not ‘my’ best estimate. It is *the* best estimate. And nothing has emerged that challenges it. Your opinion is weightless.

  • harrywr2

    #18the tension between local vs. global risk of nuclear to be spot onReally? I live equidistant from a coal fired plant and a nuclear powered plant. About every two years I spend two days pressure washing my house in an effort to ‘decontaminate’ it from the soot.The coal plant is the largest emitter of NOx and is responsible for restricting my view of Mt Rainier quite frequently as well.Anti-nuclear sentiment is the same as anti-vax sentiment.  I.E. In order to insure no one is harmed from vaccines we should all expose ourselves to a harmful disease.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Hi BBD, yes, my opinion is weightless. However the temperature record is not. I asked Zeke Hausfather once to run temps in 30-year batches since 1945, when our emissions took off so gloriously. He came back with 30-year periods ending in each decade after 1975. The 30-year period ending in 2003 had the highest rise in temps, at 1.9C per century.The others were down around 1.7C or so.

    Those who have been focusing attention on temperature records from the warmist point of view have been extremely limited in what you want to consider. You do not seem to ever want to consider temperatures before 1,000 years ago. And you really don’t seem to be interested in periods other than 1975-1998.

    It kinda looks a little silly.

  • BBD

    Tom

    And you really don’t seem to be interested in periods other than 1975-1998.

    Which is exactly when the effect of increased CO2 forcing was expected to become distinct from natural variation.

    And we are early on in the game. 1.7C – 1.9C decadal average increase in GAT is in good agreement with an estimated *transient* climate sensitivity of ~2C (per AR4).

    You do not seem to ever want to consider temperatures before 1,000 years ago.

    Oh come on Tom. I’ve *just been asking you* to consider that deglaciations under orbital forcing and the MWP/LIA are incompatible with an insensitive climate system. They are *compelling* empirical evidence for a moderately high sensitivity (eg ~3C ECS for 2xCO2 or equivalent forcing). Paleoclimate behaviour is *compelling* evidence for this in general (Hansen & Sato 2012).

    It kinda looks a little silly.

    No, Tom. Arguing for an ECS much below ~3C looks a bit silly.

  • Steve Fitzpatrick

    #47,”No, Tom. Arguing for an ECS much below ~3C looks a bit silly.”I rather suspect authors who have said much the same don’t think of themselves as silly. http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2012/03/bayesian-estimation-of-climate.html

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @45You’re right. NIMBYism is not restricted to nuclear.  About half of the pollution I breathe on a daily basis comes from south of the border.  when a gas plant went up across from my tennis club upwind from my house i couldn’t understand the local opposition as that very plant was ostensibly put in place to replace a much older, and dirtier coal-fired plant not too far away. It’s also hard to get worked up about pollution your neighbors are sending your way if you’re not prepared to clean up your own backyard.  i suspect that electricity policy is pretty contentious no matter where you live, but I think we’d all agree that adult discussions in the public realm are few and far between.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    So here we are again. You say your evidence is compelling. I and many others do not feel compelled. You may say we are denying science. We respond saying we are merely rejecting conjecture. You call models compelling. You say temperature records will catch up due to lags in heat and CO2 sinks. We say those sinks have lag times measured in centuries and what we’re seeing now is at least in part the response of the deep ocean to what happened around the time of Charlemagne. 

    The science is still being done. From Argos to ERBE, from radiosondes to thermocoupled sensors in white-painted boxes, measurement techniques are being evaluated, improved and re-evaluated. Judith Curry thinks we’ll be lucky to know sensitivity in 30 years or longer. Stephen Hawkings is worried about climate change. Freeman Dyson is not. James Hansen is worried about climate change. Richard Lindzen is not. I’m not really sure the world is waiting to see a resolution of the climate dispute between BBD and Tom Fuller.

    Over a year ago I suggested that we assume a temperature rise in this century of 2.5C just for planning purposes, so city developers and regional planning committees could look at where sea walls should be cited, roads relocated and other infrastructure rerouted. I think temperature rise this century will be about 1.9C, but I favor a margin of error in engineering. I think sea level rise will be about the same as the length of an average erect penis (which sounds more impressive if you go metric…), but I think we should plan for more. Sea level rise, that is…

    What should our conversation be about, BBD? You have made your arguments repeatedly about why we should believe what Hansen says about atmospheric sensitivity. I don’t think there are new converts available here. Should we both go back to the Sunday papers?

  • Steve Fitzpatrick

    #47, you can also get a reasonable ECS estimate by taking current GHG forcing (~3.05 watt/M^2), subtracting the current measured radiative imbalance (~0.4 watt/M^2), subtracting the AR4 best estimate for aerosol effects (direct and indirect ~1.2  watt/M^2), and comparing that to the current average surface temperature rise over the pre-industrial period (~0.8C)… it works out to about 2C per doubling. 

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @47

    the thing that has always puzzled me about the ‘lukewarmer’ position is the implicit assumption that we should base policy on the possibility of a low to medium value (take it slow). As every planner will tell you, effective risk management requires you to plan assuming the worst case scenario, not the most likely scenario. I suspect that Fuller and Mosher would have you believe that there is no fat tail on the right hand of side of the distribution or if there is, that it’s not relevant for policy purposes.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    (Experimental re-post to see if specific language I removed caused this to go into moderation. Apologies if Keith posts up the previous version.)So here we are again. You say your evidence is compelling. I and many others do not feel compelled. You may say we are denying science. We respond saying we are merely rejecting conjecture. You call models compelling. You say temperature records will catch up due to lags in heat and CO2 sinks. We say those sinks have lag times measured in centuries and what we’re seeing now is at least in part the response of the deep ocean to what happened around the time of Charlemagne. The science is still being done. From Argos to ERBE, from radiosondes to thermocoupled sensors in white-painted boxes, measurement techniques are being evaluated, improved and re-evaluated. Judith Curry thinks we’ll be lucky to know sensitivity in 30 years or longer. Stephen Hawkings is worried about climate change. Freeman Dyson is not. James Hansen is worried about climate change. Richard Lindzen is not. I’m not really sure the world is waiting to see a resolution of the climate dispute between BBD and Tom Fuller.Over a year ago I suggested that we assume a temperature rise in this century of 2.5C just for planning purposes, so city developers and regional planning committees could look at where sea walls should be cited, roads relocated and other infrastructure rerouted. I think temperature rise this century will be about 1.9C, but I favor a margin of error in engineering. I think sea level rise will be about six inches, but I think we should plan for more. Sea level rise, that is”¦What should our conversation be about, BBD? You have made your arguments repeatedly about why we should believe what Hansen says about atmospheric sensitivity. I don’t think there are new converts available here. Should we both go back to the Sunday papers?

  • BBD

    Tom

    You call models compelling. No, I called *paleoclimate behaviour* compelling evidence against low climate sensitivity. This could be construed as misrepresentation, but it’s Sunday so I’ll let it pass :-)

    Models are part of the wider picture (Knutti & Hegerl; 2008). This picture strongly suggests that ECS is about 3C. Perhaps slightly less, but not enough to make any practical difference.

    What should our conversation be about, BBD?

    This conversation started because you made two contentious comments about climate science (# 24; #29). If you do in fact accept the AR4 best estimates for TCS and ECS as you appear to suggest at # 52, then yes, let’s go back to the papers. 

  • BBD

    Marlowe @ 52

    Yes indeed. But 3C is bad enough for me. 2C this century is bad enough for me. I marvel constantly at the complacency with which these numbers (for *average* global temperature) are bandied around. Yup, we’ll just crank GAT up a couple of degrees more or less instantaneously and it’ll be fine and dandy. Nothing to worry about. Back in your box, BBD ;-)

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Umm, BBD, what was the contentious statement in #24?As for accepting AR4, I don’t think anyone has the faintest idea about long term sensitivity. As for what people call transient climate sensitivity, I don’t recall them saying it was 1.9C, but it’s 3,000 pages and I read it hurriedly. 

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    BBD, if you actually think we know enough about paleoclimate to say meaningful things about atmospheric sensitivity to CO2, then either you’re deluded or are waiting for Stockholm to call. This is a recurring theme with people like you. You say in one sentence that Knutti and Hegerl have results that strongly suggest equilibrium climate sensitivity is about 3C. Strongly suggest? About? And then you think you have enough information to speak with authority. I do not believe that you know how much you do not know.

  • BBD

    Tom

    Umm, BBD, what was the contentious statement in #24?

    Your use of false equivalence. See # 28.

    AR4 best estimate is ~2C for TCS.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Example please?

  • BBD

    Tom @ 57

    BBD, if you actually think we know enough about paleoclimate [...] This is a recurring theme with people like you.

    Please take a look at Hansen & Sato (2012). The link is at # 47.

    You say in one sentence that Knutti and Hegerl have results that strongly suggest equilibrium climate sensitivity is about 3C. 

    From K&H abstract:

    Various observations favour a climate sensitivity value of about 3 °C

    If you wish to dispute this, please take it up with the authors and let me know how you get on.

    I do not believe that you know how much you do not know.

    That goes for all of us Tom. It’s an empty statement. And you are not backing up your many opinions in this exchange. You are simply making a sequence of unsupported assertions. What might others make of that, in the light of the sentence above?

  • BBD

    Examples of what, Tom?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Others might make of it that this conversation reached its logical conclusion several posts above #60.

  • Dave H

    @Tom Fuller
    If climate sensitivity is close to 3C, we cannot burn the known reserves of conventional fossil fuel and remain under a 2C rise this century.

    If climate sensitivity is close to 1.5C, we cannot burn the known reserves of conventional fossil fuel and remain under a 2C rise this century.

    Your 1.9C guess is only “ilkely” in the event of a highly unlikely low sensitivity combined with large-scale efforts to curb emissions in the next 30 years.

    I find it bizarre to use the uncertainty at the high end of sensitivity to fashion a comforting best-case story and call it “likely”.

    TBH, I would say this conversation reached its logical conclusion about #29, when it meandered away from GMOs onto sensitivity.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Actually, what you call a ‘guess’ about temperature rise this century (I didn’t say sensitivity–BBD put those words in my mouth and I should have called him/her on it before) is actually taken from an interview I did with Stephen Schneider and another one with a skeptical climate scientist. Schneider said 2C was the ‘best’ result that was possible for this century and the scientist on the other side of the fence from him said it was the worst. Given that 1.9C is what we’re doing recently in terms of temperature rise, and how it fits with other measurements, that’s what I’m using. In all fairness, I should add that Schneider said we’d have to be really lucky to get away with that small a temperature rise.

  • BBD

    Dave H

    Agreed, and guilty as charged. It would be nice to have a side-thread where OT discussion can go once it starts up.

  • BBD

    Tom: I’m a bloke. Can’t you tell ;-)

  • laursaurus

    Here’s my 2 cents on GMO’s:I personally love what science has done for the tomato. I grew up in the dismal days when the only palatable tomatoes were sun-ripened in your own (or neighbor’s)back yard. Anything from the grocery store or served in a restaurant, tasted like mushy cardboard. Although the home-grown tomato still reigns supreme, you can easily buy something pretty tasty to put in your salad all year around thanks to these brave souls.Thank you, GMO scientists!Broccoli and corn taste better than ever, too! 

  • NewYorkJ

    DaveH is essentially right in #63, but it’s worth addressing #48.SF (#48),The study’s conclusion:The resulting estimate of the climate sensitivity is slightly smaller than the best estimate given in IPCC (2007) and could be compared with other estimates as well. However, we underscore that our results are sensitive to the indirect aerosol effects, which have a large uncertainty.In this study, the cloud-albedo effect is treated as a radiative forcing mechanism in the main part of the study, whereas other indirect aerosol effects will be parts of the climate feedbacks. Therefore, the estimate of S presented here is likely to be underestimated because the net forcing of the other indirect effects are likely to be negative (Forster et al., 2007). In one of the sensitivity cases, this assumption is further investigatedIn other words, it’s closer to the best estimate (as indicated in the variety of studies summarized in AR4 and Knutti & Hegerl).  Annan also updated the post. Not much changes around here.  An unrelated post morphs into off-topic discussions, with TF essentially saying ”climate sensitivity is much lower because I think so” and BBD citing academic references.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    As usual, NewYorkJ shows up late and we’re still waiting for his brain to engage. In particular, he seems not to have read where I wrote that I do not know what climate sensitivity is. Perhaps his lips are still moving and we should give him time.

  • steven mosher

    Marlowe Johnson Says:
    April 15th, 2012 at 1:15 pm
    @47

    the thing that has always puzzled me about the “˜lukewarmer’ position is the implicit assumption that we should base policy on the possibility of a low to medium value (take it slow). ”

    Huh? I’ve never believed that. For planning purposes I’m more than happy to say “use 3c” and
    Tom suggested using 2.5C.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Doesn’t matter what you believe, Mosh. Doesn’t matter what you write. Doesn’t matter how many times you write it. MarTroll will trash you. You don’t belieeeeeeve.

  • kdk33

    Marlowe is trotting out a favorite warmists strawman.  There are two technical and one philosophical errors.

    1.  With what certainty is CS known. 

    2.  Even if we know CS, what does that tell us about climate imacts on humanity

    3.  When has humanity planned its technology trajectory centuries in advance.

    If we take aggressive action now, we will destroy the wealth needed to address the unforseen and far more urgent but unpredicted crises of the future.

    One thing that has always puzzled me about warmists is this notion that we’re suddenly able to predict the future and schedule technological advances and bring about world harmony so that we all cooperate and that the rich will give to the poor until we are all equal (climate justice and all).

    Very strange notions

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @70

    “ For planning purposes I’m more than happy to say “use 3c” andTom suggested using 2.5C.”

    you’re proving my point. rational risk  management would suggest that you plan for the worst case scenario, not the median, or most likely scenario. IOW, your decision making framework (e.g. cost benefit analysis) should operate under the assumption of much higher sensitivity values since they can’t (as of yet) be ruled out. 

  • NewYorkJ

    When I plan for retirement, I don’t plan based on median expectations for ROI (which varies greatly), or the most rosy scenario for that matter.Plan for at least 4 C climate sensitivity.  Lower values tend to be better constrained than higher ones.  http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2010JCLI3403.1 The notion that uncertainty on the high end is a greater call for inaction is irrational, as is the notion that we should plan for the most optimistic scenario, as is the notion that climate sensitivity on the low end is nothing to worry about.  Then again, those making these arguments tend to be those who don’t want to believe there’s a problem.

  • Matt B

    I thought this thread started with the harrassment of GMO researchers….and the previous thread regarding tribalism in climate discussions………does every thread need to degenerate into a climate sensitivity squabble?

  • steven mosher

    Marlowe Im more than happy to use any number you want. One thing you should be aware of. There is study of the optimization of policy decision under uncertainty that suggests you are wrong to use the worst case scenario. Its pretty simple. In the case where a worst case scenario drives you to make a decision where you expend resources Now ( sunk cost) on solutions that dont work (wind and solar) you cripple your ability to employ solutions down the road when they are needed and could be effective. That said, if you want to use worst case for planning I’m find with that as well, 2x worst case. no problem. Luker warmer is about the sensitivity number. Its more likely to be less than 3C than it is to be reater than 3c

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    MattB, at most climate venues, after about 40 comments things revert to continuation of past battles.

    Steve, I think the key is in mobilizing resources to address effects of climate change–or prevent or minimize them before they occur–that looking at staged deployment of resources means that whatever we do will look the same at the beginning no matter what ultimate resolution of sensitivity is. The problem is that there is a subset of clowns that impedes agreement on any roadmap, demanding subservience to an agenda based on 10C absurdist fantasies.

    We see it here all the time. If you agree with one of these… people… about 3C, someone else will (already has) jumped in demanding that you factor in a remote possibility that it will be much, much higher. So no roads get changed. No seawalls get built. No regulations on flood plains are revised. No insurance rules are changed to discourage shoreline development.But of course that’s our fault, as delayers allied with deniers.

  • steven mosher

    Tom Martroll is an idiot. But I do like to get on the record that I’m more than happy to use any number his chicken little heart desires. Worst case, is actually greater than 10C. Worst case there are things we dont know and cant estimate and the worst case for sensitivity is one of those. In other words, the really worst case is that our worst case is not really the worst case. unknown unknowns. In any case, I’m more than happey to use the worst case or any case case marTurd suggests.

  • Steve Mennie

    @78….Martroll…marTurd..? Really?  Keith, I think steven mosher needs a time out.

  • NewYorkJ

    TF: MattB, at most climate venues, after about 40 comments things revert to continuation of past battles. …I find that this is less common at climate venues not involving Tom Fuller, where both the original post and subsequent replies are perpetually morphed.  Venues not involving the dynamic duo of Fuller and Mosher have less of a chance of comments containing “troll”, “turd” and “idiot”, all in the same reply.To #75, threads also tend to go off on tangents when the topic isn’t terribly insightful.  As far as I can tell, we all agree that harassing and threatening scientists is wrong.  Next.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Steve (Mosh), you know probably better than I do that a quick sort of available resources doesn’t show a capability of responding to the unknown unknowns. In which case we just build an ark and hope to leave the mosquitoes and bedbugs behind.  

    But in more realistic terms a PDF of likely scenarios would show a cluster at between 1.8 and 2.3–in fact I’ve seen a couple that look like that. Factor in a margin and build for 2.5C or even 3C, that’s all fine. Because the things we do in the first decades to ramp up are exactly the same even if sensitivity turns out to be 4C. It just doesn’t make any difference. We’ll still have to have further improvements on CAFE standards and air traffic. We’re still going to have to put the lid on coal in the developed world and help the developing countries put scrubbers on stacks. We’re still going to have to subsidize renewable energy. 

    Steve Mennie, if Keith doesn’t clamp down on us maybe your mother will come rescue you from we heathen.

  • kdk33

    I think there should be check boxes on IRS forms:

    1) want to give to climate research chekc here and enter amount below

    2) want to subsidieze green energy, check here and enter amount below

    3) want to pay more for petrol and electricity, check here and enter amount below

    4) don’t think you paid enough this year, check here and make up the difference below.

    I think this would be an equitable way to manage things.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @74

    +1

    @76
    “In the case where a worst case scenario drives you to make a decision where you expend resources Now ( sunk cost) on solutions that don’t work (wind and solar) you cripple your ability to employ solutions down the road when they are needed and could be effective.”

    lots of interesting assumptions there Steve. Have any references to back that up?

    @81
    “But in more realistic terms a PDF of likely scenarios would show a cluster at between 1.8 and 2.3″“in fact I’ve seen a couple that look like that.”

    “Because the things we do in the first decades to ramp up are exactly the same even if sensitivity turns out to be 4C.”

    “any references for either of those assertions?

    “help the developing countries put scrubbers on stacks.”

    remind me again how that last one helps solve climate change, rather than make it worse?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Have another drink, Marlowe. 

  • BBD

    Tom, I’ve had my differences with Marlowe too, but I’d still buy him a drink. Whether he’d want to drink with me is up to him. But he doesn’t come across as sozzled, so let’s do him the credit of assuming he is sober and answer his questions.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    BBD, it’s sort of an inside joke. Marlowe previously proposed a drinking game during one of his Rabid Reaction Attacks on my existence on the planet.

  • BBD

    He doesn’t come across as rabid, either :-)

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    He is. He can put on a good front for a while, but rabid he is.

  • BBD

    ‘Rabid’ Marlowe Johnson… It has a certain ring. It might cut the ice in a well-run prison, but I suspect not in comments here. MJ will be disconsolate, I’m sure. But such is life.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    the interested reader can find the origins of the Tom Fuller drinking game here. Subsequent additions to the official scoring list can be found further down the thread. it seems appropriate at his point to add ‘rabid’ for +1 point when used in isolation and a 2x multiplier when used with other words from the list (e.g. ‘rabid climate dittohead’)

    Tom I disagree with you on many, many things, but if I had to distill it down to one thing it would be your blase, polyannish attitude towards the climate problem and a complete lack of introspection regarding your vainglorious behaviour  especially wrt to climate-gate.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Well, have another drink, then. I’d rather play the Glad Game anyhow. You need a class in reading comprehension if you think you have described my attitude towards the climate problem. But then there is none so blind as those who will not see. The Will To Ignorance is common amongst your type–maybe that explains the drinking.As for my behaviour during the Climategate episode, I’m proud of it–and have examined it a lot, as it makes me feel good. But I’d love to see you criticize what I did–I need a laugh.

  • laursaurus

    Wait!Marlowe is a dude?Somehow that makes me less annoyed with her…him. And he likes to post drunk?  LOL Any other females around C-a-S besides Lady in Red and Judy Curry? I know several other fellow female climate skeptics in RL.My 19 year old son’s generation has been so green washed in school that he told me, “Mom…I don’t care about global warming. I don’t care if it’s real. I don’t care if it’s not. I really just don’t care! We’re sick of hearing about it.That was surprising and probably the most original opinion on climate change I’ve heard in years. 

  • laursaurus

    Input your comments here…I haven’t figured out the new com box. The above was originally 3 paragraphs. trying double spacelet’s see

  • laursaurus

    Input your comments here…no???

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @94

    once you’ve typed in your comments click on the blue <> button to reveal html code. then make sure that there is a line space between the end of your paragraph </p> and the start of your next paragraph <p>

  • BobN

    Marlowe@73 – No, rational risk management does not necessarily call for planning for the worst case.  Should you have a decent idea of what the worst case is?  Yes.  Then using an estimate of the probability of the worst case and the costs of attempting to address the worst case, you can decide whether to plan for the worst case or something less.  In New YorkJ’s example of retirement planning, worst case is a total market collapse and loss of all invested funds.  However, I don’t think many people would consider taking all of their monies out of the market to avoid such a worst case scenario as rational risk management.

    Another possible way of looking at it from a risk management standpoint is something like what the environmental consulting firm I work for calls “:reasonable worst case”, i.e., a conservative approach but still something that as a 5 to 10% chance of occuring.  If you accept the 2-4.5 deg estimates for climate sensitivity, then NewYorkJ’s suggestion of planning for a sensitivity of 4C could be considered a reasonable worst case scenario.

    To me and to many others, e.g., Annan, a 10deg climate sensitivity just isn’t even plausible.  For Annan, it is from his bayesian probability analysis.  For me, it is simple because it would require a ridiculously long lag time for oceanic response and if it was 10C, we should have seen more heating by now anyway.

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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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