Tim Lambert has news that deeply troubles me: The state of Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has launched a fishing expedition investigation into climate researcher Michael Mann’s days at the University of Virginia. The request sounds quite massive, according to the Hook:
Among the documents Cuccinelli demands are any and all emailed or written correspondence between or relating to Mann and more than 40 climate scientists, documents supporting any of five applications for the $484,875 in grants, and evidence of any documents that no longer exist along with proof of why, when, and how they were destroyed or disappeared.
The request also appears to cover a six year period.
This is clearly another attempt to make fire out of the mere smoke that was ClimateGate. But remember, so far, Mann has been vindicated by his university. In this context, I don’t see how one can possibly justify putting scientists through such an extensive and burdensome inquiry. There is obviously strong potential for a chilling effect on their research.
I am sure this post will prompt a lot of comments–so, be good…..
Well, so much for getting a new piece of climate legislation introduced today. As ClimateWire reports:
The Senate climate bill sits on the brink of collapse today after the lead Republican ally threatened to abandon negotiations because of a White House push to simultaneously overhaul the nation’s immigration policies.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been under fire from conservatives for months for helping to shepherd a Democrat-led bid to tackle global warming via a “grand compromise” on energy. But on Saturday afternoon, he signaled the partnership could soon be over.
Graham promised to leave President Obama and Senate Democrats standing at the altar after they started pushing last week for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he called “nothing more than a cynical political ploy” headed into the 2010 midterm elections.
Oh boy. Need I say that this flap augurs extremely poorly for the chances of getting a bill passed any time soon? The politics of this are hard enough already, and now we’re stopping before we even got started. Quoted in the ClimateWire piece, I think Tom Friedman puts it best:
“The result is, right now … in Beijing, they are high-fiving each other,” Friedman added. “Oh yeah baby. This means the Americans are going to be paralyzed on green tech for another couple of years. China is already leading the world now in wind production, China is already leading the world in solar production. Where industry goes, where research goes.”
Yesterday came the announcement of an unprecedented collaboration to create climate change journalism. Meet The Climate Desk:
The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new public-affairs show Need To Know.
There has never been a joining of forces like this…but there is every reason to expect it will produce much valuable content. Moreover, The Climate Desk’s expressed raison d’etre makes four points that I heartily agree with:
1) Climate change is slow-moving, vast, and overwhelming for news organizations to grapple with. 2) What coverage there is tends to be fractured and compartmentalized—science, technology, politics, and business aspects are covered by different teams, or “desks” of reporters, despite the intrinsic connections. 3) Coverage is too often fixated on imperiled wildlife, political gamesmanship, or the “debate” over the existence of climate change, all at the expense of advancing the bigger story—how we’re going to address, mitigate, or adapt to it. 4) Cuts to news organizations are making matters worse.
Yes, indeed, yes. So go check out The Climate Desk, and become a follower. We need all the help we can get.
Following this discussion thread at the CFI/Point of Inquiry forums, I’ve decided to announce my show’s guest a week early from now on, and call for audience questions for him/her. I’ll take a sampling from those questions that appear on the forums, and ask them on the air.
The guest for Friday is going to be Penn State University climatologist Michael Mann, and we’ll be talking about the unprecedented wave of recent attacks on climate research–and climate scientists. So I am sure there will be many, many questions that folks will come up with. Don’t leave them in comments here–although comments are open. Leave them on this CFI forum thread if you want me to consider them. (Note that I believe you’ll be required to register over there.)
Michael E. Mann is Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, and author of the famous “hockey stick” study, as well as dozens of other peer reviewed papers. He’s also a contributor to RealClimate.org, and is the author, with Lee R. Kump, of Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming:
So any questions for Michael Mann? If so, leave them here–and they may just make their way into the interview!
Also, compose your questions sooner rather than later, as we’ll be recording fairly early on this week…..
Many people are confused about the relationship between weather and climate, and Jeff Masters did a nice job of explaining the difference today on NPR’s Morning Edition:
Meteorologist Jeff Masters, with the Web site Weather Underground, says it’s average temperatures — not snowfall — that really measure climate change.
“Because if it’s cold enough to snow, you will get snow,” Masters says. “We still have winter even if temperatures have warmed on average, oh, about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.”
Masters say that 1 degree average warming is not enough to eliminate winter. Or storms.
A storm is part of what scientists classify as weather. Weather is largely influenced by local conditions and changes week to week. It’s fickle — fraught with wild ups and downs.
Climate is the long-term trend of atmospheric conditions across large regions, even the whole planet. Changes in climate are slow and measured in decades, not weeks.
Go listen to the full clip by Christopher Joyce here.
I haven’t read all the new material yet that my good friends at DeSmogBlog are producing. But I have long been suspicious of the attacks on leading climate researchers, like the recently vindicated Michael Mann, because they are so obviously diversionary, and yet also so obviously strategic.
There is no doubt that those attacks have been mounting; I believe a new and full scale “war on science” is afoot in the climate arena, something I hope to say more about shortly.
But in the meantime, it appears that following ClimateGate and GlacierGate, we are once again getting some revelations taking on the other side. Maybe this means the pendulum will shift, and good science can move back off the ropes, where it has been for too long. We’ll see. I’ll be watching closely.
Last Friday, my friend and colleague Eli Kintisch of Science magazine had a piece in Slate about the latest in geoengineering research, a field that continues to burgeon. Now, scientists are talking about the possibility of conducting real geoengineering trials, on both the small and the medium scale–right up to the verge of climatic detectability. But as Kintisch reports, while some scientists think there could be a “safe” geoengineering trial, others argue there’s really no such thing. Perturb the planet enough that you see a climatic effect, goes the thinking, and there are going to be a cascade of other consequences.
The implication of this dispute, writes Kintisch, is disturbing:
…[the] back-and-forth over which experiments might be best and what sort of political treaties would be necessary raises a distressing possibility: It’s not just that geoengineering tests will be difficult. It’s that the problems they invite would be so diverse—and their results so inconclusive—that we’re likely to skip the testing altogether. If countries are going to hack the stratosphere, they may just do it full-bore in the face of disaster.
Or, perhaps some rogue countries will do large scale geoengineering tests and defy the rest of the world. As the Russian scientist Yuri A. Izrael has rather ominously written, “Already in the near future, the technological possibilities of a full scale use of [aerosol-based geoengineering] will be studied.”
Speaking of study, I have a recommendation. Anyone interested in the geoengineering debate ought to click over to Amazon right now and pre-order Kintisch’s forthcoming book, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope–or Worst Nightmare–for Averting Climate Catastrophe. I’ve read an early version and give my full and enthusiastic endorsement. If our society is going to properly weigh the costs and benefits of geoengineering, we need a citizenry literate in and knowledgeable about the issue, and right now, there is no better way to achieve such literacy than to dig into this text….as someone who has followed the geoengineering debate for years now, I can guarantee it.
Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle has a really important article out about how, basically, the good guys lost a major battle in the climate war over the past few months. Some combination of the weather, ClimateGate, the relative failure of Copenhagen, and now, the decreasing likelihood of the U.S. Senate passing cap and trade have shifted a mood of climate optimism–which I certainly felt about a year ago–to one of deep despair. “The climate surrounding climate change has changed, and not for the better for those seeking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” writes Berger. Sadly, I have to agree.
What went wrong? That’s a very long story, and Berger relates much of it. For my part, I am convinced the fundamental factor is that our camp egregiously misunderestimated the skeptic/denial camp and what it was capable of. Our thinking went something like this: “the science keeps getting stronger, and now we have Obama…the tide has turned.” And so we were lulled into a false sense of security. Now, there is a hell of a lot of regrouping to do, and I am not even sure where to begin. But one thing is certain: We should never again assume that science alone is going to make the political difference on this issue, no matter how strong it gets.
In the science world, if there is an overwhelming complaint about the media, it is that journalists tend to be too “balanced”–in other words, they give roughly 50-50 time to opposing viewpoints even when one side lacks credibility, as in the creationism-evolution battle.
In 2004 in Columbia Journalism Review, I did a major article critiquing this problem in science coverage–an article that I guess a lot of people read and liked, since it is still mentioned to me regularly. Recently, in fact, John Fleck emailed to ask why it wasn’t available online–and I decided to do something about that.
So here it is, “Blinded by Science,” a kind of classic critique of “phony balance” in science coverage:
BLINDED BY SCIENCE: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality
Columbia Journalism Review, Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 43, Issue 4
On May 22, 2003, the Los Angeles Times printed a front-page story by Scott Gold, its respected Houston bureau chief, about the passage of a law in Texas requiring abortion doctors to warn women that the procedure might cause breast cancer. Virtually no mainstream scientist believes that the so-called ABC link actually exists — only anti-abortion activists do. Accordingly, Gold’s article noted right off the bat that the American Cancer Society discounts the “alleged link” and that anti-abortionists have pushed for “so-called counseling” laws only after failing in their attempts to have abortion banned. Gold also reported that the National Cancer Institute had convened “more than a hundred of the world’s experts” to assess the ABC theory, which they rejected. In comparison to these scientists, Gold noted, the author of the Texas counseling bill — who called the ABC issue “still disputed” — had “a professional background in property management.”
Gold’s piece was hard-hitting but accurate. The scientific consensus is quite firm that abortion does not cause breast cancer. If reporters want to take science and its conclusions seriously, their reporting should reflect this reality — no matter what antiabortionists say.
But what happened next illustrates one reason journalists have such a hard time calling it like they see it on science issues. Read More
I’ve been meaning to blog this radio segment, on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning program, in which renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss and myself discuss the scientific year in review–with particular emphasis on the changing of the guard in the Obama administration, the climate conundrum, and even the battle over science and religion (where I differ with Krauss maybe 5 %). You can listen here: