NM governor appoints another denier

Two years ago Governor Martinez appointed Harrison Schmitt, a self-described “denier” of human-caused global warming, to head the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.  Despite the candidate’s truly heroic history as an Apollo astronaut and his past service as a US Senator, his appointment was doomed.   After his views on climate science were revealed, and his association with an anti-science pressure group called the Heartland Institute became known, he withdrew.

Unfortunately, the governor has done it again.  This time, the candidate is comparatively low-profile, young, and inexperienced.  An engineer who served one term as a tea-party-backed New Mexico State Representative before being defeated by a Democrat in November’s election, Conrad James is the governor’s choice for the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

There are likely to be many objections from the UNM community.  One look at the candidate’s campaign page should raise some red flags about how he might govern. He has a bulleted list of three items under “values”:

    • Pro-life: I believe in the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. Children are a gift and should be afforded more protection in the womb.
    • Pro-second amendment: I support the right of individual citizens to bear arms to protect themselves and their families.
    • Pro-traditional marriage: I support the definition of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.

UNM students, faculty, and staff might want to ask some hard questions.  Will he try to limit access to women’s health services and insurance coverage?  Will he want to allow students to keep firearms in their dorms, or tote them into classrooms?  Will he oppose efforts to provide benefits to LGBT employees who are in spouse-like relationships?

I’ve never spoken to him about any of these issues, but I did have an opportunity to converse with him on Facebook about global warming.  He responded to my open invitation, posted as a “status update” to any doubters of global warming to meet with me.  “Let’s have lunch,” I offered.  “Let’s talk about the science.”

Conrad responded, calling himself a “card-carrying alarmism skeptic.”  He told me that he believes that “we are being sold a bill of goods by advocates as opposed to being given objective science.”  Among other things, he said, “I am massively doubtful of the alarmist predictions of warmer temperatures.”

I tried to explain that the predictions are based on the laws of physics and the radiative properties of greenhouse gas pollution.

Conrad’s response: “Yeah I understand the laws of physics – but how exactly do those predictions work? An equation with variables, nonparametric, etc.?”

I was a little taken aback.  It’s unusual for someone with technical training to have such a strong opinion about a subject without having done any research or reading whatsoever.  How can someone who is “massively doubtful” about scientific predictions have no clue about their basis?

Trying to be helpful, I offered to send references to the prediction papers, suggesting he read them and publish his rebuttal in a scientific journal.

Conrad’s response: “No thanks- climate science isn’t my field so I won’t be publishing anything, but I can always tell when someone is blowing scientific smoke.”

I suggested he take classes in physical climatology and learn the basis for the published predictions and the governing equations.  I offered to put him in touch with a UNM climate scientist.

Conrad’s response: “I understand the temperature records, proxy data, CO2 forcing and the experimental side of climate science, but the modeling is the part I have always not had a firm grasp on.”

Responding to his request for more detail on the predictions, I sent him several historical papers:  Arrhenius (1896) (pdf), Broecker (1975) (pdf) and the Charney Report (1979) (pdf).  He never accepted the lunch invitation that started the conversation, and I never heard back from him. This was over a year ago.

There are scores of researchers at UNM who are engaged in various aspects of climate science.  As perhaps the only technically-trained member of the board, the other regents would likely defer to Conrad James on issues related to science.  Do we really want that position to be held by someone who is willing to dismiss an entire field of study at UNM, without having done any research whatsoever, with no clue about how predictions are made, and with no “firm grasp” on the basics?

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My letter to PBS

Today’s NewsHour story on climate change was a low point for PBS. I would expect Fox News to give equal time to pseudoscientists like Anthony Watts, but this should have been beneath the journalistic integrity of PBS. Did it not occur to the reporter to look into Mr. Watts’ educational background and professional qualifications before giving his opinion equal weight? An AMS seal is a broadcasting credential, and does not suggest any background or training in science. To suggest that Watt’s opinion on climate is valid is like suggesting that a dog catcher is qualified to dispute the professional opinion of 97% of veterinarians. His website specializes in smearing honest scientists and manufacturing doubt. His claims have been debunked over and over (by actual scientists who are held to a standard of professional peer review).

Finally, I would suggest that you not accept the framing language of deniers. We scientists are not “believers.” That’s a pejorative term designed to suggest a religious adherence. We are persuaded by facts, evidence, and the incontrovertible laws of physics. Likewise, deniers are not “skeptics.” They believe in “natural cycles” that are not explainable by physics. They believe that urban heat islands can affect the temperature of the planet, despite the fact that cities make up less than 1% of the area of the Earth’s surface, and despite the fact that the places that are warming the fastest (the Arctic and Siberia) lack cities. Deniers are not the skeptics. We are. People who reject pseudoscience are properly called “skeptics.” People who reject facts and evidence are called “believers.” It is dishonest and Orwellian to reverse the meanings of these words.

Mark Boslough, Ph.D.
Fellow, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

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UFO over the Tetons

It was one of those picture-perfect late summer afternoons in the Rockies. Forty years ago, on August 10, 1972, I was a teenager on my last real family vacation before starting my senior year in high school. We were camping in Grand Teton National Park. The sun was high and a dark blue sky was blotchy with white clouds. My sister and I had been swimming in a surprisingly warm Jackson Lake, getting sunburned, and lazing around our family’s campsite. After lunch we all decided to pile in the car and drive through the pines to the Indian Arts Museum at Colter Bay.

When we arrived, we noticed that something out of the ordinary was going on. Groups of people on the lake shore were engaged in animated conversation, looking at the sky, and gesticulating. There was some kind of electricity in the air, and their excitement was contagious. I asked a man what was going on, and became the first of perhaps hundreds of people to listen to the story of what he had just seen.

A UFO, he said, had just streaked across the sky from south to north. I remember his words and the exhilaration in his voice as he described it. It was a ball of flame, almost too bright to look at. Maybe as big as the moon, shedding sparks. It left a trail. And it was moving so fast. Others chimed in with their own descriptions. No way was an airplane, they said. It was a UFO. People lingered, wanting to talk about it. I felt left out, because I had been in the car, and I missed it. My whole family had missed it.


When I was a kid, I loved to read about UFOs, and always wanted to see one. I read popular accounts and watched TV shows about them. Once I found a book at our local library, called “UFO’s–Identified.” The author was Phillip Klass, a skeptic who investigated UFO reports and explained them in terms of natural or man-made causes. Klass’s book changed how I thought about unusual phenomena. It is much more fun and challenging and honest to try to explain such things with science and the laws of physics. To attribute them to some mysterious or supernatural “unknown” is intellectually lazy. It is a shrug at the glory of nature. Paranormal explanations are an uninteresting copout. Klass put me on the path to science and skepticism.

That afternoon at the Tetons I remembered one of his case studies, in which he had meticulously plotted out sight lines and calculated the timeline of one famous historical UFO observation. He showed that it was almost certainly a meteor that had been seen by others, but that the angle of the observation (from directly downrange) made it appear to hang in the sky and move in an unnatural way. I wondered if somebody couldn’t do something like that for this Teton event, and figure out what it actually was.

It turns out, that somebody did. The object was seen by hundreds of people across several states and Canada. Its path could be worked out, demonstrating that it was a large meteor on a grazing trajectory. It also became the very first meteor fireball ever recorded by an infrared sensor on a U.S. Department of Defense satellite. It entered the atmosphere over Utah and descended to about 53 kilometers above Montana before its momentum carried it back up to its escape over Alberta. It was probably about 3 meters in diameter when it entered, but much of it was melted and vaporized.

Because of this careful science, we now know that somewhere out in space there is a tiny asteroid with a thin glassy crust it got from the minute it spent rocketing through Earth’s atmosphere as the “Great Daylight Fireball of 1972.” Such is the glory of nature.


Originally published in the Huffington Post.


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The right to radiate

One of the barriers to finding solutions to global warming is the insistence of political conservatives and libertarians that their right to burn as much fossil fuel as they want cannot be regulated. Since nobody “owns” the atmosphere, we have always treated it as an open sewer for our tailpipe and smokestack emissions. The sky seems infinite. Carbon dioxide is odorless and colorless. Who is it hurting, and what can they do about it? Would conservatives and libertarians have a different opinion if they understood physics and realized that their property rights were being taken without due process or just compensation?

There is a strong conservative/liberal split in acceptance of the reality of human-caused global warming among the general population with limited levels of scientific literacy. But within the serious scientific community this political divide doesn’t exist. There is overwhelming agreement among scientists of all ideological stripes that most, if not all, of the rapid heating is attributable to greenhouse gas pollution. Indeed, as many as 98% of the scientists who publish the most climate research have come to the same conclusion: the Earth is getting hotter and humans are the primary cause.

Members of my own scientific discipline — physics — are in strong agreement. The observational and theoretical groundwork for global warming predictions came from 19th-century giants in our field. According to our leading professional organization, the American Physical Society, “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.”

The most vocal denial of global warming physics comes from political pressure groups such as the Heartland Institute, which describes itself as a libertarian organization that promotes “free-market solutions.” Their list of “global warming experts” includes a handful of physicists who don’t like the APS “incontrovertible” statement, but tend to publish their objections in newspapers, not scientific journals.

Physics Today, our most widely circulated journal, recently published an article on the fundamental physical principles that cause global warming. The author, Prof. Raymond Pierrehumbert, describes how particles of radiant heat energy, called infrared photons, are blocked by carbon dioxide molecules and prevented from escaping to space. They heat up the air instead, and the warmer air sends some of the heat right back to the surface.

Our atmosphere has a natural cooling capacity that keeps our planet temperate and habitable. We are gumming it up with our pollution. It’s as if we had an expensive car, and we were dumping wastewater into the radiator, and then ignoring the warning light that was telling us our engine is overheating.

Ironically, the legal theories of libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, a co-founder of the Cato Institute and coiner of its name, may hold the key. Rothbard was a proponent of the homestead principle, by which unowned resources — like prairie wilderness, mineral riches, and the cooling capacity of the air above our heads — can be privatized. If you use it for a prescribed period of time, you own it.

Rothbard argues, for example, that if a noisy airport is built far from any residential area, it “homesteads” the right to radiate loud sound waves across the surrounding vacant land. If a developer builds housing and the new residents complain about the noise, their right to “quiet enjoyment of the houses” is trumped by the airport’s right to radiate noise.

According to Rothbard:

The airport, through homesteading, has earned an easement right to creating X decibels of noise. This homesteaded easement is an example of the ancient legal concept of “prescription,” in which a certain activity earns a prescriptive property right to the person engaging in the action.

Generalizing the concept, Rothbard continues:

If A uses a certain amount of a resource, how much of that resource is to accrue to his ownership? Our answer is that he owns the technological unit of the resource. The size of that unit depends on the type of good or resource in question, and must be determined by judges, juries, or arbitrators who are expert in the particular resource or industry in question.

Presumably, physicists would be the experts called upon to help judges and juries determine rights to resources associated with the ability of the atmosphere to moderate our temperature.

Rothbard provides the legal basis for citizen lawsuits against carbon polluters. One of the physical consequences of being alive and being warm is that we emit heat in the form of infrared photons. As a physicist would say, we radiate. Our houses radiate, our pets radiate, our houses, farms, and trees radiate. That’s what helps us and our stuff stay cool. Collectively, that what keeps our planet from overheating. But we don’t have to consider anything collective or planetary. We each have the individual right to radiate, and if you block my photon with one of your carbon dioxide molecules, you owe me just compensation.

About twelve years ago I decided I didn’t want four-wheelers driving across my Colorado property on an old mining road. I put some giant boulders in their way. One of their allies filed a lawsuit against me, claiming that the drivers had a prescriptive easement because they had been using the road for more than 20 years (the required period in Colorado). They were invoking the homestead principle, and were outraged in their belief that I was stealing something they owned. They knew they hadn’t bought the road, but they had been using it. However, they couldn’t provide evidence of 20 years of use, so my right to block their jeeps with my rocks was upheld in court.

The right to radiate by all citizens has a much easier burden of proof. Our prescriptive easements consist of the gaps in the infrared absorption spectrum of the sky that are now being filled up by pollution. We’ve all been using them for our entire lives. And we can prove it in court if we can convince a judge that we’ve always had warm bodies, and get a physicist to be an expert witness. All we need are some real libertarians to work up some righteous indignation and file a lawsuit.


Originally published in the Huffington Post.


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That refreshing cold front

This afternoon, a friend sent me a link to a column by Susan Stamper Brown, who writes for something called “GOPUSA”.  I have no idea if this is an official publication of the Republican Party.  Its tag line is “Bringing the Conservative Message to America.”

Here’s how today’s column started:

“Baby, it’s hot outside. If it wasn’t for the refreshing cold front pushing through parts of the U.S. right now, one might be tempted to think there is something to all that global warming nonsense that conveniently breaks out every time it is warm enough for a climate change alarmist to break out in a sweat.”

She proceeded to explain her theory that climate change is caused by seasons (I’m not joking).

But her comment about the “refreshing cold front” made me curious.  We haven’t experienced this in my part of the country, unless by “refreshing” she means “less than 100 degrees”.  So I looked up the current weather forecast for tomorrow, to see what parts of the U.S. the “refreshing cold front” was pushing through.

Here’s a map I downloaded for tomorrow’s forecast:

Susan Stamper Brown’s refreshing cold front

All the forecast maps look pretty much the same, but this one happened to be easy to copy so it’s the one I’m using.

Now I imagine a columnist who spends her time sitting in an air-conditioned office doesn’t break much of a sweat when she writes.  But most Americans actually go outside and can feel the temperature for themselves.

Scientists say it’s hot.  Meteorologists say it’s hot.  Weather maps say it’s hot.  Thermometers say it’s hot.  It feels hot.  But Susan Stamper Brown tells us it’s “refreshing.”

Who do you believe?  Susan Stamper Brown or your lying nerve endings and sweat glands?  And what, exactly, is “conservative” about making stuff up?

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Americans make America great

Last year, I became aware of a conservative political organization called “Energy Makes America Great,” which advocates continued dependence on fossil fuels. According to founder Marita Noon, it is an advocacy group “with a name that is a message.”  In other words, it’s not our hardworking citizens, our values, our laws, our democracy, our landscape, our culture, our faiths, our liberty, our Constitution, our innovative scientists, engineers, and inventors, our war heros, our forefathers, or our artists that make our nation great.  According to Ms. Noon, we owe our greatness to the coal, oil and gas that we blast, drill, frack, dig up, remove from mountaintops, and burn  (unsurprisingly, sustainable energy and renewables are not part of the portfolio promoted by this pressure group).

Even though she has no scientific background, Ms. Noon is convinced that scientists are wrong and is a passionate denier of human-caused global warming and outspoken Climategate conspiracy theorist.  In order to promote the polluting fossil fuel industry, she has taken a strident anti-science position, comparing  scientists to “cornered rats.” She defends the discredited Heartland Institute, which famously made a connection between scientists and mass murderers in its disastrous billboard campaign.  But her belief that America’s greatness as attributable to dirty fossil energy, not it’s people, is what I find most irksome.

Last month, I spent a week with my daughter in our nation’s capital, where there are no monuments to energy.  We admired the tallest structure in Washington, which is named after the father of our country.  Ms. Noon might be surprised and disappointed that it is shaped like an obelisk, not a gushing oil rig.  We visited the famous memorials to Lincoln and to Thomas Jefferson, a scientist and scholar who wrote the document we are celebrating today.  We also visited the newer ones paying tribute Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  We spent time at the World War II and Vietnam memorials, and the Tomb of the Unknowns, honoring those who lost their lives defending our nation and keeping us free.  We paid our respects to the Americans who died in the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.  It doesn’t take much reflection on this holiday to understand the reason we honor Americans, not fossil fuels, with our sacred national memorials and monuments.

No Ms. Noon, it is not energy that makes America great.  Americans make America great.

Happy Independence Day from Albuquerque.

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Lord Monckton* attends the Heartland Institute Conference**

* (not an actual Lord)   **(not an actual conference)

The Heartland Institute held its 7th International Conference on Climate Change a couple weeks ago in Chicago.  It wasn’t very well attended, and many of those who showed up were not actual scientists.  Unlike an actual scientific conference, those with dissenting views and who were willing to publicly criticize Heartland’s “research” were not invited.  So it was gathering of good old boys who reinforced one another’s beliefs and biases (e.g. the idea that scientists who accept the reality of global warming have a lot in common with the Unibomber).

The 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, was the biggest celebrity in attendance.  In a case of life imitating art, he put on a Borat act.  To the audible delight of his audience, he showed a fake Hawaiian birth certificate and claimed to be a US citizen.



Peter Sinclair captured the hilarity in his own inimitable way.

Finally, to see the art that life is now imitating,  this send-up of the “Lord” is worth watching.

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Facts are not negotiable

On April 25, I wrote a column for the Albuquerque Journal entitled “Climate Change is Based only on Fact.”  It was a direct refutation of factual errors in a column that had been published two days earlier called “Global Warming is Just Propaganda.”  The previous author, Lewis Green, had made a number of incorrect statements (as well as errors of logic) in support of his claim a that global warming is a conspiracy by left-wing activists.   I don’t understand why the Journal is willing to give space on their opinion page absurd conspiracy theories that are demonstrably false (for an ironclad demonstration, see Peter Sinclair’s video showing that high-profile conservatives accept the reality of global warming).  I also listed several irrefutable facts:

♦ Fact: Global warming is real.

♦ Fact: Global warming was successfully predicted by physicists.

♦ Fact: Scientists accept the reality of global warming.

♦ Fact: Climate and weather are not the same thing.

♦ Fact: Global warming is not a left-wing conspiracy.

Unsurprisingly, my list of facts led to a flurry of letters.  Of the six letters published on May 15, four disputed the facts, or argued that they don’t matter.   I respond to those letters here.

Larry Harrah wrote “Full Disclosure Applies to Both Sides.”  I realize that letter titles are not written by the author, but by the opinion page editor, so I don’t blame Mr. Harrah for the faux balance implying the existence of “both sides” of some scientific debate.  The debate over the reality of global warming really is over.  Of 47,000 members of the American Physical Society, only 206 objected to the APS statement: ‘The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.” Of those 206, only a handful have any expertise on climate science, and of those, none have published contrary evidence. Scientific debate is not about petitions and objections, it requires publications and data. By this definition, there is no debate.

Mr. Harrah wrote that my letter “…withheld some pertinent facts not supporting its thesis…”  These included:

  • Three recent reports that there has been no change in mean global temperature during the first decade of the 21st century.
  • Two periods of unusual warming and icecap melting in the fifth and sixth centuries and in the 11th and 12th centuries.

However, even of both of these statements where true, they would not constitute evidence against the facts I provided.  I do not know what reports Mr. Harrah is referring to or if they were published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature or not (and I welcome a comment from him with citations to published scientific research).  But regardless of what the reports say, here is a plot the actual temperature data:


Whatever the recent reports claim about no global mean temperature change during the first decade of this century, the data do not support it.  Much has been made about the anomalously high temperature during the super El Nino year of 1998 (when tropical Pacific surface temperatures were exceptionally warm, slowing the rate at which the ocean absorbs heat from the atmosphere).   Remarkably, the 2011 temperature, which nearly broke this record, was in a La Nina year with low sea surface temperature, when the oceans are soaking up much more heat.  But these relative fluctuations are a measure of interannual variability, not climate.  A better measure of climatological temperature is indicated by the red curve, which is a five-year running average.  This climatological temparature has continued to increase (even 5 years is too short to represent the true climate, which is customarily defined as a 30-year average, and requires at least 17 years according to recent research).

The other claim that there were two periods of unusual warming and icecap melting many years ago would not contradict any if the facts I cited, even if true, so I do not understand the relevance in this context.  It is worth noting that similar such claims have been made, that have turned out not to be true.  For example business advocate Raymond Keating—in testimony to House Small Business Committee (June 4, 1998)—said, “During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today.”  It turns out that his testimony was quoting a Wall Street journal opinion piece that was based on politician/activist Arthur Robinson’s misrepresentation of actual published data (this is why I require that contrarian claims made in Puckerclust comments include citations to peer-reviewed scientific literature).

Mr. Harrah also exhibits a misunderstanding of the role of water vapor in human-caused global warming.  He is correct that water vapor is actually the dominant greenhouse gas, but he is incorrect that it is not of our making.  The increased amount of water vapor is because the air is warmer, which is directly attributable to human-generated pollution consisting of non-condensible heat-trapping gas like CO2.  The CO2 causes a little warming, which evaporates more water, which causes a lot more warming in a vicious cycle of amplification.

I absolutely agree with Mr. Harrah’s final remark: “Politicizing science can lead to meaningless or even bad choices where we squander our resources!”   I have always argued that facts trump politics.  That goes for both conservatives and liberals.

Joseph Yardumian writes, in “Climate Change Predates Your Car,” that our planet has undergone a number of climate cycles over the last 50,000 years.  Again, this is not evidence against human-caused global warming.  Humans cause forest fires with careless use of matches and vehicles with faulty catalytic converters and spark arrestors.  There is published evidence for forest fires in North America before it cars were invented, and before humans even occupied the continent.  It would be equally absurd to use that as evidence that we don’t have to be careful not to start them now.

Burke E. Nelson says, “Don’t Panic: We’ve Been Here Before.”  He asserts without evidence that civilizations advanced and people prospered during times of warming, but not so during time of cooling (this would seem to contradict the fact that the Enlightenment, the founding of our nation, and the beginning of the industrial revolution all took place during the Little Ice Age).

Dr. Nelson (who says he has a “Ph.D. in science”) reminds us that what is now New Mexico was covered by an inland sea.  What he fails to mention is that this was 100 million years ago, long before the Laramide orogeny (mountain-building event) that created the Rockies, and when North America occupied a different part of the globe (a bit closer to the tropics and much further east).  I suspect that Dr. Nelson would not want our pollution to return the Earth to the conditions of the Cretaceous, which were more amenable to habitation by dinosaurs and ferns than to people, livestock, and edible fruits and vegetables.  Fortunately, the earth hasn’t been continuously warming at the current rate since then, or it would be much hotter than the sun!

Dr. Nelson rightly points out the “warm Coke effect.”  As a little bit of CO2 pollution warms up the oceans, as it is now doing, the water exsolves (releases) more CO2 into the air, causing another dangerous cycle of reinforcement: another reason that a little bit of human-caused warming ends up doing a lot more damage than naively expected.

Dr. Nelson also sites Fred Singer and William Happer, both of whom are associated with political pressure organizations like the Heartland Institute and the George C. Marshall Institute, and have become better known for their activism than their science.   Fred Singer and the Heartland Institute (which distributed the book cited by Dr. Nelson) are also known for publishing fabricated climate data.  More recently, the Heartland Institute has been under fire for erecting billboards making nasty personal attacks against the scientific community.

Likewise, Prof. Happer has pushed hard to politicize the science (as indicated by the quotes cited by Dr. Nelson, in which he resorts to name-calling and comparing the mainstream scientific community to a “a cult”).  Prof. Happer has apparently abandoned publishing his disagreements in the scientific literature in favor of conservative online media like The American Thinker.

Finally, virtually any logical thinker understands why it is ludicrous to argue that CO2 cannot be harmful because it comprises less than one half of one percent our atmosphere.  Unless we argue that this concentration of other substances can be safely ignored, this idea is flat out silly.  Should we ignore this amount of:

  • fecal coliform bacteria in our drinking water?
  • drugs in our bloodstream?
  • asbestos fibers in the air we breathe?
  • members of the American Physical Society who dispute the incontrovertible evidence?

I suspect Dr. Nelson would say no.

William E. Keller, in “So-Called Facts Bear Closer Inspection,” challenges the facts that I listed.   Surprisingly, Dr. Keller appeals to the post-modern idea that there is no real objective reality.  In his attempt to refute my statement that climatological temperature continues to increase, he says, “it depends on who’s thermometer you are using.”  But reality is not dependent on the means of measurement.  Either it is getting warmer, or it’s not.  In a bizarre crossing-over of conservative suspicion of mainstream science with liberal muddled thinking, Dr. Keller seems to adopt Deepak Chopra’s idea that “there is no objective reality ‘out there’ that is independent of the observer.”

Furthermore Dr. Keller claims that we only know the temperature over land, and that “what is happening over the other 70 percent [of the Earth’s surface] is not clear.”  What is remarkable is that someone who is so opinionated about a subject would be unaware of the massive amount of data, both direct measurements and remote sensing, on sea surface temperatures (which by the way, are also increasing).

Dr. Keller also claims that NASA satellites show that temperatures in the lower troposphere have remained quite constant for the last 25 years, but fails to cite any peer reviewed literature.  On the contrary, a survey of publications in scientific journals reveal that there has been an increase (Skeptical Science has a nice summary).

Dr. Keller grasps at straws when he criticizes my mention of predictions in the 1950s because I don’t give temperature units.  It is customary when writing for an American audience in a U.S. newspaper to use degrees F (C is used outside the US).  If you don’t believe me, turn to the weather page and see if they give temperature units!  For the record, a good overview of this prediction is given by Gilbert Plass (1959) “Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” Scientific American, July, p. 41-47.  One can listen to an interview with the author here.

Dr. Keller speculates that I “might not have looked hard enough” to attract contrarians to my session at my annual climate session.  But I specifically invited them in a letter to the Heartland Institute.  Notably, my contact at Heartland suggested that I would need to pay for contrarians to attend (which is apparently how the sponsors of the Santa Fe conference were able to attract some of them).

Finally, Dr. Keller confuses stocks and flows, a common mistake among those who deny the facts.  He says that only 5.6% of the CO2 flux into the atmosphere comes from humans.  But if not all of this 5.6% (flow) is re-captured and sequestered by nature, the concentration (stock) will continue to increase, exactly as observed.  And according to the laws of physics, so will the temperature.

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The Banned Heartland Institute Presentation

This is the material I wanted to present at the Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change.  But it was rejected by the conference organizer, Petr Chylek, a Heartland Institute Expert.  Then I offered to present it at the Heartland Institute’s 7th International Conference on Climate Change.   But I was told by Jim Lakely, Heartland’s Director of Communciations, that I would not be allowed to speak.  Clearly the Heartland Institute does not want this information to be presented.  So I have now posted it on SkS.  I am re-posting it here in its entirety.

Climate change is debated in letters to the editor of hometown newspapers all over the world.   In the Las Cruces, New Mexico, Sun-News, one reader recently cited “a 1996 paper by Kiegwin (sic) in Science which showed that, despite the present having a CO2concentration of 388 PPM, the present temperature is cooler than the average of the last 3,000 years, and that it was considerably warmer than today during the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period, and the Holocene climate Optimum.”    A few months later another reader asserted that “Keigwin, Science, 1996, shows present temperatures aren’t much different from the 3,000 year mean.”

Did the Keigwin paper really say that?  And how is it that two non-scientists from a mid-sized New Mexico city would be so confident that a scientific paper published a decade-and-a-half earlier supports their belief that the world was warmer during Medieval times?

First, let’s review Keigwin (1996).   The title “The Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period in the Sargasso Sea” might provide the first clue that it isn’t about global temperatures, but about one location on Earth:  the Sargasso Sea.  What Keigwin did was to use oxygen isotope measurements in plankton skeletons from sediment cores as a proxy to reconstruct the sea surface temperature (SST) of the past 3000 years.   The cores were collected in 1990, and were divided into 50- to 100-year segments.  In the absence of mixing or bioturbation from below, the mid-point of the most recent 50-year thick sample, whose value would represent the most recent paleotemperature, would be 1965.  In a perfect world, the bottom of the segment would date to 1940.  However, sediments in the real world are never completely undisturbed.  It is very likely that the most recent segment contained shells from the early 1900s or even from the previous century.  That means the last paleotemperature is really an average that probably includes values from before automobiles and light bulbs were invented.

Keigwin published a graph, as Figure 4b (K4B), of his best estimate of the resulting time series.

He also included several years of modern instrumental measurements at hydrographic station “S” in Bermuda, starting in 1954.  The modern year-to-year temperatures fluctuate significantly, but the mean is well above the 23°C average of the entire proxy record.

It is unlikely that the Las Cruces letter-writers ever read this paper, or they would have known it wasn’t about global temperatures.  It is highly cited in the contrarian literature as evidence against human-caused global warming, and turns up in many blogs and editorials without reference to the Sargasso Sea.  How did this happen?

The misuse appears to have started in the late 1990s, when Arthur P. Robinson of the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine (OISM) started the so-called “Oregon Petition” to collect signatures of people opposed to the Kyoto Protocol.  With his son Zachary and two associates from the conservative George C. Marshall pressure group (Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon), he self-published a paper called “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” designed to look like a peer-reviewed article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US).  It was mailed out with the petition to many thousands of engineers, dentists, veterinarians, and even some scientists.  In January, 1998 it appeared in a periodical published by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a political advocacy organization with a stated mission to “fight socialized medicine and to fight the government takeover of medicine.”  The executive director of AAPS is also member of Robinson’s OISM.    In it was their Figure 2, a modified version of Keigwin’s K4B.

Robinson and coauthors made several changes in representation and labeling.  First they inverted the axes so time runs from left to right, but they were unaware that when paleoclimate data are plotted “years before present”  means “years before 1950” so their data is shifted by about 50 years.   Second, they removed the data from hydrographic station “S” which showed that recent temperatures are above the long-term average.  Third, they neglected to label it as being a record for the Sargasso Sea.  Fourth, they called it a global temperature in the text, saying, “For the past 300 years, global temperatures have been gradually recovering. As shown in figure 2, they are still a little below the average for the past 3,000 years.”

This paper became the basis for statements in two influential Wall Street Journal opinion pieces.  The first, in 1997, was by Robinson and his son Zachary, called “Science Has Spoken:  Global Warming Is a Myth.”  They stated,

During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today. One of the two coldest periods, known as the Little Ice Age, occurred 300 years ago. Atmospheric temperatures have been rising from that low for the past 300 years, but remain below the 3,000-year average.

The second editorial, with son Noah, was called “Global Warming is 300-Year-Old News.”  In that one, they stated that “Earth temperatures are now near the 3,000-year average and clearly not unusual.”  Their Oregon Petition figure was re-drafted with different temperature units, but the time scale was still wrong, and the current thermometer measurements were still missing.  Despite the misrepresentation in the text as “Earth temperatures” the graph this time was labeled “Temperature of the Sargasso Sea from 1000 BC to 1975 AD.”  The source of the year 1975 as the endpoint is unclear and did not come from Keigwin’s paper.

This Wall Street Journal version of the graph appears to have become the new “primary source” for those who argue that temperatures are actually lower now than they were in the past.  Award winning editorial cartoonist John Trever redrew it for an ironic dig at climate scientists who claim otherwise (including—with true irony—Lloyd Keigwin, the original author of the figure).

In 2004, I was asked by my management to review the original sources of these claims, and I wrote several messages to Arthur Robinson asking for some clarifications.   Because I was planning to write a report, I wanted to give him the courtesy of responding with any clarifications or corrections.  Among other questions, I included the following,

I’m wondering what is your basis for the statement, “During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today.” (Robinson & Robinson, The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 4, 1997).  I’ve seen this quoted by others (often without attribution) but it looks like you were the first to say it.

Robinson responded,

I note that the Sargaso (sic) Sea curve shows five earlier periods where the temperature was above the mean and therefore warmer than today. This is probably the source of the statement.

Significantly, business advocate Raymond Keating—in testimony to House Small Business Committee (June 4, 1998)—said, “During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today.”

I proceeded to ask Robinson some more difficult questions,

I can see that your Figure 2 was taken directly from the 1996 Keigwin paper, but with the post-1954 instrumental “Station S” SST data removed.  Was there a reason you took the directly measured temperature off?  What method did you use to calculate the 23 C mean?  Did you derive it from the original Keigwin data or was that simply an estimate to the nearest degree?

You incorrectly represented the graph as global temperature.  You stated, “For the past 300 years, global temperatures have been gradually recovering (11). As shown in figure 2, they are still a little below the average for the past 3,000 years.”

I plan to include these observations in my final writeup.  If you care to respond, I would be happy to include your comments.

To which Robinson replied,

Regarding the world data. We clearly labeled this data location. Since virtually all other available dats (sic) from other locations (see Soon and Baliunas) is similar, providing this example was entirely ethical.

It is too bad your employers could not find an objective scientist for this task. I will not be providing any additional comments, since I am quite sure they would not be presented in their enirety (sic) to your employers, any more than will those I have already written. You are clearly devoted to lifting selected things from their context.

Do not waste your time with additional email. It will be shunted to the unopened file here.


For the record, I provided all his responses to my management in their entirety.

The most recent chapter of this story began when the periodical of the AAPS re-published an edited and colorized version of the paper in 2007 under a different author rotation (Baliunas was removed, and son Zachary was replaced by son Noah).  Perhaps because of my 2004 criticisms, an instrumental data point was added for year 2006, and the mean temperature was shifted.

The paper explained the source of the 2006 temperature thusly, “A value of 0.25 °C, which is the change in Sargasso Sea temperature between 1975 and 2006, has been added to the 1975 data in order to provide a 2006 temperature value.”

Unable to reproduce this temperature with the data I had, I wrote to Willie Soon in 2010 and asked for the source of the data.  He cordially responded and sent me the table, telling me,

…also about the most recent point at “2006”—sorry that I could not be more certain, but I am sure Noah has carefully included this updated SST series from station S that Dr. Keigwin sent me around July of 2007 (which as you can see from the file name was obtained by Dr. Ruth Curry of WHOI).

Graphing the Station S data with their data point for 2006 (blue) demonstrates that the 2006 is about a degree too low in Robinson et al. (2007).

If they had plotted the data they had, the way they said they did, it would have looked like this:

On Nov. 2, 2010, I presented this to a large audience at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Denver.  Always wanting to give others the benefit of the doubt, I wrote to Noah Robinson several times at his OISM address.  On Oct. 23, 2010 I wrote:

Willie & Noah,

Attached is a draft of a couple slides I plan to present, which strongly suggest that your team fabricated the 2006 data point to hide the increase in Sargasso Sea surface temperature.

You plotted your 2006 point too low by more than a degree C.  If this was an honest arithmetic mistake or silly drafting error, now would be the time to explain it and correct it.  If you let me know before my presentation, I will be happy to include your explanation.

Best regards,

Mark Boslough

I did not get a response.

The Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded political pressure group, reprinted a distorted version the latest OISM the graph in their advocacy report, “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate” (S. Fred Singer, editor).  This was published for an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), and was sent to American members of Congress and other policy makers.

In 2011, I submitted an abstract, coauthored by Lloyd Keigwin, to the Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change, so that we could present these findings.  According to the conference summary, it was “to focus on climate change and variability from observational and modeling perspectives.”  The chair of the conference, Petr Chylek is affiliated with one of the sponsors (Los Alamos National Laboratory) as well as the Heartland Institute (as a “Heartland Expert”).  With many speakers affiliated with the Heartland Institute (it turned out to be at least nine) it seemed like a good opportunity to provide feedback.  Unfortunately, Keigwin and I received a rejection letter from Chylek, who told us,

This Conference is not a suitable forum for type of presentations described in submitted abstract. We would accept a paper that spoke to the science, the measurements, the interpretation, but not simply an attempted refutation of someone else’s assertions (especially when made in unpublished reports and blog site).

This was a puzzling rejection given that the “unpublished report” was the NIPCC document released by the Heartland Institute, which is widely cited by the many Heartland-affiliated speakers invited by Chylek.

Nevertheless, I was able to have a conversation with Fred Singer, the editor of the NIPCC report, about the Sargasso Sea graph.  At first, he told me that I should take it up with Robinson, but ultimately he assured me that it would be corrected in the next edition of the NIPCC.  He also revealed that he had been the one who had sent Keigwin’s paper to Robinson in the first place, back in the ‘90s.

In a final attempt to get my feedback directly to the Heartland Institute before writing this guest post, I offered in April, 2012 to give a presentation at their annual meeting in Chicago in May.   My offer was rejected by Heartland’s Director of Communications, Jim Lakely, who told me in no uncertain terms, “you will not be getting an invitation to speak.”

I look forward to their response to this article.

Posted in Climate denialism | 2 Comments

Why I won’t be speaking at the Heartland conference

by Mark Boslough

“…you will not be getting an invitation to speak.”
–Jim Lakely, The Heartland Institute,  April, 2012, responding to my offer to speak at his “conference.”

“Thanks, again, for the invitation…  Are there any opportunities for comp registration and/or travel cost reimbursements…?”
–Jim Lakely, The Heartland Institute, July, 2011, responding to my invitation to have someone from Heartland give a presentation at my AGU session.

Here’s Lakely’s full reply to my offer last month:

From: Jim Lakely
Sent: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 10:49 AM
To: Boslough, Mark B
Subject: RE: Former NASA Scientists, Astronauts to Attend Heartland Institute Climate Conference


We’ve invited more than two dozen scientists who are on “your side” of the debate. Considering your treatment in the press of Dr. Harrison Schmitt – who will be presenting at the conference – you will not be getting an invitation to speak.

If you’d like to attend on your own time and dime, you can register here.

Jim Lakely
Director of Communications
The Heartland Institute
One South Wacker Drive #2740
Chicago, IL 60606
office: 312.377.4000
cell: 312.731.9364

Here are Lakely’s replies to my AGU invitation last summer.  Needless to say, I didn’t get any abstracts from any of them.

Subject: RE: An invitation to present at AGU
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2011 17:06:11 -0500
From: Jim Lakely
To: Boslough


Thanks for the additional information. Two of the scientists we’ve run this by immediately reacted by saying PDF is unnecessary and inappropriate in this field, so I doubt that any or many of the candidates we put forward would be interested in pursuing that line of analysis. Another scientist said he might send an abstract on modelled vs. observed temperatures.

The deadline for abstracts of August 4 may be too soon for most candidates, and at least one scientist on our short list says he’ll be out of the country when the meeting takes place. But we’ll put out the word and see what we get.

Are there any opportunities for comp registration and/or travel cost reimbursements for scientists whose employers may not be willing or able to cover those expenses?

Jim Lakely
Communications Director
The Heartland Institute
19 S. LaSalle St., Suite 903
Chicago, IL 60603
office: 312.377.4000
cell: 312.731.9364

From: Boslough
Sent: Tue 7/19/2011 8:35 PM
To: Jim Lakely
Subject: Re: An invitation to present at AGU

Great, thanks!

I hope one or more of them will choose to submit an abstract this year. As in past years our session is focused primarily on research to quantify the uncertainty in climate sensitivity as well as other climate-related parameters. Climate-related uncertainty is traditionally presented as an error bar (as in the 1979 Charney report and IPCC reports) but it is more common nowadays to express it in terms of a probability density function or cumulative density function. Density functions are much more useful for probabilistic risk assessment than the simplistic comparison of high-vs-low “best estimate” climate sensitivities that I’ve seen from the researchers you list (which are useless for planning and the practical applications that drive national security-related work). I’m always skeptical of researchers who don’t explicitly quantify uncertainties related to risk, because they are ignoring or avoiding the most important and practical part of the problem (and giving the appearance that they are denying the possibility that their best estimate could be wrong).

If Lindzen et al. have finally progressed to the stage of producing PDFs I’d love to be able to cite them if they have plans to publish. So far I’ve seen only very rudimentary estimates from them, where best estimates are proposed but without any attempt to calculate the associated density functions. Those you cite really should come to AGU if they have recently started doing serious work along these lines, so they can get on the UQ community’s radar screen and join the discussion. It would be nice if we could all agree that there is an overlapping continuum of estimates, and not “two sides”.

Please let them know that the abstract deadline is Aug. 4. Please send them the link to the session info: http://sites.agu.org/fallmeeting/scientific-program/session-search/328 and the link to the abstract submission page: http://agu-fm11.abstractcentral.com/.



Subject: An invitation to present at AGU
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2011 16:29:31 -0500
From: Jim Lakely
To: Boslough


Thanks, again, for the invitation. I believe there are several respected scientists in the field who would welcome the opportunity to speak at this event – as there are multiple and independent lines evidence arguing that the net sensitivity to carbon dioxide may be overestimated in calculations of future climate.

I think it would be good for there to be several speakers from this perspective, such as Lindzen and Spencer, who approach the subject from theoretical and observational perspectives, view, and more empirical types like Christy and Balling. In addition, it would be very interesting to provide some balance for Oreskes. I think Pat Michaels would do well for that. Another literature analyst is Craig Idso, who has done some remarkable work.

This is really not a discussion about existence or denial. It is literally a matter of degree, and I believe that many scientists (including those mentioned above) deserve to be heard – and that there should be much more open discussion about the sensitivity arguments and the nature of scientific consensus. I am sure that such a panel would enhance the dialog on climate change.

I offer you this notion rather than asking Harrison Schmitt to be the sole speaker on one side of this issue. He would probably be the first to say that he is not the best person to accept this invitation as he has not published in this or related fields.

I do not know the AGU policy on invited speakers, but I would hope you can be of some assistance to encourage participation.

Many thanks for helping to open the discussion on this important issue. I believe our recent experience at Heartland shows the importance of open communication on climate change.


Jim Lakely
Communications Director
The Heartland Institute
19 S. LaSalle St., Suite 903
Chicago, IL 60603
office: 312.377.4000
cell: 312.731.9364

Posted in Climate denialism | 3 Comments