This is amazingly wonderful news. I love to drink coffee. I love to take naps. I'd always thought the two were incompatible. But they aren't!
This is amazingly wonderful news. I love to drink coffee. I love to take naps. I'd always thought the two were incompatible. But they aren't!
It was an interesting juxtaposition of truth-telling and fear-mongering.
Sunday night my wife and I watched the most recent Cosmos episode, which was about global climate change. Scary scientific conclusions, as recapped by the LA Times.
Here's the thing: Nature doesn't care about your politics, or what you want to be true. It just does its thing according to the well-established rules described by science. We ignore reality at our peril.
The sharp rise since the late 19th century means that the average global temperature is rising, with some pretty devastating consequences for our environment. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, heat waves, record droughts, severe storms, mass extinctions — this is the legacy we're leaving to future generations, unless we find the collective will to do something about it and become better stewards of our planetary home.
Then on Monday the Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations on existing power plants to curb the carbon pollution that is causing global warming. They're market-friendly and required by law.
But climate change deniers freaked out, predictably, saying the regulations would lead to the loss of many jobs. They ignored the fact that the coal industry has been losing jobs for a long time -- down more than half since 1985.
Plus, renewable energy is a growth industry. Coal is on its way out. It's an outmoded way of producing electricity. It's good for both the planet and the American economy to wean ourselves off of coal as soon as possible.
Fortunately quite a few corporations aren't buying the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bullshit.
Days before President Obama’s EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced sweeping new rules to limit the amount of carbon pollution that existing power plants can dump into the atmosphere, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report blasting the then-unreleased regulations as certain to raise electricity prices, kill jobs, and slow the economy.
But leading climate-friendly members of [the] Chamber don’t want to be associated with its anti-climate report. Several member companies, contacted by ThinkProgress, declined to endorse the Chamber’s efforts against the administration’s move to address a direct cause of climate change.
Good for them. This is a sound decision, from both a scientific and business standpoint. Voters strongly support the new carbon pollution standards. Just as with gay marriage, it isn't smart for a company to be on the wrong side of history.
Reality can't be argued with in the long-term. Eventually truth triumphs over fiction. Global warming is real. Anyone who watched Neil deGrasse Tyson explain the science of it in the last Cosmos episode should understand this.
Like I said before, scary stuff. Tyson said:
We just can't seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton, in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we'd be home free climate wise.
Instead, we're dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past, the ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves.
All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can't we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What's our excuse?
Well, greed. Ignorance. Religious fundamentalism. Selfishness.
These aren't good excuses. Future generations will look back at the early 21st century and wonder how so many people could have been so blind to the reality of impending climate doom.
Hopefully we will avert catastrophe. The EPA's power plant regulations are a step in the right direction. But we need to do more. A lot more.
Hugely encouraging, given how scientifically illiterate so many of our nation's citizens are (I'm talking about you, global warming skeptics, evolution deniers, and anti-vaccine fanatics)...
Smith Auditorium was almost completely filled for Brian Greene's talk at Willamette University tonight.
Greene is one of the most gifted popularizers of science, today's Carl Sagan in many ways. He also is a highly respected scientist in his own right, being a theoretical physicist and string theorist.
My wife and I had seen him on television numerous times. I've read all of his books. But seeing him in person made us realize what a Wow! guy he is. Energetic. Humorous. Entertaining. Personable.
Greene is a great salesman for science.
He makes science sound wonderfully exciting, a never-ending adventure into the unknown. I loved how he began his talk by giving examples of how scientists just go for it, dare to dream new ideas, explore fresh territory.
I already was familiar with much of what he talked about, science-wise.
Newton's laws of motion that modeled how gravity works. Einstein's relativity theory that modeled both how and why gravity works. Discoveries of a universe that not only is expanding, but accelerating. Black holes. Big bang inflationary expansion. Multiverse theories of continual big bangs fashioning countless other universes.
But Greene explained this stuff so clearly, it was like hearing about it for the first time. And when the Q&A session came, how Greene handled questions from students young and older was even more impressive.
I had some questions of my own. I was sitting in an aisle seat.
However, I could see that everybody lined up at the microphone near the stage on my side of the auditorium was about half my height and 1/6 my age. The math didn't look good for me. I feared that I'd look like an old man taking question-line space that could have been filled by the cute science-literate elementary school girls who wanted to ask Greene something.
So I sat in my seat and listened. Good choice. Because several of the girls got Greene to talk about issues that were close to what I was wondering.
If the universe is accelerating, with galaxies moving farther and farther apart at greater than the speed of light (expanding space can do this), which means that billions of years from now scientists of the future will only be aware of a few "island" galaxies near them, missing the reality of the thickly populated universe we know about, why should we feel that how we see things now isn't also a misguided cosmic viewpoint -- slanted by a similar time-bound perspective?
Greene's answer, basically, was that we can't be sure we are seeing reality clearly. All we can do is seek the truth as forcefully as possible. His optimism was palpable. I have no doubt that he deeply inspired the aspiring scientists in the auditorium.
Yet my wife and I, along with two friends who also came to the lecture, stood on the State Street sidewalk after his talk and came up with some skeptical questions that we dearly wished it had been possible to ask of Greene.
We wondered whether the laws of physics are truly as objectively real as Greene implied. Meaning, he gave example after example of how mathematical formulas are able to mirror observations of the universe. Einstein's relativity theory precisely predicted how light bends around a massive object, the sun.
But the mathematics and the observations are both products of the human brain/mind. So even though most mathematicians view the equations that describe laws of nature to exist in some sort of objective Platonic realm of reality, I wondered how beings (like space aliens) with a very different form of consciousness would look upon the cosmos.
Here we get into quasi-Matrix notions.
What if the amazing match between sensory observations of the cosmos, and mathematical descriptions of it, is partly (or completely) caused by both the observations and mathematical descriptions being the product of human brains/minds?
I admit this sounds weird.
Yet Greene encouraged us to think outside the box. My philosophical problem with modern-day, or any-day, science doesn't concern its ability to discern truths about reality. It is whether these truths exist objectively "out there" in the universe, or reflect the "in here" of human consciousness.
Probably there is no way to tell -- until we can communicate either with an advanced alien civilization, or a super-smart artificial intelligence. Would these other forms of consciousness, who had their own understanding of reality, agree with our scientific truths, our descriptions of the laws of nature?
This question doesn't really bear upon the validity of modern science, which is far superior to other ways of trying to comprehend reality, such as religion. But I love the fact that it can be asked. Nothing is sacred in science. Not even the scientific method. Or the most widely accepted scientific knowledge.
Which is why Brian Greene's talk was so inspiring. He urged us to pursue a truth-seeking journey, not a destination. A fluid ever-questioning process, not answers set in illusory stone.
Thankfully, the influence of global warming deniers appears to be shrinking steadily. Reality has a way of weeding out those who fail to respect it.
Even though this can take a while, truthful facts win out in the end.
But fossil fuel industry-funded deniers, aided and abetted by anti-science media outlets like Fox News, continue to distort the disturbing truth of how humans are warming the Earth's climate much more rapidly than nature has ever done it on her/its own.
For example, when I briefly channel surf onto right-wing talk radio, fairly frequently I hear that "global warming has stopped."
That's bullshit, of course. Yet lies often have a modicum of truth sprinkled over the top of them to make the falsehood easier to swallow.
Climate Progress has a great graph that shows how the B.S. is promulgated in the post, "As Scientists Predicted, Global Warming Continues." (You'll probably need to click on the image below to see the animation; or click on the link and scroll down to the graph.)
One often hears the statement in the media that global warming stopped in 1998, or that there has been no global warming for the past 16 years. Why pick 16 years? Why not some nice round number like 20 years? Or better yet, 30 years, since the climate is generally defined as the average weather experienced over a period of 30 years or longer?
Temperatures at Earth’s surface undergo natural, decades-long warming and cooling trends, related to the La Niña/El Niño cycle and the 11-year sunspot cycle. The reason one often hears the year 1998 used as a base year to measure global temperature trends is that this is a cherry-picked year.
An extraordinarily powerful El Niño event that was the strongest on record brought about a temporary increase in surface ocean temperatures over a vast area of the tropical Pacific that year, helping boost global surface temperatures to the highest levels on record (global temperatures were warmer in both 2005 and 2010, but not by much.) But in the years from 2005 – 2012, La Niña events have been present for at least a portion of every single year, helping keep Earth’s surface relatively cool.
Thus, if one draws a straight-line fit of global surface temperatures from 1998 to 2012, a climate trend showing little global warming results. If one picks any year prior to 1998, or almost any year after 1998, a global warming trend does result. The choice of 1998 is a deliberate abuse of statistics in an attempt to manipulate people into drawing a false conclusion on global temperature trends. One of my favorite examples of this manipulation of statistics is shown an animated graph called “The Escalator”, created by skepticalscience.com (Figure 1).
There's another highly informative bit of truth-telling in this post: a short video that shows clearly how human-caused global warming continues on unabated, once the transitory effects of volcanic activity and El Nino are taken out of the long term temperature trend.
Yesterday I emailed a reporter for the Portland Oregonian that writing a story about global warming and including a mention about how some are skeptical the planet is getting hotter is akin to ending a story about a fossil discovery with "but some scientists doubt evolution is real."
That would be absurd. Evolution is a scientific truth. So is global warming. There's no doubt among the vast majority of reputable researchers in either field about these facts.
So it bothered me when the reporter, Scott Learn, tossed in this sentence near the end of a story about how a national assessment shows the Pacific Northwest will be adversely affected by global warming.
Global warming skeptics note that temperatures in the nation and in the Northwest have remained fairly flat since 1998, a hot year, despite increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Well, creationist crazies also doubt that transitional fossils exist, but they do.
Global warming crazies are equally deluded when they seize on some irrelevant aspect of the vast corpus of scientific evidence supporting human-caused climate change and claim this proves their otherwise unprovable point.
In my email I told Learn:
l appreciated the reporter's prompt reply, where he acknowledged that my point about the limitations of short-term data is a good one. For sure.
That's why I can't understand why Learn mentioned the 1998-2012 time span at all, especially since this is the new battleline global warming skeptics have retreated to in their fight against the facts -- which keep on winning.
Last month Phil Slait, the Bad Astronomy blogger, wrote a great piece for Slate: "Doubling Down on Climate Change Denial." It starts off with:
Oh, those wacky professional climate change deniers! Once again, they’ve banded together a passel of people, 90 percent of whom aren’t even climatologists, and had them sign a nearly fact-free opinion piece in the Financial Post, claiming global warming isn’t real. It’s an astonishing example of nonsense so ridiculous I would run out of synonyms for “bilge” before adequately describing it.
The Op-Ed is directed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has recently, and thankfully, been vocal about the looming environmental catastrophe of global warming. The deniers’ letter takes him to task for this, but doesn’t come within a glancing blow of reality.
The letter itself is based on a single claim. So let’s be clear: If that claim is wrong, so is the rest of the letter.
Guess what? That claim is wrong. So blatantly wrong, in fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone could write it with a straight face. It says:
“The U.K. Met Office recently released data showing that there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years.”
This is simply, completely, and utterly false.
Let's absorb that scientific saying again: "simply, completely, and utterly false." Yet that falsehood was repeated in the Oregonian's story about how global warming will affect the Northwest. It shouldn't have been.
Here's how the United Kingdom's official climate researchers responded to the false claim of no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years.
The linear trend from August 1997 (in the middle of an exceptionally strong El Nino) to August 2012 (coming at the tail end of a double-dip La Nina) is about 0.03°C/decade, amounting to a temperature increase of 0.05°C over that period, but equally we could calculate the linear trend from 1999, during the subsequent La Nina, and show a more substantial warming.
As we’ve stressed before, choosing a starting or end point on short-term scales can be very misleading. Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system. If you use a longer period from HadCRUT4 the trend looks very different. For example, 1979 to 2011 shows 0.16°C/decade (or 0.15°C/decade in the NCDC dataset, 0.16°C/decade in GISS). Looking at successive decades over this period, each decade was warmer than the previous – so the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 2000s were warmer than both. Eight of the top ten warmest years have occurred in the last decade.
Over the last 140 years global surface temperatures have risen by about 0.8ºC. However, within this record there have been several periods lasting a decade or more during which temperatures have risen very slowly or cooled. The current period of reduced warming is not unprecedented and 15 year long periods are not unusual.
Now, I realize that newspaper reporters are overworked and underpaid.
But it only takes a few minutes a day to follow the latest science on global warming through Climate Progress and other reputable scientific sources. If I can do that, Scott Learn and other reporters who write about this subject can also do it.
Knowing the difference between responsible scientific difference of opinion and climate change denying bullshit is key for anyone reporting on global warming. It's highly irresponsible to pretend there's a genuine controversy among climatologists about whether the planet is warming because of humans.
There isn't. The Earth is getting hotter. Because of greenhouse gases. End of story.
Yet Learn sent me a link to an earlier piece he'd written in April 2012, "Global warming hiatus in recent years spurs skepticism."
Now, 2012 turned out to be the hottest year in United States history. Even Oregon, which along with Washington missed most of the heat that scorched almost all of the other states, had its 13th hottest year in the last 118 years.
The skeptics quoted by Learn in his stories are simply wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They shouldn't be given any print space in Oregon's largest newspaper. Or any newspaper, except on the opinon and comics pages.
Chuck Wiese, for example, is utterly unqualified to opine on global warming. He's a meteorologist with a B.A. degree. He's an accomplice of right-wing radio's Lars Larson, as I wrote about in "Lars Larson's lies about global warming."
I survived ten minutes or so of Larson a few days ago, but just barely. The combined scientific ignorance of Lars and a global warming-denying sidekick he had on, Chuck Wiese, was astounding.
And intensely disturbing.
Three years ago I criticized Larson for joking about how global warming is going to be good for Oregon. He's still up to his head-in-the-sand tricks. Now his brain-dead theory is that the Earth is cooling rapidly, so if big bad government limits our nation's carbon footprint, people are going to freeze to death when their furnace fuel is rationed.
Or something like that.
It was hard to follow the logic of Larson and Wiese, since they didn't use any in their blathering about how climate change/global warming science is a fraud.
I'll close with some opinionating which, unlike Wiese and other global warming skeptics, I'll admit rests only on my own subjective impression.
The Oregonian seems to have changed, both editorially and journalistically. I'm a long-time daily reader of the Oregonian. I used to view the newspaper as a highly credible news source, with a moderately liberal-leaning editorial stance.
Now the opinion pages have gotten much more conservative after the arrival of editor Erik Lukens, whose previous job was with the way-right Bend Bulletin. And I sense a similar change of tone in the news section. Perhaps not to the same degree as in the Oregonian editorials, but noticeable nonetheless.
My "conspiracy theory," which, again, I'll admit as such, is that the Oregonian (like most newspapers) is having a tough time making money in this increasingly digital age. It seems reasonable that Oregonian executives would conclude that expanding readership is necessary.
Which means looking beyond fact-based liberals/progressives, and feeding right-wingers some unscientific, evidence-free red meat on both the editorial and news pages of the sort that excites Fox News viewers.
Hey, I could be wrong. I just keep reading stuff in Oregonian stories and opinion pieces that make me think, "Wow, that doesn't make any sense."
Like, there's a possibility global warming has stopped because of recent temperature data. Huh? Recently the U.K.'s "Guardian" newspaper editorialized, "Now no one can deny the world is getting warmer."
Except for a few crazies, who shouldn't be quoted in the Portland Oregonian. I wish Scott Learn and other reporters would take this excerpt from the Guardian editorial to heart:
From this perspective, it might be tempting to sneer at the US over its response to the challenge of climate change. Britain has little to be smug about, however, a point that was demonstrated last week by media coverage of the Met Office's updated forecast of likely global warming over the next five years.
In revising downwards, albeit slightly, its previous expectation for temperature rises from now until 2017, the Met Office found itself at the midst of a PR shambles. In their dozens, climate change sceptics charged forwards to claim this data showed that global warming has stopped, a completely misleading suggestion that was not properly challenged by journalists.
Ah, I love science. Especially when it supports my political leanings.
This week's issue of New Scientist (September 29, 2012) has an opinion piece by Jim Giles, a consultant for the magazine. It's title and subtitle:
No contest. Don't believe the US presidential opinion polls. Barring a political earthquake, Barack Obama will be re-elected at a canter, says Jim Giles.
Hey, makes sense to me. Here's some excerpts:
FROM tabloids and broadsheets to left-leaning blogs and conservative talk shows, the US media has been united on one point in recent months: the presidential election is too tight to call.
...But it takes just a few clicks to go from that last article to one that tells a very different story - one much more in keeping with what science tells us about the election. The New York Times hosts FiveThirtyEight, a blog by statistician Nate Silver dedicated to crunching electoral numbers. It gives the Republican challenger Mitt Romney a 1-in-4 chance of victory. Over at PredictWise, another source of political forecasts, Romney's odds are only a shade better. The race isn't close or razor-thin or dependent on advertising. It is President Obama's to lose - something that readers are rarely told.
Why the discrepancy? To answer that question, think about what polls actually are. They are often taken as an indication of who will win the election. But polls only provide a snapshot, often with a large margin of error, of who would win if the election took place today. That's very different from what we really care about, which is the candidate most likely to win the real thing in November. That's a forecast. It's what FiveThirtyEight and PredictWise provide, and it's a more complex beast than a poll.
...If the models are robust, and their predictions strongly in favour of Obama, why are we being told that the race is a dead heat? I think it is partly a cultural issue.
...The hurly-burly of day-to-day politics is filled with dramatic events, like the recent leaked video of Romney talking in unvarnished terms about voters he cannot hope to win over. These events make the race feel like a roller-coaster ride.
The truth, as revealed by the science, is much more prosaic. Obama is way ahead and has been for ages. The meat and drink of daily political reporting - party conventions, gaffes, attack ads - have a limited and often passing impact. That's not to say that an unforeseen event couldn't put Romney in the White House. But it would have to be something huge, because studies of previous elections show outcomes depend far more on fundamental factors such as employment rates.
...The race is not tight, and the only honest approach is to say so.
Roger Steare, a "corporate philosopher," has gotten 60,000 people across 200 countries to take a Moral DNA Test.
One conclusion: women are more moral than men. Which to me, is just about as surprising as a researcher concluding that wolves are more dangerous than kittens.
Still, science is to be respected, even when what it tells us agrees with common sense.
The study, which measured responses to questions about honesty and competency, showed females are more likely to make decisions based on how they impact on others.
It also suggest the moral compass of both men and women alters with age, become less obedient but more able to use reason, until they reach a "peak of our intellectual and moral powers" in early 60s, according to a leading philosopher.
Ah, I especially agree with that peak part, being in my early sixties myself.
I wasn't aware that I was at the peak of my intellectual and moral powers, perhaps because my mind doesn't work so well these days and I don't really give a shit about lots of stuff anymore, including the status of my moral compass.
For a more entertaining analysis of the research than The Telegraph provided, check out Jezebel's "Science Proves Women Over Thirty are Better Than Everybody."
A survey involving 60,000 volunteers from 200 countries has found that overall, women tend to be more moral creatures than men, and that morality starts to tick upward once women hit 30. So, women in your thirties and older, feel free to take a break from feeling pressured to marry and reproduce and be perfect at your job and have a perfect 22 year old body and a face so youthful that it looks like it was grafted from baby ass skin and give yourselves a pat on the back. You win. Battle of the sexes, over.
...Steare also found that men tend to be bigger jerks than women, as men make decisions based on their own immediate best interests and women tend to consider other people's feelings before acting. So, while a woman might feel hesitant to eat the last of the ice cream, a man might have no qualms about polishing off half a pint of Haagen Dazs or, better yet, leaving one spoonful left and just putting the nearly-empty container back in the freezer so he doesn't have to walk all the way over to the garbage can and throw it away. Who run the world? Boys. Because they're willing to be mean.
l basically agree.
I took the Moral DNA Test and was surprised that it didn't come up with a report saying simply, "Brian, you're a jerk." I tried to be as honest as I could. Much of the time I found myself answering questions in a way that made me think, "Geez, I'm really not a very nice guy."
But then, who is? And would I really want to be much more moral? If I was much different from who I am now, I wouldn't really be me. (Assuming there is a "me" at all; neuroscience and Buddhism suggest not.)
I turned out to be an Enforcer.
Enforcers are the people we rely on to make sure that everyone obeys the rules. They help to stop crooks and cheats, and of course ourselves from doing the wrong thing. They'll look up rule 3, sub-section 7 to tell us what's right. If the rules don't tell us what's right, then they'll think of the principle or spirit behind it. Finally, they might remember that everyone is human and fallible and if you're lucky, might let you off with a warning not to do it again. About 15% of adults are Enforcers.
Well, that doesn't sound right to me. Maybe the Moral DNA Test reveals more about myself than I'm aware of, though.
As if we needed more proof that anti-science global warming deniers are wackos, here it is:
Well, when facts, reality, and 98% of the world's leading climate scientists aren't on your side, it looks like the global warming deniers are reduced to disgusting fearmongering and personal insults. Here's what part of the Heartland Institute's press release announcing the billboard campaign said:
May 3, 2012 – Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world’s most notorious criminals say they “still believe in global warming” – and ask viewers if they do, too.
Heartland’s first digital billboard – along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) in Maywood – is the latest effort by the free-market think tank to inform the public about what it views as the collapsing scientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming. It is also reminding viewers of the questionable ethics of global warming’s most prominent proponents.
“The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists,” said Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast. “They are Charles Manson, a mass murderer; Fidel Castro, a tyrant; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Global warming alarmists include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).
Huh? Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama Bin Laden are/were "global warming's most prominent proponents"? What planet are you spreading your lies on, Heartland Institute?
Al Gore. Barack Obama. The Dalai Lama. Pope Benedict XVI. Desmond Tutu. The Heartland Institute is associating these men, who all accept the truth of human-caused global warming, with the "world's most notorious criminals."
Andrew Sullivan tells it like it is:
In some ways, this is an almost perfect illustration of what has happened to the "right." A refusal to acknowledge scientific reality; and a brutalist style of public propaganda that focuses entirely on guilt by the most extreme association.
...Mann and Ornstein are correct. Large sections of the American right are now close to insane as well as depraved.
The Guardian's Environment Blog says:
The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based rightwing thinktank notorious for promoting climate scepticism, has launched quite possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns.
The Heartland Institute has launched one of the most offensive billboard campaigns in U.S. history. The Chicago-based anti-science think tank is comparing all those who accept climate science — and the journalists who report on it accurately — to Charles Manson, the Unabomber, and Osama Bin Laden.
It's been freakin' cold this spring of 2012 in the Great Pacific Northwest. Also, rainy. March saw the most rainfall ever in Portland. I think here in Salem we had the third rainiest March on record.
Today I went for an afternoon dog walk in 45 degree weather. Driving home from my Tai Chi class tonight, my car thermometer "dinged" with a 37 degrees nearing-freezing alert.
Global warming deniers seize upon any unusual cold spell as evidence that Al Gore is wrong; global warming is a fraud perpetrated by the United Nations One World Order and complicit climatologists; weird record-breaking weather is just doing what the weather does -- be changeable.
Here's the scientific truth: "Arctic Warming Favors Extreme Prolonged Weather Events 'Such as Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells, and Heat Waves."
By showing that Arctic climate change is no longer just a problem for the polar bear, a new study may finally dispel the view that what happens in the Arctic, stays in the Arctic.
The study, by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ties rapid Arctic climate change to high-impact, extreme weather events in the U.S. and Europe.
The study shows that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system.
The jet stream, the study says, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges. Weather systems are progressing more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, and heat waves.
...In addition, the study also mentions jet stream configurations that led to heavy snows in the Northeast and Europe during recent winters. Such events are also “consistent” with the study’s findings, according to the paper.
A map included with the blog post shows why our relatives in the mid-West have been gloating about marvelous warm weather this spring (close to 80 degrees, or even above, I believe), while we've been telling them "it's still cold and rainy Oregon."
Surface temperature departures from average during the March heat wave. Credit: NOAA/ESRL.
Blue colors are colder than average in March 2012. Darker the blue, the more from the long-term average. Red, orange, yellow, and green show March temperatures warmer than average, with red, orange, and yellow being the warmest.
So most of the United States has been basking while the West Coast states have been "enjoying" (if that's the right word, which to me, it isn't) cooler than normal temperatures. Note that western Oregon and Washington had the largest deviation in the cool direction of anywhere in the U.S.
Lucky us. But the weather will change. That's what weather does.
However, with global warming becoming steadily stronger, this study says that as the Arctic warms faster than the world as a whole, changes in the jet stream are going to cause even weirder weather in the future.
The study contains a stark warning about future weather patterns, given projections showing that Arctic climate change is likely to accelerate in coming years. “As the Arctic sea ice cover continues to disappear and the snow cover melts ever earlier over vast regions of Eurasia and North America, it is expected that large-scale circulation patterns throughout the northern hemisphere will become increasingly influenced by Arctic amplification,” the study reports.
In other words, rapid Arctic warming is expected to exert a growing influence on the weather far beyond the Arctic Circle, for many years to come.
Thanks to Climate Progress, I was turned on to what's described as the "coolest wind map ever."
Well, since I've only seen one wind map in my life -- the one they're talking about -- I'll have to take the scientists' word on that.
Indeed, it's intriguing to see a countrywide flowing view of what the wind is doing today.
The map creators advise using the Chrome browser to view the map, which I use, but even so I discovered that after that web page was open for a few minutes, my MacBook's fan went noisily on. Checking the Mac activity monitor, Chrome was sucking up a lot of processor juice.
So if your computer slows down after viewing the map, close that browser tab.
Here's four big Green Thumbs-Up from my wife and me to Eugene residents Olivia Chernaik, 11, and Kelsey Juliana, 15. The Register Guard reports:
...with the help of their mothers, Lisa Chernaik and Catia Juliana, [the girls] filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon and Gov. John Kitzhaber, accusing them of violating their duties to uphold the public trust and to protect the state’s atmosphere, water, land, fishery and wildlife resources from the impacts of climate change.
Excellent! The lawsuit is being brought under the aegis of iMatter, a group that encourages kids to get involved in the fight to preserve their future from the very real threat of global warming.
Pretty darn simple. Too bad so many adults don't grasp these truths.
Like a good share of the membership of the Oregon chapter of the American Meteorological Society, who, bizarrely, have their heads firmly in the sand of global warming denial. The genuine scientists in this bunch must be hugely embarrassed by the antics of their anti-scientific colleagues.
Earth to the Oregon Chapter: your parent group, the American Meteorological Society, strongly affirms the reality of human-caused global warming, as does every reputable scientific organization in the world.
Despite the uncertainties noted above, there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems, and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond.
Focusing on the next 30 years, convergence among emission scenarios and model results suggest strongly that increasing air temperatures will reduce snowpack, shift snowmelt timing, reduce crop production and rangeland fertility, and cause continued melting of the ice caps and sea level rise.
It's embarassing to Oregon that we have so many adults, including professional meteorologists, who don't understand the science of global warming. Hopefully they'll learn from the children and grow up, scientifically.
The voice that speaks inside my head couldn't do anything but agree with Alex Rosenberg's conclusion near the end of his book, "The Atheist's Guide to Reality:" modern science leads to a left-wing ideology.
Like a lot else that Rosenberg says in his provocative book, this statement was jarring. Usually the scientific method is considered to be above politics. Scientists deal with objective facts about the world, while politicians mess around with subjective values.
Yet Rosenberg perusasively backed up his words. This pleased me, given that I'm both a progressive and an admirer of science. I've always figured there were good reasons for liberal political positions. Learning how they are based in reality helps explain why Republicans have become so anti-science.
The core fact that connects science with progressive politics is determinism.
Now, lots of people don't accept that almost everything in existence is under the sway of natural causes and effects. They either believe some supernatural force steps in from time to time to make stuff happen (miracles, divine grace), or that we humans have free will to do what we want, even if other entities don't.
However, there's no demonstrable evidence of either the supernatural or free will, which leads Rosenberg to say this ("scientism" is how he speaks of a scientific world view):
The key to scientism's radical political agenda is its commitment to determinism. Above the level of the smallest numbers of fermions and bosons, the universe is almost totally deterministic. That means that everything we do is just the consequence of the laws of nature and events in the distant past.
It's not up to us what went on before we were born, and we have no choice about what the laws of nature are. Therefore, none of the present and future consequences of the ways the laws worked with the past to bring about the present are up to us. That includes all of our actions and everyone else's too. So no free will anywhere.
This means that rich people -- the 1%, in today's parlance -- don't have a moral justification for refusing to share their wealth with the other 99%. They didn't earn or deserve their riches, because nothing in life ever is earned or deserved.
Admittedly, this way of looking at the world takes some getting used to.
It flies in the face of our intuitive feeling, "I can do what I want." Yet I started off this post by saying I couldn't help but agree with Rosenberg: given the laws of nature and the experiences that have shaped my brain, how I reacted to his statements about science and left-wing ideology was fully determined.
As is how you react to what you're reading in this blog post. As is how a billionaire came to have the net worth that he or she enjoys. As is how a poor person ended up without enough money to live on.
Humans appear to be hard-wired to prefer fairness, equity, and cooperation over unfairness, inequity, and conflict. Rosenberg describes how natural selection led Homo sapiens to become such a species. Given that our ancestors couldn't compete physically with larger, tougher animals on the plains of Africa, working together cooperatively was key to our evolving into the dominant mammals we are now.
So combine determinism and a core morality that values fairness, equity, and cooperation, and you get a science-based progressive political agenda.
Inequalities, even large ones, between people are morally permissible, perhaps even morally required, when these inequalities are earned. It's because you earned your rewards in life that you deserve them. That's why you have a right to them and why taking them away is wrong. It is this part of core morality that Ayn Rand objectivists, libertarians, and other right-wingers tap into when they insist that taxation is slavery.
The trouble with such arguments is that nothing is earned, nothing is deserved. Even if there really were moral rights to the fruit of our freely exercised abilities and talents, these talents and abilities are never freely acquired or exercised. Just as your innate and acquired intelligence and abilities are unearned, so also are your ambitions, along with the discipline, the willingness to train, and other traits that have to be combined with our talents and abilities to produce anything worthwhile at all.
...So, scientism plus core morality turn out to be redistributionist and egalitarian, even when combined with free-market economics. No wonder Republicans in the United States have such a hard time with science.
In a popular You Tube video, Elizabeth Warren (who is running for Senator in Massachusetts against Scott Brown) made a similar argument. At about the one minute mark she says, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own, nobody."
Very true. Scientifically true.
Oh, yeah! Right on! That's what my mind screamed when I opened the mailbox a few days ago and saw the headline on the cover of New Scientist: "Unscientific America -- A dangerous retreat from reason."
It's mostly Republicans who are trying to lead us back to the Dark Ages of irrationality, even though a New Scientist editorial on this subject tries (semi-successfully) to spread the anti-science blame.
Even today, as China and India flex their muscles, the world still looks to the US for leadership.
This is especially true in science. A nation founded on the Enlightenment has melded massive investment in research, an open door to the world's best minds and unparalleled entrepreneurism to become a powerhouse of innovation. Leaf through a typical issue of New Scientist, and you will witness American ingenuity on almost every page.
This is why the tone and content of some recent political debate in the US is so disquieting. When candidates for the highest office in the land appear to spurn reason, embrace anecdote over scientific evidence, and even portray scientists as the perpetrators of a massive hoax, there is reason to worry. Fortunately, there is no reason to panic.
On issues including climate change, evolution and public health, it may seem as if the forces of anti-science are in the ascendancy. If you look through the lens of history or apply a scientific approach, however, logical explanations for these apparently perverse positions emerge (see "Science in America: Decline and fall" and "Science in America: Selling the truth").
What also becomes clear is that no political party has a monopoly on unscientific thinking. While the most alarming statements may be coming from Republican quarters today, don't forget that it was a three-time Democratic presidential candidate who led the attack on evolution at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
Well, when the best example of Democratic unscientific thinking dates from 86 years ago, this shows how modern attacks on science are almost universally from the Republican side of the political spectrum.
It's deeply bizarre, how every G.O.P. presidential candidate other than Jon Huntsman (who has been punished in the polls for his defense of science) is unwilling to embrace the reality of global warming, evolution, and other scientific truths.
The first article in the New Scientist special report on Unscientific America is by Shawn Lawrence Otto.
Download Science in America - Decline and fall
It's depressing reading, especially since we're faced with the near certainty of Republicans nominating an anti-science presidential candidate and, sadly, a decent chance of having this worshipper at the altar of irrationality elected.
The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax." So said Michele Bachmann, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, in 2008. Bachmann also thinks that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can cause mental retardation and that science classes should include creationism. "What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of a scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."
Bachmann's rival, Texas governor Rick Perry, advocates biblically based abstinence-only sex education. He argues that evolution is "a theory that is out there - and it's got some gaps in it". On climate change, Perry says "the science is not settled... just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact... Galileo got outvoted for a spell".
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tells voters that embryonic stem cell research is "killing children in order to have research materials". Rising Republican star Herman Cain claims there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is anything other than a personal choice.
Republicans diverge from anti-science politics at their peril. When leading candidate Mitt Romney said: "I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer... humans contribute to that", conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh responded with "Bye bye, nomination". Romney back-pedalled, saying, "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans."
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman argued that "the minute that the Republican party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem". Huntsman has since been marginalised by Republican pundits.
Otto lays out reasons for the decline and fall of our once unquestioned leadership in science, then says:
These factors have combined to create an assault on science that is unprecedented in American history. Cut loose from objective truth, America's public dialogue has become one of warring opinions and policy paralysis.
In another article about how to "sell the truth," Peter Aldhous cheered me up somewhat by explaining how supporters of science can beat reality-deniers at their own game.
Download Science in America
For example, he says that the most ardent global warming skeptics are Tea Party types. So it makes sense to have people with whom they resonate explain the climatological facts to them.
For these [Tea Party] voters, the cultural filter seems to be the idea that taking action to limit climate change means "big government" intervention in the US economy, anathema to staunch conservatives.
Hammering another nail into the coffin of the deficit [of knowledge] model, Kahan's latest survey of more than 1500 US adults indicates that far from overcoming our cultural biases, education actually strengthens them. Among those with greater numeracy and scientific literacy, opinions on climate change polarised even more strongly.
Kahan's explanation is that we have a strong interest in mirroring the views of our own cultural group. The more educated we become, he argues, the better we get at making the necessary triangulation to adopt the "correct" opinions. On issues like climate change, for most people these cultural calculations trump any attempt to make an objective assessment of the evidence.
...So who might do a better job of carrying the climate message to conservative ears? Perhaps the US military, which is worried about the security implications of climate change, or senior figures within the insurance industry, who are factoring the risk of more frequent severe weather events into their calculations.
Good ideas, but every science-admiring person in the United States has to defend objective truth against those who are attempting to substitute for it their own fantasies, opinions, and self-serving falsehoods.
Subjectivity is a big part of being human. "I like..." and "I believe..." are eminently proper attitudes which everybody is entitled to. But NOT when it comes to objective reality. That belongs to everybody. It is the common ground of humanity. No one is entitled to hijack it for their own ends.
I understand that many people want to believe that fossil fuels can be freely used with no adverse consequences. I realize that Al Gore irritates conservatives who suspect that he is making up global warming myths so a One World government can control everything and everybody. If these private irrationalities remained in individual psyches, I'd say "enjoy your fantasies."
However, reality is too important to waste. Neither the United States, nor the rest of the world, can afford to have political discourse dominated by heads-in-the-sand anti-science zealots who refuse to acknowledge facts.
It's time to fight back. Truth has to be defended. On the back cover of Carl Sagan's book, "The Demon Haunted World," are these words. They're as true now as they were back in 1995, when the book was published.
We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces...
I worry that, especially as the Millenium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before?
Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us -- then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.
The candle flame gutters. It's little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
Whenever I watch Charles Krauthammer expressing his conservatism on Fox News, or read his right-wing newspaper columns, almost always I strongly disagree with him.
Seeing that his most recent column was about a possible discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos, which I blogged about here, I thought that maybe Charles and I would find some agreement on the common ground of science.
But no, I got as irritated with his "Gone in 60 nanoseconds" as with his overtly political pieces. Because what Krauthammer wants to say goodbye to is trust in modern science.
Scientists at CERN, the European high-energy physics consortium, have announced the discovery of a particle that can travel faster than light.
...The implications of such a discovery are so mind-boggling, however, that these same scientists immediately requested that other labs around the world try to replicate the experiment. Something must have been wrong — some faulty measurement, some overlooked contaminant — to account for a result that, if we know anything about the universe, is impossible.
And that’s the problem. It has to be impossible because, if not, if that did happen on this Orient Express hurtling between Switzerland and Italy, then everything we know about the universe is wrong.
...But if quantum mechanics was a challenge to human sensibilities, this pesky Swiss-Italian neutrino is their undoing. It means that Einstein’s relativity — a theory of uncommon beauty upon which all of physics has been built for 100 years — is wrong. Not just inaccurate. Not just flawed. But deeply, fundamentally, indescribably wrong.
That's ridiculously, well, wrong.
Relativity theory didn't disprove Newton's laws of motion. Those laws are as true as ever in most everyday circumstances. Einstein simply showed that relativity theory more accurately reflects how reality behaves in other circumstances.
Likewise, relativity theory hasn't been proven wrong even if the faster-than-light neutrino observation is confirmed to be true (which so far, it hasn't been). As noted in my previous blog post, a leading explanation for the superluminal neutrinos is the existence of another spatial dimension.
This is from a New Scientist story:
In 2006, Pakvasa, Päs and Weiler came up with a model that allows certain particles to break the cosmic speed limit while leaving special relativity intact. "One can, if not rescue Einstein, at least leave him valid," Weiler says.
The trick is to send neutrinos on a shortcut through a fourth, thus-far-unobserved dimension of space, reducing the distance they have to travel. Then the neutrinos wouldn't have to outstrip light to reach their destination in the observed time.
Special and general relativity have been strongly confirmed by many tests. So it's absurd for Krauthammer to say that relativity "is wrong. Not just inaccurate. Not just flawed. But deeply, fundamentally, indescribably wrong."
Again, what's wrong is Krauthammer's claim, not relativity theory. Pretty clearly, Krauthammer's conservative political agenda is driving his anti-science attitude. Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm shows us what's going on in an instructive post.
Krauthammer and other right-wingers seek to undermine climatologists who present powerful evidence that human-caused global warming is happening, and to kiss up to religious fundamentalists who comprise a large share of the Republican base by challenging the scientific method which, gasp!, finds that evolution is a much explanation for life on Earth than creationism is.
Here's Joe Romm:
As a physicist, my favorite denier talking point is the implication that “scientists are flip floppers, constantly changing their theories.” That was what Bryce was suggesting by “If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity.” It’s what Krauthammer meant by “If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown.” We scientists just can’t make up our minds, and thus we can’t be trust[ed]. That’s why they keep pushing the myth that all the climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling.
Back to Newton’s supposedly overthrown laws. As NASA writes: “The motion of an aircraft through the air can be explained and described by physical principals discovered over 300 years ago by Sir Isaac Newton.”
But Professor Krauthammer says 200 years of experiments and observations were “overthrown.” What gives? Why aren’t all our planes falling out of the sky?
Newton’s laws are “excellent approximations at the scales and speeds of everyday life” that, along with his law of gravitation and calculus techniques, “provided for the first time a unified quantitative explanation for a wide range of physical phenomena.”
They fail in very special cases — speeds close to the speed of light (where you need Einstein’s special theory of relativity), near large gravitational fields (where you need Einstein’s general theory of relativity) or at very, very small scales (where you need quantum mechanics). Interestingly, many of the laws of those three theories are written in the same form as Newton’s and they revert to Newton’s equations for everyday life (see below).
BRYCE AND KRAUTHAMMER ARE NO EINSTEINs
If Einstein’s special theory of relativity did not revert to Newton’s laws for everyday situations, and thus validate 200 years of observations and experiments, nobody would have paid even one minute of attention to it.
Well, that's what anti-science conservatives wish they could do, because to them relativity theory is a club liberals use to bash those who don't embrace a relativistic view of the world. (Of course, factually relativity theory has nothing to do with relativism, but facts don't mean much to conservatives these days).
The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.
Thus Charles Krauthammer, per usual, was toeing the conservative party line in his science's sky is falling column. He wants people to believe that if a neutrino can travel faster than light, a fact unaccounted for by Einstein's theory of relativity, then global warming and evolution must be wrong also.
Not true. Not at all. Reality is one thing; conservative fantasies are a whole other thing.
I wonder if Rick Perry, Republican presidential candidate and Texas governor, knows what "ignoramus" means. Probably not.
I'll help Perry out in case he stumbles across this blog. Here's the definition, Rick:
Utterly ignorant person.
Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution or other unarguable scientific facts indeed is an ignoramus. How is it that they even could be considered for high public office, especially the presidency of the United States?
Here's how Dawkins starts off his response to a question posed to him:
This week's Washington Post question to the On Faith panel:
Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.”
According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office.
What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus.
In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
Dawkins goes on to say, entirely accurately:
Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable.
It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.
For sure. Yet there Perry is, leading the polls among Republican voters.
That's scary, because of what it says about a good chunk of our electorate. Even scarier: the thought that an ignoramus could become our next president.
Whenever the current crop of Republican presidential candidates make a public utterance, I think, Reality is a terrible thing to waste.
WIth a single exception, Jon Huntsman, they don't care whether what they're saying is fact-based, scientifically-defensible, or otherwise firmly rooted in demonstrable consensual reality.
They just spout off about whatever is politically expedient. If Republican primary voters demand crazy talk from a candidate, that's what they're given.
This is dangerous.
What if one of these reality-deniers somehow becomes President of the United States? Who wants the leader of our country to be out of touch with what is really happening in the world? How could this person make sound decisions if he or she capable of understanding the difference between truth and illusion?
Recently one of the leading candidates, Texas governor Rick Perry, opined that evolution is "a theory that's out there." Yeah, just like there's a theory out there that the Earth wasn't created fully formed by God ten thousand years ago. And that our planet isn't flat, but round.
Perry also doesn't believe in global warming, another sign of his reality deficiency. This caused his rival, Jon Huntsman, to warn about the consequences of the Republican Party becoming ridiculously anti-science.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s denial of global warming poses a “serious problem” for Republicans trying to take back the White House in 2012, presidential rival Jon Huntsman says.
“The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012,” the former Utah governor said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it,” he said, “I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”
Perry's talking points on global warming are, simply put, lies. He said, “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their — to their projects.”
Not true. Every investigation of climate scientists has cleared them of charges that data has been manipulated in some nefarious fashion. Here's the truth:
While the anti-science extremists who rule the Tea Party and the right-wing bunkosphere keep shouting lies about the Hockey Stick and Mann — and urging their followers to “shout down” science-based commenters on independent websites — the vindications of the science and the man are reported as quietly as if they came from the Whos of Whoville.
And so after countless investigations — 3 in the U.K., 2 by Penn State, the EPA, the NOAA IG — that have all unanimously found the allegations against climate scientists and their research conclusions based on the hacked “ClimateGate” emails to be wholly unsubstantiated, a top GOP presidential candidate backed by the fossil fuel industry still gives voice to the Texas-sized lie (see “Denier Rick Perry Takes $11 Million from Big Oil, Then Claims Climate Scientists ‘Manipulated Data’ For Money“).
We reality-lovers have to keep fighting back.
I don't want my four year old granddaughter to grow up in a country led by politicians who ignore the truth about what is happening in the world. If I got on a bus and saw that the driver was blind, I'd change my mind about trusting that means of transportation.
Hopefully voters will realize that the Republican Party is similarly deficient in the clear vision needed to guide the path of the United States. When leading politicans aren't willing to look reality in the face, citizens should ignore them in the voting booth.
I'm tired of all the media attention that's been given to Rep. Anthony Weiner's semi-scandalous Twitter escapades with young women who caught his cyberspace eye.
But I find his story interesting in a scientific sense, having just finished reading David Eagleman's "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." Eagleman is a neuroscientist. He also is a terrific writer. His earlier book, "Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives" is wonderfully creative.
A central theme of "Incognito" is that conscious awareness is a tiny part of what's going on in the human brain. Most of the work goes on behind the scenes. It's sort of like a child turning the wheel of a carnival ride boat.
The kid pretends that he or she is controlling the motion of the boat. Except, the wheel isn't connected to anything. How the boat moves is determined by a bunch of machinery that the child isn't aware of or focusing on.
Likewise, Eagleman persusasively argues that there's no neuroscientific evidence for free will. This doesn't mean that free will is an illusion, just that current scientific understanding can't find any room for free will to operate in the brain.
People assume that Weiner freely chose to do what he did, Twitter-wise, and that he should be blamed for his actions. Also, punished by being forced to resign his Congressional seat. This doesn't make sense.
Here's an Eagleman quote that shows how wrong almost all of the talk about Anthony Weiner is.
The crux of the question is whether all of your actions are fundamentally on autopilot or whether there is some little bit that is "free" to choose, independent of the rules of biology. This has always been the sticking point for both philosophers and scientists.
As far as we can tell, all activity in the brain is driven by other activity in the brain, in a vastly complex, interconnected network. For better or worse, this seems to leave no room for anything other than neural activity -- that is, no room for a ghost in the machine.
To consider this from the other direction, if free will is to have any effect on the actions of the body, it needs to influence the ongoing brain activity. And to do that, it needs to be physically connected to at least some of the neurons.
But we don't find any spot in the brain that is not itself driven by other parts of the network. Instead, every part of the brain is densely interconnected with -- and driven by -- other brain parts. And that suggests that no part is independent and therefore "free."
So in our current understanding of science, we can't find the physical gap in which to slip free will -- the uncaused causer -- because there seems to be no part of the machinery that does not follow in a causal relationship from the other parts.
Thus Anthony Weiner simply did what his brain directed him to do. More accurately, we should scratch the words "his" and "him" in the preceding sentence. A more correct neuroscientific statement would be:
The brain in the body known as "Anthony Weiner" acted as the brain had to do given all of the genetic, environmental, and experiential influences upon it.
Understand, this doesn't change the wrongness or undesirability of what Weiner did (most commentators seem to feel that his biggest offense was initially trying to cover up his "Twitter affairs").
Similarly, Eagleman says that society has a right to protect itself from violent criminals.
However, in a "Why Blameworthiness is the Wrong Question" chapter he argues that "a forward-thinking legal system will parlay biological understanding into customized rehabilitation, viewing criminal behavior the way we understand other such medical conditions as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and depression -- conditions that now allow the seeing and giving of help."
This is what Anthony Weiner is doing: getting help to modify his future behavior. Eagleman writes:
The concept and word to replace blameworthiness is modifiability, a forward-looking term that asks, What can we do from here? Is rehabilitation available?
Here's another pertinent neuroscientific fact about Weiner, and indeed every human being. Pink Floyd was correct: "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." There's several ways to look at this lyric. Either there's no self apart from the brain, and/or there are many "me's" inside the cranium of each member of Homo sapiens.
Eagleman calls the brain "a team of rivals."
You are made up of an entire parliament of pieces and parts and subsystems. Beyond a collection of local expert systems, we are collections of overlapping, ceaselessly reinvented mechanisms, a group of competing factions.
The conscious mind fabricates stories to explain the sometimes inexplicable dynamics of the subsystems inside the brain. It can be disquieting to consider the extent to which all of our actions are driven by hardwired systems, doing what they do best, while we overlay stories about our choices.
Thus it doesn't make sense to search for the "real me." Or the real Anthony Weiner. There's no such entity. Each of us is a collection of multitudes.
Note that the population of the mental society does not always vote exactly the same way each time. This recognition is often missing from discussions of consciousness, which typically assumes that what it is like to be you is the same from day to day, moment to moment.
...So who's the real you? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne put it, "There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others."
We humans love to moralize. Especially about others. We have an exaggerated sense both of how righteous we are, and how morally deficient this or that bozo is compared to us.
Over and over in his book, David Eagleman points out how our intuitions about personality, selfhood, conscious awareness, free will, and the like are at odds with what neuroscience is learning about how the brain functions.
The brouhaha over Anthony Weiner's Twittergate is off the scientific mark, along with so much else in our political and gossip discourse. Hopefully eventually 21st century understanding of the human brain will replace our essentially medieval view of morality, freedom of choice, and sinfulness.
Until then, let's give Anthony Weiner a break. There's many more important problems this country needs to deal with than a congressman's Twitter tweets.
(Here's another perspective that makes some good points: "Everything Said About Anthony Weiner is Wrong.")
As unoriginal as the title would be, I toyed with the idea of calling this post "Lars Larson is a big fat idiot." But since I wanted Ann Coulter to share in the idiocy, and she's a lot closer to anorexic than fat, I had to give up that notion.
Which leaves Coulter and Larson being plain idiots for claiming that low levels of radiation are good for you.I heard Portland, Oregon right-wing talk show host Lars Larson say this last week, citing the rarely-reputable Ann Coulter as the source of this amazing bit of scientific misinformation.
Of course, it isn't true. And it's astoundingly irresponsible for Coulter and Larson to say this given the scientific consensus.
In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences released a report which concluded that "even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects."
The report's focus is low-dose, low-LET -- "linear energy transfer" -- ionizing radiation that is energetic enough to break biomolecular bonds. In living organisms, such radiation can cause DNA damage that eventually leads to cancers. However, more research is needed to determine whether low doses of radiation may also cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, which are now seen with high doses of low-LET radiation.
The study committee defined low doses as those ranging from nearly zero to about 100 millisievert (mSv) -- units that measure radiation energy deposited in living tissue. The radiation dose from a chest X-ray is about 0.1 mSv. In the United States, people are exposed on average to about 3 mSv of natural "background" radiation annually.
The committee's report develops the most up-to-date and comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. In general, the report supports previously reported risk estimates for solid cancer and leukemia, but the availability of new and more extensive data have strengthened confidence in these estimates.
As a Climate Progress post said, who are you going to believe, citizens of Japan and people living near United States nuclear reactors? Ann Coulter (and Lars Larson), or the National Research Council’s Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation?
Hormesis is the unproven notion that a toxin can be beneficial in small doses, while harmful if more is ingested. The New York TImes story is decidedly more skeptical about radiation-related hormesis than Coulter let on.
Now, some scientists even say low radiation doses may be beneficial. They theorize that these doses protect against cancer by activating cells' natural defense mechanisms. As evidence, they cite studies, like one in Canada of tuberculosis patients who had multiple chest X-rays and one of nuclear workers in the United States. The tuberculosis patients, some analyses said, had fewer cases of breast cancer than would be expected and the nuclear workers had a lower mortality rate than would be expected.
Dr. Boice said these studies were flawed by statistical pitfalls, and when a committee of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement evaluated this and other studies on beneficial effects, it was not convinced. The group, headed by Dr. Upton of New Jersey, wrote that the data ''do not exclude'' the hypothesis. But, it added, ''the prevailing evidence has generally been interpreted as insufficient to support this view.''
Well, if that was true in 2001, it is much more true now -- given the above-mentioned 2005 review of the scientific literature which concluded that there is no safe dose of radiation.
Specifically, the committee's thorough review of available biological and biophysical data supports a "linear, no-threshold" (LNT) risk model, which says that the smallest dose of low-level ionizing radiation has the potential to cause an increase in health risks to humans. In the past, some researchers have argued that the LNT model exaggerates adverse health effects, while others have said that it underestimates the harm. The preponderance of evidence supports the LNT model, this new report says.
So even though it should be obvious, don't take health advice from Ann Coulter or Lars Larson.
Why? Because they're idiots when it comes to making rational conclusions from widely recognized facts.
I couldn't agree more with Comment #14 on the Climate Progress post:
These things are great! People like Coulter are becoming more and more blatantly idiotic. I think they’re setting the stage for their own demise.
In the meantime, let’s throw a “radiation party” for Coulter, Beck and Limbaugh to help them [live] a long and healthy life. Special invited guests: Inhofe, Morano, Monckton… and the whole cavalcade of conservative clowns.
With one exception, I'm not particularly worried about the damage Republicans can do in the new Congress, now that they're about to take over control of the House. A Democratic Senate and President will prevent them from enacting any batshit crazy laws.
What's the exception? Acting on much-needed global warming and energy policy legislation.
This is a policy area that can't wait for voters to come to their senses in 2012 and kick the do-nothings out of office. Obama is doing what he can administratively, but it'd be a heck of a lot better for the United States and the world if a majority in both houses of Congress were in touch with climate change reality.
Since Christmas I've been collecting stories about weather disasters and global warming on an ever-expanding series of browser tabs. The truth is there to see, but unfortunately almost all Republicans are members of the Head in the Sand club.
On December 25, Judah Cohen explained in "Bundle Up, It's Global Warming" how nastier blizzards and global warming can go hand-in-hand.
The earth continues to get warmer, yet it’s feeling a lot colder outside. Over the past few weeks, subzero temperatures in Poland claimed 66 lives; snow arrived in Seattle well before the winter solstice, and fell heavily enough in Minneapolis to make the roof of the Metrodome collapse; and last week blizzards closed Europe’s busiest airports in London and Frankfurt for days, stranding holiday travelers. The snow and record cold have invaded the Eastern United States, with more bad weather predicted.
All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.
How can we reconcile this? The not-so-obvious short answer is that the overall warming of the atmosphere is actually creating cold-weather extremes. Last winter, too, was exceptionally snowy and cold across the Eastern United States and Eurasia, as were seven of the previous nine winters.
On December 28, it was noted that snow storms in the Northeast were heavier than any seen in over half a century.
New York commuters and travelers face further disruptions today as winds hinder efforts to clear roads and runways following the heaviest December snows in six decades...The snowfall was the fifth-largest on record for the city, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said on Dec. 26.
On December 30, Climate Progress presented "The 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award" (*Bad Science, and also what the initials usually mean). Here's the finalists, with an excerpt from the description of the winner.
Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox “News.”
Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change.
Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.
Second Place. The claim that the “Climategate” emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university’s computer system and the theft of the emails).
First Place goes to the following set of B.S.: “There has been no warming since 1998” [or 2000, or…], “the earth is cooling,” “global warming is natural,” and “humans are too insignificant to affect the climate.” Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.
The reality is that the Earth’s climate is changing significantly, changing fast, and changing due to human factors. The reality of climatic change can no longer be disputed on scientific grounds – the U.S. National Academy of Sciences calls the human-induced warming of the Earth a “settled fact.” The evidence for a “warming” planet includes not just rising temperatures, but also rising sea levels, melting Arctic sea ice, disappearing glaciers, increasing intense rainfalls, and many other changes that matter to society and the environment. The recent and ongoing warming of the Earth is unprecedented in magnitude, speed, and cause.
Also on December 30, the New York Times had a story, "E.P.A. Limit on Gases to Pose Risk to Obama and Congress," that talked about how Republicans are determined to reward their oil industry contributors with efforts to derail policies aimed at preventing further disastrous climate change.
Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who is set to become chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was not convinced that greenhouse gases needed to be controlled or that the E.P.A. had the authority to do so.
“This move represents an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs — unless Congress steps in,” Mr. Upton wrote this week in a Wall Street Journal opinion essay.
His co-author was Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group financed by Koch Industries and other oil companies that has spread skepticism about global warming and supported many of the Tea Party candidates who will join the new Congress.
On January 1, the Guardian reported that "Australia faces 'Biblical' floods," the worst in 100 years.
Army helicopters dropped supplies to stranded towns, police patrolled in boats looking for looters, and families were warned of the risk from giant saltwater crocodiles and poisonous snakes being washed into urban areas.
An estimated 200,000 people have been affected by the floods, the worst in a century in some parts of the north-eastern state.
The cost in damage to infrastructure is expected to run into billions of pounds.
“In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Andrew Fraser, the Queensland Treasurer, said in the flooded city of Bundaberg on Saturday.
And today, January 2, Climate Progress explained why we can expect to see more disastrous snowstorms and flooding as human-caused global warming bites the civilizations that have caused it.
One of the most basic predictions of climate science is that global warming will cause more intense precipitation. As Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained it, “there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”
Last year appears to have been the hottest year on record — and it saw an astonishing amount of intense rainfall from Nashville’s ‘Katrina’ to the great Pakistani deluge.” And so it should be no surprise that the year ends with another unprecedented deluge of “biblical proportion.”
Since most Congressional Republicans consider themselves to be all godly and Christian'y, hopefully some of them will start paying attention to the commandment that is being communicated through nature:
Thou shalt take steps to combat global warming, or humanity -- thou art screwed.
Great news from nature for us late afternoon dog walkers: a few days ago the sun started to set later, even though the days are still getting shorter.
You may wonder how days can still be getting shorter through the winter solstice, which occurs on Dec. 21 this year, if the sun is starting to set later in the day.
That is because the sun also rises later in the mornings through the winter solstice, and the rate at which sunrise times are becoming later is higher than the rate at which sunset times are becoming later.
The Portland Oregonian weather page shows the sun setting at 4:27 pm on Tuesday, 4:28 pm on Wednesday, 4:28 pm on Thursday, 4:28 pm on Friday, and 4:29 pm on Saturday.
That's two more minutes of "sunshine" (broadly speaking, given typical December weather in western Oregon) in four days. Keep it up, tilt of the Earth!
Here's another arrow that's been lost from the unscientific quiver of climate change deniers: It's snowing hard! Global warming isn't happening!
The anti-science crowd has been doing a killer job pushing the myth that the big recent snowstorms somehow undercut our understanding of human-caused global warming. But aside from the fact the precipitation isn’t temperature, it turns out that the “common wisdom” the disinformers are preying on — lots of snow means we must be in a cold season — isn’t even true.
Let’s look at the results of an actual, detailed study of “the relationships of the storm frequencies to seasonal temperature and precipitation conditions” for the years “1901–2000 using data from 1222 stations across the United States.” The 2006 study, “Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States“ (Changnon, Changnon, and Karl [of National Climatic Data Center], 2006) found we are seeing more northern snow storms and that we get more snow storms in warmer years.
This is a quote from the cited study itself:
Download Snow study
Thus, these comparative results reveal that a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901–2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.
I used to work with a highly creative and socially conscious guy who told me once that he was always thinking about something.
Driving his car, brushing his teeth, eating his dinner -- most of the time his mind was occupied in pondering how to make the world better while his body was doing something else.
This probably made him more productive, but not more happy. Such is the conclusion of research I came across today in the New York Times: "When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays."
Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.
Well, this is pretty much what the Buddha taught several thousand years ago, along with countless other more modern yogis, sages, gurus, and meditation teachers. Indeed, a Boston reporter says her yoga instructor was right on top of this research, mentioning it in class.
If you want to be part of this ongoing study, and have an iPhone, head over to TrackYourHappiness.org and sign up to get an email or text message at random moments that asks you to report your happiness at the moment.
The NY Times story says:
When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.
I suspect, though, that one of the activities wasn't "being bothered by my iPhone when I'm having sex or otherwise happily engaged." But hey, advancing science comes with some costs.
Like most people, my mind is notoriously prone to wandering. I suppose it shouldn't, since I've meditated almost every day since I was twenty years old (I'm now much older and not much wiser at sixty-two).
I do find that concentrating on a mantra or my breath for 20-30 minutes starts off my morning in a focused manner. I enjoy not thinking much, or at all, about other stuff while I'm doing a single thing.
When I get going on my other activities of the day, I often backslide into what is called "monkey mind," internal chattering from lots of psychological tree tops that isn't related to what I'm actually doing.
This afternoon, though, inspired by the wandering mind = less happy research, I did better while grocery shopping. I consciously focused on each step I took from the parking lot into the south Salem Fred Meyer store.
Then I had a sense of slowing down, selecting one item at a time, being mindful of the details of choosing bananas, checking the expiration date on organic lettuce mix, finding an unfamiliar brand of hair conditioner that my wife had put on the list.
I really did feel happier shopping in this fashion. It struck me that external reality is considerably more interesting, by and large, than my thoughts -- which tend to be repetitive.
After loading the groceries into the back of our Hybrid Highlander and starting to drive off to the next shopping stop, I got another lesson in the value of mindfulness.
Still engaged in focusing on external reality, rather than my own mind, I saw a gorgeous young woman -- willowy, shapely, graceful -- walking through the parking lot. If I'd been zeroed in on what my psyche was chattering about, instead of what was sensuously present in the outside world, I could have missed her.
The research findings seem pretty obvious. But often we miss the obvious in our searching for happiness.
Great news: climate scientists have decided they no longer will tolerate truth-besmirching, anti-science, fossil fuel industry-supported global warming deniers.
Unfortunately, the campaign to bring more facts and less irrationality into policy debates isn't quite as aggressive as the LA Times story said (which was reprinted in the Portland Oregonian, where I read it this morning).
Faced with rising political attacks, hundreds of climate scientists are joining a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics, some of whom gained new power after the Republicans won control of the House in Tuesday's election.
On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country's largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution.
My wife and I thought that sounded great. And I'm confident that the reporter who wrote the story actually did talk with scientists who are eager to go toe-to-toe with the many crazies in Congress who ignore solid research in favor of their own right-wing dogmatism.
However, the American Geophysical Union issued a press release saying that they aren't campaigning against climate change skeptics or congressional conservatives. They just want to provide accurate answers to questions from journalists about climate science.
Well, that's better than nothing. More encouraging, because more aggressive, is a separate effort by John Abraham that's also mentioned in the LA Times story.
John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a "climate rapid response team," which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows.
"This group feels strongly that science and politics can't be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists," said Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk CountyCommunity College in New York.
"We are taking the fight to them because we are … tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed."
A distressingly large percentage of so-called conservatives in the United States aren't interested in conserving. Nor, in reality. This is exceedingly dangerous to the nation's health, along with the world's.
It's an only in America thing.
Conservatives in Britain recognize the serious threat global warming poses. For some reason -- likely our excess of fundamentalist religiosity -- lots of people in the United States are afraid of truths revealed by science.
This morning I read a chapter in Bruce Hood's "Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable" called Who Created Creationism? Hood says:
The problem is that the majority of U.S. adults believe that a supreme being, namely God, guided the origin and diversity of life on earth. They believe that in the beginning God created earth and all its life forms and that there has been no significant change since that day.
...The reason this is a problem is that it highlights a paradox of modern America. The United States is one of the most scientifically and technologically advanced nations on the planet.
...Yet less than half of the U.S. population accepts a comprehensive scientific theory that explains the origins and diversity of life on earth. When it comes to the general public's acceptance of Darwin's theory of natural selection, the United States is second from the bottom of the list of the top thirty-four industrialized nations.
This helps explain why facts about global climate change are met with a similar head-in-the-sand attitude by a large proportion of both the American citizeny and their elected officials.
They don't trust science because it is viewed as threatening their religious beliefs. I can sort of understand this fear when it comes to evolution (though God could have used natural selection as His means of creating us Homo sapiens).
But it's difficult to see how climate change research undermines anyone's faith-based beliefs. Apparently a mistrust of science is so pervasive among fundamentalist folks, it carries over to scientific facts that have nothing to do with God.
Whatever the reason, the rest of us reality-loving citizens have to take a stand against global warming deniers.
Like Abraham said, it isn't enough to present factual truths. When someone has his or her head in the sand, they can't hear what you're saying if you speak normally. You've got to raise the volume, matching their obtuseness with your assertiveness.
Abraham recognizes that scientists have a duty to stand up for our children, grandchildren, and irreplaceable planet.
On the other hand, the general public and members of government are split on this issue. Half are concerned about global warming, half are not. Why is that? A major reason is that there is a great deal of bad information which typically germinates in the blogosphere and is created by people with little or no real expertise.
We know that solving this problem will require real effort. We are on a path to cause real destruction to our planet and even if we were only interested in self-preservation we should take action.
We are also not naive in recognising that there is a political aspect to this. It is well known, at least in the United States, that conservatives tend to be much more sceptical about climate change than liberals. We need to move beyond partisanship toward co-operation. Conservatives care about the environment too and there have been many who have made comments about the need to act on climate change. History will look unkindly on those who have stood in the way of saving the planet, which will be an enormous political liability – although by then it will be too late to fix things.
The timing of these campaigns was not linked to the recent elections in the US. The American Geophysical Union's effort coincides with the Cancún climate conference, a timing that is primarily motivated by a recognition that scientists have an obligation to defend the science and engage with the public.
We are both scientists and human beings. As scientists, we need to find ways to communicate accurate scientific information to a wider audience in a way that is policy-neutral. As humans, we are concerned not only for ourselves, but also for our children and for people in the world who don't have the necessary resources to adapt to the coming change. As a human, I have an obligation to speak up for them.
It is a shame that scientists have to take personal and professional risks in order to be good citizens of the planet. It doesn't have to be this way.
Here's an extensive slide presentation by Abraham where he debunks a presentation by Christopher Monckton, a noted global warming denier who screws up the science big time.
And the link below leads to a report where Abraham and others respond to Monckton's erroneous testimony this year before a congressional committee dealing with climate change.
Download Response to Monckton
Briefly, Mr. Monckton makes a number of scientific assertions about (1) the efficacy of warming from CO2, (2) the benefits of elevated CO2, (3) the relationship between CO2 and ocean acidification, (4) recent global temperature trends, (5) and the sensitivity of the climate to CO2. He has also claimed that (6) there is no need to take quick action to address the changing climate. In all cases, Mr. Monckton’s assertions are shown to be without merit – they are based on a thorough misunderstanding of the science of climate change.
We believe the responses contained here strongly refute the statements made by Mr. Monckton. It is our hope that this document will be of use to members of Congress and their staffs as further hearings and debates on climate change and energy policy take place. We would be pleased to respond to any inquiries and offer necessary clarifications.
Marcia Turnquist of Northwest Portland, you should send me a cyberspace gift basket. I was this close to titling my blog post, "Marcia Turnquist is a scientific freaking fool."
But I thought that sounded just a tad impolite for a headline, so I demoted that sentiment to the body of this post -- though I still dearly hope Google manages to connect "Marcia Turnquist" and "freaking fool" for as long as the Holy Search Engine does its thing.
As I guess is obvious, I'm losing my patience with global warming deniers.
Also, with media outlets that treat their scientific illiteracy with any sort of respect. Given how many letters to the editor are received by the Oregonian, but not published, it baffles me why the newspaper would choose to waste paper and ink on Turnquist's inane babbling.
Which I'll quote in its nonsensical entirety:
Hot or cold?
The climate bill of energy taxes is dead and, contrary to what most people have been led to believe, it's cause for celebration, not reason to hold a wake for the planet. In his column "Warming the globe: A long, hot summer is boiling a short, hot planet" (July 23), David Sarasohn repeats the latest alarmist claim that 2010 is the warmest year on record. Really? With our icy winter and record snows across Europe and Asia? Did I mention that South America recently experienced unusual cold and snow? But how can this be?
Well, here's one possibility: "adjusted" temperatures. For example, a Goddard Institute for Space Studies U.S. temperature graph once showed the 1930s warmer than recent years. But funny how the modern versions of the same graph were "adjusted," lowering the 1930s temperatures and raising those of late. Voila! Hottest year ever.
Skeptics of global warming are often accused of ignoring science. No, what we ignore is dishonest, doctored science that thirsts after grant money. What we need is an overhaul of a dysfunctional system.
In the meantime, let's all go out and celebrate the death of energy taxes that surely would have spelled death to our economy.
Marcia, a search of Oregon Live (the Oregonian's web site) showed me that you are a frequent letter writer. I couldn't bear to read any more of your missives, but noticed that your special focus is on climate change/global warming.
Here's a suggestion for you: try spending less time watching Fox News and reading right-wing blogs, and put more energy into learning about reality.
Fact: the first six months of 2010 indeed are the warmest on record.
The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies now reports that the first six months of 2010 are the warmest on record, both in terms of atmospheric data and in combined atmospheric/ocean readings.
In some cases the atmospheric readings for some of the first six months of the year are between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above what they were in previous years.
And on top of that, last week Arctic sea ice extent hit the lowest level ever for June.
"The 2010 temperature data is evidence that the planet is continuing to warm," said Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow at Clean Air Cool Planet. "The absolute numbers indicate that the earth's climate is moving into uncharted territory, as reflected by the massive retreat of Arctic sea ice."
Fact: 2009 was the second warmest full year on record.
2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.
Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade, due to strong cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to near-record global temperatures. The past year was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years — 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007 — as the second warmest year since recordkeeping began.
Fact: the last decade was the warmest on record.
January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s.
The near-record temperatures of 2009 occurred despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America. High air pressures in the Arctic decreased the east-west flow of the jet stream, while also increasing its tendency to blow from north to south and draw cold air southward from the Arctic. This resulted in an unusual effect that caused frigid air from the Arctic to rush into North America and warmer mid-latitude air to shift toward the north.
"Of course, the contiguous 48 states cover only 1.5 percent of the world area, so the U.S. temperature does not affect the global temperature much,' said Hansen.
Marcia, you need to take a look at a globe. For one thing, maybe you believe the Earth is flat, since you're a global warming denier who doesn't pay any attention to science.
For another, you'll find that our planet consists of much more than just a few countries. Global warming has gotten that name for a reason: it's global.
Well, I hope you find this blog post, or maybe someone else will point it out to you. I'm a big fan of the opinion pages in newspapers and magazines, but opinions really should have a foundation on facts.
I have a three year old granddaughter. I don't want people like you spreading lies about global climate change, because she is going to have to live on this planet long after you and I are gone.
You've got a right to your crazy political views, Marcia. But you don't have a right to twist scientific facts to suit your fancy.
Even though I got satellite radio to avoid the right-wing talk shows that dominate the Portland, Oregon airwaves, occasionally I tune into Lars Larson (KXL) or Victoria Taft (KPAM) to check on the strength of my cranium -- since almost always what I hear makes me feel like my brain is going to explode.
I survived ten minutes or so of Larson a few days ago, but just barely. The combined scientific ignorance of Lars and a global warming-denying sidekick he had on, Chuck Wiese, was astounding.
And intensely disturbing.
Three years ago I criticized Larson for joking about how global warming is going to be good for Oregon. He's still up to his head-in-the-sand tricks. Now his brain-dead theory is that the Earth is cooling rapidly, so if big bad government limits our nation's carbon footprint, people are going to freeze to death when their furnace fuel is rationed.
Or something like that.
It was hard to follow the logic of Larson and Wiese, since they didn't use any in their blathering about how climate change/global warming science is a fraud.
Larson doesn't have any scientific qualifications, so far as I know. Wiese calls himself a meteorologist, but he only has a B.A. in Atmospheric Science. He says he's done weather forecasting for twenty-five years.
Well, obviously he never learned that short term changes in the weather are different from long term changes in the climate, because he and Larson kept saying that because Oregon has had an unusually cool spring, this shows that global warming isn't happening.
If idiocy spewed over the public airwaves could be taxed, our national debt would be wiped out by Lars Larson quickly. But, hey, I'm an optimist. People can change.
I wish Larson would read "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" by Greg Craven, an Oregon high school teacher who subtitles his terrific book a rational response to the climate change debate. He calmly and logically leads the reader through an analysis of climate change -- focusing on how to decide what to do, not the scientific facts.
Craven is a believer, as am I, in finding the most reliable sources of scientific information, and trusting them.
I don't have a particle accelerator in my house, nor the ability to conduct experiments in subatomic physics, so I trust the conclusions of experts in this field. Likewise, Craven lists the key organizations who agree with the scientific consensus: global warming is for real, humans are the main cause of it, and it poses a huge threat to human civilization.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and National Research Council, for example. Along with the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, among many other reliable sources.
But a right-wing talk show host and a guy with a B.A. in Atmospheric Science disagree, saying that efforts to reduce carbon emissions are some sort of Obama plot to turn the United States into a socialist state.
Or something like that. Again, it's hard to follow crackpot craziness.
Larson and Wiese were angry at those who want this country to take serious actions to stop, or at least slow down, global warming. Well, I'm angry too: at them, and anyone else who refuses to face the facts -- which are pointing toward a future for my granddaughter that will be much worse than what we're enjoying now.
It's utterly immoral and unethical to allow future generations to inherit a virtually uninhabitable world from us. As Craven demonstrates, the costs of doing nothing about climate change are vastly higher than the expense of acting to reduce carbon emissions.
Conservatives have a valid point when they criticize the rapidly rising national debt that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren, if nothing is done about it. They should be equally concerned about the environmental debacle that will be passed on if the Earth continues to warm as rapidly as it is.
In a recent issue of TIME magazine, William Antholis and Strobe Talbott wrote "Leaving a Good Legacy: Why the ethical case for combating climate change is one that should appeal to conservatives."
It should be another piece of required reading for Lars Larson. The article ends with:
Our concept of intergenerational equity holds that assets do not belong exclusively to those who have accrued them; rather, those resources should, to the extent possible, be administered and preserved for those who will inherit them and will, partly as a consequence of their inheritance, live somewhat better lives than those who came before. We come into this world in debt to our ancestors, and we leave it an incrementally better place, believing our descendants will come up with means of fending off or coping with whatever their age throws at them.
Down through the years, that has been the narrative of the human family. But global warming alters it in a basic way. We cannot leave those who come after us to their own devices. If we do not get the process of mitigating climate change started right now, our descendants, however skilled, will not be able to cope with the consequences. If we do nothing, we will likely bequeath to them a less habitable — perhaps even uninhabitable — planet, the most negative legacy imaginable. That is why there is no time to lose.
The Earth has gone through big climatic changes in its multi-billion year history. Global warming deniers point to these and say, "See, nature continually warms and cools the Earth, so there's no need to worry about what people are doing to the climate."
That's ignorance talking, as I learned in reading more of James Hansen's fascinating book, "Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity."
If that subtitle sounds dramatic to you, be assured that it isn't.
About four years ago TIME magazine, a genuinely fair and balanced news source, had a cover story about global warming titled "Be Worried. Be Very Worried." I wrote about it in "Global warming is real. Debate over."
Unfortunately, this guy graphically shows why global warming can't be a conspiracy, but denial can.
People are gullible and prone to believing bullshit rather than facts. A few errors in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) are utterly insignificant in light of the fact, according to the New York Times, that the 2007 IPCC report cites 10,000 scientific papers and is more than 3,000 pages long.
Few people are going to take the time to become familiar with that vast body of research. That's why popularizers like James Hansen (director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) are so important.
They show us the most important information we need to know about how natural global climate change has operated in the past, which gives us great clues about how man made global warming will change Earth in the future.
Hansen introduces the figure below with:
Even the most hardened antiscience zealot, once he understands figure 18, will have to admit that it is one of the most beautiful curves on the planet (I'm referring to scientific curves). It contains an enormous amount of interesting information about Earth's history. There are remarkable stories in both the broad sweep of climate over the 65 million years and in the rapid climate fluctuations.
FIGURE 18. Deep ocean temperature during the Cenozoic era. (See text. Original data from Zachos et al., "Trends, Rhythms, and Aberation in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present. "See sources.)
The "PETM" on the figure stands for Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Fifty million years ago, Hansen says, Alaska had tropical-like vegetation and crocodiles. But during recent ice ages, which occurred on the right side of the long-term cooling trend shown in blue, ice sheets reached as far south as Kansas.
So what caused the global warming that peaked 50 million years ago?
Hansen describes how the sun's brightness has increased .4% over the past 65 million years, while Earth has actually cooled, so the sun can't be the cause of the climate changes shown in the figure.
He also says that changes in the location of continents (more about this below) has just been a minor influence on global climate.
However, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has varied from 170 ppm (parts per million) in recent ice ages to 1,000 to 2,000 ppm in the early Cenozoic -- when those crocodiles were cruising around Alaska.
So carbon dioxide changes in the Cenozoic caused a forcing of about 12 watts [per square meter, averaged over the planet] -- at least ten times greater than the climate forcing due to either the sun or Earth's surface. It follows that changing carbon dioxide is the immediate cause of the large climate swings over the last 65 million years.
Since people weren't around, burning fossil fuels, during almost all of that period, where did the carbon dioxide come from that caused the massive global warming 50 million years ago?
Hansen points to this figure as the answer:
FIGURE 19. Continental locations 65 million years ago and today. The Cretaceous era ended and the Cenozoic began 65 million years ago. (Data from Hansen et al., "Target Atmospheric CO2," (see sources) based on original data from Ron Blakey at Northern Arizona University.)
As the continents move, Hansen says, they can ride over ocean crust -- which has massive amounts of calcium carbonate and organic sediments. That heat and pressure produces carbon dioxide and methane.
Note how modern-day India cruised through the Indian Ocean until it reached Asia. This was an area where major rivers had deposited carbon sediments for a long time.
Undoubtedly, the carbon-rich sediments on that ocean floor were subducted beneath the Indian continental plate. Then, 50 million years ago, India crashed into Asia, with the Indian plate sliding under the Asian plate... With India's sojourn across the carbon-rich ocean completed, the carbon dioxide emissions declined and the planet began a long-term cooling trend.
If you want a much more detailed explanation, here's the paper Hansen cites in his book:
Now, seemingly it's reasonable to think, "OK. So what? India isn't going to repeat its crash-into-Asia thing. Why should we care about this today?"
A couple of reasons. Great reasons.
First, Hansen says that the methane hydrate reservoir that the ancient carbon dioxide emissions came from is fully charged again. It's possible that human-caused global warming could start to melt the methane on continental shelves, leading to runaway further global warming.
Which wouldn't be good, given that when ice sheets melted, sea level 13,000 to 14,000 years ago rose 10 to 17 feet per century for several centuries. It was only when sea level stabilized that human civilization really took off.
Second, the long-term paleoclimate data shows us what happens when carbon dioxide levels rise or fall to certain levels. This is what really did happen on Earth, not what computer models predict might happen.
Read this, and weep. For your grandchildren and future generations, if you're as old as Hansen (68) and I (61) are.
A striking conclusion from this analysis is the value of carbon dioxide -- only 450 ppm, with estimated uncertainty of 100 ppm -- at which the transition occurs from no large ice sheet to a glaciated Antarctica.
This has a clear, strong implication for what constitutes a dangerous level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. If humanity burns most of the fossil fuels, doubling or tripling the preindustrial carbon dioxide level, Earth will surely head toward the ice-free condition, with sea level 75 meters (250 feet) higher than today.
It is difficult to say how long it will take the melting to be complete, but once ice sheet disintegration gets well under way, it will be impossible to stop.
With carbon dioxide the dominant climate forcing, as it is today, it obviously would be exceedingly foolish and dangerous to allow carbon dioxide to approach 450 ppm.
Hansen says that humans now are increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2 ppm per year, by burning fossil fuels -- 67 times more rapid than the fastest fairly recent natural change.
What took nature thousands of years to accomplish, humans are going to do much, much, quicker. Unless we wake up and recognize the danger we're in.
Researchers found that a nap reboots the brain, improving learning and memory. Of course, expert nappers like myself reject the notion that napping needs a purpose.
My 4th Commandment of Napping says:
(4) Don't over-analyze. As noted in my "The Tao of napping," researchers have found proven health benefits to taking a nap. But a nap doesn't need justifying. It is what it is.
Last month I heard a conservative radio talk show host proclaim, "Hah! It's snowing in Arizona. Guess this will make John McCain change his mind about global warming."
Idiocy must be contagious, because yesterday I heard something similar (on CNN, I believe). The weather person was saying that it was unusually cold in the central and eastern parts of the United States.
The anchor responded with something like "Well, that's interesting, since the Copenhagen conference on global warming happened not long ago." Before he could expand upon this illogical train of thought, the weather expert interrupted to save him from further embarrassment.
"When it's colder than normal in one area, it's usually warmer than normal somewhere else. Currently the jet stream is sending cold air from the arctic down into the heart of the country. But in Juneau, Alaska, it's warmer than in Chicago right now."
Like this Climate Progress blog post says, Duh! A cold snap doesn't disprove global warming. Obviously.
Problem is, our not-always-so-great United States is filled with people who either (1) don't know much about science, (2) don't care much about science, or (3) pretend to not know or not care much about science in at an attempt to score political points.
Regardless of the reason, it's hard for me to accept that someone could be so dense as to believe that just because it's really cold and snowy some place where it usually isn't, this shows that global warming isn't happening.
In most winters, and certainly those in the last 20 years or so, our winds normally come from the south-west. This means air travels over the relatively warm Atlantic and we get mild conditions in the UK. However, over the past three weeks the Atlantic air has been ‘blocked’ and cold air has been flowing down from the Arctic or the cold winter landmass of Europe.
...The current cold weather in the UK is part of the normal regional variations that take place in the winter season. It doesn’t tell us anything about climate change, which has to be looked at in a global context and over longer periods of time.
Even though during the past few weeks it's been colder than normal in parts of the United States and Europe, it's been warmer than normal in other areas of the world. (Bluish areas are colder, reddish areas are warmer.)
Nonetheless, facts don't stand in the way of anti-scientific global warming deniers. Media Matters addresses this subject in "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?: Climate Change Edition."
Answer: not if you're on Fox News.
Cold weather has come to almost inevitably yield reflexively mindless right-wing media attacks on the scientific consensus about global climate change. Yes, when it's chilly outside, particularly if it happens to snow, media conservatives go into hysterical fits -- declaring the idea that global climate change actually exists and is at least in part caused by humans a complete farce.
Actually, what's farcical is someone saying Ooh, it's cold! That disproves global warming!
I love gadgets. They make me happy. Amazon just sent me a snazzier Garmin Nuvi. Trying it out while driving around yesterday, I had a great time. Really.
I'm a believer that money spent on technological innovations actually can buy happiness, especially if what I've bought is made by Apple.
So I found quite a bit to disagree with in a recent New Scientist article by Yair Amichai-Hamburger, "Free yourself from oppression by technology." (Yes, that's a real name; he's director of an Internet Psychology research center in Israel.)
The other factor is relatedness: our need to feel close to other people. Technology is a threat to this. Devices like the iPod can be used to create a bubble that disconnects us from normal human interactions, and while some virtual relationships may be truly meaningful, in many cases they come at the expense of real-world connections. Psychologists have found that the pivotal difference between happy and unhappy people is the presence or absence of rich and satisfying social relationships. Spending meaningful time with friends, family and partners is necessary for happiness.
Admittedly, he has a point.
Some people get obsessed with Facebook, gaming, online pornography, or other cyberspace enticements. But people also get obsessed with solitary fly-fishing, reading romance novels, and crossword puzzles.
Probably when writing started to become common, some of our ancestors decried the impersonal nature of communicating via papyrus or clay slates. "Why aren't we talking to each other face-to-face so much any more?!"
Ditto when the telephone came along. Yet now getting a letter in the mail or a phone call, rather than an email or text message, is viewed as a marvelous bit of old-fashioned personal outreach.
Culture changes. Society changes. Technology changes. Communication changes. Where's the problem in that?
I spend quite a bit of time on my computer. Maintaining two blogs, with a daily post on one or the other, keeps me staring at a MacBook screen for an hour or two each afternoon or evening, not to mention all the other stuff I do online.
Reading and replying to emails. Keeping up on my favorite web sites. Handling our finances. Etc. Etc.
I don't feel at all oppressed by this. Nor do I feel depersonalized. I keep in touch with lots of people who I would otherwise have no interactions with. I've "met" countless commenters on my blogs who live all around the world.
Yes, getting together with our fellow humans physically is nice. But so is getting together mentally. When I communicate with someone online, I consider that I'm doing so "in person."
I've gone to a lot of social gatherings where the normal mode of interacting is shallow chit-chat. I can take it for a while, but eventually my head feels like it's going to explode if I talk for another minute about the weather, or grandchildren, or how good the snacks are.
I have lots of meaningful interactions with people face-to-face. I also have lots of meaningful interactions with people technology-to-technology, which often are deeper and more honest.
The print version of the New Scientist article has this title and tagline:
Shiny, unhappy people
That new phone or laptop may be giving you a warm glow, but beware a stealth attack on your happiness, warns Yair Amichai-Hamburger
OK, maybe this is a fair warning for some people.
As for me, I'm going to continue enjoying the warm glow of happiness I get when I flip open my laptop, browse my iPhone applications, and check out the tricks my Garmin Nuvi 285W can do.
Or write a blog post all by myself. Ah, the bliss of pushing the "publish" button. Here comes a burst of joy...
Yes, I was right! Three weeks ago I said that the climate research email hack shows global warming is real, because the furor over the stolen messages was a big ado about nothing.
Now AP reporters have read every email repeatedly. They discussed what the emails mean with experts in climate science and scientific methodology.
The AP found that the emails show pettiness, not fraud. Scientists are human, just like the rest of us. They get irked at global warming deniers who try to play fast and loose with facts.
E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Time keeps marching on. When I wrote my previous blog post, "How to make time slow down," I was 59. Now, I'm 61.
Obviously I haven't been able to stop chronological time. Every year, on my birthday, my age meter advances a click. But we all know how time seems to fly sometimes, and drag at other times.
None of us wants life to be a drag.
However, the older I get, the more I want time to slow down. Perceived time, that is, because I know I can't do anything about those damn birthdays coming around every 365 days.
A second way in which we can slow down time is by making a conscious effort to be 'mindful' of our experience… Poets and artists often have this kind of 'child-like' vision – in fact it's this that usually provides the inspiration for their work. They often have a sense of strangeness and wonder about things which most of us take for granted, and feel a need to capture and frame their more intense perceptions.
An article in the October 24-30, 2009 issue of New Scientist, "The Time Machine Inside Your Head," provides some explanations for why mindfulness succeeds in slowing down time for us.
Researchers wondered why we feel that some experiences (such as a frightening one) last longer than others. People who survive a serious car accident, for example, often say "I felt like everything was happening in slow motion." According to the article:
[David] Eagleman now attributes the apparent slowing of time to a trick of memory. An intense experience, with heightened fear or excitement, rivets our attention and evokes the firing of many neurons across the brain, he says, causing us to soak up more sensory details.
Richer memories seem to last longer, he says, because you assume you would have needed more time to record so many details.
...That could explain many other temporal illusions too, such as the "oddball effect." When people see the same thing over and over (a picture of a dog flashed on a computer screen, say) and then suddenly see something different (Margaret Thatcher), the new thing seems to last longer, even if all the pictures are actually shown for the same duration.
So if we see familiar things as if for the first time, this should slow down time for us. The years we have left to live will seem like they take longer to pass.
As Steve Taylor says:
Mindfulness means stopping thinking and starting to be aware, to live in the here and now of your experience instead of the 'there and then' of your thoughts. It stretches time in exactly the same way that new experience does: because we give more attention to our experience, we take in more information from it.
In other words, to some extent we can control time. It doesn't have to speed up as [we] get older. Some of us try to extend our lives by keeping fit and eating healthy food, which is completely sensible. But it's also possible for us to expand time from the inside, by changing the way we experience the moment to moment reality of our lives. We can live for longer not just in terms of years, but also in terms of perception.
Oh, Ida, it's so nice to meet a relative -- albeit a distant one. Really distant. As in 47 million years ago.
I love the idea, better termed "reality," that my ancestors include all sorts of other creatures. Which, of course, isn't a strange idea at all, since humans obviously are animals. And animalistic.
There is, however, some controversy about whether Ida is part of the Homo sapiens family tree. Some scientists say the fossil is like an aunt from several generations ago. Others, that it is more like a third cousin twice removed.
Whatever. Ida still is a relative, and I'm glad she came to visit after so long. Forty-seven million years! Time for some inter-species togetherness.
Reality is so much better than fantasy, by and large.
Science is dedicated to learning how things really are. Religion casts its lot with imagining how things might be. Eternal life. A god who created the universe just for us. Heavenly delights offered in exchange for blind faith.
None of that makes sense.
So Christian religious fundamentalists fear reason, evidence, facts. Evolution threatens their irrational world view, where God created everything all at once -- or at least managed the design of creation with his divine will.
Over on one of my favorite blogs, Pharyngula, biologist PZ Myers has been punching holes in a creationist's arguments. I like the title of yesterdays' post: "I'll be condescending when condescension is deserved."
Who should be intellectually condescending here? I think the side that presents the evidence, actually seeks out new knowledge to test their conclusions, and actually demonstrates some knowledge and scholarship deserves to be a little uppity and arrogant. It's the people like Peter Heck, who are utterly ignorant of the science, mangle what little they know, and actively mislead people about the evidence who might deserve a little condescension. My only reservation about that is that I tend to favor treating ignorant, lying twerps with open contempt instead.
Today Myers ripped into Heck again, demolishing his ridiculous claim that there is no evidence for macroevolution (the emergence of new species) -- only microevolution (such as when a virus evolves into a new form, like swine flu).
When creationists argue that they believe in microevolution, but that macroevolution is dubious, they've got it backwards. Large scale historical change was confirmed and thoroughly documented in the 19th century! Darwin was a bridge, who explained how small scale, natural processes could produce the known variation between species, and the triumph of 20th century biology was to confirm and expand upon our understanding of how those changes occurred. Neither macro nor micro evolution are speculative. Neither one is lacking in evidence.
Ida, who could well be my distant ancestor (yours too) is more proof of evolution. Now, we can only hope that believers in creationism and intelligent design will evolve into human beings who aren't stuck in the Dark Ages of anti-scientific fundamentalist beliefs.
Browsing through some news web sites this morning, it was nice to come across a story that made me smile rather than frown (as swine flu and economic headlines do).
For the first time, apparently, scientists have proven that an animal can dance to music. Snowball, a cockatoo, performs to various tunes. This video of him grooving to the Backstreet Boys was the first one I watched.
I wish our dog could do half (heck, a tenth) as well. And that I could put a video of her on You Tube that would get over 2,150,000 views.
Unfortunately for our family pet's fame, researchers analyzed more than 5,000 You Tube videos of "dancing" animals.
It seems that only species capable of imitating sound can keep a beat. Dolphins are going to be studied to see if they can aqua-dance, since they're capable of learning vocalizations.
I don't think they'd be as engaging as Snowball, though. Here's another video of him dancing, this time to Huey Lewis. I love how he throws his head around.
Sometimes science reveals the obvious.
Guys, we can't fight evolution. So, embrace it.
It's good to keep things in perspective. Sure, the economic times are tough. Most of us feel like we're being painfully squeezed by circumstances not of our own making.
We do our best to keep balanced, hoping to maintain the equilibrium of the little corner of the cosmos that each of us calls "me."
Well, there's truth in the conception that the world can be found in a grain of sand. Or, a single psyche.
But it's also wise to keep in mind how small each of us is when compared to the unimaginable vastness of the universe.
Which, according to a recent New Scientist article ("Another universe comes calling") may be much vaster than suspected.
Download Another universe comes calling
Clusters of galaxies have been clocked at 1000 kilometers a second, racing toward a certain patch of sky at a unexplainably high speed. Here's an image from the article that explains what may be going on. (click to enlarge)
Note the relatively small circle in the middle of the cosmic landscape. That's the observable universe, with a radius, I believe, of some 13.7 billion light years (the age of the universe).
Much further out is the cosmic horizon, 45 billion light years from an observer. This is how far away the most distant object we could see today is. It's well over 13.7 billion light years because the universe has been expanding much faster than light since the big bang.
So (I think I've got this right)...by the time light from a hugely distant galaxy reaches us, the galaxy has zoomed much further away. It seems considerably closer than it really is.
On the other hand -- and this is the mind-blowing part of the article for me -- there may be vast expanses of the universe beyond the cosmic horizon that are having an effect of what lies within the horizon.
These expanses are indicated by the "mountain" range of dense space-time shown on the right side of the image. Some scientists suspect that an entity outside of the observable universe is pulling on the galaxy clusters, causing them to flow in that direction.
Such is far from being proven.
Still, I love the notion that so much of the cosmos is over the cosmic horizon, forever beyond our knowledge (unless we could travel faster than light) yet impacting our corner of the universe nonetheless.
Back when I was working in the health policy arena, I gave a talk to medical school students on death with dignity issues. As an icebreaker (somehow I managed to fit this into my presentation) I started off by asking them, "Who knows about how many galaxies there are in the universe?"
Nobody even hazarded a guess. And these were science students, in medical school! How much less, I'm sure, do regular people know about our place in the cosmos.
So we're very, very small in the big scheme of things. And that scheme is much bigger than we'll ever know if the New Scientist article is correct -- as it likely is to some degree.
I don't know if this knowledge helps when our car won't start, or our back aches.
But I enjoy pondering how insignificant my worries are in light of the ever-expanding and ultimately unknowable cosmos.
Oh, Lars, you're so funny. But only in your own right-wing mind. Today I heard Oregon's contribution to uninformed talk radio (Lars Larson has both a national and local show) praising global warming and today's record breaking heat wave.
"Oh, sure, global warming is going to turn southern California into a dust bowl," I recall Lars saying. "But it's going to be great for Oregon. Just look at the terrific weather we're having. Global warming, bring it on."
First of all, Lars, my daughter and her family live in Hollywood. Real people live down there, like they do elsewhere in the southwest. And all the other parts of the world that are facing long-term drought largely because of global warming.
Lars, you live in the city. You turn on a tap and water comes out. Spend some time in the country. People like us rely on a well for our water. Drought is no joke to country folk. And farmers. There's plenty of both in Oregon, Lars. You need to get out more.
Then there's Victoria Taft on Portland's KPAM, another conservative talk show host who is spectacularly ignorant about global warming. And the status of Oregon State's weird and wacky weather guy, George Taylor. It's a fact: he isn't the official state climatologist.
But recently I heard Victoria say that he was, before Gov. Kulongoski stripped him of his position. Wrong. He never had it, because no such beast as "Oregon state climatologist" exists.
She also believes that humans have nothing to do with global warming, a spectacularly wrong conception that Taylor shares. Along with extremely few reputable scientists.
Taft and Taylor are prone to spouting climate myths. I doubt that they're open-minded enough to expose themselves to the facts about these myths, but they're readily available on the New Scientist web site.
I just read one of those articles, "The 7 biggest myths about climate change." See, I'm a subscriber to several science magazines. I've got this strange (to Lars and Victoria) notion that truth is better than falsehood, and facing reality is preferable to blind faith in political or religious dogma.
Truth. Reality. Some paragraphs from New Scientist:
Our planet's climate is anything but simple. It depends on the interplay of many factors, from massive events in the sun to microscopic creatures in the oceans.
Yet a clear picture has emerged, supported by an overwhelming amount of evidence: the world is warming, this warming is due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases caused by human activity, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with ever more serious consequences.
True, there are big uncertainties in some predictions, but these swing both ways: the response of clouds might slow warming or could speed it up instead, for instance.
With so much at stake, the last thing we need is for the real issues to be obscured by discredited arguments and wild theories. We must act now to avoid the worse effects. So for those who are not sure what to believe, here's our guide to climate myths and misconceptions.
Decide for yourself.
Lars and Victoria, you're being spoken to. Could you stop talking and start listening? The truth is out there. It just takes opening your mind's eye and removing those right-wing blinders.
Al Gore did a lot for me last night when "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar for best documentary. We'd just finished watching the movie on DVD. He'd already inspired me to do more to fight global warming.
But my passion was still on simmer. Hearing Gore repeat nine words from the movie raised the heat of my activism:
Driving home from the Academy Awards party where I won the trophy for picking the most winners (including documentary feature and original song, thanks to "An Inconvenient Truth"), I turned on the radio and heard Matt Drudge opining on the Oscars and global warming.
A caller suggested that he should pay more attention to the science of global climate change, rather than base his skeptical view solely on his conservative political beliefs. Drudge replied:
I trust my common sense and conscience rather than the science.
In short, I've become scornful of anyone who refuses to look at the scientific facts. Today's Prickly City comic tells it like I am.
Like I said in my letter to the editor about George Taylor, O.S.U.'s global warming head-in-the-sand climatologist, there's a big difference between skepticism and ignorance.
Skepticism is an integral aspect of the scientific method. Ignorance isn't. If Taylor, or anyone else, doubts the consensus of the world's leading climate researchers that (1) global warming is occurring and (2) humans are largely responsible for it, they need to show why the science is wrong.
If they can't, then they should shut up. What we need is more light on the subject of global climate change, not more people saying, "Put on blinders! Don't look at the facts!"
The science of global warming is akin to the science of evolution. There isn't any significant scientific debate about the basic facts in either area. Yet uninformed doubters love to scream, "Teach the controversy!"
Problem is, there's no controversy. So, nothing to teach.
Greg Hoke has put up a transcript of "An Inconvenient Truth." (a terrific resource; thanks, Greg) For me, one of the most memorable segments in the movie was Gore's bursting of three misconception bubbles. The first is that there's disagreement among scientists about whether the problem of global warming is real or not.
There isn't. Not a bit. Gore says:
Isn't there a disagreement among scientists about whether the problem is real or not? Actually, not really. There was a massive study of every scientific article in a peer reviewed article written on global warming in the last ten years.
They took a big sample of 10 percent, 928 articles. And you know the number of those that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we're causing global warming and that is a serious problem out of the 928: Zero.
The misconception that there is disagreement about the science has been deliberately created by a relatively small number of people. One of their internal memos leaked and here is what it said according to the press. Their objective is to reposition global warming as a theory rather than fact. This has happened before. after the Surgeon General's report [on smoking and lung cancer].
One of their memos leaked 4 years ago. They said, "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of creating a controversy in the public's mind."
But have they succeeded? You'll remember that there were 928 peer reviewed articles. Zero percent disagreed with the consensus. There was another study of all the articles in the popular press. Over the last fourteen years they listed a sample of 636. More than half of them said, "Well, we are not sure. It could be a problem, may not be a problem." So no wonder people are confused.
Well, I'm determined not to let this blog contribute to the confusion. Regularly I get comments on my George Taylor and global warming posts from people who mouth the right-wing party line: "The science isn't certain."
Open-minded blogger that I am, I typically respond to their uninformed views with a fact-based comment of my own. And I'll probably continue to do that.
But from now on I'm going to do something else. If the global warming skeptic hasn't referenced a peer-reviewed scientific article that supports his or her position, that comment is going to be branded with a reader warning:
Caution: no peer-reviewed scientific evidence is cited here. So be highly doubtful that what is said is anything more than a personal opinion.
There's a lot of room for subjective opinion in the blogosphere. However, when it comes to global climate change, the world can't afford to be distracted by political posturing that masquerades as serious skepticism.
If you believe there's another side to the consensus scientific view of global warming, show it to me. Cite the peer-reviewed journal in which the alternative conclusion appears. Then we can have an informed discussion.
If you can't do that, then you have a choice: either keep your personal opinion to yourself, or accept that your comment on my blog is going to be accompanied with a Caution statement.
You've got a right to express your unscientific beliefs. And I've got a right to be scornful of them.
(Global warming skeptics: a good place to start your re-education is this Scientific American piece, "Are You a Global Warming Skeptic? Part IV." It'll probably tax your brain to read facts rather than politically-inspired blather, but consider this an exercise for your grey matter).
I couldn't agree more with a beautifully written and thoughtfully argued letter in today's Salem Statesman Journal, "Climate theory not a winner."
The fact that I wrote it just adds self-centered luster to this shining rebuttal of the newspaper's ill-considered awarding of a Weekly Winner prize to an OSU climatologist, George Taylor.
In my first three sentences, I establish the foundation for demolishing this editorial travesty:
On Friday, Feb. 9, George Taylor was a Statesman Journal "winner" for challenging the conventional science about global warming. I assume the editorial board will next applaud those who still believe the Earth is flat. There's a big difference between skepticism and ignorance.
In my next three, the wrecking ball smashes:
Taylor, who uses the title of state climatologist (even though this position doesn't officially exist anymore), says that it is unsure whether carbon dioxide causes atmospheric warming. When I heard him say this on a right-wing radio talk show, I e-mailed a respected scientist at Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. Professor Jim Coakley told me, "George's assertion that we can't prove whether CO2 causes warming or cooling, is, of course, nonsense."
Finally, Taylor's credibility crumbles in a logical coup de grâce
The scientific evidence is clear: Human-caused global warming is occurring due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Taylor doesn't contribute to genuine scientific debate in this area. He doesn't publish in peer-reviewed journals. He simply uses his soapbox of head of the Oregon Climate Service to echo the party line of global-warming deniers: "The science isn't in."
But it is. George Taylor is misinformed, not a skeptic. That makes him a loser, not a winner.
Along with the usual blather I hear on right-wing talk shows, there's a fresh falsity being spread over the airwaves: computer climate models are unsophisticated attempts to mirror changes in the Earth's weather and shouldn't be trusted.
This isn't true. So don't believe global warming skeptics like George Taylor, who isn't Oregon's state climatologist but likes to pretend that he is.
I heard Taylor spout his uninformed criticisms of climate models on KPAM's Victoria Taft show. Since those models show both that global climate change is going to be an increasingly serious problem, and that humans are responsible for a large share of the rise in carbon dioxide that is helping to drive global warming, ExxonMobil supported pseudo-scientists like Taylor try to discredit the models.
Recently Taft echoed the unscientific party line, claiming that the models don't include basic factors that affect the climate. Such as, Taft said, "the sun." I suspect she meant to say sunspots, or some other subtlety of solar radiation, but that wasn't what came over my car radio. I remember hearing: "Gosh, those models don't even include the sun. How crazy is that?"
Well, not crazy at all. Because Taft and Taylor don't know what they're talking about. Here's the graphical bottom line that proves them wrong, courtesy of the Woods Hole Research Center, along with a couple of paragraphs of Woods Hole commentary.
Look, read, and believe in the models. (As noted in the commentary, "forcing" means an influence on global temperature; "anthropogenic" means human-caused.)
For example, recorded global temperature change can be compared with computer models that predict temperature change under different "forcing" scenarios, (with "forcings" signifying external influences on the solar radiative budget of the planet - greenhouse gases, aerosols, increased solar radiation, and other agents). Fig. 2 above compares observed temperature anomalies from the historic mean (red line) with the results of computer models that attempt to predict temperature based on the interactions of other environmental influences (gray line).
The top two charts in the figure illustrate that models using natural and anthropogenic influences alone [(a) Natural Forcing Only & (b) Anthropogenic Forcing Only] fail to match the observed record of temperature anomalies since 1866. But the combination of natural and anthropogenic models [(c) Natural + Anthropogenic Forcing] produces a close match to the measured data. This is seen as a clear "thumbprint" of human impacts on climate change.
These graphs also are in Alan J. Thorpe's informative (and readable) paper, "Climate Change Prediction: A challenging scientific problem." Thorpe starts out by saying:
Predictions of future climate change, based on numerical global climate models, are the critical outputs of climate science. Whilst much has been written about the details of the predictions themselves, skepticism about the prediction models is rife and this is why this paper is devoted to de-mystifying the prediction methodology…There is little doubt that a lack of knowledge about how climate change is predicted and the associated uncertainties are amongst the main reasons for ill-informed comment on climate change.
And he concludes with:
So why do commentators imagine that top scientists are deluded about anthropogenic climate change? The stakes are high and rarely are scientists under such scrutiny. Scientists are appalled that they could be suspected of distorting the evidence to enhance their reputations or funding opportunities. Of course scientific hypotheses and analysis can be refuted by later discoveries but this is not the same as complicity. The fact that everyone experiences weather and climate may explain why nonscientists feel confident in attempting to refute the scientific evidence.
The complexity of the climate system and its many interacting and compensating physical processes means that simple arguments that gloss over this complexity have to be approached with a significant degree of scepticism. A common method of arguing starts by identifying a single cause or physical process that either has not been included or has been included in an imperfect way, into climate models. But the climate changes because of a multiplicity of interacting processes and any one process alone cannot be the whole story.
The search for the one and only cause of climate change is doomed to failure. Climate modellers attempt to include in the models all the processes that are even remotely likely to have a detectable effect – any newly discovered process will quickly find itself incorporated into the models!
So be highly skeptical of global climate change skeptics. Thorpe says that the models they dismiss with off-hand comments ("doesn't even include the sun!") have about three-quarters of a million lines of computer code.
Compare that with the miniscule iota of sense made by global warming deniers such as George Taylor and Victoria Taft. Believe the models, not them.
When the person who calls himself the Oregon state climatologist is compared to Galileo, it’s obvious that right-wing paranoia has gone over the edge.
The headline of today’s Oregonian story (“To governor, Oregon has no ‘climatologist’”) might lead conservative conspiracy theorists to believe that Gov. Kulongoski has ordered George Taylor to disappear into the dungeon where he keeps state employees who disagree with his policy on global warming.
Actually, the truth is much milder. Kulongoski wants Taylor to stop using the title of “state climatologist” because there is no such position in state government. That’s a fact.
George Taylor isn’t going to be fired from his job as head of the Oregon Climate Service. If the governor gets his way, Taylor just won’t be able to claim (or strongly imply) that he speaks for state government on climate matters.
Today state Senator Brad Avakian phoned me after I’d emailed him some questions about the Oregonian story. Avakian has been working on legislation that would allow the governor to appoint an official state climatologist. He said that the bill probably won’t be introduced now, since the governor and Oregon State University seem to have reached an understanding about Taylor’s role.
However, I told Sen. Avakian that the story said OSU officials weren’t rushing to correct Taylor’s title, which is disturbing. I don’t understand why, now that it’s been pointed out to them that Taylor is claiming to occupy a non-existent position, OSU doesn’t stop spreading the falsity that he is the state climatologist.
Ideally, Taylor would keep doing what he seemingly does well: maintain and analyze Oregon weather data. But his training is in meteorology, not climatology. He isn’t competent to be speaking for anyone other than himself on climate change issues. Amazingly, Taylor doesn’t even know that carbon dioxide causes atmospheric warming.
Hopefully money will be found to establish the Oregon Climate Center that Kulongoski wants. A genuine climate expert can be recruited to run the Center and serve as the state climatologist.
Global climate change is going to affect Oregon in many ways. It’s important to have someone on board in state government who understands both why the world’s weather is changing because of human influences and what can be done about it. George Taylor clearly isn’t that person.
Recently I heard from Peter Bock. He shared with me a message that he’d sent to the president of Oregon State University and the dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, where Taylor works. Bock shows why Taylor’s unscientific position on global climate change is more than wrong; it’s dangerous.
To those, like Mr. George Taylor, who doubt the urgency of addressing the problem of global warming and the need to reduce atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, I ask the question... Suppose you are right. What does proactive action cost us?
It costs us an investment in renewable energy technology such as solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc... an investment that reduces our dependence on foreign petroleum... an investment that reduces our need to station our troops around the world to defend that petroleum and the despotic regimes that sell it to us... an investment that reduces our risk of asthma, cancer, stroke, heart disease, emphysema and other diseases caused by breathing auto exhaust and petroleum and coal pollutants.
But... suppose Mr. Taylor is wrong? What is the cost then? What will the Earth that we leave to our grandchildren look like? Is it an earth with ocean levels forty feet higher, with no polar ice caps, with no Amazon rain forests, with most coastal cities under water, with a desert in the American Midwest, with permanent global El Nino conditions?
Is it an Earth with a population of 2 billion rather than 6 billion? And thirty years from now, if we are wrong, are we prepared to look into the faces of our grandchildren and answer their question... "Why didn't you take action when you still had the chance?"
Here, finally, are some solid facts about the Oregon state climatologist position that supposedly is occupied by George Taylor, who minimizes both global warming and the impact humans are having on global climate change.
For well over a week I’ve been waiting for answers from the Oregon State University (OSU) News and Communication Office to my questions about Taylor and the “state climatologist” title that he holds.
Patience pays off. I just got a couple of emails from Mark Floyd. At the end of this post you’ll find, verbatim, the first message he sent me. After I read it, I wrote back to Mark, asking him to correct me if I was wrong about any of five assumptions. His reply concerning each is shown in italics.
(1) There is no position called “state climatologist” authorized by the State of Oregon.
As far as I know, you are correct on No. 1.
(2) The title of “state climatologist” has been given to the head of the Oregon Climate Service by OSU.
No. 2 also is correct, though it is stated simply, which ignores the context of history.
(3) Within Oregon state government, there is no description of what the job of state climatologist entails, nor a list of duties, because the person who has this title doesn’t occupy an actual position with that name.
No. 3: OSU is, in fact, a state agency of sorts. If your intent is to ask if there is a governor-appointed state climatologist, I assume the answer is no, though that is a question for the governor.
(4) Because Taylor does something similar to what the person who truly was the state climatologist did previously, he’s called the “state climatologist,” even though this position doesn’t exist.
No. 4: That sounds right. You should know that the origin, funding, duties, and history of state climatologists vary from state to state.
(5) The American Association of State Climatologists recognizes Taylor as the state climatologist because OSU has given him this title, even though the position doesn’t exist in state statute.
No. 5: I can’t assume the reasons the AASC recognizes Taylor as state climatologist. It may or may not be because of his OSU-given title. There may be several reasons. I can’t speak for the group.
Well, this vindicates what I’ve been saying here and here, along with Kari Chisholm, the governor, state Sen. Brad Avakian, and others who recognize (even without the OSU News and Communication Office clarification) that Taylor isn’t really the state climatologist, because the title he wears so proudly has no actual position attached to it.
Hopefully this will stop such right-wing claptrap as “Tucker Carlson’s Hot Air on Kulongoski and Climate Change.” And World Net Daily’s putting George Taylor in the same censored scientist category as Galileo. Give me a break.
Indeed, there’s been a lot of conservative hot air expended on Taylor and the state climatologist position. Now that it’s been confirmed that such a position doesn’t exist, so there’s no way he can be fired from it, maybe they’ll turn their attention to a real problem: global warming.
Here’s Mark Floyd’s message:
The history of the climate service and state climatologist go back to 1978, when OSU and NOAA signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Office of the State Climatologist at Oregon State University. The first person to serve in that position, I believe, was Allan Murphy. In 1982, Kelly Redmond joined the OSU Department of Atmospheric Sciences and served as assistant state climatologist in the Center for Climatic Research. He took over as state climatologist in 1984, funded by a combination of state funds and external grants.
The Office of the State Climatologist was eliminated in 1989 because of budget cuts and Redmond left the university. George Taylor was hired on a part-time basis in 1989 in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences as a meteorologist. Two years later (1991), Oregon Senate Bill 661 passed, establishing the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. Taylor was hired on a full-time basis, and the department head in atmospheric science at that time requested to OSU that Taylor’s title be changed from meteorologist to state climatologist because his role was so similar to that which Redmond held.
By the way, George Taylor is past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, and the Oregon Climate Service is a recognized state climate office, as certified by that association…
OSU News and Communication
You’d think that someone called the “state climatologist” would understand basic facts about climate. But George Taylor isn’t big on facts.
He doesn’t believe that humans are having a significant effect on global climate change, which puts him at odds with the world’s experts who just said otherwise. Of course, I’m sure there are a few biologists here and there who don’t believe in evolution.
Hopefully none of them have the title of “state biologist.” If any do, I’m embarrassed for that state. Just as I’m embarrassed that George Taylor has the title of state climatologist in Oregon.
Taylor has irritated me for several years. Now I find him more laughable than irritating, since the science of climate change has left him so far behind, it’s amusing to observe him trying to defend his “What, me worry about global warming?” attitude.
Willamette Week’s headline back in August 2005 captured Taylor perfectly: “Hot or Not. Oregon’s official weatherman has some good news about global warming—it doesn’t exist.” The story was good too. It showed how little Taylor knows about what a climatologist should know a lot about.
Wednesday evening I was driving around, doing errands, listening to talk radio. Victoria Taft (KPAM) had George Taylor as a guest. I didn’t hear all of the interview but caught this gem from Taylor as I was pulling into our carport:
“We can’t prove that CO2 [carbon dioxide] causes or doesn’t cause warming.”
Are you kidding me? was my instant reaction. A story in today’s Washington Post says:
With at least 90 percent certainty, the IPCC's "Summary For Policymakers" concludes human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperatures over the past half century. Hundreds of scientists from 113 countries prepared the report, which represents the most comprehensive overview of scientific climate research since 2001.
I also asked a distinguished faculty member at O.S.U.’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, where Taylor works, to comment on Taylor’s notion that it isn’t known whether carbon dioxide causes warming of the atmosphere. Jim Coakley’s email reply said, in part:
George's assertion that we can't prove whether CO2 causes warming or cooling, is, of course, nonsense. But then, no one tries to pin George down on what he means by "we can't prove..." First, one should ask what proof is needed? Would seeing the 3-5 C rise in temperature that we're predicting for this century serve as proof? Can you imagine the dilemma waiting to see such a rise would pose? We can't wait. Waiting is stupid.
Interestingly, Taylor himself agrees we shouldn’t listen to him on global warming. Which is exactly what all of us should do. Taylor is having a good time playing his “state climatologist” role, which he may or may not be (Kari Chisholm, the governor, and me all have our doubts).
Just don’t take him seriously. There’s no reason to trust a climatologist who flunks Climate Change 101.
George Taylor is a embarrassment to Oregon. He passes himself off as the official state climatologist even though Oregon doesn’t have such a position. Today an article in the Oregonian (“Experts square off over climate change”) quoted Governor Kulongoski:
"He's not the state climatologist," the governor said. "I never appointed him. I think I would know.”
Apparently Oregon State University’s College of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences gave Taylor this title, because the Oregonian story says that the position of state climatologist was dissolved by the legislature in 1989.
Regardless, Taylor loves to spout off about how humans really aren’t a big factor in causing global warming, an unscientific position that makes him a darling of big oil and conservative organizations like the Heartland Institute, which recently trotted Taylor out as among the serious scientists who are debunking scaremongering about climate change.
Yeah, right. You’d be hard pressed to find a truly serious scientist who doesn’t accept that human caused climate change is happening. Heck, Taylor’s own college admits this on its web site:
Climate change is happening globally and in the Pacific Northwest. Humans are contributing to global warming and climate change in a measurable way.
Willamette Week ran an expose on Taylor in August 2005. I’d been ranting about the absurdity of Oregon’s climatologist being a global warming denier for several months previous. It’s even more absurd now that we know he isn’t the climatologist.
But Taylor is still up to his old tricks. Just a few days ago (January 26) right-wing talk show host Lars Larson had Taylor as a guest. He introduced Taylor as the “official state climatologist.”
Taylor then proceeded to mangle facts and science. He said that the 1930s was the warmest decade in Oregon, which isn’t true: the 1990s was. He also claimed that 1917-42 saw the most melting of Oregon glaciers. Also not true, according to this Oregonian story.
"It's almost universal that all glaciers are retreating," said Peter Clark, a professor at Oregon State University and an international authority on glaciers. "The signs of retreat are dramatic and accelerating."
If Taylor simply went around speaking as an uninformed individual with views about global warming that aren’t shared by reputable scientists, that wouldn’t be so bad.
However, when he writes a letter to the editor as the state climatologist, passing along the untruth that the 1930s was the warmest decade on record in Oregon, that’s unconscionable.
Email the dean of George Taylor’s college at OSU, Mark Abbott. Tell him that Taylor needs to stop being called the state climatologist. And that Oregon deserves to have someone competent heading up the Oregon Climate Service.
Lars Larson asked Taylor whether, if we change our human activities enough, we can have an effect on human caused global warming. Taylor’s answer: “I don’t believe that’s true.”
Willamette Week said that Taylor’s critics call him one of the most dangerous men in Oregon. Could be an overstatement. But human caused global warming is real and deadly serious.
To have someone saying otherwise, who is passing himself off as Oregon’s climatologist, that is dangerous.
[Update: Advance reports of what will be in the soon to be released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change feature headlines such as "World's scientists say climate change is much worse than they thought." But George Taylor feels that he knows more than the world's experts on climate change, because he continues to claim that humans are having a minimal effect on global warming.
The report supposedly will say: "It is virtually certain that human activity has played the dominant role in causing the increase of greenhouse gases over the past 250 years." But don't worry. George Taylor says it isn't so. And so long as Oregon State University continues to bestow upon him the title of "state climatologist," unfortunately some people are going to believe him.]
My birthday has begun. Actually, it started five days ago. It’ll culminate on October 7, which used to be known as my “birthday.” I’ve decided to celebrate it like Ramadan—a full month of honoring what I reverence most: me.
This makes perfect sense, because the older I get (have started to become 58), the fewer birthdays I have left to celebrate. Therefore the celebration should get longer as I age, to make up for fewer future celebratory opportunities. If I live to 100, I suppose I’ll be celebrating continuously.
Anyway, here’s my first major gift to myself. A black 2007 Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike. My old Raleigh was cream colored. I like my new Ninja look. I also like how my riding happiness has increased since Sunday, when I picked up the bike at Eurosports in Sisters.
Just as I expected. Otherwise, why would I want a new bike? On the same day I bought myself this present, I received a few other gifts from myself after a visit to my other favorite Sisters store, Paulina Springs Books.
I saw “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert on the new non-fiction table. At first I figured that the book would tell me how to do just that. But as I thumbed through it I realized that Gilbert had a more tasty fish to fry. He’s out to explain why what we think will make us happy usually doesn’t. At least not in the way we thought it would.
A small still voice in the back of my mind said, “Brian, you just bought yourself a $500 mountain bike that you expect will bring you great joy. Isn’t it dangerous to now plunk down $24.95 on a book that promises to burst your happiness expectation bubble?”
I paused to ponder my small still voice. Then I told it to shut up. After all, I’d just read a blurb on the front cover from Steven Levitt that said, “This absolutely fantastic book will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how the mind works.” So why should I trust what my mind was telling me?
Screw it. I’ll buy the book. And the bike. And whatever else I want and can afford for the next 28 days. It’s my goddamn birthday month! I deserve it all!
Good decision. I’ve been enjoying “Stumbling on Happiness” just as much as my bike, even though it’s got a mostly white cover and doesn’t meld very well with my new Ninja nature. Gilbert is one of those authors who makes me think, “Dear devil, I’ll gladly sell my soul in exchange for being able to write as well as this guy.”
He had me hooked by the time I finished the first paragraph of his Acknowledgements.
This is the part of the book in which the author typically claims that nobody writes a book by himself and then names all the people who presumably wrote the book for him. It must be nice to have friends like that. Alas, all the people who wrote this book are me, so let me instead thank those who by their gifts enabled me to write a book without them.
Terrific. Then the hook was set, hard, by the first few pages of Gilbert’s Foreword. After that, I couldn’t put the book down.
We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of our hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves, squirreling away portions of our paychecks each month so they can enjoy their retirements on a putting green, jogging and flossing with some regularity so they can avoid coronaries and gum grafts, enduring dirty diapers and mind-numbing repetitions of The Cat in the Hat so that someday they will have fat-cheeked grandchildren to bounce on their laps.
Great stuff. I was happy that I’d indulged me right now, instead of the future him that I so often sacrifice myself for. But then I read on. And began to see the Dark Side.
In fact, just about any time we want something—a promotion, a marriage, an automobile, a cheeseburger—we are expecting that if we get it, then the person who has our fingerprints a second, minute, day, or decade from now will enjoy the world they inherit from us, honoring our sacrifices as they reap the harvest of our shrewd investment decisions and dietary forebearance.
Yeah, yeah. Don’t hold your breath. Like the fruits of our loins, our temporal progeny are often thankless….How can this happen? Shouldn’t we know the tastes, preferences, needs, and desires of the people we will be next year—or at least later this afternoon?
Seems like it. But Laurel already has listened to Gilbert’s book on CD, and she tells me that research shows we’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy. (Well, I’ll believe it when I read it. The day my body listens to a book will be the day they pry my yellow fluorescent highlighter from my cold dead hands.)
So maybe, maybe, my new mountain bike isn’t going to bring me as much joy as I’m expecting it will. Yet I’m different. I’m special. I’m like no one else in the world. Other poor fools may not know what makes them happy, but I do.
Such is my fervent hope. And, likely, my fervent delusion, based on peeking ahead to the last line of the final chapter.
Alas, we think of ourselves as unique entities—minds unlike any others—and thus we often reject the lessons that the emotional experience of others has to teach us.
Well, stay tuned. It could be that every single person who gets a new mountain bike from Eurosports, including me, is happy for the rest of their days. I’ll let you know if that’s true. (If it is, you'll be eager for this information.)
After investing three hours of watching “Secrets of the Sexes” on Oregon Public Broadcasting, I figured that I should share what I learned about how men and women are different. Aside from the obvious, I mean.
Note: this is serious research-based stuff, not cocktail party surmising.
In the first episode I watched various Britons (this was a BBC production) riding in a cab and being treated to some personal cabbie chatter. When asked to recall the particulars of the conversation and cab ride, women were more tuned in to the emotional situation while men were more thing-oriented. Not a big surprise.
So this suggests that women like relationships and men like facts. True perhaps, except when the provider of the facts is wearing a low-cut dress. Men watched two newscasts: one read by a man, the other by a woman in a revealing outfit. They could recall lots of facts conveyed by the man. Typical comment about the female newscaster: “She had nice breasts.”
The conclusion: “We found that men are indeed interested in facts, but one thing they’re more interested in is sex.” Not a big surprise either.
Nor was the result of an experiment in which a young girl sat forlornly on a sidewalk, back up against a wall, decidedly abandoned-looking. This was a measure of empathy. Will passers-by check on her? During the time of filming 41 women stopped to help. Only two men did, one of them accompanied by a woman. 22% of the women stopped; just 1% of the men.
At this point in the program, we were told:
Things aren’t looking very good for men. Object-centered, partially deaf, unempathic, sex-obsessed fantasist, is not how most of them would like to be remembered. Men are supposed to be go-getting, thrusting, successful. So we’re giving them a chance to shine. After all, men love competition and they’re great at driving. Aren’t they?
Cut to a go-cart track. Tests of testosterone levels were taken throughout the racing. It was revealed that men and women have a different biological response to competition. There was a big testosterone fluctuation in men, almost zero in women. This makes men more likely to take risks. Conclusion: “There’s no doubt that women can be competitive, but they don’t have the edge that testosterone can give men.”
Here’s another unsurprising fact: if you’re looking for a skilled heavy equipment operator, you’re much more likely to end up with a man. I heard, “In our survey of half a million people, the biggest difference between men and women was in visual-spatial tasks. On average, men scored 40% higher than women. But some women did exceptionally well.”
This also may be due to testosterone. Men and women were given instructions in how to operate a Caterpillar digger, then they had to carry out various tasks: pick up a bucket of water with the fork, nudge eggs into a container, make an air horn sound. Women did much worse than the men, aside from a woman who had an unusually high testosterone level.
The program moved to a familiar question: What do men find physically attractive? Computer software allowed men in the study to manipulate (virtual) female bodies anyway they wanted. Each man got to create his ideal woman. What would they focus on: Breasts, legs, bottom?
Supposedly this was the first research of its kind. Which found, shock!, that men like relatively large breasts, a C or D cup. The most striking finding, though, was men’s preference for an hourglass figure, the equivalent of 36 inch hips and a 23 inch waist. Probable reason: “The hip to waist ratio is one of the best ways of seeing if a woman is fertile.” In other words, evolution has attuned men to like hourglass women.
Then came speed dating. Men and women dialed in a “first impression” rating to researchers. A three minute conversation ensued, after which each person re-rated the potential date with whom they’d been talking. Result:
The immediate chemical attraction is of priority for most people….Analyzers showed that men and women who decided to date had made up their minds within seconds. With few exceptions, the three minute conversations made no difference at all. Clearly looks are all important, yet it’s not the face but the body that counts.
In terms of physical attractiveness, two factors made all the difference. They were different for men and women. For men, the factor that blew all the others out of the water was the waist to hip ratio. With speed dating, women whose figures came closest to the ideal got the most offers of dates.
So how much did male physique matter to the women? They also were given the opportunity to fashion an ideal male figure on a computer. But unlike the men, at the speed date there was no relationship between this figure and the bodies of the most popular men.
For women, height was the most important factor. Which I find entirely appropriate, given that I’m over six feet tall. A researcher advised guys, “Don’t bother about going to the gym. Don’t bother about putting on new flashy clothes. Be tall.”
Moving to the more sublime side of male-female relationships, I learned that there are important evolutionary reasons why love activates reward systems in brain: “Love is a mechanism that has been built into our brains so that we stay together with a particular person; in the case of mothers and fathers, that they stay with their child and help in raising it.”
Unfortunately, the researchers said, studies have found that the initial powerful bonding effects of romantic love only last for two to three years. So what about after the chemicals wear off? Howard Markman has studied what makes marriage thrive and what makes it fail.
There are four research-based danger signs:
(1) Withdrawal (usually by the man). Women often pursue in the face of withdrawal, which can make the man withdraw further. (2) Escalation. Interactions become increasingly negative. (3) Sweeping negative interpretations add fuel to the fire of negativity. “You’ve never loved me.” You’re just like your father.” (4) Invalidation. The other person is attacked verbally, and sometimes physically.
If a couple is able to get through the rough times that plague every long-term relationship, they can look forward to smoother sailing into old age. The last hour of this three part series featured a charming gray-haired pair who appeared to be in their seventies.
I enjoyed their repartee:
He: “Do we argue?”
She: “All the time. Never a day goes by.”
He: “Always. If she says, ‘that happened,’ I always say, ‘no.’ Automatically we argue about it.”
She: “I’ll say to him, ‘I’d like to do so and so. He’ll say, ‘not bloody likely,’ excuse my language, ‘not bloody likely.’”
He: “And then we’ll end up doing it.”
That’s the main secret of the sexes I’ve learned after thirty-fours of marriage: go along with your woman, and you won’t go wrong.
It’s worth fighting for: reality. Indeed, the only thing really worth fighting for. My version of scripture says, “And what profiteth a man, if he wins all the world, and loses reality?”
Right-wingers are out to overturn a vision of the world that has served us exceedingly well since the Enlightenment: there is an objective reality that, broadly speaking, is the domain of “science,” and there is a subjective reality that, broadly speaking, is the domain of “art.”
Thus we have the sciences and the arts. We have physics and we have mystics. We have demonstrable facts and we have improvable beliefs. We have the predictable orbits of planets and we have the wild improvisations of lovers.
This is the way the world is. But it isn’t the way the Bush administration, conservative talk radio, and the Christian right want it to be. They seek to turn reality upside down, making the objective world subjective and the subjective world objective.
Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq either were there or not there. The objective fact is that no substantive evidence of them was discovered. Yet 72% of those who voted for Bush in 2004 believed otherwise. They were wrong. Kerry voters were much more likely to be right.
This shows that you can fool a lot of people some of the time. But reality wins out in the end. It’s too powerful to be kept down for long. The Dark Ages didn’t last forever. And the American people will get their wits about them again. Soon, I’m confident.
We’re seeing evidence of this in Bush’s continued low approval ratings, notwithstanding his tired attempts to resurrect the “we’ve got to fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here” lie. Also in the courtroom and ballot box defeats of intelligent design, another example of subjective belief attempting to masquerade as objective reality.
Most people understand the difference between truth and illusion. They know that truth manifests in various guises, some outward and some inward. Not all of reality can be known by science, not by a long shot.
Poetry, music, painting, emotions, religiosity, philosophy, imagination, dreams—these are as much a part of being human as mathematics, logic, research, statistics, reason, observation, experimentation, deduction.
However, the social fabric is threatened when attempts are made to elevate the subjective above the objective in public policy, when truthiness is valued over truth in making decisions that affect society as a whole.
Recently Republican Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said that if Christians are not elected to political office, politicians will “legislate sin” and that God does not intend this country to be “a nation of secular laws.”
Harris is entitled to her own beliefs, as unfounded as they may be. However, neither she nor anyone else is entitled to substitute their subjective view of the cosmos for how things really are.
Human-caused global warming is real. So is evolution, the promise of stem cell research, the dangers of massive budget deficits, looming Medicare shortfalls, and systemic problems in Iraq that show no sign of abating.
Come November I’m betting that most voters will cast their ballots for reality. After six years of neo-con efforts to pull the wool over our eyes, this nation deserves to see clearly again.
Evolution was on the march last week, crushing the creationist crazies and intelligent design dogmatists. Will they now give up their anti-science jihad? Not likely.
Unfounded religious beliefs are addictive, like other drugs. They relieve the anxiety that comes from living in a complex, mysterious, uncertain world. When the unknown can be banished with the wave of a faith-filled hand, that’s damn appealing.
It's wrong. But still appealing.
Myself, I prefer reality. And that’s what evolution is: real. More evidence of this has arrived via two breakthroughs: a transitional fossil that shows how fish evolved into land animals has been discovered, and molecular biologists demonstrated that so-called “irreducible complexity” actually can be the result of small genetic changes caused by random mutations.
Life happens. On its own. For the life of me, I can’t understand what’s so metaphysically frightening about this. Nature is natural. The Taoists have been telling us this for thousands of years, as have many other naturalistic belief systems.
Why do so many people feel lost without a belief in a personal and paternalistic God-the-Father who directs every aspect of the cosmos? Grow up. We don’t remain children forever. At some point every human should learn to stand on his or her own feet, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
Sadly, though, many young people are being held back by religion from achieving this sort of maturity. In “Testing Darwin’s Teachers” the LA Times reports that biology teachers are challenged by students who unthinkingly spout the Christian creationist party line.
And we wonder why the United States is sinking lower and lower in cross-national rankings of scientific literacy. Nations who are high in religiosity have lower science scores. Blind faith and critical thinking are like oil and water: they don’t mix.
If you have any doubts that global warming is real, read the April 3 TIME magazine cover story and “Be Worried, Be Very Worried.” The evidence is in. The debate is over. Global warming is happening. Humans are the major cause of it. And we’re heading for disaster.
Yes, there are still global warming deniers like Oregon climatologist George Taylor. But he’s been outed by Willamette Week and I haven’t heard any “global warming is a myth” craziness from George lately. Maybe he’s turned to arguing that creationism and intelligent design are fact, while evolution is fiction. Or that the Earth is flat.
It’s a free country. People can believe weird things. But they don’t have the right to destroy our planet. This is why there’s a big difference between evolution-denying crazies and global warming-denying crazies: the latter are a lot more dangerous.
TIME speaks the truth: “Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever…More and more land is being devastated by drought…Rising waters are drowning low-lying communities…By any measure, Earth is at the tipping point…The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame.”
It may be too late to do anything about it. Once past a tipping point, it’s devilishly difficult to turn things around. But the cover story ends with:
Curbing global warming my be an order of magnitude harder than, say, eradicating smallpox or putting a man on the moon. But is it moral not to try? We did not so much march toward the environmental precipice as drunkenly reel there, snapping at the scientific scolds who told us we had a problem.
The scolds, however, knew what they were talking about. In a solar system crowded with sister worlds that either emerged stillborn like Mercury and Venus or died in infancy like Mars, we’re finally coming to appreciate the knife-blade margins within which life can thrive. For more than a century we’ve been monkeying with those margins. It’s long past time we set them right.
James Hansen, a NASA scientist the Bush administration has been trying to shut up, is one of the scolds who's been warning about the dangers of global warming. His Scientific American article, “Defusing the Global Warming Time Bomb” is both solid and scary. “Small forces,” he says, “maintained long enough, can cause large climate change.”
Humans are pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Nonetheless, compared to Nature as a whole humanity’s impact on the climate is puny. The problem is, as Hansen pointed out, that relatively small anthropogenic (human-caused) forces can have big effects.
Arctic ice is melting. That’s a fact. As it melts dark water increases and light ice decreases. Dark water absorbs heat while light ice reflects it. So that causes more melting, which makes more dark water, and so it goes. The system feeds back upon itself.
TIME says that the effects of global warming are upon us much more quickly than was anticipated.
What few people reckoned on was that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives rise to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Pump enough carbon dioxide in the sky, and that last part per million of greenhouse gas behaves like the 212th degree Fahrenheit that turns a pot of hot water into a plume of billowing steam.
Amazingly, conservative apologists like George Will are still saying that global warming is up for debate. It’s strange. In the old days, conservatives believed in conserving. I know this because I was raised by a woman who was both deeply Republican and deeply conservative in the best sense of the word: frugal, non-wasteful, protective of limited resources both monetary and natural.
George Will writes:
Are we sure there will be proportionate benefits from whatever climate change can be purchased at the cost of slowing economic growth and spending trillions? Are we sure the consequences of climate change -- remember, a thick sheet of ice once covered the Middle West -- must be bad?
Gee, George, what a great question. Let’s ask the people of Nebraska if they’d rather run the risk of having the United States’ economic growth slowed slightly or be buried under a sheet of ice.
Alternatively, if the answer to that question seems obvious we can instead apply ourselves to combating global warming. Hansen says, “The emphasis should be on mitigating the [climate] changes rather than just adapting to them.”
My wife and I own two cars, a Toyota Prius and a Toyota Highlander. Both are hybrids. Automotively, we’re doing our part.
Our hot water heater needs replacing. Today we ordered a new one. The energy efficient model is going to cost us an extra hundred dollars (though we’ll get some of that money back via a tax credit). Water heaterly, we’re doing our part.
Unfortunately, neither of us is the President of the United States, who isn’t doing his part. Recently I heard George Bush say that he is opposed to the Kyoto Treaty because it would harm the American economy.
As if having the mid-West covered by a sheet of ice wouldn’t. What an idiot.
Next day P.S.: it might seem paradoxical that global warming could lead to either a mini or maxi ice age, but the Scientific American article about "Abrupt Climate Change" explains how this might happen:
As global warming continues to heat up the planet, many scientists fear that large pulses of freshwater melting off the Greenland ice sheet and other frozen northern landscapes could obstruct the so-called North American conveyor, the system of ocean currents that brings warmth to Europe and strongly influences climate elsewhere in the world.
A conveyor shutdown--or even a significant slowdown--could cool the North Atlantic region even as global temperatures continue to rise. Other challenging and abrupt climate changes would almost certainly result...As the conveyor grows quiet winters become harsher in much of Europe and North America, and agriculture suffers.
...Uncertainties abound, and although a new ice age is not thought credible, the resulting changes could be notably larger than they were during the Little Ice Age, when the Thames in London froze and glaciers rumbled down the Alps.
Thank God for science, which came up with Prozac. I’m going to need a prescription soon if anti-science zealots keep getting me so anxious about where this country is heading. Three disturbing news items bit into my brain in the past 24 hours:
(1) Last night “60 Minutes” had a segment on the FDA’s religiously-based decision to reject an application to let Plan B, the morning after pill, be dispensed without a prescription. Scientific experts overwhelmingly voted to make Plan B over-the-counter. The religious right objected. Guess who won?
(2) On CNN this morning I read “Priests urge stem cell opposition.” Missouri Catholic dioceses are sermonizing against stem cell research that promises to find cures for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other life-threatening diseases. And these supposedly are advocates for a “culture of life”?
(3) Then I saw several anti-evolution letters to the editor in our local newspaper that pushed my crankiness quotient into the Needs Medication danger zone. It’s one thing to express your personal opinion on the Opinion page. It’s another thing to make factually false statements that many readers will take as the gospel truth.
To wit, Salem resident Arthur Birkby’s absurd contention that “Even Darwin's former advocates admit that there is no evidence of even a single transitional life form from one to another.”
Arthur, I wish that before you’d written your ill-informed letter to the editor, you’d gotten on a computer and done a Google search on “evolution transitional forms.” It took me just a minute or two to find a Transitional Forms page on the University of California Museum of Paleontology Understanding Evolution web site.
That page has photos of three related creatures: a land mammal with nostrils near the front of its skull, a beluga whale (alive today) that has its nostrils at the top of its skull, and the transitional Aetiocetus that had its nostrils at the middle of its skull.
That demolishes Mr. Birby’s “no evidence” line. Of course, this is just the University of California’s fossil experts speaking. Believers in creationism probably consider that the devil is using the Museum of Paleontology as his mouthpiece and the Christian Discovery Institute deserves to be trusted instead.
It’s amazing that creationist crazies can suspend their rational faculties to such a degree that they can say things like this statement I found on a Creation Science site:
There are no transitional links and intermediate forms in either the fossil record or the modern world. Therefore, there is no actual evidence that evolution has occurred either in the past or the present.
Aaaaaaggghhhhh! Just look at this guy’s references that he’s using to support blather like that. The pro-theory of evolution references come from publishers like the Smithsonian Institution, Time-Life Books, Simon and Schuster. The anti-theory of evolution references come from places like the Institute for Creation Research, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., and such.
Who you gonna believe? I know what my answer is.
People like zoologist Kathleen Hunt who wrote a seriously researched Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ that crushes the “there aren’t any transitional fossils” statement that, she says, keeps popping up in creationist propaganda.
In a “conclusions” section she summarizes her main point:
Creationists often state categorically that "there are no transitional fossils". As this FAQ shows, this is simply not true. That is the main point of this FAQ. There are abundant transitional fossils of both the "chain of genera" type and the "species-to-species transition" type. There are documented speciations that cross genus lines and family lines.
The interpretation of that fact I leave up to you. I have outlined five possible models above, and have explained why I think some of them are better than others. You might disagree with my conclusions, and you can choose the one you think is best, (or even develop another one). But you cannot simply say that there are no transitional fossils, because there are.
Advocates of intelligent design aren’t really scientists. They’re theologians. And they’re determined to root every last vestige of non-Christianity out of American culture.
That’s the conclusion I’ve come to after reading the first three chapters of a book that has been sitting on my “to read” bookshelf for three years. I picked up “Signs of Intelligence” a few days ago, wanting to learn from intelligent design proponents—not critics—what this movement is all about.
An editor of this collection of essays is William A. Dembski, one of the few real scientists who believes in intelligent design. He’s a professor of Science and Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville. Not exactly Harvard or Stanford. (Dembski has a weblog that is worth checking out to gain some insights into his philosophy of life and science).
The other editor of “Signs of Intelligence” is James M. Kushiner, publisher of Touchstone magazine, a Christian journal that bills itself as providing a place “where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church.”
Gee, that reassures me that Kushiner is exactly the sort of objective, unbiased scientific truth-seeker who should be at the forefront of a movement that is trying to tell schools what to teach about the origins of life on earth. Scanning a list of his Touchstone articles, you get the clear impression that he loves Jesus, dislikes homosexuality, and is committed to science only insofar as it supports his faith.
People who accept the gospel of intelligent design try to claim that their movement isn’t religiously motivated. I don’t believe them, especially after reading Nancy Pearcey’s essay “Design and the Discriminating Public.”
Ms. Pearcey’s academic credential is a M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary. That qualified her to contribute to the book “Of Pandas and People,” a supplemental biology text advocating intelligent design. Apparently she didn’t get the memo from ID Central about toning down the religiosity of this supposedly purely scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. For she writes:
On both sides of the issue most people sense instinctively that there is much more at stake here than a scientific theory—that a link exists between the material order and the moral order…Our view of origins shapes our understanding of ethics, law, education—and yes, even sexuality.
If life on earth is a product of blind, purposeless natural causes, then our own lives are cosmic accidents. There’s no source of transcendent moral guidelines, no unique dignity for human life. On the other hand, if life is the product of foresight and design, then you and I were meant to be here. In God’s revelation we have a solid basis for morality, purpose, and dignity.
…At stake in this controversy is which worldview will permeate and shape our culture. Design is not an esoteric question relevant only to scientists. Design, especially as it relates to God creating the world, lies at the heart of all that Christians believe.
I find this attempt to Christianize science extremely troubling. More bluntly, it’s disgusting. I love science. I spent two years completing all the course requirements for a Ph.D. in Systems Science. For ten years I worked in health services research, trying to distinguish fact from fiction in the complex world of health planning. And I’ve written a book about how mysticism relates to the new physics.
Given my interest in what I like to call “spiritual science,” you’d think that I’d have warmer feelings about the intelligent design movement. A few weeks ago a conservative friend expressed surprise when I trash-talked intelligent design theory. “But you believe in it!” he said.
No, I don’t. Not the way it’s being pushed by Dembski, Behe, and the Discovery Institute zealots. I’m very much open to the idea that intelligence pervades the cosmos. This notion lies at the heart of classic Greek thought, including Platonism and Neoplatonism. I’ve also written a book, “Return to the One,” about the teachings of Plotinus, a 3rd century Greek mystic philosopher.
Plotinus, like Plato, considered that nous (variously translated as “intellect,” “intellectual principle,” and “spirit”) is the immaterial foundation of this physical world. This is akin to how most mathematicians believe that mathematics isn’t a human invention, but somehow exists independently on a higher plane of reality.
So if the intelligent design folks wanted to focus on the “intelligent” aspect of their philosophy and minimize the “design” aspect, I’d look upon their movement more favorably.
The older I’ve gotten, the more Taoist my spiritual beliefs have become. Taoism, like Neoplatonism, finds order at the root of reality, but it isn’t a personal, theistic, designing order. It is impersonal. Just the way things are. In her book “Taoist Mystical Philosophy,” Livia Kohn says:
The Tao is the one power underlying the universe; it makes things be what they are; it causes the world to come into being and decay again. It is the foundation of all, the source of life and being, from which we all come and to which we all return. The Tao is organic in that it is not willful, it is not a conscious active creator, and it is not personal. The Tao is nature, yet it is more than mere nature, it is the essence of nature, the inner quality that makes things what they are.
If any religious philosophy deserves to be associated with a scientific conception of how intelligence pervades the cosmos, Taoism and Neoplatonism have a much better claim than Christianity. This is part of what makes the intelligent design movement in this country so galling to me: the ID advocates are trying to convert science into a cultural force for promoting Christian dogma.
Currently science unites all of humanity. There is no Christian science, Muslim science, Jewish science, Hindu science, or Buddhist science. There is just science. The intelligent design zealots don’t like this. They want a Christian science. Or, at least, a theistic science where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can argue over whose personal God is doing the intelligent designing.
Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Neoplatonists—they and anyone else who believes in a universal impersonal intelligent power can’t play in the intelligent design clubhouse. Neither can atheists, agnostics, pantheists, or other deniers of a personal God who willfully caused the creation and everything in it to come into existence.
Another essayist in the “Signs of Intelligence” book, Jay Wesley Richards, reveals that the ultimate goal of the intelligent design movement is to change the way all science is practiced. Naturalistic science is to become theistic Christian science.
Here’s what Richards has to say about the grand design of intelligent design:
So how is ID relevant to Christian apologetics? ID can be extended. We may envision its extension as a set of concentric circles, encompassing ever-larger swathes of nature within its explanatory domain…If intelligent design theory exposes the inadequacy of materialistic explanations in the natural sciences, it will deflate this assertion [that scientific progress has made Christian belief obsolete], and could contribute to a renewal of Christian belief in the twenty-first century.
These intelligent design guys are scary. Their words may sound fairly moderate, but that’s because they’re trying to disguise (thinly, admittedly) their real goal: to make the United States, and the science practiced in this country, overtly Christian.
They must be fought in every courtroom, every classroom, every public forum. The divine Tao deserves to be defended.