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Shawn Lawrence Otto fights against attacks on science in this country

Next month, a new book will go on sale, and every voter in the country should read it. It is called "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America." It is written by a Minnesotan of national reputation.

Shawn Lawrence Otto is probably best known as the screenwriter who wrote "House of Sand and Fog," starring Sir Ben Kingsley. It was nominated for the Academy Award. He lives in Marine on St. Croix with his wife, State Auditor Rebecca Otto.

Shawn Lawrence Otto
Shawn Lawrence Otto

"Fool Me Twice," as its title implies, takes aim at a frightening phenomenon in the United States of creating national policy based on political ideology rather than known science. Otto traces its roots and follows its history. He reminds us that the greatness of the U.S. economy has risen because of our strength in science.


He told a stunned audience at a Nobel forum two years ago that there are authoritative predictions that 90 percent of scientists and engineers in the world will be working in Asia by mid-century. The take-away is that if this country continues on its anti-science path, our children should prepare to be overshadowed as the United States becomes more and more inhospitable to science.

Otto was spending time this past holiday weekend at his cabin. He spent some time talking to me about his concerns and his book.

"You know what Thomas Jefferson said?" asked Otto. "He said, 'Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.' If that is true, and I believe it is, then democracy is in trouble."

Presidential campaign
Shawn was so troubled by the lack of science being discussed in the late innings of the last presidential election that he co-founded with a friend Science Debate 2008 and launched a website and a well-supported effort to get the candidates, on both sides, to sit down in Philadelphia to debate matters of science as they relate to public policy. It was important to Otto because, he said, he understood that much of our economy, our budgets and our future are based on the understanding of the sciences.

He booked a hall in Philadelphia and contacted the candidates. "We reached out to all of the candidates, Obama, Clinton, McCain and Huckabee. They ignored us. [McCain and Obama eventually answered 14 questions on science, but did not debate.]

But Otto hasn't ignored the problem. He is already working on a similar plan for the 2012 elections. You can learn more about that here.

"When politicians put party ideology ahead of scientific fact in making public policy," said Otto, "they run afoul of history." Otto says it doesn't matter whether the politicians are ignorant of the science, bought-and-paid-for lackeys, or party puppets — the result is always the same.

I ask him, for example, whether Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma isn't an example of democracy in action? He represents a large constituency reliant on fossil fuels. Inhofe fights government regulation and calls global warming science a hoax. Otto answers, "What Inhofe does is dishonest. I have no problem with politicians who acknowledge data, knowledge and science and then debate the public policy on that basis. Inhofe just denies the science."

History lesson
"When politicians put ideology ahead of scientific fact, you get trouble. It happened in the old Soviet Union, in China, in Nazi Germany.The Lysenko affair under Stalin set that country's agriculture back 40 years."

Fool Me Twice

Trofim Lysenko was an agronomist who convinced the Communist Party that he'd developed a new type of agriculture. He climbed the ideological party ladder. His opponents, mostly scientists, said his ideas wouldn't work and proposed developing genetically superior seed stock for the Russian land. Many of the scientists who opposed Lysenko's ideology-based farming programs were imprisoned or executed as bourgeois or fascists. Lysenko's Communist-Party-inspired agricultural reforms failed, and the Soviet Union is still trying to catch up.

Otto continues: "It didn't work for the Maoists during the great leap forward when Chairman Mao banished most scientists and intellectuals as traitors. The Chinese scientists were accused of not following party doctrine. They, nevertheless, insisted on science. And so China ended up putting into place agricultural practices that led to the greatest famine in human history.

Einstein
"Even the Nazis called Einstein's theory of relativity a hoax. They said Einstein was just in it for the money. That sounds a lot like what ideologues are saying about climate scientists today who are working on global warming. 'They are just in it for the money.'"

Shawn Lawrence Otto doesn't just blame politicians. He blames the people who vote them into office without ever examining the facts. And he blames the people charged with the responsibility of providing those facts: journalists.

"Journalists are supposed to investigate and find the facts and tell us," says Otto. "Journalists go after two sides of a story equally, even when the facts don't support equal attention. On global warming science, 97 to 98 percent of the known facts are on one side, yet, often both sides are given equal time."

Otto observes that "journalists are going to weight the media toward the extreme position." It is sometimes called "false balance."And, quite often, the other side is not coming from other scientists but public relations experts working for industries which might suffer if government acts on the science.

I ask Otto if the voters were to understand that they are being manipulated by PR people, would things change. Otto responds: "No. Unfortunately, politics have become team sport. It's like the Vikings versus the Packers. All that seems to matter these days is continuing to root for your team and divorce ourselves from reality in political decision making."

Of the 535 members of Congress, only 2 percent have any background in the hard sciences. Most voters don't know a great deal about science, but Otto's polling shows Americans with a great hunger to know more about the sciences. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was set up to inform the nation on these issues. The president who formed the NAS felt, as Jefferson did, that a well-informed electorate ensured the future of democracy. The president who established the National Academy of Sciences was Abraham Lincoln.

Many years later, an enlightened government set up the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to inform Congress of the most recent science and the most pressing science matters facing the country. Fifteen years ago, Congress disbanded it to save money. Sometimes, it seems, it might be better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Otto concludes the conversation this way: "You asked why I wrote the book? Really, I wrote it for my son. No matter what political party he chooses to join or not join when he grows up, I want him to live in a country and a world where he has a fighting chance at the kind of life we all want for our kids; a life of health, freedom, prosperity, and a beautiful clean world to live in. That's why I'm really doing these things — for him and all the kids like him, who must live with our choices. Seeing the science I have seen, if I didn't do anything, what kind of parent or citizen would I be?"

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Comments (55)

Good piece, Don.

One more facet of the "conservative" race to the bottom.

Let's try to visualize Mr. Obama debating the connection between science and public policy with Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann…

Or, since he's still the supposed front-runner, and is smart enough to know better, we'll be able to tell just how desperate Mitt Romney is to get the Republican nomination by the degree to which he denounces climate change and other "inconvenient truths" to pacify the Republican base.

Meanwhile, because he's an even smarter guy, if Obama abandons what he knows to be scientifically true in order to pander for votes, I'd say we're doomed.

Man caused climate change is a scientific theory, not a proven fact.

In order to prove a theory correct, scientists are supposed to use facts to support their theory and demonstrate to other scientists that they are correct. But in the case of climate change, advocates have not been able to persuade the majority of the public or even the scientific community. So they have resorted to calling those who have not been persuaded 'deniers', 'racists' and now Mr Otto is comparing global warming skeptics to Stalin and Mao.

If you can't convince someone you are correct, then calling them an idiot (or worse) is hardly likely to change their mind.

"When politicians put ideology ahead of scientific fact, you get trouble."

Maybe, but when scientists put ideology, money or anything other than science ahead of scientific inquiry, you get disaster.

As Dave Thul correctly (thought indirectly) points out, there is some convincing evidence in support of the phenomenon we call "Global Warming", but the evidence pinpointing any particular cause is no where near conclusive.

Given that, it is correct to say that declarations that "consensus is reached" are not based upon science; therefore any action undertaken to mitigate a particular cause is bound to be misplaced.

Add to that the recent e-mail scandal at the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University (which I aver has done more to harm "science" than any "anti-science" zealot could ever dream of) and you have all the ingredients the author, and subject allude to, but most likely being mixed by persons they would not have counted upon; scientists themselves.

"Man caused climate change is a scientific theory, not a proven fact."

Its statements like that, and the comment in which it was contained, that make me question Otto's claim that Americans really hunger to know more about science. For someone who lacks even a basic understanding about how science works to respond to this article by publicly trumpeting their ignorance doesn't give me much hope.

Dave Thul,
Gravity is a theory. Electricity is a theory. Don't confuse the everyday notion of theory with "scientific theory." That CO2 causes a disruption in infrared rays is not theory but a fact. No scientist disagrees with it. 99% of scientists believe the planet will warm with increased CO2. 2% of them quibble over the effects. 1% of scientists think the premise is a hoax. If you are a bettin' man, where do you put your money?
Don

Dave Thul's characterization of climate change as "a scientific theory, not a proven fact" is inaccurate. Here is what the conservative US National Academies has to say about this: "Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities."
-Advancing the Science of Climate Change< National Academies Press, 2010, p 21
More here: http://www.americasclimatechoices.org/

Dave Thul seems to forget that a major tactic of people who wish not to believe in the connection between human activities and climate change is to defund and shut down the scientific investigations that provide the evidence of the link.

The shoddiest and most slipshod evidence is offered by "deniers", but the slightest disparity in results of other scientists is crowed over as evidence of concealment and cover up.

Dave Thul seems to forget the history of things like tobacco--definitely a bad thing for people but still in existence and still killing people every day, all as a result of a hundred years of pseudo-science double-talk and obfuscation that protects the billions in profits for the tobacco companies, all working to stall out tobacco-use prevention.

Thanks big tobacco!!

Thanks big carbon generators!!

Way to go!!

The reason a scientific theory is called a theory rather than a fact is because it is impossible to be precise enough to prove a concept as a fact. That is, it is impossible to test the infinite ways that something could be proven absolutely correct. In science, facts are finite points of data, while theories are the summary of all known related facts. You can't get any more certain of a concept in science than with a scientific theory. Therefore, you can't equate a scientific theory to what Sherlock Holmes uses to solve a crime; you would be mistaking scientific theory for a hypothesis, something that is far more rudimentary.

To use the argument that something is "merely a scientific theory and not a proven fact" is to advertise ignorance or to obfuscate the truth. If you insist on making such statements, be prepared to be rightfully disregarded by people that have a general understanding of science, or at least know enough to know that they don't understand it.

Thomas Swift brings up the climategate "email scandal" to support his position. "Climategate" was an orchestrated smear campaign conveniently timed to scuttle the cap and trade bill and has been thoroughly debunked by five separate, independent investigations, the most recent released last month by the National Science Foundation. In every case, the scientists involved have been exonerated of any wrongdoing. More here:
http://blogs.physicstoday.org/newspicks/2011/08/nsf-clears-michael-mann-...

Yet another shameless plug to sell a book? On the 29th of August, we read about the same book, under the banner of Minnesota Blog Cabin. In that installment, Hurricane Irene was being used to sell the book. You see, Irene was caused by anthropomorphic global warming.

I offered SLO a historical perspective, which I will repeat below.

An interesting article from New York Magazine regarding Hurricane Irene, with a historical perspective, "Hurricane Flashback: The Great New York Storm of 1821."

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/08/the_hurricane_of_1821_devastat.html

Two interesting excerpts:

As the city prepares for the assault of Irene, we're almost exactly 190 years away from the only hurricane in recorded history whose eye passed directly over New York. September 3 marks the 190th anniversary of the Hurricane of 1821, which saw flooding and destruction in the growing metropolis. In less than an hour a thirteen-foot storm surge deluged the city, swallowing everything below Canal Street. The Battery was particularly devastated, docks were destroyed, and ships were swept onto streets. Further uptown, a bridge that connected Harlem to Ward’s Island was washed away and somewhere in Chinatown, the East River likely met the Hudson."

"Cores extracted from a Jersey salt marsh reveal that a major hurricane strikes the region about once every 350 years. Another one probably struck sometime between 1278 and 1438."

Let's pretend that the science that links higher water temperature and more destructive and rain-filled storms doesn't exist.

(quote)
Scientists have looked at potential correlations between ocean temperatures and tropical cyclone trends worldwide over the past several decades. A 2005 study published in the journal Nature examined the duration and maximum wind speeds of each tropical cyclone that formed over the last 30 years and found that their destructive power has increased around 70 percent in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. (13,14) Another 2005 study, published in the journal Science, revealed that the percentage of hurricanes classified as Category 4 or 5 (based on satellite data) has increased over the same period. (15) The findings from both studies correlate with the rise in sea surface temperatures in regions where tropical cyclones typically originate.

Researchers in a 2006 study (also published in Science) found, upon reanalyzing early storm track records with modern techniques, that a few category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones may have previously been underestimated. (16) However, it remains to be seen if enough storms would be reclassified to challenge the overall rise in intensity. A 2006 study published in Geophysical Research Letters, relying not on storm track records but on global surface wind and temperature records between 1958 and 2001, confirmed the trends identified in the two 2005 studies above and found that a 0.45 °F (0.25 °C) increase in mean annual tropical sea surface temperature corresponded to a 60 percent increase in a tropical cyclone's potential destructiveness. (17)

Researchers have also examined the potential future storm trends. Model simulations show that a one percent annual increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the next 80 years would produce more intense storms, and rainfall would increase an average of 18 percent compared with present-day conditions. (18)

(end quote)

http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/hurrica...

Steve Rose above repeats his misunderstanding of my statements in a separate article. Wow, that take a special sort of dedication. A) the blog post Minnpost picked up was not to sell my book; my authorship bio goes at the bottom of every blog post I write. B) The blog post did not blame Irene's landfall on climate change; it said most hurricanes should not be able to make it that far north, but for global warming. It is an observed scientific fact that ocean temps of 26 degree C and above are in most cases needed to generate and sustain hurricanes. It is also a fact that those ocean temps are present as far north as New Jersey for the first time in recorded history, this year and last. What that says is that the likelihood of more northerly hurricanes might now be greater, if increased wind shear does not prevent their landfall. The jury is still out on that, but it is a fact that the incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes is increasing. It is also a fact - and this was the point of the piece, not the rest of the above - that climate- and weather-related disasters in the US have quadruples since 1980, while all other categories of loss have remained relatively constant. I provided the records of one major reinsurer - Munich RE. No matter what your politics or how often you like to engage in Vikings vs Packers spin, that's business. That's real money leaving your wallet. You are poorer because of it. By hundreds or thousands of dollars. How much is your spin worth before that becomes sucker money?

I'm not a meteorologist, but surely you won't find any who think Hurricane Irene was CAUSED by global warming. My understanding is, the seas are warmer now, which puts more energy into the system. Therefore you get stronger storms.

SLO:

"B) The blog post did not blame Irene's landfall on climate change; it said most hurricanes should not be able to make it that far north, but for global warming."

Agreed, most hurricanes don't; it only happens about once every 350 years, according to salt marsh cores.

What was the water temperature in 1821, when a similar storm hit NYC harder than Irene? And, what about the storm before that?

Don: Yes, both gravity and anthropomorphic global warming are theories. But only one of them is a well respected theory. This zealous and militant demand that all believe (or be a “denier”), has an unappealing odor and repellant affect. Your movement is losing ground, and your tactics are to blame.

Dave:

I think I found one.

A quote from the blog of SLO: "Most hurricanes shouldn't be able to make it that far north - except for one little detail: global warming - the same global warming that America's elected representatives are either ignoring or denying it exists."

It seems like a big waste of time to use fact-based arguments with people like Dave and Dennis. Dave seems to be to be a creation scientist (bigtime oxymoron) and so the only way to reach him is through the bible. Seems to me that anyone who can believe in the literalness of the Book of Revelation is not going to be swayed by any facts, no matter how proven, that contradict the literal words of the bible. Dennis, I suspect, is just a cynical conservative Republican who uses argument as a weapon of power; doesn't have to be a valid argument, just a loud one.

There are actually 2 different debates here. (or should be)
1. That Global Warming is happening. This has been proven and is well documented as well as agreed upon by most.
2. That man is the cause of global warming. This is where most of the debate should be. Can mankind adjust and help reduce the effects of global warming and how can we do it?

Amazingly it's almost exclusively Corporate shill scientists who double global warming. Well the current scientists, after all the ones who disagreed managed to get fired for not toeing the corporate position that is.

"It is an observed scientific fact that ocean temps of 26 degree C and above are in most cases needed to generate and sustain hurricanes. It is also a fact that those ocean temps are present as far north as New Jersey for the first time in recorded history, this year and last."

And yet we know there was a hurricane in 1821.

Statistical errata or not, it proves that “most cases” are not definitive; like all the rest of the data purporting to “prove” anthropomorphic global warming.

"Climategate" was an orchestrated smear campaign”

So, are you suggesting that the released e-mail was fraudulent, or just misinterpreted by us unenlightened rubes? I fail to see how timing adds or detracts from the validity of the message contained within the correspondence (Keep your mouths shut and ignore those embaressing questions or we'll all be looking for new jobs!).

Oh, and those East Anglia scientists were cleared of wrongdoing by, wait for it; East Anglia.

I guess if you’re ready to call a mish-mash of contradictory bits of data, taken at face value "scientific consensus", self-serving exculpation isn’t much of a leap.

"both gravity and anthropomorphic global warming are theories. But only one of them is a well respected theory. This zealous and militant demand that all believe (or be a “denier”), has an unappealing odor and repellant affect. Your movement is losing ground, and your tactics are to blame."

The validity of that statement from Mr. Rose's comment (#14) depends on who you are talking about.

Among scientists and people who understand science, man-made climate change is very well-respected. And support is gaining ground among scientists- more and more evidence keeps coming in to support it, and the climate scientists who have resisted supporting the theory are increasingly coming around. There are disputes about the details, but there is no real scientific dispute that man's activities are changing the climate.

If you are talking about the public at large, Mr. Rose is right - the movement is losing ground. And maybe the tactics are to blame. So I would ask Mr. Rose what tactics he would suggest.

The problem is that what he would call a "zealous and militant demand that all believe" in man-made climate change, climate scientists would simply call using evidence to decide what to believe. The reason that climate scientists may come across as militant and not open to opposing viewpoints, is that the opposing viewpoints are usually based on ignorance and in some cases, flat out lies. If I believe that 2 + 2 = 4, should I have to debate someone who believes 2 + 2 = 5? Do we need "both sides" of a debate, where only one side has evidentiary support?

And maybe the problem isn't just the substance, but the tone. Is it that people like Mr. Otto and Mr. Shelby aren't nice enough to people when they engage in pseudoscientific babble on blogs like this? If people were more polite and patient when explaining things when others don't know what they are talking about, would those people listen? Is there anyway to change their minds? Or do the facts and evidence just not matter?

Mr. Otto and Mr. Shelby very much want to convince people about the science of climate change, and if putting forth facts and evidence isn't enough, I am sure they would love to know what would be.

"Oh, and those East Anglia scientists were cleared of wrongdoing by, wait for it; East Anglia."

Mr. Swift (#18), I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you aren't lying and just don't know the facts, but the emails were reviewed by a number of independent groups. For example, the Associated Press reviewed all of the emails and concluded:

"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."

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34392959/ns/us_news-environment/t/review-e-m...

This article makes an interesting juxtaposition with Eric Black's article on Mike Lofgren, the "alienated Republican professional". Both touch on an aspect of the modern GOP that I find to be repellent, and that did in fact push me, raised as an Eisenhower Republican, further and further away from the party, starting more than 25 years ago. That is a fundamental lack of respect for the truth in favor of a win-at-any-cost mindset; indeed, far beyond even a basic lack of respect for truth, it is a willingness to subvert the truth in the service of politics. In short, to lie, with gusto and enthusiasm, as long as it means winning elections or blocking the other side from accomplishing anything, and most especially, as long as it protects rich republicans. I just can't abide liars, especially self-righteous, moralistic, jingoistic liars, and thus I can't abide the modern GOP.

The phenomenon of employing the lie as formal policy reached its zenith (thus far) in the Bush-43 administration. Papers and findings heavily edited, redacted, or just plain buried by the president's "science advisor". Truth-tellers such as James Hansen escorted to meetings and presentations by political handlers, Soviet style. Responding to inconvenient truths by attacking the credibility of the messengers and conducting full-blown character assassination rather than debating fact. Undermining the very future of the nation by sowing suspicion about scientists, intellectuals, and science itself so that dittohead listeners to talk radio programs will absorb the message and create a generational resistance to anything that doesn't serve their GOP masters. I refer to the latter as being "dumb and proud of it".

It would be refreshing if, instead of spewing the usual, tiresome pseudo-scientific "arguments" against APGW - i.e., pretending to be arguing on the basis of science but really just blowing smoke - denialists would simply be honest about why they oppose policies to mitigate APGW. The reasons seem rather obvious: protecting the oil industry (which is a bastion of Repub funding); avoiding paying for any mitigation efforts (no new taxes; the money in my pocket is more important than the kind of world my kids inherit); reducing the size of evil government (no agencies to deal with APGW related problems); avoidance of having to compromise on lifestyle (I want the good life, damnit, big house, big cars, big toys, and I'm not giving up any of that for the benefit of my fellow humans); etc. Obviously, I would find it no less distasteful, but at least it would be an honest debate about policy.

But no one likes to look piggish, or to be perceived to be the tool of the uber-wealthy, so instead we have an invented debate about scientific discrepancies that don't exist; or endless harping about an "email-gate scandal" that contained nothing damaging to the science, absolutely zero evidence of anything except some off the cuff comments by some grumpy scientists who aren't very good at public relations (and who didn't expect their private email to be stolen).

Don and Shawn, I would simply say don't waste your time arguing matters of fact with denialist posters on comment pages. I used to spend some (little) time refuting outrageous posts, but it is a game you cannot win, for the denialists are not interested in truth or science. This is butt-ugly, win-at-any-cost politics, by people who don't mind lying, or are so confused by the psychic poison of talk radio that they don't know the difference any more. Keep up with the articles, books and presentations, but forget about the comment page. With respect to APGW, it is already too late for anything but rather radical geo-engineering projects to avert the effects of what is already in the atmosphere, even if emissions were to cease today, so the fight over preemptive (and thus cheaper) policy options is already over. What remains is much more expensive remediation, and failing even that, bearing the brunt of what is to come.

Which is why I often say that humans are very clever little tool using primates, but on the whole, they're just not that smart.

Don Shelby and Otto are spot one, science is under attack and if we see Perry in the White House, it will be even worse.

"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..."

Innocent Of Course! As *everyone* knows, *every* reputable scientist hides his data and stonewalls skeptics.

So you got me, Dan. The East Anglia scientists were weighed, measured and found squeaky clean by East Anglia AND the AP.

Tell you what Shawn.

When AGW theory produces even one "law" (vis. Kirchoff's law, Ohm's law, Newton's laws & etc.)that one can apply to it's "science" with the confidence such Reproducibility brings, I'll put it into the "Electricity Theory" basket I stake my life and living on every day.

But until then, I'll just continue to take the "scientific consensus" being pushed exclusively by leftists & financially interested researchers with salt.

Fair enough?

Mr. Swift @ 18: I realize that you will accept nothing less than Rush Limbaugh, the only true authority on anything, but it was not just "East Anglia" which exonerated itself. According to a sourced Wikipedia article:

"In response to the controversy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released statements supporting the scientific consensus, with the AAAS concluding "based on multiple lines of scientific evidence that global climate change caused by human activities is now underway...it is a growing threat to society."[13]

"Six committees investigated the allegations and published reports, finding no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.[14] The Muir Russell report stated, however, "We do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA."[15][16] The scientific consensus that global warming is occurring as a result of human activity remained unchanged at the end of the investigations.[17]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_email_controversy

Of course, they are part of the international conspiracy to fool you and me and the rest of the American people into believing this hoax, so you won't want to believe them.

"I guess if you’re ready to call a mish-mash of contradictory bits of data, taken at face value "scientific consensus", self-serving exculpation isn’t much of a leap."

That's a pretty fair summation of the Inquisition's case against Galileo.

The denialist comments here are good examples of the problem in the debate: they are not considering data and seeking the truth. Instead they are presenting rhetorical arguments trying to convince others of their preexisting opinions (or more often, their unoriginal parroting of the opinions of others on the "team.") Their interest is not in the truth, but winning via talking points. Their tone is another indicator: personal and emotional. That is not the argument of someone presenting what they believe to be knowledge. It is that of someone out to defeat an opponent. This is what antiscience looks like.

@#23
Scientific theories DON'T become laws. Ever. So, you're asking for the equivalent of Hell freezing over before you accept the truth.

For what it's worth, if you assume that Heaven, Hell, and Earth are a closed system, you must accept that either or both Heaven and Hell are cooling as Earth warms due to the Law of Conservation of Mass (a scientific law). Specifically, since energy = mass * speed of light squared, whereby mass can neither be created nor destroyed, and whereby the speed of light is more or less a constant, energy must also adhere to the law of conservation. Heat is energy that manifests in the form of particle movement. As energy is added to Earth to increase temperature, regardless of the cause, Heaven and/or Hell must cool. Thus, if you wait long enough, Hell and/or Heaven will freeze over, and you might be convinced to recognize that you were wrong. Of course, Earth will be uninhabitable. But I guess that's the price you pay for waiting until a scientific theory becomes scientific law.

For what it's worth, global warming is not a scientific theory. It's a fact. Data points put together prove that the globe is warming. This, in and of itself, is not unprecedented. However, the rate is what's alarming. Because the rate is alarming and appears to coincide with the advent of heavy fossil-fuel usage and deforestation, both being carbon sinks, the working hypothesis is that humans are at least partially responsible for the rate of warming, if not the warming itself. Considering that humans contribute 130 times more carbon dioxide into the air than volcanoes, it would seem reasonable to believe that we might actually be putting a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the air. Further considering that carbon dioxide has increased by 35% since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the connection to a significant greenhouse effect would seem obvious. While we can't KNOW in such a short time without forcing no carbon dioxide emissions to test this hypothesis (and forcing human existence into prehistory overnight), it doesn't take rocket science to understand that we have a role to play in global warming.

You might argue that sometime in the distant past, carbon dioxide levels were much higher (20X higher 500 million years ago, and 4-5X higher in the Jurassic), but all organisms living during that time are now dead and much of the carbon that was in the air then was converted to fossil fuels and other fixed forms (limestone, etc.), never seeing the light of day...until we uncovered it again.

Considering that in the last 400 THOUSAND years, the atmospheric CO2 had not exceeded 300 parts per million (as measured by antarctic ice core analysis), while the current concentration is at about 380 parts per million, it's pretty safe to say that modern man has never seen CO2 levels this high, and the resulting heat wave will be unlike anything man's ever experienced before. (Similar trends can be seen with another carbon-based greenhouse gas--methane.) It is also possible that when and if the temperature corrects itself, the resulting crash in temperature could be an ice age more severe than any ever survived by a human being. (http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf) In view of all this, regardless of whether you believe that we are the SOLE cause of global warming, it would still be in our best interest to at least TRY to normalize atmospheric CO2.

Mr. Otto sounds like a good candidate for C-Span's "Book-TV," its weekend-long every-weekend presentation of new nonfiction books by their authors, usually recorded at bookstores or at public meetings of some kind. The presentations are followed by Q&A sessions, which on this topic could be both lively and educational.

"Scientific theories DON'T become laws."

Darn it, I wish I'd have thought of trying that one when arguing for a better grade in school!
Probably wouldn't have gotten me very far over the 25 years I've enjoyed a career in Electrical Engineering though, so it's probably for the best that I learned to apply those non-existent, fundamental laws spawned from electro-magnetic theory.

"For what it's worth, global warming is not a scientific theory. It's a fact."

I don't know it's a proven fact as of yet, but I agree that data does indicate a warming trend. But there is absolutely no concrete proof as to the cause...heck, I understand cutting-edge AGW believers are blaming teh cows now. (Seriously)

BTW Rachel, what's your favorite explanation of why ice core samples show increased CO2 *after* temperature rise?

I'm going with the cows.

Mr. Otto's logic is flawed and his motives are suspect. It's instructive that his public bio omits any academic credentials, scientific or otherwise.

One thing I would love would be to see the climate change science and denial square off in court, where there are rules of evidence. Ideally, we would see an outcome similar to the Dover School Board case, in which the creationists were comprehensively trounced, or the Tobacco health claim cases.

Of course, the science around climate change is merely strong, as opposed to totally overwhelming for evolution & smoking.

@#28 Mr. Swift
I guess you got away with being incorrect for 25 years.

Scientific Law--A set of observed regularities expressed in a concise verbal or mathematical statement. In other words, a formula.

Scientific Theory--An explanation for an observation or series of observations that is substantiated by a considerable body of evidence. In other words, a mechanism.

By the way, never assume that you are the only one with a scientific background. It makes you look all the more foolish when you're wrong about scientific principles. The only thing you can assume you have over me is age.

@#29, Mr. Swift, again
I am going to blame the age thing (time for some readers?) for you missing the fact that CO2 increases at the leading edge of (i.e., before) temperature increases. You might also note that CH4 (methane) also increases just prior to temperature, and at about the same time as CO2. I'm sure a closer look at Figure 3 of http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf will help clear that up. Finally, check out the average temperature over the last few years. It's going up. Thus, global warming = fact. (Cause and extent is still somewhat debatable, but only somewhat.)

And just in case the whole cow thing is a mystery to you, forests (remember, CO2 sink) are often clearcut to accommodate cattle. To further exacerbate the issue, cows produce CH4 (remember, another greenhouse gas) as a byproduct of digestion. Therefore, cattle are a mechanism for turning fixed carbon into atmospheric carbon. And because CH4 has the potential of wreaking 25X the havoc of an equal mass of CO2 over a 100 year span (only because CH4 is shorter-lived) due to greenhouse potential alone, cows have a potentially significant impact. If you think this is a new issue, you're behind by at least 15 years. The "cutting edge" you refer to is getting rather dated.

To tell you the truth, I am honestly baffled by anyone that can look at a graph showing a clear positive slope and say point blank that it's not a positive slope. I'd be curious to know if you expect to be able to put your car in neutral and coast in the general direction of Alaska to the top of Mt. McKinley simply because you deny that the slope exists.

I work with scientists at an international organization who study and models complex global problems, everything from energy and water to poverty and equity. Here are a couple of the real problems they are dealing with:
-- The water supply for Lima, Peru, is threatened because much of it comes from glaciers. Since the 1970s about 30 percent of the glaciers have melted away as the planet has warmed. The process is accelerating.
-- In a valley in Poland, farmers are struggling with increased droughts and floods, both products of increasing climate variability and weather extremes. The problem is getting worse.
-- In southern Italy landslides have long been a problem. As rains increase and the ecosystems of mountains change with, once again, more variability in the climate and more extreme weather events, the number and scale of the earthquakes are expected to increase.
The list goes on and on. Climate change, caused by human burning of fossil fuels, has real impacts on real people. The scientists here note that the outlook for curbing CO2 emissions is so bleak that their work is focused on adaptation, not mitigation.

And I can assure you, they are not part of an international conspiracy. But they are worried about where the people in Lima, Peru, are going to get their water when the source that has provided it for centuries melts away.

Bernice (#27): It seems you are recommending a book that you haven't read. To your credit, you know how it ends; the Erlenmeyer flask falls over and shatters.

"For what it's worth, global warming is not a scientific theory. It's a fact." Does anyone in this conversation, besides Rachel, believe in this statement. I mean, belief, in a scientific sense, not belief by faith?

It is the apogee of human arrogance to believe that we control the thermostat, and that we can dial it back a couple degrees, should we choose. Is God offended or is God amused?

There are some ethical problems too, if humans should muster the power. How many fewer people will be fed with shorter growing seasons? What is the correct mean temperature, what if we go too far? Who gets to decide?

"Most hurricanes shouldn't be able to make it that far north - except for one little detail: global warming"

Statements like that might sell books, but it doesn't entice me to buy a ticket on the SLO boat.

Denny Tester: "Mr. Otto's logic is flawed and his motives are suspect. It's instructive that his public bio omits any academic credentials, scientific or otherwise."

OK. How? Why not show otherwise? Ah, Denny! Same old comedy!

I think it is a good question. Both SLO and Don are schooling us on AGW. What are their credentials?

One thing that is constant is change, and change is what the warm-mongers seek to end. What would the world be like if the large reptiles (dinosaurs) and terror birds became extinct? It would be like, well, like right now. If humans had been there, they would surely be to blame.

Why is now, or 100 years ago, the perfect condition of the planet? Why isn't 100 years from now the condition we seek?

This has been a fine discussion, but Shelby's casual writing, and lack of copy editors, can trip him up:

"Lysenko's Communist-Party-inspired agricultural reforms failed, and the Soviet Union is still trying to catch up."

The Soviet Union ended a cuppla decades ago.

One of the signatures of pseudoscience (and pseudoscientists) is it, and they cannot be refuted.

Not enough CO2 to account for the hoped for result? Well that's because you didn't account for the methane! Fossil record doesn't warrant the hypothesis? You didn't account for hysteresis! Horoscope said you’d have bad luck today, but it’s been great?…you changed your behavior after reading the horoscope!

True science builds on itself, it relies on and requires tested hypothesis and welcomes challenges, pseudoscience relies on the pseudoscientist’s skill and willingness to hide data and stonewall critics.

On that count alone, AGW researchers have poisoned their own well and are relying on willing leftists, who see a furtherance of their own agenda in a successful AGW scam, to apply their bullying techniques (name calling, attack on livelihoods etc.).

An attack on science? Yes indeed.

Thanks to the commenters for proving my point.

The commenters who are not sold on the theory of man caused global warming have been called deniers, bible thumpers, anti-science, outrageous, lairs, grumpy, dumb and proud of it, just in this comment string.

If you think that I am too obtuse to understand your point, that's fine. But you will never convince me that you are right by resorting to grade school name calling.

Please excuse me for getting off topic, but I sense that we are nearing the end of this discussion.

I was doing some background reading, seeing what the giants of the AGW industry have had to say in the last several months, and I came across something notable, though admittedly off topic.

Jeffrey Sachs, economist and the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University offered President Obama a blistering performance review on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday, August 19.

"We're almost three years into this administration, and there's never been a plan. And that's what everybody feels. And the president didn't lead. He waited. The quintessential image, sadly, of an administration that I supported and hoped for much better, is the president waiting by the phone to hear what Congress calls to tell him. It doesn't work in this country that way. It's not a matter that it's August. It's a matter that it's August 2011. So we've been drifting for a very long time. And we've been drifting down. And we had a short-term plan that failed. A short-term stimulus that was supposed to get the economy back on track, but it failed. And now we have nothing behind it. And we have no agreements, and we have no leadership. And, frankly, I do think it's pretty odd the president's on vacation right now. Normally I wouldn't care about such things, but the world markets are in deep crisis. It's no joke. This isn't just an up-and-down little blip. This is a very serious situation."

@Dave #39 - most of the terms you find offensive were in my post (should I be flattered?), except "bible-thumpers", so I offer a minor correction, and a comment.

The correction is, "grumpy" referred to the victims of email theft in the "climate-gate" email episode, not to the denialist thieves who stole the email. Wouldn't want you to feel accused of something as egregious as grumpiness, after all.

More seriously, if my terminology is strong (I take exception to "grade school" - I didn't call you a "booger-face" or some such, after all) and not likely to persuade you, it's because I'm not interested in trying to persuade denialist posters in comment pages. As I stated, this is a game that is pointless and cannot be won, because the denialists are not interested in getting to the truth of the matter. They are pursuing a political agenda using the tactics and bogus arguments that were employed by the tobacco companies in denying a tobacco/cancer link. I am long since out of patience with this nonsense, and am simply calling a spade a spade. It is no insult to the sky to say the sky is blue. If the denialists wish to engage in a political clusterfrak while the earth that sustains them "burns", so to speak, then I shall feel no restraint in mocking them for it. Do you understand now?

@Steve #36 - your post indicates you do not understand the danger. We are not talking about a gradual warming. We are not talking about conditions in general being 5 degrees warmer so that, "oh look, I can walk around in shorts in November in Minnesota, isn't that great?" The danger is sudden climate change. The danger is crossing a tipping point, as gradual warming due to increased CO2 leads to temperature spiking due to the release of methane from now-frozen methane hydrates, the ice goes and feedback loops lock in with a vengeance. Sudden, radical climate change. It's happened in the past, and it will happen again - soon, if we keep pushing the system in that direction. That's what we're playing with, with these inane non-scientific political "debates".

Thus it is not about whether a few degrees more or less is more comfortable for humans. It's about changing inputs until the climate system becomes unhinged as it seeks to find a new point of equilibrium. This is not a game any rational being should want to play.

The answer to your specific question about what to do is this: return atmospheric CO2 to the pre-industrial level, and then let the earth do what it will, while controlling out emissions to avoid forcing by human activity.

"Why is now, or 100 years ago, the perfect condition of the planet? Why isn't 100 years from now the condition we seek?"

It's not a matter of what's a perfect condition for the planet, but rather what's more costly to reconstruct. Keeping conditions largely as they are (or were in the case of CO2) is cheaper than displacing hundreds of millions of people and remaking various eco systems across the entire planet.

If people and nature had thousands of years to adjust to the new conditions it wouldn't be such a big deal. Animals could migrate and forests could regrow farther north or south as the original forests died off. But when you're looking at changes that are taking place in the span of a few dozen or a hundred years there just isn't time for nature to gracefully adjust itself.

But really you don't care about the explanation as you already knew everything I just told you. Your real goal is to simply play the "yeah but" game. Someone explains why a particular objection isn't true and you'll just come in with "yeah but what about this, that, or the other thing?" Your goal is to argue minutia endlessly rather than have an honest debate about facts and science.

Lance (#41):

"Sudden, radical climate change. It's happened in the past, and it will happen again"

Are you sure you want to say that? I've been ridiculed for such nonsense.

What caused it last time? Finite and puny, what is mankind going to do if the same cause strikes Earth again?

If only we'd been here last time, we could be sharing this place with 1/2-ton ten-foot carnivorous terror birds.

I note a very obvious lack of logic or data supporting those that deny global warming. They don't want to be called denialists, despite the clear and illogical denial that the temperature graph points up. Yet they're busy calling those that accept global warming as fact (because the graph points up) pseudoscientists.

They even happily use the high school bully tactics of singling out an individual for ridicule. Very obviously, I am NOT the only one that thinks a solidly upward slope proves that the globe is warming, not a mere support for a "belief." I'm pretty resistant to those tactics, though. They didn't bother me when my peers were teenagers, and they won't bother me when my peers are...well...not teenagers. The mentality is the same and I have little regard for it.

I've provided my case in support of Mr. Shelby and Mr. Otto, and many others that read and commented on this article, WITH DATA and LOGICAL support. The denialists on here have failed to do the same. The debate here has ended for me until they do. It's no fun to argue with someone unprepared to meet the challenge with honesty.

The famous Phil Jones question and answer is repeated below, for convenience. It has been parsed and debated elsewhere, but I think the answer bears repeating, as a tenth of a degree per decade is not apocalyptic climate change.

"Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?"

"Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods."

Todd, what happened to all of the species of plants and animals in the archeological record? It seems that nature did not have time to gracefully adjust itself. BTW, I am not playing a game; I am having a discussion. You are free to join in or not.

@Steve #43 -

"Are you sure you want to say that? I've been ridiculed for such nonsense."

I'm sure I want to say it because it is there in the record of the rocks, and the ice, and what is being found under the ice as it melts. If you have said something similar in the past and been ridiculed, that's too bad, but it wasn't because it's "nonsense". Ridicule is part and parcel of the web experience, and irrelevant to the facts. One needs to grow a thick skin.

"What caused it last time? Finite and puny, what is mankind going to do if the same cause strikes Earth again?"

The proximal cause was the same, increasing CO2 led to methane outgassing which spiked the temperature and melted the last of the ice sheets. If enough fresh water floods the sea, it disrupts the ocean currents and the heat transport mechanism they provide, and the climate abruptly changes. The ultimate cause was obviously natural rather than manmade.

What would we do if it happens naturally again? Suffer. Struggle. Adapt or die. So what? That's no reason to make the situation worse with our own activity. It is the web of life on Earth that sustains us, and Earth is the only hospitable planet we have. Why would you want to damage it? That's not rational. It's like saying, "fires happen all the time for reasons I can't control, why should I get a smoke detector and a fire extinguisher? Why should I be careful with my fireplace? I'll probably burn anyway."

As for being finite and puny, are you sure you want to say that? Finite, sure, 7 billion is a finite number. Puny? Perhaps you're confusing an individual human with humankind. A man is puny. Humanity, in all its billions and with all its technology and industrial might is not. I grew up on the Great Plains, in what used to be the Prairie. It was once a sea of grass with immense herds of bison and a rich ecosystem. Today it is a green desert. Corn. Soybeans. Wheat. Cattle. It is not an ecosystem, it is a monoculture, sustained with noxious chemicals and by drawing down ancient aquifers at a frightening rate. We did that, in what, a single century? We have changed the face of the entire planet. We have caused the extinction of many species. We remove entire mountain tops to get some filthy coal. Cut down entire forests - the lungs of the world. We have nearly fished out the entire Ocean of many species. Puny? Hardly.

We are far more powerful than we are wise. But that is not specifically what angers me. What angers me is those who deny it is happening when they know better, who lie about it all or just don't care. Who block any attempt to walk more gently on the earth, because they can make more money by raping it, or because they have been brainwashed by those who make the money. Only a fool fights in a burning house. Why do you fight in this burning house?

As for terror birds, I have no idea what you're talking about or what they have to do with this discussion.

And now, like Rachel, I am done with this. Her final sentence says it well:
"It's no fun to argue with someone unprepared to meet the challenge with honesty."

For the sake of your children and theirs, I hope you find the moral strength to meet the challenge honestly.

No, you are simply playing a game. Namely the gotcha game. You take isolated points of data and use that as a basis to refute the entire body of knowledge. If someone roundly refutes a particular point you simply move on to another point of data and say "oh yeah? What about this one then?" That's not a discussion: that's just arguing for the sake of arguing.

The fact of the matter is your mind is already made up on the issue and no amount of reasoning is going to sway you or the other naysayers one way or another. You'll just go from 1821 hurricanes to scientist's emails to "man is insignificant" to Otto's credentials to "The Soviet Union ended a cuppla decades ago." There's zero interest on your part for doing any real fact finding or taking a serious look at the data, let alone come to a consensus.

That's fine if that's all you want to do, but own up to your behavior and call it what it is.

Rachel & Todd:

Are you familiar with the toilet paper timeline history of the earth?

In round numbers, the earth is 5 billion years old, ocean life originated 3.4 billion years ago, dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, and recorded human history dates back about 10,000 years.

On a long hallway, unroll a 400 square (length per square = 11 cm) toilet paper roll. Each square is equivalent to 12.5 million years. If the beginning of square 1 represents the origin of the planet, the dinosaurs became extinct on square 394. Human history begins at the end of square 400, 0.01 cm (100 microns) from the very end of the roll. For reference, a human hair is about 75 microns in diameter.

Rachel, the data that you have used to create your temperature FACT slope sits on the last wood fiber of the end of the TP roll. That's a fact you can honestly take to the bathroom.

Todd, take a serious look at the data.

BTW, of the two of us, you are the only one to mention the Soviets.

"the data that you have used to create your temperature FACT slope sits on the last wood fiber of the end of the TP roll. That's a fact you can honestly take to the bathroom."

Game; set; match. I bow before the master!

Tom Swift's comment #49 perfectly captures the denialists' attitude. Steve, the geological timescale you describe is precisely why this spike now is concerning to geophysicists. It is also why Phil Jones' comment is correct: in that timescale, the warming of last decade is statistically insignificant. But statistical significance of a geological trend is precisely what makes it manageable. Here, statistics is working against us. But I suspect you know all this, since you are the one that brought up Jones' comment, and contrarianism seems somewhat of a passion for you. You and Tom should take your show on the road, once he's done bowing to you for your arguments' superior dishonesty and sarcasm.

SLO:

I see you’ve joined several of the commenters in their descent into ad hominem attacks.

You’ve joined Todd, “No, you are simply playing a game. Namely the gotcha game.” Rachel, “It's no fun to argue with someone unprepared to meet the challenge with honesty.” Lance, “Only a fool fights in a burning house. Why do you fight in this burning house?”

And, your spot-on insightful characterization, “your arguments' superior dishonesty and sarcasm.”

The recurring theme seems to be that disagreement equals dishonesty. Is that honest? I don’t think so. Perhaps we should all disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are all going to come to a consensus. I’m there.

Lots of talk about data. Rachel, you presented no data; you referenced no data. You shared your conclusion of FACT, and backed it with familiar AGW talking points.

SLO: “geological timescale you describe is precisely why this spike now is concerning to geophysicists” Because we have so little data, we have great concern?

“But statistical significance of a geological trend is precisely what makes it manageable”. Has climate management been demonstrated or just discussed at international conferences?

The danger of the AGW movement is that it will lead to policy that will trade great treasure for zero benefit. Cap & Trade, why haven’t we started that? We don’t yet have the severe factitious disorder that would drive us to intentionally contaminate our wound (crippled economy).

I would point out that it is in the nature of scientific progress that theories aren't settled, once and for all, and that this provides no reason whatsoever to gainsay the consensus opinion of relevant experts.

I have to thank both Tom Swift and Steve Rose for both making my point so eloquently. Take a graph that's completely irrelevant, loudly proclaim that it invalidates the work of thousands of scientists, and then strut around like a peacock in full regalia.

The graph is, of course, meaningless. It's like making a graph of your car. The car has sat in the driveway for the past week. Before that you've owned it for nine months with no problems whatsoever. And that model has been on the market for several years and the car manufacturer has been in business since the 1920s. And cars have been around in one form or another for decades before that, not to mention the horse and buggy days and the ox carts for thousands of years before that.

So you hop into your car, turn the key, and fire it up. You throw it into neutral, put your foot on the break, and tromp on the gas pedal, pegging out the tachometer for all it's worth.

Nothing bad can happen, right? After all, you've only done this for a few minutes and, compared to the rest of the graph, it's an insignificant event. Based on the data how could you possibly blow the engine?

But you'll just find some other meaningless bit of data you found through Google, post it here, and (once again) loudly proclaim in a juvenile way that it invalidates global warming, all the while ignoring all the other work that has been done on the subject.

As stated earlier, you're not interested in a discussion, you just want to argue for the sake of arguing.

Richard: I agree, and would add that there is no reason whatsoever to gainsay the minority opinion, or to be intolerant of skepticism. Skepticism is healthy in science, and challenges can lead to greater
discovery.

I am amused at the attempts to shut down the discussion, and they merely encourage me to forge ahead. Unflattering characterizations and animal comparisons, as made in comment #53, have no place on the MinnPost
comment boards. If I want to descend into those types of trollish exchanges, I know of other places where that is the norm.

Regarding Todd's "You throw it into neutral, put your foot on the break(sic), and tromp on the gas pedal" analogy, I am at a loss as to what that means. It certainly is original; not cut and pasted from another source.

The only thing constant is change. If mankind and his influences were removed, change would not cease. AGW is not settled science; that notion is an obstacle to the advancement of productive dialogue.

Late to this party...

Mr. Otto do you consider what Steven McIntyre does dishonest too?