Alas, woolly mammoths are no more!

May 21, 2014

muir

I don’t quite recall where that phrase comes from:  perhaps a tag line from my surrealist days in school.  But speaking of the Ice Age, there was an article in the NYTimes Science Section headlined The Big Melt Accelerates.  It provides more grist for my mill on the topic of the Times’ incredible bias and sloppiness in its supposedly “for the record” coverage of climate science.

The article covers the topic of glacial recession worldwide, i.e., the shrinking of glaciers.  Not the “melting” of glaciers:  glaciers are always melting.  Whether they grow or shrink depends on how much ice and snow are being dumped on their upland regions.  Mass-balance, that sort of thing.

Of course, the point of the article is that glaciers are shrinking everywhere (although they do note that some are not, and some are even growing.)  The two images shown above are featured prominently at the headline, and the message is clear.  In 1941, plenty of glacial ice; 2004, the glacier is visible only in the distance. Global warming, dumbbell!  Clear evidence to confound those anti-science deniers!

The images show the Muir Glacier in Alaska, and it has indeed been receding for many years.  In fact, it has been receding since it reached its maximum extent in…1780.  It’s quite well documented.  In the map below, you can see that in the late 18th century, long before the industrial revolution got going bigtime, it reached the end Glacier Bay (see the red circle at the bottom of the map.)  After 160 years, it retreated to where the red circle near the top of the map is.  And in the intervening sixty years, it has continued its retreat.  Clearly, the bulk of the recession was not caused by the industrial revolution and its discharge of C02 into the atmosphere – it was hardly a major force then.  It doesn’t seem to have accelerated its backward movement in the 20th century either.

Why did this glacier retreat?  The Little Ice Age, which saw glaciers growing all over the northern hemisphere – to the point that there are engravings showing European villages being engulfed and destroyed by ice! – ended in the very late 18th century.  Things started to get warmer after that…

New-1

This bit of scientific context doesn’t prove or disprove anything much other than that the NYTimes is extremely sloppy in its reporting.  The governing attitude seems to be, “We know the issue is settled.  Let’s get the message out.”  Fellow bloggers, e.g. Troutsky, who otherwise are sympathetic to my views expressed in this blog, seem to think my doubts are the result of clever indoctrination by the radical right-wing. But this sort of graphic legerdemain and purposeful misdirection is, to me, reminiscent of the GWB years, and the WMD buildup to the Iraq invasion, which the NYTimes swallowed whole.  Not nearly so serious and destructive, but structurally, the same sort of trash.

I wrote to the author of this piece, asking him if it wasn’t “a tad bit misleading” to use those photos.  His reply was, “Short unsatisfying answer:  I don’t choose the photos.”  I guess that’s life as a journalist.  But then he went on, “That being said…,” it’s part of a widespread and well documented trend over the “last several decades.”  Last several decades?  I know he understood my point, so is he just evading the entire question?


The ‘airbrush’ lives on!

July 6, 2010

Just in case you thought that airbrushing the past away was a dead art form associated with the USSR, guess again.  It lives on in the news of our free press.  The Economist created a new image that packed more of a punch for their headline than mundane reality, but they did it for our own good, of course (see below – italics mine).  I don’t have a big problem with the crop, but zapping away the woman is over the top.

In a statement to the New York Times, deputy editor Emma Duncan (who made the decision), said Admiral Allen was removed by the crop and that the local parish president was removed “not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.”


Hack, hack, hackin’ back to the USSR!

November 23, 2009

Were those emails from CRU in the UK “hacked” from the system?  People I talk to who know a thing or two about network security say it’s a given that nearly all hacked material is actually taken by insiders who have access to passwords and network storage locations.  So, most likely, a disgruntled person at CRU spilled the beans.

As a result, we have the spectacle of true believers foaming at the mouth, always edifying, as it shows more reasonable people how they most certainly do NOT want to behave.  Consider this comment on Andrew Revkin’s blog:

Comment 358 – Michael May – Chicago
November 23rd, 2009 – 1:26 pm

It’s not clear from what’s been published that any attempt to subvert honest science by the men involved in these exchanges has been made. What is clear is that when you put someone under attack, they start to behave in a paranoid manner. In this case, they have reason to. They’re up against an opposition that will take every possible effort to subvert their work, to discredit them personally and professionally and to use any stray thread to try to pull the entire quilt apart.

I have italicized the part that is really interesting to me.  Somehow, I thought I had heard this sort of thing before, complaints about nasty, irreconcilable foes who won’t get with the Great Program:

It is true that we are rude and impolite sometimes, driving from our ranks and scientific enterprise all those ‘wreckers’ and skeptical forces in our midst – those forces that are using all their intelligence and media savvy to hold us back and to maintain a carbon-based society among us…

I just changed a few words from a quotation from Anna Smirnova, Moscow factory worker, from the communist Daily Worker of Nov. 10, 1933.  Uh…that was about the time that Stalin was busy protecting the Soviet state from those counter-revolutionary forces that had assasinated Kirov…or did he do it?  Better not to have asked.

You can read the actual text here.

Robespierre, I will drink the hemlock with thee!

March 10, 2008

Death of Socrates by J. L. David

The Revolution is running its course, the God, Revolt, is devouring its children. Robespierre reigns supreme at the helm of the Committee for Public Safety, but he is troubled. Enemies of the Revolution are everywhere:

Meanwhile Robespierre, we still observe, goes little to Convention, not at all to Committee; speaks nothing except to his Jacobin House of Lords, amid his bodyguard of Tappe-durs …The Incorruptible himself sits apart; or is seen stalking in solitary places in the fields, with an intensely meditative air … Art not thou he who, few years ago, was a young Advocate of promise; and gave up the Arras Judgeship rather than sentence one man to die?—

The men in charge all fear for their lives. Like the circle around Stalin, it could be the turn of any of them to next make a trip in the tumbril to a rendezvous with Madame Guillotine. Still, life goes on – one cannot cower in fear in a corner all day:

…there was a remarkable bachelor’s dinner one hot day at Barrere’s … But at this dinner we speak of, the day being so hot, it is said, the guests all stript their coats, and left them in the drawing-room: whereupon Carnot [his son would practicly invent the science of heat, thermodynamics] glided out; groped in Robespierre’s pocket; found a list of Forty, his own name among them; and tarried not at the wine-cup that day!

And so, out of self-preservation, the men will act to defang the tyrant Robespierre. Good Soviet men only dreamed of killing Stalin – nobody had the nerve! A fatal encounter, at which Maximilien addresses the conspirators against him:

Long-winded, unmelodious as the screech-owl’s, sounds that prophetic voice: Degenerate condition of Republican spirit; corrupt moderatism; Surete, Salut Committees themselves infected; back-sliding on this hand and on that; I, Maximilien, alone left incorruptible, ready to die at a moment’s warning. For all which what remedy is there? The Guillotine; new vigour to the all-healing Guillotine: death to traitors of every hue! So sings the prophetic voice; into its Convention sounding-board. The old song this: but to-day, O Heavens! has the sounding-board ceased to act?

Well, the jig is up, but some people have timing that is a bit off. The ever ready painter, Jacques Louis David declares:

Robespierre, I will drink the hemlock with thee,” “Je boirai la cigue avec toi;

As Carlyle drily notes:

—a thing not essential to do, but which, in the fire of the moment, can be said.

Perhaps David’s timing was better than it seemed. He was always able to adapt, to wiggle through. At the other end of the tunnel he paints the light that shone over France. From propagandist of the high ideals of revolution to image maker of the imperial order.

Robespierre, condemned, tries to blow his brains out but fails, destroying only his jaw. He spends a night in agony and then meets his fate on the platform of the guillotine.

J. L. David - Coronation of Napoleon (detail)

Red = Menace

February 28, 2008

redfordanger.jpg
So much for the “yellow peril.” It was red all over. During the Cold War, we were used to seeing lots of red ink spilled across maps, portending the onslaught of the communist hordes from the east. You can check out this post at strangemaps that adds some “perspective” to the Red Menace.

Here, I’m talking about a different sort of red, the type that signals danger, alert, alarm, something bad happening! Color is used in maps for all sorts of reasons, including just making them easier to read, but often, in “thematic maps,” i.e., maps that convey information and data about a particular topic, the colors are related to a scale of values that is described in a key, or legend. The image below is from a recent article in the New York Times Science section about the mapping of the impact of humans on the oceans of the world. This map shows the distribution of shipping lanes over the seas.

nytimes_shipping_map.jpg Link to original article.

Notice that red is the highest value, i.e., “most impact.” Clearly, that’s bad, isn’t it? But…how are we to know? Compared to what? Maybe it’s all horrible. Maybe none of it is. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that’s true, but the map doesn’t illuminate this point, while it does give the clear impression, with all that red splotched around, that humans are just mucking up the oceans everywhere!

Well, not quite everywhere – the southern hemisphere looks okay. What if we had chosen a projection of the earth like this one? The effect would be quite different, less alarming, less informative?

polarprojection.png

Maps tell stories, and the mapmaker decides what to emphasize and what to downplay…suppress. Color and cartographic projection are part of that storytelling. No problem here, except that for some reason, people tend, I think, to regard maps as purely scientific documents that are totally precise and objective.

One could see the map in the NYTimes, and the others to be found at that link, as part of a sustained effort to propagandize for the view that the earth is fragile, in need of support and tender care, and that the cause of the problem is the brutish, unthinking behavior of stupid, destructive humans. Is this a true story or a myth?


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