Mad Science/Journalism Experiment

October 10, 2018


In the wake of the new IPCC special report, the NYTimes declared (emphasis added) in its editorial today:

…the world must utterly transform its energy systems in the next decade or risk ecological and social disaster, attention must be paid….

The panel said a mammoth effort is needed, beginning now and carrying through the century, to decarbonize global energy systems. The next 10 years are absolutely crucial: Emissions will have to be on a sharp downward path by 2030 for any hope of success. Greenhouse gases must be cut nearly in half from 2010 levels. Renewable energy sources must increase from about 20 percent of the electricity mix today to as much as 67 percent. The use of coal would need to be phased out, vanishing almost entirely by midcentury.

Okay, so there we have it.  A clear and stunning prediction of doom, the End Times of the Climate Apocalypse are nigh!  2030 is not so far off, and a very large proportion of the readers of this post (all three of you!) are likely to be around then to test the propositions pronounced in the editorial.

My prediction is that in before 2030, if people are still excited about this issue, we will see articles about how new studies have put off the day of reckoning to 2040 or 2050, the standard moving the goalposts routine.  Or, they may declare that the delay of crisis is due to the heroic (unspecified) reductions in GHG accomplished as a result of their indomitable advocacy.  If I am wrong, I won’t be happy!  😦

Alas, woolly mammoths are no more!

May 21, 2014


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…


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?

Hard to be a prophet.

April 7, 2013

 Prophet Wannabee

I was looking into just who this Justin Gillis character is, the one on the left, who is sometimes referred to as “the most apocalyptic reporter” writing on climate change, and I was struck by the resemblance to this famous portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Not that I would compare the two…just pointing it out.  Maybe Justin is modeling himself on Ludwig, the tormented intellectual…

He had an article in the NYTimes the other day about a glacier in the Andes, and it was a perfect example of the junk-journalism that passes for substantive reporting in the Science Times on this topic.

The title, In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years, was misleading and alarmist.  It continues with the statement that the find is

…the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.

No mention of what evidence there is for a ‘recent spike’ in temperature.  Perhaps he’s thinking of the recent article by Marcott et al that has made a splash and been pretty much discredited.  There was no evidence to support the idea that warming, let alone global warming brought on by burning of fossil fuels, brought on this condition.  Is it remarkable for ice that took nearly two thousand years to form to melt quickly from a glacier?  Also, the notion that the world is “in balance,” is an idea fraught with difficulties:  does that mean the world never changes? changes only a little?  changes slowly, but a lot?  Must not change? for every good change there is a bad change?

Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.

Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.

That’s from the article.  So, fast melting has happened, and this one is pretty fast, but the cause?  No mention.  And why did it get so warm after the last ice age?

Most of the article is about the study of frozen plant remains that have been uncovered, and what they tell us about past climate and the growth and shrinkage of the ice mass – little to do with anthropogenic global warming.

There is a tid-bit about evidence that bad weather  may have contributed to poor harvests before the French Revolution, and been a contributing factor to the upheaval.  No mention of what sort of bad weather, but it was probably bad winters:  what does that have to do with warming?  He concludes with a mention that the melting of glaciers spells bad times ahead for Andean cities that depend on glacial melt for drinking water.

In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.

Trouble looms!  Always…and how soon?  No mention.  How big are the glaciers?  And of course, there’s that headline.  Doom is around the corner and inevitable.

Brooks be humble…

January 8, 2013

I hear David Brooks, the NYTimes conservative columnist, is teaching a course on humility at Yale.  There’s so much irony, I just won’t touch it.

I don’t read him these days unless something particular points me there, and I saw a reference to a column he wrote on his favorite topic these days, humility, mentioning Pauline Kael and how she didn’t “suffer fools gladly.”  Hah! I thought, who is she to suffer or not suffer fools?  (I don’t like her film reviews much.)  He dissects the meaning and use of the phrase, and I agree with him there. People who speak foolishly out of naivete, simple ignorance, and the like, should be treated with graciousness and respect.  We’ve all been in that situation, and will be again, but…

As with so much of Brook’s ‘deep’ commentary, I can’t help think that there’s something autobiographical here, some secret wound he’s nursing.  Heavens, did somebody not so nice maybe treat him shabbily, like a damn fool?  Maybe it was someone really smart, who knows a lot about something that Brooks was remarking on (and perhaps knew very little about.)  Maybe, could it be, somebody like Paul Krugman, or some other intellectual?

Let’s face it, people who treat badly the kind of fool I described here are not looked upon well by thoughtful people.  But there is also the other kind of fool, the kind who is ignorant, and prefers to remain so.  The kind who is quite arrogant in, even about his ignorance.  The kind who loves to hear him or herself talk, even when he or she knows nothing about the topic.  Yes, there’s that class, of which Brooks is a premier member, of the pundits, the pedants, and the talking-heads.  They often speak as fools, and you can hardly blame them; it’s their job to keep talking to fill up the air time.  Or to fill up those column inches.  And they do seem to get it into their heads after a while that they actually have powers of intellect which they consistently fail to display.

I’d put Brooks in this latter class of fool.  He’s also paid a huge amount for his chatter.  So if someone takes him down in print or on the air, I will not feel he’s been treated badly, despite his pleas for humility.  It just goes with the territory.

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.”

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

April 27, 2009

click for more information

An American nuclear sub surfaces at the north pole in 1959.  Not much ice to be seen…

…and from a fairly recent news frenzy:

North Pole Could be Ice-Free in 2008

Valentines – Kiss & Make Up!

February 14, 2008


Krugman and Dowd – do these two read each other’s columns?  Certainly.  Do they talk to each other, I wonder?  Do they call each other on the phone for shouting matches?  I wonder if they talk to people who don’t make it their business to comment publicly on current politics, people at whom the nomination campaigns are directed?

First, Dowd lets loose with a, yes, vitriolic critique of Hillary Clinton, and speaks hysterically of the Clinton Attack Machine.  Whaaa?  Way over the top!  I haven’t heard anything outside the very wide bounds of the usual American campaign scurrilousness.  Check out Thomas Jefferson’s election fliers and the limericks written against him!  Dowd goes through periods of writing good, sharp columns, but I wonder why she thinks that we are interested in her buckets of bile.

Then, Krugman weighs in with his hissy-fit assessment of Obama as cult-icon, comparing him to Nixon and, get this, to GWB in a flight jacket on that aircraft carrier, USS Mission Accomplished!  Is he on this planet?  Yes, Obama’s wife was wrong to hem and haw about whether she  would work on a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign – she’s rooting for hubby.  But she’ll have plenty of time to smooth that over should her man not clinch the spot.

Krugman, for all his exceptional service to the nation as a tireless and generally spot-on critic of the Republicans, does have a tin ear at times when he ventures out of policy wonkdom.  For all his anger over Bush’s Iraq policy, he can’t seem to fathom that other voters feel the same way, and hold a grudge against Clinton.  Not just a grudge – they think it says something about her judgement and leadership.  He castigates the Obama campaign for making a mountain out of a molehill regarding Clinton’s remark that LBJ’s skills and courage were crucial to moving forward MLK’s agenda.  Her proposition may be true, but there’s that tin ear again, this time Clinton’s ear.  And he ignores Clinton’s radical distortion of Obama’s comments on Reagan, that Reagonzo successfully moved the country in a new direction in a way that Bill Clinton did not.  He was citing Reagonzo’s politicial skills – he didn’t say it was a good direction!

The Masses are Revolting

February 14, 2008


“Sire, come quickly! The peasants are revolting!!” You know that old joke.

Carlyle, my constant companion these days, writes of the black, sulphorous mass beneath all society, slowly rising up, for good or ill. The masses, with their red Phrygian caps of liberty, planting liberty trees everywhere, staging revolutionary spectacles on the Champs de Mars that mix royal pomp, medieval papistry, and carnival.

Gillray pilloried James Fox, yet again, by showing him as a scruffy, farting, bloodied sans cullote (in fact without [knee] breeches, not without pants, but Gillray can’t let such a chance go) shouting Ca Ira!, [It will go well!] loosely translated here:

We’ll string up the aristocrats!
Despotism will die,
Liberty will triumph
“We will win, we will win, we will win,”

And we will no longer have nobles or priests
“We will win, we will win, we will win,””
Equality will reign throughout the land

And the Austrian slave will follow it.
“We will win, we will win, we will win,”

zenith_gillray.jpg And here is Gillray showing the zenith of the glorious revolution, speaking of stringing up people on the Lanterne as Carlyle refers to the lampost cum lynching post.

Was this the true birth of mass society? The rule of the mass-mob-demos-and consumer? Carlyle devotes a chapter to journalism of the day – it was everywhere:

One Sansculottic bough that cannot fail to flourish is Journalism. The voice of the People being the voice of God, shall not such divine voice make itself heard? To the ends of France… Constant, illuminative, as the nightly lamplighter, issues the useful Moniteur, for it is now become diurnal: with facts and few commentaries; official, safe in the middle…

A daily newspaper! The Moniteur. Faithfully reporting the news so that I, centuries later, sunk in my collegiate ennui, deep down in the third sub-basement of the library, can happen upon its collected numbers, bound, gilt-edged, in tattered leather covers, and turn hopefully to the news of January 21, 1793, and read of the execution by guillotine of Louis Capet. (Where did I put that photocopy?)

And news for all!

Nor esteem it small what those Bill-stickers had to do in Paris: above Three Score of them: all with their crosspoles, haversacks, pastepots; nay with leaden badges, for the Municipality licenses them. A Sacred College, properly of World-rulers’ Heralds, though not respected as such, in an Era still incipient and raw. Such is Journalism, hawked, pasted, spoken. How changed…since the first Venetian News-sheet was sold for a gazza, or farthing, and named Gazette! We live in a fertile world.

Mass journalism, for anyone with half a penny. Posters, placards, propaganda on parade. The satirical prints of the day were more scatalogical than Gillray’s by far! The revolution sought to manage information, to create its record consciously.

And what of Ortega y Gasset, author of The Revolt of the Masses? He despised the mass-man, but like Flaubert, did not identify him with an economic strata, but as a type. (Flaubert: I despise the bourgeois in a worker’s smock as well as the one in a top hat!) Could it be that Ortega is writing about the genesis of kitschman?

He felt that history was moved by aristocrats, the Nietzchean supermen, the special ones, but why did he feel that? Because the movement of history was marked by the “progress” in things he valued. What about movement for its own sake? What if history just moves, never progresses? No theory, no subject class, just one darn thing after another. And the mass-men, the sans cullottes, Carlyle’s hero-men, they all play their part.