Dr. Steven Novella
Neurology, Yale University
Dr. Novella knew he was headed into the lion’s den when he accepted an invitation to go on the notorious Dr. Oz show, perhaps history’s most influential promoter of unscientific alternative medicine. He was there to represent science-based criticism of alternative medicine, and hoped to make the best of the opportunity the producers afforded him.
All signs were good until the cameras started rolling, and from that moment on, it was hopeless. Allowed only a few seconds to answer each of Dr. Oz’s questions, Dr. Novella did the best anyone could, but each of his points was followed up by counterpoints from:
• An alt-med doctor sitting beside him, given an unchallenged opportunity to refute each of Dr. Novella’s points;
• Other alt-med professionals stationed in the audience, also given chances to refute Novella’s points, with never a chance for him to counter; and
• Slick pre-produced taped segments blatantly misrepresenting alternative medicine as being backed by strong experimental evidence.
Even when they don’t quote mine or use the editor’s razor, the most motivated television producers still have plenty of tools in their arsenal to turn the tables against good science and promote nonsense.
Science Friction is a new documentary film that will expose these faux documentaries, and give the scientists a chance to clear the record. The film is being crowdfunded.
Hiding the Decline: Climategate Demystified
This infamous scandal was said to have proven global warming was all just a hoax. Umm, no.
by Brian Dunning
Filed under Environment, Natural History
Skeptoid Podcast #601
December 12, 2017
Nearly everyone’s heard about Climategate, a scandal said to prove that climate scientists deceptively changed temperature data as part of a scheme to hoax the world into thinking global warming is real. If you have heard of Climategate, you’ve probably heard that the scientists involved were all investigated but cleared of any wrongdoing, thus suggesting that the investigating agencies were complicit in the hoax. You may have even heard the key phrase from one of the emails: “Hide the decline,” an apparent revelation that the scientists knew temperatures were actually declining and had to do something to hide the fact. But how many of us know the actual details of what happened? Fortunately, the Climategate scandal is not all that complicated, and an insider’s view is the subject of today’s show.
It all happened in November 2009. The backup email server at the Climatic Research Unit of England’s University of East Anglia was hacked, through methods which have not been made public for security reasons. A 160MB file of about 1,000 emails and their attachments appeared on a server in Russia. The first known parties to download the archive were all editors at climate change denial websites such as WattsUpWithThat. Headlines quickly followed. From Fox News:
Why You Should Be Hot and Bothered About ‘Climate-gate’
From The Telegraph:
Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation
Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?
From the Houston Chronicle:
Climategate: You should be steamed
And so on, and so on. And yet, when it seemed so clear from these headlines that global warming had been completely obliterated and revealed to be a hoax, the editors of the world’s most prestigious science journal Nature quickly wrote their own response. It said in part:
The e-mail archives stolen last month from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, have been greeted by the climate-change-denialist fringe as a propaganda windfall… proof that mainstream climate researchers have systematically conspired to suppress evidence contradicting their doctrine that humans are warming the globe. This paranoid interpretation would be laughable were it not for the fact that obstructionist politicians in the US Senate will probably use it next year as an excuse to stiffen their opposition to the country’s much needed climate bill.
And that is, of course, exactly what happened — exactly according to the hopes of the hacker and the bloggers the files were sent to.
Here’s what happened. Cutting straight to the chase, 99% of Climategate focused on one single email. It had been sent 10 years earlier, in November 1999, by Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit, to five colleagues. It is six sentences long, but this one sentence is the culprit:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.
This has been interpreted as “I used a trick to hide declining temperatures.” If true, it would indeed be damning, not just to Phil Jones, but to climate science as a whole, given the who’s-who of climatology who were the email’s recipients. But is that a truthful analysis of the email? Does it really prove that climatologists knew that the Earth is cooling, and so invented tricks to deceptively portray the data to advance their warming agenda?
To find out, let’s parse out this sentence that rocked the world. The email was discussing the author’s progress creating a temperature graph intended for the cover of a report made for the World Meteorological Organization. The graph covered the past 1000 years, overlaying three data sets showing the fluctuating global temperature anomaly within a range of about 1 degree. And, of course, it jumps up sharply in the latest 50 years, about 3/10 of a degree.
Although we have many lines of evidence for historical temperatures which all track well with one another, most aren’t complete. Most are available over a given time range. For example, an ice core tells us about the time period for which that ice has existed. Cave formation data covers the time period for which that cave was wet. Tree rings go back as far as the trees were alive. Instrumental data goes back as far as thermometers have been reliable. There is plenty of overlap, which allows us to say that these lines track one another, but in order to build a complete timeline, we rely on multiple data sets.
“Mike’s Nature trick” refers to what climatologist Michael Mann did for a 1998 article in the journal Nature. In the article, Mann and his co-authors displayed a reconstructed historical data set, known as MBH98. This temperature data extended only up until 1980. Before the article was published, Nature’s peer reviewers suggested also displaying the modern instrumental temperature record, which extended all the way until the present, for context. This was done. The two curves were shown on the same graph, each clearly labeled, and the data for both curves was already public domain. This, and this alone, constituted the entirety of “Mike’s Nature trick.”
So by employing Mike’s Nature trick in his graph for the World Meteorological Organization, Phil Jones was simply adding the instrumental data. That’s all.
This brings us to “hide the decline”. What was Phil talking about here? Turns out there was indeed a problem with one of the data sets he wanted to include, and it’s called the divergence problem.
To understand the divergence problem, we first have to make a few basic points about dendroclimatology — the science of using tree rings to indicate historical temperatures. Dendroclimatology is one of the many lines of evidence for determining the planet’s climate history prior to the age of thermometers; others being glacial ice, corals, cave formations, sea levels, glacial extent, and others. Generally a tree ring represents one year, and when we look at the tree rings of a given year from all over the planet, we can see how climate varied across different regions. Each tree ring gives us two primary pieces of data: its width and its density. Generally, a wider ring usually means a wetter growing season. A longer, warmer summer results in a denser late seasonal growth period, manifested as the dark part of the ring. So the density of the ring tells us about temperature and cloud cover. Historically, all of these lines of evidence have tracked one another very well. Since the dawn of reliable direct measurements with thermometers in the 1800s, both tree ring density and tree ring width have tracked extremely well with temperatures all over the world.
And this leads us to the divergence problem. In the 1990s, it was noticed that after 1960, the relationship between temperature and tree rings started separating. While temperatures rose, tree rings continued to indicate cooler temperatures, in defiance of all other measurements. We don’t see this divergence in any other lines of evidence; tree rings are the only climate indicator that has done this, and only in the northern hemisphere. Why is it happening? Well, that’s why we call it the divergence problem. We don’t know. Likely candidates include fractionally diminished sunlight caused by sulfate aerosol pollutants, warming-induced drought, increased ultraviolet radiation caused by ozone depletion, even loss of permafrost. But the bottom line is that in the past few decades — and only in the past few decades — tree rings in the northern hemisphere have indicated cooler temperatures than what the thermometers have shown, so we know them to be wrong. If you want to combine all the lines of evidence to build the best possible picture of climate history, you have to stop using dendroclimatology right around 1960 for temperature, or else your graph will be wrong and misleading.
This is what Phil Jones was referring to when he wrote “from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” He was talking about Keith Briffa’s tree ring data, known to be inaccurate since 1961. Jones elected to display the correct instrumental temperature data instead. And if you look at some global warming temperature graphs that overlay multiple lines of evidence, you’ll see that the tree ring temp series stops around 1960, just as the modern instrumental series stops before 1860 or so. To make a useful graph, we show the data that we have.
Deniers often claim that we only display tree ring data until 1960 because we know it proves temperatures are actually declining since then. That’s because they’re unaware of the divergence problem, or they think it’s something we made up as an excuse for the Climategate revelations. This claim can be easily disproven by picking up the literature. The first two major papers about the divergence problem were both published in 1995, four years before Phil Jones wrote the infamous email, and fourteen years before the alleged scandal. Proof that dendroclimatology data became unreliable after 1960 was fully public and well known to everyone in the field, and had been for years.
Claims that “hide the decline” meant “hide the fact that global temperatures have been declining” are also unraveled by the timeline. Phil’s email was 1999, and 1998 had been the hottest year on record, peaking a global rise throughout the 1990s that nobody disputed, as it was all instrumental data. There had been no decline of global temperatures to hide.
If you do any search for this online, you’re quickly going to see that most of the climate change denialist writing contracts Jones’ email into the following: “Mike’s trick to hide the decline.” As is obvious by now, Michael Mann’s multiple data sets on one graph has nothing at all to do with the tree ring divergence problem. That’s why neither Phil Jones nor anyone else who knew what they were talking about ever used the phrase “Mike’s trick to hide the decline”; there was no such thing. The phrase had to be manufactured by deniers by cherrypicking words out of unrelated parts of Phil’s email.
So what was the fallout of Climategate? Well, as a propaganda stunt to discredit climate science, it was all too effective, with many people still believing even today that it did indeed reveal global warming to be a hoax. Eight different committees investigated the scientists involved and none found any evidence of bad science, misconduct, or anything else that touched upon the science of global warming. However, the emails selected by the hackers were often those that caught the scientists in embarrassing moments. Years of battling harassment by climate deniers had led the scientists to sometimes become defensive, and the hacked emails revealed moments when the scientists stonewalled requests for data from certain groups; and in one case, recommended deletion of certain emails should future requests be made for them. In the words of one committee, they showed a “consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness”. Understandable given the constant harassment, but not excusable. Also, not relevant to the science, which despite some public distrust, survived Climategate unscathed.
So the next time you hear a friend explain that global warming was proven to be a hoax by the Climategate emails, you now have the tools to break down why they think that’s the case. You’re probably not going to change their mind — most of us cling to our politics like religion — but you may be able to get them to reexamine their sources.
By Brian Dunning
It is a crisis.
Source: The Guardian, 6/11/2019.
Climate crisis: 11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’
Statement sets out ‘vital signs’ as indicators of magnitude of the climate emergency
Most countries’ climate plans ‘totally inadequate’ – experts
The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists.
“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”
There is no time to lose, the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”
The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The statement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.
Prof William Ripple, of Oregon State University and the lead author of the statement, said he was driven to initiate it by the increase in extreme weather he was seeing. A key aim of the warning is to set out a full range of “vital sign” indicators of the causes and effects of climate breakdown, rather than only carbon emissions and surface temperature rise.
“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to look at the graphs and know things are going wrong,” said Newsome. “But it is not too late.” The scientists identify some encouraging signs, including decreasing global birth rates, increasing solar and wind power and fossil fuel divestment. Rates of forest destruction in the Amazon had also been falling until a recent increase under new president Jair Bolsonaro.
They set out a series of urgently needed actions:
Use energy far more efficiently and apply strong carbon taxes to cut fossil fuel use
Stabilise global population – currently growing by 200,000 people a day – using ethical approaches such as longer education for girls
End the destruction of nature and restore forests and mangroves to absorb CO2
Eat mostly plants and less meat, and reduce food waste
Shift economic goals away from GDP growth
“The good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual,” the scientists said. The recent surge of concern was encouraging, they added, from the global school strikes to lawsuits against polluters and some nations and businesses starting to respond.
A warning of the dangers of pollution and a looming mass extinction of wildlife on Earth, also led by Ripple, was published in 2017. It was supported by more than 15,000 scientists and read out in parliaments from Canada to Israel. It came 25 years after the original “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” in 1992, which said: “A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
Ripple said scientists have a moral obligation to issue warnings of catastrophic threats: “It is more important than ever that we speak out, based on evidence. It is time to go beyond just research and publishing, and to go directly to the citizens and policymakers.”
At the end of the 1960s, and the mystical hippie dawning of the Aquarius age, we were all still searching for meaning.
The big four philosophers when I was 18 were Hesse, Vonnegut, Brautigan and Tolkien.
Of course I read other influential writers, but at the time I really believed everything I needed to know about being a decent human being was in the works of those four, though it took me another 50 years to really begin to understand why.
There was another influential book I encountered.
In the course of exploring the world I came upon the I Ching. inevitably. It had a great deal of credibility amongst the hippies of my generation. Of course I looked into it. I still have, in my lock-up in New Zealand, a beautiful translation from Chinese through German to English, of the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm.
Yarrow sticks were hard to come by where I grew up, but I was a numismatist, and had in my collection several of those fascinating old Chinese coins with square holes. It seemed appropriate to use them. Having designated which side was heads and which was tails, I had a culturally acceptable method of obtaining a randomly generated hexagram, in accordance with the instructions accompanying the book.
My youthful, hopeful self was quite surprised to find how seemingly accurate and appropriate was the advice I gleaned from the wise words of the Tao. The last remnants of my Roman Catholic superstition we’re slowly fading at the time (now only the guilt remains) and I could possibly have easily fallen into the woo mentality of believing some spiritual power, something beyond myself, was guiding me, through the words of the book.
But I read something – I don’t recall exactly where – some scientific article, perhaps, that said our brains were hard-wired to look for patterns. We look for visual patterns, such as potentially threatening animal or human shapes hiding in the trees, and we look for patterns of events and try to make some sense, often wrong, of the coincidences and causality.
The evolutionary advantage of this pattern recognition behaviour is in the significance of the value of the false positive over the false negative.
If I see what looks like a lion lurking in the bushes, and run, the likelihood of staying alive is increased, whether it is a real or imagined lion. If I decide it’s a trick of the light, and ignore it, my chances of survival are decreased if I am wrong.
The same principle applies if we recognise a pattern of events that seem to coincide. Should it rain enough times after we ask nature politely for a shower to water the crop, we may come to believe that asking causes rain.
The downside of this, is that as there is, or was, an evolutionary advantage to being superstitious. We suffered from pareidolia. It became an affliction. We came to see those shapes and faces in the bark of trees, as beings, and ascribed to them powers and motives. We recognised patterns of events, some like the celestial movements, or the seasons, quite real. Then some smart arse recognised the patterns of our own behaviour, saw an opportunity for power and put himself forward as an intermediary between the common people and the spiritual world. And we got religion.
But I digress. I was speaking of the I Ching. I recognised that my brain was looking for patterns in the events of my own life. I was taking the words from an ancient book written in Chinese, translate first to German then to English, and gleaning valuable meaning from them. But this was not superstition. The advice the book was giving me was good. Why? Because it was written in such a way that it was inevitable that the reader would apply the general advice in such a way that it would most benefit him. Because the Tau was the way of the upright, it had to be good advice. For a few formative years the I Ching helped me make decisions that brought me to where I am now. I have few regrets.
These musings were inspired by coming upon this following little piece in one of the philosophical emails that turn up in my in-box from time to time.
After a few more hours swimming up and down the Bribie Island pool, I may have more to write on the subject.
The following is borrowed from Psychology Today.
Impact of the I Ching on Carl G. Jung & its implications
Jung, Taoist psychology, and cross-cultural communications
Just another day, really. I had the main pool to myself for almost an hour, which is good because I got lane one, with the steps. Starting early pays.
I swam for an hour and a quarter. In the first quarter hour I managed eight lengths of breast stroke in just over sixteen minutes. After that I settled down to a more easily maintained six lengths in around fourteen minutes. Every sixth length I switched to back stroke. I have learned that backstroke is much easier, much more efficient, but also burns much less energy. I want to burn energy.
I also learned it uses completely different muscles, or so it seems. I don’t get the lactic burn and could probably cruise all day doing it. So making every sixth length back stroke gave me a wee break from the building ache, and enough time to fill out the rest of each quarter-hour with some water-assisted step-ups on the pool steps, and some water-assisted chin-ups on the rail of the starting block.
There’s time to muse when swimming, I muse a lot.
It seemed the oddest form of synchronicity to find later the Guardian’s First Dog on the Moon cartoon today covered exactly what I was musing about. Hence my previous post. It should be depressing, but I am way past that. I really have reached a stage in which my philosophy is “Shit Happens, It Doesn’t Matter”.
Also, whilst swimming on my back and looking unfocused up at an overcast sky, I saw just how many floaters I have in my eyeballs. I named the biggest one Eric.
One of my earliest memories is of seeing floaters in my eyes at bedtime and trying to tell my mother what I saw. I must have been four or so. I thought there was snow in my bedroom. She thought I was silly and told me to go to sleep.
I then moved to the indoor therapy pool. I had that completely to myself. The water, at 33C seemed very hot at first, after the cooling swim and a wet walk through a chilly breeze. Half an hour of side stepping, squats and leg stretches and assorted joint mobility exercises a hot shower and shampoo, then off to Aldi to hunt for a kitchen seive. They didn’t have one. When it comes to stuff like that Aldi can be hit and miss.
What they do have is a really good range of good quality foods Fresh meat and really fresh produce at astonishingly good prices. Today for the first time I spent a while just looking around at what they stock. There seems very little need to shop elsewhere for staples or luxury foods.
Almost seems a shame to discover this just as the world is ending.
Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, has had a bad rap. There is no such thing as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. No one has ever been able to reproduce it, or to explain a physiological mechanism for it. People who claim to be allergic to MSG, putting it plainly, aren’t. If they were they’d be allergic to mushrooms, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese AND tomatoes. All of these are naturally rich in glutamate. There is no Italian Restaurant Syndrome either. Obviously.
I have known this for a long time, and I’ve never been concerned about whether there was MSG in my food. These days however, there rarely is, all because of a myth. I can’t even find it in a supermarket any more, though I have tracked it down on line. So someone is still using it.
This became of interest, even of importance to me when my friend Bob commented on my post in which I talked about reducing my sodium intake for the sake of my failing kidneys. A quick check with a reputable source of scientific information confirmed that, as Bob had suggested, MSG will enhance the flavour of food significantly better than salt while contributing to the diet only 40% of the sodium that salt does.
Worth knowing. It may well be that salt is not the bad guy it is made out to be either, when it comes to blood pressure and heart attacks. A study a few years ago suggested that people tend to self regulate their salt intake, and though its consumption is higher in some societies than others, there is not much correlation between sodium intake and BP and heart conditions.
Be that as it may, it IS a known factor in chronic kidney disease.
While on the subject of food myths, let’s pop a few others;
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. This belief was generated by Mr Kellog, who wanted young men to stop wanking.
There is nothing scary or dangerous about GMOs. All our fruit and vegetables as well as our livestock are genetically modified. That is what evolution is. Modern science has just found a way to speed up the process and guide its direction.
There’s no such thing as a superfood. No discussion necessary. Good food is the basis of good health, it is not medicine. Though some foods have medicinal properties, they are not medicines because there is no way to know or standardise the concentration of active ingredient without processing and analysis. This is why most medicines and supplements are synthesised rather than extracted.
The body cannot distinguish between synthetic or natural substances. They are chemically identical and metabolised in exactly the same way. This means that the vitamin C in Berocca is as good as what is in an orange.
This principle also means there is no “good” sugar and no “bad” sugar. No “natural”or “organic” sugar. There is just sugar. The only bad thing about sugar is in the amount eaten. The poison is in the dose. Any diabetic knows that starch is metabolised into sugars. The important factor here is the rate of conversion, which is why complex carbohydrates are better for you.
Fats and oils, however, are chemically different, and are metabolised differently. So there are good fats and bad fats.
Lastly, and I speak from both expertise and experience, the only diet that ever works for weight loss is one in which the amount of energy, measured in Calories or kilojoules, that is taken in by way of food and drink, is exceeded by the energy burned in normal metabolism, activities and exercise. To gain weight, reverse the balance of the equation.
A healthy diet is one that contains all the components, in the proper overall proportion, for maintaining a healthy metabolism; protein, fat, fuel in the form of carbohydrate and sugar, vitamins and minerals. And don’t forget fibre to keep it all moving, and water!
I well understand the power of words. I understand their power to hurt and to soothe.
I know the not-so-subtle difference In meaning and context, for example between Women Being Raped, and Men Raping Women.
Ive been trained in forensic interview techniques. I’ve been lied to, insulted and cursed by the best, in several languages. When this happens, I do almost the same thing I do if I have somehow got myself into a life-threatening or dangerous situation. (I do that now and then. It is part of my nature to see how far I can go).
When I’m insulted, I become calm and analytical. I try to figure out if I am in the wrong, if I deserve the criticism, or whether it is a defence/offence mechanism.
So I was taken aback recently when, after posting an old photo of myself on my bike at Katanning airfield, one of my friends made the comment “Yobbo”.
It seems reasonable enough, one would think. I could be mistaken for a yob.
The comment was surely intended in the humorous vein of friendly joshing we all indulge in. I am sure of it.
I don’t know why I’m so insulted by that comment. Maybe the word is psychologically loaded in my subconscious. Call me a larrikin or a yahoo and I’d probably smile and agree. But yobbo hits a raw nerve somehow. Is there something in my youth or childhood to explain this feeling?
I can’t recall. I have thought about it for a day and still my first instinct is to say “go fuck yourself” or delete the comment. Why? I’m 67 years old, I’ve been successful in at least some of my fields of endeavour, I’ve worked in 7 countries, speak three languages, can say basic phrases or at least “thank you”, “may I have”, and “where is … ?” in another 10. I understand the power of words. Where does this one gain its power over my subconscious?
This is most interesting. It’s like listening to a song that makes you cry, even though it is not the sort you might think would do that. There’s a trigger I don’t recall. Fascinating.
So be aware. “Yobbo”, for some reason I cannot explain is a grave insult to me. As bad as, or even worse than, “climate change denier” , “antivaxxer”, or “creationist”.
Yes. There are songs that make me cry.