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NASA Climate 'Skeptics' Respond with Science! Just Kidding.

Posted on 12 April 2012 by dana1981

Note: this post has been re-published by The Guardian and Climate Progress and cribbed by The Huffington Post

Almost exactly two years ago, John Cook wrote about the 5 characteristics of science denialism.  The second point on the list involved fake experts.

"These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke."

We have seen many examples of climate denialists producing long lists of fake experts, for example the Oregon Petition and the Wall Street Journal 16.  Now we have yet another of these lists of fake experts.  49 former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employees (led by Harrison Schmitt, who was also one of the Wall Street Journal 16) have registered their objection to mainstream climate science through the most popular medium of expressing climate contrarianism - a letter.  As is usually the case in these climate contrarian letters, this one has no scientific content, and is written by individuals with not an ounce of climate science expertise, but who nevertheless have the audacity to tell climate scientists what they should think about climate science.

It's worth noting that when the signatories Meet The Denominator, as is also always the case, their numbers are revealed as quite unimpressive.  For example, over 18,000 people currently work for NASA.  Without even considering the pool of retired NASA employees (all signatories of this list are former NASA employees), just as with the Oregon Petition, the list accounts for a fraction of a percent of the available pool of people.

This letter, as these letters always do, has gone viral in the climate denial blogosphere, and even in the climate denial mainstream media (Fox News).  But why exactly is this letter being treated as major news?  That is something of a mystery.  Or it would be, if the behavior of the climate denial community weren't so predictable.

The Signatories

Obviously this letter first gained attention because the signatories are former NASA employees.  They are being touted as "top astronauts, scientists, and engineers" and "NASA experts, with more than 1000 years of combined professional experience."  Okay, but in what fields does their expertise lie?

Based on the job titles listed in the letter signatures, by my count they include 23 administrators, 8 astronauts, 7 engineers, 5 technicians, and 4 scientists/mathematicians of one sort or another (none of those sorts having the slightest relation to climate science).  Amongst the signatories and their 1,000 years of combined professional experience, that appears to include a grand total of zero hours of climate research experience, and zero peer-reviewed climate science papers.  You can review the signatories for yourself here.

Contrarians for Censoring Climate Science

These 49 former NASA employees wrote this letter to the current NASA administrator requesting that he effectively muzzle the climate scientists at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

"We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites."

Since nothing in science is ever proven, apparently these individuals simply don't want NASA GISS to discuss science in their public releases or websites anymore.  What specifically do they object to?

"We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled."

Ah yes, the ever-more-popular goalpost shift of "catastrophic climate change".  The letter of course provides no examples of NASA GISS public releases or websites claiming that CO2 is having a catastrophic impact on climate change, and of course provides zero examples of these mysterious "hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists" who disbelieve these unspecified catastrophic claims.  As is always the case with these types of letters, it is all rhetoric and no substance.

"As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate.

As Skeptical Science readers are undoubtely well aware, the impact of natural climate drivers has been very thoroughly studied, and they simply cannot account for the observed global warming or climate change, especially over the past 50-65 years (Figure 1).

HvA 50 years

Figure 1: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

The contrarians continue:

"We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself."

If NASA administrators were to censor the organization's climate scientists at the behest of a few of its former employees who have less climate science experience and expertise combined than the summer interns at NASA GISS, that would really damage NASA's exemplary reputation.

Expertise Matters

Let's be explicit about our choice here. 

  • On the one hand we have a bunch of former administrators, astronauts, and engineers who between them have zero climate expertise and zero climate science publications. 
  • On the other hand we have the climate scientists at NASA GISS who between them have decades, perhaps even centuries of combined professional climate research experience, and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of peer-reviewed climate science publications.

Amongst those individuals at NASA GISS are some of the world's foremost climate scientists.  They include James Hansen, who created one of the earliest global climate models in the 1980s, which has turned out to be remarkably accurate (Figure 2).

Hansen Actual Prediction

Figure 2: Observed temperature change (GISTEMP, blue) and with solar, volcanic and El Niño Southern Oscillation effects removed by Foster and Rahmstorf (green) vs. Hansen Scenario B trend adjusted downward 16% to reflect the observed changes in radiative forcings since 1988, using a 1986 to 1990 baseline.

This is not a difficult choice for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr.  We would not be surprised if he gave the 'skeptic' letter one look and tossed it in the recycle bin.

Climate contrarians clearly disagree, but in the real world, expertise matters.  The fact that these 49 individuals used to work at NASA does not make them experts in everything NASA does.  If the issue at hand were another moon landing, then by all means, the opinions of many of these individuals would be well worth considering.  But we're not talking about space shuttle launches or moon landings here, we're talking about climate science.  This is a subject which, to be blunt, these 49 individuals clearly don't know the first thing about.

To those who are making so much noise about this letter - the next time you are at a medical center in need of major surgery, will you go see a pediatrician?  Or as a more relevant analogy, will you visit your neighbor, the retired dentist, and ask him to perform the surgery for you?

Somehow we suspect you will insist that the surgery be performed by a surgeon with relevant expertise.  The reason is of course that expertise matters.  Perhaps you would be wise to consider that fact the next time a group of climate contrarians with little to no expertise publish another of these letters.

As we suggested to William Happer, if climate contrarians want their opinions to be taken seriously, they should engage in real science within the peer-review system that works for every scientific field.  That is how science advances - not through letters filled with empty rhetoric, regardless of how many inexpert retirees sign them.


Note that NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati has issued a response with very similar points and suggestions as our post:

"NASA sponsors research into many areas of cutting-edge scientific inquiry, including the relationship between carbon dioxide and climate. As an agency, NASA does not draw conclusions and issue 'claims' about research findings. We support open scientific inquiry and discussion.

"Our Earth science programs provide many unique space-based observations and research capabilities to the scientific community to inform investigations into climate change, and many NASA scientists are actively involved in these investigations, bringing their expertise to bear on the interpretation of this information. We encourage our scientists to subject these results and interpretations to scrutiny by the scientific community through the peer-review process. After these studies have met the appropriate standards of scientific peer-review, we strongly encourage scientists to communicate these results to the public.

"If the authors of this letter disagree with specific scientific conclusions made public by NASA scientists, we encourage them to join the debate in the scientific literature or public forums rather than restrict any discourse."

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 59:

  1. Pity all of us who read and contribute to blogs have to spend time reading and/ or discussing material about this latest red herring.

    If anything, the watching public must have it dawning on them that science denial has no shot in its locker except for a series of publicity stunts. The fact that the spokesman Harrison Schmitt is a board member of the Heartland Institute should almost be enough to discredit the whole letter.
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  2. Response from NASA

    If I may paraphrase slightly, 'Hey, you guys are full of it... and feel free to publish some actual scientific research on the subject if you want anyone to take you seriously.'
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  3. When I was in 6th grade we all went down to the auditorium to share a moment of silent meditation wishing the best for the 3 astronauts on Apollo 13.

    I used to see astronauts as heroes having the courage to push the envelope as a way to better mankind and to seek the truth.

    Using their status and past accomplishments to express their own ignorance in an area of science completely beyond their experience is an embarrassment. It makes me feel like I wasted a part of my childhood respecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

    It shouldn't diminish what they contributed and what they accomplished -- but it does.
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  4. Somebody should ask Schmitt if he saw any other Earths out there in the great black void of space, just in case he's wrong on his assertions about this one. You'd hope that Moon astronauts, being the only people to have seen how small the Earth is in space with their own eyes, would appreciate the value of protecting the only planet we have.

    A good article Dana and a good response from NASA there too. Is this kind of angry letter all the so-called skeptics have left now? It would seem so. Do they not actually have any science they can stand behind, any plausible alternative explanations explaining the full body of evidence? It would seem not.
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  5. Can I post my intemperate comments now? They got (rightly) snipped from previous threads... but it was so much fun writing them, that I would love to reproduce them in full. If you let me, I promise that they will be even more choc-a-bloc full of inflammatory prose!

    :)
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  6. The list of signatories covers a wide range of expertise in irrelevant studies. I was particularly impressed by:
    Dr. Harold Doiron – JSC, Chairman, Shuttle Pogo Prevention Panel, 16 years
    Pogo Prevention? Is that, like, to do with things that bounce up and down, like temperatures on Earth? Well, I can see the relevance then - the guy is an obvious expert, right up there with the proprietor of Monckton's Shirt Shop.

    WUWT managed to add value to the cause, with this little snippet:
    When Chris Kraft, the man who presided over NASA’s finest hour, and the engineering miracle of saving Apollo 13 speaks, people listen.
    Yes, Anthony, that's the point: when someone with an irrelevant expertise agrees with your position, you choose to listen. Shame you won't do the same when a relevant expert speaks.

    One comment at WUWT speaks about Harrison Schmitt thusly:
    He’s also the only geologist to reach the Moon, and geologists have a much better “world view” about the impacts of climate change than people from any other branch of science.
    Well, I'm glad that's settled, then: a geologist who has been to the moon must be an expert on everything to do with his home planet. (Takes note to self: must ask Harrison Schmitt for a second opinion on everything SkS says, to be sure I am not being misled)/sarc
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  7. Pogo is a term used to refer to oscillations in rocket fuel arising from uneven acceleration of said rockets as they launch. It does, however, trace etymologically back to the pogo stick toy.

    To not stray too far myself, I think that it's great that the Administration has responded promptly to this kerfuffle. I also think it's a shame that these former employees decided to ignore the work of current employees at NASA, and work of climate scientists from around the world, at gathering the very evidence that they say wasn't ever examined, the very evidence that has been presented publicly and on international scale for 20+ years now.
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  8. Interesting that these retired gentlemen make no mention of the scandalous work done at NASA Langley:

    The evidence, according to Bruce Wielicki, lies in the decades of climate records that are revealing how humans are "driving our system a thousand times faster than it's ever been driven before." ...
    "You can't believe a single scientist, but you can believe thousands of scientists," he said, referring to several peer-reviewed science organizations–such as the IPCC group–that have arrived at the same conclusion: Climate change is happening.


    An astrophysics friend with some inside contacts at Johnson Space Center recently told me of a group of 'old geezers' who would argue against climate science - they're big fans of JCurry. Anyone surprised?
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  9. Might as well assemble a team of retired dentists or plumbers to write such a letter. Oh, but of course that wouldn't have the desired impact would it, even though their knowledge of climate dynamics would be about the same.
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  10. R Gates @9, sorry. Can't be done. The dentists and plumbers are too busy signing the Oregon Petition.
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  11. In the OP, Dana says of the letter's signers that "... we have a bunch of former administrators, astronauts, and engineers who between them have zero climate expertise and zero climate science publications." I had noted that one of the signatories was billed as a meteorologist, so a little further exploration was in order.

    As it turns out, a search of Google Scholar for author: Wysmuller turns up no papers published by any "Tom Wysmuller" at all, so it turns out Wysmuller is not a published scientist in any field.

    At his very own anti-global warming web site, where Tom Wysmuller offers to lecture on global warming for a fee (from universities) or for free (for high schools) we learn that he was an intern at NASA, but that since then he has been:
    "•Admin Director of Govt. Operations at Pratt & Whitney, where he wrote the code that solves the Polynomial Regression Algorithm now resident in millions of Texas Instruments calculators.
    •Insurance Executive & Board member of insurance and other companies/orgs.
    •President of NYU’s Alumni Association.
    •Vice Chairman, The New Netherland Museum, where in May, 2001, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring his historical contributions."

    Curiously given above comments @9 and @10, from linkedin we learn he was on the Board of directors of Delta Dental.

    Finally, from Marc Morano we learn that he worked for the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (although Morano mistranslated the organizations name) as a "weather forecaster".

    So Dana is right. Even from the most promising candidate, there is no actual experience as a climate scientist, or in the professional study of climate.

    What is more, from Marc Morano we learn that he believes that,

    "The largest contributor to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the warming oceans"


    which gives a the quality of evidence that the former NASA employees consider "proven". Ironically, in one essay he even uses a Steven Goddard reproduction of the IPCC First Assessment Report estimate of medieval temperatures based on Central England Temperature series back to the Little Ice Age, and an educated guess based on European anecdotal evidence before that. I guess "proven" means something entirely different when the conclusions are ones that you like.
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  12. Those making the noise are far worse than that, because any sensible pediatrician or dentist will refer them straight back to a surgeon.

    What the contrarians are doing is more like trying to treat cancer with homeopathy.

    The homepathic practitioner will just take their money, give them a vial of water, and reassure them there is nothing to worry about because doctors can sometimes get things wrong.
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  13. You people at SkepticalScience amaze me with the speed you turn this around. I was wondering if you knew who Thomas J Harmon and Tom Ohesorge were. I have a sneaking suspicion that Harmon might be a security officer, given a Google+ page with a same name person claiming to be retired from NASA. I wouldn't want to have this guy bothered though. Perhaps you've demonstrated enough with the administrators involved.

    I would caution that I think there is a faint hint of validity in what the astronauts are getting at. Perhaps if NASA were to link to the hard science, like refereed papers are required to do, then the nutjobbery would have no real recourse but to go back to denying actual science rather than statements on NASA. While a web site is not a peer reviewed paper, NASA being NASA, might like strive for a higher standard than producing statement without reference.

    I also hope that NASA comes out firing and demands what specifically these signatories are claiming is not supported by science.

    Also it's not just the signatory Schmitt that is an Exxon funded Heartland board member, but also Walter Cunningham is on the board of Heartland institute and has ties to Exxon Mobil through the Tech Central Station. I wonder how many others receive Exxon funding.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Please provide references for your assertion (and theirs) that NASA has produced a "statement without reference." That whole part of their letter confuses me. NASA conducts an amazing amount of science, generates a lot of knowledge and papers that contribute to the knowledge, and produces what are fairly detailed and informative articles. What exactly are these "unproven remarks in public releases and websites" to which they (and you) are referring?
  14. I see Dana's post is now in The Guardian in the UK.
    The comments should be interesting...
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  15. Tom Curtis,

    As Thomas Wysmuller is Dutch you should try the Dutch version of his last name Wijsmuller, however the result is exactly the same
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  16. "Tom Ohesorge" is a typo, it's "Thomas E. Ohnesorge".

    Several signatories also signed the Oregon Petition, for example Deiterich, Doiron, Kraft.

    Larry Bell is the one from Forbes.

    It would be interesting to have the total amount of *life years* these guys have :) George Mueller is born 1918, for example.

    p.
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  17. Sphaerica @3,

    It feels like shame and embarassment, those 8 astronauts - heroes of our childhood, but objectively, it ain't necessarilly so. How large is this sample among the total population of retired astronauts (+cosmonauts - let's be impartial)? I guess very few, less than couple %.

    I am optimistic that the silent majority is far less silly than those 8 vocal deniers, so I still like those heroes. Until some proper poll/survey proves otherwise: i.e. climate denialism among retired astronauts be stronger than among average population with similar education level.
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  18. @ Captain Pithart

    Alex (Skip) Larsen is also misspelled. It's actually Axel Larsen.

    He co-authored a book in 2009 titled "Satefy Design of Space Systems".
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  19. According to 'World Spaceflight,' approximately 530 people of various nationalities have been in space. So of the signers, take the number who've been in space and divide.

    Notable on this list is number of times in space record holder Franklin Chang-Diaz, who is currently:

    active in environmental protection and raising awareness about climate change, notably in his role in Odyssey 2050 The Movie in which he encourages young people to get motivated about environmental issues
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  20. JMurphy @14 - yes, I was pleasantly surprised to see The Guardian picked up our story. No doubt they were looking for a rebuttal to the NASA letter and enjoyed ours. I noticed that the first few comments were just ad hominem attacks on SkS and James Hansen. Again, totally predictable.
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  21. It should be noted that Larry Bell is actually an Architect.
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  22. Figure 2 (observations in blue): The 1998 El Nino peak looks overly damped compared to the 2010/11 El Nino, should be about equal. And the latest UAH 12-month globally averaged T is about 0.3 C cooler than the last El Nino event that peaked in early 2011.
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  23. thepoodlebites @22 - we're talking about projections and observations of surface, not lower troposphere temperatures. UAH is not applicable.
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  24. dana1981 @23 - Please refer to Figure 7, UAH and RSS "provide a good comparison to the surface temperature data over the past three decades." Or compare with GISS, monthly mean since 1996. Figure 2 above for 1998 looks, what's the best way to say, 'overly damped'?
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  25. The Huffington Post had an article on this, which ended up asking its readers whether they think 'climate science is true' (since removed). Dave Roberts wrote a funny article about it for Grist (with links to the HP article).
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  26. thepoodlebites @24 - again, you appear to be looking at troposphere temperatures when you say 1998 "looks overly damped". I don't know what else to tell you - it's not damped at all, it's a graph of GISS land-ocean temp anomalies (or possibly the average of land-ocean and land-only, I forget which).
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  27. thepoodlebites:

    Using my own eyecrometer, Figure 2 in the OP does not "look" "overly damped" at all compared to the GISS graph you have linked to.

    All either of us is going on is what a graph "looks like", which is why the eycrometer is not an adequate substitute for analysis.
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  28. Make that, eyecrometer.
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  29. While I respect the bravery and talents of NASA astronauts in their fields of endeavor, I've heard and seen enough from some former NASA astronauts to conclude that they are not all brilliant polymaths.

    When I was initiated into an honorary society a number of years ago at Florida State University, I had to listen to a keynote address by Norman Thagard, an astronaut and engineer, and a graduate of my university. Thagard's message was filled with so much optimistic mush that was in direct contradiction to the reality that people like me were experiencing that I wanted to walk out of the auditorium.

    Similarly, just because the late James Irwin was an astronaut, does not mean that experience lends credence to his belief that Noah's Ark was waiting to be found on the side of Mount Ararat in Turkey. On the other hand, his belief (so strong that he was involved in several expeditions to the mountain in search of the Ark) does show us that at least one astronaut has held a rather strong belief in the veracity of the biblical flood story. I'm reasonably sure few astronauts are similarly fundamental in their world views, but it does point out the flaw in trying to imply that because a person is an astronaut we have to accept what he or she utters as the equivalent of Holy Writ.
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  30. Yet again the debate gets bogged down in where this pesky CO2 comes from. If it were from some unidentified non-human source, would it be o.k. to ignore it and let the planet just go on heating up? I rather think not.

    If these people think that CO2 does not act as a greenhouse gas if it comes from a non-human source, all they have to do is prove it. Being ex NASA and obviously all wise in all things scientific, they surely have the evidence at their finger tips. However, until such evidence is forthcoming, we have to accept that the planet is heating up relentlessly, as several recent items on this site have clearly shown and the curret science is that that heating is largely due to the greenhouse effect of CO2, period. Unless we want future generations to suffer, we would be wise to reduce the atmospheric CO2 content by what ever means possible and as quickly as possible. (And that would still be true, even if the heating were due to the Sun, say, or some other cause.)

    As we remember the sinking of the Titanic, we can consider whether these ex-NASA experts, had they been in charge of the ship, would have even tried to steer away from the iceberg. Let's face it, the iceberg could hardly be said to be human in origin and the origin of things seems to be the issue that rattles their cage. Looking at their letter, it seems to me that they would have just carried on full-steam ahead, which probably explains why they are described as 'former' NASA employees.
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  31. Moderator Response: [Sph] Please provide references for your assertion (and theirs) that NASA has produced a "statement without reference." That whole part of their letter confuses me. NASA conducts an amazing amount of science, generates a lot of knowledge and papers that contribute to the knowledge, and produces what are fairly detailed and informative articles. What exactly are these "unproven remarks in public releases and websites" to which they (and you) are referring?

    Note that I am not saying unproven, proof being a loaded word. Also I am not going as far as their statement, hence my careful wording "faint hint". I would like to see NASA's site better referenced to decrease this sort of denial. We know what deniers are reluctant to perform a literature search. If references, and even better: links were to be provided then you would force them into denial of science rather than lazy hand waving of the letter, claiming the statements are unsupported.

    NASA What is climate change
    Cold Snaps Plus Global Warming Do Add Up
    NASA Study Predicts More Severe Storms With Global Warming
    Earth Impacts Linked to Human-Caused Climate Change

    As opposed to
    The Ups and Downs of Global Warming

    Again, because the letter provides no specific examples there is no real recourse to tackling the science that the signatories are allegedly wanting. Mind you, you would not list specifics in such a letter, perhaps an appendix if you were diligent. NASA should request that the signatories identify the specific instances on the NASA site, then provide links to relevant science. The task should take a couple research students a few weeks of work, of course this is dependent on the signatories actually being concerned about science rather than just simply attempting to raise doubt.
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  32. HuangFeng,

    So, just to be clear... you're not saying that NASA makes unsupported statements.

    You're saying that NASA doesn't go to sufficiently Herculean lengths to make sure that even the most dim-witted retired NASA engineer or astronaut would be able to find and read the supporting material so that they can ascertain for themselves that the statements are well based in science, and also to do so before they publicly publish an outlandishly ignorant letter criticizing NASA for making statements that are "not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data."

    Do I have this right?
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  33. @ Huangfeng 31.

    I kind of see what you're getting at but to be fair, those webpages are directed at young school children. Providing links to peer reviewed science is probably a liitle inappropriate for such a target audience. NASA cannot be expected to nor should they need to clutter these basic informative articles with references just so that idiotic deniers can't try and use them in pointless letters. One would hope that the children accessing these pages for their school projects or just out of interest are learning in their science classes that information provided by NASA can be trusted to be accurate because the work they do is subject to the rigours of peer review.
    When I go to the doctor and he gives me advice, I don't ask him to provide a reference.
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  34. Sphaerica,

    Essentially correct. Minus the "Herculean" and "dim-witted". NASA pages are (AFAIK) science based, but do not always refer to the science explicitly. I feel that the people most in denial of the extent of AGW are those least likely to seek out the science, and those in the general public on the edge of denial are much the same. NASA is a key reference site and can do so much more for clearing the path to understanding and should have enough talented researchers to simply reference the science.

    My guess is that the letter is setting grounds for more conservative initiated funding cuts for NASA, or denying requests for increased funding. A basic dismissal of the letter will likely not serve very well for either a funding committee or general deniers. You might catch borderline denial, but, as your handbook says, they will likely remember the message. If NASA has references to actual science then the letter fails not only from exaggeration of the credentials of the signatories, but also demonstrably fails at the premise of their argument - with evidence right at the source pages on NASA.
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  35. HuangFeng,

    I understand what you're saying: the point of my hyperbole is that we're not talking about garden variety deniers here, we're talking about people who have a serious basis in engineering and science. They have no such excuse. The volume of climate science available in the Internet age is almost unfathomable.

    As uknowispeaksense says, the pages are aimed at school children. Demanding that NASA go further because retired NASA engineers and scientists might get confused and accidentally publish a refutation of NASA research... well, you can see where I keep going with this.

    I don't buy into your premise of "setting the grounds for more conservative initiated funding cuts," either. I seriously doubt that a crew of retired NASA employees has any more influence over government budgets than any ex-employee of any other company has over their corporate "alma mater."

    The bottom line is that the letter doesn't claim that NASA fails to support it's statements, it says that those statements "are not substantiated" in the sense that they are saying that the evidence does not exist.

    (snip) It is also flat out denial of the truth.

    I don't think NASA needs to change anything, except maybe to clarify for these loons (yes, "loons") that having once been a valued employee of NASA does not entitle one to careening off of the rails and putting one's voice to criticizing actively working NASA employees over something for which one has quite evidently no appreciable knowledge.

    What disgusts me in this affair is to look at the comments by the (snip) deniers who see these men as trustworthy heroes, whose years of gallant service entitle them to speak on this, and at the same time declaring they are somehow more qualified to do so than James Hansen. The spin the denialsphere is putting on this letter speaks volumes about where their heads are really at.
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    Moderator Response: TC: Accusation of dishonesty and inflammatory comments snipped as per comments policy.
  36. 31, HuangFeng,
    NASA should request that the signatories identify the specific instances on the NASA site, then provide links to relevant science.
    Except such a request would be a waste of time, because I think I can pretty much guarantee that these guys don't actually have anything specific. They published the letter because they deny climate change and NASA doesn't. That's as detailed as it gets for them.

    They're a literal embarrassment to NASA, and not in the way they had intended.
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  37. One of the signatories does have an ounce of climate expertise.
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  38. thepoodlebites @24, the 'correct' comparison in figure 7 on the page to which you linked is with the lime green line, which shows a composite index of land-ocean surface indices. The various indices of which it is an average are shown in figure 4. GISTEMP is among them, but shows a lower 1998 El Nino peak than does Nick Stoke's index, and much lower than does the HadCRUT3 or Zeke Hausfather's index. The inclusion of the later two indices raises the average significantly compared to GISTEMP.

    The GISTEMP graph you linked to shows monthly values, whereas the graph above shows smoothed values. I think they are smoothed annual values, but am not certain. Because the peak value in 1998 is so much higher than the nearby values, the smoothing reduces it significantly. In contrast, the 2005 and particularly the 2007 peaks are not so high above their neigbours, so are not reduced as much. As a result the smoothed chart gives a better idea of long term trends because the eye is not drawn to outliers, thus distorting our impression of the overall trend.

    For a proper comparison, you should look at the GISS annual values.
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  39. TOP @37, which one do you refer to?

    If it is Tom Wysmuller, then see my post @11.

    In a quote attributed to Werner Heisenberg, "An expert is a person who knows all the most basic mistakes in their field, and how to avoid them."

    Tom Wysmuller does not know how to avoid the mistake of attributing recent CO2 increase to the warming climate. Nor does he know how to avoid the mistake of treating Lamb's schematic diagram based on anecdotal evidence as a genuine reconstruction. That means he is no expert.
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  40. uknowispeaksense @33 "to be fair, those webpages are directed at young school children"

    Some are, some are simply educational for all ages and some are news stories. I doubt even many of the better educated deniers would be able to comprehend much of the science, which requires a solid bases of the underlying web, and a likely symptom of their pseudoskepticism. I don't see a problem with early exposure to real science, particularly if more experienced people were exploring the subject and would benefit from advanced information. Much like SkepticalScience's brilliant "intermediate/advanced" options.

    uknowispeaksense "When I go to the doctor and he gives me advice, I don't ask him to provide a reference."

    Ah but you should! A good doctor will have the references or can easily access them. However many doctors have way too much research coming in to be evaluating it all on top of treating people. Add to this you have pharma companies using all manner of persuasions to push their products - and sometimes providing their version of evidence.

    Doctor–patient communication about drugs: the evidence for shared decision making.
    Fiona A Stevenson, et al.
    Social Science & Medicine. Vol 50:6, 2000, pp 829–840.

    The Reluctant Consumption of Evidence-Based Decision Making.
    Thomas Workmana. Health Communication, Vol 25:5, 2010

    Selling sickness: the pharmaceutical industry and disease mongering.
    Ray Moynihan, et al. British Medical Journal, 2002, Vol 324, pp 886-891.

    General practitioners' perceptions of effective health care.
    Zelda Tomlin, et al. British Medical Journal 1999: vol 318, pp 1532-1535.

    A smattering of references, there are better, please forgive my short review.
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  41. funglestrumpet @30, my noting of Wysmuller's views was on topic on this thread because it illustrated the lack of expertise of one of the former NASA employees. Further discussion of the natural or anthropogenic origins of CO2, and how we should respond to the source is, I suggest, of topic on this thread and should be taken to a more appropriate thread. Note, I am only suggesting this as a commenter, as you are responding to me, and it would be unfair for me to make that direction to you as a moderator.

    Being fair to you, I do not believe any SkS thread is directly related to your view point, although this thread would be as close as any. You may like to write a blog post expounding your point of view and submitting it for possible publication on SkS. Obviously I cannot guarantee publication, and the post will need to go through ordinary SkS editorial proceedures. However, I think such a post would be of interest even though I would disagree with it.
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  42. Spherica @35, 36

    The aim of more referencing would be to limit the influence of denial. I would say the chance of the signatories changing their stance to be very unlikely. This letter seems to have spread so rapidly amongst the numerous usual suspects that everyone has it except NASA, and must be influencing plebians. Whatever can be done to limit the influence of this non science based opinion piece should be considered.

    Going to extremes, I'd have journalists do actual fact checking and citing references too.

    I want more science!

    Sphaerica: Except such a request would be a waste of time - "request that the signatories identify the specific instances"

    For the signatories, very likely. The request would be more for the purposes of showing that NASA processes all things in a proper manner and behaves in an unbiased manner toward people, even science denying ex-employees.
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  43. HuangFeng, I agree with you that press releases and the more advanced instructional material should contain links to relevant papers. I also think basic instructional material should contain links to more advanced material which should link to papers, so that diligent students can find their way to the relevant papers if they want to.

    Having said that, I find that NASA GISS is far better in this regard than every other educational or research institution I have visited on the web. Anybody interested enough can simply go to the publications tab on the side bar of their site and find a full list of publications listed under an author index, by date, and by citation.

    Given that the former NASA employees are complaining about a lack of substantiating science rather than just a lack of links, this means they have ignored the most publicly accessible data base of climate science papers in the world, provided by NASA. It shows that not only are they not expert in climate science, they are not even expert in basic internet aided study techniques, or at least that they have turned of those skills when it comes to climate science.
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  44. ...by my count they include 23 administrators,...


    OK skeptics, let's clear this up:

    This person is a climate-scientist:



    This person is *not* a climate-scientist:



    Any questions?
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  45. For another take on this matter, check out:

    Letter to NASA is Common Ploy in Climate Change Denial” by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today, April 12, 2012

    Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and Waleed Abdalati are quoted.
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  46. Great blog post on this approach to denial: introducing 'TILT' (The Impressive Letter Technique). Love it!

    Includes a superb video of the world's ocean currents.
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  47. Tom Curtis,

    Just for giggles I fed that quote into google both with and w/o surrounding quote marks. The closest hit I came up with is from Niels Bohr, as quoted (twice) by Teller:

    "An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field"

    This is a great counter to the Feynman quote which the WUWT crowd is so fond of parading about:

    "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts"
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  48. jmsully @47,

    “An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them”


    vs

    "An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field."


    These sorts of quotes drift around and get massaged by different people (as can be seen by comparing our respective Bohr quotes, and the some/all switch in the Heisenberg quote), and often wrongly attributed. Without actually seeing the quote in one of their writings, which I have not done, it is near impossible to know the original version or the original source of the quote. Regardless of its accuracy as a quotation, however, I believe the version I originally quoted is the most accurate definition of an expert.

    The version I first encountered was the one attributed to Heisenberg. Assuming the attributions are accurate, I assume Heisenberg knew Bohr's saying, and modified it to be more accurate. Regardless of its provenance, however, it is the more accurate definition in that experts are at least able to learn from the mistakes of others. If they were not, each physicist would have start again the bumbling course of physics from the Greek atomists through Aristotle, Newton and on, and we would have no advance in science.

    In science you really do get to stand on the shoulders of giants.

    As an aside, I do not believe that Feynman would disagree with either Newton or Heisenberg. Experts make mistakes, without any doubt. It is just that they usually make interesting mistakes - mistakes that you cannot show to be a mistake without advancing scientific knowledge. If you assume that experts are making a mistake that can be realized with but a moments thought, you are only making a fool of yourself, and in the case of the climate change deniers, unfortunately, a very large proportion of the developed world's population.
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  49. Suggested reading:

    49 Cliff Clavins Walk into a Bar and Talk Climate Change” by John Abraham, DeSmoig Blog, Apr 13, 2012
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  50. Lots of the “right stuff” in this article as well.

    From a Boy Who Loved NASA: How 49 Heroes Lost the Right Stuff and Sullied Their Names” by Shawn Lawrence Otto, Huffington Post, Apr 13, 2012
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