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What 1970s science said about global cooling

Posted on 26 February 2008 by John Cook

A persistent argument designed to discredit the field of climate science is that scientists predicted an ice age in the 1970s. So popular in fact that it ranks an impressive #7 in the most cited skeptic arguments. The logic goes that climate scientists got it completely wrong predicting global cooling in the 1970s (it started warming instead). Hence climate science can't be trusted about current global warming predictions. Setting aside the logical flaws of such an ad hominem argument, was there any consensus among 70s climate scientists predicting global cooling?

The evidence for global cooling consensus

Most cited is a 1975 Newsweek article The Cooling World that suggested cooling "may portend a drastic decline for food production":

"Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend… But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century."

A 1974 Times Magazine article Another Ice Age? painted a similarly bleak picture:

"When meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe, they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age."

However, these are media articles, not peer reviewed scientific papers. Does a consensus on global cooling emerge from the scientific literature?

Skeptical quote mining of 1970s scientific literature

Most mentioned is Rasool 1971 which projected that if aerosol levels increased 6 to 8 fold, it may trigger an ice age. While Rasool underestimated climate sensitivity to CO2, its basic assertion that the climate would cool with a dramatic increase of aerosols was correct. However, aerosol levels dropped rather than increased. More on Rasool...

A 2003 Washington Post op-ed by James Schlesinger, Climate Change: The Science Isn't Settled, quoted a 1972 National Science Board report as follows:

"Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end . . . leading into the next glacial age."

The full quote from the report is as follows:

"Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end, to be followed by a long period of considerably colder temperatures leading to the next glacial age some 20,000 years from now. However, it is possible, or even likely, that human interference has already altered the environment so much that the climatic pattern of the near future will follow a different path.

For instance, widespread deforestation in recent centuries, especially in Europe and North America, together with increased atmospheric opacity due to man-made dust storms and industrial wastes, should have increased the Earth’s reflectivity. At the same time increasing concentration of industrial carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should lead to a temperature increase by absorption of infrared radiation from the Earth’s surface.

When these human factors are added to such other natural factors as volcanic eruptions, changes in solar activity, and resonances within the hydro-atmosphere, their effect can only be estimated in terms of direction, not of amount"

Schlesinger's op-ed has been quoted widely including James Inhofe's Senate testimony. Skeptic citing of the scientific literature have taken conclusions out of context, overlooking qualifications and stated uncertainties. What does a broader look at the scientific literature reveal?

A new paper exposing the myth of 70s global cooling

Over time, William Connelly has been steadily documenting 70s research predicting global cooling. It's a rich resource but as he admits, could be more accessible. Now he has collaborated with Thomas Peterson and John Fleck to publish The Myth of the 1970's Global Cooling Scientific Consensus, due to be published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The paper surveys climate studies from 1965 to 1979 (and in a refreshing change to other similar surveys, lists all the papers). They find very few papers (7 in total) predict global cooling. This isn't surprising. What surprises is that even in the 1970s, on the back of 3 decades of cooling, more papers (42 in total) predict global warming due to CO2 than cooling.

Figure 1: Number of papers classified as predicting future global cooling (blue) or warming (red). In no year were there more global cooling papers than global warming papers.

So in fact, the large majority of climate research in the 1970s predicted the Earth would warm as a consequence of CO2. Rather than climate science predicting cooling, the opposite is the case. Most interesting about Peterson's paper is not the debunking of an already well debunked skeptic argument but a succinct history of climate science over the 20th century, describing how scientists from different fields gradually pieced together their diverse findings into a more unified picture of how climate operates. A must read paper.

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Comments 1 to 35:

  1. Welcome back. This is a fascinating look at the history of how theory (long wave absorption and aerosol cooling) and observation (post war cooling) vie in the peer-reviewed literature. Thanks to you, Stoat, and others who do such good work.
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  2. I will draw your attention to >> Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile -- the list goes on and on. No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously. A compiled list of all the sources can be seen here. The total amount of cooling ranges from 0.65C up to 0.75C -- a value large enough to wipe out nearly all the warming recorded over the past 100 years. All in one year's time. For all four sources, it's the single fastest temperature change ever recorded, either up or down. >> An oil induced Ice Age is starting and the proliferation of the Ice Clouds are a first warning. Global Climate Change is an oil induced problem, and no one is at all concerned.
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    Response: Ordinarily, I would delete this comment as it has little to no relevance to the post. However, I am in the process of writing a response to this very argument (which is barnstorming its way up the skeptic leaderboard) so stay tuned over the next week.
  3. I think the actual point from the skeptics is that there actually was a long cooling period from the 1940's to the 1970's despite record increases in CO2.
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    Response: That's a different argument which is covered here. It is connected, of course - it's the mid-century cooling which led to 1970's ice age predictions. Nevertheless, two fairly distinct arguments.
  4. Correct. As long we agree on the consensus that solar activity is the principal cause of global warming, not humans or CO2.
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    Response: I do agree with the consensus on solar activity - that the correlation between solar activity and global temperatures ended in the 1970's when the modern global warming trend began. Which lead Usoskin 2005 to conclude "during these last 30 years the solar total irradiance, solar UV irradiance and cosmic ray flux has not shown any significant secular trend, so that at least this most recent warming episode must have another source." More on the sun...
  5. BTN: "Correct. As long as we agree"? I don't get this. Does the climate's behaviour depend on what we agree on? The "solar activity" argument has, of course, been debunked on this very web site.
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  6. Your debunking on solar activity has been debunked by hundreds of scientists. Let's agree to disagree and continue the scientific debate:
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  7. BTN, the Morano list is such a pathetic joke that it would hardly deserve to be discussed even if it were on topic. I noted that it featured Courtney as Dr. Courtney while there is still no university that will say he was ever awarded a doctorate. I'm sure his status as an expert reviewer, which does not hold up to scrutiny, also meets Morano's standards for "expertise." The laughable political twisting on the page you link goes on to saying that only 53 scientists participated to the IPCC "Summary for Policymakers" and compares with the Morano 400, as if it had any relevance. Of course it does not mention the vastly higher number of scientists who participated in the IPCC Assessment Report, which is really where the scientific substance is. The "summary for Policymakers" is exactly what it says, so the scientists there are only needed to put in an understandable form the science of the assessment report, which is obviously way over the head of the vast majority of politicians all over the world. Considering the miserable grasp on science in general that poltiticians exhibit on a regular basis, one could argue that the SPM should use more 5th grade science teachers than scientists doing research. This site here pays more attention to published science, give us links to papers rather than political PR and blogs. And I will disagree with Frankbi on one point. The solar activity argument has been debunked by solar researchers, not by any blog. Debate is always on in every branch of science, there is no need for blogs and screaming cybermobs in order to "continue the scientific debate." I expect you'll go next to the usual BS about consensus, grant money and whatever, and I won't bother responding to it. I have a job, a life and very little time to spare paying attention to anything but real, published science. But go ahead with the usual ranting if you wish.
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  8. Philippe You can cherry-pick you research, and stick your head in the sand, but you can't deny the growing body of peer reviewed science (unlike the IPCC report) that premises that GW is largely a natural process and highly unlikely caused by human activity. It may be right it may be wrong - but the point is the science is out there and the debate is vigorous and ongoing and active (despite what the media says). With regards to your name calling, I quote one great climate scientist who said: "Personal attacks are difficult and shouldn't occur in a science debate in a civilized society. I can only consider them from what they imply. They usually indicate a person or group is losing the debate."
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  9. Phillippe Chantreau: "And I will disagree with Frankbi on one point. The solar activity argument has been debunked by solar researchers, not by any blog." Well, you can put it that way. The actual debunking goes on not in this blog, but in the papers referenced by it... * * * BTN: "With regards to your name calling, I quote one great climate scientist who said [...]" Wow, this "great climate scientist" is so great you can't remember his name? Come on, if you want to say something, just say it in your own voice; no need to attribute them to some unnamed great person just to add gravitas. "you can't deny the growing body of peer reviewed science (unlike the IPCC report) that premises that GW is largely a natural process and highly unlikely caused by human activity." Well, the last time I asked about this "growing body of peer reviewed science disputing AGW", I received a list of _5_ papers. -- 4 of the papers turned out not to dispute AGW at all, and the remaining 1 used bogus methods ( Your "growing body" of research disputing AGW doesn't exist. The IPCC _is_ peer-reviewed, by the way.
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  10. Back to the post topic: the "scientists predicted global cooling" meme is alive and well! (Or rather, un-dead and well.) Green and Armstrong published a "critique" of the IPCC's climate projection methods in the bogoscience "journal" Energy and Environment. Green and Armstrong claimed that on May 21, 1975 the New York Times ran an article with a scary headline: "Scientists Ponder Why World's Climate is Changing; A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable" Alas, the paper authors made 2 stupid errors ( (1) They got the title wrong -- the actual title was "Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing; Major Cooling May Be Ahead" (; (2) They failed to notice that the scary article was on... page 92. And that's not even mentioning the stupidity of citing newspaper headlines instead of scientific papers to "prove" a point about scientist being wrong... Denialism is stupid. Again. -- Frank Bi,
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  11. Frankbi, thanks for reminding all about the nature of the IPCC AR products. In summary, you could say that they are an assessment and report on the state of peer-reviewed climate science. Another point: I did not call anyone names. I said that Richard Courtney should not be called Dr. and I stand by that assertion until anyone can show me a statement from a university certifying that he was awarded a doctorate degree. I said that Courtney's status as an "expert reviewer" is an abuse of language and that he does not have real credentials to grant him expert status. I will also stand by that statement until proven wrong by solid backed-up references, such as a list of peer-reviewed science papers, in relevant fields, and preferably referenced by other prominent researchers in their own work. Don't waste your time on Google Scholar: Courtney is not even close to that. I said that Morano's standards to determine who is an "expert" (or even just a scientist) on climate are poor. I stand by that statement as long as Morano wants to include Courtney in this category, and a few others on his list. I said that Morano is a politician and that he does political PR, and that is exactly what he does. Since he is employed by Congress, it is easy to look up what Morano does for a living and what his previous career path has been. None of this consists of calling anybody names.
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  12. frankbi Start with this and get back to me: (and be a smart and credible guy and don't shoot the messenger ! read it in full as well as the sources in the 10 pages of references and footnotes and let me know what you think)
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  13. BTN, I've seen this before. It's Fred Singer's "NIPCC" "report", which is just a collection of the same old discredited talking points. Friis-Christensen and Lassen (1991)? Been there. ( Douglass et al. (2007)? Done that. ( Now it'll be nice if you can actually address what other people have pointed out to you, instead of repeatedly spamming denialist talking points. For a start, how about discussing Green and Armstrong's "critique" I mentioned above?
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  14. frankbi Good analysis of Green/Armstrong. What fools. Critique this stuff for a change:
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  15. "Critique this stuff for a change:" No. If you want to spam unrelated denialist talking points, go play elsewhere.
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  16. Frank Bi, re #10 "Denialism" is only stupid when the thing you are denying is a fact.
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  17. Re #16 Not really Healthy Skeptic. "Denialism" is stupid when the thing you are denying is the evidence and its implications. After all it was pretty stupid to deny the evidence that smoking is a major causal factor in cancer and heart and respiratory disease. Many, many people paid for that stupidity with their health and lives (and continue to do so). It was pretty stupid to deny the evidence in the early 1980's that aspirin-taking was a causal factor in developing Reyes disease in children. Unfortunately many people were fooled by the stupid deniers of the time and suffered as a result. It was pretty stupid to deny the evidence that industrial chlorofluorocarbons result in catalytic destruction of high altitude ozone. Happily, in this case informed opinion and mature policymakers generally ignored the deniers, and so the latter didn't cause too many problems. Denialists don't deny "facts" of course. They deny the evidence by attempted misrepresentation. Some of the denialists of the phenomena in my previous paragraph are now denialists on behalf of those with agendas to mispreresent the science on global warming. So we'd be pretty stupid to take account of the obvious misrepresentations in the denialst nonsense of BTN's links in post #14! Happily, while there is a well-funded agenda of denialism on this topic (plus ca change!), there are now far many more mature and honest individuals with intact skeptical faculties who are able to see the "denialism" for what it is. The question is why some people are so stupid as to take obvious misrepresentations seriously. I wonder what they consider they are achieving in participating in this sort of chicanery? I have a horrible feeling that they consier that "believing" and propagating blatant untruths is a valid form of "politics"!
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  18. Re #17 That's nonsense of course. To critically question scientific evidence is not the same as denying it. It's part of the scientific method. However;- To deny a scientific fact is indeed undeniably stupid. To deny an unproven hypothesis is healthy skepticism. Let me know when AGW becomes a scientific fact.
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  19. When you start "to critically question scientific evidence" please let us know! Denialist don't deny facts....denialists deny the evidence. And one shouldn't "deny an unproven hypothesis". The mature approach to hypotheses is to assess them with respect to the evidence. We know you're not an evidence sort of chap, but global warming is essentially undeniable, and the role of massive man made enhancement of greenhouse gas concentrations is sufficiently supported by the evidence that it requires some pretty specious argumentation to deny this (and I haven't seen you present any sort of evidence-based argument for anything here, but I haven't read all your posts (!), and perhaps you can point out one or two examples). Of course if you source your information from dismal newspaper "articles" and dodgy graphs from web sites and such like, then you're very likely to be horribly ill-informed on the subject. AGW is strongly supported by the evidence. It's sufficiently strongly supported that mature[*] and well-informed policymakers consider it appropriate to address the problems. [*]by mature I mean those that make an effort to be well-informed on the science, are dismissive of specious arguments and misinformation, and are able to engange in considered discussion on policy implementation.
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  20. Chris, Boy, you really don't get out much do you. LOL! If AGW is "essentially undeniable", why are more and more scientists (many who work, or have worked, in climatology or associated fields) questioning the validity of the popular hypothesis you support with such religious fervour? Despite your rhetoric and holier-than-thou claims, there simply IS no clear evidence for AGW. If there was, we wouldn't be having this debate.
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  21. I've read quite a bit from this website. I'm not coinvinced of the veracity of the site; this could be remedied if a bibliography were published for each reference and a passage from these reports or abstract. In similar fashion to the way you provided the context in this article "The Science Isn't Settled, quoted a 1972 National Science Board report as follows"; Overall it's sketchy with the emphasis supporting AGW.

    If, as you say, you found very few papers (7 in total) that predict global cooling but found more papers (42 in total) that predict global warming in the 1970's, then you obviously have already done some homework; so it shouldn't be too exhausting or a strecth to back up your claims by posting the necessary links, bibliography etc., for EACH of these papers instead of cherry picking select data. This is common on your site. To say there were 42 papers on AGW published in 1970's sounds impressive, but...

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  22. Kevinb3...the bibliography you seek is in the paper that the OP describes and to which it links, twice. All you need to do is follow the link.

    You state cherry picking is common on the site, but provide no concerete examples, so that critcism is empty innuendo. If you want a proper discussion, talk about a specific examples and make a case.

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  23. Kevinb3@21

    "I've read quite a bit from this website. I'm not coinvinced of the veracity of the site; this could be remedied if a bibliography were published for each reference and a passage from these reports or abstract."

    This is underestimating the resources of this platform by a great margin.

    For example within the left margin are some buttons to click - one of these is labeled "History of Climate Science". Anybody checking this part of SkS will have to have enourmous time to spend on reading. Advance the timeline to 1972 and click on the year dots and then look down to the section below the graph - you'll see links there (in abundance).

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  24. @ ajki

    I think it's more of a question of overestimating the site.

    It "might" be possible for the layperson to find the links by data mining the site that align to the "7 total" papers on cooling, or "42 total" that deal with warming. However if the research is already done by the author of this article then there should be no need for someone looking for sunstantiating this article to go on a wild goose chase. The articles the author is referencing almost surely don't have global cooling or warming in the headline which would mean the reader would have to dig deep in each paper to find the reference if it's not clearly outlined in the abstract. Most peer reviewed papers are not written for the consumption of the layperson, they're highly technical.

    It's the authors responsibility to back up their claims by posting source. I have many times looked at source materials that were used a basis for extrapolating opinion on other topics and found that I don't agree with the conclusions the author has arrived at based on the data, but, I often do as well. It's relative. However, with the topic of AGW there's impetus for direcet proof over assertion because it's a highly charged topic politically.

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  25. @ Stephen

    I looked at that biblio, it had over 100 papers, I don't see specific links to the 7 cooling papers or the 42 warming papers broken out. Like I said, the author has combed through that biblio and pulled out certain specific references. They need to be more specific and not rely on the readers patience to prove their veracity or not. I'd like to read the specific papers this author is using as their primary evidence. 

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  26. Kevinb3 if you look at the appendix of the paper it gives a list of the papers predicting cooling and the papers predicting warming.  What more do you want, that is the form in which references are usually made in scientific papers, and if you disagree with the findings then the onus is on you to look up the papers and analyse them for yourself.  There is no other way of establishing the "veracity" of the survey than reading the papers for yourself, and the authors make that as easy for you to do as you caould reasonably expect.

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  27. Kevinb3, look at table 1 in Peterson, Connolley and Fleck (linked in the OP).  The paper discusses the majority of the cooling papers more extensively in the text.

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  28. Dikran, What more do you want?

    Either links, which aren't always readily available, or pdfs of said papers. Not explanations or interpretations as to what the papers say from third parties.  Yes, I could go on a research binge and gather up said articles, but it goes back to my original point really.   The site is expounding on what it states is truth, but IMO the source material should be offered up if it's going button up. Since the homework is supposedly done, then it should be easy.  

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  29. @ Tom 

    BTW, thanks, looking below the long list of papers I did find the table, but I still reference my above point. 

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  30. From John Cook's notes to the OP (visible only to SkS  authors):

    7 Cooling Papers:

    Climate Modification by Atmospheric Aerosols (McCormick and John H. Ludwig 1967) - Theoretical considerations and empirical evidence indicate that atmospheric turbidity, a function of aerosol loading, is an important factor in the heat balance of the earth-atmosphere system. Turbidity increase over the past few decades may be primarily responsible for the decrease in worldwide air temperatures since the 1940's.

    Barrett 1971 (???)

    Rasool & Schneider 1971

    Atmospheric Turbidity and Surface Temperature on the Polar Ice Sheets (Hamilton & Seliga 1972) - DATA relevant to the causation of climatic change, particularly changes in mean annual temperature at the surface over intervals of from 10 to 105 yr, have been accumulating gradually in various laboratories engaged in studying the two long ice cores from Camp Century, Greenland, and "New" Byrd Station, Antarctica. This note consolidates these and other data and interprets them in the framework of existing theory. It appears that millenial and longer variations in cloud-level temperature on the polar ice sheets have been caused by changing atmospheric turbidity over the past 10 5 yr.

    Aerosols and climate (Chýlek, J Coakley - Science, 1974)

    A nonequilibrium model of hemispheric mean surface temperature. (Bryson & Dittberner 1976)

    The influence of pollution on the shortwave albedo of clouds. (Twomey 1977)

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  31. The remainder of John Cook's notes to the OP (visible only to SkS authors):

    William Connelly blogs on his paper: (good comments)

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  32. Kevinb3 - The references (papers on cooling, warming, or neutral) are clearly listed in Peterson et al, Table 1. A quick search on Google Scholar (which is extremely useful for this) shows that many are articles in Science or Nature, which require subscription or purchase. 

    Several notes here:

    1. The SkS page is reporting on the Peterson et al paper, the results; demanding that SkS obtain and publicise all source materials for every paper discussed is unreasonable.
    2. Copyright and ownership would prevent free general access to those papers not made available by the publishers or authors.
    3. Looking up references is really part of doing science. 
    4. The Peterson et al paper is itself primary literature, your description of this as "what the papers say from third parties" is in error. 
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  33. Kevinb3, you are being unreasonable.  The whole point of people conducting surveys is to give a summary of what has been published on some topic.  If you don't accept the survey then the onus is on you to conduct a survey of your own and draw your own conclusions.  The authors of the survey have identified the papers for you, requesting they give links rather than the normal form of citations used in journal papers is basically asking to be spoon-fed.

    I am beginning to suspect that you don't actually have any objection to the concusion of the survey and are just using the "method of unreasonable expectations" to avoid accepting it. 

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  34. Kevinb3 If a climate website wanted to publish an article on the TCP paper, that shows the 97% concensus on climate change, would they be required to give links to all 12,000 papers that were considered, or would it be O.K. just to give a link to the paper itself?

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  35. I get it KR. Thanks

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