Seminar Review: The Science of Climate Change by Mimi Katz

This afternoon Dr. Mimi Katz gave a seminar for the RPI Physics department on climate science. The aim was to correct the impression left by Dr. Giaever’s seminar, reviewed earlier on this blog. In a soft-spoken introduction Dr.  Bruce Watson outlined four areas of research in earth and environmental science that have impact on climate science: direct measurements of trends, external forces affecting climate, long-term records of past events, and computational modeling. He emphasized that these different approaches all converged on the same basic conclusion, that the earth is growing warmer and that this is due to human activity. Dr. Katz then went into the details, providing independent evidence from a variety of investigations, on the trends in methane and CO2 in the atmosphere, direct measurements of temperature from upwards of 39,000 weather stations worldwide, measurements of greenhouse gases and temperature derived from ice cores, ocean science and biology including the opening of the Northwest Passage in 2010, rises in sea level, the migration of birds into ever more northerly zones, and much more, all of which are consistent with global warming and counter to the expected cooling that would arise without anthropogenic warming. She discussed modeling of the atmospheric temperature, which can describe recent data, and which under various assumptions predicts modest to alarming future temperature increases. It was a convincing, if low-key presentation. A key point was the graph of global temperature data, which shows a steady upward trend over the last century. She pointed out that the myth of recent cooling is a case of cherry picking of a set of recent data points that fall within the expected scatter as shown by the data from earlier years.

It was a well attended seminar, and once again there was lively participation by the audience during the question period after the seminar.

Right Wing Hysteria

During the Republican presidential debate February 22 John King asked a question about birth control for all the candidates to consider. Newt Gingrich gave a short answer then attacked the press for not asking why Barack Obama voted for infanticide when he was a State Senator in Illinois. (He claimed this was to prevent prosecution of doctors who destroy a fetus that survives an abortion procedure).

It turns out that reporters addressed this during the 2008 campaign and found that the claim was without foundation. Illinois law at that time already required doctors to act to save the life of a fetus that survived a botched abortion, if it was viable. The language of the proposed law was inconsistent with the Roe v Wade decision, and this is why Obama voted against it. Obama has said that he would have supported federal legislation that would have required doctors to save the life of a viable fetus that survived an abortion provided that legislation contained language that was consistent with Roe v. Wade.

In essence, Obama said that he would not support an attempt by the Illinois legislature to nullify Roe v Wade at the state level.

A full article on this was found at CNN.

Seminar Review: Ivar Giaever on Global Warming

A lecture called “The strange case of “global warming” by Dr. Ivar Giaever was given on February 8 2012 at RPI. It was a classic armchair science critique. It was peppered with anecdotes, such as how much more nervous he was about a long ago conference appearance than he was at RPI (he meant to amuse I suppose – but how many of the audience realized that he was insulting them?). He also freely used ridicule, for example expressing incredulity that anybody could measure global temperature. He then contradicted himself when he claimed that the global temperature had not risen recently. He wound up concluding that global warming was a pseudoscience (“absolutely”).

I have to give students and faculty who attended the lecture credit. A good number of them challenged Dr. Giaever on both interpretation and on facts.

It is sad that a man with such a distinguished career (he won a Nobel Prize in physics) should find it acceptable to impugn the integrity of a whole community of scientists, self-admittedly on the basis of nothing more than his own opinions and Google searches.

Here is a link to an article by Peter Gleick that explains part of the deception involved in his argument, which is neither original nor new.

Glieck is CEO of the Pacific Institute, a MacArthur Fellow, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences

Deer in the Woods

There is a country club close to my home, and a fair number of my neighbors and I take walks in the grounds surrounding the course (we stay off the greens). Most walk on the service road, which affords nice views of a pond, some service buildings, and the course itself. But some of us, like me, follow an old horse trail that goes along a stream, where there is a waterfall or rapids. These days, I frequently encounter deer in these woods. Yesterday I saw a dozen of them, which I think may be the entire local population on the grounds. They were coming off the green, heading into the woods just in front of me. I stood very still, and could see them moving toward a land bridge that runs through the woods to a plateau where the groundskeepers have cut a lot of the trees. Two of the bucks toward the rear of the group spotted me, however, and they watched me intently for what seemed a very long time. The others rejoined them, and after a few minutes all headed back the way they had come, crossing the green and entering a patch of woods on the other side. My presence had spooked them.

Re-Election of the President

According to Nate Silver ( the monthly jobs numbers correlate as well as anything else with re-election of Presidents in the USA. He puts the number Obama needs between 107,00 and 150,000 per month. This month’s number is close to 240,000 jobs added to the economy. This is just one month of course, but it is looking pretty good for the President. I feel the President has done a good job; he inherited a colossal mess from his predecessor: an economy shedding millions of jobs, two wars, and a dysfunctional health care system, and by any measure has made improvements in all three of these areas. Meanwhile his likely opponent in November is searching through the repertoire of GHW Bush for ways to show his lack of understanding of the general public.

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