Having read, re-read and re-read again the writeup by Iceowl that opens this node, I must confess that this response is written with some degree of trepidation. With no offense intended towards a longtime E2 author, his writeup here, while prettily written as always, is of surprisingly low factual quality. I am surprised to see that it has found not only traction here, but acclaim, and felt that due to this, the misinformation in it needed to be addressed, lest some passing reader leave this node with a severely distorted view of the current state of climate science.

In this critical response, I seek to present three rebuttals to the original writeup in this node. The first rebuttal is that the arguments posited in the original node are based on invalid assumptions, misunderstandings and fallacy. The second rebuttal is that the content of Iceowl's submission, looked at in a charitable light, shows an unfortunate misunderstanding of science. Looked at in a more harshly critical light, it demonstrates a conclusive and verifiable ignorance of even its most basic terminology. The third rebuttal is that many of Iceowl's supporting 'facts' are, at best, incorrect, and at worst, outright misrepresentations and fabrications.

The myriad problems with Iceowl's writeup begin in the very first complete paragraph, but this rebuttal will begin a bit further down. Iceowl's writeup does not take long to begin using the well-known rhetoric of claiming that the observed changes in climate are simply a natural cycle, and not the result of human activities. In his writeup, he says:

"There have always been variations in global temperature. The period between 1400A.D. to about 1860A.D. has been termed the "Little Ice Age" when average global temps were between 0.5C and 1.0C lower than they are now. That followed a much warmer period between 1000A.D and 1350A.D. when the Vikings colonized Greenland. Remember--they named it Greenland because it was green."

It is true that there have always been variations in global temperature. However, it does not follow simply from the fact that climate has naturally changed before that this is the cause of the changes we are currently seeing. It's also worth noting that Iceowl does not provide an alternative model here where the 35% increase in greenhouse gases that we have measured would not have an effect on the temperature. This argument is simply a "Well, it happened naturally before!", followed by a handwaving away of all the data, and a conclusion of "So it must be natural now!" Simply noting that it has happened naturally before does not logically suggest, in any way, shape or form, that it is not human-caused today, any more than noting that fires have occurred naturally in the past would rule out the existence of arson.

And to correct Iceowl's supporting fact about Greenland here, Greenland was not green in 1000 AD, although some small parts of it were, and still are in the summer months. Legend has it that it was named Greenland because Erik the Red was exiled there, and wanted to attract settlers with a good name. Whether this is actually true or not, a quick glance at reality shows that the Greenland ice sheet is hundreds of thousands of years old and covers over 80% of the island - the majority of land not under the ice is rock and permafrost in the far north. Even though the very southern tip of Greenland is actually green during the summer months, the Vikings who settled there lived a harsh, meager existence, and many starved due to trying to live a European lifestyle in an arctic environment. Referring to a country covered by a sheet of ice 1,755,637 square kilometers in area and two kilometers thick as 'green' is a bit of an exaggeration.

Moreover, even if Iceowl's point about Greenland were based on anything other than misinformation, it is part of a single region and cannot be held to be representative of a global trend.

Iceowl continues:

"To most Antarcticans, global warming is a theory invented by people in the real world..."

"Granted, the "greenhouse effect" is just a theory, along with all the other theories explaining the increase in the earth's surface temperature. {...} Possibly because it's one that humans may directly influence it gets a lot of attention."

It becomes clear at this point that some definitions of basic terms must be agreed upon before it's possible to continue this discussion - terms for which the definitions should already have been known.

To explain, I will turn to the Florida high school education benchmarks - the facts that one has to learn in order to pass high school level courses in that state.

  • Benchmark SC.3.N.3.1: Recognize that words in science can have different or more specific meanings than their use in everyday language; for example, energy, cell, heat/cold, and evidence.
  • Benchmark SC.6.N.3.1: Recognize and explain that a scientific theory is a well-supported and widely accepted explanation of nature and is not simply a claim posed by an individual. Thus, the use of the term theory in science is very different than how it is used in everyday life.
  • Benchmark SC.912.N.3.1: Explain that a scientific theory is the culmination of many scientific investigations drawing together all the current evidence concerning a substantial range of phenomena; thus, a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer.

Iceowl does not appear to understand these concepts, and therefore, does not understand the definitions or meaning of the most basic of scientific terminology. Just how seriously an essay on 'battling scientific stupidity' should be taken when it has been written by an author lacking a functional understanding of fundamental and basic scientific language is left as an exercise for the reader.

The obvious answer to why greenhouse gases receive the most attention is this: because the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of it being the cause of global climate change.

"Increased CO2 is felt to cause a greenhouse effect, reflecting thermal energy from the earth's surface back downward toward the earth instead of allowing it to escape into space, forming a sort of "blanket" that further warms the earth."

Felt? Felt? Again, we're at an impasse where the author of the original writeup is either failing outright to understand the basics of the scientific method, or is simply ignoring it because its results are not to his liking.

The greenhouse effect was first observed by Joseph Fourier in 1824. It has since then been studied, experimented upon, refined, used to make further predictions, and served as a basis for other predictive scientific theories and models, ranging from space travel to astronomy to cosmology to climatology, and drawing upon the work of scientists such as Samuel P. Langley, Svante Arrhenius, George Simpson, Edward O. Hulburt, G.S. Callendar, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Gilbert N. Plass, and many, many more. Models based on the greenhouse effect successfully predict climates in conditions as diverse as Mars to Venus to Earth to the moons of Jupiter. The first predictions of anthropogenic global warming were published in 1896! This is not some newfangled idea. Iceowl suggests that we dismiss all this as mere conjecture simply because he is confused by the fact that it's called a 'theory.'

Let's also not forget the fact that if it were not for the greenhouse effect, the laws of physics predict that our planet would be a frozen ball of ice. Is an alternative model provided in this writeup that explains why it is not? No. One is not. Instead, nearly two centuries of scientific experimentation, for which there exists mountains of direct observational data by hundreds (if not thousands) of individual scientists, is simply handwaved away as something that is 'felt'.

Iceowl continues:

"No matter how much denial we would like to toss into the equation, things are getting warmer, at least as measured by scientists in Antarctica. But the why of it was still unknown back in 2002."

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes analyzed 928 published, peer-reviewed scientific papers on global climate change between 1993 and 2003. She divided these into six categories -

  1. explicit endorsement of the consensus position
  2. evaluation of impacts
  3. mitigation proposals
  4. methods
  5. paleoclimate analysis
  6. rejection of the consensus position

Of these 928 papers, 75% fell into the first three categories. None fell into the last. Unless we want to characterize a unanimous scientific consensus spanning 696 published papers over the course of a decade as 'still unknown', we're forced to conclude that this writeup is once again only passingly acquainted with reality.

"And yet {...} there was absolutely no scientific evidence linking production of CO2 to either global warming or the subsequent ice age.

Except for those two centuries of experiments and supporting evidence mentioned earlier. The saddest thing, though, is that it doesn't end there.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body created to assess the current state of scientific data, literature and opinion on global climate change and its causes, released its Third Assessment Report. In this report, they state the following:

  • Emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols due to human activities continue to alter the atmosphere in ways that are expected to affect the climate
  • There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities
  • Human influences will continue to change atmospheric composition throughout the 21st century
  • Global average temperature and sea level are projected to rise under all IPCC SRES scenarios

A joint statement released by the Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society said:

The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognise IPCC as the world’s most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes, and we endorse its method of achieving this consensus. Despite increasing consensus on the science underpinning predictions of global climate change, doubts have been expressed recently about the need to mitigate the risks posed by global climate change. We do not consider such doubts justified.

Added on top of that, this position was also explicitly endorsed by the National Research Council, European Science Foundation, Federation of American Scientists, and Federal Climate Change Science Program. All prior to 2002.

Iceowl simply handwaves all this away as 'no evidence.'

In his essay, Iceowl (ironically) continues to paint scientists as a group of people eager to make things up from thin air for us to believe. He says:

"Start with the so-called Drake equation for guessing at the number of inhabited planets in the known universe. {...} There is not one parameter in that equation which can be known for certain."

Right. That's why the scientists called the Drake Equation 'guessing.' The Drake Equation was specifically designed to highlight what we didn't know, so that these things could be further studied to refine our knowledge. That's what science is. There is not a single scientist on the face of the planet who claims to know the number of inhabited planets in the universe based on the Drake equation.

"Therefore the number of worlds upon which there could be a culture that could communicate with us by the Drake equation could be as Carl Sagan said, "Billions and Billions", or zero."

Let's get one thing straight. The only time Carl Sagan ever used the phrase "Billions and Billions" at all was in reference to the fact that he was constantly misquoted as having said it. In his own words:

"I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It's hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said 'billion' many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said 'billions and billions.' For one thing, it's imprecise. How many billions are 'billions and billions'? A few billion? Twenty billion? A hundred billion? 'Billions and billions' is pretty vague... For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn't utter the phrase, even when asked to. But I've gotten over that. So, for the record, here it goes: 'Billions and billions.'" --Carl Sagan

He never said it, and he sure as hell didn't say it in reference to an answer to the Drake Equation. This is an outright fabrication.

This is the point where I begin to ask myself - has this writeup been fact-checked at all? Or was it simply invented from whole cloth and posted as a factual essay?

"In 1975 many scientists went on the record with a theory they called "Nuclear Winter". That there would occur the artificial creation of an ice age due to all the pollutants thrown into the atmosphere by the atomic explosions and subsequent fires of an all-out nuclear cataclysm.

Carl Sagan put the weight of his public persona behind the theory. He and his coworkers theorized a world-wide drop in temperature of 35-degrees centigrade after a 5,000 megaton nuclear exchange. Yet, the worlds greatest volcanic eruptions with forces approximating that changed the world temperature by only 0.5 to 1.0 degree centigrade, and during the ice ages, world temperatures dropped only 10 degrees."

Once again, Iceowl's essay manages to fall short on the facts. Carl Sagan never claimed a long-term drop in temperature of 35 degrees after a 5,000 megaton exchange, and he never claimed it would artificially create an ice age. What he did say, again in his own words, was this:

"Even much smaller temperature declines are known to have serious consequences. The explosion of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 was the probable cause of an average global temperature decline of less than 1°C, due to the obscuration of sunlight by the fine dust propelled into the stratosphere. The hard freezes the following year were so severe that 1816 has been known in Europe and America as, respectively, "the year without a summer," and "eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death." A 1°C cooling would nearly eliminate wheat growing in Canada. Small global changes tend to be associated with considerably larger regional changes. In the last thousand years, the maximum global or Northern Hemisphere temperature deviations have been around 1°C. In an Ice Age, a typical long-term global temperature decline from preexisting conditions is about 10°C. Even the most modest of the cases illustrated in Figure 2 give temporary temperature declines of this order. The baseline case is much more adverse. Unlike the situation in an Ice Age, however, the global temperatures after nuclear war would plunge rapidly and probably take only months to a few years to recover, rather than thousands of years. No new Ice Age is likely to be induced by the nuclear winter, at least according to our preliminary analysis." --Carl Sagan, 1983

Let us be very clear about the factual accuracy of this - Iceowl claims here that Sagan endorsed something that he explicitly denied. This claim is outright wrong, and I have trouble believing that it wasn't simply made up on the spot.

If Carl Sagan was actually so prone to sensationalistic fearmongering, as Iceowl seems to be implying, wouldn't it be unnecessary to invent a completely fictional instance of him doing so? Wouldn't there be an example that actually happened that could have been used in this writeup instead? Sagan himself even helpfully provides a few examples of times his hypotheses have been wrong in his book The Demon-Haunted World. It would have been simple enough to use one of those.

"And there, my friends, is the issue Michael Crichton rails against. "Consensus science" There is simply no such thing. Science is not the act of a group of smart guys coming together and agreeing on what reality is. Reality is reality. Science is science. {...} Crichton says: "Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had." {...} History proves time and time again that consensus science is bad science at best, and mostly not science at all."

I must drop pretense at this point, and address this directly to the author.

What on earth are you talking about?

Just to give a few other examples of 'consensus science' - theories which enjoy near-unanimous support from the scientific community - let's talk about Maxwell's Theory of Electromagnetism or Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The Germ Theory of Disease. The Theory of Evolution. Let's talk about Atomic Theory, or the Big Bang Theory, or the Theory of Natural Selection. Let's talk about Heliocentric theory, superconductivity theory, the theory of convection, cell theory, circuit theory, signal theory or the kinetic theory of gases.

Perhaps you can give us all an explanation on why it is that these consensuses are good, but a consensus on anthropogenic global climate change suddenly means that the evil socialist scientists are scheming for your wallet. Perhaps you can explain to us all how it is that this conspiracy has managed to span every single major academy of science in every single industrialized country. Perhaps you can explain to us how it's managed to gain the endorsement of every national-level scientific organization on the face of the planet.

And perhaps, lastly, you can explain to us why it is that scientists achieving a unequivocally compelling understanding of nature only becomes a bad thing once it becomes germane to partisan American politics, but not in the cases of the thirteen other theories listed here (and dozens more elsewhere) which enjoy unanimous scientific support. That's the explanation I'm most interested in hearing, because I don't think you have one.

"According to Ted in 2002, there was absolutely no scientific evidence linking production of CO2 to either global warming or the subsequent ice age."


"According to Ted in 2002, nobody really knew."


"After all, according to Ted, nobody can say for certain a CO2-driven greenhouse effect is the cause for concern."


"Ted's credentials are solid. Google him and see for yourself. He's the one the networks calls every time something happens to the ice in Antarctica or at the north pole. He's the one other scientists listen to. Professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. Works at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. He's been interviewed by every major news organization in the United States, and some overseas. Recognized as the voice of what is happening with melting ice and he said, "I don't know," when I asked him what was warming up the world."

I followed Iceowl's advice and Googled Ted's credentials. They are, indeed, as solid as claimed here. I was not convinced solely by this, however, so I took it a step further.

I emailed Ted Scambos, and questioned him directly.

Iceowl said of him that "He will tell you what he thinks if you ask him, but mostly, he'll tell you what he knows, and that's always going to be verifiable science." And this is completely true - Ted was more than happy to explain his positions, and even included references to the relevant papers so that I could read further into what he was discussing. Like many scientists, it only takes a slight nudge to get him talking about what's happening in his field of study. My initial impression of him is much in the same light as Iceowl's - he's a rational, level-headed scientist whose word can be trusted as couched in the best of facts, and a man from whom we can get the "straight, scientific viewpoint on global warming."

In my email, I pointed him in the direction of this node, and asked him if he felt that it was accurate. His response:

"I absolutely do not stand behind the statements in this essay." --Ted Scambos

His following explanation is quite enlightening - in it, he says:

"In 2002, I was reluctant to attribute the disintegration of the Larsen B ice shelf, or the previous events of the Larsen A and Wilkins, directly to {greenhouse gases} and global warming. {...} I did not doubt that GHGs were influencing our planet, not even in 2002. Ice core studies from the early and mid 1990s convinced me that the atmosphere was far different from its pre-industrial range; isotopes in the trapped gases reveal that the source has a fossil-fuel-like signature; and the general physics of heat trapping by GHGs is unassailable. So I knew that GHGs *must* be affecting climate at some level; and I knew that the past 4 (now 7 or more) major climate cycles of earth had been augmented considerably by GHGs."

In short, Ted readily agrees with the consensus position on anthropogenic global climate change. He never called this into question - the only thing under discussion here is if it is the cause of the ice shelf collapses. Not if it exists, but only if it is the cause of these events. At that time, he did not know the answer to this question.

However, this was in 2004. Ted continues:

"Now, however, a better picture is emerging that does link GHG increases in the atmosphere, coupled with effects of ozone reduction, to both the warming trends we see in the Peninsula, and the general steady-to-cooling trends we see over the Antarctic mainland. Fundamentally, the changes in the atmosphere have triggered a slight increase in wind speed in the circumpolar vortex surrounding Antarctica.

The net effect of this is to tend (these are all noisy, hard-to-quantify, statistical trends at this point, but the trends are replicated in models) to isolate the Antarctic mainland from the more temperate climate to the north, and to 'expose' the Peninsula to more frequent north or north-west -sourced weather. To paraphrase: Cooler on the continent, because that's where the cold is, and it is more isolated; warmer on the Peninsula, because it's not feeling the southern cold as often."

Not only are the warming effects from man-made greenhouse gases real, clear and dangerous...they are also, in fact, very likely to be the reason that the Larsen ice shelfs collapsed.

Ted ended his email to me by saying "Please don't treat that essay as a factual representation of what I said."

In the end, the fact that this node characterizes itself as a part of a battle against scientific stupidity is as ironic as it comes - while there is much scientific stupidity to be had here, none of it is on the part of the scientists themselves. All of it is on the part of those who would trivialize their findings because it is convenient for them to do so.

Special thanks goes to Ted Scambos for his assistance in this essay.

Ted adds "I did not write the script for 'Red Planet', and have it stolen; however I suspect that one scene in Red Planet was influenced by an earlier script on Mars that I wrote and sent to the Director's brother."