Two Ways to Read Stories

Years ago, there was a story in the press about a particularly gruesome suicide in which a guy drilled his head eight times with a power drill till he died. Most of the coverage focused on the gruesome.

One article headline read “Man drills seven holes in head and lives!”

I think of that as I read this story:

Still standing: Ancient Alaskan forest thaws from melting glacial tomb

“An ancient forest has thawed from under a melting glacier in Alaska and is now exposed to the world for the first time in more than 1,000 years.”

Lots of people will read this and think “O the humanity! Thousand year old ice is melting! Unprecedented global warming!”

I’m thinking “So it was warmer a thousand years ago.”

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  • Steve

    And Greenland was once green.

    • jaybird1951

      With thriving farms. Then the climate turned colder and the colonies were abandoned.

  • Brandon Jaloway

    Your perspective is really cool. Was this warmer time that happened 1000 years ago also caused by humans? Was it the end of the world back then too? Have sea levels dropped considerably over the last 1000 years?

  • Bob cratchit

    I’m thinking it was a warm summer

  • Mitch

    Umm with how the story describes it this suggests that it was advancing ice spreading to a new location that covered the trees with ice. This still happens today, there are a handful of glaciers that are advancing. Most are in retreat. The world is warming. But as it warms it changes climatic patterns resulting in varied weather, colder in some spots warmer in others. It changes weather patterns in ways we didn’t expect because the climate system is incredibly complicated. For someone who is so shocked that people would doubt the majority of the scientific community on things like vaccines I find it amusing that you would turn around and doubt on something like this where there is just as much agreement among the experts.

  • Elmwood

    The general long-term trend for glaciers in Alaska is one of sustained mass loss,” said Shad O’Neal, A USGS glaciologist who also studies Icy Bay glaciers and is based at the USGS Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. “While we have seen short term fluctuations like a heavy snow year and seasonal advance-retreat cycles, only a few tidewater glaciers are gaining mass over longer time scales, and these are exceptions, not the norm.”

    Thinning glaciers may advance, but the overall picture of these glaciers is a net loss of ice. This is occurring in Antarctica and is why sea ice is increasing there. There are a few examples of growing glaciers, but it is related local climate conditions and increased snow pack, which is possible in the overall context of warming oceans. The point is it’s more complicated than: the glacier advanced, therefore no global warming.

    I always advise non-experts to trust the experts in their field of expertise. Without knowing better, listen to the Holy Father on faith and morals, and USGS Alaskan glaciologists on glaciation and climate scientists on AGW (anthropocentric global warming).

    It’s the heretic who takes scripture out of context to defend their preconceived notions of theology, just like a AGW skeptic takes glacial phenomenon (or any isolated climate fact) out of context to support their preconceived notion that AGW isn’t occurring to sow seeds of doubt to deceive and misinform the public.

    When the facts become inconvenient to your worldview, don’t throw out the facts but reconsider your worldview or opinions.

    • It’s generally a good thing to give authorities the benefit of the doubt unless contravened by actual evidence. In the case of AGW, the unwillingness to follow standard scientific practice and share your data and methods so it can be replicated is a warning sign. When the “harry read me” epic came out in climategate showing how CRU couldn’t even replicate itself, that was another warning sign. There have been so many warning signs where goalposts are moved, basic scientific questions remain unanswered, and statistical cheats and propaganda tricks are deployed that, at least in the case of global warming, the experts have trashed their own reputations. They no longer deserve benefit of the doubt.

      Science is not a faith based activity. When challenged, you should be able to demonstrate what you say you have demonstrated. We’re in the middle of an unanticipated climate pause that’s exceeded a decade and a half. The IPCC’s AR5 is engaging in some pretty unconvincing hand waving on how this is not really as significant as the community said it would be back when they were saying that such a thing couldn’t happen.

      • introvert_prof

        When challenged, you should be able to demonstrate what you say you have demonstrated. We’re in the middle of an unanticipated climate pause that’s exceeded a decade and a half.

        Not really. NASA data don’t show much of a pause; and we’ve had a solar minimum, a volcanic eruption and a couple of La Nina events. Back in the 1880s, and the 1940s, that led to a drop in global temperatures. But now, all it can do is flatten things out a bit. That should be scary.

        As for “when challenged,…” I suggest you try this website. All the standard arguments, with rebuttals supported from the peer-reviewed literature.

        • To say that “NASA data don’t show much of a pause” is not scientific. Statistically significant warming not been going on for all the data sets, GISS, RSS, UAH, HadCrut3, HadCrut4, and NOAA. The times when they go flat/negative are different.

          Short pauses are consistent with the current model results, longer pauses are not. For this discussion to be scientific, you have to agree on some sort of boundary condition where you’ve flipped from short to long and the models are invalidated.

          What is that boundary condition?

          How many of the globally recognized data sets have crossed from short term pause to long term pause?

          How many data sets have to point to model invalidation before it’s reasonable to put a hold on legislation that impoverishes people in the name of a global warming crisis that turns out to exist only in models, not the real world?

          These are not very complex questions. They should have generated reasonable answers years ago when I first asked them. They never have with the single exception of NOAA who, in their state of the Climate report of 2008 answered the first one that the boundary condition is between 15 and 16 years. Hats off to them. NOAA also said in the same report that the pause had been going on for a decade, which is why this whole issue is heating up this year. The NOAA clock has run out.

          • introvert_prof

            I’m not going to address the economic parts of your answer, though I’ve heard that a well-known British economist (not well-known to me, I’m a chemist) says that climate change mitigation will cost about 1-5% of GWP, while NOT responding will cost about 5-20% depending on the scenarios used.

            I will only address the science.

            Statistically significant warming not been going on for all the data sets is a flat falsehood.

            Everybody uses the same data, more or less, to compile their sets; different sources may use it differently in minor ways. My citation of NASA’s GISS data is not “unscientific.”

            As for the 15-year timeline, that’s not a hard deadline; the standard I’ve heard is that climate trends show themselves over 30-year spans.

            If you examine (for example) the NASA data site (, you will see that temperature fluctuations are still visible using smoothing techniques such as a five-year running average; they’re visible even using a 25-year running average. However, the general temperature trend over a century and a half is significantly upward — any recent “cooling” is statistically insignificant in comparison. We have absolutely no physical reason to believe that this trend will not continue.

            Regardless, there are some arguments that you can’t deny without denying some pretty basic science.

            a global warming crisis that turns out to exist only in models

            Define “model.” The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise as a matter of measured fact, at a faster-than-linear rate. Just on that alone, we should expect the long-term trend (e.g. longer than 15 years) to be that the planet will get warmer because of the facts of radiative physics.

            The alternative is that we don’t understand anything about radiative physics at all. (But hey, it’s just a model.)

            The consequences of increased CO2 are that the planet over the medium to long term — in human terms; this is a geologic eyeblink — will get significantly warmer. Based on our understanding of the mechanisms of storm formation, not to mention simple thermal physics (e.g. water expands when it gets warmer, ice melts when it gets warmer), we are therefore going to be in for an interesting ride.

            The fact that we’re not seeing an absolutely smooth rise in global temperatures as atmospheric carbon dioxide continues its smooth rise means that the system is more complicated than can be accounted for by radiative physics alone; that’s why climate models are complex, and push the available limits of computational power. In any complex model, there may be something left out, either from lack of computer power or from oversight; but climate models do a pretty good job given their limitations (the IPCC report has a discussion of the models).

            But such models are second-order. The first-approximation analysis says that if air temperature isn’t rising, you need to look around and see where the extra heat is going (it seems to be the deep ocean) rather than deny thermodynamics.

            There’s nobody who would be happier than I if the First Law of Thermodynamics and our understanding of radiative physics or the chemistry that’s taught to middle-school students proved to be wrong. It’s not the way to bet.

            Later addition: This website allows you to examine at least some of the raw data for yourself, and the page I’ve linked explains where the data come from and illustrates some basic data reconciliation techniques.

            • If you are not going to address the economics, then don’t address the economics. Who do you think you are, Lois Lerner?

              You are setting things up so you can’t be called on the economics but planting a seed that the costs must be significant and bad. I think you might be referring to the discredited Stern report, whose future discount rates are laughably out of line but you’ve been so vague that I can’t tell for sure.

              On to the climate science. You first stated that the data doesn’t show much of a pause. Now you deny any pause. Given fairly extensive coverage about exactly the issue of continuing CO2 buildup with little warming and the recent quest for missing heat this is simply not credible.

              I was not attacking your citation of GISS. That is because you made none. What you did was make a vague statement that was itself not particularly rigorous and say go look it up here at this raw data archive. That’s not a citation. It’s hand waving with no scientific value. In other words you spun.

              None of the GCM models used in the IPCC AR process generate pauses longer than 15 years according to NOAA. That was their scientific evaluation in 2008 when they identified the then decade long pause as insufficiently long to invalidate the models.

              None of the sophisticated players on either side have any difference on radiative physics. That much is agreed. What is disputed is how much feedback increases CO2 temp rise on each doubling and does the enhancement get bigger or smaller on further increases. In other words do the effects that dampen greenhouse effects predominate or are the ones that enhance the effect predominant?

              Island nations were supposed to disappear with global warming. Now, with further study, it appears that the situation is not so dire. The false dilemma of letting Pacific Islanders drown or not is no longer credible.

              The idea that we only can have missing heat or invalidate radiative physics is a false choice. Another alternative is that the models are all missing a negative feedback dampener or more than one. A further alternative is that a positive feedback factor might have been overstated or may lessen its effects above certain levels of CO2. Since you yourself are citing the possibility that the models are missing something, why not admit that the missing items might be a good chunk of the perceived signal?

              • introvert_prof

                If you had followed the link to the NASA site, you’d have seen that the data are not raw; they are graphed in a couple of different ways that establish that your so-called “flattening” or “cooling” is pretty well lost in the noise; the overall trend is up, up, up.

                Since the NASA site isn’t live right now, I’ll point you to graphs of the same date, plus rebuttal, at Since you want a graph right in place rather than following a link, I’ll try to put one here:

                12-year running average data, with and without volcanic and El Niño/El Nina (ENSO) forcings removed.
                The source of these data is from the peer-reviewed literature, and is linked at the website I cited.

                By the way, you brought in economics; I replied with what I knews. I’d like to see a citation of the rebuttal; you seem to be a bit short on citations generally.

                I don’t disagree with you that for the past decade or two, forcings have been fighting the CO2 warming; I’m arguing that any such forcings are decidedly second-order, especially when ocean temperatures are taken into account as the datasets I prefer do. The ocean has vastly more heat capacity than the atmosphere (on the order of one or two orders of magnitude). As long as CO2 continues to rise — and it does — the long-term trend will be a rise in global temperatures. First-order effects of that rise will be a rise in sea levels, for reasons I gave in my previous post.

                Furthermore, forcings of the sort we’ve seen in the past couple of decades caused marked global cooling in the 1940s and around the turn of the 19/20th Century. The fact that the best they can do is flatten the warming now, should be scary to you. It is to me.

                I repeat, rebuttals of pretty much every point you raise — with citations of the primary literature — are found at I don’t see any reason to go into them here. The point of the Internet is to allow people to go read things for themselves; in that spirit, I’d appreciate it if you cited your sources rather than simply arguing.

                • introvert_prof

                  Incidentally, I apologize for the use of figurative and imprecise language, especially since you seem to want to use it against me.

                  • I’m not trying to be nit picky here. I bring up things like Harry read me because the inability of a scientific group to use its own code and data to replicate its own results is a really big scientific deal. When that scientific group is one of the major base building blocks for so many papers, that makes it a huge deal. It calls into question a lot of papers and raises the specter of how much of the global warming signal is confirmation bias in undocumented fudge factors in the underlying data sets.

                    Here’s a link to the file if you’re interested.

                    Confirmation bias and other psychological factors can contaminate scientific discourse and have led to oddball results before. That we’re in the middle of a mania is what I fear.

                • I won’t chase down the Stern report issues until you actually confirm that you’re asserting it. Until then, google is your friend and you can type in stern report debunked if you’re curious.

                  This is part of my general policy not to debate myself. You make an assertion, I consider your assertion and then agree or disagree and give reasons. So what’s your assertion on the economics of it?

                  I did follow the NASA link. It was dead when I first clicked and remains dead at time of writing. It’s why I haven’t substantively addressed it. I can’t address what I can’t see.

                  The SKS link depends on a Church 2011 paper, one that puzzles me to some extent how it was published at all. Take a look at table 1 where it purports to add up various subcomponents, which is fine, but it does not add up the uncertainties which leaves me rather unconvinced that it’s worth reading beyond that.

                  component values for 72-08 ocean heat:
                  0.63 ± 0.09
                  0.07 ± 0.10
                  0.10 ± 0.06

                  purported total:
                  0.80 ± 0.15

                  That’s just wrong. You’re supposed to add the uncertainties when you add the measurements. Addition of multiple imprecise components doesn’t magically add certainty to the calculated total.

                  This doesn’t even get to the problem that once we shifted from XBT measurement to the ARGO data set, the issue of missing heat got a lot worse. ARGO started getting usable coverage around 2003/2004 and completed deployment in 2007.

                  Bob Tisdale has a nice article examining the problems with the ocean heat content database including some of the data adjustment nonsense that is going on there:


                  The science is what it is. My major interest in the subject is twofold. First that we have fidelity to the scientific method. Refusal to share data and code, the inability to self-replicate results (see the Harry Read Me story coming out of Climategate), and various statistical and data manipulation tricks (hide the decline, UHI hand waving) have led me to have serious concerns. Secondly, the public policy response to the science should not stampede us into unnecessary emergency measures that see us giving up our sovereignty, political liberty, or economic growth beyond what is strictly necessary to deal with the problem, whatever its actual scope.

                  The persistent tendency to belittle emergent solutions in favor of top down command and control solutions and paternalistic, velvet glove government pushes is not scientifically supported and ends up killing poor people. I hate that.

                  The superior result of the US without Kyoto to the EU with Kyoto should be enough to demonstrate that it is possible for emergent factors to lead to superior results from a global warming perspective.

                  As far as the science goes, we need to have radical increases in openness, including open source peer review and routine mechanisms to encourage replication studies. No matter that Dr. Muller doesn’t agree with me on global warming. What matters is that he’s committed BEST to being open and sharing code and data. That establishes a baseline to forge a real climate consensus based on science and not political pressure, one that is currently lacking.

                  • introvert_prof

                    I’ll agree about openness. I’d be surprised, though, if there isn’t free sharing of data between people who actually publish regularly in climate journals or other peer-reviewed literature. I’ve never had trouble getting another chemist to give me data if I needed it for something.

                    But forgive me for suspecting that you’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming into implementation of any sort of greenhouse mitigation project that had any whiff of government support, no matter how open all the data were.

                    Anyhow, this is my last (though incomplete) word on the subject because I have to get some actual work done.

                    1. I’m happy to let the economics go. You are correct that I was remembering the Stern review; the rebuttal essentially says “it’s overstated” rather than “it’s flat wrong.” Largely we have a philosophical difference: to me, you have a childlike faith in the abililty of “the market” to counteract the tragedy of the commons, something we have not (to my knowledge) ever observed in history.

                    I, on the other hand, think that without government regulation of the commons, the Cuyahoga River would still be catching fire periodically. (This is in accord with Catholic teaching about
                    Original Sin.) Monetization of the release of carbon dioxide has to happen by regulation; it won’t emerge from the market because nobody owns the atmosphere or the ocean.

                    As an example of how regulation can positively influence the economy, the chemical industry is now running with the idea (“Green Chemistry”) that it’s better to be able to sell as much as possible of your raw materials – for which you spent good money – as a finished product rather than dumping a substantial percentage of those raw materials down the drain. But this is also a function of the fact that the cost to the commons was monetized: because of regulations forbidding the dumping of untreated waste, not only would a chemical company be throwing away some of the raw material they paid for, but they would have to pay more money to treat the waste or have it taken away for disposal.

                    2. An examination of raw temperature data shows that the perception of temperatures in the last 15 years as “flat” is strongly dependent on the global temperature for 1998. Eyeballing the graph tells us that this was anomalously high. In fact, 1998 was either the warmest or the second-warmest year on record, depending on which data set you use. The other top year happens to be 2010, so that the “last 15 years” neatly brackets a set of temperature data between the two highest global temperatures ever recorded. Of course a running average over that period is going to look flat.

                    The following links take you to interactive graphs of
                    GISS temperature data at

                    a. Temperature data, 1979-2013,as a six-month running average. Note the substantial size of the peak at 1998. Note, too, that the “flatness” of the 1998-2013 region is similar to the“flatness” of the 1980-1995 region.

                    b. The same data, with three trendlines superimposed: one for 1980-1995, one for 1998-2013, and one over the entire region.

                    c. The complete GISS temperature data set, with a trendline from 1900 to the present. This shows an unmistakable rise with linearity R^2 = 0.82 (obtained from an Excel analysis of NASA’s yearly average GISS temperature data set).

                    3. The temperature trend over the past century is up. This empirical fact is supported by a first-approximation prediction that the buildup of carbon dioxide ought to lead to an enhanced greenhouse effect – something we expect from well-confirmed basic physics. Inclusion of other influences, damping or accelerating as they may be, is second-order.

                    Here’s a metaphor that may work for you: If you keep dumping sand on a pile, the overall trend is that the pile will grow in height. It may seem to stop growing or even shrink for a while: it may settle, or its weight may open a sinkhole into which some of the sand flows. But continuing to pour sand on the pile will make the pile taller, over the long term.

                    If you claim that the temperature over the medium to long term (as opposed to the short term of less than 30 years) is going to fall, or even level out, while we continue to pour out carbon dioxide, that’s as if you are trying to sell me a perpetual motion machine. (Instead of creating energy from nothing, you’re destroying it freely.) Forgive me for being skeptical.

                    If, on the other hand, you are simply claiming that the models need work, of course they do. Models always need work. The question is whether they’re good enough for the purpose at hand; this is something about which reasonable people can differ, but the IPCC report has an extensive section comparing the models to the raw data, and their reviewers largely seem to think they’re good enough. In the same way that the critique of the Stern review is largely that its conclusions are a bit too drastic, it’s a reasonable position that climate models overestimate the global temperature rise to be expected for so many gigatons of CO2, or that they don’t predict climate patterns as reliably as they could. You can’t support a position that continuing to dump CO2 into the atmosphere is not going to have serious effects on global climate, because that would violate a lot of basic physics.

                    4. I am not at all certain that the ocean temperature data are as unreliable as you seem to think. Any analysis worth its name will present the raw data *before* adjustment, and reviewers are expected to cry foul if said adjustment substantially changes the visible trends; if crummy data handling gets past the reviewers into print, people should write up re-analyses of the data and publish them. Other than on blogs, I mean.

                    The heat capacity of the oceans being three orders of magnitude greater than that of the atmosphere, ocean temperature changes will be smaller and thus harder to discern accurately. But the simple-minded, first-approximation analysis, based on the fact that carbon dioxide absorbs smack across the blackbody radiation curve to be expected from an object – like the ground – at 15°C, says that there’s going to be a temperature rise if there’s more CO2 in the air to absorb thermal radiation from the ground. There certainly hasn’t been any serious increase in planetary albedo that I’m aware of, and that’s the only thing that could interfere. A temperature rise indicates more heat, which has to go somewhere. Because the atmosphere has a low heat capacity and water has a high heat capacity, a good bit of atmospheric heat is probably going into the oceans. Therefore we expect that average ocean temperatures will rise, particularly during a period when atmospheric temperatures don’t.

                    It may well be that we aren’t measuring ocean temperatures as accurately as we think we are. But any expectation that the overall temperature trend will be flat or downward, except over quite short time scales and due to transient forcings such as volcanic eruptions, violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. Again, permit me to be skeptical.

                    5. As for sea level rise, a first-approximation analysis, using only a table of water density at various temperatures and a depth of 3790 meters – the average depth of the ocean according to a quick search – predicts a rise of 0.55 m for a 1-degree Celsius increase in average ocean temperature (specifically from 14 to 15 degrees; the value decreases somewhat – e.g. to 0.36 m for 12 to 13 degrees – if you use a lower starting temperature). A 2 degree rise, which seems not unreasonable over the next 50-100 years, brings the estimated ocean rise to about a meter. The Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu has an average elevation of a bit less than 2 meters. Tuvalu’s already reliant on rainwater because the surrounding ocean has risen enough to make its freshwater wells brackish.

                    • I’m glad we agree about openness. One of the outrageous bits that convinced me to be more skeptical was a data request refusal on the grounds that the requestor was only going to try to invalidate the scientist’s work. Isn’t that the entire point of publication, to put information out there and see what is still standing after everybody else tries to invalidate it?

                      Sharing only between friendly members on Team anthropogenic climate change is not going to move science forward and makes the process more vulnerable to groupthink and other errors.

                      On the economics, overstating the discount rate makes its policy prescriptions flat out wrong. You can come to wildly different conclusions based on how much more money spent today is worth than money spent in 2113. Just go through the mental exercise of how much would you charge to give a company your money for a century? Would it be 3% interest or more like 12%? Stern thinks that 3% is a reasonable rate.

                      The tragedy of the commons is something you’ve never seen the private sector fix. I think it’s more accurate that you’ve never noticed. There are plenty of examples in the literature but one big one that is likely all around you. There are more trees today in the US than existed at the time of the first landings of european colonists. It’s largely because of property rights and enough free cash floating around that we just all decided to plant trees.

                      Supposedly, we had until 2012 to fix CO2 (which we did not) otherwise we would hit a tipping point. We are now past the tipping point and we have the same old solutions and predictions being generated by the greens. This is absurd. Instead we’re debating whether or not warming has ceased in a statistically significant way. There’s only so long that this can go on before you have to give up on the theory.

                      The bulk of IPCC featured GCM models are still statistically valid in 2013, if only barely. It is realistic to see how that might no longer be true in 2014 or 2015. Now is a good time to prepare alternatives because depending on the next year or two in weather, the wheels are likely to start coming off on team warming or team skeptic.

                      I remember the skeptic side saying that 1998 was a super el-nino and shouldn’t count because it was anomalous. Team warming dismissed that argument then but now when it’s politically convenient they’re changing their tune.

                    • introvert_prof

                      It’s largely because of property rights and enough free cash floating around that we just all decided to plant trees.

                      Seems to me that you need to be more careful about parsing “the tragedy of the commons.” If it’s private property, it isn’t part of the commons. If it can be private property, it’s less a part of the commons than the air or the ocean.

                      I would also guess that you’d get more cooperation if you, as I said, submitted your analyses for peer review rather than playing “gotcha” on blogs that have no peer review by any reasonable definition — just an echo chamber.

                    • Since we actually do study how to turn commons into property, this problem of the commons ends up being a shrinking one. Ownership in wild animal populations like elephants, privatized roads, ownership in fisheries, all of these things are innovations that were considered absurd when I was born in the 1960s. They’re in use now and their use is spreading. I expect further shrinkage before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

                      The corruption of the peer review process hasn’t quite reached “oil for food” levels, but it’s pretty obvious that there are challenges in getting skeptical papers published and risks for journals who publish them. In a more healthy science field, this would be a scandal and people would lose their credibility over plots to boycott journals and ensure that certain papers never see the light of day.

                      My personal contribution to this debate is a marginal one. This stuff is what I do as I take breaks from my actual crusade, improving citizen oversight of government.

    • Joseph

      “Heretic” and “globalcoolingglobalwarmingclimatechangeanthropocentricglobalwarming skeptic” mentioned in the same sentence. Confusion… warning sign…

  • Clare Krishan

    Chuckle – curiousity piqued I Googled images of Taku Glacier and stumbled on this snapshot of a Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center interpretive chart posted online
    that conveniently omits the c.1000 AD treeline beneath the glacier 🙂

    And this gem of a photo album: wedded couples ‘freeze framing’ themselves on their big day:
    (and since Taku is still advancing down the river bank their spot for posterity could be hidden from view beneath the front edge of that ‘deep freeze’ wall ice should their descendents go looking for it decades hence!)

  • introvert_prof

    Not at all. The forest could have been covered by flowing ice, from the buildup of ice during the Little Ice Age. The ice didn’t have to form in place.

    @ Steve, Greenland was never that green. It was named “Greenland” by Eric the Red in a fit of naked commercialism: he wanted to sell farms and “darned cold with marginal farmland and you’ll have to slaughter most of your stock every winter” wouldn’t do the trick.

    Greenland was never any warmer than Iceland, and probably colder. My understanding is that the Greenland colony was always marginal, and that it didn’t take much of a cold snap to starve it to death.