Google is in on the conspiracy too!

Ever wondered why nobody takes the claims of the ‘blogosphere’ all too seriously? Cause apparently, according to the latest headlines, Google is actively censoring the BIGGEST HOAX OF OUR LIFETIME.

Google blocking ‘climategate’ autosuggestion
Google appears to be censoring climate emails searches
Climategate: Googlegate?
“Climategate” surpasses “Global Warming” on Google
Climategate: The IPCC Scumbags of Fraud Achieve New Record, In Google

According to one blog:

The search engine was blocking the word “climategate” from its autosuggestion routines, and appears to be still doing so.

Screenshots show that when a user tries to spell out the word “climategate,” even when he spells it out almost completely, the Google routine fails to suggest the word–unless that word is part of the user’s prior search-engine history. Instead, the autosuggestion routine returns “Climate Guatemala” and “Climate Guatemala City.”

Clearly this is CENSORSHIP!@#$!@#$!

Given the power of Google to restrict access to information in such an insidious way, it actually begs for a formal investigation.

Indeed! Hang them for treason! It’s just all one big conspiracy. Especially because AL GORE IS IN ON THE CONSPIRACY TOO AS A SENIOR ADVISOR TO GOOGLE.

Despite the attempts to sensationalize the CRU email hack (“climategate”, no points for originality there), this will eventually die a quiet if not prolonged death – just like the last great scandal over the Yamal data, which turned out to be a not so smoking gun either (despite the amount of noise generated). Meanwhile, see this great post by John Bruno (“You want data? You can’t handle the data!“) about how wrong the meme of “those scientists won’t share their data” really is, and check out the Real Climate list of availible data here.

Update: Google appears not to be so active in their censorship here in Australia.


You want data? You can’t handle the data!


In response to incessant whining about data sharing by  AGW skeptics, those selfish scientists over at RealClimate have created a site that includes links to a number of climatic and oceanographic data sets.   And it just barely scratches the surface of which is indeed, and has long been, publicly and readily available.

Just as a sampler, there is LOTS of RAW and PROCESSED climate and sea level data, e.g.;

Note the date, November 30, 2009, on which AGW skeptic lie #1062, known as “Those scientists won’t share their data” was debunked.


Will it matter?  No.

Will we stop hearing about this?  No.

IOW, do you think this helpful portal to climate data will quell the growing big media meme that scientists don’t share their data?  Again – and call me crazy – I am betting no.   As long as there is one scientists of any flavor whom for whatever reason is obligated not to pass on data that does not belong to her/him (e.g., that was only used through a one-time-use-agreement) then skeptics will use this as yet another red herring to delay developing green energy resources.

I am not a climate scientist, but I can attest first hand that it is REALLY easy to get any type of climate data you want.  Maybe too easy, given how easy it is to misinterpret it or otherwise muck things up!  Getting most of it involves a simple google search, some sniffing around the database of interest and a download.  In my experience, the issue is that there is TOO MUCH climate data available online.  I have more than once been hopelessly lost in NOAAs or NODCs climate data portals.  Also, once you download it, doing something meaningful or appropriate with it is another matter.  Sometimes the records are simple and interpretable. Other times, you need some experience or a collaborator who does this sort of thing for a living.

Experiment:  what would I find if I googled “climate change data”?

Result, over 46,400,000 hits.  That is right.  FORTY SIX MILLION AND FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND hits.  (and it only took 0.22 seconds)

Wow, that was easy!  And I didn’t even have to file a FOIA to get those selfish, corrupt scientists to spit out their coveted data.

On page one of my search output, there are 10 results including some newspaper stories arguing that scientists don’t share data and (ironically) also several portals where one can easily download climate data such as the Climate Change Data Portal, a NASA master data directory, the NOAA climate Program office, the IPCC data distribution center, and the NOAA National Climate Data Center.

At least five of the first ten results contain a wealth of climate data.  Free for anyone to download, use and abuse.  Extrapolating, without any justification whatsoever, to the all the results, means that there are 23,200,000 online data repositories.  Obviously, there are not that many.  But one could spend several lifetimes analyzing the data from just the first five results.


When my former PhD student Liz Selig and I needed to build site-specific, fine-resolution SST databases for the 47 AIMS reef monitoring sites (for a project that looked at the effects of ocean warming on coral disease) we somehow convinced a real satellite oceanographer, Dr. Ken Casey, to help us (Ken is now the technical director of the NODC).   And thank goodness.  It took years to get that all set up.  And it was a lot more work and more technical than we expected.  Even moving that much data around is a non-trivial feat (at the time, Liz was driving 500GB hard drives between Chapel Hill and NOAA in DC).

Like so many other databases, our resulting database, the Coral Reef Temperature Anomaly Database or CorTAD, is freely available online here.  We regularly share it with colleagues, NGOs, etc.  And we don’t get paid (by the public or otherwise) for the hours we put in to help people access it.  Ill post more about the CorTAD below, but the point is, the internet is just saturated with all kinds of climate data that clearly demonstrates the oceans and land are warming as well as a wide range of biological and ecosystem responses to that warming.  It is a lie to claim otherwise.  The fact that not every database ever built is readily available to anyone who asks, DOES NOT MEAN THAT SCIENTIST IN GENERAL OR CLIMATE SCIENTISTS IN PARTICULAR DON’T SHARE THEIR DATA.

From A Few Good Men, written by Aaron Sorkin

Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!!

Coral Reef Temperature Anomaly Database

-Get the CoRTAD data files via HTTP here-
-Get the CoRTAD data files via FTP here-
-Get the CoRTAD data files via OPeNDAP here-

About the Coral Reef Temperature Anomaly Database:

There is fairly broad scientific consensus that global-scale stressors are partially responsible for the decline of coral reefs (eg., Aronson et al., Science, v302, 2003; Harvell et al., Science, v285, 1999). One likely candidate is an increase in SST in much of the tropics. Yet, it is not even known how many reefs have experienced an increase in the frequency or magnitude of thermal stress, and little is known about the spatial and temporal patterns of coral reef temperatures and how these related to broader climate change. To address these gaps in understanding, the National Oceanographic Data Center in partnership with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill has developed a unique Coral Reef Temperature Anomaly Database (CoRTAD). The CoRTAD development was funded by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the database usesPathfinder SSTs to quantify thermal stress patterns on the world’s coral reefs since 1985.

The CoRTAD contains a collection of sea surface temperature (SST) and related thermal stress metrics, developed specifically for coral reef ecosystem applications but relevant to other ecosystems as well. The CoRTAD contains global, approximately 4 km resolution SST data on a weekly time scale from 1985 through 2005. In addition to SST, it contains SST anomaly (SSTA, weekly SST minus weekly climatological SST), thermal stress anomaly (TSA, weekly SST minus the maximum weekly climatological SST), SSTA Degree Heating Week (SSTA_DHW, sum of previous 12 weeks when SSTA is greater than or equal to 1 degree C), SSTA Frequency (number of times over previous 52 weeks that SSTA is greater than or equal to 1 degree C), TSA DHW (TSA_DHW, also known as a Degree Heating Week, sum of previous 12 weeks when TSA is greater than or equal to 1 degree C),and TSA Frequency (number of times over previous 52 weeks that TSA is greater than or equal to 1 degree C).

A few selected graphics showing the mean, minimum, and maximum temperatures from the CoRTAD are shown below to given a small glimpse into the database. Click on the graphic for an expanded view, or follow the link below the graphic to display the full resolution TIFF version. The CoRTAD is a large and extensive collection of data. At the end of this page, a listing of the files making up the CoRTAD along with their sizes is provided. For reference, you can see a Map of the CoRTAD Tiles which illustrates how the global ocean was divided for processing purposes. All of the data are currently available in HDF Scientific Data Set Format.

During 2008, the CoRTAD was developed to the point where it became ready for public use. This process involved publication of the CoRTAD procedures and results, development of FGDC metadata, and placement of the CoRTAD in the NODC archives and CoRIS systems. For more information, please contact

British National Party to represent EU at Copenhagen


The Guardian reports with the news that Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, is set to represent the European parliament at the Copenhagen climate change conference next week. A bit of background: the BNP is the British ‘far-right’ political party that restricts its membership to British people of “Caucasian origin“, who seek to return Britain to a ‘white ethnicity’ that existed prior to the 1940’s. With such a platform, it was quite a surprise when two members of the BNP (under leader Nick Griffin) were elected in 2009 to become part of the European parliament. Here are a few of Griffin’s viewpoints:

“We believe not just that our people are different from others, but that such genuine diversity is worth preserving. It is not a matter of ‘superiority’ or ‘inferiority’.”

“I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat…I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter day witch-hysteria.”

“You need to look at the KORAN. Don’t believe what the papers say about Islam being a peace loving religion… Believe us, Islam is the biggest threat Britain has ever faced – Read the Koran and you’ll find out the truth“

Concerned? You should be. The BNP seems willing to accept environmental issues when they can advance their anti-immigration policies – for example, they claim their policies will reduce carbon dioxide levels by reducing the number of immigrants in Britain using roads, cars, trains and buses.

Here is what Griffin had to say in a speech to the British parliament last week:

Griffin denounced those who warn of the consequences of climate change as “cranks”. He said they had reached “an Orwellian consensus” that was “based not on scientific agreement, but on bullying, censorship and fraudulent statistics”.

“The anti-western intellectual cranks of the left suffered a collective breakdown when communism collapsed. Climate change is their new theology… But the heretics will have a voice in Copenhagen and the truth will out. Climate change is being used to impose an anti-human utopia as deadly as anything conceived by Stalin or Mao.”

To quote Tim Yeo (chairman of the British Commons environmental audit committee):

“If the future prosperity of the human race, in the face of climate change, depends on the contributions of people like Nick Griffin, there is little hope for any of us.”

new CSIRO report on climate change impacts in Australia

report pic

CSIRO recently release a new report on marine climate change impacts in Australia.  It can be viewed or downloaded here.  The summary is below.

What is happening?

Ocean temperatures around Australia have warmed 0.7°C since 1910-1929, with south-west and south-eastern waters warming fastest (HIGH confidence)

Carbon dioxide dissolving in the oceans has lowered pH by 0.1 units since 1750, representing a 30% increase in hydrogen ion (acid) concentration (HIGH confidence)

Global sea levels have risen by 20 cm over 1870-2004 (HIGH confidence)

Little evidence of change in wave heights due to climate  change (LOW-MEDIUM confidence); Strong interannual wave directional variability associated with ENSO on eastern coast (MEDIUM-HIGH confidence)

Southward flow has strengthened so warmer, saltier water is now found 350 km further south compared to 60 years ago (HIGH confidence)

Little evidence of change in ENSO variability due to global warming (LOW-MEDIUM confidence)

Southward flow has slightly weakened since the 1970s (MEDIUM confidence)

Expansion of mangroves into salt marsh habitat in south-east Australia and into freshwater wetlands in northern Australia driven by sea-level rise and soil subsidence associated with reduced rainfall (MEDIUM confidence)

A southern range extension of 300 km into Moreton Bay, Qld, of the tropical seagrass Halophila minor consistent with a warming and a strengthening East Australian Current (LOW confidence)

Loss of algal habitat off eastern Tasmania associated with a southward range expansion of a sea urchin assisted by the strengthening of the East Australian Current and warmer temperatures (HIGH confidence)

Expansion of sub-tropical species, including harmful species, into south-eastern waters is driven by warming and a strengthening of the East Australian Current (MEDIUM confidence)

Although there are no long-term data in Australia, species elsewhere are shifting distributions polewards (LOW confidence)

Sea surface warming has led to extensive coral bleaching events and declines in coral condition on the Great Barrier Reef and on north-western reefs (HIGH confidence). Ocean acidification and increased thermal stress are the likely causes of a >10% reduction in the growth rates of massive Porites corals on the Great Barrier Reef (MEDIUM confidence)

Numbers of tropical species at sub-tropical and temperate latitudes are increasing as temperatures warm indicating that some species are shifting their ranges southward (LOW confidence)

Southward range expansions in south-eastern waters are linked to warming temperatures and a strengthening of the East Australian Current; estuarine fish abundances are linked to annual fluctuations in freshwater discharge (rainfall), which is declining (MEDIUM confidence)

Replacement of small cool-temperate species in southern waters by sub-tropical and tropical species driven by warmer temperatures (LOW confidence)

Warmer sand temperatures, from increased air temperature, has increased mortality of sea turtle eggs and hatchlings at the Mon Repos rookery in south-east Qld (HIGH confidence)

Little penguins are altering their breeding time in response to warmer temperatures, and chick growth of tropical and sub-tropical seabirds has slowed in response to less food availability as temperatures warm (LOW confidence)

What is likely to happen in this century?

Australian ocean temperatures will be 1°C warmer by 2030 and 2.5°C warmer by 2100 (HIGH confidence), with the greatest warming in south-eastern waters (HIGH confidence)

Ocean pH will decrease by a further 0.2-0.3 units by 2100 (MEDIUM confidence)

Global sea levels will continue to rise 5-15 cm by 2030 and 18-82 cm by 2100 (MEDIUM confidence)

No significant change in surface waves along Australia’s eastern coast (LOW confidence); Increasing storm wave frequency, and increasing southerly wave direction, along Australia’s southern and western coasts (LOW confidence)

Likely to strengthen by a further 20% by 2100 (MEDIUM confidence)

A background “El Niño-like” pattern is projected this century (MEDIUM confidence), with no change in ENSO event amplitude or frequency (LOW confidence)

Weakening will continue over the coming century (LOW confidence)

Mangrove areas are likely to expand further landward, driven by sea-level rise and soil subsidence due to reduced rainfall (MEDIUM confidence)

Declines in seagrass abundance and extent due to sea-level rise, increased storminess and warmer temperatures (MEDIUM confidence)

Range shifts and local extinctions of cool-temperate species will occur along Australia’s temperate coastline (MEDIUM confidence)

Increased episodes of harmful algal blooms in south-eastern waters in response to extreme rainfall events and warming temperatures (LOW confidence)

Changes in community structure resulting from modified productivity regimes, as well as range extensions with warming, such as the potential for venomous jellyfish to extend southward, particularly on the east coast (LOW confidence)

Frequency and severity of mass coral-bleaching events will increase as temperatures warm, leading to declines in coral reef health (HIGH confidence). Ocean acidification will reduce coral growth rates making reefs more susceptible to erosion and disturbance from storms (HIGH confidence)

Loss of diversity and widespread changes in the composition of coral reef fish communities following degradation of coral reefs (HIGH confidence)

Breeding populations of tropical species establish in southern waters; reduction in the abundance of estuarine species as rainfall, therefore riverflow, is reduced (MEDIUM confidence)

Increased occurrence of tropical species in southern waters (MEDIUM confidence)

Declines of reef-associated sea snakes as temperatures warm and coral reefs degrade (LOW confidence); some tropical sea turtle nesting beaches will produce 100% females (MEDIUM confidence)

Warmer temperatures and an El Niño-like future climate are expected to reduce food availability for breeding seabirds leading to a reduction in breeding success (MEDIUM confidence)

So there are a few fish left in the sea!


Greeting from Abaco Bahamas.  I am here for a few days to help one of my grad students, Andrea Anton, who is working on lionfish which are EVERYWHERE here as they are across the Bahamas.  The densities, only a few years after arriving, are truly remarkable.

But the real purpose of this post is to show some pictures of the amazing site we worked at today.  It was a remote, shallow reef and easily had more fish and sharks than nearly anywhere else I have ever been.  As soon as we entered the water a large school of tarpon come in to check us out.  Within minutes we were being circled by four 5 ft black tip sharks.  There were very large jack, barracuda, massive snapper, and incredible numbers of a variety of grouper everywhere.  And ocean triggerfish seemed especially abundant.  There were also plenty of Diadema and a fair number of parrotfish, surgeon fish and blue tangs, so there was little macroalgae.  Many extremely large gastropods and more cyphoma that I have ever seen.

Unfortunately the coral cover was very low.  In the shallows, probably < 1%, but this is a very exposed site.  In deeper water, it was roughly 5-8%.  But there were a lot of A. palmata colonies near the shore.  And despite the low coral cover, this was without doubt a thriving and productive ecosystem.  I heard an NGO head recently declare that once coral cover goes below 10%, the reef is functionally extinct and lost.  I couldn’t disagree more.

The funny thing about this reef was that it isn’t in an MPA or in any way managed.  No NGOs are protecting it.  No scientists are studying it.  And the lack of coral clearly hasn’t caused the fish community to collapse. Likewise, the presence of the fish and top predators didn’t maintain “reef resilience”, i.e., the corals still died when they bleached in 98.  Funny how the real world mucks up all those cozy ideas academics dream up.






Palau bans shark fishing-once again, tiny nations take the lead on marine conservation

The Republic of Palau, the island nation in the western Pacific, has banned shark fishing in its waters.  The overfishing of sharks, really the outright devastation of their populations, is one of the really big problems in marine conservation.  The causes run from the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws in 1975 (which turned the world against sharks and initiated global hunts, much like the crazed efforts to kill off wolves and panthers in the US) to the Asian market and appetite for shark fin soup.

Baum et al (2003) and many others have documented the collapse of shark populations and the many cascading effects removing top predators from ecosystems has.


Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) — The Pacific nation of Palau is creating the first shark sanctuary, banning commercial fishing of all sharks in its waters from vessels that hunt the predators for their fins, coveted in soups as an Asian delicacy.

Johnson Toribiong, president of the island republic, announced the commercial shark-fishing ban today at the United Nations General Assembly, saying “the strength and beauty of sharks are a natural barometer for the health of our oceans.”

Shark populations are in danger of collapse along with salmon and tuna commercial fisheries because of scant protective measures. Great whites, hammerheads and a third of deep-sea sharks and rays face extinction as fishing fleets trawling worldwide seek them for meat and fins, according to the Gland, Switzerland-based IUCN conservation group.

“The situation for sharks at the moment is catastrophic,” said Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of marine conservation at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “Their populations around the world are at risk of collapse.”  Palau, with 20,000 inhabitants spread over about 200 islands, today formally established a France-sized area of sea banning shark hunting, setting up a protective zone to help preserve the predatory fish and support local tourism.

“Palau will become the world’s first national shark sanctuary,” Toribiong said, “ending all commercial shark fishing in our waters and giving a sanctuary for sharks to live and reproduce unmolested in our 237,000 square miles of ocean.”  Sharks often become snared in nets meant for tuna, which remain in high demand among consumers. About 10.7 million blue sharks are killed annually for their fins, many of which are sold at the Hong Kong shark fin market, according to a June report from IUCN.

From DotEarth:  The Pacific island nation of Palau has declared all of its waters a sanctuary for sharks. The archipelago, famed among biologists and divers for its rich marine life, has seen increases in illegal shark fishing, driven by the high prices paid for shark fins in China. I met President Johnson Toribiong earlier this week as the United Nations climate summit ended, and he described the problems, which are particularly troublesome in a place where tourism revolving around reef diving is a top source of income.

Today, while addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he planned to announce a ban on all commercial shark fishing in Palau’s 242,858-square-mile exclusive economic zone, while also calling for a global moratorium on catching sharks only for their fins. Given that, for the moment, Palau has only one enforcement vessel to patrol an ocean zone a bit smaller than Texas, the challenge of turning a ban from rhetoric to reality remains. But Palau is getting significant support from private groups, particularly the Pew Charitable Trusts, which worked with groups and government officials in Palau to create the sanctuary plan.

Sadly, I am skeptical that such a proclamation can have much effect, given the industrial scale fishery for shark fins that has developed over the last decade.  And also the difficulty of monitoring such a large area to enforce the decree.  Shark fishing is in theory illegal within many large reserves like the Galapagos Marine Reserve, yet in reality, illegal shark fishing there, and elsewhere is common.

Jennifer Jacquet, who used to write the shifting baseline blog, recently published a paper on the surprisingly large size of the shark fishery in Ecuador alone:

Sharks never stop growing and neither does the Asian demand for sharkfin soup. Ecuador is one nation of many that feeds the demand for fins, and fishers there catch more than 40 different shark species. But shark catches have been considerably underreported worldwide. Until the 2005 update of fisheries data, the United Nations ood and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) did not report elasmobranches for Ecuador indicating that the Ecuadorian government did not report on these species. This study reconstructs Ecuador’s mainland shark landings from the bottom up from 1979 to 2004. Over this period, shark landings for the Ecuadorian mainland were an estimated 7000 tonnes per year, or nearly half a million sharks. Reconstructed shark landings were about 3.6 times greater than those retroactively reported by FAO from 1991 to 2004. The discrepancies in data require immediate implementation of the measures Ecuadorian law mandates: eliminating targeted shark captures, finning and transshipments, as well as adoption of measures to minimise incidental capture. Most of all, a serious shark landings monitoring system and effective chain of custody standards are needed.

ecuador sharks

Also see “Belize passes a law to limit the fishing of reef herbivores” here


Baum J.K., Myers R.A., Kehler D.G., Worm B., Harley S.J. & Doherty P.A. (2003) Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science, 299, 389-392

Jacquet, Jennifer, Juan Jose Alava, Ganapathiraju Pramod, Scott Henderson and Dirk Zeller. In hot soup: sharks captured in Ecuador’s waters. Environmental Sciences, Vol. 5, No. 4, December 2008, 269–283

About that CRU email hack..

As defined by wikipedia:

Distraction. The diversion of attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction

As Tim Lambert over at Deltoid points out:

This is the science that the cracker who stole the emails from CRU wants to distract you from.

Screen shot 2009-11-26 at 9.32.29 AM

More about the hack over at Real Climate (background here, more context here). Head over to the Copenhagen Diagnosis to read the report in full (in update to the IPCC 2007 Working Group 1 report before the Copenhagen negotiations (COP15) next month).

Less light than heat – a note from David Horton


I confess, and it is like confessing to a murder, that I was once a smoker (I stopped 18 years, 3 months, 5 days, 6 hours ago, but who’s counting). There was a lot of it about in the fifties and sixties. My uncle and grandfather both smoked, pretty much all the men I knew did. Film heroes on screen smoked, and so did their audience. Doctors smoked, patients in hospital smoked, James Bond smoked, sportsmen smoked. Many of my peers smoked, in fact the coolest guy in school, Robert Patterson, used to smoke behind the sports pavilion while the rest of us played cricket – how cool was that? So I began smoking. Who knew there was a problem eh? There were giant billboards with cowboys smoking, ads on buses, television ads of really cool guys and gals in tuxedos smoking, radio ads, full page newspaper ads. And there were doctors and scientists who swore on a stack of chesterfields that smoking wasn’t harmful (lies, damned lies and statistics, where was the proof?), and tobacco company executives who swore nicotine wasn’t addictive, good heavens no, what an idea. Little did anyone know that the executives were lying, knew they were lying, but that not only were they being paid big dollars by cigarette companies but so were the scientists and doctors in their white coats.

All of us smokers agreed with each other in pubs and restaurants, in trains, in cars, in planes, smoking was doing us no harm, oh my goodness gracious no. Coughing in the morning was from dust in the bedroom, sneezing was hay fever, perfectly natural in Summer, breathlessness was just old age, lack of appetite was weight watching, inability to smell and taste – never been good at that. It was in fact, good for us, calmed the nerves, slowed us down, cleared the lungs, made a natural end to a meal, was essential to accompany coffee. And we knew, or knew of, smokers who lived a long time. Not many, but one was enough to prove that there was nothing to worry about, smoking didn’t damage health. Anyway, we could give up, or at least cut down, any time we chose. Not addicted at all, just enjoyed it, why, at times I could avoid opening that third pack of cigarettes in a day. Willpower was all that was needed, and if I ever thought I needed to, could cut down slowly, steadily. So no need for alarm – doctors, mothers, friends, children – panic merchants, alarmists, totally over the top.

But as I got older the symptoms got worse, the cough constant, the blocked nose also, and playing sport became a memory. And then there was that odd sensation in the lips, and mouth. What was that? Finally, a bit chopped out, and “pre-cancerous” the last stage before developing something that would kill me, quickly, nastily. And I stopped, not quite cold turkey, but with help from the chewing gum and patches that eased me towards being a former smoker. Not easy, but what was the choice?

And it all came back to me – the self-deception, the denial, the anger at well meaning friends, the acceptance of fake experts and the rejection of real ones, the refusal to change anything in my life even at the certain risk of losing it – these last few weeks listening to the so-called skeptics among the Liberal and National parties (the Labor skeptics have their heads down). It could have been me talking about cigarettes 20 years ago. But where I was just being stupid on my own behalf (and, well, I suppose, family and friends), these parliamentary representatives of the people of Australia are being stupid on behalf of 21 million Australians. Particularly stupid on behalf of rural Australians, in the front line as the continent fries and dries and burns. That awful image last week of a fire burning through, and destroying, a mature wheat crop, should be played over and over to all members of parliament, as a symbol of what we are in for.

And I wonder how those SA Senators, in particular, trotting out the most arrant rubbish (some coming from the same “experts” who, funded by tobacco companies, denied the harm in cigarettes – coincidence or what!) while refusing to listen to a delegation of actual climate scientists felt as the state they represent broke more and more temperature records and catastrophic fire warnings were issued?

Guilty, I hope. But I wouldn’t count on it.

There is a place in hell for climate change denialists, particularly those who should know better – it’s called Australia.


David Horton is a writer and polymath. He has qualifications in both science and the arts with careers in biology, archaeology, publishing some 100 scientific papers and a number of books on biology and archaeology.

Now retired to become a professional writer and farmer, he often screams at tv news bulletins, writes a blog, writes a newspaper column, and edits his local paper.

His books include The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia (1994 – winner NSW Premier’s Literary Award) and The Pure State of Nature (2000).

Obama to America: “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be”


Obama gave a fairly impressive speech as part of the presidential “Education To Innovate” campaign, including this gem:

Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example.  We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.

Surprised? It goes on:

It’s about an informed citizenry in an era where many of the problems we face as a nation are, at root, scientific problems.  And it’s about the power of science to not only unlock new discoveries, but to unlock in the minds of our young people a sense of promise, a sense that with some hard work — with effort — they have the potential to achieve extraordinary things.

Why is this so important? Read this posting to the ‘coral list’ earlier this month by Professor Pam Hallock Muller for a little context:

Americans have long been schizophrenic about education and intellectual issues in general (read Wallace Stegner), and science in particular (think Scopes Trial). As a child in rural America, I recall neighbors discussing higher education as something only men who were disabled (e.g., polio victims) or inept would pursue; a “real man” worked with  his hands. School was for the 3 Rs.

The anti-intellectual/anti-science  undercurrent in America was reinforced in the late 1940s into the 1960s, with the government-sponsored campaigns and regulations aimed at getting women out of the workforce (where they were encouraged to go during  WWII) and into the “consumer force”. Women who sought higher education were tracked into elementary education, where they were told not to worry their pretty little heads about science and math because it was “too hard”. Public university degree programs were legally allowed to reject women until 1972 (I was rejected from at least one graduate program specifically because they did not accept women – they told me that in the rejection letter). Thus, despite the “space race” and an emphasis on science and math in the 1960s, education programs were turning out eager young elementary teachers who had been taught that science and math were “too hard”, which too many promptly taught their students, both boys and girls. Combine that with the reluctance of teachers to even mention anything related to evolution or reproduction to avoid the wrath of parents and administrators, and we now have a largely science-illiterate nation.

By the 1980s, the anti-education undercurrent was greatly reinforced by an ever growing portion of the American population with minimal education in science and math. That “upwelled” into the election of a leader whose attitude towards the environment was “if you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all”. For much of the past 30 years, anti-intellectual, anti-science attitudes have been mainstream nationwide. This has been especially true the past 8 years, when beliefs and “gut-feelings” consistently trumped evidence and expertise.

Scientists are “voices crying in the wilderness”, except the wilderness is now urban.