Rolling Stone magazine weighs in on climate change

This month’s issue of Rolling Stone magazine has a serious exposé about the politics of climate change titled “As the World Burns: How Big Oil and Big Coal mounted one of the most aggressive lobbying campaigns in history to block progress on global warming” (link to the article here).

The issue also includes an article profiling 17 environmental villains, titled “The Climate Killers“.   Among the 17 are several politicians and “journalists” we have profiled (to put it kindly) here, including George Will (also see this post), James Inhofe, and Joe Barton.

This is just a sample of what our republican leaders have to say about climate change:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel said on 6 March 2009:
“We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process.”

Republican Congressman John Shimkus said on 25 March 2009:
“If we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere”

John later elaborated

“…the earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood…. I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position, but I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect. Today we have about 388 parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon. And the cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered.”

Joe Barton, from a March 10 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing: Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.

A new open access collection of papers on coral diseases

The journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms recently published a great collection of papers on coral diseases, focusing on the role of environment and microorganisms in diseases of corals.  The articles are all open access; you can download the PDFs by clicking on the links below.  The papers are the result of a special session at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, held in July 2008 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Kiho Kim, Cathie A. Page, C. Drew Harvell organized the session and edited the papers.

Yellow band disease. Photo from Akumal Mexico, 2001 by J. Bruno.

Over the last several decades, diseases have become increasingly important in the decline of coral reefs. Yet the study of coral diseases is still nascent. Most disease conditions are not well characterized, the causative microbial agents are known for only a few, and we are only beginning to comprehend the role of environmental factors in disease emergence and impact. In this second special issue of DAO on coral diseases, we present an update on coral disease research, including new advances in the microbiology of causative agents and the role of climate as a driver of disease. We also consider management needs in light of a rapidly changing environment of coral diseases.

Publication date: November 16, 2009
Editors: Kiho Kim, Cathie A. Page, C. Drew Harvell

Kim K, Page CA, Harvell CD
INTRODUCTION: The role of environment and microorganisms in diseases of corals: overview of DAO Special 5
DAO 87:1-3Full text in pdf format

Sokolow S
Effects of a changing climate on the dynamics of coral infectious disease: a review of the evidence
DAO 87:5-18Full text in pdf format

Bruckner AW, Hill RL
Ten years of change to coral communities off Mona and Desecheo Islands, Puerto Rico, from disease and bleaching
DAO 87:19-31Full text in pdf format

Cróquer A, Weil E
Changes in Caribbean coral disease prevalence after the 2005 bleaching event
DAO 87:33-43Full text in pdf format

Weil E, Cróquer A, Urreiztieta I
Yellow band disease compromises the reproductive output of the Caribbean reef-building coral Montastraea faveolata(Anthozoa, Scleractinia)
DAO 87:45-55Full text in pdf format

Krediet CJ, Ritchie KB, Teplitski M
Catabolite regulation of enzymatic activities in a white pox pathogen and commensal bacteria during growth on mucus polymers from the coral Acropora palmata
DAO 87:57-66Full text in pdf format

Mydlarz LD, Couch CS, Weil E, Smith G, Harvell CD
Immune defenses of healthy, bleached and diseased Montastraea faveolata during a natural bleaching event
DAO 87:67-78Full text in pdf format

Richardson LL, Miller AW, Broderick E, Kaczmarsky L, Gantar M, Stanić D, Sekar R
Sulfide, microcystin, and the etiology of black band disease
DAO 87:79-90Full text in pdf format

Rasoulouniriana D, Siboni N, Ben-Dov E, Kramarsky-Winter E, Loya Y, Kushmaro A
Pseudoscillatoria coralii gen. nov., sp. nov., a cyanobacterium associated with coral black band disease (BBD)
DAO 87:91-96Full text in pdf format

Myers RL, Raymundo LJ
Coral disease in Micronesian reefs: a link between disease prevalence and host abundance
DAO 87:97-104Full text in pdf format

Haapkylä J, Unsworth RKF, Seymour AS, Melbourne-Thomas J, Flavell M, Willis BL, Smith DJ
Spatio-temporal coral disease dynamics in the Wakatobi Marine National Park, South-East Sulawesi, Indonesia
DAO 87:105-115Full text in pdf format

Brandt ME, McManus JW
Dynamics and impact of the coral disease white plague: insights from a simulation model
DAO 87:117-133Full text in pdf format

Page CA, Baker DM, Harvell CD, Golbuu Y, Raymundo L, Neale SJ, Rosell KB, Rypien KL, Andras JP, Willis BL
Influence of marine reserves on coral disease prevalence
DAO 87:135-150Full text in pdf format

What would eat a spiny urchin?!

The black spiny Caribbean urchin Diadema antillarum is a formitable looking creature.  It is basically a pin cushion with black hypodermic needles for spines.  It seems reasonable to conclude that its spines are an adaptation to deter predators, and moreover, that they would be fairly effective. In fact, many Caribbean reef scientists assume few predators can eat Diadema.  For example, Harbone et al (2009) recently stated;

“Urchins are particularly susceptible to unregulated ‘plagues’ because only a few specialist predators can overcome their defensive spines

But surprising as it might seem, a wide range of fishes and invertebrates consume Diadema and could control it’s behavior and population densities.  (I love these natural history surprises that defy logic and human biases.)

Predators of Diadema include: snapper, jacks, porcupinefishes, trunkfishes, grunts including black margate, porgies, triggerfishes, pufferfish, large wrasses, parrotfish, octopuses, lobsters, large gastropods and even small crabs (which eat juvenile Diadema).

The classic paper on predators of Diadema on Caribbean reefs is Randall et al. (1964).  This paper, published before I was born, is a masterpiece of natural history and an invaluable documentation of the ecology of Diadema before it was wiped out by a disease in the early 1980s.  Randall et al. reported;

Predators of D. antillarum include 15 fishes of the families Balistidae, Carangidae, Diodontidae, Labridae, ostraciidae, Sparidae, and Tetraodontidae, two gastropod of the genus Cassis, and the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).

Some interesting excerpts from Randall et al:

Two larger wrasses, the Spanish hogfish (Bodianus rufus) and the puddingwife (Halichoeres radiatus), appear to feed directly, on Diadema without depending on the efforts of another predator. The senior author watched a large B. rufus eating Diadema at St. Croix and noted that it ate spines which it could have discarded. It took a piece of test into its mouth from which several spines projected, one of which was very long. The spines were drawn in gradually, apparently by the action of the pharyngeal teeth, and completely consumed.

Two large pomadasyid fishes, the black margate (Anisotremus surinamensis) and the Spanish grunt (Haemulon macrostomum), feed heavily on Diadema as adults. The lips and mouths of these fishes nearly always show purple dots indicating the sites of entry of Diadema spines, and the bones around their mouths are stained purple, probably because of the continuous tatooing action of the spines.

The authors have observed Diadema antillarum preyed upon by the two helmet shells Cassis madagascariensis and Cassis tuberosa in the Virgin Islands (Schroeder, 1962). When these gastropod encounter an urchin on which they wish to feed, they elevate the foot anteriorly, creep forward, and fall upon the prey, pinning it beneath. Within about 10 minutes the proboscis rasps a hole in the test about 6 to 10 mm. in diameter for feeding. The helmets may remain on top of the urchins for an hour or more. At times Diadema was found completely crushed beneath them. Surprisingly, the spines rarely penetrate the foot of these large gastropod.

An adult Diadema with its spines cropped by an octopus. From Discovery Bay, Jamaica, 2003.

D. antillarum have a suite of known consumers. Common predators include diverse finfishes: triggerfishes (balistids), jacks (carangids), wrasses (labrids), pufferfishes (tetradontids and diodonids) and grunts (haemulids), among which the queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) has been identified as the most important fish. Invertebrate predators include spiny lobsters, king helmet snails and fighting conch. Small carnivores, such as small crabs and fireworms may prey upon newly settled juvenile D. antillarum. The significance of these micropredatorson D. antillarum population dynamics has yet to be explored. – from the Diadema Workshop Report 2004

There was an email thread about Diadema predators that went around among a group of 20 or so reef ecologists during the holidays. The highlights are below.  I found the discussion fascinating.  It really emphasized the importance of unpublished yet key natural history information in understanding reef dynamics and management.  It also reminded me how knowledgeable and experienced these senior scientists are. I guess you do get something out of doing many thousands of dives over 3-4 decades!  (other than hearing loss and a crooked spine)

Martin Moe: On predation, I’m sure that predation has a great effect on reducing the number of juvenile Diadema that settle and survive on various reef areas. I think, however, that the substrate upon which the late larvae settle has an even greater effect on the numbers of settling larvae that survive to become small, stable, feeding juveniles that actually have a chance to avoid predation and become reproductive adults. Apparently differential predation on Diadema due to fishing effort had little observable effect on Diadema populations in the recent past when fishing effort was spotty and Diadema populations were high throughout the tropical Western Atlantic.

I base this speculation on the results of my May 6, 09 larvae rearing run. Settlement and metamorphosis from day 40 through day 55 produced many thousands of early juveniles that settled out on many different types of substrates including sand, bare rock, algae covered rock, shells, algae strands and plastic. Of the thousands of early juveniles only about 100 survived past the 6 to 10 day early juvenile phase when internal organs and feeding apparatus had developed. By far, the substrate that produced the best survival was acrylic strips with coralline alga and hard plated green algae. I assume that diatom and bacterial growths were also present. Filamentous algae and sediment coated surfaces did not appear to favor survival. I am sure that some survival occurred on other substrates but I am not sure which of these other substrates were effective. Once the feeding juveniles were established, they moved to many other substrates and there was no mortality in these juveniles that I was aware of. I was very surprised at the almost total lack of survival of early juveniles on natural substrates that I assumed would be excellent substrates for early survival and growth.

Les Kaufman: The more intact hard coral-dominated reefs in the Indo-Pacific help to place things in perspective.  On these reefs, herbivorous fishes are larger and more abundant than in the Caribbean (today), by many fold and up to at least one order of magnitude- a big difference.  Under these circumstances, urchin predators are also large and abundant, and urchins- indeed all motile macroinvertebrates- are very hard to find.  They are still there, but their movements are severely curtailed by the array of large, powerful invertivores moving about, especially by day.   In this milieu, fishes are the primary herbivores, and here, a marine reserve will not have the effect we are worried about for Diadema in the Caribbean.

So, the negative rebound from a marine reserve (through a predator-Diadema cascade) is a transient.   If fish populations were farther along in their recovery, fish herbivory would cover for the decrement caused by predation on urchins.  Or alternatively, the Caribbean may actually have always been on a different trajectory.  Do you think?

Jamie Bechtel: Yes – It would appear that micropredation  may have played a key role in preventing recovery of the diadema population.  My dissertation, which is now old and dusty; basically, diadema was found to be influenced by the entire echinoid complex – and it was only found when there were other echinoids something like 96% of the time. It was pretty astounding.  The theory being that diadema larvae – juveniles had to land on bare substrate cleared by other urchins or be eaten by crabs.  Implications of course for the role of bare substrate in phase transition.

Bill Precht: I always find these little tidbits that everybody adds quite enjoyable as they really fill in the picture.

The commonly held belief is that are very few predators of Diadema. This, even though Randall showed that there were at least 15 reef fishes that consumed adults not to mention ALL the micro-predators you all mention.

John Valentine: To add some observations to all of this: Based on our work in the keys, and hours of video tapes of predation on  small urchins, we found that most of our views are overly simple. In the lower keys it is small wrasses (when urchins are small), hogfish and  saucereye porgies. In the northern keys their was an attack sequence that  began with small wrasses who picked at the prey (without much success)  followed by attacks by either hogfishes or, oddly enough, redtail parrots.

Redtails attacked urchins in virtually every location we placed urchins,  fore and back reef and at horseshoe. I would add the urchins were  echinometra as we found no small diadema. there were larger ones around but  mostly at Little Grecian and once in a while at White Banks.   And in Hawkschannel, it was Cassis feeding on Lytechinus. The urchins seemed  to be aware of their presence and crawled to the top of the cages we had in  place at the time.

Rich Aronson: Specialist is probably not the right word anyway. All the fishes that eat Diadema, including queen triggerfish, are invertivores that include urchins in their diets. Queen triggers eat Diadema preferentially when and where they are abundant but switch to other skeletonized prey when Diadema are scarce or absent.

Boom-bust cycles appear to be a general feature of echinoderm ecology. II think Tom Ebert remarked on that somewhere, years ago.

Les Kauman: John (V) redial (chrysopterum) or redband (aureofrenatum)?  The latter has a high penchant for carnivory, be interesting to know if that is true of chrysopterum too and under what circumstances.

John Valentine: It was redband. We have struggled to find about much in the literature  beyond its grazing, and grouping as a herbivore. Any suggested readings would be appreciated.

Brian Keller: In DB olden days, on several occasions I witnessed parrotfish chomping Diadema spines down to nubbins (sorry Les – no idea what species!). I also observed broken “nubbin Diadema” tests, but did not witness the perpetrator.

Les Kaufman: Actually redbands are voracious carnivores, were always among the first to show at a deliberate urchin “kill” in the old days, and Rich Aronson and I share a favorite terminally rejected manuscript on this topic.

Les Kaufman: For what it’s worth, octopus have an astonishing ability to handle fully spined Diadema.  I’ve got footage someplace of an octopus (perhaps a briarium) draping a Diadema, its oral web gracefully (and one would think painfully) tented by the spines.  I don’t remember that instance leading to predation, but draping is often or maybe even usually (Rich?) an action pattern related to foraging.

Rich Aronson: Right you are Les: octopuses, especially O. briareus, hunt by extending their webbing over prey. They also pounce on rocks and coral heads, enveloping them with their webbing, and then insert their arms into crevices to hunt on spec. Roger Hanlon and others have looked into this behavior pattern.

Despite our recent obsession with regional and global forcing, it sure is nice to chat about natural history once in a while.

Additional observations and comments are welcome!


Harborne A, Renaud P, Tyler E, Mumby P (2009) Reduced density of the herbivorous urchin Diadema antillarum inside a Caribbean marine reserve linked to increased predation pressure by fishes. Coral Reefs 28:783-791

Randall JE, RE Schroeder and WA Starck II (1964) Notes on the biology of the echinoid Diadema antillarumCarib. J. Sci. 4: 421-433

Fox News hosts and reporters routinely lie about global warming: a round up by Media Matters

The media watchdog site Media Matters for America, has an ongoing series following lies and distortions about climate change and AGW in the media.

Take a gander at their recent roundup, particularly of the lies made by Fox news anchors and reporters, and you begin to see why so many people don’t believe the earth is warming or think it is cooling!

Fox News averaged 2.187 million total viewers in primetime for the year [2009], up 7% from 2008 and enough to place 3rd among all cable channels. In total day, the network averaged 1.192 million total viewers.

Just a short list of silly misinformed arguments outright lies recently made by Fox:

1) It’s cold outside = the earth is cooling!

2) The CIA is diverting funds from the war on terrorism to climate change research!

3) The Earth is cooling! Most scientists don’t believe humans are causing global warming (HEY! Wait a minute.  Isn’t there an inconsistency in this argument?!  The earth is cooling AND humans are not causing the warming?)

4) The earth isn’t warming!

5) 2009 was the coldest year on record!

See this list of documented lies and distortions on Fox news programs since Dec. 23, 2009 (just in the last two weeks!):

See some of the video clips Media Matters has collected below:

Pseudo “CO2 Science”

In another of their “great” contributions, CO2 science has decided to take issue with a recent publication by Charlie Veron on the critical importance of 350ppm for the survivals coral reef (see here for our writeup at Climate Shifts). The issue seems to focus upon a series of unambiguous statements as to where we stand with respect to climate change and coral reefs – instead suggesting that we read a poorly written piece of pseudo-science penned by an industry shill Craig Idso:

In an article published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, Veron et al. (2009) go far beyond the normal bounds accepted by most rational scientists, when they emphatically state, not what they contend may occur to earth’s coral reefs as the air’s CO2 content continues to rise, but what they dogmatically declare will happen, as if they were gods, condescending to reveal the fearful future to the rest of us mentally-deficient mortals.

We’ve blogged extensively before about “CO2 Science” (see here) who have deliberately misquoted and paraphrased our own publications to fit their paid agenda. It’s an intriguing aim – maintain ambiguity and doubt regarding the threat that climate change poses to coral reefs to sustain the relative policy inertia in some parts of the United States and other countries. Considering the mission statement of the “The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change” (i.e. CO2 Science) claims that:

“In this endeavor, the Center attempts to separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change…”

They haven’t done themselves any favours here by publishing exactly that: an emotionally charge piece laden with rhetoric.

Yes, it’s really cold-No this isn’t evidence of global cooling

North America, Europe and even India are experiencing bitter cold waves.  It was -9C when I got up this this morning.  But is this evidence that global warming has ended or that the earth is cooling?

1:00 PM GMT on January 05, 2010

You’d think so reading some articles in the media:

Like this article “Indian Cold wave in 2010 could be proof of the fallacy of global warming” from Charlotte Spirituality & Health Examiner Allen Bethea (who better to pen an article on climate trends). Allen writes:

Just weeks after a statement of intent from the nations meeting in Copenhagen pledging to work to prevent global warming, the BBC,  and the Hindustan Times and other news outlets are reporting a record cold snap across northern India.  One source says that over 40 people have died from the cold.

The Copenhagen Summit (officially called The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference) decided that it was imperative the nations work to reduce any increase in global temperature to under 2 °C.

The science of global warming is an example of an indefeasible position. It is immune to logic, empirical data, history, and common sense. Lets hope that in 2010, we as a race grow in wisdom and discernment, and the ability to recognize fallacies when we hear them, no matter how authoritative the source.

And this article from The Business and Media Institute (Advancing the Culture of Free Enterprise in America!): “Hot Weather Convinces Media of Climate Change; Cold Weather Ignored”

From 2003 heat wave that killed thousands, to melting Peruvian glaciers the news media find examples of global warming. The news media constantly misuse extreme weather examples to generate fear of global warming,

Which is true.

but when record cold or record snow sets in journalists don’t mention the possibility of global cooling trends. While climatologists would say weather isn’t necessarily an indication of climate, it has been in the media, but only when the weather could be spun as part of global warming.  Despite such extreme cold around the world, the three networks are not forecasting a period of global cooling.

Perhaps because they know that very short term cold weather (i.e., a week or less) is, well, weather and what we are talking about is climate change, i.e., changes over decades to centuries.

Joe Romm has a funny article up titled “Looks like I am going on FoxNews today because it’s cold outside”:

You can’t deny it’s cold outside in Washington, DC today — any more than you can deny the planet is unequivocally warming and humans are probably the cause of most of that warming, can you?  I mean, the fact that it’s cold in early January isn’t news.  It’s the friggin’ winter!

Oh wait, you say we’re setting records for cold over parts of the country.  But if you accept the temperature station data going back over a century that says we’re setting records for cold over a small part of the globe over a short period of time, then you have to accept this very same data over the entire globe over a long period of time, no?

Check out the article on the “It’s freaking cold!” crock on SkepticalScience here, our own past post on this here, and Peter Sinclair’s video it below:


Climate Denial Crock of the Week – “The Medieval Warming Crock”

Another great Peter Sinclair video about a denier favorite: the Medieval Warm Period.

You can read about this crock here at SkepticalScience:

The skeptic argument: The Medieval Warm Period was warmer than current conditions. This means recent warming is not unusual and hence must be natural, not man-made.

What the science says: While the Medieval Warm Period saw unusually warm temperatures in some regions, globally the planet was cooler than current conditions.

The Medieval Warm Period spanned 950 to 1250 AD and corresponded with warmer temperatures in certain regions. During this time, ice-free seas allowed the Vikings to colonize Greenland. North America experienced prolonged droughts.

The Medieval Warm Period was not a global phenomenon. Warmer conditions were concentrated in certain regions. Some regions were even colder than during the Little Ice Age. To claim the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today is to narrowly focus on a few regions that showed unusual warmth. However, when we look at the broader picture, we see that the Medieval Warm Period was a regional phenomenon with other regions showing strong cooling. Globally, temperatures during the Medieval Period were less than today.

Also see articles on the RealClimate site on the MWP here and here.


The importance of stupidity in scientific research

I don’t entirely agree with this piece in it’s entirety, but stumbled across it doing literature searches and thought it’d make a great article for Climate Shifts. Titled “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”, below is an editorial piece published in the Journal of Cell Science by a microbiologist named Martin Schwarz that makes for interesting reading:

I recently saw an old friend for the first time in many years. We had been Ph.D. students at the same time, both studying science, although in different areas. She later dropped out of graduate school, went to Harvard Law School and is now a senior lawyer for a major environmental organization. At some point, the conversation turned to why she had left graduate school. To my utter astonishment, she said it was because it made her feel stupid. After a couple of years of feeling stupid every day, she was ready to do something else.

I had thought of her as one of the brightest people I knew and her subsequent career supports that view. What she said bothered me. I kept thinking about it; sometime the next day, it hit me. Science makes me feel stupid too. It’s just that I’ve gotten used to it. So used to it, in fact, that I actively seek out new opportunities to feel stupid. I wouldn’t know what to do without that feeling. I even think it’s supposed to be this way. Let me explain.

For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can’t be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.

A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred? My Ph.D. project was somewhat interdisciplinary and, for a while, whenever I ran into a problem, I pestered the faculty in my department who were experts in the various disciplines that I needed. I remember the day when Henry Taube (who won the Nobel Prize two years later) told me he didn’t know how to solve the problem I was having in his area. I was a third-year graduate student and I figured that Taube knew about 1000 times more than I did (conservative estimate). If he didn’t have the answer, nobody did.

That’s when it hit me: nobody did. That’s why it was a research problem. And being my research problem, it was up to me to solve. Once I faced that fact, I solved the problem in a couple of days. (It wasn’t really very hard; I just had to try a few things.) The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn’t know wasn’t merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can.

I’d like to suggest that our Ph.D. programs often do students a disservice in two ways. First, I don’t think students are made to understand how hard it is to do research. And how very, very hard it is to do important research. It’s a lot harder than taking even very demanding courses. What makes it difficult is that research is immersion in the unknown. We just don’t know what we’re doing. We can’t be sure whether we’re asking the right question or doing the right experiment until we get the answer or the result. Admittedly, science is made harder by competition for grants and space in top journals. But apart from all of that, doing significant research is intrinsically hard and changing departmental, institutional or national policies will not succeed in lessening its intrinsic difficulty.

Second, we don’t do a good enough job of teaching our students how to be productively stupid – that is, if we don’t feel stupid it means we’re not really trying. I’m not talking about ‘relative stupidity’, in which the other students in the class actually read the material, think about it and ace the exam, whereas you don’t. I’m also not talking about bright people who might be working in areas that don’t match their talents. Science involves confronting our ‘absolute stupidity’. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown. Preliminary and thesis exams have the right idea when the faculty committee pushes until the student starts getting the answers wrong or gives up and says, ‘I don’t know’. The point of the exam isn’t to see if the student gets all the answers right. If they do, it’s the faculty who failed the exam. The point is to identify the student’s weaknesses, partly to see where they need to invest some effort and partly to see whether the student’s knowledge fails at a sufficiently high level that they are ready to take on a research project.

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.

Climate Shifts Round-up for 2009

As 2010 begins, we figured it was an apt time to do a round-up of 2009 here it at Climate Shifts. It has been an exciting year – we enlisted several new bloggers, created 327 posts and greatly expanded our readership. With thirteen scientists and experts in the field of coral reefs and climate change writing commentaries, the blog is expanding to a considerable expertise.

Since we moved to more reliable servers (carbon-netural green hosting!) at the end of September we’ve had 10,539 unique visitors with over 35,572 page views (excluding bots). We’ve had people from 152 countries/territories from from 2,628 cities reading our posts:

In other news, the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland officially commenced on January 1st 2010 under the guidance of Ove, and John is heading down under to Brisbane with his family for a sabbatical at UQ. Onwards to 2010! We are planning some changes for next year and would really appreciate hearing from you what type of content you want us to provide.

See below for a few stats from our plugins (again since September) – seems that the notorious Andrew Bolt post drew a few deniers out of the woodwork with 2578 views and 48 comments.

most rated posts

  1. COP15: Cold and grey but buzzing with excitement and hope. 472 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5472 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5472 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5472 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5472 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  2. “Macro-algal dominated coral reefs: shake that ASS” 4 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  3. More climate delusionism and questionable science 3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  4. Humpty dumpty and the ghosts 3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 53 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  5. Testing the ‘macroalgal dominated coral reefs’ paradigm 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  6. Local stressors act to reduce the resilience of corals to bleaching events 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  7. Maldives President Calls Underwater Meeting 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  8. Hot Pink Beasties of the Deep 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  9. Preservation of coral reefs: why isn’t the majority heard? 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (5.00 out of 5)
  10. Corals likely to starve in a high CO2 world 2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5(5.00 out of 5)

most viewed posts

  1. Happy Birthday to… Andrew Bolt! – 2,578 views
  2. “Macro-algal dominated coral reefs: shake that ASS” – 1,593 views
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There is so much great science being done in the oceans, on coral reefs and on climate change and so many important policy debates, it can be overwhelming trying to keep up and cover it all.  Luckily there are a number of awesome online resources, at least regarding climate change.  Below is a list of our favorites, in no particular order:

  • RealClimate: An amazing resource from real climate scientists.  The comments can be very educational too.
  • Skeptical Science: The webs best debunker of denier myths.
  • All the Peter Sinclair videos (which can be seen here and on YouTube)
  • ClimateProgress (a very thorough coverage of climate change policy and science, even though Joe verges on hysteria at times)
  • Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets:  Always interesting and informative commentary from a boots on the ground coral reef conservation scientist.
  • Deltoid: Tim Lambert tells it how it is
  • David Horton: David blogs about the environment and social justice here and on the Huff Post here
  • A collection of George Monbiot’s provocative essays

The aftermath of Copenhagen – where are we headed?

These two graphics from the Climate Interactive website are probably the clearest and most easy to understand images i’ve seen yet detailing the fallout from COP15. The ‘potential’ proposals (highlighted in green) are alot more promising than the official confirmed proposals. Some of these seem incredibly ambitious, such as Costa Rica proposing 0% emissions by 2021 (although Costa Rica is 99% clean energy already).

In the grand scheme of things, what does this mean? The Sustainability Institute have simulated the effects of CO2 emissions under the COP15 scenarios and determined the impacts upon atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperature increase over pre-industrial levels.

The results aren’t pretty – under the current confirmed proposals, in 2100 we would see CO2 levels peak at 780ppm – far above the recommended 350ppm for the worlds coral reefs. Even the low emissions pathway would see the world at 470ppm by the end of the century, and the ‘business as usual scenario’ is incredibly concerning.

Along these lines, we’ve added a global ‘scorecard’ to the front page that calculates the increases in global temperature using the information above. The scorecard and analysis is updated continuously – when the proposals change, the position of the blue line on the thermometer changes: