Don’t worry, we’ll fix it by flying really fast in reverse

You all remember Lex Luthor’s scheme in the original Richard Donner Superman movie, right? Of course you do, you’re all nerds. But we nerds are all pedantic and love to start monologuing, so I’ll tell you what it was anyway.

Luthor was going to set off a nuclear bomb in the San Andreas fault and cause a giant earthquake so that California would slide into the sea, creating new, valuable ocean front real estate that he would buy up, making himself fabulously rich.

Grand plans to cause devastating earthquakes are staples of cheesy comic book villainy; they’re also a regular part of the diet of conspiracy theorists. Did you know the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is actually a scheme by the Illuminati/Men in Black/New World Order to take over the world by inducing earthquakes? It’s true. Bad guys cause earthquakes.

So what should we make of the recent disclosure that fracking causes earthquakes?

Before January 2011, Youngstown, Ohio, had never had an earthquake since observations began in 1776. In December 2010, the Northstar 1 injection well came online, built to pump wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing projects in Pennsylvania into storage deep underground. In the year that followed, seismometers in and around Youngstown recorded 109 earthquakes—the strongest of the set being a magnitude 3.9 earthquake on December 31, 2011.

In a new study analyzing the Youngstown earthquakes, Kim finds that the earthquakes’ onset, cessation, and even temporary dips in activity were all tied to the activity at the Northstar 1 well. The first earthquake recorded in the city occurred 13 days after pumping began, and the tremors ceased shortly after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shut down the well in December 2011. Also, the author finds that dips in earthquake activity correlated with Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, as well as other periods when the injection at the well was temporarily stopped.

Further, the author finds that the earthquakes were centered in an ancient fault near the Northstar 1 well. The author suggests that the increase in pressure from the deep wastewater injection caused the existing fault to slip. Throughout the year, the earthquakes crept from east to west down the length of the fault away from the well—indicative of the earthquakes being caused by a traveling pressure front.

Comic book supervillains aren’t real. We’ve got the oil companies instead.

Plastic: worse than we thought

That plastic grocery bag you got at the store is something more than just an eyesore and a source of nasty chemicals, it’s also a magnet for accumulating more pollutants.

The ingredients that make up more than 50% of plastics are already deemed chemical hazards by the UN Globally Harmonized System. But as floating bits of trash, plastics pick up additional pollutants like pesticides, flame retardants and combusted oil. “We don’t know yet how long it takes plastic to fully break down, but it’s somewhere on the order of tens to thousands of years,” says Rochman. This means that plastic debris accumulates a multitude of toxic chemicals over potentially many, many years. This type of marine plastic is ending up as lunch for birds, fish and other animals.

The article goes on to detail specific effects of PAHs, PCBs, and PBDEs on medaka. It’s ugly. Now I just have to figure out a way to reduce plastic consumption at home — it’s painful how much of our food and other essentials are packaged up in plastic.

Recursive confirmation

Last month, I reported on a paper that was about to be retracted by a journal; the paper by Lewandowsky and others analyzed public articles and comments by climate change denialists and found evidence that they were populated by wacky conspiracy theorists and thin-skinned paranoid weirdos (it’s true!). Said conspiracy theorists, weirdos, and industry shills proceeded to dun the journal with threats of legal action and accusations of defamation. And eventually the journal folded and withdrew the paper.

Said nutcases regarded this as vindication. My inbox and twitter feed were filled with triumphant loons crowing about their victory. They didn’t seem to care that they excuse given by the journal was that the paper didn’t address “ethical concerns” about the “studied subjects” — which would be a legitimate issue if the subjects had some expectation of confidentiality. These were all public web posts on subjects they were proud about expounding upon, so their defense of the retraction is basically that they might be embarrassed and ashamed if someone examined their public utterances? Makes no sense. They should be embarrassed.

I guess we’re all ethically compromised for daring to discuss what Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Bryan Fischer and Deepak Chopra say on the radio and in print.

But now there’s another twist. Another editor of that same publisher of the Frontiers series of journals has resigned in protest.

Ugo Bardi was chief specialty editor of Frontiers in Energy Research: Energy Systems and Policy. He writes on his blog:

…my opinion is that, with their latest statement and their decision to retract the paper, Frontiers has shown no respect for authors nor for their own appointed referees and editors. But the main problem is that we have here another example of the climate of intimidation that is developing around the climate issue.

Later, he notes his decision:

The climate of intimidation which is developing nowadays risks to do great damage to climate science and to science in general. I believe that the situation risks to deteriorate further if we all don’t take a strong stance on this issue. Hence, I am taking the strongest action I can take, that is I am resigning from “Chief Specialty Editor” of Frontiers in protest against the behavior of the journal in the “Recursive Fury” case. I sent to the editors a letter today, stating my intention to resign.

I am not happy about having had to take this decision, because I had been working hard and seriously at the Frontiers’ specialy journal titled “Energy Systems and Policy.” But I think it was the right thing to do. I also note that this blunder by “Frontiers” is also a blow to the concept of “open access” publishing, which was one of the main characteristic of their series of journals. But I still think that open access publishing it is the way of the future. This is just a temporary setback for a good idea which is moving onward.

This is what happens when you let conspiracy theorists, weirdos, and industry shills dictate what can be published.

But of course now the climate change denialists are all pissed off at Ugo Bardi…and their responses simply confirm the conclusions of the Lewandowsky paper.

A poll! To benefit my campus!

This is terribly self-serving, but I finally aim to use my poll-crashing powers for personal gain. UMM is competing in a video contest, and we’re currently a distant third. This is the contest:

For the third straight year, Planet Forward is partnering with Second Nature to host the Climate Leadership Awards Video Voting Competition. Second Nature, which seeks to create a sustainable society by transforming higher education, has selected the top climate-related ideas from colleges across the country.

All of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Award Finalists were asked to create a 1-3 minute video highlighting climate innovations on campus. We’re asking our online community to select the most innovative campus.

And this is UMM’s entry:

Go ahead and browse the many videos, and vote. I’d prefer you voted for us, but there’s a lot of worthy entries there, and I won’t hold it against you if some other college’s entry appeals to you more.

You’d just be wrong.

Ignoring the scientists, part 2

We’re not doing anything about slow, steady climate change, and we’re also not dealing with acute, local environmental risks, like the recent Washington mudslide.

The Snohomish County officials who control land use permits asserted last week that there was no way of knowing a giant mudslide would ever happen there.

In fact, the area was primed for just such an extraordinary event, according to geologist Daniel J. Miller, who twice surveyed the area for local Native American tribes who rely on the river’s health for fishing and for the Army Corps of Engineers. He wrote in his 1999 report that the Hazel Landslide, as the mountain is known, was constantly shifting, experiencing landslides and would one day suffer “a catastrophic failure.”

“This landslide moves every year when it gets wet, and pieces fall off,” said Miller, a consultant in Seattle, in a telephone interview Friday.

It was a nightmare waiting to happen.

An ancient glacier is jutting out of the mountain, making its flat plateau unstable, Miller said. The Stillaguamish River was eroding it from below. Rows of conifer trees that helped to mitigate erosion by sucking water through their roots and releasing it into the atmosphere were chopped down by loggers. Rain fell on the bald spots they left, drenching dirt and sand, making the mountain even more precarious.

March 2014 has been a ­record-breaker, the wettest in Seattle’s history.

Miller realized his warning was not heeded when he visited the site following a major landslide in 2006 that did not do nearly as much harm. He could not believe what he saw.

“There was new construction,” he said. “The sound of hammering competed with the sound of [destabilized] trees snapping after the mudslide. I can’t believe that someone wanted to build their home there. It was a very bad idea.”

Damn warmists and catastrophists — they keep hurting the economy, like homebuilding, with these warnings that the mountainsides have been made unstable by melting glaciers, logging, and heavy rains.

But don’t you worry. People will keep working along, because they’ve got Someone to tell them everything will be OK.

We’re a little logging community, she said. There are so many missing, so many dead. We definitely feel God protected us. My neighbor’s house is gone. My husband’s out there digging for bodies.

Thank God that God especially loved a few people so that they can dig for the corpses of those other people he really hated.

That woman, I hope, has read that article and had a moment of awareness in which she realized what a stupid thing she said. But nah, it won’t happen.

25 years of futility

The IPCC has been issuing climate change warnings for 25 years. Here’s the net result:

But if we go back to brass tacks, it’s worth asking how the world has reacted to these repeated warnings.

Since 1990, annual global greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels have gone up 60 per cent.

Or perhaps you’d rather get it in cartoon form?


This is what happens when you ignored the scientists and instead obey the self-serving lies of industry.

Cosmos upstaged!

Last night on Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how we know the universe is immensely old, and even took a sharp poke at that nonsensical idea that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. I figured there’d be some indignant squawking on the internet this morning, but no…the creationists are all quiet about it. Why? Well, some of them might have been tuned into the Walking Dead finale, since zombies and their theology are so copacetic. But the real reason is that they’re too busy freaking out over Noah.

The Discovery Institute is really pissed off (wait, you’re saying, why should they care about a movie that plays fast and loose with the Bible? Aren’t they a secular organization? Yeah, right). Their angle is that the movie is anti-human, because that’s all environmentalism is about, hating people.

Bottom line: Noah pushes hard on the modern environmentalist meme that — as I reported in The War on Humans — we are a terrible plague on the living Gaia. That message sells among a small group of progressive elites and misanthropic neo-earth religionists. But most of us do not consider ourselves to be cancers on the planet.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Discovery Institute, but yes you in particular are cancers on the culture and the planet. And have you considered the likelihood that the very worst destroyers do so confident that what they are doing is right and good, and that our personal narcissism is not exactly the most reliable measure of our worth?

They are also quite happy that humans exterminated entire species of megafauna. They deserved it, don’t you know, and had to go to allow people to live.

Whatever our role in the demise of megafauna, we should not look back in shame.

Early humans’ successful fight for survival gave us the chance to thrive. I am not upset with them: I am grateful.

For a bunch of anti-evolutionists, they sure are happy to cite ‘survival of the fittest’ as a justification for slaughter. You know, it wasn’t always a fight for survival.

Roman emperors curried favor with the public by upstaging their predecessors in killing more animals and producing more spectacular displays of slaughter (Morris 1990).  Emperor Titus inaugurated the Roman Coliseum by declaring 100 days of celebration, during which enormous numbers of animals were speared by gladiators.  On the opening day, 5,000 animals were slaughtered, and over the next two days, 3,000 more were killed (Morris 1990).  The caged animals were kept underground in dungeons where they were not fed, and on the day of the festival, they were hauled in their cages onto lifts that brought them into the center of the arena.  As the crowd roared with excitement, drums were beaten, trumpets blown, and the terrified animals were set loose (Attenborough 1987).  Sometimes the animals were goaded to attack one another, and at other times, men armed with spears and tridents pursued them around barriers made from shrubs in imitation of hunts in the wild (Attenborough 1987).  One arena hunt resulted in the killing of 300 Ostriches and 200 Alpine Chamois (Morris 1990). 

Lions, Tigers, bears, bulls, Leopards, Giraffes and deer died after being tormented, stabbed and gored (Morris 1990).  Big cats that had been starved were released into the ring where a human slave or prisoner of war was lashed to a post; the animals clawed at the person before they themselves were speared and stabbed by gladiators (Attenborough 1987).  In some of the larger slaughters, 500 Lions, more than 400 Leopards, or 100 bears would be killed in a single day (Morris 1990).  Hippos, even rhinoceroses and crocodiles, were brought into these arenas, and sometimes gladiators employed bizarre methods of killing such as decapitating fleeing ostriches with crescent-shaped arrows (Morris 1990).

Still grateful?

I grew up with farmers and ranchers, and I can tell you this, too: the slaughter continues. They tend to be ruthlessly intolerant of anything perceived as compromising their income. I’ve seen songbirds shot because “it was their farm, they can do what they want”.

And the big threat is habitat destruction — the prairies are almost all gone here in Minnesota, and the wetlands are being plowed over. It is not anti-human to want to preserve some natural beauty and protect biodiversity, because this is our planet and we should aspire to maintain it as something better than a giant sewage treatment plant for Homo sapiens. We are a lesser world for the absence of giant ground sloths and European lions and black rhinos — did we really have to kill them all so we could merely survive?

Potential disasters pimpling the whole country

Your must-read article for the day is When the Rivers Run Black, the story of the Kingston, Tennessee coal ash spill. The walls of a gigantic reservoir pond containing toxic waste produced by a coal-fired power plant ruptured, pouring 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the environment. It was the largest industrial accident in US history.

I was reading it and thinking about where my power is coming from — about half of Minnesota power comes from coal plants — and feeling grateful that none of those plants are anywhere near me. We like it when North Dakota builds their monster coal-burning plants over there in their weaker regulatory environment, and we just reap the benefits of cheaper electrical power over here. And then I read about the Kingston cleanup, and what they had to do with all the slimy sludge.

For months, train cars lined up to be loaded with sludge dredged from the river. The sludge was then carted down to Uniontown, Alabama, a mostly poor, mostly black county, where an enterprising commissioner decided that taking the waste was an economic opportunity. The county ended up taking about 4 million tons of it and dumped it in a landfill—for the price of just $4 million.

It is not unusual that a place like Uniontown ended up with the Kingston waste: Coal ash is almost always dumped in communities that don’t have the political or financial muscle to reject becoming other communities’ trashcans. According to a 2012 report, of the nearly six million Americans who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant, 39 percent are minority, and the average per capita income is $18,400.

Damn. I am a privileged person, all right.

Fortunately, Minnesota is improving energy efficiency and regulating power plants more, so at least we’re slowly getting better. Although I notice now something in that happy report that was also discussed in the Kingston article: all that’s getting mentioned is emissions, not the accumulating solid waste from the plants. That waste is loaded with heavy metal poisons, but the EPA is dragging its heels, reluctant to even classify it as hazardous.

The paper they don’t want you to read!

The climate change denialists are a bit thin-skinned; they’ve also been exposed as a bit on the wacko side. The journal Frontiers in Psychology is about to retract a paper that found that denialists tend to have a cluster of weird beliefs (NASA faked the moon landings, the CIA was in charge of the assassination of political figures in the US, etc.) because the denialists screamed very loudly.

This outrage first arose in response to a paper, NASA faked the moon landing–Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (pdf) which analyzed voluntary surveys submitted by readers of climate science blogs, in which the respondents freely admitted to having a collection of other beliefs, in addition to climate change denial. That paper found something else interesting, and was the primary correlation observed: a lot of denialists are libertarians. Are you surprised?

Rejection of climate science was strongly associated with endorsement of a laissez-faire view of unregulated free markets. This replicates previous work (e.g., Heath & Gifford, 2006) although the strength of association found here (r ~.80) exceeds that reported in any extant study. At least in part, this may reflect the use of SEM, which enables measurement of the associations between constructs free of measurement error (Fan, 2003).

A second variable that was associated with rejection of climate science as well as other scientific propositions was conspiracist ideation. Notably, this relationship emerged even though conspiracies that related to the queried scientific propositions (AIDS, climate change) did not contribute to the conspiracist construct. By implication, the role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science did not simply reflect “convenience” theories that provided specific alternative “explanations” for a scientific consensus. Instead, this finding suggests that a general propensity to endorse any of a number of conspiracy theories predisposes people to reject entirely unrelated scientific facts.

Oh, how they howled. Even libertarians seem to be embarrassed at being affiliated with libertarians, I guess. And conspiracy theorists, too? Why, the accusation itself is clearly evidence that there’s a conspiracy out to get them. They protested that because the respondents to the survey all found it through mainstream science blogs, all the responses were false flag operations put out by Big Climate.

What they didn’t realize was that they were generating more data to support the hypothesis. The authors of the first paper then wrote a second paper, the one that is now being retracted by the cowardly publisher, called Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Research on Conspiracist Ideation, in which they scanned public posts and comments on the first article, and analyzed the text for evidence of conspiracist tropes (it’s a nefarious scheme, they’re out to get us, it’s an organized movement to defeat us, etc.) and found that yes, conspiracist reasoning was quite common on climate change denial blogs.

They also rebutted some claims. The claim that the authors never bothered to contact the denialist blogs to host their survey was shot down pretty easily: they had the email, and further, they had replies from denialists who later claimed they never received any request to host the survey.

Initial attention of the blogosphere also focused on the method reported by LOG12, which stated: “Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 “skeptic” (or “skeptic”-leaning) blogs were approached but none posted the link.” Speculation immediately focused on the identity of the 5 “skeptic” bloggers. Within short order, 25 “skeptical” bloggers had come publicly forward9 to state that they had not been approached by the researchers. Of those 25 public declarations, 5 were by individuals who were invited to post links to the study by LOG12 in 2010. Two of these bloggers had engaged in correspondence with the research assistant for further clarification.

Those emails were also revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The squawking reached a new crescendo. Steve McIntyre wrote a strongly worded formal letter demanding that the defamatory article be removed, and accusing the authors of malice. Further, they complained that analyzing the content of blog posts and comments, public, openly accessible work, was an ethics violation.

Ludicrous as those claims are, Frontiers in Psychology is apparently about to fold to them. For shame.

You know, my university had a meeting with our institutional lawyers yesterday — I was called in to attend the information session for some reason, like having a reputation as a trouble-maker or something — and I was impressed with their professionalism and their commitment to actually defending the faculty and staff of the university. I guess not every organization is lucky enough to have good lawyers of principle.

Oh, well. All I can say is that, thanks to the denialist ratfuckers, now everyone is going to be far more interested in reading the two papers by Lewandowsky and others. I recommend that you read Motivated rejection of science (pdf) and Recursive fury(pdf) now, or anytime — they’re archived on the web. You might also stash away a copy yourself. You make a denialist cry every time you make a copy, you know.

The first author on the papers, Stephan Lewandowsky, has a few comments.

The strategies employed in those attacks follow a common playbook, regardless of which scientific proposition is being denied and regardless of who the targeted scientists are: There is cyber-bullying and public abuse by “trolling” (which recent research has linked to sadism); there is harassment by vexatious freedom-of-information (FOI) requests; there are the complaints to academic institutions; legal threats; and perhaps most troubling, there is the intimidation of journal editors and publishers who are acting on manuscripts that are considered inconvenient.