Peter Doran in the NY Times

Peter Doran published a paper several years ago showing that parts of Antarctica were actually cooling, rather than warming—that there were local variations in temperature trends. This is not surprising. It’s also not surprising that he was quote-mined like mad by the global warming denialists. He has now written a calm, solid rejection of the misuse of his data in the NY Times.

Our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear” and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents—all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming. One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that “the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.” I have never thought such a thing either.

Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals—thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals—all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?

This is great stuff, but anyone want to take any bets on whether the anti-scientific global warming crackpots will now extract that penultimate sentence and use it to urge easing the ban on fluorocarbon release?

Is there an entomologist in the house?


I got a request to help identify this bizarre creature. I’m guessing it’s a slug caterpillar, from the family Limacodidae, although I couldn’t possibly narrow it down further, and could be completely wrong. Whoever was filming it can be heard telling someone not to touch it—which is a good idea. These things shed fine hairs that can cause a painful allergic rash.

It’s kind of cute, anyway.

I think the collective wisdom of the internets has convinced me that it is a puss caterpillar, Megalopyge opercularis.

Francis Collins, doofus for the Lord

I just watched the Francis Collins/Charlie Rose interview (it starts at about 35 minutes on that clip), and although I struggled manfully to appreciate the fellow’s accomplishments and status in science, I failed. All I could see is that he was illogical, irrational, and downright goofy—all the symptoms of a severe affliction with a bad case of religion. That video ought to be a warning to scientists: even a prestigious scientist can suffer Christian mind-rot.

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Just another Christian ranter on the fringe

He only has a few radio and television programs, his own university, tens of millions of dollars to throw at his political causes, and a few million voters in his pocket, so Jerry Falwell* is just a marginal nut, right? We can just ignore him when he says things like this:

It is apparent, in light of the rebirth of the State of Israel, that the present day events in the Holy Land may very well serve as a prelude or forerunner to the future Battle of Armageddon and the glorious return of Jesus Christ.

Those rapture freaks who are cheering on the bloodshed in the Middle East certainly don’t have any real clout…at least, not as much as us influential atheists, I’m sure.

(via DefCon)

*Grade A Demented Fuckwit.

A simple story gets complicated


People, scientists included, are always looking for simple, comprehensible explanations for complex phenomena. It’s so satisfying to be able to easily explain something in a sound bite, and sound bites are so much more easily accepted by an audience than some elaborate, difficult collection of details. For example, we often hear homosexual behavior reduced to being a “choice,” the product of a “gay gene,” a “sin,” or something similarly absolute and irreducible…suggesting that it is part of a diverse spectrum of sexual behaviors with multiple causes and that different individuals are different in their behaviors is almost certainly the more accurate description, but that doesn’t satisfy our need for straight, simple, linear causal mechanisms. This is true of most animal behavior, I think—you just can’t crunch it down to one single agent that drives much of anything.

I thought there was one excellent counter-example, though, one that suggested at least some complex behaviors might be reducible to a discrete source: the mating behavior of Microtus voles. It was such a simple, clean story; new results suggest that it was too clean, and that there’s much more to the behavior than was thought.

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