NASA and Climate Dogma

Recently in a confirmation hearing Senator Harris of California claimed that according to NASA, 97% or more of actively published climate scientists agree that climate warning trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. Then she suggested no one should doubt this finding.

Going to NASA’s page on this topic, you can see clearly that NASA scientists did no such research. In fact, the citations are to only five studies done by people with little or no background in atmospheric physics and research.

The first two papers are by John Cook, founder of the notorious Skeptical Science website.

John Cook has an undergraduate education in physics from the University of Queensland and a post-graduate honors year studying solar physics, worked as a self-employed cartoonist before founding a website pushing climate alarmism. For this he was given the title of the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He is currently completing a PhD in cognitive psychology, researching how people think about climate change.

Next paper is by W. R. L. Anderegg, at the time a PhD student in the department of Biology at Stanford University. He went on to become a professor at Princeton and Utah Universities in the field of ecology and biological sciences, studying the effects of global warming on forests.

Then the paper that invented the 97% number was published by Professor Peter Doran and his grad student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, also at Stanford. Interests in global change and communicating science led to Dr. Doran named a Leopold Fellow in 2008 by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment. Doran specializes in polar regions, especially Antarctic climate and ecosystems.

Finally, Naomi Oreskes received her PhD degree in the Graduate Special Program in Geological Research and History of Science at Stanford in 1990. Her fields are History of Science and Economic Geology, and she is a prominent activist for IPCC activities.

All five of these papers have been extensively criticized in the peer-reviewed literature for their poor quality. For example:

Regarding Anderegg et al. and climate change credibility, PNAS, Dec. 28, 2010 by Lawrence Bodenstein

The study by Anderegg et al. (1) employed suspect methodology that treated publication metrics as a surrogate for expertise.

In the climate change (CC) controversy, a priori, one expects that the much larger and more “politically correct” side would excel in certain publication metrics. They continue to cite each other’s work in an upward spiral of self-affirmation.

Here, we do not have homogeneous consensus absent a few crackpot dissenters. There is variation among the majority, and a minority, with core competency, who question some underlying premises. It would seem more profitable to critique the scientific evidence than count up scientists, publications, and the like.

Regarding purely scientific questions, it may be justified to discount nonexperts. However, here, dissenters included established climate researchers. The article undermined their expert standing and then, extrapolated expertise to the more personal credibility. Using these methods to portray certain researchers as not credible and, by implication, to be ignored is highly questionable. Tarring them as individuals by group metrics is unwarranted.

Publication of this article as an objective scientific study does a true disservice to scientific discourse. Prominent scientific journals must focus on scientific merit without sway from extracurricular forces. They must remain cautious about lending their imprimatur to works that seem more about agenda and less about science, more about promoting a certain dogma and less about using all of the evidence to better our understanding of the natural world.

A more complete list of published papers refuting these studies is here: All “97% Consensus” Studies Refuted by Peer-Review


Climatists are often running a shell game, and you really do have to watch the pea. Here they are using NASA space credentials to hide bogus research by people who are more activist than scientist. In the details, you find no research done by people who went into space. The four sources are a cartoonist/psychologist, a biologist, a polar ecologist and an historian.

In fact, many of the real NASA scientists are extremely critical of NASA’s participation in climate activism.  Senators who raise NASA as evidence of climate change should be directed to The Right Climate Stuff, where esteemed NASA scientists give plenty of good reasons to doubt NASA on this topic.


The same gambit was played by Brian Cox in Australia, claiming NASA credibility for a bogus temperature graph produced by GISS, a minor branch of NASA.  The real graph not shown by Cox is this one:

Background is here: Gotcha Graph from GISS

CO2 Causes Earthquakes! Really?


Number of worldwide earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 or greater over the last two decades. British Geological Survey

From the “Headlines Claim, Details Deny” department comes this whopper regarding climate effects on seismic activity in Canada.

Natural disasters are expected to increase as climate change pushes global temperatures higher, and some scientists believe earthquakes will also become more frequent. Global News (here)

The alarm is sounded by one scientist, Bill McGuire, writing in the Guardian last fall:

“An earthquake fault that is primed and ready to go is like a coiled spring … all that is needed to set it off is – quite literally – the pressure of a handshake,” writes scientist Bill McGuire, author of Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.

As usual with these alarmist pieces, if you bother to read the details in the text, you discover the headline is misleading or totally false. (“Fake News,” anyone?).

After quoting that scary claim, the article goes on to make numerous statements of fact contradicting Mr. McGuire.

While many parts of the country are prone to seismic activity, experts say Canadians shouldn’t worry about their city or town suddenly becoming a earthquake hot spot due to a warmer atmosphere.

Earthquakes rattle Canada thousands of times every year — there are an estimated 2,500 annually in Western Canada alone. Thanks to the Internet, social media and apps, we’re now more aware of the activity that has always commonly occurred.

“Climate change is not something that just started,” noted Christie Rowe, assistant professor in earth and planetary sciences at McGill University.

“All the earthquake patterns that we know of are basically [from] the last century. So the patterns that we know of are already happening in the climate changing world.”

“A lot of people think there’s suddenly an increase but it’s just that they’re getting a lot more coverage than they used to,” said Alison Bird, earthquake seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada.

Climate change, “won’t generally cause more earthquakes to happen,” Bird said.

“No, climate change will not result in increased earthquake activity,” agreed Gail Atkinson, professor of earth sciences at Western University, in an email to Global News.

“The glaciers receded from the last ice age, which was considerable time ago — we’re talking about thousands of years,” said Bird. “Because the weight of those glaciers receding has been lifted, the ground is slowly moving up after having that weight removed from it, and you can have earthquakes because of that sort of thing. They tend to be quite small.”

While there may be more small events, Canada’s sparsely-populated Arctic is unlikely to suddenly see massive seismic activity.


Note the flip-flopping (equivocation) around the term “climate change”. When geologists and seismologists are speaking within their discipline, they are referring to natural changes over thousands of years. With activists “climate change” serves as code for CO2 causing global warming.

Reading the article again, it actually serves to debunk McGuire’s claims, except for the first paragraph or two. The journalist actually sought the views of level-headed experts and printed them for readers to have as context. The gruel is getting pretty thin for desperate alarmists.

thisguyisfalling2R. I. P.  Chicken Little.

More on counterfactual headlines at Headlines Claim, but Details Deny

The Ocean Climate Spin Zone


This image shows the five major ocean gyres. It shows that gyres rotate in a clockwise direction in the Northern hemisphere and a counter-clockwise direction in the Southern hemisphere. The black square shows the approximate location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the red circle shows the position of the Beaufort gyre in the Arctic Ocean.

Professional hydrologist Rob Ellison has for years been thinking and writing to connect the dots between the sun, ocean and climate. Recently he wrote this post at his excellent blog Terra et Aqua, An Earnest Discovery of Climate Causality (link in red)

Below I provide some excerpts from his discussion about an ocean mechanism which would be much better understood, were it not for the CO2 obsession sucking up most of the research funding.


It is hypothesized that upwelling in the Pacific Ocean is modulated by solar activity over periods of decades to millennia – with profound impacts on communities and ecosystems globally. The great resonant systems of the Pacific respond at variable periods – the tempo increased last century for instance – of La Niña and El Niño alternation. . .The mechanism proposed is a spinning up of the Pacific gyres as a result of colder and denser polar air. Low solar activity spins up the gyres producing more frequent La Niña (more equatorial upwelling) – and vice versa.

Pacific Oscillations Global Impact

The Pacific has a globally influential role in climate variability at scales of months to millennia. The variability in atmospheric temperature, rainfall and biology has its origin in the volume of cold water rising off California and in the equatorial Pacific. It is an ever changing anomaly.

The principle of atmospheric heating and cooling by ENSO is very simple. Cold, nutrient rich currents cascade through the deep oceans over a millennia or more. These turbulent currents don’t generally emerge through a sun warmed surface layer. By far the most significant deep ocean upwelling is in the eastern and central Pacific. Cold water in contact with the atmosphere absorbs heat and warms as the atmosphere cools. At times there is less upwelling and warm water spreads eastward across the Pacific – warming the atmosphere. It is simple enough to see in temperature data.

I have a preference for near global coverage and depth integrated satellite temperature records – it doesn’t miss energy in latent heat at the surface for one thing. 21st century instrumentation is much to be preferred going forward. Over the past century the 20 to 30 year influence of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) anomaly can be seen in the surface records. Warming to the mid 1940’s, cooling to 1976, warming to 1998 and little change since. The PDO and ENSO are, moreover, in lockstep. A cooler PDO anomaly and more frequent and intense La Niña – and vice versa.

Pacific Gyres Spinning Up Climate Change

The atmospheric/ocean system of triggers and feedbacks varies – usually abruptly with triggers. The trigger for more upwelling I can only imagine is the great ocean gyres. Ocean gyres spin up on the surface through winds and planetary rotation. Pressure systems shift polar winds and storms into lower latitudes. High polar atmospheric pressures spin up the gyres pushing cold polar water into the Californian and Peruvian currents. Roiling cold water upwelling sets up wind and current feedback across the Pacific.

More polar cold water at the surface facilitates upwelling in critical regions.  Trade winds spin up as a feedback and piles warm water against Australia and Indonesia.  Sometimes the winds falter and warm water flows back eastward suppressing cold upwelling.  The whole is a complex and dynamic system triggered by changes in atmospheric pressure zones in the north and south Pacific.  Great movements of atmospheric mass driven by a marginal change in solar activity.  A large reaction from a small jolt as expected with technically chaotic systems.

Tessa Vance and colleagues from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC found a proxy of eastern Pacific upwelling in an ice core at the Law Dome Antarctica.  A higher salt content – from polar westerlies – is a proxy for solar activity.  But also results in changes in the great Pacific gyres and the intensity of upwelling.   More upwelling brings rain and cyclones to Indonesia and northern and eastern Australia, drought in the United States of and South America, cooler global temperatures and biological abundance.   Less in El Niña conditions and we – in Australia – get drought.   The absolute volume of rainfall is roughly constant but where it falls on the planet changes.

The record captures in high resolution the 20 to 30 year Pacific beat, the change in the ENSO tempo last century and has at least a resemblance to the solar signal over a 1000 years.  But even with a millennial high El Niño anomaly last century – conditions have been far more extreme at other times in the past 12,000 years.


Will there be more La Niña over the next centuries? Can we expect more El Niño in a thousand years?  Might we see great herds return to the Sahel?  The future remains unpredictable.   Still – a return to the mean scenario does suggest better odds on a cooler sun and a little more upwelling in the Pacific Ocean – a cooling influence on the atmosphere and the inevitable regional variabilities in rainfall.

Oceans Make Climate is a major theme at this blog, since I fortunately made the acquaintance of Dr. Arnd Bernaerts.  Rob Ellison adds another important dimension with his consideration of the gyres.


Recently I noticed how sea surface temperatures drove the 2015-2016 global warming, as shown in the HadSST3 record:

Note that higher temps in 2015 and 2016 are first of all due to a sharp rise in Tropical SST, beginning in March 2015, peaking in January 2016, and steadily declining back to its beginning level. Secondly, the Northern Hemisphere added two bumps on the shoulders of Tropical warming, with peaks in August of each year. Finally, note that the global release of heat was not dramatic, due to the Southern Hemisphere offsetting the Northern one.

Much ado will be made of this warming, including claims of human causation, despite the obvious oceanic origin. Further, it is curious that CO2 functions as a warming agent so unevenly around the world, and that the Tropics drove this event, contradicting CO2 warming theory.

Anatomy of the Hottest Years Ever


Climate Dogma Tests

Article Six of the US Constitution says:

No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In that context, what do we make of questions being put to federal government appointees at their confirmation hearings?

Mike Pampeo, CIA Director nominee at the Senate Intelligence Committee

California Senator, Kamala Harris
In the past you have questioned the scientific consensus on change. Nevertheless, according to NASA, multiple studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals, showed 97% or more of actively published, um, climate scientists agree that climate warning trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. Do you have any reason to doubt NASA’s findings?

CIA Director Nominee, Mike Pompeo:
Senator, I’ve actually spoken to this in my political life some. My commentary, most all has been directed to ensuring the policies that America put in place, uh, actually achieve the objective of ensuring we didn’t have catastrophic harm that resulted from changing climate. I continue to hold that view.

Senator Harris
Do you believe that NASA’s findings are debatable?

Nominee Pompeo:
I have not looked at NASA’s findings in particular. I can’t give you any judgment on that today.

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State nominee at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Senator Bob Corker, Committee Chair:
Would you state your personal position as it relates to climate change?

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson:
I came to the position over about 20 years as an engineer and a scientist. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist and the consequences could be large enough that action should be taken.

Senator Corker:
Do you believe that human activity, based on your belief in science, is contributing to climate change?

Nominee Tillerson:
The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.

Senator Tim Kaine:
Exxon-Mobil had a history of funding and promoting climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change, during your tenure with the company, true or false?

Nominee Tillerson:
Since I am no longer with Exxon-Mobil, I am in no position to speak on their behalf. The question would have to be put to them.

Senator Kaine:
The allegations are about Exxon’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of the science, are those allegations true or false?

Nominee Tillerson: That question will have to be put to Exxon.

Senator Kaine: Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or do you refuse to answer?

Nominee Tillerson: A little of both.

Senator Jeff Merkley:
Do you agree with the viewpoint that the odds of dramatic events occurring, whether more forest fires, or more hurricanes with more power, is a rational observation from the scientific literature?

Nominee Tillerson:
As you indicated, there is some literature out there that suggests that. Other literature says that it is inconclusive.

Senator Jeff Merkley: I am sorry to hear that viewpoint. Overwhelmingly, the scales are on one side of this argument.

Senator Tom Udall: Do you plan or would you support any efforts to persecute, sideline, or otherwise retaliate against career state department employees who have worked on climate change in the past?

Nominee Tillerson: No sir, that would be a pretty unhelpful way to get started.


The climate dogma is captured in a famous tweet:
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Barack Obama

Since that is not what the scientists said, nor what say many other scientists (who were not asked), this is clearly a creed of some kind of religion, call it climatism.

Asking nominees whether they subscribe to a creed or not violates Article Six of the Constitution. Inquisitors can claim there’s no formal religious organization, but they are still looking to disqualify based on dissent in a matter of belief.

Yellow Climate Journalism


Definition of “Fake News”:  When reporters state their own opinions instead of bearing witness to observed events.

We are now fully entrenched in an age of “yellow” journalism, especially regarding the issue of global warming/climate change. Below I will deconstruct a recent egregious example, but first we need a background from renowned philosopher Mortimer Adler.

On the Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion

Knowledge refers to knowing the truth, that is understanding reality independent of the person and his/her ideas. By definition, there is no such thing as “false knowledge.”

When I show you two marbles then add two more marbles and ask you how many marbles there are, the answer is not a matter of opinion. You have no freedom to assert any opinion other than the answer “four”.  By the axioms of mathematics we know the true answer to this question.

A great many other issues in human society, politics and culture are matters of opinion, and each is free to hold an opinion different from others. In such cases, the right opinion is usually determined by counting noses with the majority view ruling.

Note that school children are taught right opinions. That is, they are told what their elders and betters have concluded are the right answers to many questions about life and the world. Those children do not yet possess knowledge, because as Socrates well demonstrated, you have knowledge when you have both the right opinion and also know why it is right. Only when you have consulted the evidence and done your own analysis does your opinion serve as knowledge for you, rather than submission to an authority.

John R. Christy is a professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

On Climate Knowledge, Dr. John Christy (here)

Climate science is a murky science. When dealing with temperature variations and trends, we do not have an instrument that tells us how much change is due to humans and how much to Mother Nature. Measuring the temperature change over long time periods is difficult enough, but we do not have a thermometer that says why these changes occur.

We cannot appeal to direct evidence for the cause of change, so we argue.

The real climate system is so massively complex we do not have the ability to test global-size theories in a laboratory. Without this ability, we tend to travel all sorts of other avenues to confirm what are essentially our unprovable views about climate. These avenues tend to comfort our souls because we crave certainty over ambiguity.

Without direct evidence and with poor model predictability, what other avenues are available to us? This is where things get messy because we are humans, and humans tend to select those avenues that confirm their biases. (It seems to me that the less direct evidence there is for a position, the more passion is applied and the more certainty is claimed.)

One avenue many folks tend to latch onto is the self-selected “authority.” Once selected, this “authority” does the thinking for them, not realizing that this “authority” doesn’t have any more direct evidence than they do.

Other avenues follow a different path: Without direct evidence, folks start with their core beliefs (be they political, social or religious) and extrapolate an answer to climate change from there. That’s scary.

Exhibit A of Yellow Climate Journalism

Unfortunately we see that climate journalists often distort their articles by confusing factual reporting of events with their own opinions.

“In the conduct of trials before judges in our courts there is a famous rule called the opinion rule. The opinion rule says that a witness giving testimony must report what he saw or what he heard. He must not report what he thinks happened, because that would be giving an opinion, not knowledge by observation.”
~ Mortimer J. Adler

One of many typical articles on climate is this one from Wired: Tillerson’s Hearing Seals It: the US Won’t Lead on Climate Change 

See how the author forces his own opinions to subvert what he observed.

After more than six hours of testimony, Tillerson backtracked even further, telling senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that though the evidence of a changing climate was clear, the cause wasn’t. “The science behind the clear connection (to human activity) is not conclusive,” Tillerson said, an assertion as false as the scientific consensus is clear. (my bold)

Tillerson said that he and the president elect would do a “fulsome review” of US climate change policies. “I also know that the president, as part of his priority in campaigning, was ‘America First,’ so there is important considerations as we commit to such accords, and as those accords are executed over time: are there any elements of that that put America at a disadvantage?” he said. The negative effects of climate change, of course, don’t discriminate on the basis of national borders(my bold)

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who believes government money currently spent fighting climate change could be “better spent” elsewhere, pushed Tillerson to commit to abandoning US funding for anti-climate change initiatives. Specifically, Barrasso opposes support for the Green Climate Fund, an international program set up to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change. The US under Obama has pledged $3 billion.

“In consultation with the president, my expectation is that we are going to look at these things from the bottom up in terms of funds we’ve committed toward this effort,” Tillerson said.

Even in his non-answer, it’s clear Tillerson was open to dropping such funding. Instead, he opined on the power of electricity to lift people out of poverty. A noble aspiration, perhaps, but one that would provide little consolation to communities ravaged by climate change now and in the future. (my bold)

Summary, Five criteria for distinguishing between knowledge and opinion:

1. Whether or not everyone must agree.
2. Doubt and belief are relative only to opinion, never to knowledge;
3. We can have freedom of thought only about matters of opinion, never knowledge.
4. Consensus differentiates between knowledge and opinion; only with respect to opinion do we talk about consensus.
5. Matters of opinion are subject to conflict, knowledge is not.

By all criteria, global warming/climate change is a matter of opinion, not knowledge.

Any teacher will tell you it is much easier to teach a student who is ignorant than one who is in error, because the student who is in error on a given point thinks that he knows whereas in fact he does not know. . .It is almost necessary to take the student who is in error and first correct the error before you can teach him. . .The path from ignorance to knowledge is shorter than the path from error to knowledge.
Mortimer Adler

Mortimer J. Adler, Founder of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas

Climate Progress on a Rant

There is a torrent of Anti-Trump posts from “Climate Progress”, part of the “Think Progress” set of websites directed by John Podesta and funded by George Soros and Tom Steyer.  The ranting is over the top and could crash the internet before the inauguration.  Maybe that’s the objective.  Look at today’s output of “progressive thinking.”

Climate Progress : Trump is assem­bling the most anti-Iran team
Today: 16:03

@Climate Progress : No Senator Cruz, Jeff Sessions didn’t lead the bankru­pting of the Alabama Klan
Today: 15:56

@Climate Progress : Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson didn’t mention energy, climate, or Exxon in his opening remarks
Today: 15:52

@Climate Progress : Jeff Sessions may soon get to decide whether 63 people live or die
Today: 15:41

@Climate Progress : Six critical questions about conflicts of interest that Donald Trump must answer
Today: 15:37

@Climate Progress : Trump claims he has ‘nothing to do with Russia.’ His son said the opposite.
Today: 15:08

@Climate Progress : 15 things Trump said about Russia that seem even weirder now
Today: 14:51

@Climate Progress : The abortion providers who will see us through a Trump presidency
Today: 14:18

@Google: Trump Nominee Rex Tillerson to Face Questions About Russia, Climate, Rights Wall Street Journal
Today: 13:02

Trump Nominee Rex Tillerson to Face Questions About Russia, Climate , RightsWall Street Journal WASHING­TON—Pre­sident-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tille­rson, went before senators for a confir­mation hearing Wedne­sday, and planned to tell lawmakers that Russia poses a danger and that North Atlantic Treaty Organi­zation …
Today: 14:43

DeSmogBlog: Fake News You Can’t Use, They’ll Abuse, We All Lose. Except Putin. Putin Wins.
Today: 14:19

@Google: What senators should ask Rex Tillerson about climate change Vox
This is a guest post by ClimateD­enierRou­ndup   Vox What senators should ask Rex Tillerson about climate change Vox One of those questions is about climate change, and it’s worth focusing on that subject for a moment, because this is a very strange and uncertain moment in climate politics. Normally a presid­ential candidate would have taken some kind of position on a … Time to Grill Rex Tillerson on Climate Change New York Times Trump Nominee…
Today: 14:18

Climate Progress : Coretta Scott King: Jeff Sessions would ‘irrep­arably damage’ my husband’s work
Today: 01:19

@Climate Progress : Al Franken lays into Trump for attacking Minnes­ota’s Somali-American community
Today: 01:04

@Google: Republ­icans want to fight climate change, but fossil-fuel bullies won’t let them Washi­ngton Post
Forbes Crazy Carbon Crystals Could Combat Climate Change Forbes In other words the solution could be used to grab CO2, which contri­butes to climate change, direct from the atmos­phere and store it tempor­arily into crystals that form as a result. The resear­chers envision using the process as a way to boost the … and more » Washi­ngton Post Republ­icans want to fightclimate change, but fossil-fuel bullies won’t let them Washi­ngton Post Talking to my Senate Repub­lican colle­agues about climate change is like talking to prisoners about escaping. The convers­ations are often private, even furtive. One told me, “Let’s keep talking, but you can’t let my staff know.” The dirty secret is that … and more »
Today: 01:02

@DeSmogBlog: How Jeff Sessions Profited from Introd­ucing a Fracking Exemption for Drinking Water Rules @The Carbon Brief: Double threat to UK’s birds and butter­flies from climate change and land use
With U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in the midst of Senate confir­mation hearings, watchdog group Food and Water Watch has raised new questions about how Sessio­ns and his family p­rofited from a fracking loophole provision he intro­duced in the Se­nate. In the UK, rising temper­atures are making life increa­singly uncomfo­rtable for species of wildlife better…
The group has unveiled new documentsshowing that Sessions­’ family owned stock in Energen, a Birmin­gham, Alabama-based oil and gas company,… The post Double threat to UK’s birds and butter­flies from climate change and land use appeared first on Carbon Brief .
Today: 00:02


Origins of Science

In a recently published video, John Christy explains clearly the limits of scientists’ understanding of earth’s climate system. It is well worth anyone’s time to view.

Dr. Christy makes the important point that all science is based upon objective measurements of the world. Feelings, intuitions, anecdotes and shared opinions do not provide proof for a scientific understanding of something. Science requires data, numerical records of observed measurements.

This post is about how much we owe to ancestors who invented standardized units of weights and measures without which we would have no science at all.


It happened last week that my home north of Montreal was without electrical power for 3 nights and 2 days. The whole experience drove home how much our lives depend on reliable, affordable electricity. Yes, our home heating system is electrical.

My e-readers’ batteries ran out, leaving me to read real paper books by the light of our hurricane lamp. Thus, I revisited a book from many years ago that provides much interesting information on this subject: Charles Panati’s Browser’s Book of Beginnings: Origins of Everything Under, and Including the Sun.

CHARLES PANATI, a former physicist and for six years a science editor for Newsweek, is the author of many non-fiction and fiction books, including six works on “origins.” The text below comes from Panati, the images from various internet sources.

Length Measures

To measure lengths, the Egyptians turned to parts of the human body. We know many of these measurements by terms later derived from Latin. A cubit, the oldest enduring standard measure, devised about 3000 B.C. was the length of a grown man’s arm from the elbow to the tip of the outstretched middle finger–about 20.5 inches in modern units. The cubit’s basic sub-unit was a digit, which was the breadth, not the length of a finger. Twenty-eight digits equaled 1 cubit.

The palm, not surprisingly, was another unit. One palm equaled 4 digits. (Measure it yourself, by holding the four fingers of one hand against the other hand’s palm.) A palm plus a digit, totaled 5 digits, or a hand. Palms were combined to make several larger units, and a digit was elaborately subdivided, resulting in a complex, but amazingly accurate system of measurement.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, built by thousands of workers with minimal architectural knowledge, boasts sides that vary no more than 0.05 percent from the mean length–that is, a deviation of only 4.5 inches over a span of 755 feet.

The ancient Greeks borrowed from Egyptian and Babylonian systems and made their own refinements; they also preferred terms related to the human body. 16 fingers combined to make 1 foot, and 24 fingers made an “Olympic cubit.” The Romans copied from the Greeks, but subdivided the foot into 12 inches. They also used the mile, the yard and, for weight, the pound.

Weight Measures

A system of standard weights based on the human body was unfeasible, since there were too many natural variations to rely on an average man. Instead, the Babylonians devised a system based on metal objects, or trinkets, of various sizes and shapes.


The earliest unit of weight was the mina. Minas often took the shape of a duck, and each of several unearthed at a archaeological dig weigh roughly 640 grams. Also discovered was a swan weighing 30 minas. The Babylonians also used standard size “coins” from which the Hebrews adopted their unit of weight, the “shekel”, about half an ounce, and also a silver coin weighing that amount, frequently mentioned in the Bible.

The Metric Revolution

Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV by Henry Testelin

Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV by Henry Testelin

Almost all of the ancient and medieval weights and measures fell into disuse, to be replaced by the metric system. The French Revolution was not only political, but overturned many previously sacrosanct institutions. With the fall of the Bastille July 4, 1789, King Louis XVI had to give way to a constituent National Assembly, who proceeded to make many changes. Prominent among them was the adoption in June 1799 of the metric system.

Members of the French Academy of Sciences had taken on the task of devising a metric system. They decided that the length of the meridian passing through Paris from the North Pole to the Equator should serve as a fixed distance, and that one ten-millionth of that distance should be called a meter. The unit of weight, the gram, was to be related to the weight of a cubic meter of water. Sub-units such as centimeter and millimeter were also proposed, as well as such super-units as the kilometer.

The metric system was adopted under the motto “For all people, all the time”, a sentiment in accord with the revolutionary tenor of the time.

Time Measures

Our 7-Day Week Can Be Traced To Babylonians Who Started Using It 4,000 Years Ago

Our 7-Day Week Can Be Traced To Babylonians Who Started Using It 4,000 Years Ago

Many are aware that the earliest reckoning of time referred to moons (or months), but as civilizations became more complex, shorter periods proved more convenient as measurements of time. For a long while, the idea of a week was different from place to place: West Africans had a four day week, central Asians opted for five days, Assyrians adopted a six-day weeks, being the period between market days.

It was the Babylonians who preferred to measure a month by its natural phase of 28 days (more accurately the moon’s waxing and waning takes approximately 29.5 days. For convenience in business transactions–and also because of their belief in the sacredness of the number seven–they grouped the days into four seven-day weeks, the origin of our present system.

Temperature Measures

The ancient Greeks could have invented the thermometer, since they were well aquainted with the behavior of certain liquids and gases under conditions of changing temperature. Several scientists attempted to measure quantitative differences between hot and cold, but success came only late in the 16th century to the Italian astronomer Galileo.

Galileo’s device was actually a thermoscope, which had no degree scale, and measured only gross changes in temperature. A large glass bulb with a long, narrow, open-mouthed neck rested inverted over a vessel of colored water or alcohol. When air was forced from the bulb, the liquid rose up a short distance into the neck. When the bulb’s temperature changed, the air in it either expanded or contracted, and the level of liquid in the tube changed accordingly.

In 1611, the first scale was introduced by Sanctorius, a contemporary of Galileo. He gauged the low point by noting the level of the liquid when the thermoscope was surrounded by melting snow. Then he held a candle beneath it to mark the high point. From his observations, he arrived at a scale of 110 equal parts, or degrees. Thus, the thermo-scope, for “seeing” temperature changes, became a thermo-meter, for measuring those changes.

Early thermometers were inaccurate due to changes in barometric pressures causing liquid levels to change when temperatures did not. This problem was solved in 1644 when Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany introduced the hermetically sealed thermometer. He also founded in 1657 an academy for experimentation to improve temperature devices. They did not use mercury as modern models do (though academy members experimented with that liquid metal), but red wine instead, since it expanded faster when heated.


These are but a few, mostly ancient, examples of human inventions contributing to the rich scientific framework we have inherited. Many more have been added in modern times, and who knows what the future will bring. Below is a whimsical look at some possibilities.

Since science depends on measuring things, you need to know the correct units for what you are studying. Below are some obscure measures for special situations.

Footnote on the Importance of Measurements

Truth in Climate Advertising

Friends of the Earth have been censured for their erroneous and misleading promotional flyer. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said Friends of the Earth “agreed not to repeat the claims, or claims that had the same meaning.”

Friends of the Earth spent more than a year trying to defend its claims, which were made in a fundraising leaflet, but has been forced to withdraw them.

The authority found that Friends of the Earth (FoE) failed to substantiate claims that fracking could cause cancer, contaminate water supplies, increase asthma rates and send house prices plummeting.

The group’s capitulation is a victory for a retired vicar and a retired physics teacher who have been working for years to expose what they believe is scaremongering about a safe technique for extracting shale gas. (More about them in the footnote)

Truth in Climate Advertising!  What a Concept!!

Who’s next?  What about Greenpeace:

Greenpeace have been accused of employing deceptive techniques after it was revealed the environmental group had been using images of a storm damaged coral reef in The Philippines as a part of its campaign to have the Great Barrier Reef declared at risk.

On the left is a picture of bright, vibrant and thriving coral, while the image on the right features a pile of damaged, bone-white coral with a warning: ‘Don’t let them turn this, into this.’

Upon completing further research, it was discovered the image of the damaged reef was taken at Apo Island’s marine sanctuary in The Philippines, which was severely damaged by two typhoons in the past four years. From the Daily Mail article
Greenpeace slammed for using photo of storm-ravaged Philippines coral in new ad claiming government is putting Great Barrier Reef under threat.

How about the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

Shouldn’t they be forced to add this disclaimer:



Friends of the Earth are making up stuff.  Friends of Science give you the Beef:



The UK Advertising Standards Authority did not have the brass to do their job protecting the public against deceptions.  It took significant prodding from two determined people: a vicar and a retired school teacher.

They had previously complained to the Charity commission, who found a way to stand down rather than stand up.

The Charity Commission is considering closing a loophole in charity law that allowed a green group to raise money by making allegedly false claims in a political campaign against fracking.

Friends of the Earth, a registered charity, avoided restrictions on political activity by claiming that its antifracking campaign was being carried out by a non-charitable company called Friends of the Earth Limited.

The commission said the use of such similar names could confuse the public and damage public trust in charities.

Mr Wilkinson, who said that he had no connection with the fracking industry and was acting purely to ensure the public received accurate information, welcomed the ASA ruling. “It is outrageous that FoE used false information to raise money,” he said. “We need a frank debate about fracking and its potential impacts but it should be based on facts, not scaremongering.”

The Rev. Michael Roberts tells the full story in his article How Fiendish is Friends of the Earth which includes this amusing rebuttal:



SBC: Social Benefits of Carbon


Recently I posted on the Social Cost of Carbon: Origin and Prospects, which has become a focus for the Trump transition team. An article from Bloomberg provided a good historical context and overview of that policy instrument. The discussion noted major issues with how the damages are estimated and focused on how the calculation depends greatly upon the arbitrary choice of discount rate.

Several commenters raised a quite separate problem, namely that SCC is biased by addressing only estimated damages from CO2 and not the social benefits. That is not surprising since the entire purpose of the SCC is to get a large enough dollar figure to justify imposing expensive regulations, supposedly to avoid the damages by reductions in CO2 emissions. The framers had no interest or incentive to reduce damage estimates by considering benefits.

However a normal cost/benefit analysis would only project damages net of the expected benefits, which is clearly not the case here. Let’s consider three categories of Social Benefits of Carbon which properly must be included, rather than ignored.

Social Benefits from the Energy

Climate advocates assume that burning fossil fuels provide immediate benefits, such as electrical power or horsepower, which are paid for in the purchase of the fuels and realized by the consumers. Thus the social costs pertain only to future damages not covered by the fuel market prices. This view is achieved by wearing blinders to many obvious future social benefits attributable to the reliable and affordable energy from fossil fuels.

Alex Epstein (here) is among those who demonstrate from public information sources comparisons between societies who use carbon fuels extensively and those who do not. The contrast is remarkable: Societies with fossil fuels have citizens who are healthier, live longer, have higher standards of living, and enjoy cleaner air and drinking water, to boot. Not only do healthier, more mobile people create social wealth and prosperity, carbon-based energy is heavily taxed by every society that uses it.  Those added government revenues go (at least some of it) into the social welfare of the citizenry. By almost any measure, carbon-based energy makes the difference between developed and underdeveloped populations.

Social Benefits from CO2 Fertilization

SCC excludes any consideration of the positive effects upon the biosphere from higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. It has been proven by numerous studies that plants thrive when more than 400ppm of CO2 are in the air, and greenhouse operators routinely add CO2 to double or triple the amount inside their facilities.

Yet climatists are at pains to discredit the benefits of more CO2.

A few years ago a scientist analyzed satellite imagery and discovered that the planet is greening (adding plant coverage) at a higher rate most likely due to more CO2 in the air. Climate activists are putting pressure upon these researchers to recant their findings.

A recent post Researchers Against CO2 revealed how activist scientists are trying to overturn the extensive biological evidence that plants love CO2. Field experiments are conducted claiming that plants don’t always grow bigger and faster with more CO2 when there are other limiting factors such as moisture, sunlight or soil nutrients. Their logic fails since more CO2 doesn’t cause the lack of other growth factors, and reducing CO2 will not improve those circumstances.


Another attack on CO2 benefits is the claim of ocean acidification, and I would not be surprised if SCC includes damage estimates from this source. Facts on the ground (or in this case, the oceans) do not support the claims, as reported in this post on Basics of Ocean Acidification.

Even crabs love CO2.

Social Benefits from Global Warming

Here we face the full force of billions of dollars of research studies on the damaging impacts from a few degrees of temperature increase. Over the years, everything has been shown to suffer from global warming, from A to Z. From Acne to Zika virus, and every letter in between: Bees, Civil wars, Diseases, Extinctions, Fish, etc.

Here’s the thing: Social Cost of Carbon is actually an attempt to estimate the benefits of preventing all those A to Z damages. But where are the estimates of benefits by preventing damages from global cooling?

A few researchers such as Richard Tol have looked objectively at warming scenarios, and identified clear social benefits. One study (here) concluded that an additional degree Celsius of warming by 2040 would likely result in 800,000 fewer deaths each year. Is that not a benefit to be reckoned?  Reasonable people conclude that the last 1°C of warming was a boon to civilization, and the next 1°C is likely to also be a blessing.

There are problems with this category. How do you put dollar values on saving human lives, or projected reductions in crops due to colder weather? These are the same problems bedeviling the SCC calculations.

Further, many are wary of accepting the premise that carbon-based fuels do in fact cause temperatures to rise. Certainly the poor correlation between fuel consumption and global mean temperatures (GMT) does not convince (more here). Still, the argument can be made that even if you believe in man made global warming, policy analysis must also consider the benefits from a warmer world.


Calculating future costs and benefits from using carbon-based fuels is much like going down Alice’s rabbit hole.  Things get distorted, turned upside down and sideways.  Or to change the metaphor:  Beware: this swamp has alligators.

Happy Arctic New Year

With the end of December, Arctic ice is rebuilding in the dark up to its annual maximum before the beginning of dawn in March.  Since many of the seas are already at their maximum extents, the coming months will only add about 2M km2 to the approximately 13M km2 of ice in place.

The regrowth of Arctic ice extent was slower than usual until recently. After showing resilience in September, ending higher than 2007, ice growth lagged in October, but has been ramping up toward the averages.  The map above shows the deficit of ice is mainly in two marginal seas: Bering in the Pacific and Barents in the Atlantic.


In December, 2016 ice extent has grown by 85k km2 per day, compared to the 10-year average 66k km2 per day.  As of Dec. 31, 2016 ice extent is ~3% less than average (2006 to 2015).  The chart also shows the variability of ice extent over the years during this month. (Note: Dec. 31, 2016 result is actually day 366, but the 31 days of December are compared properly.)

2015 did have the highest ice recovery rate in the last decade, but ended up just below average.  2010 had the lowest year end extent in the last decade, matched by 2016. 2011 March extent was about average at 14.819 and higher than both 2015 and 2016.

The chart also shows 2016 Sea Ice Index (SII) from NOAA has been lagging behind by  ~300k km2, but closing the gap lately.

The table below shows this year compared to average and to 2011 for day 001.  Since several years in the dataset were missing day 365, I am making the comparison a day later.

Region 2017001 Day 001
2016-Ave. 2007001 2016-2006
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 12857418 13223710 -366293 12991512 -134094
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 1070445 1070111 334 1069711 734
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 966006 966001 5 966006 0
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 1087137 1087131 6 1087137 0
 (4) Laptev_Sea 897845 897835 10 897845 0
 (5) Kara_Sea 875975 898092 -22118 928941 -52966
 (6) Barents_Sea 199976 469542 -269566 340349 -140373
 (7) Greenland_Sea 464142 592432 -128290 545210 -81068
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 1153387 997051 156336 863809 289578
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 853214 852979 235 852731 483
 (10) Hudson_Bay 1260887 1231119 29768 1217437 43450
 (11) Central_Arctic 3085289 3216691 -131403 3214432 -129143
 (12) Bering_Sea 228020 506683 -278663 512000 -283980
 (13) Baltic_Sea 14808 31992 -17184 16 14793
 (14) Sea_of_Okhotsk 674769 376649 298120 478831 195938
 (15) Yellow_Sea 5761 12180 -6419 0 5761
 (16) Cook_Inlet 5283 9040 -3758 15902 -10619

The main deficit to average is in Barents and Greenland Seas on the Atlantic side, and in Bering Sea on Pacific side.  The Canadian and Siberian sides are locked in ice, with sizable surpluses in Baffin Bay and Okhotsk Sea.

The Arctic Ice Extent Plateau Continues


As I have pointed out before, the annual average ice extent is a better indicator of climate variation, since the seasonal changes are so sizable and extents vary with weather activity.  By averaging all daily extents over the calendar year, 2016 came in at 10.389M km2 compared to 10.414M in 2007, a virtual tie.  And the trendline remains slightly positive, though again, virtually flat.

The data above comes from MASIE, the most accurate Arctic ice dataset with unparalleled resolution at 4km, compared to SII which uses 25km cells.  Alarmists are unhappy with MASIE because it shows more ice, and it has been certified as “reasonably consistent” since 2006.

Alarmists are making much ado about 2016 being lower than 2007, and hoping for no future bounces as happened in 2008 and 2013.  Will the long-predicted decline finally ensue in 2017, or will the ice make a comeback as before?

No one knows what will happen to Arctic ice.

Except maybe the polar bears.

And they are not talking.

Except, of course, to the admen from Coca-Cola


There is no need to panic over Arctic ice this year, or any year.  It fluctuates according to its own ocean-ice-atmospheric processes and we can only watch and be surprised since we know so little about how it all works.  Judah Cohen at AER thinks the much greater snowfall in October and since will make for a very cold winter.  We shall see.  It is already adding more mass to the Greenland ice sheet than in previous years.