On my first day at the AGU Fall Meeting, I highlighted some of the zany things about the meeting, such as “gas sucks” girl and Richard Alley’s open mic night at a local bar.
Today I’ll point out some of the more in-depth observations from my experience there, including the positives and the negatives, and some of the ugly ones too.
There was, in my opinion, too much tolerance of, and outright support for, politicization and polarization, such as broadly advertising events like this throughout the meeting:
Attending that meeting, it was quite clear to me that legal attacks aren’t something the general membership experiences, and it is limited mostly to smaller group. I’ll have more on that later in a separate post. But the way this special session was pushed each day, it makes it look like it is a large organizational-wide problem when the special session itself confirmed that it isn’t.
There was clear evidence throughout the fall meeting of other types of political and polarizing influence. Dr. James Hansen’s talk was a prime example of this. His level of alarm (some of it irrational) was turned into an infection vector for a broad swath of the membership. I’ll also have more on that in a future post and below I describe his reaction to my asking him a question in front of 1200 people.
Along those lines, there were advertisements that I considered a “call to action”, such as this poster:
Science findings really shouldn’t be thought of as “making a difference”, that is a social pursuit. According to the definition that pops up on Google when you query “what is science?” it is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”.
None of the definitions I looked at had “making a difference” as part of the structure. In my opinion, such advertisements can become the seeds of “noble cause corruption”, or as Dr. Judith Curry recently put it, Pathological altruism:
Pathological altruism can be conceived as behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable.
Some of the opinions I saw expressed under the guise of science at this show most certainly fit that definition.
And then there was the money.
The costs to attend this show, in one of the most expensive cities in the USA, is quite significant. That’s why I asked WUWT readers for help a couple of months ago (thank you everyone). Between my hotel bill for four days, costs of food, parking, taxis, and incidentals, my costs have now reached about $2000. Had I not been able to get a press pass, the costs would be close to $2500. Had I flown from a location elsewhere in the USA rather than drive, my costs could easily have reached $3500.
From my observations, the majority of attendees were government employed scientists, either by agencies, such as NASA, NOAA, Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Aviation, etc. to name a few I spotted, or from universities, which rely upon state and federal government funding.
There was also private sector attendees, but these seemed the minority, and many of them were exhibitors of scientific equipment. My guesstimate based on badge counting is that there were about 15,000 government-funded attendees out of the 20,000 or so that were estimated to have attended.
If I use my own numbers as an example, and figure it may have cost each of them $3000 to attend (some may not have stayed four days) and with 20,000 attendees that translates to a 60 million dollar event. If fifteen thousand were government-funded, that puts it at 45 million dollars footed by the taxpayers.
There was a lot of science on display there, but as I wandered through the poster sessions each day, I saw a lot of science that seemed to be replicated. I’d see 3 or four posters covering the same topic from different universities or agencies, sometimes on the same day in the same aisle. This duplication of effort is something the US government is quite famous for. For example, USGS now has a climate change division, duplicating some of the work NOAA does. When Eisenhower warned that science was becoming institutionalized, he was only touching the surface of what I observed on display at AGU.
I got a first hand insight into many of the climate personalities we cover here at WUWT. To name a few, I encountered, Michael Mann, John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, David Appell, Gavin Schmidt, James Hansen, Naomi Oreskes, Stephan Lewandowsky, Richard Somerville, Peter Gleick, Phil Jones, Ben Santer, Andrew Dessler, Kevin Trenberth, Joshua Halpern (who plays Eli Rabbet on the interweb) Scott Mandia, Richard Alley, Zeke Hausfather, and California Governor Jerry Brown.
Some I shook hands with, some I listened to at lectures, and some I simply encountered and they avoided eye contact. Cook and Nuccitelli were prime avoiders, not just of me but I heard the same from others. Watching them walk around the show with their swagger when they weren’t in proximity of a skeptic was an interesting observation.
Most of the people named above were pretty much as I expected them to be, one notable exception was Scott Mandia (see the positives below). The other notable exception was Naomi Oreskes. After watching her present her views, I’m convinced that she suffers from sort of personality disorder that causes her to hate (venomously I might add, she labels some people as “scumbags”) people who disagree with her. She’s really got a chip on her shoulder, and that translates directly into her emotionally driven work on climate politics. IMHO, she makes Michael Mann look like an amateur in that regard.
I saw Penn State’s Richard Alley speak, and let me tell you, if you think Michael Mann is annoying, Alley’s certainly a close second. His presentation was simultaneously grating (he shouted a lot) and ridiculous, using bizarre metaphors like this one:
Worse, California governor Jerry Brown was in the audience and seemed to be quite taken with Alley’s brand of science and alarmism, particularly Alley’s depictions of San Francisco under water.
I shudder to think what sort of influence Alley’s rantings might have on the people of California via Brown.
My first two days at AGU were personally difficult. I felt the stares, I heard some smirks. But the biggest problem for me wasn’t that I was in the minority, but that my hearing assistance needs ( have about an 80% loss, partially corrected with hearing aids) weren’t attended to by AGU, even though I thought they had been taken care of when I signed up. When I went to sessions and asked for the hearing assistance headsets, all I got was blank stares. Nobody knew where to get them. Thankfully the problem was resolved (see the positives).
The AGU is too Macintosh centric. For example, they had a great App for iPhone and iPad users to help them navigate the show, but Android users were virtually ignored. Android accounts for a larger market share now than IOS, and according to this November 2013 Forbes article, 81% of devices shipped had Android OS, versus 12.9% for Apple’s IOS. AGU shouldn’t ignore the many people in attendance that use Android on phones and tablets.
So, since I have Android, I was forced to rely on the printed book for the show which was the size of a small phone book, making it cumbersome and heavy to carry around all day. I finally resorted to tearing out pages and/or taking snapshots on my phone of sessions I wanted to attend. The book itself was quite an impressive production, but to an outsider it was hard to navigate as the session listings were split into groupings by interest, instead of having one listing for each day.
The event itself was eye-opening, I would encourage anyone who can to attend it at least once. Despite some sneers and snubs I received at the hands of a small group of people, and some difficulties with hearing some sessions, the event was mostly positive for me.
This meeting had about 20,000 attendees based on the numbers I heard from AGU officials I interacted with. For the most part, it was well orchestrated and well handled. Getting any event this large to run smoothly takes skill, and I think AGU did a good job at making most everything run smoothly.
Many of the sessions were available via streaming video, and the video worked well. Many will also be on the YouTube channel soon. This makes much of the meeting accessible to everyone and I applaud AGU for doing this.
While I offered my handshake first to say hello to a few people on the opposite side of the debate (named above in the negatives section, Kevin Trenberth, Gavin Schmidt, Joshua Halpern to name a few) only one person from that group made the effort to say hello to me; Scott Mandia.
Despite the fact that he takes a satirical ribbing from us for his “SuperMandia” persona, Scott was not only civil, but quite pleasant. I spent about 15 minutes talking to him about his Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, the meeting itself, and what skeptics and AGW proponents have in common. Kudos to him for doing so.
One person who is not part of that group, Clark J. Weaver who runs Congressional Temperature Trends also made the effort to say hello. He was quite interested in what I had to say about station siting issues.
While I was in this meeting….
…I sat just feet away from people whom I’m quite certain would rather not have had me there.
In that meeting audience (which was about half capacity of the room) there was also John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Phil Jones, David Appell, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Richard Somerville. WUWT regular John Whitman was also present.
Despite my presence front and center with my unmistakably labeled WUWT camera case, I wasn’t bothered by anyone, nor was I acknowledged or cited by the panel (though they had plenty of opportunity to do so when talking about the impacts of Climategate). In fact, eye contact was universally avoided. That said, I’m pretty certain that some of the commentary from the panel was a bit more restrained than it might have been had I not been so visible. I’ll point out, as I told Scott Mandia, I didn’t sit in the front row to intimidate anyone, I sit there so I can lip read.
The meeting purported to to be about the “legal attacks” these people had experienced. I only heard two instances of a lawsuit being inflicted on members the panel, and that was from Oreskes and Dessler, and the outcomes were unclear. I gathered these were a threats of a lawsuit, but not an actual lawsuit taken to full court press. Dr. Trenberth made a point of saying “I’ve never been sued”.
Oreskes made it clear that threat never did become a full blown lawsuit, and as part of the “silver lining” she mentioned, wrote Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
From that book, she got more invitations to speak and publish.
What was surprising was that none of the panel cited any monetary losses from these lawsuits or threats of lawsuits, nor did they cite any professional losses (such as demotion, loss of pay grade, etc) as a result of the supposed attacks. My viewpoint was strengthened by an audience member who commented during Q&A that “Dr. Mann mentioned the Serengeti strategy, and I don’t don’t think skeptics have been very effective at it, since you are all still here to talk about it”.
Most of the panel’s complaints had to do with Climategate and those emails, FOIA requests, time spent, and the supposed nasty emails they get from skeptics and the emails sent to their superiors. David Appell wrote this in an article When Scientists Get Sued (yaleclimatemediaforum.org):
Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of NCAR described the 19 pages of “extremely nasty” e-mails he received, after an e-mail message of his own was leaked in the so-called “ClimateGate” controversy of 2009. In that message he bemoaned science’s inability to close the planet’s energy budget, which he then described as a “travesty,” a remark that was widely misconstrued by climate contrarians.
Trenberth was bombarded with e-mails containing “filthy language” and suggestions he go back to his native New Zealand. A small protest was held at the entrance to his NCAR lab, and the lab increased security.
That combined with the low attendance, with the audience mostly being people who are part of this clique, it suggested to me that the “legal attacks” were really few and far between, didn’t come to fruition or monetary losses, and that most of the umbrage vented by the panel had to do with the idea that anyone dare questioned their results or integrity.
This all seems more on the “Tempest in a teapot” level than serious legal losses. I’ll have more on this meeting in a future post.
The science posters on display was probably the best part of the show, though exhausting to keep up with since they changed every day, and there were hundreds of new ones each day. It was like turbo science fair. One of the best things about posters is that it allowed people to try out new ideas without going through the process of peer review. Ideas and criticisms from the poster can then be worked into a final paper. I saw a few posters that pushed a skeptical view of climate, I also saw a few posters that pushed what I consider ridiculous views of climate alarmism that would be considered fringe science. One such poster was from a fellow who argued that all global warming was from water vapor feedback and nothing else.
I’ll have more on poster sessions in upcoming WUWT stories.
Once I was able to contact the right AGU staff about the lack of hearing assistance in the session rooms, I’ll have to say they were very responsive and very gracious. I’d like to thank Joan Buhrman, Manager, Strategic Communications of AGU for her personal assistance in solving this problem. During Hansen’s second rescheduled talk, she made up for some the previous difficulties by placing me at the front of the line for his talk, ensuring I’d get a good seat. That translated into a seat right next to microphones that allowed audience members to ask questions.
After Dr. Hansen’s talk, in which he stated “we have very little time left” and used the usual alarming points, but then he started promoting nuclear power, and I saw this as an opportunity to ask a question that dealt with something AGW promoters and skeptics might agree on.
So, there I was, standing before Hansen and 1200 people getting ready to ask a question. As a 30 year veteran of television, radio, and audience presentations, I can’t recall a time when I was so nervous. My knees were literally shaking. While I was waiting for my turn, I was wondering if Dr. Hansen would recognize me, and if he did, would he take my question, or would he launch into some sort of invective about skeptics? Would I get catcalls and boos from the audience just for daring to ask?
To my relief, Dr. Hansen took my question in stride. I thanked him for his views on nuclear power, and asked him if he would be willing to support Thorium based nuclear power due to its many safety advantages that got pushed aside due to the Uranium based nuclear power being preferred due to the parallel bomb making effort helping the economics of nuclear power development.
He said it “must be part of the mix” mainly due to the fact that “there is so much of it” referring to abundance in the Earth’s crust. I see this as a point of agreement that both sides should work on.
The best part of my daring to ask that question, was that a person and dear friend in the audience that I hadn’t seen in 20 years recognized my voice and we connected afterwards. That was a real treat.
During the presentation a slide went up that had a story from WUWT cited on it. At that same time I heard what I thought was a grunt of disapproval. Looking around a bit later, I noticed that the nearest likely candidates for uttering such a grunt were sitting about 8-10 feet from me; David Appell and Dr. Richard Somerville.
I wrote in that post about the appearance of the slide:
Nice to see a familiar face used. Heard David Appell and Richard Somerville who were sitting near me both grunt when WUWT was displayed.
I didn’t think much of it, it was just an observation (posted from my cell phone). To my surprise I found out that despite him stating “ Frankly, I couldn’t care less ” Appell wrote an entire story saying it wasn’t him, about this one sentence. His post is titled: Anthony Watts, Lying Again
Anthony Watts can’t even tell the truth about the little things.
My goodness, what a reaction! If Appell isn’t the one who grunted when the WUWT slide came up, I’ll certainly take his word for it.
Maybe it was somebody behind me I couldn’t see or maybe it was somebody stifling a cough. All I know is that I heard something at that time that sounded like a grunt, and I thought the most likely candidates were Appell and Somerville, since they both have expressed strong disdain in the past for climate skeptics, and with Appell, me in particular.
Since Appell brought up the issue “…can’t even tell the truth about the little things.” I’ll point out that Mr. Appell has created false persona and fake email addresses to get around his being banned for serial bad behavior here.
Mr. Appell has used fake email addresses with several aliases here at WUWT:
And those are just the ones I know of.
He’s also sent me an email some time ago saying he’d do it again. Anything for “the cause” I suppose. And then there’s the incident where he brought my deceased mother into one of his rants.
So while Mr. Appell suggests loudly that I’m lying about my observation of hearing a grunt and attributing it to him, the most likely nearby candidate, and that it’s a supposed example of not telling the truth about little things, which he means translates by extension into larger things, we have multiple examples here of Mr. Appell’s own falsehoods in representing who he is.
I’d say that getting ranted on by Appell over attribution of a “grunt” was probably the worst thing to come out of AGU 2013. From that perspective, since nobody much takes him seriously anymore, I think since that was the worst thing that happened, I did pretty well at AGU 2013.