Why TV weathermen are on the frontline of the climate change debate

Yours truly, early 1990's, when I was still an alarmist

I used to be like Jim Gandy when I was doing television. Gandy, who chastises people in advance (bolded in the article below) who might want to visit his blog and discus the issues, probably won’t win any converts with that sort of attitude. Attendees of my Australian tour lectures might be surprised to know that I did this type of viewer education project on Earth Day in 1990 and 1991, with nationwide results. I had 189 TV stations involved in 45 states, and it didn’t take me a year to “study”. And, like the surfacestations.org project, I did it on a shoestring with volunteers and no funding. I’ll write about this in a future post, and I may very well do the project again, but this time to educate the public about why what Senator Graham recently called the “overselling” of climate change.

“I think they’ve oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they’ve been alarmist and the science is in question…”– Senator Lindsey Graham, former supporter/designer of the Kerry-Leiberman-Graham cap and trade bill.

– Anthony

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What Weathermen Know About Climate Change

Local TV’s ‘station scientists’ have diversity of views, education.

By Emilie Lorditch Inside Science News Service

WASHINGTON (ISNS) — Climate change is a topic that impacts the weather not only globally, but also locally. While some people may be concerned about the melting ice sheets at the far corners of the Earth, what most really want to know is “how will global warming affect me?” — and they often turn to their local weatherperson to find out.

A study released today study by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in Fairfax, Va., showed that 27 percent of broadcast meteorologists — who are, according to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, “often the most visible representatives of science in U.S. households” — believe that global warming is a scam.

According to the National Science Foundation’s 2010 Science and Engineering Indicators, television is the number one source the public turns to for information about science and technology. Broadcast meteorologists are often the only people at TV news stations with a science background. But the education and experience of those who deliver news about the weather varies dramatically.

“In television, when it comes to weather, there is an extremely wide range of education sets,” said Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at WLTX-TV in Columbia, S.C. “Some have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s, but you also have some without.”

When a topic such as climate change comes up in the news, broadcast meteorologists — no matter what their educational background — are often thrust into the spotlight. Some embrace the opportunity and try to educate their audiences on the science, while others avoid it at all costs.

“People are uninformed and believe climate change is a hoax,” said Gandy. “I occasionally respond to comments posted on our station’s website, but you better know your science and get your facts straight before you post on my website.”

Some meteorologists surveyed said that there is a lot of conflicting information about climate change.

“Science is about questioning things and I think we should all be in the middle, question the information,” said Brad Sowder, First Alert Meteorologist at KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I have been more on the side of a skeptic.”

Another weathercaster who wanted to remain anonymous felt that the topic of climate change is less about the science and more about politics. “Personally, I think that global warming is a political issue, and I feel like it is safer to stay out of it,” he said.

The survey also found that 62 percent of broadcast meteorologists want to report more on climate change.

“We have a good comprehensive look at television weathercasters from this survey,” said Kris Wilson, a senior lecturer with the School of Journalism at University of Texas at Austin and one of the lead investigators of the survey.

Beginning in July, the next phase of the National Science Foundation-funded study will begin. A test case at Gandy’s station will include 30-second segments in some of the weathercasts to educate viewers about climate change.

“It will be a year-long effort using our resources on-air and on the Internet in an effort to educate the public about climate change past, present, and future,” said Gandy. “I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science. Simply being a meteorologist is not enough, and this is a mistake that some television meteorologists make.”

h/t to WUWT reader OK S

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51 thoughts on “Why TV weathermen are on the frontline of the climate change debate

  1. “People are uninformed and believe climate change is a hoax,” said Gandy.
    He’s got a point there: Climate Change (nee AGW) is not a hoax, it’s a scam.
    A hoax is an attempt to garner fame and/or attention. Piltdown Man was a hoax.
    A scam is aimed at your wallet.

  2. I can get a number of weather forecasts for the Seattle Area.
    One put together by computer models available from NOAA.
    Or one put together by an AMS certified meteorologist.
    The NOAA forecast is pretty much incapable of correctly reporting current weather conditions anywhere near Seattle except the airport.
    The AMS certified meteorologist is pretty smart, he knows that the clouds blow by the airport and bunch up against the cascade mountains dumping rain everywhere east of the airport. He doesn’t rely on the GHCN network to report current conditions, he relies on School Net, a system of weather stations set up at elementary schools as part of their science curriculum.

  3. First, a tempest in a teapot is created over climate variations that nobody fully understands, despite billions in federal funding. Then, we have funding for studies of the COMMUNICATION of that nonexistent knowledge. It’s marvelous how creative Washington can be in spending our REAL tax dollars.

  4. Anthony, I have considerable difficulty imagining you as an alarmist. There’s a huge gulf between recognising a (potential) problem and attributing every calamity known to man to that problem; thinking rationally about the issue and running around claiming the sky is falling in.

  5. Unfortunately, some forecasters have succumbed to the Dark Side of The Force, they are no longer True Jedi. Such a one is here in River City. Can you imagine it, right here in River City?

  6. I find it interesting that a study from a group that supports AGW found that only 27% of meteorologists believe in AGW. James Spann had a blog entry saying, when the ratings driven Weather Channel said any meteorologist that doesn’t believe in AGW should have their certification stripped, that meteorologists who believe in AGW are in the vast minority. I would trust James Spann before I would trust this study.

  7. Pompous Git says:
    Anthony, I have considerable difficulty imagining you as an alarmist…
    You have to understand, it was 1990, alarmism didn’t mean frothing at the mouth,… and we were young.

  8. “A test case at Gandy’s station will include 30-second segments in some of the weathercasts to educate viewers about climate change.”
    =============
    Testing what, besides possible station revenue.
    BTW, the Field Museum in Chicago just opened a new exhibit titled “Climate Change”.
    It was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper with a smaller article, which also referred to a much larger article in the commentary section calling the exhibit “bad science”, the commentary by Patrick J. Michaels of the Cato Institute.

  9. Personally I think every weatherman on every channel should be converted to the dark side. That each and every one of them should preach global warming every chance they get…
    …people would be so sick and tired of it, it would all be over in less than 6 months.

  10. I spent some time perusing Gandy’s stuff. It was pretty amazing to me how much they deferred to the IPCC. If the IPCC said it, it’s truth incarnate. Who would have known? This is a statement about GCM’s. I must have not been paying attention when they were demonstrated to be correct.
    “[C]onfidence in models comes from their physical basis, and their skill in representing observed climate and past climate changes. Models have proven to be extremely important tools for simulating and understanding climate, and there is considerable confidence that they are able to provide credible quantitative estimates of future climate change, particularly at larger scales. Models continue to have significant limitations, such as in their representation of clouds, which lead to uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change. Nevertheless, over several decades of model development, they have consistently provided a robust and unambiguous picture of significant climate warming in response to increasing greenhouse gases.”

  11. I hope that someone can explain how this trail of statements leads to a conclusion that the earth is warming because of an increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. (This came from an EPA document on Gandy’s site). This seems like raising confusion between correlation and causation to a high art.
    What’s Known
    Scientists know with virtual certainty that:
    Human activities are changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
    The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
    An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
    The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
    Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

  12. “In television, when it comes to weather, there is an extremely wide range of education sets,” said Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at WLTX-TV in Columbia, S.C. “Some have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s, but you also have some without.”
    This surprises me, somewhat. I had the impression that they were simply reading from a script, like the rest of the newsreaders.

  13. Wade – The article said that 27% of weathermen believe that AGW is a scam . However , it also implied that a good number of them prefer not to venture an opinion .

  14. Wade says:
    June 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm
    ‘I find it interesting that a study from a group that supports AGW found that only 27% of meteorologists believe in AGW. James Spann had a blog entry saying, when the ratings driven Weather Channel said any meteorologist that doesn’t believe in AGW should have their certification stripped, that meteorologists who believe in AGW are in the vast minority. I would trust James Spann before I would trust this study. ‘
    ————————
    In keeping with your incomprehensible comment, you totally misread the article in this posting. What the article says is that 27% of broadcast weather forecasters believe global warming is a scam. Fear of offending group-think and politically correct intimidation probably keeps an even larger contingent from saying what they truly think about global warming. Around two years ago one local broadcast meteorologist on a TV station I watch went from strongly endorsing the global warming scare to keeping silent — I figure he finally realized that the issue was a scam, and decided to shut up. Sometimes he made oblique comments about the variability of weather.

  15. “I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science. Simply being a meteorologist is not enough, and this is a mistake that some television meteorologists make.” said Gandy.
    It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out we are being scammed. It does however help to have a science background to see exactly how the AGW scam works.

  16. “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
    Winston Churchill

  17. Well,,, here in the Cleveland area, Dick Goddard seemed to think that fuzzy caterpillars could predict the Winter’s weather! Nice guy though.

  18. PaulH says: This surprises me, somewhat. I had the impression that they were simply reading from a script, like the rest of the newsreaders.
    Some do. I worked in TV and radio years ago and the weather men I knew probably couldn’t read a max/min thermometer.

  19. “A test case at Gandy’s station will include 30-second segments in some of the weathercasts to educate viewers about climate change.”
    Wow! 30 whole seconds!

  20. Tom Jones says:
    June 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm
    Quoting Gandy:
    ‘Models continue to have significant limitations, such as in their representation of clouds, which lead to uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change.’
    Pretty much useless then.

  21. I thought the survey said over 60% did not think it was catastrophic,or a problem but 27% said it was an outright scam.

  22. Thanks, Anthony! I have a great deal of respect for you & fellow weathermen/women, as you must deal with the “here and now,” working to make rapid analyses of life-threatening events as they move into the broadcast area.
    We just had this activity in Chicago, with hurricane-level winds, small tornadoes very close to the metro area, wide-scale power loss & flooding etc. Jerry Taft of ABC (my personal favorite) and others were right there with the public. Climatologists? Not so much…
    Climatologists deal with such long-term, big-scale theoretical stuff that they shoot themselves when they try to become weathermen, making short-term predictions (“The Arctic ice will melt this summer!!” etc.).
    Maybe they outnumber the meteorologist community in terms of “pal reviewed” publications, but I wouldn’t want to trust my life with any of them.

  23. I’m old enough to remember when the biggest issue associated with TV weathercasting was sexism. That was back in the tight bodice days. Could still be an issue for all I know. I haven’t watched TV weather news since… well… since the cute weathergirls were PC-ed out the door. Thank you, women’s lib. Grumble, grumble…

  24. “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
    Winston Churchill
    If you’re not dismissive of the whole political paradigm as being outmoded and thought-limiting by now, you’re a sheep.
    Me.

  25. Perception:
    The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
    ROBERTSON DAVIES, quoted in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotes

  26. ‘“People are uninformed and believe climate change is a hoax,” said Gandy.’
    Climate Change is not a hoax. CO2 drives the climate is a hoax. CO2 CAP and TAX is a scam.

  27. In the late 1980’s I was interested in CO2 induced changes in climate. I had little choice – I was an NSF-funded postdoc, any future employment at my institution depended directly on NSF funding, and big bucks were going into Climate Change. Besides: (1) there seemed little doubt that CO2 had been and would continue to increase in concentration in the atmosphere; (2) Climate Change at that time was a scientific hypothesis subject to falsification; and (3) the Climate did seem to have been warming somewhat. After a while, however, I decided I wasn’t really interested in the proposed research and it was clear that no one was really interested in changing their energy usage to reduce CO2 production. So, I moved on to another field.
    Over the next couple of decades, other than doing my little bit to limit energy consumption and tsk-tsking at the gloomy predictions of the increasingly frequent papers on climate change, I pretty much assumed that outside of my field (where the Climate Change pronouncements were clearly garbage and shockingly ignorant crap at that), people were finding real negative effects. Since I lived in a subtropical climate – it was always more or less warm, so the weather had no chance to change my thinking. I think it fair to say I was just another sucker who assumed all those big names must know what they were ranting about, and besides weren’t Democrats and Labor the honest politicians who cared about the environment and the Coalition and Republicans evil? (Well, I was never that dumb, but I was too timid to argue the point with anyone, even after Carter, Hawkins, Graham Richardson, Gore, and that ineffable Billy Jeff .)
    Then, putting my money where my untested beliefs lay, I moved to a subarctic climate on the assumption that the climate was warming (and the truth that it was a good move for my wife’s career). So, I’m now paying for my lack of attention to what was actually going on. The bloody climate stopped warming just before I moved North and the last three years it has been sliding back to where it once resided – long nasty winters and short, unreliable summers. Now I’ve started paying more attention to the alarmist claims – and I’m finding it isn’t only in my area of expertise that the claims are total malarky.
    Well, I’m a scientist, so I really don’t have any sympathy for myself. I know that models are mostly wanking; that when the data falsify a hypothesis, you throw the hypothesis out, not adjust the facts ; and if you want to replace the scientific method with a belief system, then you deserve what nature gives you. My wife’s career is doing just fine, though, so I guess that is some consolation.

  28. “I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science.”
    Personally, I wish “climate scientists” possessed just a modicum of humility about their own “knowledge” of the climate. From what I’ve seen nothing from either side rises much past the level of “barely suggestive” and anyone who claims to be strongly convinced by any of it is demonstrating the epistemological discernment of Forrest Gump. Actually that’s probably a bit unfair to old Forrest since, even with his diminished intellectual capacity, he showed a certain innate talent for detecting BS. That talent seems to be sorely lacking in the climate community, where the number crunchers seem to be forever dazzled by their own statistical smoke and mirrors into believing that the numbers they produce are more “real” than the world they are trying to approximate.

  29. Good to see a pic of you from the same time I was going to school at Chico State; I totally recognize you. I was an alarmist until I took a course in meteorology at CSU Chico. I have been a skeptic since then, although I fell off the wagon at the turn of the century.

  30. probably won’t win any converts with that sort of attitude.
    Maybe not. But someone who thinks it’s good to “know your science and get your facts straight” might not be looking for “converts.”
    Interesting word choice, that.

  31. Very interesting, and a nice background on you Anthony. I would be curious if someone has done an analysis of the educational level of weathermen and woman versus their attitude to AGW. Specifically, it would be nice to correlate attitude toward AGW and the total amount of climate related coursework as opposed to daily or weekly weather forecasting. There is there is a wide range of educational backgrounds for this group, and certainly, as we all know, you can know a great deal about the weather, but almost nothing about the climate, and even if they had a few climate related classes in school, they may not even be up on the latest research. How many, for example, would be able to accurately describe what the the Arctic Dipole is or what is really meant by the term “rotten ice”. The average viewer at home has no idea when a weather person is drifting into areas they really know very little about, yet some viewers put a lot of credibility in the weatherman and will pick up attitudes (warmist and skeptical alike) as they watch. This is of course, exactly the same issue faced on the news side of broadcasting where “news” anchors become political pundits, and IMHO, this all leads to the general dumbing down and polarization of the public at large.

  32. Anybody know where Heidi Cullen is now?
    She’s still at the weather channel. On first thing in the morning with some other weatherman from the MSNBC morning show. I get the impression that she’s been toned down by her co-workers to some extent from some of the ‘humorous’ comments she’s made. I usually try to avoid her show but sometimes I do need to know what’s going to happen before I leave the house and I don’t want to fire up the computer.

  33. Mike D. says:
    June 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm
    I’m old enough to remember when the biggest issue associated with TV weathercasting was sexism. That was back in the tight bodice days. Could still be an issue for all I know. I haven’t watched TV weather news since… well… since the cute weathergirls were PC-ed out the door. Thank you, women’s lib. Grumble, grumble…

    You should learn Spanish and watch the weather on Univision:
    http://tinyurl.com/2aes3a9
    http://tinyurl.com/24ysf4m
    http://tinyurl.com/255v3ux
    Buena suerte.

  34. Local Yorkshire weather forecaster Paul Hudson at the BBC has been making regular weather/climate posts for a while now at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/paulhudson/. Comes across as quite sceptical so it’s a surprise the BBC haven’t disappeared him by now.
    (No, he didn’t receive the Climategate emails before everyone else.)

  35. “urbanisation is leading to more and more incidents of flash flooding, and it’s often too easy for the media to blame it on climate change” – Paul Hudson

  36. Heidi Cullen is one of the principals at “Climate Central”. Their Web site indicates that she’s currently interim CEO and Director of Communications.
    I’m surprised none of the comments here mentioned the Yale Climate Media Forum article:
    Why are so many TV meteorologists and weathercasters climate ‘skeptics’?
    or this one:
    TV meteorologists, weathercasters briefed by climate experts at AMS short course
    I think it’s a good thing to see climate scientists working with the on-air meteorological community like this.
    Here’s the Yale Forum article on the George Mason study:
    George Mason Group’s Survey Details Views of TV Meteorologists

  37. There are corrections needed to Tom Jones’s post, 26th June 3.44pm
    For some background information, Tom Jones needs to study climate change prior to the industrial revolution. Perhaps he won’t, because he will get a stab in his global warming heart.
    The idea that the models provide robust answers is looney-they do no such thing. They are hopeless-to wit, remember the forcast of rapidly rising temperatures from 2000 onwards.
    Fact 1: Most of the temperature increase since the industrial revolution started, ocurred prior to 1900. This change can explained by natural phenomenon.
    Fact 2: Virtually all of the CO2 in the atmoshere (97%) is there naturally.
    Fact 3: CO2 remains in the atmosphere for about 7-10 years, not a hundred years as claimed by the IPCC. Refer to peer reviewed works, too numerous to mention.
    Fact 4: Scientists do not know for certain that human activities are changing world climate, only those who are part of the global warming theory. There are local effects from human activity and possibly a world wide effect that is too tiny to measure.
    Fact 4: There is only one measuring station for CO2 and it is stuck way up on the side of volcano, which is itself spewing 7,500 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. (Perhaps, we should use the detritus of civilisation to plug the holes, in the volcano!)
    A reasonable, thinking person would say that there is much to be done before even considering policy that will be devastating to economies. The temperature data record as well as the CO2 level records are questionable.
    Anyone who believes in the IPCC after the production of the Mann “Hockey Stick” can be fooled by anyone.
    [REPLY – I agree with most of that. But just because only 3% of CO2 emissions are anthropogenic it does NOT necessarily follow that only 3% of atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic. Also, you should check out the prior post on the location of the Hawaii station; apparently it ain’t so bad. I think, however, that the effects of CO2 appear to be wildly exaggerated. ~ Evan]

  38. TV meteorologists don’t get tenure to protect their freedom of inquiry.
    Twich the wrong way and poof. their goes your job.

  39. “I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science. Simply being a meteorologist is not enough, and this is a mistake that some television meteorologists make.”
    Now, I bet I know which “some” meteorologists that might be!

  40. gcapologist says:
    June 26, 2010 at 7:25 pm
    Anybody know where Heidi Cullen is now?

    She is currently the interim CEO and Director of Communications for Climate Central, where she replaced Jane Lubchenco after the latter resigned to become the head of NOAA.
    Her CV can be found at: http://www.climatecentral.org/about/people-bio/heidi_cullen
    Interesting publication record. Seems she co-authored a paper with Michael Mann back in 2000. Sure is a small world.

  41. They are very smart.
    Hammering in how smart the scientists are, and how supid the unbelievers are.
    Using “Climate Change” instead of “Global Warming”.
    Weather is not Climate, therefore dont listen to the weather-man, just in case one of them steps out of line.
    Goebbels would be proud.

  42. Could TV weathermen be be on the frontline because they are the only people involved in the science without being tied to the government?

  43. Tom Jones says:
    June 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Models continue to have significant limitations, such as in their representation of clouds, which lead to uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change. Nevertheless, over several decades of model development, they have consistently provided a robust and unambiguous picture of significant climate warming in response to increasing greenhouse gases.”

    Models are limited to such an extent they have ‘uncertainties in the magnitude and timing’ of predicted climate change?
    And yet…
    Consistently provided robust and unambiguous…
    Imagine a quarterback lacking control of the magnitude and timing of his passes.
    How many would describe him as robust in his position?
    He certainly would be unambiguous, unambiguously bad, same as the climate models.
    I am beginning to hate that word ‘robust’. It seems to be describing systems and processes that are unreliable, but show good heart when they recover from failure.
    With regard to the Spanish weather ladies.
    I could use some brushing up on my Spanish.
    My wife would never buy into my change of channels. First, the only time I worry about Spanish is when I’m ordering Mexican food. Second, she knows I believe nothing I see on TV.

  44. If George Mason really push-polled their study in terms of “scam” then shame on them. . . and as a result that 27% figure must be very, very low for how many TV meterologists are actually skeptics. To say something is a “scam” is a much higher standard than, say, “Oh, no, I think they just couldn’t find their *ss with both hands and a map –nice folks tho, and well meaning”.
    I always thought it was a huge mistake for the AGWers to not work harder at bringing the meteorologists to their side, and not realizing that they had little/no power to bully them onto their side in the way they have power to bully the young academics who rely on them for employment and advancement in their field.

  45. harrywr2 says:
    June 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm
    I can get a number of weather forecasts for the Seattle Area.
    One put together by computer models available from NOAA.
    Or one put together by an AMS certified meteorologist.
    The NOAA forecast is pretty much incapable of correctly reporting current weather conditions anywhere near Seattle except the airport.
    The AMS certified meteorologist is pretty smart, he knows that the clouds blow by the airport and bunch up against the cascade mountains dumping rain everywhere east of the airport. He doesn’t rely on the GHCN network to report current conditions, he relies on School Net, a system of weather stations set up at elementary schools as part of their science curriculum.

    Where does this AMS forecast appear? I’ve lived here for decades and have never seen forecasts as consistently inaccurate as the ones in Seattle.

  46. “I wish the public knew how difficult it is to have knowledge of climate science. Simply being a meteorologist is not enough, and this is a mistake that some television meteorologists make.”
    This is true to some extent. Being a meteorologist is not enough, nor is being a famous Nobel Prize-winning ex-politician/sci-fi movie maker or globe-trotting climate “scientist”. One does need to have a modicum of common sense and rationality, though to be able to see through what is purported to be “settled science”.
    It does take some diligence and persistence, but gradually, with regard to Alarmist “science” people begin to see that it is a lot of smoke and mirrors, circular reasoning, and hype. Those who persist in their Alarmist views are either motivated by continuation of the gravy train and their own puffed-up egos, or they simply are not willing to give up what amounts to a quasi-religious belief system.

  47. Why are weathermen and weatherwomen on the front line? Because you have to get it right or farmers lose crops, folks get rained on at the beach, hikers die in the wilderness in ‘unexpected’ snow and floods, cities buy the wrong amount of road salt, car crashes and deaths rise, financial traders lose millions, weddings get rained out, and I get wet because I left my umbrella at home 😉 Hey, this stuff matters!
    Folks who get a daily report card and have real consequences to being wrong have a habit of getting it right…

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