Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kristen and the Strawmen

Given the dust-up (Deltoid, Islands of Doubt, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Pharyngula, Respectful Insolance, Quark Soup and Eli tires) about an NPR report on Kristen Byrnes and her opus, "Ponder the Maunder" Eli thought he would wander over and take a look again after the last two go rounds.

UPDATE: Michael Tobis has a great comment on the outbreak of precociousness with the coming of spring at Wired Science (also a few typos Mike)

It was quite painful. Eli is thinking of charging NPR for pain and suffering. Mostly what it was was an unending series of strawmen

According to the Wikipedia, a strawman can be wished into existence by

  1. Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position and then refuting it,, thus giving the appearance that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.[1]
  2. Quoting an opponent's words out of context -- i.e., choosing quotations that are not representative of the opponent's actual intentions (see contextomy and quote mining).[2]
  3. Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender and then refuting that person's arguments, thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.[1]
  4. Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, such that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
  5. Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking the simplified version.
A lot of the comments here and there have been about the collective intelligence of NPR. As to Kristen herself, PZ Meyers gets it pretty well, probably because he has a bunch of Kristens in his classes
Woo hoo, teenager thinks she knows more than scientific experts … now that is news. I took a look; I'm unimpressed, even considering her age. Parroting right-wing think tanks is not evidence of independent, skeptical thought, I'm afraid.
But Eli's approach to this sort of agitprop is to look at the arguments, one at a time. So Eli looked at some of Kristen's. UPDATE: (Temporary link to page in Google Cache, they are overlimit this month. )

The data that Dr. Keeling collected shows a steady increase in atmospheric CO2 levels to the current level of about 380 parts per million.
True enough
Some scientists believe that CO2 increases are man made, other scientists have warned that past atmospheric CO2 levels calculated from studying ice cores are inaccurate and that present atmospheric CO2 level increases are a result of natural causes.
Who would those other scientists be, why our old friends EG Beck and his running mate Jaworowski, who provide negative information content on the subject, but their existence allows the Kristen's of the world to build a strawman. Of course, she is not the only one. Fred Singer himself used exactly this tactic in his Heartland Institute Nonsensical Summary for Bad Climate Policy, including the half hearted fade out to another strawman
To me, this argument was put to rest by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory whose satellites and sensors have been able to track CO2 sources and have concluded that the current increases in atmospheric CO2 are coming from raw coal burning family home heaters in the third world, primarily in China. Dr. C. Miller of JPL, Director of the Carbon Observatory Project, stated on his web site that ½ of industrial CO2 has been cleansed by the atmosphere.
Kristen appears to have missed a few things, but she is not big on useful references. It is clear that for atmospheric CO2 the rate of increase is being driven by the industrialization of China and India, but that US and European emissions contribute equal amounts to the absolute increase, it's just that our emissions are not growing as fast. The bit about home heaters almost certainly referred to black carbon emissions, not CO2 emissions, a whole other (Googlable) ball of buckeys. And then we get the classic
If man is responsible for a 100 part per million increase of atmospheric CO2 levels we must still keep in mind that 100 parts per million is a very tiny number. Said another way, man’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is only one ten thousandth of total atmosphere.
Yes kiddo, man is responsible for a 100 ppm increase of CO2, and given that 99% of the atmosphere does not absorb infrared light (oxygen and nitrogen), why yes that is an important increase. A venerable Type 1 strawman, but does the darling slow up, Sadly No
Greenhouse gases and the spectrum.

I will start this section with a very important point. CO2 in the atmosphere does not reflect radiation back to the earth as some have tried to state.
Gadzooks, a veritable Type 5 (with an admixture of 3 rolled in) strawman, and we get then a repeat of the some scientists tactic.
Some scientists have warned that when sun light strikes the surface of the Earth it is absorbed then re-emitted as infrared radiation. This infrared radiation is then absorbed by atmospheric CO2 and re-emitted back to the Earth’s surface thus causing the lower atmosphere to remain warmer.
True. For a good technical explanation of this see Arthur Smith's article on arXiv, otherwise read the Dot.Earth deaththread. This is a basic result which is discussed in all textbooks on atmospheric physics,
Other scientists say that CO2 can only absorb infrared at very limited wavelengths and that those wavelengths are already saturated.
It would be nice to know who these are, but Kristen doesn't tell, might embarrass the dears. Looks like a Type 4, but if that is not sufficient, she goes on
A simple example of this is that when you are watching television and someone is standing in your way, it does not matter if another person stands between you and the television. The light from the television cannot make it through the extra body when the first body is there. CO2 absorbs infrared radiation in very narrow bandwidths.
A Type 5 and Type 1 combo. The girl is good. Kristen, how bout you try this one. You (a 16 year old photon) are trying to get out of a building (the atmosphere), but there is a big guy in front of you blocking your path, so you go around him and escape. OTOH, if there are 20 big guys in front of you it might be a bit more difficult.

When confronted with this problem, the greenhouse theorists claimed that the CO2 re-emits the energy at a slightly different wavelength, but no measurements of this energy has ever been made and water vapor absorbs in the same wavelengths. Just how much of this re-radiated energy is absorbed by CO2 and how much is absorbed by water vapor is the key sticking point for many scientists who remain undecided about the greenhouse theory.
Not if they know any spectroscopy, or for that matter exist. The first statement about re-emission is just a little bit off and that about no measurements is wrong. Anybunny with access to a cooled or heated cell, a vacuum pump and an FTIR can do this in her own burrow. What we know happens is that the wavelength range emitted by carbon dioxide lower in the atmosphere is from a hotter gas, at a higher pressure. Both mean that some of the radiation cannot be absorbed by CO2 higher in the atmosphere. Then, of course, the higher you go, the lower the relative concentration of water vapor to CO2, as well. Eli did a whole series on these effects a while back. Kristen has hit the five-fecta, all five types of strawmen in one short paragraph. Depressing


Anonymous said...


The bit of maths near the end of your "whole series" linked page is missing.

Oh, and I just noticed your comment on that page about not being able to get Greeks. You mean like these :) α, β, ..., π (&Pi), ..., ξ, ... ω (&Omega).

How? It's best to demonstrate thus: &Aleph;

Cymraeg llygoden

EliRabett said...

Hi, You can't get all the greeks, just the ones that were in the original IBM PC character set.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for OT, but here's a test to show all Greeks.

Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ξ, Ο, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ, Υ, Φ, Χ, Ψ, Ω

α, β, γ, δ, ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κ, λ, μ, ν, ξ, ο, π, ρ, ς, σ, τ, υ, φ, χ, ψ, ω

Fancy a game of bridge? Are trumps ♠, ♥, ♦ or ♣?

And a few of the maths symbols available include: √, ∞, ≥, ≤, ≠, ≡, ≈, ∂, ⊆, ⊥, ∴, ∀, ∫, ...

And they all look better on the actual web page than in the separate comment box because of the font differences.

A list of available HTML codes for various characters can be found here

Cymraeg llygoden

EliRabett said...

ok, you have to understand that Eli learned HTML in 1994 and has not kept up.

Anonymous said...

It’s too bad the denialists are egging her on like this and exploiting her teenage angst and naiveté. She does seem pretty smart; hopefully she will look behind herself soon and see all the cowards hiding behind her skirts.

Her whole Australia drought/ENSO thing was painful to read.

Arch Stanton

Anonymous said...

You need to stop drinking the Global Warming Kool Aid and see "climate change" for the hoax that it is.

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

/me ignores yet more inactivist content-free trollage

John Mashey said...

Last Summer, I had occasion to look into this, but then it died off. Now that it's back, some old work may be useful after all.

Google: npr kristen byrnes
is useful.

0) Portland High School is:
Their course catalog looks pretty credible and is at:
By grades:
9th: Honors Earth Science 2511
11th, 12th: Chemistry 2351 or 2352
12th: Calculus 2451
12th: Statistics 2452
12th: Physics 2541

1) "Ponder the Maunder was an extra credit project for Honors Earth Science, Portland High School, by Kristen Byrnes of Portland Maine."

2) 'When she got confused, she consulted Mike.
Soon they had printed out a mound of technical documents from the Internet.
Kristen was convinced by the skeptics and she began to write, summarizing their arguments adding her own touches. Yes, she says, the Earth is warming. But no, humans aren't causing it. She says it's part of the natural climate cycle.
At some point, Mike and Kristen decided to post her work online.
"I felt it was important to inform people that this wasn't completely true," Kristen says. "A public service to let people know."
Mike set up the Web site and Kristen's mom, Tammy Byrnes, typed.'
'Kristen says when her determination sagged, Mike encouraged her.
"Kristen! MOTIVATION!" she remembers him saying. Mike is deeply skeptical humans are behind global warming and pulls up a graph on the computer to help make the case.'

For an extra credit project, how much work should be the student's? PtM is promoted by labeling Kristen as a 15-/16-year-old phenomenon, which leads to the next item:

3) Fund-raising:
'The Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation may use no more than 25% of contributed funds. The purpose of this foundation is to allow Kristen to continue studying and promoting quality climate science. She may also use these funds to issue grants to scientists and institutes that are involved in climate studies.'

4) Do people (& bunnies & anonymice) know what 18 U.S.C. 1343 is? I looked it up last year, although I didn't know the number offhand, but it was easy to find:

Google: wire fraud katrina kraser
has a useful example thereof.

5) The local paper is the Portland Press herald, which has an Environment writer, John Richardson:

6) Ms Byrnes got a laudatory letter from Senator James Inhofe. Maine has two Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Google: olympia snowe susan collins global warming

might reveal why they perhaps did not choose to laud Ms Byrnes. Senator Snowe has had relevant experience, i.e., with Viscount Monckton. Note that both Senators are Republican, although some label them RINOs.

jerry bono said...

Nice article and wonderful comments. At least she is studying the subject. Why don't you global warming proponents mention something about her mindless friend in the NPR piece who when asked if she believed in GW she said yes and when asked why basically said, well that's what I have heard in the media so I think it is true. Perfect clone for the alarmists. I beieve but I don't know why. At least Kristen has been thinking about this subject and spending some time at it. I think any errors she has made are much less painfull than the blind acceptance her friend exhibits. Her friend is in the same boat as Jo Abbess. True believers who don't know diddlysquat(sp?) about any technical subject much less climate science. Please tell me what is wrong with being a skeptic??????? What is wrong with questiong things? And no the science is not settled!

Mark said...

for John Massey: If I remember what I heard, the girl received the letter of praise from Inhofe because she had sent him a letter first.

jerry--I almost got the impression that the mindless friend was asked her opinion because she was mindless.

jerry bono said...

Good comment Mark about the mindless. Even they have an opinion. I am beginning to think the mindless controll everything. Those with minds convinvce the mindless to believe and in the end the ones with the most mindless converts win.

John Mashey said...

have you a pointer to that? I'd love to see it.

In Inhofe's EPW office, Marc Morano certainly picks up on items from the blogosphere.

Bottom line: support Andrew Rice for OK Senator...

Jerry Bono:

There is a good chance that a denialist step-father has done a good job of getting Ms Byrnes a lot of attention, which she certainly loves. Maybe some money also.

I don't care about mindless teenagers' opinions about climate change. Why should I? I talk to Nob Physicists, Members of the US National Academy of Sciences, IPCC authors, Fellows of the Royal Society, and folks like that. Do you? Ever meet any?

You may want to look up Dunning-Kruger Effect, as you appear to be afflicted with it, but it is curable if you wish.

jerry bono said...

John M,

I don't care about mindless teenagers either, they don't vote. It is the adults that are worrying. I am not impressed by who you allegedyl talk to or what your knowledge level may be concerning GW. I have a technical background and have been studying GW topics for six months. I can honestly say there is a lot I don't know so that probably means I don't have the DK effect. The reason I am skeptical is that I have been using finite difference models for over 30 years and know quite well they are just approximations. People don't realize that how you grid your models will affect the answer. Two identical models with different grid densities will give different results and on and on and on. Garbage in garbage out.

By the way I work for a member of the NAS. Does that count?

John Mashey said...

Jerry: I've now been through this several times with people who understand some kind of simulations.
#68, and the posts it references.

I used to design and help sell supercomputers to a *lot* of different people, and I know this is hard to believe, but people do get useful results out of simulations. I've had endless discussions about grid sizes, including with climate scientists.

Ok, you work for a NAS member. What do they say? Quote them.

Anonymous said...

John Mashey:

To quote the Inhofe letter from NPR's transcript:
""Dear Kristen," the letter begins. "Thank you so much for your letter and e-mail and for your kind words. I appreciate your help in the fight against global warming alarmism. You are a common sense young lady and an inspiration to me. I want you to keep up the good work. We are winning.""

I noticed that while listening to the broadcast, too. Certainly sounds like she contacted him first (a couple of times, at least), and the letter was a reply.

I also felt like the piece was avoiding the probability that the teenager is just a mouthpiece for her stepfather's mistaken beliefs.

I kept waiting for the reality segment of the piece, the volumes of scientific evidence contradicting her interpretations of other people's work, or an overview of her errors. It never came. They mentioned the there was a "consensus" that GW is anthropogenic, but then they followed it up with the dumb-friend bit.

Oh well.


Chris said...

Jerry M:

Your comment:
"The reason I am skeptical is that I have been using finite difference models for over 30 years and know quite well they are just approximations."

is irrelevant. The reason: most COAGCMs are not finite difference. They generally use a spectral/spherical harmonic solver in the meridional direction and implict semi-Lagrangian methods in the zonal direction and as a time stepping procedure. Convergence preperties of the models have been demonstrated and often global models are used to nest regional models to increase resolution.

Some older models still use standard finite-difference/rk4 methods. Others use finite-element methods.

daenku32 said...

"Some scientists have warned that when sun light strikes the surface of the Earth it is absorbed then re-emitted as infrared radiation. This infrared radiation is then absorbed by atmospheric CO2 and re-emitted back to the Earth’s surface thus causing the lower atmosphere to remain warmer."

Hell, I learned that essentially in my C105 Chemistry class. Not all that hard to understand.

Barton Paul Levenson said...


I've written what I think is a pretty good article on why the saturation argument is wrong, but Physics Today turned it down, and I don't know where else I could send it. I don't just want to put it up on my site because very few people visit my site. Do you have any suggestions? I wish more people were aware of how bogus this argument is and why.

llewelly said...

Given the dust-up (Deltoid, Islands of Doubt, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Pharyngula, Respectful Insolance, Quark Soup and Eli tires) ...

Nit: 'Insolance' is not spelled right. 'Insolence' is.

bi -- Intl. J. Inact. said...

Barton Paul Levenson, you're free to submit it to our International Journal of Inactivism. Not that anyone will read that either, but at least you'll get a scholarly-looking citation for it... :)

EliRabett said...


One method is to put it on your blog and then put comments elsewhere (esp where you have been commenting) pointing to it in the context of a relevant comment thread. Eli has been know to blogwhore.

Anonymous said...

"The reason I am skeptical is that I have been using finite difference models for over 30 years and know quite well they are just approximations."

As is every real world experiment and every real world calculation.

So perhaps we should throw them all out?

Is that what you did with all your finite element results, threw them out?

The fact is, approximations are used all the time and they work quite well in most cases.

of course one has to be careful that one understands the potential gotchas (including the appropriate selection of grid size for finite element), but that is not because they are approximations, per se.

Anonymous said...

I love the last sentence in the NPR piece

"She does not see herself as an environmentalist, though. She says that makes her think of hippies."

juxtaposed, as it is, with the picture of Byrnes wearing beads and a flowered shirt.

Nice touch.

I used to listen to NPR back before Kevin Klose and the other Bush parrots took over. That article is pretty typical of the kind of mindless, unquestioning rubbish that they now print in the name of "balance". Fox Lite, if you ask me.

Pretty ironic given that they the subject is supposed to be "sketicism".

What ever happened to skeptical journalists?

They seem to be a dying breed. You know, the ones who can actually think for themselves rather than just parroting what Dick Cheney (or some teenager) tells them.

Anonymous said...

When she got confused, she consulted Mike...who was even more confused than she was.
Soon they had printed out a mound of technical documents from the Internet...and could not make heads or tales of them...

so that's what they did, flipped a coin: "heads they are true, tales they are false".

..and that's how she got on NPR.

Who knew it could be so easy to get on a national radio program?

saurabh said...

Eli - correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe where you say "rate of increase" you should say "rate of change of increase".

Simon Donner said...

Are we really having this discussion? This is a high school student. Seriously, this is exhibit A for all those who argue we do more harm than good attacking 'skeptics'.

John Mashey said...

Simon: yes, silly ... except this high school student, who likely hasn't yet taken chemistry, physics, calculus or statistics:

- got amazing publicity in the lbogospher last Spring & Summer.
- got viewed as a role model by many kids (as seen from blogs)
- is linked to as weblog/resource or praised by various websites.

Hence, the interesting things (to me) are not what a high school student says, but the number of people so keen to promote it, and the information flow patterns revealed thereby. I studied that last summer, and the experience was quite useful when the Monckton/Schulte/Oreskes thing fired up.

guthrie said...

I know its mostly off topic but can someone point me to where a poster at I think it was Anthony watts site did an analysis comparing temperature results from "good" stations with "bad" stations? And then got the same result...
It would be useful for arguments and I forgot to bookmark it at the time.

Horatio Algeranon said...

the direct link to John V's post on CA about his comparison.

Horatio also wrote a ditty about it here wherein John V's result is referenced.

Feel free to quote Horatio as well. :)

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Okay, the article is up on my web site. Here's the link:


Or you can just go to my Climatology Page and click on the "Saturation" link there:

My Climatology Page

guthrie said...

Thanks Horatio. I fully expect the results to be ignored.

TCO said...

Based on tone of remarks, I suspect that most of the Kristen postings are from her father.

Anonymous said...

For those who think Kestenbaum's piece was actually a "subtle jab" at Byrnes and those she looks up to for information (eg, "Mike", her stepfather), my question would be, "subtle for whom?"

I would venture to say that what is "subtle" for a working climate scientist (eg, Michael Tobis) is going to go right over the head of the average person listening to NPR.

Part of being a journalist is knowing your audience. I'd say Kestenbaum failed miserably in that regard.

stevesadlov said...

Poh lil' energizer bunny has never been on NPR ... and now ... drats! ... foiled again ... a high school student has made the cut ... (zoom into an elderly Holland Lop ... hopping angrily around .... )

papertiger said...

There's TCO again. Hi TC.

What a surprise seeing you here (not).

Eli have you ever considered seeking prefessional help, I mean with that habit of refering to yourself constantly and in the third person.
Judging by your prominently displayed bio, I'm not the first one who has noticed.

EliRabett said...

Briefly, but then the other stuffed animals told me not to.

Whimsy is a lifestyle.

Horatio Algeranon said...

As Horatio likes to say:

Better to refer to oneself in the "third person" than in the "third animal"

Anonymous said...

Better “third animal” than “third stone”. That would be presumptuous.

Arch Stanton

papertiger said...

Whimsy: the trait of acting more from whim or caprice than from reason or judgment

describes the professor to a tee.

Now what do you call a man who arbitrarily attacks children?

Answer- unfortunately due to a concept called "tenure", much too often we call such men "teacher"

In a perfect world we would call them convict.

Anonymous said...

What do you call someone who does not know a joke when he sees one?

papertiger looking in a mirror