Tag Archives: phil plait

Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”

Summary:  The public policy debate about climate science shows the dysfunctional nature of the US media. It’s one reason why making effective public policy has become difficult or impossible. Here’s another example of how propaganda has contaminated the news reporting of this vital subject, looking at stories about a new study of our oceans.

Oxygen loss in the oceans

Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR. It is freely available for media use.

NCAR’s press research accurately describes the paper: “Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s” (although it omits a crucial detail, mentioned below). Phil Plait at Slate turns this into agitprop:  “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans“. His conclusion: ““messing with {the ocean} habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.” Maddie Stone at Gizmodo also has a sensational headline “The Oceans Are Running Low on Oxygen” (the paper says nothing like that; for example, “detectable change” does not imply a “low” level).

To see how science becomes sensational propaganda let’s start by looking at the paper — “Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen” by Matthew C. Long et al, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, February 2016. Ungated copy here. It is interesting and valuable research about climate dynamics. The abstract…

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A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame

Summary: Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. It’s a story of science, skillful writing, and a very gullible America. The 21st century might prove unpleasant for America unless we tighten our game.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.



  1. NASA’s photo of the Day
  2. Plaiting the facts
  3. One step more, into agitprop
  4. The rest of the story about warming Alaska
  5. For More Information


(1) NASA’s photo of the Day

Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. But first let’s rewind the tape to see the source of the story.

NASA Image of the Day Gallery: “Rare Clear View of Alaska“, 19 June 2013 — Photo above.

On most days, relentless rivers of clouds wash over Alaska, obscuring most of the state’s 6,640 miles (10,690 kilometers) of coastline and 586,000 square miles (1,518,000 square kilometers) of land. The south coast of Alaska even has the dubious distinction of being the cloudiest region of the United States, with some locations averaging more than 340 cloudy days per year.

That was certainly not the case on June 17, 2013, the date that the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this rare, nearly cloud-free view of the state. The absence of clouds exposed a striking tapestry of water, ice, land, forests, and even wildfires.

… The same ridge of high pressure that cleared Alaska’s skies also brought stifling temperatures to many areas accustomed to chilly June days. Talkeetna, a town about 100 miles north of Anchorage, saw temperatures reach 96°F (36°C) on June 17. Other towns in southern Alaska set all-time record highs, including Cordova, Valez, and Seward. The high temperatures also helped fuel wildfires and hastened the breakup of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.

(2) Plaiting the facts

Nothing remarkable in this story. But in the hands of skilled alarmists it becomes: “A Clear View of Alaska — and Maybe Our Future“, Phil Plait, Slate, 20 June 2013. Plait is an astronomer who worked for 10 years on Hubble Space Telescope data, and now writes about science — with a side line in climate alarmism (e.g., calling people “deniers” who cite science research he doesn’t like). Plait connects the NASA story with some current research, ignores contrary research, and produces a standard example of climate propaganda.

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Secrets about global warming that you must not know, lest they ruin the narrative

Summary:  The climate refuses to continue warming and much of the US public refuses to believe forecasts of climate catastrophe. As a result the tone of the propaganda becomes increasingly hysterical, the disdain for science increasingly obvious. Here we contrast current agitprop with actual words of climate scientists. Read for yourself and decide.

"Earth On Fire" by Phil Plait

“Earth On Fire” by Phil Plait.



  1. An example of hiding the science
  2. The UK met office says the decline might continue
  3. James Hansen sees the pause
  4. For More Information


(1)  An example of hiding the science

Debunking the Denial: ’16 Years of No Global Warming’”, Phil Plait (bio here), Slate, January 2013 — Opening:

The difficulties in debunking blatant antireality are legion. You can make up any old nonsense and state it in a few seconds, but it takes much longer to show why it’s wrong and how things really are.This is coupled with how sticky bunk can be. Once uttered, it’s out there, bootstrapping its own reality, getting repeated by the usual suspects.

Case in point: The claim that there’s been no global warming for the past 16 years. This is blatantly untrue, a ridiculous and obviously false statement. But I see it over and again online, in Op Eds, and in comments to climate change posts.

The good news is, Kevin C. from Skeptical Science has created a nice, short video showing just why this claim is such a whopper.

The video Plait considers so definitive was produced by Keven C., a computational scientist (see bio here). Also, it does not disprove the pause, it explains the cause (an astronomer like Plait should understand the difference):

… the following video clarifies how the interplay of natural and human factors have affected the short-term temperature trends, and demonstrates that underneath the short-term noise, the long-term human-caused global warming trend remains as strong as ever.

What Plait doesn’t mention is that the pause in warming has been affirmed by a wide range of experts:

  • by the IPCC,
  • by Phil Jones (Director of UEA’s Climate Research Unit), James Hanson (Chief, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies), The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (links here).  by Judith Curry (Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology),
  • by (again) Phil Jones, and the UK Met Office (links here),
  • by a large body of peer-reviewed research (examples at both links), as well as graphs of the major temperature data series — which clearly show the pause.

Below are updates about the pause from the UK Met Office and James Hansen. Plait probably doesn’t want you to read them.

(2)  The UK met office says the decline might continue

The UK Met Office has previously discussed the pause in warming since roughly 1998. Their decadal forecast shows no statistically significant change as the most likely result forecast for the next five years (2013-2017).

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