Can mātauranga Māori help us understand climate change?

May 30, 2023 • 9:30 am

Judging from this video lecture and Q&A session below by a Māori climate scientist, the answer to the title question is “no”.

A New Zealand biologist and teacher sent me the 46-minute video, angered at its intellectual vacuity, as you can detect from his/her email. (By the way, the scientists I quote are different people, not just one disaffected person.  Plenty of Kiwi scientists are fed up with the nation’s drive to indigenize science, as well as its handing over tons of grant money to Māori researchers for dubious projects. But they dare not reveal their names for fear of losing their jobs and reputations. This is a country where academia is deeply involved in self-censoring). Anyway, the email:

“Yesterday I came across a teachers’ newsletter referencing a webinar titled “What te aro Maori can teach us about climate change?” It’s 45 minutes long long and fellow bio teacher [NAME REDACTED] and I could only stomach the first 17 mins, with references to the “sky god”. Readers might be able to get further, but I can’t take this garbage.”

I had trouble getting through it, too, as it’s pretty much anodyne gobbledygook with the ultimate message “we need to talk to each other”. But I managed to listen to the whole thing, though it took me two sessions.

Although I had trouble deciphering some of the Māori language (the use of which is imperative to establish your credibility), I believe the words “te aro Māori” in the title simply mean “Māori-centered focus.” The question at hand is clearly what using that focus, or using mātauranga Māori (Māori “ways of knowing”, henceforth “MM”) can tell us about climate change, and how to ameliorate its effects.

Sadly, nowhere in the entire presentation and question session could I find a single contribution that a Māori perspective contributes to our understanding of and work on climate change. Listen for yourself and tell me if you find anything substantive.

That’s not surprising: after all, it was modern (not “Western”) science that discovered the issue of anthropogenic climate change and is now working on how to ameliorate it, though that will involve not just science but politics.  And if the Māori perspective can contribute to the political solution at least, or provide useful scientific viewpoints, we’d like to know. But the effort here comes up dry, with the climate scientist spouting bromides that you’ll see below. In the end, I felt as if I had given up 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.  All I can do with that lost time is show the readers what the Māori themselves present as their best case for contributing to science. And the case is pitiful.

Here are the YouTube notes:

In our first Climate Conversation, Akuhata Bailey-Winiata (University of Waikato) will speak specifically about his work on the relevance and application of mātauranga and te ao Māori in climate change. The session will be facilitated by Glen Cornelius (Chief Executive, Harrison Grierson and Deputy President, Te Ao Rangahau). Bailey-Winiata is a climate change scientist.

Click to watch.  The take-home lesson is in a series of slides, some of which I’ve put below, but there’s not much to take home:

In lieu of his inability to really nail down proposals and solutions that differ between Māori and “Western” viewpoints,  Bailey-Wineata simply discusses the differences in between Māori and “Western” worldviews, and then makes up reasons why they’re relevant. One of the differences is said to involve the “Western” concept of linear time and the Māori concept of “Indigenous time” (slide below).  This turns out to be irrelevant because of the false suggestion that while Westerners have linear time, and don’t really look back much, the Māori view of time sees it as “event based” and “nonlinear”, with the “past and future just as important as the present.” Since climate change is really a problem for the future, but is detected by comparing past with the present, and solved by extrapolating into the future, this is a distinction without a difference, and not a contribution of MM to science. The slide:

When asked how MM-based scientific methods differ form those of modern science, Māori tend to emphasize the “interconnectedness of everything”, as opposed to the supposedly “Western” view that things aren’t much interconnected. Here’s the slide that emphasizes that supposed difference, but I see nothing relevant between this Māori view and the way modern science tackles climate change, which of course involves thinking about both past and future generations (cf. Greta Thunberg):

Below a slide meant to emphasize how Māori “long term views” can contribute to the climate change problem. Note that the lecturer brings in storytelling and water spirits, but again, this leads at best to only a week and unenlightening analogy between the dangers of water spirits and the dangers of climate change. I won’t get into the tail-flicking of the water spirit, supposedly a metaphor for a river changing course and causing flood damage (see here).

The lesson from the above: don’t put houses where they can be affected by climate change. But that’s just common sense, not a unique Māori-centric conclusion. Every insurance company in the US knows this.

Here’s a slide that again relies on weak metaphor: just as rivers in NZ can be “braided,” so, says Bailey-Winiata, so we need both Māori and “Western” approaches to science. (The constant use of the words “Western science” to refer to “modern science” irks me, but I use the term because the lecturer does.) At any rate, he says over and over again that both approaches are needed, but never says one tangible thing about what the Māori approach can add to how science is presently addressing climate change.

The Māori answer to the question “what can you add to how science is currently done?” invariably involves simply emphasizing the difference between Māori and non-Māori world views, but never translates these into tangible actions, much less telling us how they add to science in general.

Finally, here are Bailey-Winiata’s “take home messages”.   Again, they emphasize the difference in world view, but never tell us how those differences promote fruitful cultural interaction when it comes to scientific problems that affect society.


If you think I’m deliberately distorting what the lecturer says, and leaving out valuable contributions that a Māori view can bring to climate change, then by all means watch the video for yourself.

Bailey-Winiata‘s presentation is finished in 25 minutes, and in the rest of the video he answers listeners’ questions fed to him by moderator Grierson. Here are a few questions and answers. I’ll paraphrase some of them, and give quotes (using quotation marks) when I had time to write them down.

Question: “Are there difficulties matching the timelines from the event-based sense of time [hundreds of years] to a Western sense of time?”?

Answer: Yes, for Māori culture gives us a long-term view, so this changes “how policies and industry has been done.”  The Māori view tells us that “building the capacity to do these things within that spaces of change and policy is going to be crucial heading into the future, but yeah. . . it’s a hard question to answer in terms of. . .yeah.”

In other words, it’s gobbledygook.

Question:  “What challenges could you give us as engineers and as climate-change practitioners to embrace teo Māori and empower the use of MM amd mauri in the work we do?”

Answer: “The challenge is just to be open to new ideas to new concepts and new ways of knowing, of being, of doing. . . . we need to open ourselves up to these different knowledge systems. . .have conversations with your Maori colleagues, have a cup of tea with them, and just talk.” Answer: “be openminded and understanding. .  see the other side.

There’s a strong smell of kumbaya in such answers.

At one point, when asked what kind of new Māori-centric institutions we need to promote indigenous world views, Bailey-Winiata says that the Māori need “safe spaces” for discussion.

“Be openminded, be aware of time, everything is interconnected. . . “:  this is what we hear over and over again. What we don’t hear is how MM adds to modern science.

Question: How can we use the past to inform how we deal with climate change (emphasis on the past is part of the Māori “nonlinear” view of time)?

Answer:  We can “use history to understand how we can look forward in the future.” Māori tradition tells us “what can we draw resilience and inspiration from.”

Of course using the past to inform the future is already an integral part of climate-change solutions.

Question:  Is there existing literature in Maori available on climate change for the general public?”

Answer:”It’s very sparse. . . . . there’s a lot about Māori natural hazards that you can draw parallels with, but not much historical work has been done.”

Short answer, “no.”  Bailey-Winiata then lists several Māori people who are “pushing the boundaries of this area of climate change in Maori, and the literature is bound to come out”. But where is that literature? I look forward to it.


Question: “Do you think that Pākehā [the Māori word for European descendants] need to get on board with accepting some of the Māori values when planning projects, especially when accepting climate change.”

Answer; Bailey Winiata mentions the famous Listener letter of 2021, in which seven University of Auckland academics argue that MM should not be taught as if it were equivalent to modern science, and then claims that this misguided viewpoint is spreading.  Instead, he says, we need to “be open to the idea of new ways of knowing and new ways of doing”. and “we need to move forward because climate change is happening.”   The moderator, of course agrees, as he has with everything that Bailey-Winiata says.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends: a presentation of the value of Māori ways of knowing in addressing anthropogenic climate change—and from a Māori climate-change scientist with a Ph.D.  Either he’s totally unable to express the values he sees in using MM to address the problem, or there is no value of using MM to address the problem. I tend toward the latter view, for MM was developed before “Western” scientists raised the problem of climate change, and MM is a worldview that contains a bit of practical knowledge but nothing that bears on climate change unless you think that the “long view,” supposedly contributed by Māori lore, has something to add. In fact, that could even be deleterious, for at one point Bailey-Winiata mentions even bigger climate change in the past—something that climate-change denialists often cite when arguing that today’s changes are simply part of the historical cycle of climate change on Earth.

Since this is a half-hour lecture by a credentialed Māori climate-change scientist, I take it to be the best case that can be made for infusing MM into modern science, at least in terms of climate change. And the case is not only weak, but nonexistent. There is no “there” there.

Let me emphasize that by criticizing MM as a valuable contribution to modern science, I am not criticizing the Māori people themselves, who had a rough time of it, but are now reaping reparations in the form of affirmative action, jobs, grants, and the like. But I will argue that their “way of knowing” is way overemphasized, and that the government and academic powers of New Zealand, in a desire to cater to “the sacred victim,” are being sold a bill of goods.

Mainstream media accused of censoring William Shatner’s post-spaceflight comments

October 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

It appears that William Shatner made a pointed remark about global warming after his successful 11-minute trip to space in the Blue Origin capsule, but, as reader Plunky says, “This perspective wasn’t widely reported in MSM” [mainstream media].  Shatner’s musings on life and death, and his emotional reaction to the trip, however, was reported all over the place.

Indeed, if you search for “William Shatner global warming” on the Internet, you find precious little save at yahoo! entertainment and MEDIAite, and nothing about the omitted sentence that this piece gives. (Of course, I must have missed some stuff.) Plunky called my attention to the piece below from Informed Comment (click on screenshot) noting the omission.  They impute it to Bezos cutting off Shatner because of possible bad publicity for his mission.

From Cole’s reporting:

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday, pop culture icon William Shatner, Star Trek‘s Captain James Tiberius Kirk, explained the enormity of seeing the earth from a suborbital flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd space craft. Part of what he said when he returned from 66 miles up got lost in all of the news reports I’ve seen, and it is the most important part.

Here’s a portion of what CNBC printed in what they alleged was the complete transcript of Shatner’s remarks:

    • “I mean, the little things, the weightlessness, and to see the blue color whip by and now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. This covering of blue is this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue around that we have around us. We think ‘oh, that’s blue sky’ and suddenly you shoot through it all of a sudden, like you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness – into black ugliness. And you look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there, and there is Mother Earth and comfort and – is there death? Is that the way death is?”

But here’s the crucial takeaway, the last phrase of which is omitted by CNBC:

      • “What I would love to do is communicate as much as possible the jeopardy, the moment you see how vuln– the vulnerability of everything. It so small. This air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe. It’s negligible, this air. Mars doesn’t have it. It’s so thin. And to dirty it…”

In fact, Shatner adds, after “to dirty it”, “I mean that’s another whole subject.” So it wasn’t just the four words that were omitted, but an entire sentence. And then Bezos breaks in. I have to say that he looks like a bit of a jerk, especially when he interrupts Shatner to spray champagne all over the place.

Informed Comment continues:

“The jeopardy . . . And to dirty it!” To fill this precious atmosphere, unique in our solar system, with clouds of burned coal dust and with greenhouse gases, Shatner says, is . . . what? Despicable. Unthinkable.

Just when Shatner is getting on to the subject about how what he saw reinforced his horror at the way we are polluting the atmosphere and imperiling the earth with man-made global heating, Bezos interrupts him: “It goes so fast.” Bezos doesn’t want Captain Kirk expounding on the evils of climate change on his promotional clip. He gets him talking about the experience again. Not the conclusion he drew from that experience.

And yes, Shatner did say that and yes, Bezos interrupted him. You can see it at 7:13 in this video, as well as the “I mean, that’s another whole subject” comment.

Even the New York Times reports only these words of Shatner’s:

It was unbelievable … To see the blue cover go whoop by. And now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us. We say, ‘Oh that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it and all of a sudden, like you whip the sheet off you when you’re asleep, you’re looking into blackness.

. . . You look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there. There is Mother and Earth and comfort and there is … Is there death? I don’t know. Was that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop and it’s gone. Jesus. It was so moving to me.

You’ll be hard pressed to find that whole paragraph beginning “What I would love to do is communicate as much as possible the jeopardy. . . ” in the mainstream media, ad I  haven’t found “And to dirty it. . . ” anywhere, not even The New Yorker’s report.   The Informed Comment piece observes that Shatner has been deeply concerned with climate change for at least five years.

I suppose are a couple of explanations for their omission. The innocuous one is that the MSM just omitted one phrase from Shatner’s soliloquy—a fragment that wasn’t even a complete sentence (but was followed by a complete sentence, also omitted!). After all, the “MSM” largely leans Left, and reports frequently on climate change, so what motivation would they have for omitting that bit?

On the other hand, that phrase was important, and should have been part of the story, even though in some accounts (not the NYT’s above), they do say Shatner’s worried about humans despoiling our planet.

Informed Comment appears to be a progressive Leftist site, so they of course impute this to Bezos trying to keep Shatner from damaging the Blue Horizon enterprise, which of course is a for-profit operation. Cole quotes the Washington Post‘s 2016 interview with Shatner to show his concern, and winds up this way:

“People like yourself — young people like yourself should be screaming at the top of your lungs to the people who lead.”

That’s what Shatner wanted to say on his return to earth. He wanted to say that our thin, fragile, vulnerable, unique atmosphere is in danger from petroleum, gas and coal, that this mothering “blue blanket” of the earth is in danger of being enveloped by the grim blackness of galactic emptiness because of the way we are treating it.

That is what for-profit news did not report about Shatner’s profound experience and his articulation of it. He wants you screaming at the top of your lungs that our pale blue dot is in danger of being burned up and engulfed by an unfeeling, black cosmos. And that only we can stop it from getting worse, because we are the ones making it worse.

Well, maybe Cole is wrong trying to psychologize Shatner in this way. After all, Shatner did say “that’s another whole subject”, and may have left it there. But surely the media could have reported that final phrase, particularly in what was purported to be a complete transcript.

You be the judge!


“Climate change” redacted from U.S. Geological Survey press releases

July 10, 2019 • 9:00 am

I’m rereading Orwell’s novel 1984, and so this new report from Science reminded me of the Party’s attempt to change language into “Newspeak” and, by purging old words, creating a new language with a new ideological slant. (That, of course, derived from Orwell’s earlier but superb essay Politics and the English Language.)

The Science article relates, at some length, how studies by several federal agencies—mainly the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), but also the Department of Agriculture and the Interior Department—have been deleting references to climate change from press releases. It appears to be a deliberate but unofficial policy of the government.

Click on the screenshot below to read:

To be sure, there are no accusations that the Trump administration is forbidding the agencies from conducting studies on global warming, or from publishing the results in journals. The accusation is that in the press releases—often the only thing journalists read or care about, since they’re averse to reading papers—expunge mention of global warming as a cause of various damages or potential damages to the environment. This redaction has been going on for some time, but this useful article collects several instances of press-release censorship.

This contrasts with the Obama administration, which quickly released press releases mentioning climate change and approved more of them. According to the article, in the last year of Obama’s administration USGS distributed at least 13 press releases that dealt with climate change and even mentioned it in the headlines, while in the Trump administration—from early 2017 to the present—the figure has been zero.

I’ll give just two examples, as quotes from the article:

a.) “A March news release from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) touted a new study that could be useful for infrastructure planning along the California coastline. At least that’s how President Donald Trump’s administration conveyed it.

The news release hardly stood out. It focused on the methodology of the study rather than its major findings, which showed that climate change could have a withering effect on California’s economy by inundating real estate over the next few decades.

An earlier draft of the news release, written by researchers, was sanitized by Trump administration officials, who removed references to the dire effects of climate change after delaying its release for several months, according to three federal officials who saw it. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, would face more than $100 billion in damages related to climate change and sea-level rise by the end of the century. It found that three to seven times more people and businesses than previously believed would be exposed to severe flooding.

‘We show that for California, USA, the world’s fifth largest economy, over $150 billion of property equating to more than 6% of the state’s GDP and 600,000 people could be impacted by dynamic flooding by 2100,’ the researchers wrote in the study.

The release fits a pattern of downplaying climate research at USGS and in other agencies within the administration. While USGS does not appear to be halting the pursuit of science, it has publicly communicated an incomplete account of the peer-reviewed research or omitted it under President Trump.

‘It’s been made clear to us that we’re not supposed to use climate change in press releases anymore. They will not be authorized,’ one federal researcher said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal.”

Note, however, that later in the article, when summarizing the press release, author Waldman does quote the final press release as saying this:

 “The authors then translated those hazards into a range of projected economic and social exposure data to show the lives and dollars that could be at risk from climate change in California during the 21st century.”

So it’s not completely kosher to imply that all mentions of climate change were expunged from press releases. The article could have been a bit more honest about this.

And on the incipient demise of polar bears:

b.) “A release in 2017 that publicized a study on how polar bears were expending more energy due to a loss of sea ice did not mention climate change. It noted that a ‘moving treadmill of sea ice”’ in the warming Arctic forced polar bears to hunt for more seals and placed pressure on their population in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, without stating that climate change is a key driver of sea ice conditions.”

That is even more dishonest.  And we all know why this censorship is happening: economic interests come to bear on the government that impel a Republican administration to downplay the results of anthropogenic climate change. The “moving treadmill of sea ice” is an Orwellian euphemism for “icecaps melting because of climate change.”

All this does, of course, is convince people that if there is a problem, it has nothing to do with greenhouse gases or human energy change. And that reduces the urgency of reducing emissions.  If there is any humanity to look back on our species in the future, they’ll marvel at how much we ignored an exigent problem. But of course nobody may be left to chastise us for our shortsightedness. It all seems unstoppable.

Templeton gave big money to climate-denialist organizations

May 29, 2019 • 12:00 pm

Reader Robert called my attention to a 2013 paper in Climatic Change (described by Drexel University as “one of the top 10 climate science journals in the world”) that tracked the source of money given to American climate-denialist organizations. While the results may be out of date, it shows that over at least seven years, the Templeton Foundation gave more than twenty million dollars to organizations—mostly think tanks—opposing the idea of anthropogenic climate change. (Note added in proof: I discovered that I’d written a long post about this paper six years ago, but, rather than repeat what I said, or call your attention to an earlier post, I’ll give a shorter version here.)

The paper’s author is Robert Brulle, described by Wikipedia as

. . . . [an] environmental sociologist and professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University. He is also an associate professor of public health at the Drexel University School of Public Health. He advocates aggressive political action to address global warming.

A free pdf of the full paper can be downloaded at this link or by clicking on the screenshot below.

Or click here to see a Drexel-written summary of Brulle’s paper:

Brulle used Internal Revenue Service data to find out both which organizations were making donations to climate change counter-movement (CCCM) organizations (see the list below) as well as data from the CCCM groups’ tax reports to find out where their money was coming from. In total, he found data from 91 different CCCM organizations funded by 141 foundations between 2003 and 2010. It would be nice to have a more recent sample, though some foundations, as reported below, hide their contributions by funneling them through untraceable sources. 

The four main points of the paper are outlined by the Drexel site (quotations direct).

1.) Conservative foundations have bank-rolled denial.The largest and most consistent funders of organizations orchestrating climate change denial are a number of well-known conservative foundations, such as the Searle Freedom Trust, the John William Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation. These foundations promote ultra-free-market ideas in many realms.

2.) Koch and ExxonMobil have recently pulled back from publicly visible funding. From 2003 to 2007, the Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were heavily involved in funding climate-change denial organizations. But since 2008, they are no longer making publicly traceable contributions.

3.) Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to denial organizations by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25% of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change.

4.) Most funding for denial efforts is untraceable. Despite extensive data compilation and analyses, only a fraction of the hundreds of millions in contributions to climate change denying organizations can be specifically accounted for from public records. Approximately 75% of the income of these organizations comes from unidentifiable

The fact that organizations are hiding their donations is of course worrying, but also shows that the companies know they’d get bad publicity from giving money to CCCMs. Donors Trust, which gives 25% of all money to CCCM over the period, is designed to hide the source of donations. As Brulle’s paper states:

Of special interest in this regard is that Donors Trust and Donors Capital are both “donor directed” foundations. In this type of foundation, individuals or other foundations contribute money to the donor directed foundation, and it then makes grants based on the stated preferences of the original contributor. This process ensures that the intent of the contributor is met while also hiding that contributor’s identity. Because contributions to a donor directed foundation are not required to be made public, their existence provides a way for individuals or corporations to make anonymous contributions. In effect, these two philanthropic foundations form a black box that conceals the identity of contributors to various CCCM organizations.

While I suppose this is legal, I don’t know why it should be, for the donations still go to the specified recipient.

And here’s the breakdown of money given to CCCMs from 2003-2010 by various foundations. Brulle’s paper summarizes the results visually presented in the pie chart (my emphasis in both the words and the chart):

Figure 1 shows the overall amount and percentage distribution of foundation funding of CCCM organizations. The single largest funders are the combined foundations Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund. Over the 2003–2010 period, they provided more than $78 million in funding to CCCM organizations. The other major funders are the combined Scaife and Koch Affiliated Foundations, and the Bradley, Howard, Pope, Searle and Templeton foundations, all giving more than $20 million from 2003–2010.

The size of the donations, in descending order are given as the pie slices going clockwise from “others” at the bottom:

Here is the money received by various CCCM organizations; if you study global warming, you’ll be familiar with many of them, with the largest being well known conservative think tanks. In other words, the pie chart above shows the amount of money given by foundations to organizations shown below, who use the dosh to create climate-change-denialist propaganda.

Sunny Bains’s 2011 article in Evolutionary Psychology, “Questioning the integrity of the John Templeton Foundation,” details more involvement of Templeton in climate-denialism.

Given Templeton’s predilection for selling itself as a science-friendly organization, and the number of genuine scientists who swill at the Templeton trough, I’d hope that the Foundation would have stopped this behavior, though of course they continue funding ludicrous religion-and-science-are-bffs initiatives. I can’t find any information later than this study, but that means nothing. If Templeton lets me know that not a penny of their resources goes to organizations involved in climate-change denialism, I’ll be glad to issue an update. But for the nonce, no scientist with any self-respect should be taking money from Templeton.

Maybe people will listen to David Attenborough about climate change

December 3, 2018 • 9:15 am

Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change.
If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.
—David Attenborough

Some research has shown (I can’t be arsed to find it) that people tend to most trust the advice and beliefs of those considered members of their “tribe.” Well, who doesn’t see David Attenborough a member of their tribe?  A few days ago, as The Guardian reports, there was a United Nations climate change summit in Poland, and Attenborough was chosen to be the one representative speaking for the world’s people as a whole. That’s a big responsibility! And he’s 92 years old.

As part of that summit, and to inform Sir David’s address, messages from many people were collected. Buttressed by their views, Attenborough delivered the following short but powerful two-minute talk, also presented by The Guardian:

We all know that he’s right, and that without immediate action on the part of industry, government, and the world’s citizens, our future—and that of many species—is bleak. Yet the disaster is far off, and people are too consumed by politics, their tribe, and their business interests to worry about a distant futurity. Steve Pinker holds out hope that technology can solve the problem, but where is the will to do that until the disaster is upon us, at which time it will be too late? The “simple everyday actions” that we can all take, and that Attenborough mentions, pale before what governments can do.

h/t: Michael, Raymond

New report again raises the alarm about climate change

November 23, 2018 • 3:00 pm

Trump’s own government’s study shows him to be a mendacious moron. Click on the screenshot below to go to the CNN story, and you can find the government report it mentions at this site. (Note: the report is very long.)

An excerpt from CNN:

The report’s findings run counter to President Donald Trump’s consistent message that climate change is a hoax.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” as some Americans faced the coldest Thanksgiving in over a century.

But the science explained in these and other federal government reports is clear: Climate change is not disproved by the extreme weather of one day or a week; it’s demonstrated by long-term trends. Humans are living with the warmest temperatures in modern history. Even if the best-case scenario were to happen and greenhouse gas emissions were to drop to nothing, the world is on track to warm 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

As of now, not a single G20 country is meeting climate targets, research shows.

Without significant reductions in greenhouse emissions, the annual average global temperature could increase 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) or more by the end of this century, compared with preindustrial temperatures, the report says.


When offense trumps truth: the demonization of “inconvenient ideas”

March 16, 2018 • 12:00 pm

The Conversation site has featured a lot of stinkers lately, but occasionally a good piece manages to sneak in. One of these is by my old friend, philosopher and writer Russell Blackford: “Don’t shoot the messenger when confronted with inconvenient ideas“.

As we know, there are certain ideas that, in many political circles—and Blackford is talking about both Left and Right here—are not to be expressed because, although they might be true, they contravene the political narrative of the group.

For the Left, evolutionary psychology is one of these. The field, though it sometimes uses unacceptably low standards of evidence, also has an undeniably intriguing and worthwhile purpose: to figure out what part of our behaviors and thoughts reflect natural selection in our ancestors. After all, if our bodies show traces of our evolutionary ancestry—and they do in spades—then why not our minds?

Yes, culture can alter behaviors and ideas more easily than it can change bodies (though, with fast foods, plastic surgery, hair dye and the like, the difference is waning), but it would be foolish to deny flat out that evolutionary psychology is a worthless field that’s foolish to pursue, much less think to ponder. In fact, as I wrote in January about one of the most rabid and thoughtless of evo-psych critics:

P. Z. Myers is on a constant tirade against evolutionary psychology, and has made the ludicrous statement that “the fundamental premises of evo psych are false.” But those “fundamental premises” are only that the human mind, like the human body, bears traces of our evolutionary ancestry and the selective pressures that molded it. (See my longer response here and here.)

Yet only a blinkered ideologue would refuse to even consider the possibility that the difference between men and women in their sexual behaviors, preferences, and in their variance in reproductive success—the difference among males in the number of offspring they produce is much larger than the difference among females, a reflection of differences in sexual behavior—is due to sexual selection in our ancestors. After all, other primates and most animals show the same difference, which is nearly universal in our species. It would be very odd of this distinctive pattern across nature was due to sexual selection in all other animals, but only to culture in humans! That’s a bizarre form of Leftist human exceptionalism.

Another demonized idea is connected with evolutionary psychology: the claim that differential representation of sexes in professions like teaching or STEM areas must reflect discrimination and sexism and cannot be due, even in part, to differential preferences of men and women for areas of work. (See here for a recent analysis that supports a “preference” explanation for some differential representation.)

But I digress. In his piece, Blackford concerns himself with these taboo topics, referring to the infamous Google employee James Damore:

Damore had suggested that part of the over-representation of men in software engineering at Google might be due to psychological differences between women and men: not intellectual differences, but differences in what activities the sexes find attractive and enjoyable. He argued that Google should focus on equality of opportunity for individuals, without necessarily expecting equality of outcomes across its workforce.

Damore’s firing from Google was an example of an increasing intolerance of inconvenient or controversial ideas within democratic societies. Here, then, is one great moral challenge of our time. Once an issue becomes politically toxic, we may reject inconvenient viewpoints out of hand. We may reject opponents – viewing them as ill-disposed people – without listening to them, and we may even try to punish them for their views.

. . . Though Damore expressed his ideas thoughtfully and mildly, his memo is often referred to online as a rant or a tirade. Its tone is unemotional, but it evidently stirred passions in others. After the memo was publicly leaked, Damore was shamed on social media platforms, then promptly fired. Throughout these events, his opponents blatantly demonised and misrepresented him.

Indeed—even though the Damore issue may be more complicated, as I’ve heard he had a history of being obnoxious at Google. Still, the memo was not obnoxious to those who aren’t looking for offense, and if that had any part in his firing, it’s wrong. Damore may have mis-cited some data, but his aim was to make a point about preferences, not to say that women are less qualified for STEM jobs. Firing, it seems to me, was an overreaction, but then I don’t know all the details (note, though, that Damore was fired two days after his memo appeared).

Blackford cites an example of what he calls a “compassionate feminist response” to Damore cited in a Guardian article.  Surprisingly, the compassion came from Cordelia Fine, a critic of biological differences between men and women whose own agenda, as I’ve mentioned several times before, seems to have involved cherry-picking her own data. Yet while decrying some of Damore’s data and the possibility they could be used to feed gender bias, Fine says this (from the article):

Despite authoring two acclaimed books on gender, Fine, a leading feminist science writer, feels “torn in many different directions” by Damore. She believes his memo made many dubious assumptions and ignored vast swaths of research that show pervasive discrimination against women. But his summary of the differences between the sexes, she says, was “more accurate and nuanced than what you sometimes find in the popular literature”.

Some of Damore’s ideas, she adds, are “very familiar to me as part of my day-to-day research, and are not seen as especially controversial. So there was something quite extraordinary about someone losing their job for putting forward a view that is part of the scientific debate. And then to be so publicly shamed as well. I felt pretty sorry for him.”

As Russell notes, “This shows a level of human decency that is often missing from public debate. Fine expressed compassion for an intellectual opponent who was poorly treated.”

Then considering the Right, Blackford uses global warming as an “inconvenient truth” rejected by Republicans.

Because they dislike government intervention in economic markets, Republicans baulk at proposed solutions to climate change. They begin here and “work backward” to reject climate science itself.

Often, indeed, the situation is even worse. Once an issue has become intensely politicised, we may interpret others’ views as evidence of their overall ideology, which then sways whether or not we regard them as fundamentally ill-disposed people who are not worth listening to.

In a recent article, Neil Levy presents evidence that this is now the case with global warming. For many American conservatives, acceptance of the scientific consensus has become a marker of untrustworthiness. It’s a cue to stop listening.

As a scientist, I’m appalled when certain ideas that may be true, but offend some group or other, are considered off limits, even when those ideas—like global warming—must be accepted and discussed if we’re to save the planet. Psychological differences between men and women aren’t as dangerous to the welfare of Earth as a whole, but if we’re to figure out the reasons for sex disparity in professions, we have to take them seriously and figure out what effect, if any, they have on gender parity.

Russell’s conclusion, which sounds positively Pinkerian, would seem to be a no-brainer, but won’t appeal to those for whom ideology trumps truth (something true for many post-modernists):

All too often, we automatically dismiss ideas with potentially unsettling implications for our worldviews. We may go further in rejecting, and even attempting to harm, the messenger.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it has become so common that it frustrates good-faith efforts to discuss and solve the large problems confronting humanity in the 21st century. Such rejection of messages and lashing out at messengers blocks useful discussion across moral and political divides.

To make progress, we will need to reboot our thinking. We need to focus on evidence and arguments, and on ordinary fairness and compassion to others, even when we disagree.

As Pinker has said, let’s first accept what seems to be true, and then worry about whether it should have any influence on social policy (global warming will, while difference in gender preferences should not influence equal-treatment and equal-opportunity policies). There is never anything to be gained by ignoring empirical truths, though those never by themselves imply social or moral consequences. Even the fact of global warming itself has no moral lesson unless you add to it the preference that humanity and other species are worth saving.

Bill Nye excoriated for attending State of the Union address with Trump’s proposed NASA chief

February 1, 2018 • 10:15 am

I’ve made no secret about my lack of affection for Bill “The Science Guy” Nye.  Although at one time he may have been a great promoter of science for kids, he seems unable to survive out of the limelight. The result is that he’s engaging in all sorts of activities to keep himself in the public eye: debating Ken Ham about evolution, popping up at events like the Reason Rally (where he refused to sign my book for charity), and starring in his misnamed television show, “Bill Nye Saves the World.” It also rankles me that he pretends to be a scientist but he’s really not: he was an engineer at one time, but he hasn’t even done that for 32 years.  I don’t care if science popularizers have science degrees so long as they can present the material cogently and engagingly, but I do mind when they pretend to be scientists.

The last straw was the incursion of politics into his science show, which proved horribly cringeworthy. Behold “My vagina has its own voice”, followed by “Ice cream sexuality”:


I can’t imagine Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Richard Dawkins presenting any of those videos, which aren’t even science but ideology.

There are many other reasons I dislike Nye, but this will suffice. Others, of course, disagree, and love the laterally compressed man with the bow tie. Many of them were turned on to science by Nye when they were kids, and I can’t fault that. All I know is the man I see today, and he makes the soles of my shoes curl up.

This week, however, Nye decided to attend Trump’s State of the Union Address, which was fine, but what rankled people is that he went with Republican congressman Jim Bridenstine. Trump proposed Bridenstine as the new director of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), but the nomination has been held up because Bridensteine is unqualified, not having a science degree (though he’s a pilot and was director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum), and, most important, he won’t say openly that human activity is the major cause of global warming. When examined in a confirmation hearing, Bridenstine admitted that global warming was in part anthropogenic, but wouldn’t say that human activity is the main cause.

To many that is heresy, but I think that a partial admission is a step in the right direction for the man, though of course he may have been lying. I don’t think he should be confirmed, for he’s simply unqualified, but in the end his failure to fully sign on to what is seen as settled science will probably be the main factor blocking his nomination. After all, most of Trump’s nominees are unqualified!

What bothered people a lot was that Nye went to the State of the Union as Bridenstine’s guest, which apparently they saw as Nye’s endorsement not only of Bridenstine’s views and Trump’s policies, but also, by proxy, of xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, racism, ableism, and yes, anti-science. No matter that Nye accepts and speaks about the dangers of anthropogenic global warming, or that he dissociated himself from Bridenstine’s and Trump’s political views. As the New York Post reports:

“I will attend the State of the Union as a guest of Congressman Jim Bridenstine — nominee for NASA Administrator — who extended me an invitation in my role as CEO of The Planetary Society,” the science educator and engineer tweeted Monday night.

“While the Congressman and I disagree on a great many issues — we share a deep respect for NASA and its achievements and a strong interest in the future of space exploration,” he wrote.

“My attendance tomorrow should not be interpreted as an endorsement of this administration, or of Congressman Bridenstine’s nomination, or seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community,” he continued.

I don’t have a beef with Nye going to the speech with Bridenstine; I have a beef with him constantly pushing himself into the limelight, and he’ll do it in any way he can. I object to Nye’s rampant careerism, not to his politics. In this case, though, his self-promotion required him to go with a Republican.

Many others took issue with that, though, and pushback against Nye’s attendance was reported and/or promulgated by many places, including Salon, Geekwire, and CNN. The only temperate voice was reported at Geekwire:

The Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier volleyed back, saying that it’s important to acknowledge Bridenstine’s shift toward the mainstream on climate science.

“If pro-science activists want to see their policies succeed, by definition they will have to gain new supporters, and in so doing they will have to change people’s minds — and embrace it when it happens,” he wrote.

Nye is the CEO of The Planetary Society: one of the reasons he’s associating himself with the NASA mission.

But three other groups spoke out loudly against Nye’s actions.  An online petition by Climate Hawks Vote, which says what’s below, has gathered more than 35,000 signatures:

President Donald Trump is a bigoted climate denier. So is Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Trump’s embattled nominee for NASA Administrator. So why is Bill Nye “very pleased” to be Bridenstine’s guest at Trump’s first State of the Union address?

Bill, please be the Science Guy, not the Bigoted Climate Denial Guy. Cancel your plans to attend Trump’s State of the Union as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest.

You can be “very pleased” to be someone’s guest without endorsing Bridenstine’s policies, and Nye explicitly said he didn’t, and has emphasized human-caused global warming constantly.

More pushback at Climate, with an article called “Tell Bill Nye: Don’t provide cover to Trump’s climate denier appointee” (their emphasis):

Bill Nye has been a stalwart voice against the Trump administration’s climate denial in the past year. Meanwhile, Jim Bridenstine is exactly the opposite: a climate denying, fossil fuel-funded politician who has no business running NASA. As a member of Congress from Oklahoma, Bridenstine has already racked up $170,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Even though he refutes the science of climate change and has no scientific background, he just moved one step closer to becoming the head of NASA.

NASA performs critical climate science research, and if the Senate confirms Bridenstine’s nomination he could work with Trump to end NASA’s earth science missions, and ground essential research satellites. With his controversial nomination heading soon to the Senate floor, Bill Nye’s tacit endorsement could be just what Bridenstine needs to get enough votes to be confirmed. We have to stop this in its tracks.

Tell Bill Nye today: Don’t support the Trump administration’s disastrous climate denial agenda by attending the State of the Union as Jim Bridenstine’s guest.

And the most vociferous pushback came from a group of 500 women scientists on a Scientific American blog, in a piece called “Bill Nye does not speak for us and he does not speak for science”. Two excerpts:

As scientists, we cannot stand by while Nye lends our community’s credibility to a man who would undermine the United States’ most prominent science agency. And we cannot stand by while Nye uses his public persona as a science entertainer to support an administration that is expressly xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, ableist, and anti-science.

Scientists are people, and in today’s society, it is impossible to separate science at major agencies like NASA from other pressing issues like racism, bigotry, and misogyny. Addressing these issues should be a priority, not only to strengthen our own scientific community, but to better serve the public that often funds our work. Rather than wield his public persona to bring attention to the need for science-informed policy, Bill Nye has chosen to excuse Rep. Bridenstine’s anti-science record and his stance on civil rights, and to implicitly support a stance that would diminish the agency’s work studying our own planet and its changing climate. Exploring other worlds and studying other planets, while dismissing the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and its damage to our own planet isn’t just dangerous, it’s foolish and self-defeating.

Further, from his position of privilege and public popularity, Bill Nye is acting on the scientific community’s behalf, but without our approval.

That seems over the top to me, for Nye surely doesn’t endorse xenophobia, homophobia, and that whole slate of sins; in fact, he’s disavowed much of this (see above). Even though the videos about are cringeworthy, they nevertheless do attack homophobia and misogyny. So Nye’s supposed “implicit” support for these things has been rejected explicitly. I also question whether science at NASA, or anyplace else, cannot be separated from identity politics. There’s no logical connection between the two, except that most scientists are liberals, and most liberals don’t endorse homophobia, xenophibia, et al. Finally, does Nye need anyone’s approval to appear at the State of the Union message? He was not acting on the scientific community’s behalf, but on his own behalf.

There’s this, too:

The true shame is that Bill Nye remains the popular face of science because he keeps himself in the public eye. To be sure, increasing the visibility of scientists in the popular media is important to strengthening public support for science, but Nye’s TV persona has perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats—a stereotype that does not comport with our lived experience as women in STEM. And he continues to wield his power recklessly, even after his recent endeavors in debate and politics have backfired spectacularly.

In 2014, he attempted to debate creationist Ken Ham—against the judgment of evolution experts—which only served to allow Ham to raise the funds needed to build an evangelical theme park that spreads misinformation about human evolution. Similarly, Nye repeatedly agreed to televised debates with non-scientist climate deniers, contributing to the false perception that researchers still disagree about basic climate science. And when Bill Nye went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to “debate” climate change in 2017, his appearance was used to spread misinformation to Fox viewers and fundraise for anti-climate initiatives.

There’s a bit of truth here, because Nye does “keep himself in the public eye”. More important, I too won’t debate creationists because it gives them credibility—but that’s not the only reason. Other reasons include creationists’ “Gish galloping” in these debates, and because rhetoric in a live debate is not, I think, the best way to let the public issues. But I don’t mind if some other folks debate creationists, so long as they’re prepared and know what they’re doing. But surely going on television and pushing for recognition of global warming is a good thing: we can’t always avoid our opponents, and sometimes debates, with the proper science advocates, can be useful.

I’ll leave you to judge for yourself whether Nye perpetuates stereotypes of science. If he does, people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is black and doesn’t wear a lab coat, must dispel them.

In the end, the way to make your point in this case is not to demonize Nye, but to defeat Bridenstine’s nomination. (His nomination seems  a lost cause anyway.) Write to your senators and representatives! Write to the White House! This may seem like bawling up a drainpipe, but if that doesn’t do anything, surely calling out Nye will do even less.

I find myself in a strange position defending Bill Nye, as I don’t like him, don’t admire him, and don’t think he’s doing much for science. But I simply can’t get worked up about him going to the State of the Union address with a Republican nominee, especially when Nye has explicitly disavowed Bridenstine’s views on climate change.

h/t: Tom

Readers’ wildlife photographs

October 23, 2017 • 8:30 am

For some reason, when I’m traveling I’m reluctant to publish readers’ photos that I’ve saved on my computer. That may be because it requires some time to put them up properly, resize them, look up species IDs and so on. But when photos arrive when I’m traveling, I somehow lack that reserve. (That means, by the way, that if you send photos today or tomorrow, there’s a good chance I’ll post them.)

Therefore I present you with two landscape pictures taken by reader Don Bredes, which arrived just a minute ago. They may demonstrate the effect of global warming, though a one-off year isn’t really proof of that. His notes are indented:

Here’s a study in contrasts for you.  Last year on this day, October 23, in northern Vermont we awoke to the first snow of the season.  It was heavy enough to cause a good deal of tree damage, particularly to the laden apple trees.  This year has delivered a mild, dry fall.  The foliage yet lingers in many protected spots, and temperatures today may reach 70 degrees.
Last year:
This year:

New Mexico, with input from science and public, doesn’t water down its science standards

October 19, 2017 • 10:30 am

UPDATE: I have an email from Glenn Branch, who works for the National Center for Science Education, correcting the news report (and therefore the post below). I quote with his permission, and with thanks:

The US News and World Report version of the AP story on New Mexico’s science standards leaves out a lot of details, and it’s not accurate to say that “the state department of education backed down” tout court et sans phrase.

The worst of the changes that undermined the scientific accuracy of the standards’ treatment of evolution, the age of the earth, and climate change have been removed, but even as amended the proposed standards are still distinctly weaker than the Next Generation Science Standards on evolution and climate change. The Public Education Department’s announcement failed to address the absence of a middle school standard about embryological evidence for evolution or the omission of “due to human activity” from a high school standard about Earth’s systems, for example. It remains to be seen whether the Public Education Department will revise the proposed standards further.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter (October 18, 2017), “Despite the statement issued late Tuesday night, [Secretary-Designate of Education Christopher] Ruszkowski has not released a formal version of what his department spokeswoman says is a new proposal on the way.”


In these dire times when American government is going down the tubes, we sometimes see a glimmer of rationality. We have one today from New Mexico.

As I reported about a month ago, New Mexico was set to water down its science curriculum about the usual issues: evolution, global warming, and even the age of the Earth. As I wrote then:

Mother Jones has an article by Andy Kroll about how the state of New Mexico has watered down a widespread and excellent secondary school science curriculum (grades kindergarden through 12): the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) developed in conjunction with National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The state’s public education department released a document (here) that proposes changes to its existing standards that have changed some of the NGSS guidelines.

Here are two of those proposed changes.

Danger! Mushbrains and believers at work! But in the end, reason prevailed. According to several sources, including US News and World Report, after a public meeting in which the public vociferously opposed these changes, and after scientists (and entire departments in state universities) wrote in, the state department of education backed down.

New Mexico‘s proposed school science standards are being revised after a public outcry against the deletion or omission of references to global warming, evolution and the age of the Earth.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski announced Tuesday several changes to the final version of the state standards that incorporate suggestions from the public.

The Public Education Department says final standards will restore references to the 4.6 billion-year age of the Earth, the rise in global temperatures over the past century and the process of evolution due to genetic variation. A complete version of the final standards was not released.

Public comments at a packed public hearing Monday were overwhelmingly critical of state revisions to a set of standards developed by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences.

There was also a letter (made into an ad) signed by 61 scientists, most of them physicists and many from Los Alamos, which you can see here.  Curiously, few biologists signed, though they may have weighed in through group letters from universities (I know of at least one).

The changes shown above, and others, were so blatantly creationist and anti-science that it would have been a huge embarrassment to New Mexico, and to its rational inhabitants, to have this stuff publicized. In the end reason triumphed, but it may have occurred only to avoid public shaming. But I’ll take what I can get.

h/t: Avis, Woody