Feminist glaciologist responds

Two weeks ago the story of the feminist glaciology paper spread rapidly throughout the internet and even reached the mainstream media such as the WSJ  — see the updates at the end of our 3 March post for some of the articles that appeared after ours.  A few common themes arose in the comments about the paper. Firstly, many people seemed genuinely confused about whether the paper was supposed to be a serious piece of academic research, or was intended as a hoax or spoof, something I unwisely joked about in my article. Secondly, many of the pieces, including the Cliscep one, said little about the article but merely quoted sections from it. Finally, when it became clear that it was supposed to be serious, there was concern that it was funded by the National Science Foundation, rather than the National Sociology Foundation or the National Self-indulgence Foundation — see, for example, today’s The Settled Science of Grant Snaffling by Tony Thomas.

The lead author Mark Carey has found a sympathetic interviewer from the magazine “Science” to talk to about the response to his paper.  The article is worth reading carefully, as are the comments underneath. First off we are told that they were targeted by “conservative-leaning blogs” — hear that Geoff and Ian? If you criticise repetitive jargon-filled waffle you’re a conservative. See responses here and here.

Mark Carey says that “What is surprising about the brouhaha is the high level of misinterpretations, mischaracterization, and misinformation that circulate about research and researchers”.  What is surprising is that Carey fails to provide any examples of the mis-anythings that he claims to be at a high level, despite being given the opportunity to do so. As already noted, most of the publicity about the paper just quoted chunks of it. One possible misinterpretation could have been that some people were suggesting that the whole $412k NSF research grant was spent on this particular paper, which is not the case.

Carey’s misinterpretation continues: “The good news is that people are talking about glaciers!”  Err, no, it’s not the glaciers that people are talking about. He says they chose the title “to provoke discussion” and that they wanted “to start a conversation”, but he and his colleagues are failing to take part in the conversation.  This talk of the need for dialogue, discussion or debate, and then failure to take part in any such discussion is a regular occurrence, see for example here, here and the beginning of Ian’s video.

As noted in the comments under the interview, one of the interviewer’s questions, asking whether there are any concrete example of how feminist geography has improved our understanding of the environment, was met with more waffle about sexism but no real answer.

Andrew Follett has written a response to the interview, Feminist Glacier Guy: You’re Not Educated Enough To Get My Research, that concentrates on Carey’s statement that his research can be misunderstood by nonspecialists, with the implication that the work is too sophisticated for the general public to understand.

There’s an attempt to support feminist glaciology here, by a blogger who was “shocked, baffled and appalled” by the reaction to the paper, and expresses her concern over “the Eurocentric heteropatriarchal academy and its resistance to feminist pedagogies.”

After writing this post, I came across a superb and very detailed blog post by Jerry Coyne, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, Postmodern Glacier professor defends his dreadful study as “misunderstood”. It wasn’t, criticising both the original paper and Carey’s softball interview. He also talks briefly about the possibility of it being a Sokal-style hoax, and has quite a lot to say about the NSF funding. He comments on the poor writing, confirmation bias, and anecdotal cherry-picking in the paper, and much more.

36 thoughts on “Feminist glaciologist responds

  1. The Jerry Coyne post is a very good summary of just why this paper is so bad:

    “It’s horribly written, in the kind of obscurantist, ideology-packed prose that we’re used to from postmodernism. And it says the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. These people need to learn how to write.

    It’s actually anti-science, for it repeatedly points out the problems with so-called objective Western science, namely its refusal to incorporate the voices of marginalized people, but, more important, to accept “other ways of knowing” about glaciers. It turns out that these “other ways of knowing” are simply subjective and emotional views incorporated in human narratives, art, and literature. These are not “ways of knowing” that will advance the field. Science is repeatedly denigrated, and, in fact, I’m surprised that this stuff was funded by the National Science Foundation. Has it become the National Science and Other Ways of Knowing Foundation?

    The paper is an exercise in confirmation bias, picking and choosing bits of the literature that confirm the authors’ preconceived views that science is a male-dominated, Western hegemony that tramples all over women and minorities. Reading the paper, you see that it’s a series of cherry-picked anecdotes that support this view.”

    Those ‘other ways of knowing’ include so called “folk glaciologies”. I have a lot of respect for folklore and the unique insights it gives us into the natural world and man’s place within it. Folklore evolved long before the sciences and it provides an intriguing alternative perspective on the world around us, but a perspective that, for the most part, is ALTERNATIVE to scientific knowledge. Both science and folklore have their own inherent validity but, on a purely mundane level, they are mutually exclusive and neither is capable of informing the other in any meaningful way.

    It is quite frankly an insult to native peoples and their folk mythology to misappropriate their knowledge in this way to advance a modernist ideology which seeks to neuter a vast body of scientific knowledge – and the continued acquisition thereof – by replacing, conflating and diluting it with fabricated, emotional, wishy-washy, arty-farty, intellectually vacuous, hardline feminist, post colonial, racially inclusive, opaque, meaningless, claptrap.

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  2. Feminine Glaciology is why, since my (short) first marriage failed almost thirty years ago, I’ve not bothered to repeat that mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sophocles,

    I suspect the authors would classify ‘Glacier Mating’ as only a subset of ‘Feminine Glaciology’.

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  4. An impressive demonstration on how to remove any sense from a collection of words which orginally held meaning.

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  5. The most annoying thing about the paper and the poor Science mag discussion of it, is that it damages women in science. Feminism was all about women being allowed to compete on a level playing field, not about being given their own special, fluffy playing field. Yes, women may bring new ideas to science in the same way any new people will.

    Of course, this paper is not about letting women into science but letting silly idiots like the author into science. Clearly he wasn’t bright enough to do the difficult subjects but he wants to feel like he’s one of the big boys.

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  6. Tiny, your point is made and elaborated on by some people at the Jerry Coyne blog, for example here:
    “As a woman, I feel a bit insulted by all this. Carey implies we women can’t do proper science and therefore our efforts in other areas where they intersect with glaciers in general must be absorbed into glaciology. That’s just patronizing?”

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  7. Carey and his kin have less the interests of women and under-represented minorities in science at heart, far more their own self-interest.

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  8. Maybe Lucia is simply more interested in other things at the moment. You are right RAFF a strong El Nino is required to bring the observed anomaly close to the multi-model mean. Does that necessarily change anything? I understand it might be be followed by a La Nina. If this is the case the 13 month mean may cancel much of the uptick. Who knows.

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  9. Time will tell, Richard. But I imagine there are some people who call themselves skeptics who are examining what they really believe now that an el Nino, which their hero Watts was not so long ago calling weaker than the 1998 monster, causes a spike 0.5C above the 1998 peak.

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  10. RAFF, neither the Oceanic Nino Index nor the upper ocean heat anomaly (page 10) support the theory that the 2015/6 El Nino is larger than the 1997/8 El Nino. These indices indicate that they have the same strength.

    Does the strength of the El Nino have any relevance to the climate change debate?

    Are you suggesting a link between anthropogenic production of CO2 and the strength of the El Nino?

    Does the El Nino make the glaciers more feminine or is it the La Nina that influences glacier femininity? I can hardly wait for the next gripping publication in the series.

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  11. Richard, exactly! The recent EN was much the same as the 98 one (as Watts said) but the temperature peak is 0.5C above. The difference between the two is 18 years of global warming, leading to the greater peak.

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  12. Raff,

    “The recent EN was much the same as the 98 one (as Watts said) but the temperature peak is 0.5C above. The difference between the two is 18 years of global warming, leading to the greater peak.”

    Actually, by some important measures, 2015/16 EN failed to live up to 1997/98 and in fact was more reminiscent of a central Pacific (Modoki) El Nino than it was of a canonical EN (which 97/98 was a very good example of).

    I presume you are using the surface datasets to make your claim, whereas the satellite LT shows no global warming after 98 and the Feb 2016 anomaly is nowhere near 0.5C greater than 98. Note also that the 97/98 EN raised global temps by about 0.2C so any subsequent El Nino would be working from that new baseline. Mar/Apr anomalies will probably push the LT temps higher still, but it would not surprise me if any subsequent jumps are a lot more modest. Time will tell, as you say.

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  13. what is it with Raff and his belief in heroes? Is he so devoid of self-worth that he has to place all his trust in people of power? He doesn’t give the impression of someone who can think for himself.

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  14. Note also that the 97/98 EN raised global temps by about 0.2C so any subsequent El Nino would be working from that new baseline.

    Bingo!

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  15. Were there to be a link between global CO2 concentration and the El Nino the ONI would show this. The current data indicates this is not the case.

    Atmospheric temperatures are governed by oceanic temperatures due to the relative calorific capacities and densities (air 1000 J/kg.C, 1kg/m3, water 4000 J/kg.C, 1000 kg/m3 – rough values at 20°C). Changes in atmospheric temperature cannot modify the oceanic temperature. One doesn’t use a hair dryer to warm a bath (femininist glaciology any comments?).

    It is also well established that atmospheric CO2 concentration depends on historic atmospheric temperatures (with a delay of approximately 800 years). It is therefore plausible that current CO2 concentrations are in part due to the temperature 800 years ago (ie during the medieval warm period).

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  16. Richard I’m not aware of anyone claiming a link between CO2 and EN. Are you?
    Atmospheric temps are probably governed by more than just ocean temps, don’t you think?
    And atmospheric CO2 concentration depend upon more than just historic atmospheric temperatures, don’t you think?

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  17. Slightly off-topic, good news for our little feathered friends from the ‘unreliables’ industry.

    Abengoa Going To The Wall As The Subsidies Run Out

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/abengoa-going-to-the-wall-as-the-subsidies-run-out/

    FAIL: Ivanpah solar power plant not producing enough electricity, may be forced to close

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/03/17/fail-ivanpah-solar-power-plant-not-producing-enough-electricity-may-be-forced-to-close/

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  18. So Raff you would agree:
    – CO2 concentration has no influence on the strength of an El Nino
    – ocean temperature is a primary driver of atmospheric temperature (let’s say “primary” means responsible for more than half of a given temperature anomaly)
    – historic temperature is a key contributor to CO2 concentration (let’s say “key contributor” means its contribution can represent 50% of the total value)

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  19. Richard

    So Raff you would agree:
    – CO2 concentration has no influence on the strength of an El Nino

    As I said, I’m not aware of anyone claiming a link between CO2 and EN. Are you?

    – ocean temperature is a primary driver of atmospheric temperature (let’s say “primary” means responsible for more than half of a given temperature anomaly)

    How do you quantify that? And what do you think it would mean if true? Increased CO2 leads to a warmer ocean whatever – and to a warmer atmosphere. Or a warmer atmosphere would lead to a warmer ocean. Both directions work.

    – historic temperature is a key contributor to CO2 concentration (let’s say “key contributor” means its contribution can represent 50% of the total value)

    What do you mean? CO2 levels and temperature are related for sure. Inceased atmospheric CO2 causes increased atmospheric temperatures. We are increasing CO2 so temps are rising. If you are saying that the current rise in CO2 is due to a rise in temps 800 years ago, you presumably have calculated what sort of a rise in temperature it would take for the ocean to out-gas enough to raise us to 400ppm and you somehow can explain where all our emissions went. Sounds ike you are doing a full Salby.

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  20. Raff, so you do agree CO2 concentration has no influence on the strength of an El Nino?

    “Increased CO2 leads to a warmer ocean whatever – and to a warmer atmosphere. Or a warmer atmosphere would lead to a warmer ocean. Both directions work.”

    Surely the El Nino phenomenon itself is a clear demonstration that ocean temperatures drive atmospheric temperatures. For example there is a several month delay between the El Nino temperature measurements and resulting effect on the atmosphere. Can you give an example of an atmospheric temperature change that has led to an oceanic temperature change?

    “Inceased atmospheric CO2 causes increased atmospheric temperatures.”

    Are you denying the scientific observation that CO2 concentration lags temperature by 800 years?

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  21. Richard, it is boring to repeat it, but as I said, I’m not aware of anyone claiming a link between CO2 and EN. Are you? Increased CO2 will make the oceans warmer but whether that changes the ‘strength’ of an EN I don’t know and I suspect you don’t either. What is clear though is that if global warming has increased atmospheric temperatures over a 20 year period then an EN at the end of that period will cause a higher spike in atmospheric temperature than an equivalent EN at the start of the period. That is obvious, isn’t it?

    Surely the El Nino phenomenon itself is a clear demonstration that ocean temperatures drive atmospheric temperatures.

    Clearly they are linked.

    Can you give an example of an atmospheric temperature change that has led to an oceanic temperature change?

    A warmer atmosphere leads to a warmer ocean and vice-versa, that is clear, isn’t it?

    Are you denying the scientific observation that CO2 concentration lags temperature by 800 years?

    No, I don’t know enough to argue against a scientific consensus – if such a consensus exists for the 800 years. The paper you quote supports the idea that CO2 is important in glacial terminations:

    This sequence of events is still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its greenhouse effect, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing.

    Are you really saying you think that the current rise in CO2 is due to a rise in temps 800 years ago? You can’t really be doing a Salby, can you?

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  22. “What is clear though is that if global warming has increased atmospheric temperatures over a 20 year period then an EN at the end of that period will cause a higher spike in atmospheric temperature than an equivalent EN at the start of the period. That is obvious, isn’t it?”

    So the Pause never existed? Global warming just continued uninterrupted; result, the new spike is much higher than the old spike? The lower troposphere doesn’t tell the same story that the ‘pause-busted’ surface datsets do. The LT tells us that the 1998 El Nino and subsequent La Nina established a new plateau of global temperatures, 0.2C than prior to the 1997/98 El Nino. Temperatures subsequently paused and have only now risen very sharply in response to the 2015/16 El Nino.

    So we might reasonably expect the 2016 El Nino peak to exceed the 98 peak by at least 0.2C. What is unknown at present is how far La Nina (if it happens) will draw down global temperatures in 2016/17. Will we see a new high plateau? Will temperatures start rising rapidly from that new high? Will they stall again? Will we see a new low plateau? Will global average temperatures even start to decline from 2017 onwards? Observations which I suspect will make or break AGW theory in the decades to come, along with observations of sea-ice extent.

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  23. The LT tells us that the 1998 El Nino and subsequent La Nina established a new plateau of global temperatures, 0.2C than prior to the 1997/98 El Nino.

    So you see a pleateu? That is like the climate equivalent of an ink blot test. What do you see in this squigly line? I see mountains and plateux and valleys and I can almost hear the birds singing… See what you like.

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  24. Pingback: Glaciología feminista; la secuela | PlazaMoyua.com

  25. So you see a pleateu? That is like the climate equivalent of an ink blot test.”

    I see a ‘plateau’ actually. I see it because it is there, because prior to 2016, there had been no noticeable warming trend in the lower troposphere for 17 years+. It’s a physical fact, behind which lies a physical cause; it is not the outcome of an ink blot test.
    But distinguished climate scientists (and yourself) see things rather differently. Jo Nova sums up what all we sceptics are apparently missing.

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  26. It is a common problem with the end of a noisy data series that the eye sees what it wants to see. Without the 2016 spike one might think there is a “plateau” but add in the final data and it looks different. By the way it is not “v6.5” but 6.0 beta 5 – but what’s a bit of “beta testing” between friends, whatever that means in this case.

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  27. The bit in between the two El Nino peaks looks exactly the same to me, I must admit. Probably because it IS exactly the same. Probably because, for those years, LT global temperatures went up and down but there was no overall trend – a plateau, or hiatus, or pause; call it what you will. It exists – independent of what happened before or whatever happens after (save for it possibly being ‘adjusted’ out of existence – which may be the case with RSS soon!)
    Yes, I noticed the v 6.5 and thought it looked odd.

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