Climate Change Denial Linked To Conspiratorial Thinking : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

What Do Aliens, Climate Change And Princess Di Have In Common?

HIV does not cause AIDS. Smoking does not cause lung cancer. And burning fossil fuels does not contribute to global warming.

What do these three statements have in common? They’re all rejections of well-established scientific consensus, and recent findings in psychology suggest that people who believe one or more of them are also more likely to believe a number of conspiracy theories: that the New World Order is planning to take over the planet, that the Apollo moon landing was faked in a Hollywood film studio, that the death of Princess Diana was an organized assassination, that an alien spaceship in New Mexico was covered up by the United States’ military, and even more.

That’s right: climate-change denial, discussed in last week’s post by Adam Frank, is associated with conspiratorial thinking.

The paper that reports this finding, forthcoming in the leading journalPsychological Science, has already caused a major flurry in the blogosphere, particularly among those who reject climate science. Assorted bloggers denounce the paper’s “Anthropogenic warmist nonsense,” suggest that the paper is “not scientific or competent,” and describe it as “an ad hom[inem] argument taken to its absurd extreme,” an “inane, irrelevant and completely biased rant study.”

Disgruntled climate skeptics have gone beyond digs at the science to suggest “hidden motivations” for the paper — perhaps a systematic attempt by left-wing academics to discredit those who reject climate science. And in support, they’ve cycled through a number of hypotheses for how the results were obtained: by deliberately biased sampling, by collecting data from “warmists” posing as “skeptics,” or by statistical sleight of hand, among others. This sounds awfully … conspiratorial (a point made here and here).

Meanwhile, calls for the paper’s retraction and accusations of ethics violationson the part of the researchers have come to naught. The fact is, the paper reports solid research, with all major findings now replicated in a new sample and with several specific critiques addressed in detail by the authors in a series of posts at So why the aggressive (and ironic) response?

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Stephan Lewandowsky, the paper’s first author, on his visit to California for the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting. Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor in the department of psychology at the University of Western Australia, with broad research interests that include human memory, the persistence of misinformation, and more recently, the motivated rejection of science.

Lewandowsky has also written for a general audience about why people reject sciencethe pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus, the distortion of climate science in the media and the link between climate change denial and free market ideology, among other toothsome topics, as well as co-authoring the handy Debunking Handbook, a psychologically-informed guide to combatting misinformation.

I asked Lewandowsky about his experience as a researcher working on the psychology of science denial, and in particular his take on the blogospheric reception to his forthcoming paper. He suggested that the paper engendered such hostility because it not only “cast people who rejected climate science in a less than favorable light,” but also because “it was too close to the truth.” Of course, he points out, “the way the blogosphere responded was really by confirming my finding. What they basically did was spin one conspiracy theory after another, trying to invalidate the data.”

“They,” a number of active bloggers who are skeptical of climate science, also tried to discredit Lewandowsky and the paper by contacting the editor ofPsychological Science and officials at his university, and by filing four Freedom of Information requests for all correspondence associated with the research, including ethics approvals for the use of human subjects and communications between authors. “If you talk to climate scientists,” Lewandowsky noted, “you find that pretty much anyone in climate science is subject to these kinds of attacks.”

When I asked if any attacks were more personal, he reassured me that he’s “only had one death threat.”

Finally, I asked about the paper’s reception within the scientific community:

I have yet to see anyone within science who is surprised by the finding that conspiratorial thinking and science don’t mix well, because anybody who knows anything about science and anybody who knows anything about conspiratorial thinking will know that the two are, you know, the opposites of each other.

As is all too common, the public perception of controversy isn’t an accurate reflection of the status of particular findings or ideas within the scientific community. Lewandowsky’s research on memory, for example, is arguably more controversial within psychology, where there are ongoing theoretical debates about forgetting and the role of memory interference.

When I asked, Lewandowsky confirmed: “I haven’t gotten any hate mail, and I haven’t got any death threats, for my research on memory.” And no Freedom of Information requests, either.


Climate Change Denial Linked To Conspiratorial Thinking : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

Profiting from Waste? – U.S. DOE Office of Science

Roughly two-thirds of the energy we use in the world today ends up as waste heat—whether it’s escaping through the smokestack of a power plant or the tailpipe of your automobile — which is why the idea of recycling waste heat and transforming it back into useful energy remains an enticing prospect. That prospect partly explains the longstanding interest in thermoelectric materials—semiconductors that convert heat into electricity.

Scientists and engineers have worked for decades on these materials, and some limited applications have been found for them. NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, for example, is powered by a thermoelectric generator, which produces electricity from heat emanating from decaying radioactive material in a chamber inside the vehicle. Some automotive firms are looking into the idea of generating electricity from tailpipe exhaust or engine heat. And a DOE Office of Science-supported team from MIT recently devised an impressive new solar cell based on a thermoelectric device (see “More Heat than Light”).

Until recently, however, thermoelectric devices have remained mostly a niche technology. That’s largely because thermoelectric materials have comparatively low energy conversion efficiencies—normally converting only about 5 to 7 percent of heat energy into electricity (as compared to, say, 20 percent efficiency for silicon wafer solar cells generating electricity from sunlight).

But now a team of researchers led by a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) has fabricated a thermoelectric material with a conversion efficiency of roughly 15 percent. This record-breaking result could be an important step toward making thermoelectric devices viable as an energy-recycling technology capable of deployment on a wider scale. The work was reported in the journal Nature.

The new material fabricated by the researchers converts heat to electricity “at the highest possible efficiency,” according to Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, Charles E. and Emma M. Morrison Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, who led the research team.

“At this level,” said Kanatzidis, “there are realistic prospects for recovering high-temperature waste heat and turning it into useful energy.”

At this level, there are realistic prospects for recovering high-temperature waste heat and turning it into useful energy.”

Mercouri G. Kanatzidis 

Kanatzidis is a principal investigator in the Center for Revolutionary Materials for Solid State Energy Conversion, an EFRC led by Michigan State University, in which Northwestern University is a partner. It is one of 46 such centers established by the DOE Office of Science around the country in 2009 to accelerate basic research on energy.

Kanatzidis and his team relied on a well-established strategy for improving thermoelectric performance but ingeniously extended the strategy in a way that broke through a longstanding barrier. They more than doubled what is known as the thermoelectric “figure of merit.”

Figure of merit is a number used by scientists and engineers to quantify the relative efficacy of a material in achieving a particular purpose. The quantities and terms for figure of merit vary depending on the category of material. The actual mathematics of the thermoelectric figure of merit is a bit complicated, but it essentially depends on a ratio of electrical conductivity to heat conductivity. To get a good thermoelectric effect, you basically want a material that is a relatively good conductor of electricity and a relatively poor conductor of heat. That is, when electrical conductivity is relatively high and heat conductivity is relatively low, you have a high figure of merit. For most of the past few decades, the figure of merit for thermoelectric materials has hovered around 1.

The main strategy for improving these materials—and thereby increasing their figure of merit—has been to reduce their heat conductivity while maintaining, or possibly increasing, their electrical conductivity. And the main tactic for achieving this result is called “nanostructuring.”

Heat propagates through a material in the form of quasi-particles called “phonons,” which are a quantum-mechanical name for vibrations of atoms. Back in the mid-1990s, it was discovered that by introducing tiny (i.e., nano-size) gaps and/or irregularities in a thermoelectric material, one could disrupt the propagation of phonons and thereby suppress the conduction of heat. It would be a bit like digging a series of ditches or erecting barriers such as barbed wire in a field to slow an advancing army.

Using this tactic, previous researchers had been able to achieve figure of merit in the range of 1.5 to 1.8. However, prior to the work of Kanatzidis’s EFRC team, performance fell short of what has been the longstanding goal of this research—namely, a figure of merit of 2 or greater.

The reason? It turns out that while the nanostructures disrupted the path of most phonons, about 20 percent of phonons—those with long so-called “mean free paths”—were slipping by the barriers. These phonons, in effect, were operating on a slightly larger “micro” scale rather than on a “nano” scale and were consequently mostly unaffected by the tiny nanoscale defects and/or gaps.

To disrupt the greatest possible percentage of phonons, Kanatzidis and his team implemented a three-tiered strategy, successively aimed at disrupting the propagation of phonons with shortmedium, and long mean free paths.

Their work focused on the alloy lead telluride (PbTe)—the most effective known thermoelectric material at very high temperatures (750-900 degrees Kelvin, or about 890 to 1160 degrees Fahrenheit).

Click to enlarge photo. Enlarge Photo

Three images of successive texturing of the material raised.Image courtesy of Mercouri G. Kanatzidis.

Successive texturing of the material raised the figure of merit (“ZT”) from 1.1 to 2.2.

First, to address the short category, the researchers “doped” the lead telluride with sodium, scattering a relatively small quantity of sodium atoms irregularly through the alloy’s crystal lattice.

This “doping,” or introduction of impurities into a material, is standard in the fabrication of semiconductors and was designed to increase the electrical conductivity of the lead telluride—while at the same time creating defects that would act as barriers to the propagation of shortmean-free-path phonons.

Second, to address the medium category, the researchers embedded somewhat larger nanocrystals of strontium telluride (SrTe) in the material by a process known as endotaxy, aimed at disrupting the propagation of medium mean-free-path phonons.

These latter two steps addressed phonons with nanoscale mean free paths.

The third step, and the coup de grâce, was to introduce microscale defects by breaking up the material and reassembling it using a process called “spark plasma sintering.” The process introduced microscopic cracks throughout the material, which functioned to disrupt phonons with the long, or microscale, mean free paths.

By curbing the propagation of all three categories of phonons, the combination of the three steps substantially reduced the material’s heat conductivity. The steps also had the collateral benefit of increasing the material’s electrical conductivity.

The researchers analyzed the structure of the new material using both transmission electron microscopy and a technique called three-dimensional atom probe tomography. They also measured electrical conductivity and measured and estimated heat conductivity. They compared the textured, sintered material with ingots of the same material that lacked the microscale defects that resulted from the third step. The performance of the sintered material was substantially better than that of the less textured ingots.

In the end, the researchers were able to achieve a record-breaking figure of merit for the sintered material of 2.2 at a temperature of 915 degrees Kelvin (approximately 1187 degrees Fahrenheit).

While the experimental material is not quite ready for commercial use, the researchers say they have hit upon a generally applicable technique that has not only broken the “2” barrier but that should also eventually help enable production of high-efficiency, commercially viable thermoelectric devices.

“Improving the figure of merit never stops—the higher the figure of merit the better,” Kanatzidis said. “We would like to design even better materials and reach 2.5 or 3. We now have what we call a panoscopic approach to the challenge—that is, we are tackling it at all length scales. We continue to have new ideas and are working to better understand the materials we have.”

—Patrick Glynn, DOE Office of Science,

Research Funding

DOE Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences


Kanishka Biswas, Jiaquing He, Ivan D. Blum, Chun-I Wu, Timothy P. Hogan, David N. Seidman, Vinayak P. Dravid, and Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, “High-performance bulk thermoelectrics with all-scale hierarchical architectures,” Nature 489, 414 (2012).

Geoff Brumfield, “Out of disorder comes electricity: Nanostructured thermoelectric material breaks record for turning heat into electricity,” Nature News, September 19, 2012, at link.

Fabio Pullizzi, “Thermoelectrics: The panoscopic approach,” Nature Nanotechnology 7, 622 (2012).

Climate Change Denial: Why don’t they publish scientific papers?

I was thinking of writing a lengthy post about climate change denial being completely unscientific nonsense, but then geochemist and National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell wrote a post that is basically a slam-dunk of debunking. His premise was simple: If global warming isn’t real and there’s an actual scientific debate about it, that should be reflected in the scientific journals.

He looked up how many peer-reviewed scientific papers were published in professional journals about global warming, and compared the ones supporting the idea that we’re heating up compared to those that don’t. What did he find? This:

Pie chart of global warming denier papers

The thin red wedge.

Image credit: James Lawrence Powell

Oh my. Powell looked at 13,950 articles. Out of all those reams of scientific results, how many disputed the reality of climate change?

Twenty-four. Yup. Two dozen. Out of nearly 14,000.

Now I know some people will just say that this is due to mainstream scientists suppressing controversy and all that, but let me be succinct: That’s bull. Science thrives on dissenting ideas, it grows and learns from them. If there is actual evidence to support an idea, it gets published. I can point out copious examples in my own field of astronomy where papers get published about all manners of against-the-mainstream thinking, some of which come to conclusions that, in my opinion, are clearly wrong.

So let this be clear: There is no scientific controversy over this. Climate change denial is purely, 100 percent made-up political and corporate-sponsored crap. When the loudest voicesare fossil-fuel funded think tanks, when they don’t publish in journals but instead write error-laden op-eds in partisan venues, when they have to manipulate the data to support their point, then what they’re doing isn’t science.

It’s nonsense. And worse, it’s dangerous nonsense. Because they’re fiddling with the data while the world burns.

Climate Change Denial: Why don’t they publish scientific papers?.

U.S. Installs Record Amount Of Solar So Far In 2012: Analyst Calls It The ‘Opening Act’ For Q4 Boom | ThinkProgress

Almost exactly a year ago, during the height of the Solyndra hysteria, Mitt Romney made a rather odd statement about solar. (Yes, we’re still talking about Romney).

“When other solar companies saw Solyndra get $530 million from the government, investors pulled back in that industry,” he said. “So instead of encouraging solar development, the Obama administration hurt it.”

Actually, the statement wasn’t just odd. It was a flat out lie. In reality, the U.S. solar industry installed record amounts of solar in 2011 while bringing in nearly $2 billion in venture capital. And moving into 2012, that trend continued. In the second quarter of this year, U.S. solar installations jumped 116 percent over the same period in 2011, partly drivenby large installations supported by the very loan guarantee program that Romney claimed was killing solar.

And according to Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research, that deployment was just “the opening act” for the final quarter of this year. According to a new report from GTM and the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. market could see 1.2 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics installed through January, bringing 2012 installations to 3.2 gigawatts. That’s enough capacity to power about half a million average American homes.

The report shows that installers deployed 684 megawatts of projects last quarter, representing 44 percent growth over the third quarter of 2011.

The continued boom in the solar market means more jobs and better economics.

According to a census of the solar industry conducted by the Solar Foundation, the sector now employs more than 119,000 Americans — an increase of 13,872 workers over 2011.

And as more systems get deployed and businesses get more efficient, the price of solar continues to fall. According to the GTM analysis, solar PV system prices fell from $5.45 per watt to $5.21 per watt. Price declines were even greater in the utility sector, with system prices falling to $2.40 per watt — a 30 percent drop since the same period last year.

This matches historic declines in price reported by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Arecent analysis from LBNL found that U.S. residential and commercial solar PV systems fell 5 to 7 percent each year between 1998 and 2011. (Interestingly, even with these consistent drops, the installed price of solar in the U.S. is still nearly double that of Germany, which hosts a much more mature solar market).

After all the political hand-wringing about solar during the U.S. election, this report shows the industry is indeed chugging along in the U.S. While some key states may see a downturn in installs next year, America’s share of the global market continues to expand. With a 70 percent growth rate expected in 2012, the U.S. will soon represent 10 percent of the world market.

U.S. Installs Record Amount Of Solar So Far In 2012: Analyst Calls It The ‘Opening Act’ For Q4 Boom | ThinkProgress.