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Donald F. Boesch
President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Donald F. Boesch

Donald F. Boesch, an oceanographer, is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Vice Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability for the University System of Maryland. ALL POSTS

A matter of when not if

Q: Recently, a U.N. scientific report was found to have included a false conclusion about the melting of Himalayan glaciers. That followed the release of stolen e-mails last year, which showed climate scientists commiserating over problems with their data. Is there a broader meaning in these two incidents, and should they cause the public to be more skeptical about the underlying science of climate change?

Don't be confused, the significance of the stolen e-mails and the overstatement of the rapidity of melting of Himalayan glaciers is being overhyped. It is all part of what Post reporter Juliet Eilperin describes as the full-force effort to politicize the climate debate by discrediting the massive scientific foundations for climate change by nit-picking a few relatively minor points in order to claim all the science is wrong or, worse, corrupt.

I commented in November about the meaning of the hacked e-mails. At most, they raise questions about the use of tree-ring data to estimate past temperatures and don't at all question the fact that temperatures actually measured by thermometers reflect the continued rise in global average temperature. In fact, the decade concluded in 2009 was the warmest decade ever measured. As a scientist, my readings of the e-mails of NASA scientists, newly disclosed by the Tea Party group Judicial Watch, gives me the impression of scientists doing what we should expect them to--namely arguing about how to improve their analyses to eliminate errors and biases. But, you can be sure that some phase will be lifted out of context and claimed to show that climate science is a hoax.

Now it turns out that legitimate scientists themselves have pointed out the lack of scientific basis for a statement in the last IPCC report suggesting that it is very likely that glaciers in the Himalayas may disappear by 2035. That statement was buried in the section of the report dealing with possible societal impacts in Asia, not the part of the report that assessed the scientific basis of climate change. It was never regarded as a substantial conclusion by IPCC. Nonetheless, the statement was not supported by the scientific literature and should have been caught in the peer review and editing. On the other hand, IPCC reports have also made predictions about the growth of emissions, the rate of sea level rise and the retreating of Arctic sea ice that underestimated recent trends.

The reality is that the vast majority of Himalayan glaciers are retreating and losing mass, including the highest glacier in the world. In fact, 94 percent of the world's monitored glaciers were in retreat in 2003 and the rate of loss of ice on the continents is accelerating, contributing to sea-level rise. As many quipsters, including the physicist Niels Bohr, have observed "prediction is difficult, especially about the future." While scientists are working hard to improve their predictions, some things are virtually certain: if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, the Earth will continue to warm, and the glaciers will eventually disappear. It is a matter of when, not if.

By Donald F. Boesch  |  January 27, 2010; 9:14 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Time to put an end to the IPCC | Next: Seeing clearly through Brown


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Chinese and Indian scientists, as alluded to by one poster (especially China which dictates whatever it wants to it's own scientists) have a vested interest in pretending global warming doesn't exist. These countries are particularly guilty of unchecked pollution. One poster claims that he has being reading peer reviewed scientific papers since he was 10. So that means that his 'scientific' theories are to be listened to, while real scientists should be ignored? Another poster claims that science is incapable of monitoring itself systematically, even though that is pretty much the definition of the "scientific method" and his proof of his own statement is based on the fact that the scientific community is challenging some of it's own data as it monitors itself. Another poster claims that scientists have a political agenda, and then goes onto to slam all democrats.

And of course, there is there ever present tell tale sign hinting at the fountain where most of these posters get their information (using the term lightly), that clue being the utterance, "mmmmmmmm" a shorter version of "mmmm, mmmm, mmmm" That is the mating call of Glen beck idiots who regurgitate everything he says and believe any lunacy he vomits forth because he does it with the hateful, unfounded self congratulatory arrogance and proud ignorance they share with him. "Mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm" is the Beck followers equivalent of, "if the glove don't fit, you must acquit" although it has been greatly simplified—as in wordless grunts are as mentally challenging a slogan as they can remember and repeat. Most of these posts simply serve as yet another example of how stupid a portion of the American public is becoming. For those folks, it may be worth reiterating that the Earth is indeed, round—not flat, and yes, man has walked on the moon. Also, orange is not a natural color for human beings (looking at you Mr. Boehner).

Posted by: grantmh | February 3, 2010 8:30 AM
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What we need is for politicians & scientists is a divorce.. come to think of it, why do we need politicians?
I do think the planet is warming, but that's not a political problem, and needs no political solution— the "solution" proposed is simply wealth transfer, aka theft, and needs no further explanation.

Posted by: irvnx | February 3, 2010 12:36 AM
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You can’t debate with these Enviro-fanatics. Global Warming has become their religion, and the Earth has become their god. I mean come on… Seriously? At this point, how can anybody defend this pseudo- science? The glaciers weren’t the only error. Did anybody read this

Eventually you have to ask yourself… How did a report by 2 green activists on Rainforest make it into the final version of the IPCC report? This report is the backbone of global warming science. This report is what the leaders of the world looked to as the Gold standard of climate science. This report is disgrace to Science, and the people who submitted it obviously have no integrity and can’t be trusted.

What amazes me still is the E-mails of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University. The great about them is that it’s their OWN WORDS which condemns their research. Here is one For example:

Jones e-mail of 2 Feb 2005
A 2 February 2005 email from Phil Jones to Michael Mann includes:

"And don't leave stuff lying around on ftp sites - you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days?—our does! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind."

Why would any credible scientist be afraid of the Freedom of Information act? This isn’t a conspiracy, this is CRIMINAL activity. Wake up America! Green is the new Color of Socialism. Green Politicians like Al Gore and John Kerry don’t care about the environment. It has been proven that Al Gore will make Billions if Cap and Trade passes Congress (which it won’t). Doesn’t that sound like a conflict of interest? This is about wealth re-distribution. They want to take American money and give it to 3rd world Communist countries to help fight this scam. Trust the U.N. anybody? Remember OIL FOR FOOD? Wikipedia it if you don’t know what happened.

The warmers want to make this a conflict between Democrats and Republicans because they know that the Dem’s will follow them right off the cliff. The sad part is that after all the dominoes fall; The Enviro-fanatics will just find another scam to throw at the American people and the rest of the world.

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | February 1, 2010 1:37 AM
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"the full-force effort to politicize the climate debate by discrediting the massive scientific foundations for climate change by nit-picking a few relatively minor points in order to claim all the science is wrong or, worse, corrupt."

Uh.... No.

The people opposed to the climate change theory did not politicize this - Al Gore and a bunch of diplomats looking to cash in did. It was called the Kyoto Treaty.

Failed in the US Senate by a vote of 98-0.

But it resulted in Wall St and Al Gore's firm collecting and controlling virtually 90% of the carbon credits.....

This is about money and re-distributing the wealth of the industrialized nations.


Posted by: oldnova | January 31, 2010 8:56 PM
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SENATOR_SALESMAN and DELANTERO ~ regarding Himalayan mountain glaciers,

An on-line news headline service cites a piece at concerning the IPCC report on mountain glaciers.

Apparantly all the information cited on this thread comes from a single source ~ to wit: A student's dissertation based on interviews with mountain guides in Switzerland and an article in a mountain climbing magazine.

Not exactly peer reviewed stuff I'd think, and I don't need to have a doctorate to know that. Been reading peer reviewed science pieces since I was 10 years old.

I just have to note that last year the IPCC, under its current director, CHANGED a report about the Sun's influence on GW to state that it had negligible influence. They did that because the current IPCC director ORDERED the change.

He's a Hindu, which is all well and good, but he is a devotee of the Mother of the Sun god, and as everybody knows in that branch of Hinduism the Sun is believed to be without imperfection and is never changing.

Some of us write that IPCC report change up to the director letting his religious beliefs influence his science, and oh, yes, he's not a scientist at all!

Posted by: muawiyah | January 31, 2010 7:47 PM
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ORTELEUS ~ two things about scientists ~ most of them are very bad at collecting bills, and most of them are unable to follow a disciplined route of examination to determine fraudulent performance.

And you want to add to that the idea that scientists simply "vote" on scientific truths and the most votes wins.


Posted by: muawiyah | January 31, 2010 7:37 PM
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Senator Salesman,

You are silly.

from the IPCC website:

This leads to an important question: what does the peer reviewed science say about Himalayan glaciers? The ice mass over the Himalayas is the third-largest on earth, after the Arctic/Greenland and Antarctic regions (Barnett 2005). There are approximately 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas. Each summer, these glaciers release meltwater into the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra Rivers. Approximately 500 million people depend upon water from these three rivers (Kehrwald 2008). In China, 23% of the population lives in the western regions, where glacial melt is the principal water source during dry season (Barnett 2005).

On-site measurement of glacier terminus position and ice core records have found many glaciers on the south slope of the central Himalaya have been retreating at an accelerating rate (Ren 2006). Similarly, ice cores amd accumulation stakes on the Naimona'nyi Glacier have observed it's losing mass, a surprising result due to its high altitude (it is now the highest glacier in the world losing mass) (Kehrwald 2008).

While on-site measurements cover only a small range of the Himalayas, broader coverage is achieved through remote sensing satellites and Geographic Information System methods. They've found that over 80% of glaciers in western China have retreated in the past 50 years, losing 4.5% of their combined areal coverage (Ding 2006). This retreat is accelerating across much of the Tibetan plateau (Yao 2007).

Posted by: delantero | January 31, 2010 11:27 AM
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Wait, Ben Lieberman, a lawyer working for the righty Heritage Foundation, with no scientific training, is really trying to argue with an Oceanographer, and a respected member of the University of Maryland . .

Ha ha ha, go Fundamentalist Righties! Down with Science!

Posted by: delantero | January 31, 2010 11:19 AM
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Quite frankly sir you sound like a cigarette company scientist - "nothing to see here just move along and keep increasing my research funds".

The emails were just the smoke- the FORTRAN code is the fire. These guys nudged the temperature records (just a few tenths of a degree) so that the research dollars keep coming.

Release the FORTRAN code, study the weather stations that are recording higher temperature due to the "urban island effect" and then spliced onto to the tree ring data to produce a hockey stick graph to scare everyone.

The old game of pretending to be an unbiased scientist is over.

Posted by: tkennedy2 | January 31, 2010 11:13 AM
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I think it is important that scientists do a better job of educating the public. Yes, there is a consensus on climate change, but not on all the impacts of climate change. There has never been a claim of a consensus on how fast glaciers will retreat. There has never been a consensus on how many more major hurricanes there will be. How the thousands of ecological changes will interact over the next few decades is not known. The public should learn to expect there to be contradictory studies, missteps, errors and corrections. This is normal science.

Also, bias does exist in science. Many companies want to cash in on climate change just as many did cash in or star wars (missile defense). Studies on ethanol or nuclear power may indeed have hidden agendas. The West is being asked to pay third world countries for damages and dislocations due to climate change, so of course some will make exaggerated claims. We need to be able to openly expose errors and scandals without undermining people's confidence in the basic science of climatology. Scientists, policy makes and journalists have to learn how jungle apples, oranges and lemons, that is known science, real science debate and fraudulent science, so that the public understands these distinctions.

Posted by: mike_midwest | January 31, 2010 10:46 AM
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Senator Salesman,

I have seen the names of many of those scientists frequently. Anyone who closely follows this issue will know their views. But they are a few small voices in a vast sea of scientists who are saying the exact opposite.

Below is a partial list of the scientific bodies that have endorsed the science behind human caused climate change. Collectively they represent the opinions of tens of thousands of scientists. You can view the full lists here.

The fact that the Washington Post would even have a debate called “Trustworthy Science?” is simply journalistic malpractice.

But no amount of evidence will ever convince climate change deniers like yourself that the threat is real. That is something I long ago came to understand. And the implications of that realization are terrifying. But I hope that you are prepared to explain to future generations why you took an ideological position on an issue that at its scientific core has nothing to do with politics.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
National Science Academies
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Chemical Society
American Institute of Physics
American Geophysical Union
American Physical Society
European Science Foundatio
Geological Society of Australia
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
European Federation of Geologists
European Geosciences Union
Geological Society of America
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
American Meteorological Society
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Brazilian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences
German Academy of Natural Scientists
Indian National Science Academy
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy)
Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Royal Society (UK)
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Royal Meteorological Society (UK)
World Meteorological Organization
American Medical Association
American Public Health Association
World Health Organization

And every national academy of science of major industrialized countries

Posted by: orteleus | January 30, 2010 11:33 PM
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See what a Fraud Global Warming is!! These are some of the E-mails of Scientist who are advising the United Nations, The EPA, and Your U.S. Congress! Discover for yourself America.

Mann e-mail of 11 Mar 2003
In one e-mail, as a response to an e-mail indicating that a paper in the scientific journal Climate Research had questioned assertions that the 20th century was abnormally warm, Mann wrote:

“I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal."[37]

Jones e-mail of 8 Jul 2004
An 8 July 2004 e-mail from Phil Jones to Michael Mann said in part:

"The other paper by MM is just garbage. [...] I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

Jones e-mail of 2 Feb 2005
A 2 February 2005 email from Phil Jones to Michael Mann includes:

"And don't leave stuff lying around on ftp sites - you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days?—ours does! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.”

Trenberth e-mail of 12 Oct 2009
An email written by Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, discussed gaps in understanding of recent temperature variations:

"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't,"[

Phil Jones
"I've just completed Mike's Nature TRICK of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to HIDE THE DECLINE."[

You don't have to be a Climate Scientist to understand this. We are supposed to invest Trillions of Dollars based on the manipulation of Data by Corrupt Scientist? Thank God for Senator Inhofe.

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | January 30, 2010 10:45 PM
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Here are a Few of the MANY Scientists Who Believe Global Warming is Primarily Caused by Natural Processes and NOT because of Greenhouse gases!

- William M. Gray, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University [1] [2]

- Sallie Baliunas, astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics [1]

- Don Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology, Western Washington University [1]

- Khabibullo Abdusamatov, mathematician and astronomer at Pulkovskaya Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences [1]

- Fred Singer, Professor emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia [1] [2]

- Frederick Seitz, retired, former solid-state physicist, former president of the National Academy of Sciences [1]

- Willie Soon, astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics [1]

- George V. Chilingar, Professor of Civil and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California [1]

- Ian Clark, hydrogeologist, professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa [1]

- Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1]

I will listen to these guys instead of Al Gore who thinks the “Earth’s core temperature is several millions of degrees”. Al is also Vice President of the CHICAGO (hint) Climate Exchange and stands to make Billions if Cap and Trade legislation passes. That almost sounds like a conflict of interest? Hmmmmmm

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | January 30, 2010 10:44 PM
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1. The tree rings. It was quite easy to find articles by original researchers in the matter of the tree rings. They did not attempt to claim that the tree rings were a good sample of Siberia, or of the world. In fact, they were concerned that since about 1850 (close to when thermometers with standard measurements were invented) there hadn't been any trees grow in the uplands nearest the trees they used for sample.

2. It seems the weather got so bad along the Lena river in that part of Yakutia that the uplands were stripped bare of living things at that time, so only low land trees from protected (warmer) areas could provide sample rings for 1850 through 1998 sample periods.

3. A good scientist would look up the etiology of the tree rings used in the hockeystick deal and discover those facts quickly.

4. Then, a really good scientist would realize you can't tell the average temperature over an annual period by measuring a tree ring ~ you must also compare and contrast the Carbon 13 and Carbon 14 update in that ring, and all that will do is give you a general reading on density of Sunspots that year ~ NOT A TEMPERATURE.

5. A fantastic scientist would note, too, that maintenance on the standard weather stations had gone unattended for the last 30 years as everyone anticipated that satellites would take over everything.

6. Monitored glaciers do not become 90% of the glaciers ~ don't mislead us ~ we aren't mushrooms and we don't like what you're dumping on us. The experts in India and in China who know those glaciers say NONE OF THEM ARE MELTING.

7. They are all mostly ABOVE the melt line anyway, and they may well be growing ~ not enough of the have been monitored long enough to know. The water flow from the Himalayas appears to be declining as more and more water is retained. This is harming farming in the low regions in India, Bengla Desh and Burma that depend on Himalayan water.

8. Regarding the emails, I read them all. Somebody was cheating.

Posted by: muawiyah | January 30, 2010 9:59 PM
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Just another researcher looking for funding and willing to say anything for it.
Ask him why a quarter of the temperature recording sites have been let go and those overland that will record higher temps have been used ?? Because it shows that the ones that get funds have so called proof.
I personallyu would NOT buy a car from any of them and I think they should be put on trial for fraud.

Posted by: captgrumpy | January 30, 2010 8:55 PM
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Dr. Boesch says, "... some things are virtually certain: if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, the Earth will continue to warm ..."

This is fine, except for one thing: it's NOT "virtually certain," and there's nothing presented to date that says that it is. Instead, the AGW crowd claims that "man-made" CO2 is the cause of global warming, even though it is such a small percentage of the greenhouse gasses. When we get beyond the fact that politics is driving the science, then -- and only then -- we will get to the truth.

Posted by: c0lnag0 | January 30, 2010 7:04 PM
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I disagree with Dr. Boesch. I don't think the temperature readings can be viewed as accurate. There seems to have been so significant changes in methodology in the past three or four decades, enough to question the validity of comparing temperature readings from 100 years ago to those that are collected today. Enough questions have been asked about gathering and collating methods that an investigation is in order. It may be that we are comparing apples to apples, but given the emails and the more recent IPCC stumbles, I'm dubious and suspect there has been some manipulation of temperature data.

The "hide the decline" controversy suggests that something is amiss. If the tree rings are telling us things temperatures should be dropping slightly, doesn't it call into question collection methods? Other proxies have their own problems.

Fix the science, then set the policy.

Posted by: theduke89 | January 30, 2010 6:57 PM
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You appear to be the only scientist on this panel. There are a couple of employees from conservative think tanks, a guy who works for Shell, a security expert, and the president of a university. But only one scientist. The WashPo has once again shown its complete lack of intelligence on climate change reporting

Anyways, I want to thank you for talking part in this discussion. Please encourage more scientists to do the same. I realize that many scientists are reluctant to enter the political realm. But this issue is like nothing we have faced before. In my opinion, it is unconscionable for scientists not to be pushing back harder against all the disinformation and outright lies that permeate the debate.

You and your colleagues have amassed conclusive evidence that points to a very dangerous future. But with that knowledge comes tremendous responsibility. Scientists have a duty, both as researchers and citizens, to raise their voices.

Posted by: orteleus | January 30, 2010 6:56 PM
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It's all about "when." In the end, we're all going to be dust. An inartful dodge.

Posted by: ericnestor | January 30, 2010 6:14 PM
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"Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!"

Posted by: JWMeritt | January 30, 2010 5:56 PM
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The IPCC is a joke.

They would fix things that aren't even broke.

But their funding, you see

Must be done. Lavishly.

Before it all goes up in smoke.

Posted by: RobertAJonesJr | January 30, 2010 2:11 PM
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Dr. Boesch,

Everybody has seen the emails that were released by one of the researchers in England (hardly stolen).

We've seen that scientists overstate and over-hype global warming at every chance.

The dominoes are falling here, and your response is that it's some sort of conspiracy?


You're so emotionally vested in what you believe that you've crossed the line from scientist to someone trying to get better funding for your department.

Seriously, your best shot is "it's a big conspiracy".

Who is doing it? What proof of the conspiracy do you have? Are you going to blame the oil companies? They hardly care since they make more money regardless of the truth of global warming. Who then? The car companies? I rather doubt it. How can an educated man claim there is a vast conspiracy going on, when you reject the same sort of conspiracy to support global warming?

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | January 30, 2010 1:20 PM
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"Googling" to find materiel that supports your opinion is hardly scientific; it's just a fast electronic method to support one's own status as an idiot.

Mr Boesch is a highly recognized expert in his field. Calling him names and using Google as a method to counter his sound scientific research does not advance your cause.

Either come up to his level or sit out the game.

Posted by: ericlose1 | January 30, 2010 1:13 PM
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Mr Boesch.

You're an Idiot. The American people don't need you to interpret the e-mails for us. We can read and understand them for ourselves. Everyone Google: "Climategate" & "glaciergate".

You should read Mr. Lieberman's post on this same topic and question. You have no response to the Rainforest issue? Or how about the lie about the severity and frequency of hurricanes in the IPCC report?

The dominos are falling Mr. Boesch. Do you really think you can stop them?

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | January 29, 2010 8:45 PM
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