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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spoof or genuinely nuts? Another conspiracy theory at WUWT about shrinking glaciers

Sou | 3:15 PM Go to the first of 24 comments. Add a comment

The latest conspiracy theory at WUWT is of "preposterous" claims that glaciers are disappearing. More specifically, someone called Roger Roots doesn't "believe" that glaciers in Glacier National Park are shrinking as quickly as scientists say they are. The evidence? He can't find the old web pages from USGS.

If you've visited the USGS website since the 26 April this year, you'll have seen that it's rolling out a new website, with the modern format suited to tablets. From the new site:

See updates below (now two).

I cannot say how many pages from the old website will be transferred to the new one, but it's clear that there is some way to go yet, with old links from Google going to the new home page of the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center (NOROCK) instead of to a specific web page.

About Lysander Spooner University

If you thought deniers were mostly wacky conspiracy theorists, then this WUWT article (archived here) will be more evidence supporting your hypothesis. Roger Roots touts himself as the founder of Lysander Spooner University.  (You can read about Roger Roots' background here.)

I'd never heard of Lysander Spooner University, so I looked it up. It's not a real university, it's a website. The "About" page goes to a link called "sample-page" and the "university" has a gmail address!

If you were expecting courses in humanities, sciences or economics you'll be disappointed. The courses offered are a bit strange, and include "Government Myths and Lies about Climate Change". They are mostly miscellaneous political talks (US Libertarian) that couldn't even be classed as short courses:

The climate change course is free. It runs over two days and includes a glacier hunting field trip.

As for academic staff, there are none. The best that you'll get is an "instructor" or two. One calls himself "Roger Roots" and the other "Right on John". I'm serious:

So having seen the credentials of Dr. Roger Roots, founder of Lysander Spooner University, what about his conspiracy theory?

The bet of Roger Roots

Last year some time, Roger Roots offered a bet to the world in general as follows:
In the fall of 2015 I offered a bet of $5,000 if the glaciers at Glacier National Park disappear by 2030 (as predicted in all GNP signage, pamphlets, films and publications). See here. As of yet, no one has taken me up on my bet.
Since he pointed to his "Lysander University" website, it's probable that until now no-one knew about his bet. He is a science denying conspiracy theorist as you've probably guessed. Roger also wrote:
On January 8 of this year, I posted a prediction that the government would soon alter its GNP-glaciers-gone-by-2030 claims. See here. I asked, “What is the government going to do as 2030 approaches and it becomes clear that their preposterous claims are untrue?”
“I have no doubt,” I wrote then, “that the government will begin modifying these claims by 2025, if not sooner.” I began saving screenshots of government websites which make the claim that manmade-global-warming will melt the GNP glaciers by 2030.
It turns out I didn’t need to wait very long at all. Today, on May 4, 2016, I started looking for the government’s ‘repeat photography’ sites.
Roger did speculate:
Perhaps the webmasters at USGS are in the process of updating the ‘repeat photography’ sites.
And in a wishful or self-aggrandizing manner added:
Or perhaps Lysander Spooner University is already having an impact.
I don't think that Lysander Spooner University is having any impact. As I said up top, USGS is in the process of updating its website. There are still quite a few dead links. I don't know if all the old pages will be revamped and put up again or not, however I very much doubt there's a conspiracy of the type that Roger Roots thinks. The chances of Roger Roots and Lysander University being a spoof are greater than the chance that USGS is part of a government hoax.

When to take photos of glaciers

In the middle of Roger's article is this parenthetical statement:
(I have often pointed out that the government’s photos from prior decades tended to not specify calendar dates. Because glaciers tend to build up in winter and then melt all summer long, the specificity of calendar dates is quite important.)

On the old website of USGS repeat photos of Glacier National Park (from 3 March 2016) is this statement of the obvious to anyone who knows anything about photographing glaciers:
Photographing the glaciers cannot occur until the previous winters snow has melted on the glacial ice and when air quality conditions are considered at least good. This creates a narrow window in the northern clime of Glacier National Park where smoke from forest fires prevented photography on many occasions in the past few years. Since 1997 over sixty photographs have been repeated of seventeen different glaciers. Thirteen of those glaciers have shown marked recession and some of the more intensely studied glaciers have proved to be just 1/3 of their estimated maximum size that occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850).

The latest photo featured is from 2013.

Roger Roots' conspiracy theories

Roger read how financial constraints have precluded park-wide scale aerial photography since 2005. He doesn't believe it, and thinks there must be a conspiracy, writing:
This claim is astounding because research money intended to produce evidence for global warming has been pouring out over the past decade.

“Financial constraints”? Why do I suspect the USGS has chosen not to seek funds for new aerial photography because such photography will show that GNP’s glaciers have GROWN SINCE 2005.
What evidence does he provide for the growth in glaciers? None. It's simply an assertion based on a conspiracy theory.

Shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier - Source: USGS
In December 2014 there was an article in the New York Times about Glacier National Park. The suggestion there was that the glaciers may be gone in 30 years. (While this is possible for the bulk of the glaciers, research suggests that small remnants will remain maybe through to the end of this century, depending on the amount of warming.) The article indicated that a century ago there were some 150 ice sheets, and now there are only perhaps 25 remaining.

The website statement about the disappearance by 2030 of glaciers in Glacier National Park is based on a modelling study of a particular basin, reported in a 2003 paper by Myrna Hall and Daniel Fagre. The modeling wasn't of the entire national park, it was of the five glaciers in the Blackfoot–Jackson Glacier Basin "because it contains the largest concentration of glaciers and a relatively complete record of glacial history". In another study of another glacier, Brown et al (2010) projected the disappearance of the Sperry Glacier under different warming scenarios. This is described as "a small cirque glacier" high up in the northern Rockies. The authors found that "All warming rate scenarios above 3 °C/century result in the glacier disappearing prior to 2100." Less warming than that has different projected disappearance times.

There was a paper in 2014 by Adam M. Clark, Joel T. Harper and Daniel B. Fagre, which mentioned studies of GNP glaciers. It was reporting research about runoff and stream flows, and included the following paragraph:
The retreat of glaciers in GNP has come to epitomize the impacts of a warming climate on the landscape and the hydrologic cycle of the western United States. Recession of glaciers over the past 100 years has been well documented here (Dyson, 1948; Johnson, 1980; Carrara and McGimsey, 1981) with rates of retreat being higher than in other U.S. mountain ranges (Fountain, 2007). With continued climate warming, glaciers are expected to continue shrinking or even disappear. A geospatial model projection suggests the disappearance of five glaciers in GNP by 2030 (Hall and Fagre, 2003), while another process-based model of one glacier suggests current conditions could cause elimination by about 2080 (Brown et al., 2010).
Regardless of the exact year the last glacier disappears, there seems no doubt that many more of the glaciers in Glacier National Park will disappear in the first half of this century. There'll probably be remnants left for several decades, but the bulk of them will probably disappear earlier. I would trust the reports of experts over that of a self-professed (sic) instructor at a fake "university", who offers not much more than an empty "store".  In fact Roger Roots' article and his website are so silly that, except for the fact that there are other equally ludicrous blogs promoted by Anthony Watts, I'd have been tempted to call it a spoof.


USGS has just tweeted in reply, and pointed to a page on the retreat of glaciers in the Glacier National Park you can read in the meantime:
Added by Sou 12:41 am 6 May 2016 AEST 

Update 2

I've also received an email from USGS with the comment that redirects are still being put in place for the new website, and the following links:
Following my enquiry to USGS, Roger Roots was sent an email letting him know of the changes as well, and has written a follow-up article at his university website blog, and posted the same above his original article at WUWT.

Added by Sou 12:27 pm 6 May 2016 AEST

From the WUWT comments

Resourceguy writes:
May 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm
It’s called advance planning and it probably took a major committee process to get to this point of taking action. This should in no way impede their climate scare press release schedule in the agency queue.

Tom Trevor says that back in the early 1970s, his tour guide said that the glaciers would always be there. I wonder what that guide thinks now that so many of them have disappeared (if he's still around).
May 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm
My family and I went to GNP in the early 1970s. This was when it was cool to worry about a new ice age. I remember at least one guild telling us that although a few inches of the glacier melted each summer, there will always be glaciers in the national park. I don’t think he said that a new ice age was coming, but he sure wasn’t worried that they would melt soon.

Ralph Short wants an investigation into why the government is removing its predictions:
May 4, 2016 at 2:22 pm
Are they not doing what every liar or criminal is doing by trying to secretly evidence of their own agency’s forecasts. Right now, multiple Attorney General’s in this country are suing Exxon and others for “hiding” info on Global Warming. Well, in my view the government should be required to release all information,, including e mails, regarding this decision to remove their own predictions.

A couple of people noticed that the USGS is in the process of moving to a new website. TonyL isn't convinced. He prefers the "it's a conspiracy" explanation:
May 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm
It is true that govt. incompetence knows no bounds, but I am still inclined to call BS. You build a new website and have that new site go live before the old websites come down. Standard practice is to have the old sites have a notification and a redirect to the new. You do not just “disappear” stuff, and certainly not a theme you have been flogging endlessly for decades without explanation.

JohnnyCrash prefers the conspiracy theory, too:
May 4, 2016 at 3:15 pm
Be nice to see the change in glacier sizes before 1950. I was using the wayback machine and it seems they have pictures from lots of glaciers, but always just the starting picture in the 1900’s and the ending picture around 2008. Is this intentional or do they just have 2 pictures of every glacier? Seems impossible that they have only 2 pictures. Seems pretty clear they are intentionally being misleading.

Alan Ranger is another "climate hoax" conspiracy theorist:
May 4, 2016 at 5:29 pm
One thing you CAN be certain of in this age of frenzied AGW – climate catastrophe claims with dates specified will disappear one hell of a lot faster than any glacier! :-)

References and further reading

Hall, Myrna HP, and Daniel B. Fagre. "Modeled climate-induced glacier change in Glacier National Park, 1850–2100." BioScience 53, no. 2 (2003): 131-140.

Brown, Joel, Joel Harper, and Neil Humphrey. "Cirque glacier sensitivity to 21st century warming: Sperry Glacier, Rocky Mountains, USA." Global and Planetary Change 74, no. 2 (2010): 91-98. doi: (pdf here)

Clark, Adam M., Joel T. Harper, and Daniel B. Fagre. "Glacier-derived August runoff in northwest Montana." Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 47, no. 1 (2015): 1-16. doi: (0pen access)

Climate Change Threatens to Strip the Identity of Glacier National Park - article by Michael Wines in The New York Times, November 2014


  1. There are days when you might think that Anthony does not really exist and WUWT is in reality a fiendish experiment controlled by Stephan Lewandowsky.

    But which is the more phoney: Anthony's OAS or Lysander Spooner University?

  2. WUWT practices affirmative action for crackpots.


  3. Spooner U? What a shock of crit!

    1. I'm sure the students hiss all the mystery lectures.

  4. lol at the "library"

    "the evils of social security", "the evils of the minimum wage"

    you don't have to pigeon hole these crackpots, they do it all by themselves

    1. Tadaaa

      You overlooked "The evils of stone masonry"!

  5. Looking at Dr Roger Roots roots he is a "nationally recognized climatologist", I mean criminologist. Close enough for WUWT.

    1. Also a perennial senate candidate on the Libertarian ticket.

  6. See the update above. USGS has sent a link to a page on the retreat of glaciers in GNP, and indicated that more pages/redirects will be up soon.

    1. And of course, there is a nice example of repeat photography on that page.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Dr Roger Roots J.D. indicates he has a PhD in law, not science.

  8. It appears thaw Roger Roots is (among other things...) a white supremacist. I googled around and found this rather ugly article he wrote titled "Whites & Blacks 100 FACTS (and one Lie)"
    In trying to confirm the author is the same Roger Roots, I found this article where he lost a defamation case against the Montana Human Rights Network for describing him as a KKK organizer.
    That article identifies him as the author of the Whites & Blacks 100 Facts article and collaborates that it is in fact the same Roger Roots.

  9. USGS has added more info following an email I sent them, with some more links to more pages. See update 2 above.

  10. Sou, you are the only conspitard here.

    1. Well that comment was enlightening.

    2. Against people who take a long time to spit? I haven't really thought about it.

    3. I'll assume this is the same 'corrector' that pops up occasionally here and there; for instance at Greg Laden's a couple years ago: "OTOH, people on WUWT don’t seem crazy, they seem to have common sense, a lot of it. They may be wrong on many things, but they seem like regular guys."

      It's difficult to wrap your head around the idea that someone is wrong on many things - but has common sense. Insofar as WUWT - they're definitely wrong on many things, but I've rarely seen any displays of common sense.

      The particular question he was asking at Greg Laden's back then has so many analogues in other fields that it's difficult to find a field that *doesn't* have one. Obviously he never really put any thought into it.

      But then, what would we expect from someone that calls himself the 'corrector' - almost inevitably that will be a person wrong on just about everything :)

    4. (I suspect he misspelled "colorectal" as well as "conspiratard.")

    5. The Corrector is not illiterate. His parents were definitely married.

    6. Oh be gentle with the poor man. It probably took him hours to get his barely functioning brain to come up with as much as that. Try to put yourself in his shoes: he comes here to defend his heroes at WUWT against our cruel mockery, and then he discovers he has got ... nothing.

    7. I took a walk down the conspiracy corridor the other day - and ended up at Stevan Goddards blog

      Boy, they take "raving loonies" to a whole new level - it made WUWT look a meeting at the Cambridge University science club

      What's so startlingly obvious is the way they conflate science with politics

      It is like they are wearing special right wing biased googles - that distort nown physics and reality

    8. I ended taking climate change seriously just from reading sites like LOLWUWT linked to on a blog I frequent.
      They are so full of logic errors, misquoted papers and conspiracy stupidity it is obvious they are totally wrong.
      I then found Sk Sc, real climate ATTP and other sites that talked sense and represented science honestly .
      You have to believe strongly that climate change is not real to not see though the garbage in the denial echochambers.


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