Hayden fiddles while Earth burns

Note: I recently had a request for the following post, which seems to have disappeared from the archive for July 2012.

Howard “Cork” Hayden seems to be a nice guy. He is affable, appears to have a genuine interest in people and favors eccentric clothing (a red tie that says “Remove Before Flying” and a tie tack with a tiny spark plug, a family memento). He has a doctorate in physics and is retired from the University of Connecticut. He now lives in Pueblo, Colo., and occasionally  travels and lectures about climate issues.

I like everything about him except his stand on global warming.

On Wednesday night, Hayden spoke at the Lyon County Extension Office to a group of about twenty, and he made a number of assertions that are either absurd, not supported by the scientific consensus, or both. After reading a front-page story in Wednesday’s Gazette that previewed his appearance, I became concerned that what Hayden had to say was misrepresenting the science behind one of the most serious issues we are likely to face in our lifetimes. Essentially, Hayden said that while the earth may be warming, there is no evidence that it was caused by man, and even so, a warmer earth might not be all that bad.

So, after reading the Gazette story, I composed a list of ten questions to ask Hayden, the sort of exercise I would ask my journalism students to do before interviewing any source with a controversial claim. I wanted to know if he had ties to the oil and gas industry and what his credentials were as a climatologist. I needed clarification on his assertion that global warming is caused by cosmic rays that excite the atmosphere as our solar system passes through different arms of the Milky Way. Then I contacted the Gazette reporter, John Giffin, who did the original piece, and asked if he planned on covering the presentation.  There were some important questions I intended to ask. No, Giffin said, but suggested he would like to talk to me after for a follow up piece.

I arrived early at the extension office, introduced myself, and explained that I disagreed with some of Hayden’s statements, as reported in the Gazette, and would he mind if I asked questions? No, he said. Would he prefer that I hold my questions for the end, or ask them as he presented his material? Ask whenever, he said.

Great, I said. I was glad the group would hear my questions, too.

The first half of his lecture was about why we don’t need a national energy policy. He prefaced this by saying we don’t use as much energy as one might guess. He claimed that we use only three times as much energy per capita in the United States than we did, say, in 1850. Since 1640, Hayden claimed, we use about 100,000 times as much energy. He had made a similar claim in his interview with the Gazette, and earlier in the afternoon I had contacted Rudy M. Baum, editor of the Chemical & Engineering News in Washington, D.C. I asked Baum about Hayden’s credentials and sent a link to the front page story.

“I don’t know Prof. Hayden,” Baum wrote in an email, “but a quick Google search shows that he is a bona fide member of the clique of climate change deniers. He’s associated with the Heartland Institute, which is in the forefront of climate change denial. He firmly believes that burning fossil fuels is a good thing, a warmer world would be a better place to live, etc. He has no expertise in climate science and he is opposed to any limitations on burning fossil fuels, so, no, his views probably shouldn’t be trusted.”

Baum had more to say about Hayden’s claim about U.S. energy trends.

“In the story from the Emporia Gazette that you provided a link to, Hayden makes a preposterous claim—that modern humans use only three times as much energy as someone living (in 1850),” Baum said, citing the year given in the story. “…In the U.S., we use at least 100 times as much energy per capita. Americans (each) use 25 barrels of oil per year, which is the equivalent of 300 years of free human labor. That’s oil alone. The idea that the U.S. uses 100,000 times as much energy as it did in 1640 is nonsensical.  It’s millions or tens of millions times more.”

When I read Hayden the quote, he dismissed it by attacking Baum’s character. He called him names that included, as I recall, jerk. Later, when I asked Hayden if he has ever published a paper on climatology in a peer-reviewed journal, he said no. He had once sent one to Baum, he said, but it was refused. And when I asked him his credentials as a climatologist, he turned the question by claiming there weren’t that many climatologists anyway, that the number was about a dozen. The American Association of State Climatologists, however, lists 150 members and associate members on its website, all involved in climatological services or research.

And that’s just in the United States.

The United States does not need an energy policy, Hayden told the group, We’ve done just fine without one. Can anybody think of any reason we should have an energy policy? When I brought up the devastation of strip coal mining, for example, and the Superfund sites that we are left with from the Laissez-faire days of capitalism, Hayden conceded we might need some regulation on mining. But overall, his mantra was anti-regulation.

In the second half of his lecture, Hayden attacked the idea that global warming is caused by man. He said that when the people who wanted to control others realized that the populace was getting tired of the term “global warming,” they switched it to “climate change.” Nope, Hayden is wrong again. The phrase came from leading Republican language consultant Frank Luntz, who urged conservatives to reframe the issue as climate change, instead of global warming, because it sounded like something less threatening and more natural.

Hayden presented a claim that the earth has experienced periods of global warming and cooling, caused by cosmic rays that strike the atmosphere depending on what arm of the Milky Way our solar system happens to be in. Well, perhaps, but the changes he is talking about are against a time scale of hundreds of millions of years, and go back to a time before the Cambrian explosion, when our atmosphere first contained enough oxygen to permit higher life forms. My reaction is that, firstly, it’s difficult to compare what is happening on earth now to gradual changes that occurred over hundreds of aeons; secondly, the cosmic ray fluctuation argument based on galaxy rotation seems irrelevant, since it takes the Milky Way 250 million years to make one orbit.  For the past hundred years, the time period mostly discussed concerned global warming, we have basically stayed in the same spot in the Milky Way.

Hayden had other problems with the evidence. He didn’t trust dendrochronology, the science of studying tree rings, to estimate how hot it was in the years before we starting keeping accurate temperature readings. He didn’t think that global temperatures, taking the whole earth’s temperature, had been done properly. He didn’t trust the reports issued by the International Panel on Climate Change. He claimed the activity of the sun had been increasing for the past hundred years, which has accounted for a hotter climate. He’s wrong about that – mean solar activity has been declining in the past 50 or 60 years, and is now at a historic minimum. If anything, we should be having historically cooler temperatures, based on the current solar cycle.

But we’re not.

The United States has experienced the warmest 12 months since record-keeping began in 1895, NOAA scientists have announced. The 12-month period ending June 2012 was the warmest on record, with a nationally-averaged temperature 3.2 degrees higher than the long-term average, and accompanied by extreme and violent weather.

Hayden said he was a skeptic, and admired healthy skepticism.

Recently, Skeptic magazine ran a cover story entitled “How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused.” The magazine is published by the Skeptics Society, which, according to its website, is “a scientific and educational organization of leading scientists, scholars, investigative journalists, historians, professors, and teachers. Our mission is to investigate and provide a sound scientific viewpoint on claims of the paranormal, pseudoscience, fringe groups, cults and claims between: science, pseudoscience, junk science, voodoo science, pathological science, bad science, non-science and plain old nonsense.”

The cover story, by Donald R. Prothero, outlined the scientific consensus for global warming – and knocked down every argument that Hayden would make. Yet, why do people continue to question the reality of climate change?

“The right-wing institutes and the energy lobby beat the bushes to find scientists—any scientists—who might disagree with the scientific consensus,” Prothero wrote. “As investigative journalists and scientists have documented over and over again, the denialist conspiracy essentially paid for the testimony of anyone who could be useful to them.” Especially valuable, Prothero said, were those who would speak negatively of the IPCC report.

At the meeting, I asked Hayden if anybody with an agenda was paying for his anti-human caused global warming stance. This question caused some dissent in the crowd – how rude! – but it’s one of the most important questions you can ask about somebody who is trying to convince you of something. Imagine, for example, listening to an “expert” on auto safety and regulation who is in the employ of Ford or General Motors. Hayden, to his credit, was gracious enough to answer the question. No, he said, he took no money.

But didn’t he speak at the Heartland Institute’s Seventh Annual conference on climate change this May in Chicago? Yes, he said. Were you paid, I asked. Yes, he said, but it was a small fee, he said, probably not as much as I make as a college professor in a month.

The Heartland Institute is a conservative and libertarian think tank which advocates free market policies. Founded in 1984, it conducts research and undertakes advocacy work on issues from taxation to fracking to global warming. In the 1990s, the group worked with Philip Morris to question the science linking second hand smoke to health risks, and to lobby against government public-health reforms. Its conferences on global warming are meetings of man-made climate change deniers.

I asked Hayden if he knew that the Heartland Institute was funded by the Koch brothers of Wichita, billionaires of the first class who are heavily vested in energy and have an economic interest in discrediting climate science (and, I should add here, promoting the tea party, funding anti-labor fights in Wisconsin, and fighting government regulation in general).

He said he didn’t know – and that he didn’t care.

Perhaps he should.

One of Heartland’s new campaigns features a billboard in Chicago, according to the Huffington Post, showing a mug shot of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski looking trademark crazy. The tag? “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

I asked Hayden to come back and debate me on the issue within the next thirty days, at a location that was mutually acceptable. He demurred, saying that he lived in Colorado and it was a long way to this part of Kansas.  I hope he will reconsider, because I think people everywhere need to talk about the issue, consider the sources and quality of information, and make informed decisions.

I wished the Gazette had been there to cover the presentation. Later, reporter John Giffin told me that the follow up story had been pulled, that there would be no coverage. His editor, he said, did not consider it worthy of any more time. But, Giffin offered, I could write an opinion piece.

In the end, I thanked Hayden for his presentation. At least he has the guts to stand up, under his own name, and explain what he believes, and to field questions about it. Some of the best science has come from outside the academy, as Thomas Kuhn so brilliantly showed in 1962’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolution.” But Hayden is unlikely to break any paradigms with his lectures on global warming or energy policy.

He is, however, dangerously misleading the public.


Max McCoy is an author and associate professor of journalism at Emporia State University.



Historic Oklahoma quake

THE HISTORIC Arkansas Valley National Bank building in Pawnee, Okla., lost some stones when a 5.6 quake struck at 7:02 am Saturday, Sept. 3. I was shaken awake in my bed at Emporia, about 210 miles to the north. Because the epicenter of the quake was near the Arkansas River, and because I’m writing a book about the river, of course I headed south to investigate. On Saturday afternoon, I found most of the damage in town had been cleaned up, although many buildings in the block west of the intersection of Sixth and Harrison were cordoned off with police tape. There weren’t many townspeople on the street, but I counted nine television news vans and cars. The building–which says “Pawnee Co Bank” on the side, but was actually the Arkansas Valley National Bank when it opened in 1918–is apparently for sale. Note the sign that declares, “New Price.” Saturday’s earthquake tied for the largest in state history with another 5.6 from the same general area in 2011; a swarm of earthquakes during the past seven years have been blamed on wasetwater injection from oil fracking. The state ordered 37 waste injection wells (of more than 3,000 in Oklahoma) to cease while the cause of the quake is investigated. Nobody was seriously hurt in Saturday’s quake, which was felt across seven states, according to the Associated Press.


Twilight Float

Here’s a shot form the Arkansas River Coalition’s Twilight Float last Wednesday through south Wichita. That’s the Lincoln Street Bridge and dam in the background; beyond that is the downtown Wichita skyline. The float ended at Garvey Park.


River Angle

ANOTHER SHOT of Vince Marshall during Saturday’s float on the Arkansas River south of Wichita.  This was done with a GoPro, which has an extremely wide lens (look at how it curves the river) I kind of like it, for it’s Dutch angle, the water spots on the lens, and that it conveys the feeling of being on the water.


July on the Arkansas River


HERE’S A SHOT from yesterday (Saturday, 7-16-2016). It was taken from my kayak during the Arkansas River Coalition’s float from the 71st Street canoe launch in South Wichita to the old “Goat Ranch” near Mulvane, a distance of about 12 miles. The gentleman in the orange shirt in the kayak just ahead of me is Vince Marshall, the ARC’s river guru and historian, who shepherded 13 kayakers and one canoeist along the river, which is still rather high from recent rains. This trip, of course, was research for my forthcoming book, Elevations: A River’s Journey through the Heart of America, under contract with the University Press of Kansas. This was a leisurely float with a group of friendly paddlers (and newly made friends) on a stretch of the river that is pretty tame.



Rabbit in the Moon

Another shot of the supermoon, with a borrowed 800mm lens from the Lower Fox Creek School. This was taken about an hour before the lunar eclipse began. You can clearly sea the dark spots, lunar “seas,” that make up the face of the man in the moon–or, in Native American and other cultures, form a rabbit. The ears are to the left. Or, to the right, depending on the story.


Supermoon over the prairie


The supermoon rises above the prairie near Strong City, Kansas, Sept. 27. I was standing in front of the Lower Fox Creek School,  at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, when I took the photo. At about the same time as I took this, the Wichita Eagle’s Travis Heying took this photo; that’s me and Kim just to the left of the school building.


























































Captured at the Long Branch

CHRISTOPHER GUINN of the Dodge City Daily Globe interviewed me in the Long Branch Saloon at Boot Hill during the launch for the second novel in the Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery series last month for a feature story.

I’m a difficult subject, as recovering journalists tend to be, but Christopher did a great job. He asked difficult questions, was a good listener, and came to the interview having done his homework. It was encouraging. I would like to say he reminded me of myself, when I first starting working for daily newspapers, but the truth is that Christopher may be better. More likeable, certainly.

I’m a little (well, a lot) late posting about it, but things have hectic this summer. I’ve always felt that my job was to write, and not do continual self-promotion (my publisher would probably disagree), and frankly it’s difficult for me to always be blogging or tweeting or whatever to convince readers to buy my books. It just feels hollow. It’s not that I don’t believe in the books–I believe strongly in Ophelia Wylde and her world, and apparently there are many readers who do as well. Some authors, I know, pay someone else to blog for them, but for me that’s out of the question. So, if you wonder why there are big chronological gaps in the blog, the reason is that I’m working on Ophelia’s next adventure.


New Ophelia novel launches at Dodge City

PLEASE JOIN ME in celebrating the release of the new Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery, THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, at a launch party and signing at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City. The event, which lasts from 2 to 4 p.m., will kick off with a brief presentation about the paranormal and the Old West.

Last year at about this time, the first Ophelia Wylde novel, OF GRAVE CONCERN, made it’s debut at Boot Hill. It was only fitting, because the books are set in Dodge City in 1877-78. While the books are, of course, fiction, there is quite a bit of historical research that has gone into each. In the new book, Ophelia takes a jaunt to Denver and Leadville, Colo., on the trail of a murderer.

Many thanks to Brent Harris, the marshal of Boot Hill, for making this possible.

Even if  Brent’s name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll bet you know his face — Brent is the iconic, mustachioed western lawman that is featured on much of the publicity surrounding Boot Hill. As I have come to know Brent during the past year, I was delighted to discover that in addition to being famous, he’s a genuinely nice guy.

Brent is pictured, below left. Click on the photo and it will take you to his Facebook  page.

So, stop by Boot Hill on July 5 and meet Brent. He’s one of the good guys. I’ll be there, too, talking about the research I did for the books, signing books, and doing a quick cartoon in the front of each one. It’s something I started last year with the Ophelia books, and the cartoons have been a hit. It takes more time than just singing them, but fans seem to like it. The cartoons vary, but typically feature Ophelia’s pet raven.

I’m a terrible artist, but at least the cartoons are much more personal and heartfelt than just scrawling “Best Wishes” or something similar.  Come to think of it, I should start grabbing photos of some of the better–meaning least awful–cartoons and posting them here.






OF GRAVE CONCERN a 2014 Kansas Notable Book

OF GRAVE CONCERN has been named a 2014 Kansas Notable Book, I learned today from the State Library of Kansas. An official announcement, and a list of all winners, will follow next week. There was also be a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 13, in Topeka.

I’m pleased, and honored.

A few years ago, I won the same award with a very different novel, HELLFIRE CANYON. Although both stories are set in the Old West, that’s where the similarity ends. Jacob Gamble, the protagonist of the Hellfire books, is an outlaw who’s been on the run since the age of 14, and the trilogy goes from the Civil War to the 1930s. Gamble is a fiddle-playing antihero who embraces violence as a means to protect the weak and earn some measure of justice in a wicked world. Ophelia Wylde abhors guns, travels with a pet raven, and is a former con woman who has turned psychic detective, and she believes in a benevolent universe.

If they ever meet each other–and I’ll make sure that never happens–they would hate one another.

More details on the Kansas Notable Book award as they become available.