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November 6, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Meet The Climate Change Denier Who Became The Voice Of Hurricane Sandy On Wikipedia"Ken Mampel, an unemployed, 56-year-old Floridian, is in large part the creator of the massive Hurricane Sandy Wikipedia page. He's also the reason that, for nearly a week, the page had no mention of climate change."
posted by indubitable (50 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ken Mampel does not believe in climate change. (He referred to himself as a libertarian, by my count, six separate times during one phone call. I never asked about his political leanings.)

Shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
posted by mhoye at 3:54 AM on November 6, 2012 [39 favorites]


From the comments:
"Dan Nosowitz, while I appreciate your concern for the sanctity of truth in media. I feel as though you come off as more of a bully than anything. It makes me sad that one of the longest articles published to PopSci is basicly an attack ad. In my opinion the way in which you composed your article came off like a highschool facebook fight. ie( putting his picture up, talking on your emails, posting his account info, and discrediting him for his socio-economic status) It almost seems as though you are begging your more extreme readers to harrass the man. while I myself do believe in global warming, I also feel that since all the data gathered during the storm has yet to be fully analyzed, one cannot definately prove that the storm was in fact caused by global warming. therefore in my scientific theory, both opinons (however unlikely) in this situation are valid, Which makes you (Dan Nosowitz)look bad when you state your opinions as fact. when situations like this occur and both parties feel justified, it's a sad day for science indeed. And finally instead of going through all the trouble to force the global warming link onto the hurricane sandy wiki page, you could have just created a paragraph about sandy on the global warming page. But I guess im the only one who thinks outside the sphere." -Thyork
posted by Blasdelb at 4:04 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


while I myself do believe in global warming, I also feel that since all the data gathered during the storm has yet to be fully analyzed, one cannot definately prove that the storm was in fact caused by global warming

An excellent speciman of Belua pertineos.
posted by maxwelton at 4:08 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I mentioned that many reputable scientists and publications have pointed out the connection, he said, "It's still in debate in the world community Dan... even if EnviroGore thinks there is no need for debate."

Wasn't EnviroGore beaten by Aquaman back in the "gritty" days?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:11 AM on November 6, 2012 [21 favorites]


The storm probably was an anomaly, probably natural and probably unconnected to climate change. These things happen.

But anyone who removed all reference to citations! on wikipedia using the science! probably shouldn't be using magic! I mean electrickery!
posted by Mezentian at 4:13 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wikipedia is such a funny thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:21 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do remember a weatherman on tv talking about how a storm such as Sandy would continue to gather strength if the temperature of the water remained above a certain temp and those waters off the coast of the northeast were all above that certain temp. Aren't the higher ocean temps due to global warming?
posted by any major dude at 4:33 AM on November 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


It seems that either this article was an agent of change, or the larger community came to its senses. If you look at the article now, there is a section about climate change. Additionally, the editor in question was blocked for 24 hours for edit warring. It seems like, in this case, Wikipedia slowly but surely self-corrected.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:35 AM on November 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


While I don't agree with him, I can half see where the guy is coming from, and I fully believe in climate change.

The inclusion of the link to climate change at the top of the Sandy entry reads like it's been shoehorned in by someone making a point.

By which I mean - there is a small jump from reporting from saying "climate change causes more hurricanes etc" to saying it caused Sandy. And the links provided in the article between Sandy and climate change are pretty speculative (by necessity: proving a one off event was caused by long term change is going to be tough). I'm not saying they shouldn't be in the article at all. I am saying their prominence and something about the tone of them reads to me like someone making a point.

Or to put it another way: if the whole issue of climate change wasn't still being debated by nutjobs, the inclusion of a special paragraph laying out a couple of theories of how climate change can cause more extreme weather events like Sandy would seem rather incongruous and superfluous.

Disclaimer: I am not a libertarian. I am not a libertarian. I am not a libertarian. I am not a libertarian. I am not a libertarian. I am not a libertarian.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:46 AM on November 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


So what this article is saying is that certain people with an unhealthy, obsessive and controlling nature have an enormous amount of free time (likely due to their unhealthy, obsessive and controlling nature) to promote their agendas with complete disregard for allowing an alternative, and perhaps more accurate view...

I think the answer here is to recruit and brainwash like-minded individuals to said alternate view, and then we'd really have something to watch on Wikipedia.

I dunno.... While I agree with the "WTF?" sentiment of the author, I don't like the over-the-top, snide, holier than thou tone of the article, nor the likely, resulting ego-stroking afforded this person who will probably now only be more committed to his own "cause."
posted by Debaser626 at 4:58 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sandy was caused by climate change the way my grandmother's cancer was caused by smoking. The conditions increased the probability of the outcome, but the outcome was still a complex situation resulting from multiple factors is a chaotic system. It is not possible, in the individual case, to assign blame accurately among the risk factors. But we know that statistically, there will be more and stronger storms.
posted by Nothing at 5:29 AM on November 6, 2012 [67 favorites]


We can't prove that these specific deletions were directly caused by the gradual accretion of self-righteous life-lacking editorship within the general atmosphere of Wikipedia, but the phenomenon is well attested by expert opinion and it does seem to be sufficiently relevant to be worthy of at least a mention in this context.
posted by Segundus at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nothing put it more concisely than I could. That's exactly it. And people with concrete, linear types of thought processes can't always grasp things like chaotic systems and multi-dimensional statistics.
posted by gjc at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


But we know that statistically, there will be more and stronger storms.

Sure, which I think most of us get this here, at least. The question is how should this be put into the wikipedia article on Sandy?
posted by MuffinMan at 5:48 AM on November 6, 2012


But I guess Im the only one who thinks outside the sphere.

With the exception of the slightly anomalous use of "sphere" instead of the cliched "box," a perfect 12-word summation of what a scarily large percentage of people in the US would say about almost any topic under the sun.
posted by blucevalo at 5:52 AM on November 6, 2012


Aren't there some sheeple who need to be woken up? It seems like there might be. Perhaps the change in Daylight Saving Time has confused their alarm clocks....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:56 AM on November 6, 2012


"You can't look at a breaking news story in the way you look at, say, a bio of a living person," says Walsh. That rule about no original reporting? That can be bent in the interest of having a complete and up-to-date view of a news story when verification is hard to come by. "

So, 'The rules don't apply to me because I'm right.'

Oh he's a Libertarian? You don't say.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:59 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's been a big few weeks for outing "anonymous"-ish people over the internet ... perhaps a new trend for bored reporters running out of real news to cover.
posted by jannw at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I don't believe in climate change bullcrap".

But it believes in you oh fuzzy Ewok contributor.
posted by stormpooper at 6:11 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Voice Of Hurricane Sandy On Wikipedia

WHOOOOOOSHHHHHHHOOOOOOOSHOOOHHHH
posted by Nomyte at 6:21 AM on November 6, 2012 [22 favorites]


"You can't look at a breaking news story in the way you look at, say, a bio of a living person," says Walsh. That rule about no original reporting? That can be bent in the interest of having a complete and up-to-date view of a news story when verification is hard to come by.

What the what?

No, actually they're very similar. While the "avoiding libel" motiviation of limitations on biography of living persons is perhaps more limited in a story about a hurricane, the difficulties of scholarly consensus, secondary sourcing, etc. etc. are in fact similar. It's an encyclopedia not a news blog.
posted by Jahaza at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question is how should this be put into the wikipedia article on Sandy?

The way this is usually handled with medical issues, which are a fairly good parallel, is the word "related" instead of "caused." Heart disease is one of many diet-related illnesses, though few would call it "diet-caused." Similarly, Sandy was one of many climate-change-related storms.
posted by Nothing at 7:20 AM on November 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's an encyclopedia not a news blog.

Indeed. An encyclopedia is what's called a tertiary source of information.It pulls information mostly from secondary (and some primary) sources, and points you back to them for deeper study. Secondary sources (e.g. historical studies) draw on primary sources as their basic sources.

People on the web seem hell-bent on confusing these things. Look at how many MeTa threads are by people who are upset that their breaking news event or "look at this damn thing" post has been deleted -- there are many many web sites, yet people seem to want their favorite to do all of them at all times.... This goes hand in hand with the very blurry boundaries people have between the idea of free material on the web and paid access. The web is really nothing but a delivery device, and yet we like to imagine that it is the content, and therefore it's all the same.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:24 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]



"You can't look at a breaking news story in the way you look at, say, a bio of a living person," says Walsh. That rule about no original reporting? That can be bent in the interest of having a complete and up-to-date view of a news story when verification is hard to come by. "


So, 'The rules don't apply to me because I'm right.'

Oh he's a Libertarian? You don't say.
You have the attributions confused. Walsh isn't the libertarian, he's Head of Communications at Wikimedia. He's not breaking wiki policy, he's just stating what it is.
posted by xigxag at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2012


The way this is usually handled with medical issues, which are a fairly good parallel, is the word "related" instead of "caused." Heart disease is one of many diet-related illnesses, though few would call it "diet-caused." Similarly, Sandy was one of many climate-change-related storms.

The causal link that should be addressed in the Wikipedia article is not between Sandy and the effects of climate change, but between Sandy and the status of climate change as a legitimate and important public concern. Sandy should (and hopefully will) make people more aware, and more concerned, about climate change, and that's why it will be tied to the climate change discussion for a while to come.

Framing Sandy this way also makes the deliberate omission in the original article that much more perverse.
posted by grog at 7:59 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's odd that this piece spends so much time on the distinction between Wikipedia article-writing and news reporting, when that's basically background to the far more interesting actual topic at hand. There's a really interesting portrait to be written here of one of the legions of the indefatigable who keep Wikipedia from becoming any better than it is — of what motivates and rewards them, what they get out of editing, and how they think about the project (as distinct from how it thinks about itself, in policy and official ideology). But it seems a little half-baked and sensationalistic here. Rather than using this as a chance to reflect on Wikipedia policy and its pitfalls, or to think about how to short-circuit the ego rewards that people can derive from bad modes of "contributing" to the project, the article just settles for an easy contrast between Wikipedia and some stereotype of old-fashioned journalism (as if Wikipedia were trying to do journalism in the first place!) and calls it a day.
posted by RogerB at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


certain people with an unhealthy, obsessive and controlling nature have an enormous amount of free time

The Wikipedia bulldogs, the prime reason wikipedia is in decline, in my view. When it first started, the science folks I knew were reasonably positive about it, and the comms people, staff science writers essentially, were thrilled. There is a lot of writing targeted for public consumption written by consensus that could be referenced and summarized to form a good starting point for many articles: international committee outputs, (US) national academy of sciences reports, that sort of thing.

There was significant interest in the early to mid 2000s in using these to contribute to Wikipedia. It became clear very rapidly however, that this wasn't going to work in any way or form. Contributors with lots of time and a non-neutral viewpoint were a huge problem. Contributing to contentious issues is effectively impossible on Wikipedia in it's current form without an enormous time and process commitment. I think Wikipedia's window of engagement has largely passed on the technical side, at least for the current generation of researchers and professional science writers. The social costs for participation, time and willingness to endure these bulldogs, are too high.
posted by bonehead at 8:21 AM on November 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


You have the attributions confused. Walsh isn't the libertarian, he's Head of Communications at Wikimedia. He's not breaking wiki policy, he's just stating what it is.
posted by xigxag at 10:30 AM on November 6 [+] [!]


Whoops, so I did. Mea cupla.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:23 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's Global Warming, Stupid
posted by homunculus at 8:32 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there some literature about libertarians and climate-change denial? Because, for a group that esteems reason and free agency, I find their irrational and paranoid hatred of the mainstream of climate science to be weird. Out of the libertarians I know, the attitudes range from "it's a complete scam perpetrated for political reasons" (with no expertise or analysis of the available science) to "climate change is real, but human ingenuity ensures that it won't be a big deal and therefore does not need to be addressed". However, they otherwise place themselves amongst the camp of rational skeptics.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 9:38 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do I think certain people will still be arguing over whether not global warming exists long after the few remaining humans die of scurvy from living on nothing but fish and poorly desalinated water?
posted by tommasz at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2012


for a group that esteems reason
This is a pose. Anyone is free to characterize their own political beliefs however they like. Remember "compassionate conservatism"?
posted by 1adam12 at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do I think certain people will still be arguing over whether not global warming exists long after the few remaining humans die of scurvy from living on nothing but fish and poorly desalinated water?

...because you think "certain" climate change deniers are actually immortal djinn? Or cunning artificial intelligences... Actually you're going to have to help me out on that one, but I'm super-intrigued to read your collected short stories.
posted by nanojath at 10:42 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I didn't realize that the link above was subscription only. It didn't appear to be when I posted. Here's a similar reference point from the Economist from last year.
posted by bonehead at 10:44 AM on November 6, 2012


If Wikipedia volunteers are declining, I suspect it's because most of the articles have been written. It's far more interesting to participare when there's an open canvas for entries on "Hurricane" and "Space Travel" and "Aaron Burr," much less when those articles are OK and the remaining work is rewriting someone else's prose and fixing typos.

Not that the Wikipedia is done, or that it doesn't have other shortcomings, but personally, this is why I edit less there than I did ten years ago.
posted by zippy at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the better analogies I have seen is a comparison to the Steroid Era in major league baseball. An analysis of over 100 years of statistics before and after that era unambiguously indicated that widespread use of steroids was influencing the number of home runs. While it would be impossible to say that any particular home run that Barry Bonds hit in 1998 was directly due to steroids, it would be perfectly reasonable for a sports writer to say that this particular home run is an example of what you are going to see more of unless juicing in baseball is addressed.

In this case it is perfectly appropriate to say that climate warming models indicate more frequent storms like Sandy.
posted by JackFlash at 11:15 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Self titled libertarians often seem to confuse 'libertarian' with 'extreme skepticism even in the face of facts if it doesn't fit my individuals-above-groups scheme'.

My theory is that something like man-caused climate change really is an anti-libertarian concept, because it was not the result of, and cannot be fixed by, purely individual action. It really is the realm of organized action and requires intervention to fix. So, being a problem that needs intervention to fix, and being against government intervention, they choose to instead take the tact of skepticism. I like skepticism, and it rings well amongst many people, especially those with libertarian/left leanings. But their skepticism appears to be self serving and blind to the data, which makes it denialism, not skepticism.

Of course, not all libertarians are this way.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:19 AM on November 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


the remaining work is rewriting someone else's prose and fixing typos.

Oh, really? Maybe I should take a look then; I'm not really interested in writing whole articles but I love doing that kind of nitpicky editing.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2012


Dude has hairy shoulders.
posted by Damienmce at 11:53 AM on November 6, 2012


Oh, really? Maybe I should take a look then; I'm not really interested in writing whole articles but I love doing that kind of nitpicky editing.

There is plenty of that to do! Go forth and make it better!
posted by zippy at 12:12 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the better analogies I have seen is a comparison to the Steroid Era in major league baseball. An analysis of over 100 years of statistics before and after that era unambiguously indicated that widespread use of steroids was influencing the number of home runs.

That seems like a useful analogy, but it's interesting to me how that's applicable to individual players from that era (which would be the parallel to an article about a particular storm, e.g. Sandy). Of the players from the 90s and 00s who are in the top 10 in career home runs, two of them (Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr.) don't seem to have any mention of performance-enhancing drugs in their articles, while those who do (Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, and McGuire) have some direct connection, like a positive test, a major news report, or an admission.

I think global warming is real, at least largely man-made, contributes to stronger tropical storms, and support significant action to curb it, and this guy Mampel certainly doesn't seem like a genius, but the section in the screenshot in the article just reads very strangely to me. Like MuffinMan, I suspect if there wasn't so much weirdness around the global warming "debate," this section would seem as incongruous as a section about steroids in general would be in the article about Jim Thome.
posted by dsfan at 12:20 PM on November 6, 2012


Is there some literature about libertarians and climate-change denial? Because, for a group that esteems reason and free agency, I find their irrational and paranoid hatred of the mainstream of climate science to be weird.

Basically for the same reason that there are no libertarians in a hurricane shelter.
posted by straight at 1:12 PM on November 6, 2012


This guy needs to get with the program. Even the serious partisans no longer deny that global warming is happening, it's whether or not it's caused by humans. Denying global warming outright is a great way to help everyone identify you as a wingnut who isn't even worth debating.
posted by mullingitover at 1:27 PM on November 6, 2012


tommasz: Why do I think certain people will still be arguing over whether not global warming exists long after the few remaining humans die of scurvy from living on nothing but fish and poorly desalinated water?
Utter nonsense. Everyone on Earth will, within a generation or so, agree on the fact of global warming.

There will be some who insist the only role Homo sapiens played in creating global warming was the socialist policies of an early-21st-century negro political leader... but they'll agree the globe is warming.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:16 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there some literature about libertarians and climate-change denial? Because, for a group that esteems reason and free agency, I find their irrational and paranoid hatred of the mainstream of climate science to be weird. Out of the libertarians I know, the attitudes range from "it's a complete scam perpetrated for political reasons" (with no expertise or analysis of the available science) to "climate change is real, but human ingenuity ensures that it won't be a big deal and therefore does not need to be addressed". However, they otherwise place themselves amongst the camp of rational skeptics.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine. There are a shit-ton of people out there who call themselves libertarian, who just aren't. Like the guy who came up to us, while at an actual libertarian event, and said "fingers crossed for Tuesday, amiright [#romneywink]?" NO, you weasel, no. First off, Obama is the more libertarian candidate, second of all, it shouldn't matter to an actual libertarian, because they would find either choice unacceptable.

Actual libertarian though requires rationality, and "nanananana I can't hear you my ears are closed" is not rational. Same thing with skeptics- the ones you generally see aren't skeptical, their minds are already made up.
posted by gjc at 3:52 PM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I disagree with this idea that we can't say "We can only say that global warming increased the probability of Sandy happening, not that it caused it".

The first problem is that literally makes no sense, since the probability of something that has already happened is 1. What you can say is that global warming increases the chances of storms like sandy in the future. We can't talk about the probability of past events. We can talk about the probability of past events given certain information (like, if we used Nate Silver's model, what was the probability that bill Clinton would have won in 1996 given the polls a week before the election). But we don't have any way to predict hurricanes very far out.

We can also talk about the probability of some event in the past given the information we have now, like the probability that Bob murdered Steve given the fact that Steve is dead and Bob is holding the bloody knife.

Someone talked about smoking and lung cancer. That's a little different because we can't know for sure what specific mutagens caused the mutations in the cells that went on to become cancerous tumors. But usually a cell requires multiple 'insults' to become cancerous (from what I understand). Because of that, we can say that if a smoker gets lung cancer it's almost certain that some of those insults would have been from nicotine. Now maybe that same person would have gotten lung cancer if they hadn't smoked, but 1: It's unlikely and 2: it wouldn't have been the specific tumor started in the specific cell at the specific time.

Also, people never use this hyper-precise probabilistic language when they talk normally. No one says "My mom died of cancer, and the cigarettes she smoked increased the probability that that would occur before the tumor developed." They say "Cigarettes gave my mom cancer".

So really, "Global Warming caused Sandy's path through NY/NJ" is not out of synch with how we normally use those words in everyday language.

Also, Sandy is a very unusual event in a pre-global warming climate. It seems like global warming did increase the probability of events like this in the future, and I would say that had global warming not happened, a storm like this would be extremely rare. (Whereas with global warming, this is the second year in a row where we've seen a similar storm)
Is there some literature about libertarians and climate-change denial? Because, for a group that esteems reason and free agency, I find their irrational and paranoid hatred of the mainstream of climate science to be weird. Out of the libertarians I know, the attitudes range from "it's a complete scam perpetrated for political reasons" (with no expertise or analysis of the available science) to "climate change is real, but human ingenuity ensures that it won't be a big deal and therefore does not need to be addressed". However, they otherwise place themselves amongst the camp of rational skeptics.
The Cato institute is an influential libertarian think tank, and they take tons of money from the Koch Bros specifically to deny global warming. It's about money. You could argue that libertarian philosophy doesn't have a good answer for Global Warming, but the specific reason they deny it is money, IMO. Specifically money from the Koch bros to the Cato institute.
posted by delmoi at 5:08 PM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sandy was caused by climate change the way my grandmother's cancer was caused by smoking. The conditions increased the probability of the outcome, but the outcome was still a complex situation resulting from multiple factors is a chaotic system.

I have a relative who is probably dying of cancer, and other relatives who say "I told her not to smoke, she has cancer because she smoked". They are intelligent people, but many people really don’t like ambiguity. (Is that the right word?)
posted by bongo_x at 10:11 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Business warned to prepare for catastrophic impacts: New climate change report from PwC says radical action needed to decarbonise the global economy and warns investors to consider negative outcomes on certain investments
posted by homunculus at 10:32 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the Cold Front
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2012


I have a relative who is probably dying of cancer, and other relatives who say "I told her not to smoke, she has cancer because she smoked". They are intelligent people, but many people really don’t like ambiguity. (Is that the right word?)
No, that's just the way people talk about probability in real life. For some reason, people just don't want to do that with global warming because the right wing has made talking about global warming as a real thing into a cultural taboo.
posted by delmoi at 8:43 PM on November 8, 2012


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