‘Hurricane Truthers’: Bonkers Conspiracies Are Putting Lives in Danger

Yves here. It’s disconcerting to see how effective the anti-vax crowd has been, particularly among educated people who ought to know better. Admittedly, some vaccines are low efficacy (like flu shots for the elderly) and some really do have real records of bad side effects (the HPV vaccine, which has been banned in Japan). Patients understandably don’t like to have to play consumer and make their own calls, and it’s therefore easy to default to a knee-jerk rejection. But being skeptical about a hurricane?

This development is yet another indicator of the breakdown in consensus reality. It’s astonishing how the fragmentation of media has produced this outcome so quickly. And of course, the big uptick in anti-science views makes it easy to apply the “conspiracy theory” label to those who reject the consensus political reality….even when they have better facts on their side.

By Kate Yoder. Originally published at Grist

First it was the moon landing, vaccines, and New Coke. Now nutty conspiracies are surrounding the life-and-death matter of hurricanes.

With warming waters providing extra fuel, tropical cyclones have become more frequent and more intense in recent years, causing deadly flooding, widespread power outages, and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. Some people (ahem) see a sinister plot behind it all, an attempt to overhype the threat of disasters so that Big Government can take over (or something). This bonkers “hurricane trutherism” has spread from right-wing blogs to a much broader audience.

And it might already have real-world, fact-based consequences. A working papersuggests that by downplaying hurricane risk, conservative media hosts like Rush Limbaugh could be discouraging people from getting out of harm’s way.

Before Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017, causing more than 100 deaths and $50 billion in damages, hurricane trutherism got a lot of attention. Limbaugh — the most popular talk show host in the country — cast doubt on Irma’s severity and the motivation behind advisories prodding people to evacuate.

“Here comes a hurricane, local media goes on the air, ‘Big hurricane coming, oh, my God! Make sure you got batteries. Make sure you got water. It could be the worst ever. Have you seen the size of this baby? It’s already a Cat 5.” Limbaugh went on to suggest that the hype about Irma would lead to a bigger audience for TV stations, a boost in local business from worried residents stocking up on supplies, and of course, “panic” over climate change. Shortly thereafter, Limbaugh evacuated from his South Florida home to escape Irma’s wrath.

The right-wing commentator Ann Coulter followed with her own take on Twitter: “HURRICANE UPDATE FROM MIAMI: LIGHT RAIN; RESIDENTS AT RISK OF DYING FROM BOREDOM.” Limbaugh and Coulter’s comments were covered by the mainstream media, and Google searches for “hurricane conspiracy” reached an all-time high.

The damage was done. For their study, the researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found that only 34 percent of Floridians who likely voted for President Trump in the 2016 election evacuated before Irma hit, compared to 45 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. But ahead of two other hurricanes — Matthew in 2016 and Harvey in 2017 — when skepticism of hurricane threats was less widespread in the media, the researchers found that Trump and Clinton voters evacuated at similar rates.

The researchers looked at GPS location data from 30 million smartphone users to compare evacuation patterns for hurricanes Matthew, Harvey, and Irma, and juxtaposed that with voting data from the 2016 presidential election. The authors declined Grist’s request to comment because the paper is in the final stages of peer review.

Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication who was not involved in the study, said the findings appeared to be in line with recent research showing that the media can have a strong effect on decision-making.

“In the Trump-voting districts in this study, there’s a natural skepticism of the government, and I think that skepticism is being exploited to the great detriment of people’s health and safety,” she said. “We tend not to think of evacuating a hurricane as having anything to do with partisan politics, but we’re starting to see that it is becoming part of the political debate.”

Limbaugh isn’t the only one undermining public trust in hurricane forecasting. Earlier this year, Trump doubled down on a lie that forecasts had projected that Hurricane Dorian was headed to Alabama, going so far as to present a doctored NOAA map extending the hurricane’s range of possible paths with a Sharpie.

To be sure, the media does get excited about hurricanes — there’s a lot at stake — and viewership ratings do tend to spike during big storms. But doubting that hurricanes are dangerous can put lives at risk.

A recent study from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that as hurricanes become stronger, it hasn’t led more people to evacuate. A survey of coastal residents in Connecticut found that people who had evacuated in the past — and later thought it had been unnecessary — were less likely to plan to leave town in the event of a future hurricane.

Hurricane trutherism is just one of many conspiracy theories tied to climate change out there. Youtube is full of misinformation about geoengineering and chemtrails, the white clouds that airplanes leave in their wake. Though it’s good sport to mock these ideas, they stem from real fear and can pose real dangers to those who believe them.

“Although often parodied as inconsequential fantasies entertained by disenfranchised people on the fringes of society,” the authors of one 2015 studywrote, “conspiracy theories can influence what ordinary people intend to do in important domains,” like voting or vaccinating their children.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. The Pale Scot

    It’s Evolution in Action. Hilary should have harped on the dangers of drinking bleach to shrink the Trump vote

    Seriously, this is the beginning of the post truth era. The effects of willful ignorance enhanced by technology combined with overpopulation is going to kill billions. Unfortunately the primary actors will be the ones least affected

    1. J4Zonian

      Speaking of post-truth…

      The richest 10% of people emit half of human GHGs and cause similar proportions of most global ecological problems. They also make the decisions that determine most of the rest of our emissions; those decisions are almost all wrong. The poorest 6 billion emit only about 20%, and among the poorest is the only place there’s significant population growth.

      This problem is caused by the rich. The proximal problem is inequality and the lives of the globally rich; a change in the numbers of people, especially the poor people of color scapegoated by calling it a population problem. will get us nowhere and is likely to cause oppression and have horrific effects.

      In fact, the growth rate too many people worry about has been slowing since the 1960s. It’s widely expected to peak and begin to decline in the next 30 years, but death rates from climate catastrophe are already rising; that will soon accelerate exponentially. This isn’t being accounted for in any major projections, which is why they still think Africa–where most of the worst effects on humans are happening–will keep growing. Not likely.

      In any case, if we want civilization to survive the next century, we have to eliminate at least 90% of human GHGs in the next 10 years at most. It will be impossible to reduce our numbers enough in time to matter. (In fact, the GHG emissions of substantially-emitting families with new babies generally decline.)

      If we focus on the wrong cause we won’t solve the crisis; both civilization and the biosphere will collapse. If temperature rises to 4°C above preindustrial temp–the low end of where the policies of most major emitting countries are leading us–human population is likely to drop by 80-90%. We need to point to the actual problem–the lives of the rich–and solve it by replacing fossil fuels with efficiency, wiser lives, and clean safe renewable energy; transforming chemical industrial ag to small scale organic permaculture, and revolutionizing forestry, grasslandery, marshery. We need to radically equalize politically and economically, and address the ultimate psychological cause of the larger crisis.

  2. Lark

    But has the HPV vaccine been banned in Japan? As far as I can tell, there was an investigation ~2013 and the vaccine is currently recommended.

    The causes of the investigation seem sketchy to me, too – 38 cases of pain and numbness, plus a very strange mouse “study” based on one mouse. It looks to me far more likely that the same kind of anti-vaccine hysteria common in the US took root in Japan over the HPV vaccine.

    I feel as though anti-vaxxers get anxious about the HPV vaccine because they semi-consciously feel that women who have sex are bad, you’d only need the vaccine if you were “promiscuous” and “promiscuity” ought to be punished. I wonder how much of the emotional energy of anti-HPV hysteria is driving the rest of the anti-vax movement.

    In any case, I don’t think the HPV vaccine has been shown to be any riskier than any other vaccine, and it appears to be available in Japan, although since the events of 2013 compliance has dropped radically. To my mind, it’s a shame.

    1. JohnnyGL

      The HPV vaccine is/was awful. Merck pushed it and got insurance to cover it. It caused horrible side-effects and was a big scandal in Colombia like 5 years ago.

      Google seems to have white-washed the whole thing and now most articles are pretending it was all a media phenomenon and fear-mongering. It wasn’t. I’m in no way an anti-vaxxer, but my wife took the vaccine and had awful side-effects for like 2 weeks.

      Anti-vaxxer sentiment should be seen as a proxy for mistrust in the medical establishment who are interested in making money first, health a distant 2nd.

      Merck has a proven track record of being willing to kill people for profit (look up the Vioxx scandal). They’ll happily let the bodies get piled high before they change their ways.

      1. Matt

        My wife took the HPV Vaccine in college. At the time they required that you got tested for HPV before you could qualify for the vaccine. She tested negative and began getting the series of three shots. After she finished getting the doses of the Vaccine, she tested positive for HPV. She also started feeling pain in her joints, which included her knees and fingers. After going through a bunch of testing she was diagnosed with an auto immune disease called Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder Leaning toward Lupus and Scleroderma. This auto immune disease has ravaged my wife’s body for the last ten years, and almost killed her twice.

        Of course not everyone who gets the vaccine will have side effects, but that vaccine significantly damaged my Wife’s body. I try not to think about what our life would be like had she never got the vaccine.

    2. BridgetownBeast

      It hasn’t. Riko Muranaka, a Japanese doctor, did a followup on the mouse research being “quoted”, found out that Dr. Shuichi Ikeda had egregiously misrepresented the findings (even using an image from a mouse that hadn’t received the HPV vaccine). Of course she’s been stripped of her column and Ikeda is suing for defamation, and the Japanese Diet has yet to reinstate gardasil to the list of recommended vaccines, but I guess that’s just the world we live in now.

      Can’t normally give them kudos but Vox did a good article

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The original issue was not mouse research. It was women getting the vaccine having seizures. A friend knows someone in the US who had this happen and she still (more than a year later) isn’t back to normal.

        1. Anarcissie

          Back in the middle of the 20th century, vaccines were promoted as infallible and risk-free, which was not the truth but was apparently thought to be a necessary line to take to ensure wide public acceptance, which was required for the vaccines to be effective. Of course the truth eventually emerged and then a negative reaction was inevitable. Introducing an unusual substance into one’s body, especially by means of injection, so that one’s body cannot reject it, can have a dubious outcome although usually (we think) it doesn’t.

          In the case of hurricanes, it is obviously true that news purveyors hype severe weather events in order to portray themselves as important, and to sell advertising. In recent years, hurricanes have also become political ammunition for climate-change activists in that every major hurricane is connected to climate change on what is necessarily circumstantial evidence. So, since climate change is politically controversial, whether one thinks it should be or not, hurricanes have been politicized as well as hyped commercially. No doubt people will be harmed by this development since legitimate hurricane warnings will be treated with the skepticism which hype, virtuous or not, justly earns.

  3. Joe Well

    I am curious as to why less than half of people evacuated even before this hurricane truther phenomenon.

    1. Keith

      As someone who used to live in hurricane alley, FL, LA and TX, the media goes overboard hyping it up and declaring every hurricane the storm of the century (similar to the hype about elections). After a while, you learn to tune it out and just get the info yourself. I would look at likely paths and intensity from the wetherunderground.com and decide for myself if an evac is worth it. Other part is, if you are not first out, no point bothering as traffic will be dismal.

      1. Irrational

        Anecdotal evidence: My in-laws, North of Tampa, refused to evacuate for Irma despite our frantic pleas – it duly weakened to a Cat. 2. and the greatest inconvenience was a power cut. Their niece evacuated to Jackson and got caught in flash floods.
        They would not be among the 30 million smartphone users, incidentally.

      2. lyman alpha blob

        I think that’s a big part of it – the constant overhype for any weather event.

        When I lived in Seattle about 20 years ago I remember the local news hyping some enormous windstorm that was going to blow everything away – stock up on supplies! power will be out! I think it wound up knocking a few tree branches down.

        And then there was the “drought” the media kept talking about and using as an excuse for the rising electrical costs at the time. I looked out the window and saw green grass, green trees and plenty of precipitation. Turned out later that it was Enron sticking it to everybody that was really the cause of the price increases but I don’t remember the media ever making the connection or apologizing once the Enron scandal broke.

        That being said, if I were in the path of a hurricane or tornado that was obvious on the weather radar I’d get the [family blog] out.

      3. SubjectivObject

        Short weeks after Katrina
        I was there for Rita
        In Houston
        A best weather day of the year
        Psychedelic racer cloudscape (the sunset!), dry winds, cool temperature, no bugs
        And 70% of everybody gone, very quiet
        You could hear the birds and crickets from in the middle of an eight lane thoroughfare
        There was mass trauma and death outside the city, though
        One could have (somebody with jurisdictional standing should have) made a case that the commercial media was directly responsible for inciting the hysteria leading to the trauma and death

    2. curious euro

      My cynical guess is: the poor can’t afford to evacuate and the less poor fear that the poor will loot their houses in their absence.

    3. Kent

      I’m a Floridian. I work for local government and spend my hurricanes in emergency operations centers planning post-hurricane responses.

      Here’s the real deal: A cat 5 hurricane can be catastrophic to coastal communities. The wind is a bummer, but the real problem flooding. Nobody wants to ride out a hurricane for 48 hours with 5 feet of seawater in their house. The wind itself is a problem usually when it blows a tree over onto the roof and you have a big branch in your living room.

      So what does evacuation look like in reality? About 12 hours before the hurricane hits, the local news says the hurricane has a 70% chance of hitting you with catastrophic flooding. You gather your belongings, kids and jump in your car. You head out onto I-95 or I-75 and head north. Well you would, but you are actually sitting at a standstill because traffic has come to a stop.

      Now you are wondering what surviving a cat 5 hurricane looks like from inside your Toyota with your children. So which risk do you want to accept? And frankly, if you don’t live on the coast, you’ll be fine anyway.

  4. john ashley

    I for one have done very well going against the “consensus reality”.

    There are facts and there are facts modified by individual circumstances.

    Maybe another study should be done by the same people on the effects of the
    boy who screamed wolf over and over and over.

    To make EVERYTHING about a left/right view of facts is to water down the effectiveness of the “facts”.

    FYI: I have lived 150 feet from the Atlantic Coast in Puerto Rico for years.
    I know a little about consensus reality regarding hurricanes.

  5. Dalepues

    Years ago The Economist ran a brief article about the climate change deniers, saying essentially that
    it didn’t really matter if they believed the prognosis of the scientists, because the evidence would show up in their insurance premiums. Here in Mobile, Alabama, where I have lived about two years, my neighbors have told me that premiums have doubled in the past five years. In Atlanta my house insurance was an affordable sixty dollars a month; while in Mobile it is nearly one hundred fifty. My agent told me that I should expect to see it increase beyond the normal inflation rate for labor and materials, and that if Mobile is hit with a hurricane like Michael (https://www.weather.gov/tae/HurricaneMichael2018), rates will rise so high that the city, particularly the downtown and midtown areas, will be too expensive for most inhabitants.

    1. John Zelnicker

      December 12, 2019 at 10:56 am

      Welcome to Mobile. It sounds like you live in Midtown or south of I-10.

      Not only are premiums increasing, but coverage for wind damage in many areas has to go through the state-sponsored high-risk pool which has high deductibles and is often more expensive than the rest of the insurance on a home.

      We’ve been very fortunate for the last 15 years and haven’t had a serious hit since Katrina in 2005. Although Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, we were on the northeast side of the storm which is the worst place to be since that’s where the winds are coming in from the Gulf pushing huge storm surges ahead of it.

      Mobile Bay rose almost 12 feet from the storm surge and downtown Mobile was covered with several feet of water.

      You’re the first person I’ve run into on NC who has said they’re in Mobile. I’d like to meet you. Just look me up, I have my own tax accounting business, so I’m not hard to find.

    2. Arthur Dent

      The insurance and mortgage industries will look after much of the public information service through limiting availability and increasing fees and premiums. Historically, the insurance industry has been ahead of most other sectors of society because it is existential for them to have accurate premiums, such as higher premiums for male drivers under 25 long before neuroscience had connected the dots on why that was so.

      At some point, the mortgage industry won’t be handing out 30 year mortgages for ocean side and frequently flooded floodplain properties as they will have the risk that the principal will never be repaid. Securitization will delay that effect, but it is coming.

      The federal government is already footing the bill for subsidized flood insurance coverage. The private insurance industry is largely out of that game. At some point, the government will be overwhelmed with bills on that and Congress will need to act. They tried to rationalize it in 2012 but the squeals of pain from the real estate industry and homeowners forced them to back away a couple of years later. But reality will set in at some point.

      It is likely that housing will be disposable in many ocean front communities in the Gulf Coast area by 2050 where people with enough money will own them and assume they may be total write-offs when a hurricane slams in with wind and storm surge damage. People who need to own them with mortgages will probably be unable to do so.

      1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

        A good way to get all the undeserving ‘deplorable’ poors off all that sexy beach front property so only ‘respectable and responsible’ people will live there. People who believe everything they see in the news because it’s all a performance for them anyway.

        1. FreeMarketApologist

          I have a friend who has a house in the Hamptons (not beach front, not a super fancy building, not in a super fancy area, but still pretty nice – a 7%er house) who was informed by his insurance company last week that they were pulling out of the entire area and he would no longer be covered.

  6. Dr Mike

    ‘The researchers looked at GPS location data from 30 million smartphone users to compare evacuation patterns’

    It’s remarkable how casually the media discusses use of private data.

    Alternatively: “researchers looked at the private location data of 30 million people without their consent”

    1. Arthur Dent

      I have Location Services on for only limited times when I want to actively use Google Maps or Apple Maps. The rest of the time it is off. The phone can still be triangulated by cell towers by the cellular provider but I believe that is a much more protected type of location data. When location Services is on, then lots of apps sneak in to use and store that location data.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        It’s apparantly difficult to turn off all tracking features of an Android or Iphone but even if you manage to get GPS off, off, off…


        Smartphones can still be tracked even if location services and GPS are turned off, according to Princeton University researchers.

        The team–Arsalan Mosenia, Xiaoliang Dai, Prateek Mittal, and Niraj Jha–combined information from phone-based and non-phone sources to determine a device’s location. The technique, called PinMe, shows it is possible to track a location even if the location services, GPS, and Wi-Fi are turned off.

        Data used to track the device include the phone’s time zone and information from its sensors, like air pressure, a Princeton press release said. When mixed with public information like maps, a device’s location can be estimated without location services.

        Since the sources that produce this data don’t require user permission to operate and only collect a small amount of data, the method is “virtually undetectable,” the release said.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Wouldn’t putting it in a Faraday bag defeat that?

          And I have serious trouble with this claim. Air pressure is the same over a very broad area. By contrast, GPS can locate you within +/-5 feet, and some claim +/-3 feet. Triangulation is +/-~100 feet and has been found in court to be too inaccurate to be accepted in court as evidence of location. I can’t imagine this is as accurate as triangulation.

          1. Duke of Prunes

            Yes, a Faraday bag should defeat everything (assuming it actually works).

            I didn’t read the article, but I think the key missing from the paragraph above is the cell tower information. Once you know the cell tower, you localized to a few square miles, and then you can make some educated guesses about the location based on other non-GPS, non-wifi information. Without cell tower information, I’m very skeptical.

            1. Duke of Prunes

              My skepticism led me to read the actual research paper. First, it requires a data logging application on your phone that tracks sensor data (air pressure, acceleration, direction) and the last known IP address and network status (wifi vs cellular). It does NOT use the cell tower information as this is securely held.
              However, it does require a malicious application to log “non-sensitive” data so be careful where you get your apps.

              Basically, their technique is to decide (based on sensor input) whether the phone is walking, driving or on a train. It takes the last known IP address to figure out where you started, and does some AI to make educated guesses about where you are based on heading, elevation and acceleration. For a train, they match the acceleration to arriving and departing stations to the rail lines for the city of your IP address. They use the air pressure + weather to determine elevation and, again, match your elevation to known elevation maps. They admit this doesn’t work well in flat areas (they mention Manhattan, but I would think much of flyover would be an issue – especially for walking – you have to travel a long ways in some states before your elevation changes much).

              Fairly interesting project, but the hook is at the end – they’re saying this could be a more secure method for autonomous vehicle navigation since it doesn’t put all it’s eggs in the GPS basket (that can be hacked, I suppose).

              As usual, big scary headline for a less than scary reality – at least if you live in a relatively flat area.

  7. Expat2uruguay

    Is there a link somewhere about this HPV virus and its side effects? I’ve already done a Qwant search and I only find anti-vaxxer websites or it being debunked by other websites. I can’t find anything that appears to deal with the topic in an unbiased manner.

  8. Musicismath

    It’s been pretty sobering to see what’s currently happening in Samoa, the result of child measles vaccination rates plumetting in 2018 due in part to anti-vax activism imported from the US and Australia via social media.

    1. Whiteylockmandoubled

      Not an anti-vaxer, but if you don’t understand that seriously bad vaccine research on poor kids by WHO has an impact on decision making, and that it’s rational, we will never get rates back up.

      WHO changed recommendations for the age of measles vaccinations in poor kids around 1990 after experiments with high titer vaccine to overcome maternal antibodies seemed to be successful. One of the researchers noticed a big spike in overall mortality and raised a red flag. WHO went after him and threatened his career. He stood up and eventually the changed the rev back, but word got out. In fact, the US attempted to continue the trials in LA after the demographic Research had come out. There was a pubic health mutiny in low income communities in LA.

      The pharmaceutical industry is the least trusted industry in the world, and western governments have a long history of abusive, racist medicine, including on measles vaccination. If we’re not honest about that and spend time finger wagging at kooky celebrities, we’ll never move public health forward.

  9. Craig H.

    My favorite evacuation order story was from the hurricane that direct-hit High Island (I think it was Ike but that might be wrong). This hurricane scraped house slabs clean. The sheriff’s deputy gave a sharpie to the guy who did not want to leave and asked him to write his social security number on the inside of his forearm. Stubborn guy asks why. And the deputy told him it was so they could identify his floating dead body when they pulled it out of the water in a couple of days.

  10. Arthur Dent

    The key evacuation zone is the storm surge area where a wall of water comes inland.

    The reference to Connecticut is interesting. During Hurricane Sandy, I pulled up some of the CT, NY, NJ tide gages and watched them live on my screen (I was hundreds of miles inland, so very safe). The most fascinating thing was the different times when high tide hits the NY-NJ Harbor vs Long Island Sound area. The Sandy storm surge came onshore during high tide for the NY-NJ tide gages, so the flooding stories were Kearny, Rockaways etc. If the timing of the storm surge had shifted a few hours, the flooding stories would have been for the Long Island Sound area including Bridgeport CT. The Bridgeport tide gage showed the storm surge hitting there well away from high tide, so the absolute water elevation never got particularly high. Much more of Bridgeport would have flooded with different storm timing.

    Florida has much smaller magnitude of tide swings but the land is much flatter, so even an extra foot or two of water elevation can impact miles inland.

  11. Tomonthebeach

    I wonder if Rush will reimburse me for Irma’s false damage (about $8K – roof and totaled garden gate). Limbaugh like Jones has taken the late Hunter Thompson’s fear-n-loathing notion to that of a business model.

    One might expect that after Mexico Beach, people would take evacuation seriously given that many of the geezers bragging on the TeeVee how they wuz gonna sit out the storm ta home with drinkin’ buddies are now at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and all that remains of their legacy is a slab foundation or a set of mobile home wheels.

    PS: Just read the study. Clearly Trump was elected by people whose last name is Gump (rhymes with Trump).

    1. Arthur Dent

      I remember during Hurricane Ike there were news reports while the hurricane was coming onshore that the first responders had to listen to people calling for rescue after ignoring evacuation orders. When they went to those locations after the storm, they couldn’t even find remains of a couple of the houses as the storm surge had wiped everything out.

      “People in low-lying areas who had not heeded evacuation orders, in single-family one- or two-story homes, had been warned by the weather service that they “faced certain death” in the overnight storm surge.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_Hurricane_Ike_in_Texas

  12. DonCoyote

    > “The researchers looked at GPS location data from 30 million smartphone users”

    Is this data so cheap to purchase from third parties that 30 million records is a trivial expense (apparently, yes, but am I the only one who thinks “Yikes!”?) Can we assume that people with smartphones who keep their GPS on are representative, especially for both Clinton and Trump voters?

  13. lyle

    It is not totally surprising as we are now about 15 years from Katrina, so memory begins to fade. Of course the big thing is the infatuation with living near the water, in particular in areas that are flat. But in general as disaster begins to fade in memory folks tend to discount the warnings. In addition folks not subject to storm surge also evacuate unnecessarily, jamming the roads. In general as disasters fade in memory and younger folks come of age and don’t recall the reports directly things don’t seem as bad as they could be. I would agree that the news media tend to solicit eyeballs, however during the periods of the disasters, a lot do not put commercials on but run 7/24 coverage.

    1. Wukchumni

      A repeat of the flood of record here just before xmas in 1955, would take out about 100-200 houses built on the footprint of the deluge.

      So far-so good

  14. David

    Well, we live in a society in which, for better or worse, most people believe that their governments lie to them all the time. On this site and similar ones it’s freely suggested that governments have lied about Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, use of Chemical Weapons, Hong Kong, the Skripal Affair, the Epstein Affair and a whole lost of other topics I’ve forgotten, just in the last month or so. And of course on other sites there are other different lists. These accusations interact with each other and produce a dark, cynical, despairing state of mind in which any accusation of lying, no matter how far-fetched, seems convincing, because it is emotionally satisfying. When I was in government (a little while ago, thankfully), I was often horrified by the septs of irrational, almost psychotic hatred of government that I came across quite regularly.
    Now of course, we all insist that there’s a distinction between things that we ourselves don’t believe (which are Real Lies) and things that other people don’t believe (which are not). As the old formula would have it, I am intelligently sceptical about government statements, you are inclined to be irrationally suspicious, he/she is a conspiracy theorist. So most people here believe that governments are lying about Bolivia but not Burma, about Statins but not about Vaccination, and are under-estimating the effects of global warming rather than over-estimating them. But there are just as many people convinced of the opposite, and in a world where “evidence” is available to support any position, and where “truth” is what you instinctively feel it to be, or that which validates your identity, there is no way in which “the truth” can be reliably distinguished from falsehood. The problem, in the end, is not the Internet, or wilful ignorance, but the accumulated results of several generations of bad-mouthing of government for different reasons from all parts of the political spectrum.

    1. Plenue

      It’s called critical thinking. It isn’t enough to just be automatically suspicious of government statements. You have to actually evaluate the evidence available. All of those specific things you mentioned (with the possible exception of Epstein) the government has, objectively and verifiably, lied about. Especially Afghanistan, that’s a ludicrously bad example to use to bolster your case. That they lied is not a ‘suggestion’. It’s an objective fact: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/

      People who think for example that vaccines cause autism/mercury poisoning/are more likely to kill you than the thing being vaccinated against/etc, are not wrong because us people who don’t belief Russia ‘hacked our election’ arbitrarily say so. They’re wrong because the evidence doesn’t remotely support their anti-vaccine position.

      1. David

        I’d like to believe that. The problem is that once you start from something fairly clear (“they are lying about Afghanistan”) you move to something much more debatable (“they are lying about Epstein”) to conspiracy theory (“they are lying about the Skripals”) and thence to the idea that everything is a lie, including global warming. After all, if the government lies about Afghanistan, why wouldn’t it lie about hurricanes?

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          If they do feel that way, and I feel that way, then it’s the government’s problem because the government of the United States has committed verified, undisputed acts of lying so many times about so many important things, up to and including lies that led to the commission of war crimes, that attributing much credibility to its reports and announcements is putting one’s survival and sanity at risk.

          I find efforts to “discourage that kind of talk” quite dangerous. We live where dissent from government or corporate approved policies is quickly tied to foreigners or to disreputable malcontents. No mysterious source of stimulation for dissatisfaction with the status quo is necessary, however, in a country engaged permanently in war, where life expectancy is declining because of deaths of despair. We might expect people in such a situation to be just a touch mistrustful of the people in charge.

        2. pretzelattack

          why do you say that claiming the government is lying about the skripals is a “conspiracy theory”?
          they never provided any evidence, there still hasn’t been an inquest from what i understand on the homeless woman, and apparently there are gag orders out. i’m not seeing the slippery slope you assert.

          1. Milton

            I agree. A better example as an ever increasing level of conspiracyness would be world trade center tower collapse truthers. At that level one can proudly don a head cover made of aluminum.

        3. Plenue

          They are lying about the Skripals. If you don’t think that, explain to me how a nerve agent multiple times more lethal than VX managed to, er, not kill anyone (oh no wait, isn’t the latest line that it killed one person?). There are about a million other things wrong with the Skripal story, but that’s the singular big one I always come back to.

          1. JBird4049

            I have a hard time being angry with these hurricane truthers. Government, business, the media, advertisers have all been lying ever more blatantly until now I cannot read any of the mainstream new sources without seeing omissions, distortions, equivocations, prevarications, and just plain lying.

            The Sacramento Bee, the New York Times, the Guardian, National Public Radio, Frontline, 60 Minutes, and my personal representatives in both the California and Federal legislative bodies all have… ostensibly honest stories, transparently bogus statements, and stated views that are not very congruent with reality, often deliberately so; just how is Joe Schmo from Topeka, or Jane Smith of Miami supposed to find the truth?

            We can all get angry with the anti vaxxers, the climate change denialists, or the Clintonista Bubbleheads, but not everyone has the inclination, or education, or just the sheer amount of time needed to be adequately (not well) informed? Many people don’t have enough time, energy, or money to take care of themselves or their families. Forget about wading the sewage that is the “news” now.

            I am unhappy that the apparent goal of burying the truth has been reached; It takes too much work for too many to get through the flying clouds of bovine excrement.

            1. xkeyscored

              I agree. I’m often told that climate change etc is just something ‘they’ have made up, and why should anyone believe ‘them’ when we know they lie to us habitually and shamelessly about so much? I’m a bit stumped for an answer (though I do wonder how anyone can still doubt climate change given what we see around us every day).

              1. Wukchumni

                A number of fellow cabin owners in our community are pretty fervent climate change deniers, all armed with the usual cherry-picked inserted talking points into their noggins, and sometimes on a long hike with them, I am as neutral as Switzerland bay-bee, you’ll not get a peep out of me when they bring up something outlandish, i’ll just keep on listening.

                It’s more fun that way.

                1. xkeyscored

                  It can be fun when they’re just people I know or run into. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are teachers or work with kids, and that doesn’t seem quite so funny.

  15. TheCatSaid

    The scientists who study hurricanes have documented that hurricanes have decreased in frequency. There was a “tick” upwards once global satellite coverage was put in place, as now one can detect hurricanes that one would never have been aware of in the past.

    A consistent way of tracking without the distortion caused by the uptick from satellite global detection, is to track the number of hurricane landfalls, for which good records exist going back a long ways. Result? Decline in hurricane landfalls over recent decades. Also no increase in strength.

    What has increased is the economic damage from hurricanes. This results from the increased building in coastal, hurricane-exposed areas, plus the far greater value of those seaside properties now compared to decades ago.

    Here are 2 posts with good information by Judith Curry, who does specialized professional work regarding hurricane forecasting:
    Don’t overhype the link between climate change and hurricanes
    Hurricanes & climate change: landfalls (part 3 of a detailed paper)

    1. Arthur Dent

      Similarly, it is difficult to figure out stormwater flooding trends.

      Rivers have had levees built which reduces floodplain volume forcing floodwater elevation upwards with higher velocities. Meanwhile, dams have been built upstream that act as flood control reservoirs and retain sediment.

      Meanwhile wetlands have been filled or drained reducing flood attenuation while large areas of impermeable surface have been constructed that increases volume and rate of runoff.

      Simultaneously, much more economic value has been built in the floodplains, so when disaster strikes, the cost skyrockets.

      There is increased intensity of rainfall due to climate change, but much of the increase in flooding damage is entirely manmade.

    2. pretzelattack

      judith curry is sadly no longer a credible source. she doesn’t publish anymore, either, which frees her to make all sorts of claims without support.

      1. TheCatSaid

        Did you read her reports?
        “claims without support”–not

        Curry knows a lot about hurricanes, and it’s her business to know.
        The fact she left academic life does not mean she loses credibility.
        Her research should be evaluated on its merits–and yes you can find it online. (Like the major 5-part report, of which I linked to one part.)

        It would be nice to focus on the research facts and points she makes, and not sink to ad hominem attacks.

        There are others putting out this information as well.

        Unfortunately, if you don’t go along with the consensus it can be difficult to get published. Curry has written eloquently about her experiences. Science should not be about consensus but it has become increasingly so, and issues about climate science especially so.

        1. pretzelattack

          her research isn’t peer reviewed, and that matters in physics. anybody that has a good alternative theory to agw could easily get published–there is a massive politically powerful industry willing to finance it. the last time the industry did that, though, that study confirmed that global warming was happening, and caused by human contributions; curry worked on that study and didn’t dispute that conclusion at the time.
          i think you are confusing a consensus about what the best play or ice cream is with a scientific consensus. there are problems with peer review in some fields, especially the “soft sciences”, but not in climate science. the consensus arises from scientists doing research in the area, not from some predetermined ideological position.

          1. TheCatSaid

            “anybody that has a good alternative theory to agw could easily get published”
            this is so not true. There are many excellent scientists with a lot of research in the area who find it impossible to get published conventionally.

            Curry has written and spoken about exactly why she is currently choosing to publish how she is.

            “i think you are confusing a consensus about what the best play or ice cream is with a scientific consensus.”

            This is an unsupported assertion.

            I have no confusion about social preference and scientific consensus! If you think about it just a little you’ll remember that many (most? all?) scientific consensus are eventually proven to be wrong. (Copernicus, for example) Even the scientific theories we most believe to be etched in stone are being proven incorrect–but it takes the scientific consensus a long time to catch up. Some famous physicist said that only after the older generations die out can the new ideas flourish. This goes for any field of science, not just climate.

            “the consensus arises from scientists doing research in the area”
            Unfortunately often not true. Not true for any branch of science, when it comes to real life in the scientific field! You’re communicating with someone who has a lot of first hand experience, across many scientific fields. Allow me to explain why I say this.

            Consensus arises when a typically small but relatively powerful group of scientists in a field decided what is “true” (or often the influencers are not scientists at all, for example it could come from a group with political or economic interest, or other interest such as a religious authority). Then everyone else has to sing off the same hymn sheet if they want their career to progress. This is a generalization, and small incremental new things are “allowed”, but major changes in what has been accepted are difficult and slow to make their way into the general academic circles, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

            The theory about “science” and how “theories are tested” and how “hypotheses that are falsified are thrown out”–the real world does not match this idealized version of science that we have been told exists.

            You are repeating widely held beliefs about science. But these ideals bear little resemblance to what is experienced by those who are doing tremendously significant work that challenges the current consensus–be it in medicine, astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology, plasma physics, meteorology, agriculture, climate science, etc.

            Just because a large number of people believe something–including scientists–does not mean that something is true.

    3. FluffytheObeseCat

      These are links to an unusually slick climate change denialist website. A review of some of this blogger’s other posts, i.e. her “Madrid” post of December 2, 2019, makes the slant quite clear:

      “Fossil fuel emissions as the climate ‘control knob’ is a simple and seductive idea. However this is a misleading oversimplification, since climate can shift naturally in unexpected ways. […] We have no idea how natural climate variability (solar, volcanoes, ocean circulations) will play out in the 21st century, and whether or not natural variability will dominate over manmade warming.”

      Her “we have no idea” statement is false. We have very good models of the relative impact of these distinct phenomena.

      One of the posts this comment links to, “Hurricanes & climate change: landfalls”, February 2019, is accurate in re the past ~80 years of Atlantic hurricane landfall data, but elides the issue of increasing hurricane diameter and increasing storm surge height over the same time period. The piece ignores the contemporaneous increase in landfalls in the western Pacific during the same time period, and (therefore) fails to accurately portray the influence of increasingly common El Nino events on worldwide landfall trends.

      hurricane R34 diameter increases
      storm surge height increases
      El Nino event increases

      Are all concordant with well-accepted models of anthropogenic greenhouse gas induced global warming. The “judithcurry” writer(s) is cherry-picking hurricane and climate data in order to obscure the actual trends in tropical cyclone severity and impacts.

      1. TheCatSaid

        Did you read the full 5-part major report on hurricanes?

        I have seen people from divergent viewpoints post to the climate etc. blog comments. She’s no “denialist” and she goes along with IPCC data.

        Her website is not “slick”. It’s a simple blog, and the commentariat comes from various perspectives. It’s one source among many. I respect the quality of the dialog, and don’t assume she is right about everything. There are many things I’d probably disagree with her about–but from the conventional perspective, she is well-grounded in relation to hurricane science.

        She does highlight issues about uncertainty. For example, you mention the growth in hurricane diameter over the last 80 years. I’m not sure how you would have accurate statistics on that, pre-satellite era.

        1. FluffytheObeseCat

          Yes I read her blog post and most of the linked report. Which is how I had access to hurricane radius data – it’s included in a graph in her piece. A graph that presents the windspeed radius data with what appears to be roughly the same level of granularity as the Atlantic/Caribbean landfall graph. Except it was not fitted with a multi-decade trend line. Because a similar trend line would slope in the wrong direction on the >R34 windspeed radius graph. It is sophisticated cherry picking, but we’re looking at a fruit harvest nonetheless.

          1. TheCatSaid

            If you think something is missing or inaccurate or cherry-picked you can ask her before making assumptions she is cherry-picking. You think she should have included a multi-decade trend line in a specific graph, and you assume it was due to cherry picking.

            Contact her and ask her and see how she responds. It would be interesting to know.

            Does not including the trendline in the graph you are concerned about negate everything in the massive 5-part report???

  16. Fred

    Also with wildfires. I’ve seen several posts that the fires are caused by some particle beam device for some odd purpose. Admittedly this is just internet fodder that I barely read.

    1. Wukchumni

      Oh, is that what they’re calling a lit cigarette butt tossed out the window of a car doing 54 on a 45 mph stretch of road?

  17. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    The media organs provably lie to us nonstop. Why is it such a wonder increasingly fewer people believe the official narrative about anything?

    1. TheCatSaid

      Nor should we believe the official narrative about anything. The more I dig into many topics, the more I find that I had swallowed untruths or partial truths, repeated many times, and thought they were true. It happens even with information from the “best” sources. Sources that can be good about many things (e.g., naked capitalism can be a good place for certain kinds of information not readily available elsewhere)–can be completely misdirected about other topics, or different interpretations for a given situation or data. Often it’s the data that is not shown or considered that is key.

      We cannot be experts on everything. We shouldn’t assume what we’re told is true.

      Should we evacuate when told to do so in a fire or hurricane situation? People will inevitably make their own decisions, and it might be impacted by how truthful and reliable they have found their own local officials to be.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Your view is refuted by the data in this post. It shows a shift in Trump-favoring districts v. not when that didn’t exist before. Due to both parties favoring the creation of majority-minority districts, you often see significantly African-American/Hispanic districts (not likely to favor Trump) not far from majority white (white flight) districts. They’d get the same official warnings since those are at the state level.

        1. Anarcissie

          Actually, it would be a better idea to try to understand our environment and how to deal with various emergency situations in advance, including making some attempt to identify reliable sources of information. Since politicians, bureaucrats, business managers, academics, and so forth frequently lie or mix lies with truth (propaganda), it’s not an easy problem to solve. It’s not a new thing, as Hobbes observed: ‘For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any mans right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, That the three Angles of a Triangle, should be equall to two Angles of a Square; that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of Geometry, suppressed, as farre as he whom it concerned was able.’

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      There should be a way to connect Limbaugh fans looking to move to the coast with coast-living people concerned about their global warming future . . . so that people looking to leave the coasts can find Limbaugh fans willing to buy their houses and move to the coast.

      I agree that this is a Darwinian selection opportunity.

  18. super extra

    I live in Tornado Alley in the southern plains, where there is also a generally-conservative electorate and insane weather. I have several family members that believe in junk like the UN wanting to create a totalitarian global state, but fully respect the science behind the tornadoes and their predictions. They even accept that their frequency and intensity appears to be changing as a result of wider changes in the climate. I think this happens here because everyone is fully invested and participates in weather observation, regardless of the local media hyping up their interpretations of the projections. Almost everyone can read the weather and if they went to school in the area they were also drilled in how to respond when they hear the sirens. This creates a form of community cohesion in the disaster response (also knowing things will likely be clear the following day, so time to get started on clean up and repair). Whereas hurricanes are bigger/slower regional events with a wider range of community preparedness and response patterns.

  19. The Rev Kev

    That was pretty gutless of Rush Limbaugh evacuating his South Florida home after telling listener’s that there was nothing to worry about. If he lived in California, would he be telling his listeners that all the news about those fires was just to panic people about climate change – just before climbing into his personal helicopter to fly out of that area? The law has already come down on the person that shouts “Fire!” in a crowded theater. What about the person that shouts “Conspiracy!” when there is a fire in a crowded theater?

  20. xkeyscored

    Youtube is full of misinformation about geoengineering and chemtrails, the white clouds that airplanes leave in their wake.
    I thought contrails (condensation trails) were what planes leave in their wake, while chemtrails ‘are’ the same thing but full of radioactive mind-altering drugs or something.

    1. Plenue

      Chemtrail believers almost never understand any distinction. They genuinely believe contrails are planes spraying stuff, as if all planes are secretly loaded with canisters before departing.

Comments are closed.