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9/30/2011 11:34:00 AM
Climate change consensus? Just ask the believers
Nobel winner, Obama supporter resigns from physics group over climate change as skeptics' ranks grow

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

First in an occasional series

It was President Bill Clinton who once uttered the now famous answer to a prosecutory probe while under oath: It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.

A masterful stroke, and perhaps one that could be tweaked to sum up the answer to another important question of the day: Is there a scientific consensus on anthropogenic, or manmade, global warming, specifically, that the emission of greenhouse gases is the primary cause of global warming?

That would perhaps depend on whether there is a consensus about what a consensus is.

On the one hand, if you read the mainstream press, there is certainly general agreement in most published stories that the scientific issue is settled. What's more, the formal scientific establishment doesn't dispute it and, indeed, asserts the claim in even more incontestable terms.

To be sure, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, at least 97 percent of published climate scientists believe in anthropogenically induced climate change.

That's consensus, right?

Again, it depends on what a consensus is. To wit, critics of manmade global warming say the scientific establishment is biased toward the theory, and, as a closed community, that establishment mostly publishes those scientists who agree with it.

They are a consensus in their own minds, in this view.

Then, too, when talking absolute numbers rather than percentages of published authors, critics point to thousands of reputable scientists who reject the significance of manmade global warming, and who point to findings by NASA and CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) that open the door to other causes, in addition to fossil fuel emissions, and to some experiments that - gasp - actually suggest the Earth is barreling toward a period of global cooling.

If that's a consensus, it's a consensus built on quicksand. Virtually everyone believes fossil fuel emissions play a role in warming the Earth, but there is considerable dissension about how significant that role is compared to other factors, and about whether manmade warming even compensates for natural cooling factors.

Theories come and theories go, slipping quickly beneath the scientific sand.

Cracks in the consensus

The latest sinkhole in the "warmist" consensus came just this month, when Dr. Ivar Giaever resigned as a Fellow from the American Physical Society (APS) - the nation's prestigious professional organization of physicists - because of what he called the group's intransigent stance on climate change.

Giaever is no crackpot; he won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics. He's no conservative, either. He supported Barack Obama in 2008, and was one of 76 Nobel Laureates who signed an open letter lauding his "new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research to meet the nation's and the world's most urgent needs."

By 2009, however, the scientist was objecting to Obama's global warming stance, and by this month he had had enough of the rock-hard platform of the APS. In an email to APS executive officer Kate Kirby, Giaever said he "could not live" with the organization's position that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities were changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate, and that the evidence was "incontrovertible."

"If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur," the APS position states. "We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now."

To Giaever, declaring the debate about climate change over, with all the ensuing policy implications, was absurd for such a scientific body.

"In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?" he wrote in the email.

As for global warming itself, Giaever sung along with a rising refrain from skeptics who doubt assertions about overall rising temperatures.

"The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this 'warming' period," Giaever wrote.

Growing counterconsensus?

He is not alone in his global-warming assessments. In fact, more than 1,000 reputable scientists have dissented from the prevailing theory since 2007. About 400 originally did so in a U.S. Senate report that year, and the list has been growing steadily.

The Senate report, produced by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's office of GOP ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), offered the detailed viewpoints of the scientists. The report challenged the 2007 findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which heaped the blame on carbon emissions.

The IPCC's Fourth Assessment findings at first amassed all sorts of accolades. The IPCC shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore, and multiple governments began to use the report as the basis for environmental policy, including radical caps on carbon emissions.

All that aside, the IPCC report was roundly criticized by many as a highly flawed presentation, as well as one written from an ideological perspective.

Among other things, as reported by Christopher Booker in The Telegraph, the IPCC had to backtrack on claims that global warming was about to burn away nearly half of the Amazon rainforest (for this the IPCC used research from an article in Nature Magazine, but it turns out the article was about the damaging effects of logging, not global warming, Booker reported) and stunt African crop growth by 50 percent by 2020.

In the latter instance, The Telegraph reported, the IPCC ignored an Algerian government projection predicting yields would increase by 2020, as well as a British agricultural consulting firm's estimation of an insignificant change by that year, and focused instead on the predictions of Ali Agoumi, a Moroccan academic who, as it turned out, was also a consultant on how to apply for so-called "carbon credits."

Global warming, made to order.

The findings also included scientific statements based on student dissertation papers, as well as anecdotal evidence, and the IPCC had to retract inaccurate claims about the melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035. It was also wrong when it reported that 55 percent of the Netherlands was under sea level.

All of this went public - interestingly, much more so in Europe than in the United States - and, as the errors mounted, so did the criticisms. By December 2010, when the website Climate Depot updated the Senate report, more than 1,000 scientists had joined in the thrashing, if anything revealing a mounting consensus in the other direction.

Only 52 scientists in fact participated in the IPCC Summary, the 2007 Senate report observed.

"The notion of 'hundreds' or 'thousands' of UN scientists agreeing to a scientific statement does not hold up to scrutiny," the report stated. "Recent research by Australian climate data analyst John McLean revealed that the IPCC's peer-review process for the Summary for Policymakers leaves much to be desired."

Indeed, in a paper critical of the IPCC, "Prejudiced Authors, Prejudiced Findings," McLean subscribed to the closed-community establishment argument, saying the IPCC's selection of its chapter authors appeared so biased toward a predetermined outcome that it rendered its scientific assessment of the climate suspect and its conclusions inappropriate for policy making.

"The IPCC is a single-interest organisation, whose charter presumes a widespread human influence on climate, rather than consideration of whether such influence may be negligible or missing altogether," he wrote. "Though the IPCC's principles also state that a wide range of views is to be sought when selecting lead authors and contributing authors, this rule has been honored more in the breach than in the observance."

Many of the IPCC authors were climate modelers, or associated with laboratories committed to modeling, he pointed out.

"More than two-thirds of all authors of the (critical climate change assessment chapter) were part of a clique whose members have co-authored papers with each other and, we can surmise, very possibly at times acted as peer-reviewers for each other's work," McLean wrote. "Of the 44 contributing authors, more than half have co-authored papers with the lead authors or coordinating lead authors of (the chapter on understanding climate change)."

Of course, the IPCC had its defenders in the global warming community, too, and they had a ready defense: Taken in the context of a massive 3,000-page document, the exposed mistakes and wayward conclusions were minor overall and did not affect the findings. The conclusions still represented sound evidence-based science and not dogma, they retorted.

All of which would have made for a scientific standoff - and a moral public relations victory for global warming supporters - but for the intervention of the InterAcademy Council (IAC), a high-level group of the world's leading scientists whose board is composed of the presidents of 15 academies of science and equivalent organizations representing Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the African Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.

The United Nations did not consider the errors minor overall, apparently, and asked the IAC to undertake a review of the assessment in the wake of the revelations. It all reached its zenith in August 2010 when the IAC released its review of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment.

Put simply, the IAC rendered a blunt if not scathing conclusion that validated the critics' charges.

For one thing, the review found, there was little evidence-based science to support many of IPCC's conclusions about climate change.

"The Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers has been criticized for various errors and for emphasizing the negative impacts of climate change," the review stated. " . . . Authors were urged to consider the amount of evidence and level of agreement about all conclusions and to apply subjective probabilities of confidence to conclusions when there was high agreement and much evidence."

But they didn't do that, the IAC reported.

"However, authors reported high confidence in some statements for which there is little evidence," the review continued. "Furthermore, by making vague statements that were difficult to refute, authors were able to attach 'high confidence' to the statements. The Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers contains many such statements that are not supported sufficiently in the literature, not put into perspective, or not expressed clearly."

The African crop predictions served as a quintessential illustration, the review authors wrote.

"For example, authors reported high confidence in statements for which there is little evidence, such as the widely-quoted statement that agricultural yields in Africa might decline by up to 50 percent by 2020," the review stated. "Moreover, the guidance was often applied to statements that are so vague they cannot be falsified."

What's more, the IAC concluded, the IPCC fumbled the ball once the factual errors were uncovered.

"IPCC's slow and inadequate response to revelations of errors in the last assessment, as well as complaints that its leaders have gone beyond IPCC's mandate to be 'policy relevant, not policy prescriptive' in their public comments, have made communications a critical issue," the IAC concluded.

In addition, the IAC echoed McLean about the authorial selection process and savaged the documentation the body used as evidence for many of its scientific conclusions.

"From extensive oral and written input gathered by the Committee, it is clear that several stages of the assessment process are poorly understood, even to many scientists and government representatives who participate in the process," the report stated. "Most important are the absence of criteria for selecting key participants in the assessment process and the lack of documentation for selecting what scientific and technical information is assessed."

If all this wasn't enough for the reeling global-warming community, on the heels of the IPCC debacle came Climategate. In November 2009, hackers gained access to thousands of emails from climate scientists in the global warming camp, and climate skeptics immediately seized on language they said revealed the manipulation of climate data.

Climate change supporters said the messages were taken out of context.

To consensus or not to consensus

In the end, Climategate was more politically embarrassing than anything else, but the IPCC belly flop along with the scientifically sensational emails emboldened some to defect the camp altogether and others, like Judith Curry, the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, to aggressively challenge aspects of the IPCC consensus and to confront what she called the vilification of dissenters such as herself. She had opened her mind, she said, and was surprised at what she found.

"It is my sad conclusion that opening your mind on this subject sends you down the slippery slope of challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus," she wrote on her blog.

The fiascos also emboldened others to come out into the open - many had been skeptical but had feared professional retribution - but, the truth is, many scientists had become skeptical of the global warming consensus before Climategate and even before the Fourth Assessment.

They simply based their conclusions on the science available to them.

One former global warming advocate, geophysicist Dr. Claude Allegre, an author of more than 100 scientific articles and 11 books, became a skeptic in 2006. According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works minority report, Allegre, one of the first scientists to sound the global warming alarm a score of years ago, said the cause of climate change was "unknown" and accused proponents of manmade global warming of being motivated by money, saying "the ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people."

Allegre pointed out that snowfall in the Antarctic had been stable for 30 years and the continent was actually gaining ice, the Senate Committee minority reported. While much of the Antarctic Peninsula and western coast have been melting - that's what the mainstream media puts in its headlines - eastern Antarctica, which is four times as large, has been cooling and gaining sea ice, especially over the past five years.

Then there's mathematician and engineer Dr. David Evans, who conducted carbon accounting for the Australian government. The Senate Committee minority report also recounted his conversion to a skeptic.

"I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry," Evans wrote in an April 30, 2007, blog. "When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause. I am now skeptical."

In a 2008 article, Evans was more adamant.

"There is no evidence to support the idea that carbon emissions cause significant global warming," he wrote.

Astrophysicist Dr. Nir Shaviv, one of Israel's top scientists, recanted his belief that manmade emissions were driving climate change as well, the Senate minority report stated.

"Like many others, I was personally sure that CO2 is the bad culprit in the story of global warming," the report quoted Shaviv as saying in February 2007. "But after carefully digging into the evidence, I realized that things are far more complicated than the story sold to us by many climate scientists or the stories regurgitated by the media. In fact, there is much more than meets the eye."

And so the consensus is coming apart, if it ever existed, or re-forming on the other side. If so, it won't be the first time.

In April, 1975, in a piece entitled The Cooling World, Newsweek warned of a virtually certain period of potentially catastrophic global cooling, reported with the same wails of doom as radiate from the press today.

"There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production - with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth," the magazine intoned. "The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now."

Was there any doubt about the evidence, or was it, as IPCC and APS might say, incontrovertible?

"The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it," the magazine reported.

And, yes, there were extreme weather patterns to prove it all: "Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars' worth of damage in 13 U.S. states," Newsweek exclaimed.

The bottom line?

"The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth's climate seems to be cooling down," Newsweek concluded. "Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic."

Certainly the profound climate change did not come about - not yet - and it's impossible now to know just how unanimous the viewpoint was. Maybe, at the end of the day, consensus is all in the eye of the believer.

Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist within the IPCC tower structure, put it this way as he clarified remarks he made that the IPCC consensus was never really a consensus anyway.

"The IPCC consensus does not mean - clearly cannot possibly mean - that every scientist involved in the IPCC process agrees with every single statement in the IPCC," he wrote. "Some scientists involved in the IPCC did not agree with the IPCC's projections of future sea-level. Giving the impression that the IPCC consensus means everyone agrees with everyone else - as I think some well-meaning but uninformed commentaries do (or have a tendency to do) - is unhelpful; it doesn't reflect the uncertain, exploratory and sometimes contested nature of scientific knowledge."

Uncertain, exploratory, contested - those are the perfect words to describe the global warming debate these days. Perhaps there is a consensus about that, if about nothing else.

Next: Is the earth warming at all, or entering a period of global cooling?

Richard Moore can be reached at richardmoore.gov@gmail.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Article comment by: Joe Tarr

This series is really taking off. Still, I'd love to see you respond to this: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-04-19/climate-change-has-nothing-to-do-with-al-gore

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Article comment by: Scott Haggard

Thank you for the great article.

The political goal of eliminating fossil fuel use is drowning out any contradicting science. The goal is worthy, but the tactics used are preventing any reasonable discussion of the relative costs of achieving this goal.

I all for driving electric vehicles and using solar energy, but the science and economics of the situation have not changed just because there is a declared consensus

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011
Article comment by: Joe T

Or you could ask this skeptic, who has now changed his mind, in a publication you probably have some respect for:

Or is the Wall Street Journal also part of the liberal conspiracy?

Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Article comment by: Archibald Wildberry

This is a well-written and persuasive article by Richard Moore. There may be questions about some aspects of the argument but, for me, it has the ring of truth and stands as a measured and valuable contribution to the debate. Sadly the same cannot be said for some of the readers' comments. Abuse and caustic remarks do not sit well with the certitude claimed by such people as Jon t who accuses the author of being "full of hot air", writing a "purposefully ignorant article". and screaming "bloody murder". Jon t seems not to realise that his is hardly the language of science and that hurling insults in the name of the "scientific community (?)" does not inspire confidence. Jeff Green probably believes that the nursery approach is a useful way of convincing readers that he has something useful to contribute. Perhaps someone should have a word with him.

Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Article comment by: Bob Webster

It is fascinating to read the comments from warmists who literally sound as if they are coming unglued at this clear, well-written synopsis of the "global warming" (aka "climate change) non-issue.

What warmists fail to comprehend is that so-called "greenhouse" gases do NOT behave as does a greenhouse. In fact, such gases CAN NOT "warm" the planet (to do so would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics), they can only serve to reduce the rate of COOLING! Being aware of that distinction is critical to understanding the fraud behind the claims.

Schematics claiming the atmosphere can "warm" the Earth as shown by IPCC, NSA, NCDC, and other warmest-led groups are deliberately using the public's lack of scientific knowledge to scaremonger the issue.

For an excellent article that explains this point (and much more), see The Fallacy of the Greenhouse Effect by Paul Clark (read both parts) at http://planetaryvision.blogspot.com/2010/10/fallacy-of-greenhouse-effect.html

Bob Webster

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Article comment by: Jon T

Well aren't you just full of hot air. The only thing biased to be reported on in this article is the article. There IS a consensus among the scientific community about global warming. Just like there is a consensus about the theory of relativity. There is always a significant minority that questions the validity of experiments on any subject. That's the purpose of the scientific process.

You're grasping at political straws. You take the same uneducated view that because there is not unanimous agreement a theory must be incorrect. The position taken by the American Physics Society (not even a climatology organization), while misguided, is one driven by fear of those specifically like yourself. "Well, since not everyone agrees that climate change is caused by global emissions, then it must not be occurring." So instead, they ride the political tide and present a solid front that it IS occurring.

There is significant and overwhelming data in the scientific community that suggests global emissions are causing warming global temperatures. You simply can't argue against it. You can scream bloody murder about it, but unless you're willling to conduct scientific experiments with legitimate and published results to the antithesis, you have no right to report against it. Arguments such as "well the OTHER side of Antarctica is cooling down" is a profligate undertaking to explain micro-climatology in a macro-climatology theory.

So take your purposefully ignorant article and learn how science works. Is the Earth definitively headed for global warming? Of course not, but I'd give it the same chances as whether Newton's laws will prove correct in 30 years (you don't argue against Newton). Why not be safe and promote responsible renewable energies to avert a crisis while we can?

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Article comment by: Neil Craig crgn143@aol.com

The gaping hole in the "consensus" on warming is that the alarmists have never been able to name a single scientist, of any sort, among the 40% in no way paid by the state, who supports catastrophic warming. Not one though some alarmist scientists have clainmed the title only to be exposed as state funded.

It is obviously statistically impossible for there to be that clear a dividing line among millions of people, without iit being government funded scare.

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Article comment by: Steve Offutt

The author may not be familiar with this paper from 2008:
It took a comprehensive look at the state of the science in the 1970s and came to the opposite conclusion of what Mr. Moore asserts in this article.
Although it is true that some media discussed a potential cooling trend back in the 70's, the majority of scientists even then were more worried about human-caused warming than cooling.
I highly recommend reading the paper.


Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Article comment by: George Adkisson

You do well, when you construed the article's meaning and delivered the facts too.Well done...

Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011
Article comment by: Ervin Faulmann

I also hold that climate projections do not make scientific certitude. Scientific measurements do, however, point to issues that may need to be addressed and rectified if possible (relating to man-made effects). Airborne carbon dioxide is increasing - the consistency of the various measurements seems to overwhelm the pinpoint objections. The known effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide are pretty well understood as well [e.g., increased heat retention (closed-system) and ability to partition into ocean water (leading to decreased pH near the surface]). The magnitude of how these known effects play in the broader scope of global (or even regional) environmental conditions should not be held 'in certitude', but rather with an eye for investigation. That said, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide has and will continue to adversely affect the environment (in atmospheric, oceanic, species behavior, plant realm, and other areas). 'How much' is still a point of contention, but its effect, truly, will be at a number of levels. Man-caused aspects of carbon dioxide increases (through both increased generation and decreased mineralization by clearing vegetation) is also only honestly questioned at the level magnitude - not that it does not occur.
So what is left is the bulk of scientific considerations supporting the idea that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are harmful at an annoying level or cataclysmic level or somewhere in between. Therefore in the face of abject 'deny-ers', scientific associations, in wanting to present to the public both the strength and breadth of the findings and the scope of the potential outcomes, put out the 'certainty' flag. That is unfortunate, but understandable given the blind-resistance and dis-information put forward by the minority, seeking to maintain their corporate power. This is not an easy issue. Air quality (local and regional - if not global), ocean micro- and macro-environments, glaciation, and Arctic and Antarctic regions are already being affected. It matters not if 3% or 7% or 0.1% of the thoughtful individuals of this planet felt otherwise, or if cycling of our weather systems confound our immediate appreciation mankind's generation of air-borne industrial wastes will have harmful effects for future generations. Deal with it. Don’t deny it.

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011
Article comment by: Jeff Green

Zowie! You have put together an internet collection of global warming phobia. Are you really an internet investigative reporter? An average high school student can do what you just wrote.

Did you look for rebuttals to any of the doubters you have quoted? If so why weren't they included?

Did you interview any scientists from the Global Warming argument? If not why not? After all you call yourself an investigative reporter.


InterAcademy CouncilAs the representative of the world’s scientific and engineering academies,[18][19] the InterAcademy Council (IAC) issued a report in 2007 titled Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future.

Current patterns of energy resources and energy usage are proving detrimental to the long-term welfare of humanity. The integrity of essential natural systems is already at risk from climate change caused by the atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases.[20]
Concerted efforts should be mounted for improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon intensity of the world economy.[21]


Quoting IAC and yet they strongly support carbon reduction.


No scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion the last was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, which in 2007 updated its 1999 statement rejecting the likelihood of human influence on recent climate with its current non-committal position.[2][3] Some other organizations, primarily those focusing on geology, also hold non-committal positions.


It might be time to look over your views on AGW. The evidence based science behind their conclusions are quite strong. 95% probability we will get warmer.

How fuzzy do you think AGW really is? As you scurry for more internet denial accounts, how solid and reputable are these people you are quoting?

As you assist the delay in action on global warming, how will you feel when the 97% of peer reviewed are found correct? You have put your name and lack of integrity on the line. How will you write when society moves as it must, to keep the peak average temperatures lower due to their destructive effects on our present environment? Why are you shutting out the evidence that the scientists are presenting?

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011
Article comment by: Richard Sauder

Could someone explain to me how a 3/4 degree rise in low altitude global atmospheric temperature possibly melt any significant amount of polar ice?
It sounds pretty simple to me that the whole notion of anthropogenic global warming is a complete fraud.

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011
Article comment by: Sean Kidney

For goodness sake Richard, wake up. Do you also think gravity is just a theory and the verdict is still out on whether the Earth is flat? At some stage you have to accept the fact that every single national science academy in the world says climate change is human-induced and that there is at least a substantial risk (would you even accept 50/50?). And get on with working to mend our ways.

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011
Article comment by: Stan Lippmann

Thanks for the clear article Richard. We need to go back to Arrhenius' 1896 paper and show how it was debunked in 1908 by R. Wood at Hopkins. I published T_e and n_e of solar flares in Ap.J. in 1987. T_e is 5e6 vs coronal blackbody 5e3 K, a thousand times hotter. So why does everyone call sunspots "cold"? Just because we are not Supermen with X-ray vision?

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011
Article comment by: Graham Cowan

"Science progresses, one funeral at a time". Can't recall who said that, think it might have been Bohr.

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