Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Richard Lindzen’ Category

Why Table 12.4 of IPCC AR5 should not be trusted

with 23 comments

At the end of September, Working Group 1 (WG1) of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  This report, entitled ‘Climate Change 2013: Physical Science Basis’, now has its own website, from where the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) and Full Report (chapter-by –chapter) can be downloaded (as PDF files).

Observers of contrarian cyberspace will have noticed that a certain Table in the full report (Table 12.4) has been widely touted as proof that climate change is no longer the problem “alarmists” think it is.  Even high profile professional people (who ought to know better) have demeaned themselves by publishing guest posts on unscientific websites: e.g. ‘Understanding the IPCC AR5 Climate Assessment’ by Professor Richard Lindzen on WattsUpWithThat.

AR5 Table 12-4

The problem with such a mis-reading of the speculative data in Table 12.4 (summarising ‘Components in the Earth system… susceptible to abrupt or irreversible change’ on page 12-78) is that it completely contradicts the historical data in Table SPM.1 (summarising ‘Observed Changes in the Climate System’ on page SPM-23).

AR5 Table SPM-1

Whereas Table 12.4 suggests climate scientists consider it improbable that a variety of catastrophic tipping points will be passed in this Century, Table SPM.1 indicates that they have generally high confidence that we are already witnessing increased frequencies of various unusual weather events.

Thus, trying to use Table 12.4 to suggest that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not the massive problem the IPCC has confirmed it is (with 95% confidence), is one of the most shameful pieces of cherry-picking I think I have ever seen.  As with his mis-use of graphs in his presentations to the already-sceptical, this suggests that Lindzen knows what he is doing and is deliberately trying to mislead and or misdirect people.

As I would not just want anyone to take my word for it, I have reproduced within this post both tables and the text that accompanies them in their respective reports.  However, rather than start with Lindzen’s shameless cherry-picking of Table 12.4 and attempted inversion of the IPCC’s position, which would only confuse people (as I suspect is his intention), perhaps I should have started with the facts as presented in the SPM.  If so, I can only apologise and now attempt to redress the situation.

As is the way with everything else, the SPM has been reduced to a series of Headline Statements (PDF available here).  However, such sound bytes are very useful and, in the current context, the most relevant are as follows:

  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.

I should also wish to draw your attention, noting that a gigatonne (GT) is roughly equivalent to a cubic kilometre of ice,  to the following sound bytes from section B.3 of the SPM regarding the Cryosphere (page SPM- 5):

  • The average rate of ice loss from glaciers around the world, excluding glaciers on the periphery of the ice sheets, was very likely 226 [91 to 361] GT/yr over the period 1971−2009, and very likely 275 [140 to 410] GT/yr over the period 1993−2009.
  • The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 215 [157 to 274] GT/yr over the period 2002–2011.
  • The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] GT/yr over the period 2002-2011.  There is very high confidence that these losses are mainly from the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.

As noted on page SPM-5, 100 GT/yr of ice loss is equivalent to about 0.3 mm/yr of global mean sea level rise (SLR).   It is perhaps also worth noting, here,  that SLR is currently 3.0 mm/yr (and accelerating all the time).

If your head is already spinning with all this data, just try to focus on one fact:  The SPM contains two numbers for decadal average melting rates in Greenland, namely 34 GT/yr in 1990s and 215 GT/yr in 2000s.  As we shall see, these numbers not only bring into question the cherry-picking of Table 12.4; this six-fold increase in ice loss in just 10 years suggests that the conclusions stated in Table 12.4 are incompatible with what is already happening.

As every teenager knows, you cannot confidently draw a straight line through anything less than three points on a graph.  However, we are not dealing with a linear relationship here and, if we were, the above numbers (i.e. 34 and 215) would imply Greenland had been gaining ice prior to the 1990s (which it wasn’t).  This therefore gives us even more confidence that the annual rate of ice mass loss in Greenland has accelerated.

Indeed, perhaps the person who compiled Table 12.4 should have consulted Wikipedia:

  • 1961 to 2003:   +25 to –60 GT/yr => 1982, –18 GT/yr
  • 1993 to 2003:  –50 to –100 GT/yr => 1998, –75 GT/yr
  • 4/2002 to 11/2005: mean 215 GT/yr => 2004, –215 GT/yr
  • 3/2002 to 9/2012: total ~2900 GT => 2007, –276 GT/yr
  • 2008 to 2012: mean 376 GT/yr => 2010, –367 GT/yr

Table 12.4 expresses high confidence that the disintegration of Greenland ice sheet is exceptionally unlikely in this Century.  This may be because the total volume of ice (i.e. If 2,850,000 km3) is so large.  However, at what point does the accelerating ice loss become catastrophic (especially if it is already irreversible in any timescale relevant to human civilisation)?

It must be accepted that the accelerating ice mass loss will eventually reach a maximum rate (due to the finite amount of solar radiation (etc) and then decline as surface area declines.  However, it would seem unwise to assume we have reached that point already.  That being the case, the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet is already happening.  In my opinion, this is a catastrophe – we just haven’t had to deal with the consequences yet.

Either way, how can the IPCC ignore the fact that the melting of the Greenland lcesheet is already accelerating?  As it is almost certainly already beyond our capacity to stop it, this makes the relevant entry in Table 12.4 seem counter-factual.

Given what Joe Romm has called the ‘planned obsolescence’ of the AR5 – as a result of systematically ignoring the effects of positive feedback mechanisms that are already observable – I suspect that the same is true for all the other entries in Table 12.4.

Given all of the above, it is even more ludicrous to try – as Lindzen and others have done – to  use Table 12.4 to falsify the basic position of the IPCC, which is that ACD is already happening and already accelerating; and the longer we wait the harder it will get to stop it.

Written by Martin Lack

3 November 2013 at 00:02

To mark Australia’s return to the anti-science wilderness!

with 35 comments

It looks like Australia is just about to elect the most anti-science government outside of North America:  ‘Tony Abbott to win Australian election, final polls show’ (i.e. on UK’s Telegraph website).

To mark this latest ‘victory’ for those duped by conspiracy theory explanations for climate science in particular (and the stupidity of libertarian ideological blindness in general), I have decided to reproduce below my response to my most recent reality-challenged follower, called ‘freedomfan’, who has suggested that Richard Lindzen’s beliefs are a good reason to think humanity is not sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe.

Richard Lindzen may be a meteorologist but he is not well-respected. He shredded his scientific credibility a long time ago as a result of being willing to appear as an expert witness for tobacco companies trying to dispute the reality of inconvenient science. Sadly, he learnt nothing from doing this and has repeated his mistake with the fossil fuel industry.

For someone who is gambling the future habitability on low climate sensitivity (when every time the issue is revisited the consensus view is that Lindzen is wrong), you seem remarkably confident in your own wishful thinking. This seems even more ill-judged when you consider that the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency and the US Department of Defense all agree that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening; and that it is significant, bad, and worth preventing. Are they all in on the conspiracy to perpetuate scientific research funding; and/or justify higher taxes and authoritarian government? Quite frankly, it is more likely that the Moon Landings were faked (e.g. that flag was blowing in a breeze after all, right?).

If there is no positive feedback mechanism (and/or massive inertia in the climate system), why have the glaciers, ice caps, ice shelves and sea ice all continued to melt? If there is no positive feedback mechanism, why is the Keeling Curve a curve (rather than a straight line)? Positive feedback mechanisms are everywhere in Nature (very few things are linear); because Nature is biological – and we are part of it.

Here are 10 positive feedback mechanisms, which Guy McPherson has identified, that all need to be “disappeared” before your ambivalence towards the veracity of climate science becomes anywhere near being anything other than ideological blindness:
– Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean.
– Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic Ocean.
– Siberian methane vents are increasing in size.
– Amazonian drought/fires released more CO2 than USA in 2010.
– Peat decomposition in boreal forests is accelerating.
– Methane is now being released from seabed in the Antarctic.
– Wildfires are increasing in frequency and scale.
– Increased CO2 is accelerating glacier disintegration.
– Exposure to sunlight is accelerating the thawing of the permafrost.
– Arctic drilling is being fast-tracked by Western governments.

For links to data sources, see: What on Earth are we doing (19 February 2013).

Anyone in any doubt about Lindzen, should read the large number of posts on this blog in the ‘Lindzengate’ category.  However, anyone in a hurry should start with:  Lindzen is either negligent, incompetent, or deceitful (6 July 2012).

My book compared to Merchants of Doubt

with 3 comments

merchantsofdoubtIn the Preface to my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, I make clear that it was reading Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, that prompted me to do the research that my book summarises.

Therefore, I am delighted here to reproduce the review of my book by Vice-President of the Geological Society, Dr Colin Summerhayes, now published on, in which this comparison is made. Although Dr Summerhayes has asked me to stress that his review his solely a statement of his personal opinions, he agreed that it would be appropriate for me to highlight the expertise that perhaps make his opinions significant: Dr Summerhayes is a marine geologist and oceanographer with a particular interest in the Antarctic. As such, since 2010, he has been an Emeritus Associate of the of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) – a part of Cambridge University. Prior to that, Dr Summerhayes was Executive Director of the International Council for Science’s Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and, as such, was also one of the editors of the Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report published by SCAR in 2002. For the record, Dr Summerhayes was also, to my knowledge, the only other non-sceptical person in the audience when Professor Richard Lindzen gave his now infamous talk in a Committee Room of the Palace of Westminster in February 2012 (which I refer to as Lindzengate).

However, without further ado, here is the review posted on Amazon by Dr Summerhayes:


In 2010, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway did a service to science when they documented the manufacture of doubt about human-caused global warming by many of the same people who brought us ‘safe’ cigarettes. Most of their book focussed on doubt generated in the USA. The attack on the science of global warming remains shrill, and it comes from within the UK as well. Martin Lack has provided much the same service as Oreskes and Conway by documenting the UK’s sources of doubt about this socially important topic. Lack starts out by addressing the philosophical roots of scepticism, its misappropriation for ideological reasons and the psychological causes of denial. He lists the main UK organizations, scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others promulgating ‘denial’ of the science of human-induced climate change. Rather than labelling these ‘agents’ ‘deniers’, Lack prefers to label them ‘sceptic’ or ‘contrarian’, citing Robert Henson’s definition of the climate change contrarian position (in the 2008 second edition of “The Rough Guide to Climate Change”) as: “The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem”. Scientific scepticism is healthy and widespread within the climate science community, the group of people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to human-caused climate change. Their collective view could be called ‘scientific consensus, or scientific authority, or conventional scientific wisdom’. It is this ‘mainstream’ view that is attacked by the contrarians. Their common argument is that this or that particular point is wrong, hence the whole edifice is wrong. Such an approach displays a fatal misunderstanding of what Karl Popper meant by falsification. Read Lack and learn.


My book is now available in electronic form – search any online bookstore website for the ISBN 9781481783989 – and if it does not show up on please pester them until it does.

Lindzengate – one year on

with 2 comments

Today is the first anniversary of my trip to London to hear a certain Professor Richard S. Lindzen give a talk to an invited audience of climate change “sceptics” in a Committee Room inside the Palace of Westminster.

Having sat through a highly misleading presentation I was one of those who put up my hand to ask a question.  However, having been invited to speak by the chair of the meeting, I attempted to address some of the misrepresentation of fact that I had just witnessed.  I was then interrupted by Professor Lindzen and, having self-identified myself as a non-believer, was not allowed to ask a question.

This sequence of events has been the subject of much pedantic debate, on this blog and elsewhere, so the video (of the Q & A session following Lindzen’s talk) is embedded to provide proof of my version of events.  To just see me not ask a question view from about 5:26 onwards.

Once the Question and Answer session was completed, I approached Professor Lindzen who, obviously confident he could rebut anything I said, kindly invited me to email my questions to him.  This I did and, the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I would advise against following links without first reading to the end of this post, for those of you that are unfamiliar with this particular history, it may be summarised as follows:

1. I sent Professor Lindzen 3 emails and never received any substantive answers to my questions.  All I ever got was a perfunctory response in which Lindzen (1) feigned indignation at my suggestion that he had once helped the tobacco industry defend itself against the claim that smoking causes lung cancer; and (2) warned me not to publish my email.  I ignored him.

2. In failing to answer any of my original questions, Lindzen has, in particular, failed to explain why he uses the same tactics he claims others use to mislead people (i.e. graphs whose axes have been stretched or compressed in order to make two correlating data sets appear not to correlate – as appended below).

3. Having failed to get Lindzen to answer my original questions, I submitted a formal complaint to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) because his behaviour was likely to bring climate scientists and/or MIT into disrepute.  Without addressing the above very specific piece of hypocrisy from Lindzen, MIT refused to take any action.

4. I therefore complained to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who astonishingly, admitted they had no code of conduct against which they could judge and/or censure Lindzen for what he had done.

5. Consequently, Professor Lindzen has continued to travel around the World giving talks and writing letters to Newspapers – repeating the same message:  A message that reveals that he is either being wilfully deceptive of is so blinded by ideology that he cannot see how wrong he almost certainly is about climate sensitivity.

If any or all of this comes as a surprise to any readers, I would recommend that, before you dive into the links above, you start by reading this brief summary of exactly what it was I was unhappy about.   You can then follow links from there (or here) depending on your level of curiosity.

Other than that, from the above-referenced brief summary, I have here extracted the image of the graph from Lindzen’s presentation (whose absence from the PDF version on the Internet has never been satisfactorily explained), with my caption explaining why it destroys any veil of objectivity that Lindzen might otherwise be able to hide behind.

Misrepresentation of data?

Steeply inclined Keeling curve versus apparently non-correlating temperature – if you stretched the temperature axis enough it would appear to correlate quite well. Therefore slide neither proves not disproves anything.

There is, however, one final thing to note about this graph; something that has only become clear to me in the last few months: It has clearly been generated using the Wood for Trees website, which was set up by a non-climate scientist who admits that his website has repeatedly been used by climate sceptics to manipulate data to support invalid conclusions. So much so, in fact, that the home page now includes a warning against people doing this. Therefore:

What does it say about Lindzen that he would use a graph like this – obtained from such a website – in his presentation?


Further reading:

The Sceptics’ Creed

with 6 comments

For this spoof of the Anglican version of the Nicene Creed I apologise to all those who lack a sense of humour:


[All stand]

We believe in some gods,
like Professor Ian Plimer,
writer of ‘Heaven and Earth’,
of all that is mean and not green.

We believe in some lords; John Christy
and in Richard Lindzen.
Endlessly they are proven wrong and yet still,
from their shite we recite,
true lies from sad guys,
opinions, not facts,
of one thing we are certain,
through them all truths were made.

For us and for our salvation
they came down from science:
by the power of our human folly,
they became embedded in ideology,
and made their plan.

For our sake they were crucified by climate scientists;
they suffered ‘death’ and were ‘buried’.
On the third day they rose again
in accordance with the sceptics;
they returned to their jobs,
and are seated in academic tenure.

They will come again in future to fudge the reason and the facts,
and their soapbox will have no end.

We believe in the wholly spurious, our god, the slither of doubt,
which precedes our judgement of evidence.
With the money and the vice it is worshiped and glorified.
It is supported through the profits…
We believe in one wholly cynical and irrational church.
We acknowledge one purpose; for the pursuance of greed.
We look for the perpetuation of growth,
and the life of the World to shun.


[Please be seated]

Copyright © Martin Lack 2013

Is the UK government on a flight from reality?

with 22 comments

This week, I was very pleased to discover that some of my recent output has been listed on a Weekly round-up of blogosphere posts related to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) on the Science blogs website.  However, I was even more grateful when I saw mention, within that round-up, of a very significant event in British politics last week.

Over recent months, I have posted quite a lot of stuff about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and carbon capture and storage (CCS); culminating in the items I posted last week (discussed below).  It is therefore ironic that I did not notice the row that erupted last week as a result of a public letter to the Secretary of State for the Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) from the Chairman of the government’s relevant independent advisory body (the Committee on Climate Change [CCC]) – former Conservative Environment Minister John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben) – as publicised in The Guardian last Thursday.

The UK government published a draft Energy Bill in May this year, on which I commented at the time – in ‘A very unsustainable Energy Bill’.  At that time, I was concerned about the stated aim of the UK government to become less reliant upon imported gas. More specifically, I was (and am) concerned that it is planning to replace this with oil shale gas (from fracking); rather than encouraging people to get off the grid altogether by investing in micro-generation (such as solar panels).

It seems, therefore, that anticipation had been growing that an announcement would soon be made that the UK is likely to remain reliant upon new gas-fired power generation (without CCS) well beyond 2030.  If the UK pursues this strategy it will do so despite the following:
— 1. The widespread international agreement – of organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); numerous scientists such as James Hansen; and even influential (and formerly sceptical) economists such as William Nordhaus – that humanity can no longer afford to delay decarbonising its energy generation systems.
— 2. The agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 that – in energy generation a least – fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel use both need to be phased out.
— 3. The fact that the Earth has five times more conventional fossil fuel than is now considered safe to burn; and therefore now is not the time to be finding a whole load more unconventional fossil fuels to burn as well.

This all makes me wonder if George Osborne has been paying too much attention to what libertarian ideologues like Richard Lindzen are probably telling him.  Wherever this transparently intellectually incoherent policy is coming from, it was clearly this refusal to phase out fossil fuel use (now that we know it is causing ACD) that drove Lord Deben to publish the CCC’s letter last Thursday.  In it, he began by stating:

Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without [CCS] in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets. These are, of course, designed to balance the costs and risks of meeting long-term objectives and they require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades…

What is even more surprising is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to respond so promptly – quite possibly due to the CCC’s suggestion that pursuing gas (from fracking) instead of equivalent investment in renewable energy could be illegal because (as the CCC letter continues):

Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 [emissions reduction] target.

As I made clear on my blog last week, having benefited from an exchange of emails with Professor Robert Mair (on fracking) and with Dr Bryan Lovell (on CCS), I remain convinced that pursuing fracking as a panacea to all our energy problems is insane; but have reluctantly come to accept that we may have to rely upon CCS if we are to avoid significant ACD.  However, this is no excuse for doing as George Osborne has done – effectively telling his own independent advisors that, once again, the non-scientist knows what the best course of action is.

Indeed, apart from putting your hands over your ears and shouting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, there can only one possible reasons for doing as George Osborne has done – he must believe we can continue to burn fossil fuels with impunity and/or doubt the reality of catastrophic ACD if we do not use CCS to prevent it.

I therefore think it is crunch time for the UK’s Coalition government.  Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I support on many issues, famously said he wanted to make it “the greenest government ever”.  Sadly, it seems to be failing significantly in many ways:  In addition to crippling the green revolution at birth – by removing most of the incentives to get individual households to invest in Solar PV panels on their roofs (etc) – it now seems set to pursue energy independence in the form of fracking.  As The Guardian concludes:

The argument over the [decarbonisation] target is now likely to reach the top of the government with pressure mounting on Cameron to face down critics of the government’s green policies and adopt the CCC recommendations in full.

And then there were three…

with 15 comments

Back in January this year, an Op-Ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming”, signed by sixteen prominent scientists (of which only 4 are climate scientists, and one of those is Richard Lindzen). It began with the words:

A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about “global warming.” Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true.

Unfortunately, they are at it again, only this time, the Op-Ed in the WSJ, entitled “‘Climate Consensus’ Data Need a More Careful Look”, is only signed by three of the original 16, namely Mssrs Cohen, Happer, and Lindzen. It began with the words:

…Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp speaks of “the trend—a decades-long march toward hotter and wilder weather.” We have seen quite a few such claims this summer season, and Mr. Krupp insists that we accept them as “true.”… But repetition of a fib does not make it true.

However, when scientists write articles in newspapers that begin by accusing other scientists of telling lies, I think people should know that what they are about to read is not science;

it is propaganda.

One of the first comments posted in response to the Wall Street Sixteen in January was this by Barrie Harrop:

Voluminous historical evidence shows that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the planet’s main thermostat, and that raising CO2 concentrations warms the planet. We have done that in spades by burning fossil fuels, raising atmospheric levels from a pre-industrial 280 parts per million to the current 387 ppm. Politicians still debate what a dangerous level might be, but… James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says we passed the danger threshold more than 20 years ago, when we exceeded 350 ppm…

…To keep the big polar ice sheets largely intact and prevent massive flooding will require limiting warming to just 2 °C. The widely-accepted target to achieve that is 450 ppm, but if the slow feedbacks are correct we will have to pull CO2 levels back under 350 ppm to reach that target.

One of the first comments posted in response to the Wall Street Three this week was this by Paul Vincelli:

Gentlemen, as professional scientists, you undoubtedly know that an op-ed piece in a major newspaper has absolutely no impact on scientific progress, no matter how influential it is on public opinion. If you believe what you wrote, please submit your ideas, with supporting data analysis, to peer-reviewed journals. In the meantime, the rest of us scientists will continue to draw from the overwhelming body of published scientific evidence that supports the op-ed piece written by Fred Krupp.

Further words from me would almost seem superfluous but, hell, that has never stopped me before (and did not do so on this occasion either), so I posted a comment on the WSJ website yesterday as well:

Oh dear. Yet more contrarians willing to line up and invert reality by claiming Dr Field and/or Dr McCarthy attempted to mislead the EPW Senate Committee on Aug 1, when all the evidence shows that, whether intentionally or otherwise, it was Christy who was in danger of misleading the Senators.

When will the media stop reporting as news the opinion of some who say the sky is pink (when in fact we can all see that it is blue)?

I trust you will not delete this comment just because I refer to Skeptical Science website:

Will Professor Lindzen please just retire to the South of France.

To their credit, the WSJ did not delete this comment. However, regrettably, they never seem to actually print rebuttals to the original misleading pieces. So, for the record, here are two regarding the original Wall Street Sixteen:

From a distinguished group of genuine climate scientists; and

From the highly-respected economist William D Nordhaus.

Written by Martin Lack

16 August 2012 at 00:02


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