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American Morning

Cloud Over Climate Summit: Leaked Emails Talk About a Trick; Explaining Banking Agreements on Credit Cards

Aired December 07, 2009 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: A minute before the top of the hour. Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. It's Monday. It's December 7th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns in for John Roberts who is on assignment in England this morning, and John joins us live. Hi, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you, Joe and Kiran. We are live at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Behind me is the climatic research unit. It is the center of a huge controversy of a research into global warming. A number of e-mails, more than 1,000, were hacked out of the computer system here at the CRU.

Skeptics are saying that the content of many of those e-mails suggests that scientists were trying to cook the books when it comes to global warming. Those scientists, of course, deny it. We'll be speaking with the director of that unit coming up shortly.

CHETRY: All right. We look forward to that, John, thanks so much.

This e-mail scandal is actually casting quite a big shadow over the biggest climate conference in history. It's now underway in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nearly 100 world leaders are going to be attending this U.N. strategy session, and that includes our President, Barack Obama. Allegations that scientists may be massaging the global warming data could impact these summit talks, and we're digging deeper on that.

JOHNS: President Obama is holding an Afghan strategy session today with his top commander and America's ambassador to Kabul. Ahead, the politics of the surge plan, plus, what it means for U.S. forces on the ground. We're live at the White House and on the ground in Afghanistan.

CHETRY: And shocking numbers on autism, hitting more and more American families. In fact, a couple months ago, a study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics saying that one in 91 American children and one in 58 boys will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a 50 percent jump in some cases in just two years.

But there's new brain research now helping unlock the mystery, and it may help get kids diagnosed with this disorder more help. We'll have an "A.M. Original Series," "Inside the Child's Mind." Today's focus is autism brain research.

But we begin with a red-hot controversy over global warming. These e-mails suggesting that scientists may be cooking the books on climate change, coming as a landmark U.N. summit begins in Copenhagen.

Ground zero for the so called "Climate-gate" scandal has been Britain's University of East Anglia, and our John Roberts went there and spoke exclusively with the acting director of one of the world's leading climate research interest institutes.

John is reporting live for us this morning from Norwich, England. Good morning, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kiran.

When it comes to controversies, this is a big one. Let me set the scene for you. Behind me here is the Climatic Research Unit. It is one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world when it comes to the issue of global warming and climate change.

Hackers had been after the information contained in the computer servers here for some time, and a little more than a month ago they access to it. They downloaded, they stole about 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents, went poring through those e-mails.

And they say they found language in some of those e-mail they claim suggest scientists were manipulating data for their own interests to promote the case of global warming.

Case in point, Phil Jones, who is the director of the CRU here, who has stepped down pending an independent review, wrote to one of his colleagues saying that he had employed a, quote, "trick," to marry together two disparate sets of temperature data to create a single graph.

I talked to scientists here and back in the United States about this idea of a trick, and they say it's not a slight of hand, as you would think about it. What it really is is just a method of marrying together two different sets of data.

One came from tree rings which in the 1960s started to become unreliable, and so they married that together with temperature data measured by thermometers. It was just plotting those two graphs together that was the, quote, "trick."

I took a tour of the CRU yesterday with the interim director Professor Peter Liss. He took us inside. It's not what you expect. It doesn't look like a big NOA facility or NASA facility. It really is just a grouping of offices where professors were crunching numbers on computers.

And I asked Professor Liss how much of an impact do you think this scandal will have on the Copenhagen summit, which starts today? Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PROFESSOR PETER LISS, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA: I don't think it should influence things at all. Of course, I'm not a politician, but I can see it might have some impact. I hope it's small or insignificant.

But you have already seen people saying this knocks the bottom out of the climate argument. I don't think that's true at all. But people will say that because it suits them to say that.

ROBERTS: You said I hope it doesn't have an influence, it shouldn't have an influence, I think it shouldn't have an influence. But there's every possibility that it very well could.

LISS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You've heard various politicians and representatives making statements this week saying exactly that it will have an influence as far as they're concerned. We'll have to wait and see whether the bulk of the nations are swayed by that.


ROBERTS: Now, when it comes to the case for proving global warming, the work that Professor Jones was doing here was very important in that aspect. He was recreating the global temperature record going back hundreds and hundreds of years and collecting data from some 5,000 observing stations around the world and plotting how the earth's temperature is changing.

But scientists here and in the United States that I talked to, people who believe that global warming is manmade, said that there is far more evidence to suggest the earth is warming and that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases play a role than just the research that Dr. Jones is doing. And if you took his out you would still have a very valid case.

Here's what Dr. Liss said about the skeptics of global warming.


LISS: I think it's very hard to be a denier. And in some sense you might say it's really up to the deniers to explain why it is, when we're pumping so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, why it wouldn't have such an effect.

I mean, scientists tend to be a bit on the defensive, but in fact they shouldn't be on the defensive because the evidence is very strong.

ROBERTS: You have no doubt?

LISS: I have no doubt.


ROBERTS: Where Professor Liss says there may be a problem here, though, is with public opinion, which has been eroding over the last couple of years. A Harris poll taken in the United States two years ago found 71 percent of people believe that there is a manmade component to global warming.

They took a survey again recently and found that that number dropped to 51 percent, the number of people whom either didn't believe it had increased, or, more likely than not, the people who say they weren't sure that there was a manmade component to global warming had increased significantly.

So, Kiran, if this is going to do anything in terms of the controversy, it may not affect public policy immediately, but if the public becomes more skeptical as to the causes of global warming, eventually that could affect public policy. Back to you.

CHETRY: Very interesting, and a good explainer for people that are just coming into this and are wondering what the heck is going on, especially as we get ready to cover this big climate conference in Copenhagen. John, thanks. We'll check in with you throughout the morning.

Meanwhile, it's six minutes past the hour right now. The White House has tied global warming to your futures in so many ways, from your job to your well-being. How much damage could these e-mails really do to the argument?

Our Jim Acosta is taking a look at whether politics is getting in the way of science. Also, at 7:10, two professors, one of each side, Alan Robock, who sent one of those leaked emails, will face off against a climate change skeptic, Professor Edward Wegman.

And global warming -- was there a trick, or is it truth? Tonight at 8:00 a special edition of "Campbell Brown." Campbell looks at the science and he skepticism and the secrets surrounding global warming.

JOHNS: New this morning, confusion over the whereabouts of Usama bin Laden. National Security Adviser James Jones telling CNN the Al Qaeda leader may be traveling back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But at the same time Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells ABC News the U.S. has not had any good intelligence on bin Laden's location in years.

Also new this morning, the president taking some heat over the timeline he's laid down in Afghanistan. For the breakdown let's turn to our Suzanne Malveaux. And Suzanne, it was all about the message when the White House team went on the talk shows this weekend.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Joe, you're absolutely right, because there was some confusion. They wanted to clarify what the message was from the White House. So the president sent out the top members of his war council on the Sunday shoes yesterday.

So we heard from Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, as well as NSC chair Jim Jones, all of them together trying to give the message here that, yes, July, 2011, that is the beginning of the drawdown date when those troops start to come home, but that there's two to three years, there's some wiggle room, some space here in terms of when this mission is accomplished.

They don't want to set a hard and fast deadline for that, so a lot of them talked about the mission being accomplished depending on the conditions on the ground, that that essentially was the message. The language was kind of different, Joe, but that was basically what they were trying to say.

The president in the meantime today is going to be meeting with the U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry here in the Oval Office as well as his top general, General Stanley McChrystal to go over not only how you sell this to the American people, the Afghan strategy, but certainly how you're going to implement it -- Joe.

JOHNS: And, Suzanne, turning to the issues here at home, the top issue of course being jobs, on Friday we found out unemployment is still in double digits. But news breaking overnight we're understanding Uncle Sam may be able to come up with a couple hundred billion bucks to help millions of people still looking for jobs. What are you hearing about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly I spoke with a top White House official this morning who confirmed the number that essentially what the president will talk about tomorrow when he makes his big speech on the economy, he wants to create jobs for the American people. He knows that it's a very difficult situation.

There is some good news here. It's the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was passed under President Bush, the $700 billion, the TARP fund it was called, to bail out the big banks.

They say out of the $700 billion they're starting to get money back from the banks faster than they thought. So they'll take out of that $700 billion $200 billion, put it aside in a fund to create jobs, whether that's building more roads or bridges or weatherizing houses.

They need the authorization from Congress because Congress authorized it to use to bail out the banks. So the president will essentially say, Congress, I want you to consider using this $200 billion to create jobs.

Democrats like this idea, Joe, Republicans not so much. They don't think it's a good idea. They'd rather see that money go back into trying to figure out how to bolster the federal deficit, kind of cut that down a bit.

But the president thinks he's got a good idea. He'll put it on the table and push for it really hard tomorrow in that speech.

JOHNS: Certainly more the push me, pull you over taxes and spending in Washington, D.C. We've heard it many times. Thank you so much, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, OK.

CHETRY: Well, we're coming up on ten minutes past the hour. Also new this morning, extreme weather on the move from the Rockies to the great plains, a lot of people waking up to temperatures below freezing and up to six inches of snow expected to fall in parts of Illinois and Michigan.

Chicago also expected to get its first snow of the season resulting in delays at O'Hare Airport. And further west another storm blowing through the Rockies. High winds, snow, all part of the mix. Mountain areas could get up to three feet of snow.

JOHNS: Good news at the pump. Gas prices are down. The bad news? They've only dropped a penny or so. The average cost of a gallon of self-serve regular dipped one cent over the past two weeks, and $2.64. And according to a Lundberg Survey, the small drop means gas prices will most likely stabilize for the next few weeks.

CHETRY: Well, NASA is getting ready to map the skies. The agency has a new telescope that will use infrared light to create the most detailed map of the universe that we've ever seen. The telescope will orbit the earth finding never before seen stars, galaxies, and objects that can in some cases pose a danger to our planet.

The first chance to launch this new telescope is Friday. Pretty neat.

JOHNS: Yes, that is very neat.

CHETRY: However, back here on earth we're dealing with a climate summit that's taking place and an e-mail controversy that could be clouding debate. We'll be talking to two professors on either side of the debate to sort of explain what is going on and what is the consensus and how big of an impact could these e-mails make in the debate over global warming.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Thirteen minutes past the hour now.

As the president puts our hopes of an economic recovery on green jobs, there's a growing controversy surrounding climate talks in Copenhagen.

They're underway right now, and 100 heads of state are being urged to act to help end global warming. Critics say these leaked e- mails may show some researchers twisted science to fit their argument.

So here to talk about the e-mails and their potential impact on the summit, Alan Robock, professor of climatology at Rutgers University, and in Washington, Edward Wegman, a professor of statistics and data sciences at George Mason university. I want to welcome both of you. Thanks for being with us.

Professor Robock, let me start with you, because some of the e- mails that have been leaked actually contain a few e-mails you had sent to the person who is now -- Phil Jones, this climate researcher. And first of all, explain in your opinion what the controversy is as we talk about, in one of the e-mails, using the term "trick."

ALAN ROBOCK, PROFESSOR OF CLIMATOLOGY, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: I don't really think it's a controversy. It's just a question of language. When they use the word "trick," what they really mean is technique or method. It wasn't at all in the sense of trying to fool anybody.

CHETRY: It was having to do with, what, data that didn't necessarily fit in with a certain theory?

ROBOCK: In recent times, we use actual thermometers to measure the temperature. But before that we used tree rings, which is proxy data, which tells us how temperature affects trees.

But as you get beyond 1960, it's been well-known for more than a decade that trees have stopped being a good indicator of temperature change.

So, what they did is they merged the better data with the tree ring data to get the correct record. So when it says hide the decline, what they're really doing is throwing out bad data based on their data analysis. This has been known for more than a decade so they weren't trying to do anything to try and fool anybody.

CHETRY: And, Professor Wegman, let me ask you about this because you've had some criticisms a few years back about some of the methods, some of the models that were used in the climate change research, man's hockey stick model which, you know, you probably have to be very deep in the study and science of climate change to know exactly what we're talking about, but what did you think when you saw these e- mails?

EDWARD WEGMAN, PROF. OF STATISTICS & DATA, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, it sort of confirmed some things we had expected back when we testified in Congress in 2006. One of the things that we were asked to do for Congress was to look at the methodology that had been used in reconstructing temperature and paleoclimate reconstruction based on tree ring data. Basically what we found was that some of the criticism that had been leveled at Michael Mann and his colleagues was indeed correct. They had used the methodology incorrectly.

CHETRY: So let me ask you about this, you're talking about -- to be clear, you're talking about taking issue with the methods, not questioning the overall theory of global warming or climate change?

WEGMAN: I think that's an accurate statement. You know, the thermometer temperature records since 1850 has indicated that there's increase in temperature, about one degree centigrade over 150 years or so. And that's the mean average temperature around the world.

I'm a statistician. I'm not a climate scientist. Unfortunately when I said that in testimony, that was picked up as I was incompetent to make any comments with respect to this material. But, you know, I'm a mathematician. I'm a statistician, so if statistical methods are being used incorrectly, I have a reasonable ability to make those comments.

The other thing we did, though, when we were reviewing this literature, we reviewed something like 90 papers, and it turned out that many of the papers used the same proxy data. We had gotten wind of the fact that it looked like there was not a lot of independence in the other climate reconstruction temperature base.

CHETRY: All right. Let me just...

WEGMAN: And so...

CHETRY: So let me just...


CHETRY: For just a minute, so we don't get too deep in the weeds because I think that, you know, a lot of people watching, there's a public poll that was just out saying that there's a fraction of maybe 25 percent of people that doubt what we've been saying about climate change. So you're somebody who studies this and so is Professor Wegman. But let me start with you, Professor Robock, what is it that people should know and should sort of take away from this whole discussion about not only climate change, but about how much human involvement is responsible for changes in our earth?

ROBOCK: If you try to explain the climate change of the past 100 years, there are multiple things causing climate change. There are natural causes like volcanoes and solar variations, and there are human causes, the greenhouse gases we put in. And you can't explain the warming of the last 50 years without the effect of greenhouse gases.

I've done calculations that many other people have. Just natural causes would have actually caused cooling. And so that's why we say there's more than a 90 percent certainty that humans have caused the warming of the last 50 years. There is no other theory to explain that.

CHETRY: And, Professor Wegman, what is your take on that?

WEGMAN: Well, I think that's probably accurate, you know, the physical models seem to predict that. So I'm not -- I'm not a denier, as you had suggested earlier. But I am skeptical of the way the science is done. And the thing that was more damning to me was this attempt to suppress peer review for people who are critics. Clearly, if you believe in the science, then you ought to be robust to people who criticize it. And if you suppress their opinions, then you're doing a disservice to the science, and you're also making the point that it's a dubious science.

ROBOCK: Well, it turns out there was no attempt to suppress peer review. In the e-mails, the scientists were frustrated that some science which wasn't good at all actually got published in peer review and they say it shouldn't be considered in the IPCC report but they did nothing about it and it turns out it was considered in the IPCC report. You can read it and it evaluates those papers and says that they aren't good and don't include them in the analysis. So no suppression took place at all. It was just a private expression of frustration with bad science.

CHETRY: I got you. All right. Well, Professor Robock, and also Professor Wegman, we didn't mean to mischaracterize your position. As you said before, you're taking some issue with the methodology of the research, not the broader issue of climate change. So I want to thank you as well for being with us this morning.

And also a reminder, tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern, our "Global Warming: Trick or Truth," a special edition of "CAMPBELL BROWN." Campbell also taking a look at the science, the skepticism and any potential secrets surrounding global warming -- Joe.

JOHNS: Kiran, Bank of America is looking to clear up its rules when it comes to consumer credit cards. Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business" coming up next.


JOHNS: Stephanie is here and "Minding Your Business." And boy, you're just touching all my buttons this morning.


JOHNS: Right. Yes. That's right.

What we're talking about is credit cards, and somebody trying to make sense to us of, you know, what they're doing in the fine print.

ELAM: Right.

JOHNS: And now we're going to actually learn and they're going to tell us in English.

ELAM: They have to tell us.

JOHNS: How they're taking our money.

ELAM: They will have to do it. But, in fact, Bank of America which so many people in this country, most people have their bank accounts with, when it comes to their credit card rules they've sent out -- they're sending out a letter to their 40 million credit card users to let them know in plain English exactly what the terms of their credit cards will be.

So here's what the new summary will include. It's going to be just one page long. It will include rates for purchases, for transfers, also for cash advances. It will also have payment information, what you need to pay in order to keep your account in good standing and also a summary of those general fees. It also let's you know that your interest rate could change if you're late making a payment. That's obviously pretty key here.

Bank of America is the first bank to go ahead and do this, but come February, all of the banks, all the credit card issuers, I should say, will have to do this. We'll have to fall in line and let you know these basics in an easy to understand way of doing it.

Bank of America is the first one to do it but there is one thing that they have not done yet that they'll have to do by February. They're going to have to let you know how long it will take to pay off your balance if you just made the minimum payments a month assuming you don't buy anything else.

JOHNS: 1,522 years.

ELAM: You're right. So you'll have to do that.

JOHNS: And three months. Yes.

ELAM: Just to give you an example of what would happen when this happens. Let's say the Federal Reserve says the median credit card balance in this country is $3,000 for U.S. consumers.

CHETRY: Right.

ELAM: So if you take a look at that and let's say you have an average interest rate of 14.9 percent. If you made the minimum payments on that, how long do you think it would take to pay it off?

CHETRY: Something ridiculous, like 25 years.


CHETRY: Fifty years.

ELAM: No, just over seven years but still a really long time.

JOHNS: That's a really long time, yes.

ELAM: For $3,000. So just to give you an idea -- but overall, the point being, though, that it would take a long time to just pay off $3,000.

CHETRY: Right. However, most Americans are eternal optimists. Some day I'll have the money, I'll be able to pay it right off.


ELAM: I'll do it.

JOHNS: Yes. Sure. Yes, yes.

ELAM: When the tax return comes, it's April. I'll pay up the whole thing.

JOHNS: The one thing they're not going to do, though, is they're not going to get to stop the little teeny, tiny print that you can't read.

ELAM: Yes. That's (INAUDIBLE) but this should clarify some of the basics so people can be better about paying.

JOHNS: Right.

CHETRY: All right.

JOHNS: All right.

CHETRY: And we'll give you a magnifying glass.

JOHNS: Yes. I know, or something.

ELAM: And some more buttons to push.

CHETRY: Stephanie Elam "Minding Your Business" this morning. Thanks.

Well, we're coming up on 26 minutes past the hour. You know, the numbers are really shocking. More than one in 100 families will get the news that their child has some form of autism. We're digging deeper with an A.M. original series I'm reporting on called "Inside the Child's Mind." And today, we're focusing on new brain research that's helping unlock the mystery of the autistic brain and may give these children a whole different future.


JOHNS: And it's 29 minutes after the hour. Checking our top stories, first up, bird versus plane. After a rash of close calls in the skies, the airline industry is taking a serious look at the hazards posed by birds to commercial aircraft. The commercial aviation safety team, a joint government industry safety group has made birds a priority issue for the first time at the urging of the Federal Aviation Administration.

CHETRY: Security forces and pro-government militia men clashing with thousands of protesters outside of Tehran University in Iran. Witnesses say the militia men moved into the crowds beating men and women with batons while security forces fired tear gas. Authorities promising to crack down on any student protests today. The government banning international media coverage in the university.

JOHNS: Where is Osama Bin Laden? That is the question still facing the Obama administration after promising to make the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader a top priority. On Sunday, national security adviser James Jones told John King on "State of the Union," the U.S. doesn't know for sure where Bin Laden is but he may be hiding the poorest border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Have you seen intelligence, reliable intelligence about where he is?

GEN. JAMES L. JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: The best estimate is he is somewhere in north Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border. Very, very rough, mountainous area. Generally ungoverned, and we're going to have to get after that to make sure that this very, very important symbol of what Al Qaeda stands for is either once again on the run or captured.


JOHNS: Adding confusion yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. hasn't had good intelligence on Bin Laden in, "years."

As delegates from nearly 200 countries gather in Copenhagen for the start of the U.N. climate conference, a slew of e-mails is calling into question the science surrounding global warming. We're going to take a closer look at some of the claims about climate change and more by running them through the truth-o-meter. For that we turn to Bill Adair, founder and editor of He joins us from Washington. Good morning, bill. How are you doing today?

BILL ADAIR, FOUNDER, EDITOR POLITIFACT.COM: Good morning, Joe. Thanks for having me.

JOHNS: All right. I want to start with this claim made by Sarah Palin in her new book "Going Rogue," she talks about a plan that would set a cap on carbon emissions to encourage cleaner technology but she says President Obama essentially admitted a cap and trade plan would cause electric bills to skyrocket.

Now, is that right? Or is that just a little bit out of line? Is this thing going to shoot up the cost of paying for electricity?

ADAIR: Well, we gave that particular claim a true on our Truth- O-Meter on and the reason that this is actually a favorite line of many Republicans. We've heard it many times from different Republicans and they're right. This is something that Obama said in an interview with the "San Francisco Chronicle" back in January 2008 so it gets a true on the Truth-O-Meter.

JOHNS: All right. So another big issue and this is the war in Afghanistan. We've been talking about it for quite a while. Congressman Murtha of Pennsylvania said last week, "we're going to have more troops in Afghanistan than the Russians had."

Now, we're not really talking about Russians there, I think he was referring to the Soviets back in around 1979 or so. But is this true, that the United States is actually going to have more military people on the ground than they did during that intervention?

ADAIR: Well, we gave this one a barely true on our Truth-O- Meter. When you look at the actual number of troops that the Soviets had, the best estimate is they had between 115,000, and 120,000 at the peak of their occupation. The U.S., after the additional troops, will have about 100,000. So Murtha's wrong, if you count it that way.

The only way that Murtha's right, and this is what his staff insists he was saying, is if you include NATO allies, troops from NATO allies that are part of the forces there. And So we felt that was a barely true on our Truth-O-Meter.

JOHNS: But it's pretty close, given the fact that NATO and the United States are on the same side, essentially.

ADAIR: Yes, but I think the way we looked at it was any reasonable viewer who was listening to Murtha in that interview we felt would interpret it as the U.S., rather than all NATO forces.

JOHNS: Got it. Now, let's go to the President's speech last week, in his speech in which he made the case for more troops to go to Afghanistan at West Point. He said in the last few months alone we have apprehended extremists within our borders, he said, who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.

Now, that's a pretty strong statement, and it kind of stuck out when I heard it. Is that an accurate statement by the president?

ADAIR: Well, this was a tough call for us, we gave it a mostly true on the Truth-O-Meter. But the facts are that he was referring apparently to Najibullah Zazi who is an accused terrorist who has been charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the United States.

And there's some facts that back up what Obama is saying, particularly that Zazi apparently did travel to that region of Pakistan and -- near Afghanistan. But he hasn't been convicted. And so this was a tough call for us. We're right on the fence between a half true and a mostly true. We ended up, because of the facts about his trip, giving it a mostly true on our Truth-O-Meter.

JOHNS: Now, do we know whether he was or is an American citizen?

ADAIR: Yes, I believe he is an American citizen, or at least I think he grew up here. The important thing to emphasize here, though, is, you know, he hasn't been convicted yet.

JOHNS: Right. OK. So in other words, if he hasn't been convicted then you can't say that certain facts that the president is stating are true or false, because it hasn't been decided.

ADAIR: Exactly.

JOHNS: Got it.

ADAIR: Exactly. And that's, you know, sort of the whole idea between the truth behind the Truth-O-Meter, is we see the truth as sort of shades of gray. And so that's why we have rulings like mostly true and half true and barely true.

JOHNS: Great. Thanks so much, Bill Adair, founder and editor of and keeper of the Truth-O-Meter. Thanks for being with us.

ADAIR: Thanks, Joe. JOHNS: And you can read more of the claims that Bill runs through his Truth-O-Meter on our blog, head to to check it out.

CHETRY: All right. And still ahead, you know, the numbers are surprising, and they're actually growing every year, that more and more families will get the news that their child has some form of autism. We're looking into the reasons why. But meanwhile, we're digging deeper inside the child's mind. It's an "AM Original Series" about new brain research that's helping to unlock the mysteries of the autistic brain and may help these children improve drastically in the future.

Thirty-six minutes past the hour.


JOHNS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Even though autism remains a huge medical mystery, the number of cases diagnosed is going up. The CDC says about one percent of eight-year- olds are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

It's about one out of every 100 and it's a 50 percent jump from just two years ago. But now there's new cutting edge brain research that's helping unlock the mystery of the autistic brain. And it may actually give these children a whole different future. This morning, part one of my "AM Original Series," "Inside the Child's Mind."



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a big word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is a big word.

CHETRY (voice-over): Eight-year-old Zander Pridy has no trouble reading big words.

(on camera): What are your favorite things to read?

ZANDER PRIDY, DIAGNOSED WITH ASPERGER'S SYNDROME: Well, I read books of science and watch this cool show called "Nova."

CHETRY (voice-over): Today, Zander is helping scientists make discoveries of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is the M.E.G. machine.

CHETRY: Zander has an autism specter disorder known as Asperger's syndrome. Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are using this M.E.G. machine, short for magnetoencephalography, to study the brain waves of children like Zander with autism disorders.

TIM ROBERTS, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: We're trying to study how the children's brain responds to stimuli, to words, to speech.

CHETRY: Hoping to unlock the mysteries of how an autistic brain works. Lead researcher Tim Roberts said new clues are already emerging.

ROBERTS: When you hear a sound, your brain responds. When the child with autism hears the sound, their brain responds too, but a little bit later. So what we're seeing is a fraction of split second delay in recognizing that sound.

CHETRY (on camera): And then how does that play out in how children with autism learn and communicate?

ROBERTS: Well, what happens is as speech becomes more complicated, we have more and more sounds building up, and these delays cascade on each other. Leading to a difficulty perceiving or recognizing the word.

CHETRY (voice-over): For Zander, those delays mean that too many sounds can be a real distraction. Especially in the classroom.

TARA PRIDY, MOTHER OF ZANDER PRIDY: His teacher has an amplification device she wears and he has a speaker on his desk.

CHETRY: Tara Pridy says her son also struggles with conversation.

TARA PRIDY: He monologued. He'll get going and you know, someone has to tell him, like the person is not interested anymore. They were interested but you're speaking for too long about the subject. So we say TMI, too much information.

CHETRY: It's an example of some of the difficulties that kids like Zander have in relating to their peers.

ROBERT SCHULTZ, HEAD, CENTER FOR AUTISM RESEARCH: Kids with autism really have a difficult time with social perception, understanding people's expressions, what does that mean, what are they thinking and feeling.

CHETRY: Robert Schultz is head of the hospital's Center for Autism Research

SCHULTZ: This is just going to be like the actual MRI.

CHETRY: He's introducing 13-year-old Garrett Hammond into a mock MRI to help him relax for the real test. Schultz is using MRIs to understand the biology of the autistic brain.

SCHULTZ: When we ask children with autism to do specific tasks that we know they have difficulty on, those areas of the brain which normally do those tasks are under active.

CHETRY: In this scan of the typical brain, the red areas show activity in the parts of the brain that understand faces and expressions. SCHULTZ: This is now an average of a group of boys with autism and you can see when they're looking at faces they have much less activity in red.

CHETRY: This research won't answer the question, what causes autism. But Dr. Schultz says it may lead to better diagnosis and earlier intervention.

SCHULTZ: The ultimate goal is to understand at the level of the cell, the nerve cell in the brain, why are those cells functioning differently. And if we can understand why they're functioning differently there's probably going to be a combination of treatments.

TARA PRIDY: I really hope it helps us understand some of his strengths and the ways that we can help him over any weaknesses.

CHETRY: Zander has his own idea about what tests on his brain will reveal.

(on camera): So when they looked at your brain with the M.E.G. machine, what did they see?

PRIDY: Geniusness.


CHETRY: He's a really, really adorable child. Brilliant. I mean, so smart. And again his mom is trying to help, you know, be part of this research that will hopefully unlock some of the mysteries so that down the road they can figure things out a little bit better and make strides in how they're treating these children.

JOHNS: So the bottom line is, and what so many people asks when they look into autism is I mean, what causes it? Do we know any more about that?

CHETRY: Right. And the amazing thing is people want to know, because as we talked about, we look at these numbers, one in 91 American children, one in 58 boys, this was a pediatric study. And people are saying why are we seeing it more? Are we seeing it more? Is it being diagnosed better? Are there environmental factors? I mean, there are people that believe -- is it vaccines? Is it toxins?

And it's still a mystery, really. And scientists don't want to necessarily say they know. They say there is a big genetic factor. They say that certain genes increase the risk for developing autism. That's one thing they do know. And they also say that these environmental factors can act as a trigger if you have a genetic risk. But there's no genetic test to determine whether or not kids have autism.

And so one of the main goals of this research is to figure out if there's a biological marker, or as we saw there are two different brains, if there's ways that you can find out sooner, get your kids into therapy and intervention earlier and have greater outcomes.

JOHNS: That was incredible. The visuals, the picture really tells you so much.

CHETRY: It's amazing. Because one of the things that they're trying to do with that -- so you say, great, what do we do with that information. Video games for some of the older kids, where they're actually learning facial recognition as part of the video game. They have to be able to tell whether the face I'm looking at, are they happy, are they sad? Because that's not necessarily something that comes natural to certain children with autism.

JOHNS: Good stuff.

CHETRY: And -- thanks. Part two tomorrow really is an amazing story. It's one family's story. Their son was diagnosed with autism when he was very young, about 18 months old. He went -- underwent intensive behavioral therapy, turned things around and today you wouldn't know he was ever diagnosed with autism. In fact, his mother and his pediatrician says he is recovered, actually recovered, from autism.

It's how early intervention can make a big difference, and that's tomorrow right here on the Most News in the Morning.

JOHNS: Looking forward to that.

It is 45 minutes after the hour, and we are bracing for what looks like a pretty good sized storm coming straight across the country. Back with that in a couple of minutes.


JOHNS: Minneapolis, Minnesota. Isn't that Mary Tyler Moore country?

CHETRY: There you go.

JOHNS: There you go. Sixteen degrees, cloudy. That's a lot colder than it is right here.

CHETRY: Wasn't that WKRP in Cincinnati? No, we're mixing up our shows.

JOHNS: Yes. Well, they're about TV, so we should know, I think.

CHETRY: There you go.

JOHNS: So, Reynolds, you have some very interesting news for us today, and we're thinking that it's going to be quite cold for a lot of people all the way across the country, coast to coast.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. That's -- that's very true. You brought up the Mary Tyler Moore thing.

CHETRY: Yes. Clear that up for us.

WOLF: (INAUDIBLE) you know, throwing that hat up in the air, you know, if she was doing that today, that hat would be going, going gone. I mean, the wind is going to be strong today.

Currently, the Twin Cities, you're sitting pretty with about 16 degrees. Snow is in the forecast, anywhere from six to eight inches of snow. We've got two big weather makers there crossing the nation, one right here toward Chicago. We're actually going to zoom in on this area, parts of the Great Lakes, where you can see from this area, clear down through the Gulf Coast, we're looking at a storm that's going to strike you (ph) just for over 1,000 miles. Some of it rain, some of it snow, some of it some strong thunderstorms along the Gulf Coast.

But then, back out to the west, we have actually a stronger storm system that is brewing, that's going to bring some snow to places like the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, maybe even into, say -- not San Francisco but rather up towards Sacramento before the day is out on parts of I-5, then down to the great vine (ph) outside of LA. You're going to have some snow there as well on parts of I-5. And then, it's really going to take shape not just today but in the coming days.

And this is really going to be the big kicker. It's going to be this area of low pressure right off the California coast. These things always intensify during the winter months. This is the time when California gets most of its rainfall and snow fall, and -- sure enough, we're going to be seeing this thing zip right across the four corners. Strong wind gusts, some topping, say, 30, 40 miles per hour, some up to 60 and 70 before the day is out, and very quickly, this storm eventually moving into parts of the Great Lakes.

It's going to cause widespread delays in many spots, including LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix and LA.

All right, guys. This is the latest. We got more for you we're going to be sharing more throughout the day. Back to you.

CHETRY: (INAUDIBLE). Oh, you were right. Mary Tyler Moore -- of course. In Minneapolis.

JOHNS: Minneapolis.

CHETRY: There was even a statue of her there.

JOHNS: Oh, there is?

CHETRY: Yes. So that's where -- she was a news producer there in Minneapolis. That was a whole sitcom -- look at Reynolds crying.

WOLF: Good memories.

CHETRY: I'll give you something to cry about. I am a -- I'm a -- a mother of two, right? And this was my first snowman that I ever built. I'm not kidding. I had a strange childhood.

JOHNS: OK -- your first?

CHETRY: There it is. JOHNS: Wow!

WOLF: It looks like a snow dog.

CHETRY: That's not what you were supposed to say. Is that what I really needed to hear this morning?

WOLF: That is the most pathetic snowman I have ever seen in my entire life.

JOHNS: Good grief!


WOLF: (INAUDIBLE) stop immediately.

CHETRY: You know what? I wasn't trying to, you know, get a second career as some sort of sculptor working -- working in the medium of ice and snow.

I was just going to say, we were up in the Poconos, not far from Allentown, and that was the snow on Saturday. It was so thick and perfect for making, you know, snowballs or snowmen. We didn't -- you know, we -- we had olives for eyes, and a pickle for a nose, but, you know, we did it together.

JOHNS: Oh, that's a beautiful thing.

WOLF: "A" for effort. "A" for effort. There you go.

JOHNS: We had a lot of snow out in the Washington area too over the weekend. Yes.

CHETRY: Oh really? Where's your snowman?

JOHNS: My snow dog. All right.

So, also coming up, by the way -- this is not a very good segue. We're going to have Sir Richard Branson talking about tourists -- tourists in space, no less.

CHETRY: It's going to be so cool. He -- you know, he -- he's the first one pioneering this whole space tourism thing on a larger scale. Well, now, it's to be continued.

JOHNS: Yes. That's right. He's got his own spaceship and all that and...

CHETRY: More people could afford it now.

JOHNS: Yes, but wonder whether there's like first class and coach, I guess, with that.

CHETRY: Well, if you're headed to the moon, who cares? We're going to hear from Sir Richard Branson himself live in just a moment.

Fifty-two minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Well, in just a few hours President Obama will be meeting with his top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and also with America's ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry.

And as the president's war strategy starts falling into place, our Barbara Starr is already on the ground. She's embedded with US forces, and this morning she has the story of one village where Afghan forces are fighting back against the Taliban and winning. It's a story you wouldn't see anywhere else.

Our Barbara is at Bagram Air Base this morning with an AM Exclusive.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, Kiran, it's a mixed security picture here in Eastern Afghanistan. In some areas, the Taliban remain in control, but in some areas, violence is declining and progress is being made.

We visited one small village where life is changing.


STARR: This is a very busy town.

STARR (voice-over): One year ago, this would have been unthinkable. We are walking the streets of Baraki Barak, a small village 30 miles south of Kabul, with Major General Curtis Scaparrotti. Last year, this marketplace was deserted. The Taliban ruled here. People stayed away.

Now, you can readily see how busy it is. The US troops now rely heavily on Afghan forces.

MAJ. GEN. CURTIS SCAPARROTTI, US ARMY: This was one of the areas that was considered a sanctuary, and -- you know, of the Taliban and the enemy. So, we basically fought with them to clear the area, secure the people, protect the population.

STARR: Here in the east, the counterinsurgency strategy has had results. The troops are heavily focused on working with Afghan forces to improve security in places like this. Here, Afghan control the town's checkpoints, trying to keep the Taliban from coming back.

SCAPARROTTI: We want to turn over the security of Afghanistan and these villages and towns to their own forces.

STARR: It's not been easy. Here in Baraki Barak, the police chief started with just five men. Now, he has 50. Still, just outside of town, there have been attacks.

The troops have arranged for tea and the local bread to be waiting for us at the village bakery. SCAPARROTTI: Thank you. Tashakur.

STARR (on camera): Tashakur.

STARR (voice-over): Afghans and Americans crowd around.

SCAPARROTTI: We're sitting in a village in Afghanistan, having Nan bread and tea.

STARR: But the general knows this type of progress remains spotty. In many places, there are still daily attacks and insurgent strongholds.

The military estimates there are as many as 4,000 insurgents operating in the eastern part of Afghanistan.

SCAPARROTTI: I think what you see in the east is, over the past year, the insurgency had -- had expanded some in terms of the areas that it influenced and controlled with an (INAUDIBLE).

STARR: When the additional US troops arrive in this region, most will help train the Afghan forces, combat operations will continue in the order to try and put the insurgents out of business.

Scaparrotti says the latest intelligence shows the impact.

SCAPARROTTI: We've seen that the enemy's had a harder time getting basic weaponry and ammo.


STARR: Separately, we have learned that the US military is looking at potentially reliable reports that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement, has moved from his suspected hideout area along the Pakistan border, to Karachi, a teeming, highly populated city in Pakistan. If the reports are true, the question is who is helping him -- Joe, Kiran?

CHETRY: Barbara Starr for us this morning. That's an amazing development...

JOHNS: It certainly is.

CHETRY: ... and we'll see what else we learn about that later today.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

Also coming up just a little bit later, global warming, is it just a political trick? Back with the top stories about 90 seconds.