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American Morning

Cloud Over Climate Summit: Leaked Emails Talk About a Trick; Space Tourism; ATM Fees Up

Aired December 07, 2009 - 08:00   ET



KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It's Monday, December 7th, and 8:00 on the nose right here in New York City. Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns, in for John Roberts, who's on assignment. John joins us now. He's in England this morning.

John, how are you doing?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Joe. Doing fine, thanks.

We're in Norwich, England, at the University of East Anglia, outside of the Climatic Research Unit, which has become really the epicenter of an enormous controversy surrounding the research regarding global warming. E-mails that were hacked out of the computer system here have given new fuel to skeptics who claim that all of the research surrounding global warming has been cooked, that scientists manipulated the data to support their theories and their claims, and wondering what kind of impact this is going to have on the climate conference that opens in Copenhagen, Denmark, today.

All of that is coming up, Joe.

JOHNS: All right, John. Thanks so much. We'll be getting right back to you.

Here are the big stories we'll tell you about in the next 15 minutes or so.

The biggest and most important U.N. Climate Conference in history is under way in Copenhagen. Nearly 100 world leaders will attend that 12-day summit, including President Obama next week.

Meantime, the controversy we just heard about -- scientists allegedly massaging global warming data -- has triggered a new war of words in Washington.

CHETRY: Ticket to space? Two hundred thousand dollars. At least there are no baggage fees. The countdown is on to space tourism. The pioneer of it all, Sir Richard Branson is going to be joining us from the Mojave Desert to show us the newest spacecraft that could change history.

JOHNS: And, are you tired of being nickeled and dimed to death every time another bank's ATM takes your money or gives you money? Well, now, Washington wants to put this practice to a stop, and it's called double-dipping. Our CNN Money team explains.

We begin, though, with the e-mails that have created a cloud of controversy over the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. One of the big goals is to get countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are heating up the earth and doing damage to the world, our kids are going to inherent.

But is the problem as bad as some people make it sound? Critics say emails swipe from a British university suggest researchers could be putting their own spin on reality. And that's creating political fireworks all the way to Washington.

Jim Acosta is live from D.C. this morning.

And, Jim, Republicans are really seizing on this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They think it's the tip of the iceberg, you might say, Joe. It is unclear how much this controversy will dominate the debate in Copenhagen. A top United Nations climate official agrees the e-mails in question are damaging, and Republicans here in Washington believe they are proof that much of global warming theory is based on bogus science -- and they want answers.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With world leaders in Copenhagen hoping to cut a deal to curb carbon dioxide emissions, there are calls in Washington for hearings into a slew of stolen e-mails that global warming skeptics allege show leading scientists cooking the books on climate change.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: They read more like scientific fascism than scientific process.

ACOSTA: It all started when the university at East Anglia in Britain discovered hackers have seized a file of more than 1,000 e- mails revealing researchers' private discussions on global warming. Climate change deniers have zeroed in on this e-mail that references an American scientist's trip to, quote, "hide the decline." That researcher, Penn State's Michael Mann, has since become the target of conservative critics who say he was trying to conceal a drop in global temperatures, the charge he denies.


ACOSTA: Across the blogosphere of skeptics, climate-gate was born.

The controversy could not have come at a better time for Republicans. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe has fought Democrats on climate change legislation for months.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: One cannot deny the e-mails raised fundamental questions concerning, among other things, transparency and openness in science, especially taxpayer-funded science.

LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: You call it climate-gate, and I call it e-mail theft-gate.

ACOSTA: Last week, Republicans fired up a letter to the EPA, demanding it'll delay new limits on greenhouse gas emissions until the agency can demonstrate the science underlying these regulatory decisions has not been compromised.

The head of the EPA says the e-mails don't affect the scientific consensus on global warming.

JACKSON: I have not heard anything that causes to believe that that overwhelming consensus that climate change is happening and that manmade emissions are contributing to it have changed.

ACOSTA: GOP leaders are warning President Obama to reject any new climate change agreements in Copenhagen.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: We're not a dictatorship. The president can promise whatever he wants. The Congress has a role, if there is some proposed treaty, the Senate will vote on it.

ACOSTA: But in an era of green jobs, Democrats say denying global warming is not just bad science, it's bad business.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: If we ignore it, put our head in the sand, we're going to find countries like China leap flogging us, moving forward. That's going to create jobs for China but not for America.


ACOSTA: And despite what these emails say, many respected climate scientists say the larger data still supports the global warming theory and the controversy is not stopping the president from going to Copenhagen for the conclusion of the summit. Environmentalists hope that's a sign Mr. Obama wants to be there in person when a climate agreement is unveiled to the world -- Joe.

JOHNS: Jim Acosta in Washington -- thanks for that, Jim.

CHETRY: Well, allegations that the global warming threat maybe exaggerated, could have an impact on climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

Its ground zero for the so-called climate-gate scandal was been the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. It's where our John Roberts is reporting from this morning.

Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you, Kiran.

Let me set the scene for you here. That's cylindrical building behind me is the Climatic Research Unit here at the University of East Anglia. It is one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world when it comes to the science of global warming. It was headed up by a professor named Phil Jones, who was -- the person who was cited many times in those emails. He was the one that sent out the email saying, 'I have employed Michael Mann's, quote, 'trick' to marry together these two different data sets."

Now, scientists here -- and Michael Mann, whom I spoke with -- insist that it is not a trick in terms of what you would expect to be a slight of hand. It is simply a method of marrying together two different data sets into one contiguous graph. So, they are saying that it's not what the skeptics are saying; it's something that is totally different.

I got a look inside the Climatic Research Unit yesterday, by the way. I did an exclusive interview with the interim director, Dr. Peter Liss, who has taken over from Jones. Jones stepped down pending an internal review of everything that's going on here.

It's not really what you would expect to see inside here. It's not like some NASA facility or a NOAA weather facility, nor big maps on it, with lights glowing. It really is just a collection of research offices where scientists sit down and they crunch numbers on the computer and come up with the data that they have. A very important data is generated out of here, which is what's called the global temperature record that looks back hundreds of years at the earth's temperature to see if there are anomalies, that there are different changes.

And the theory that Jones came out with is there has been a rise in temperature in the past 50 or so years that can only be attributed to manmade processes, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases going into the environment. The big question, though, here is, what impact of what's being called climate-gate have on this Copenhagen conference.

I put that question to Professor Peter Liss yesterday.


PROF. PETER LISS, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA: No, I don't think it should influence things at all. Of course, I mean, I'm not a politician but I can sort of see that it might have some impact. I hope it's, say, small or insignificant. But we've already seen people saying that this knocks the bottom out of the climate argument. I mean, 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 and 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. Well, you've heard various politicians and representative politicians 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: As you can imagine, this controversy has landed like a bomb at the University of East Anglia. As I said, this is one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world.

Now, people here are concerned that all of the research that has been generated out here may be suspect, at least in some peoples' minds, and it has taken an incredible toll on the director who stepped down, Professor Phil Jones. He is literally gone underground. There are dozens of request from media outlets here in the U.K. and around the world, including in the United States, to have an interview with him. We went looking for him yesterday and couldn't find him.

I asked -- I asked Doctor Liss yesterday just what kind of impact this has had on Jones. Here's what he said.


LISS: It's obviously -- it's not a nice thing to happen to you, because, as you see, it's his life's work. I think he's a very good scientist with huge international reputation, a very honest man.

The language is robust, but then I think scientists talking to scientists in what they thought was a private conversation, you know, we do speak robustly. We do express opinions about all sorts of things, and language -- well, as we see -- can be very misinterpreted.


ROBERTS: Scientists that I talked to -- including Dr. Liss and Michael Mann, back in the United States -- said if you take the e- mails -- most of the e-mails in context, that can you fully explain the language that was contained within them.

But they all agreed that one area that could be problematic for Phil Jones is the fact that he was trying to keep certain information out of the public purview. He had been inundated by dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests here in the U.K., which he was resisting. He also sent out an e-mail asking some of his colleagues to delete e- mails related to that information that they had sent in exchange between them.

So, if there's any problem for him, people here say that could be it. This review won't be done until sometime in the spring, long after the Copenhagen conference. So, people who support global warming, the theory for it, believe that by the time that all is said and done here, they do believe that Dr. Jones will be exonerated, though, but the damage could be done -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we have to see how all of that plays out. John, thank you.

And also, stay tuned tonight for a special edition of CAMPBELL BROWN, "Global Warming: Trick or Truth." Campbell will be looking at the science, the skepticism and the secrets surrounding global warming. It's tonight, 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

JOHNS: Coming up after the break, Sir Richard Branson with the idea that has captured imaginations around the world -- space tourism.

CHETRY: Would you go?

JOHNS: I certainly would, although I don't know if I could get the company to put it on my expense account.

CHETRY: Well, you know, you got to do a special investigation and just kind of see what it's all about.

JOHNS: Let's go CNN, get that AmEx card.


CHETRY: We will be talking to Sir Richard Branson live coming up in just a couple of minutes.

It's 12 minutes after the hour.



CHETRY: Beastie Boys, "Intergalactic."

JOHNS: Amazing.


JOHNS: Where do they get the music?

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

The countdown is on to commercial space travel -- that's right -- commercial space travel. Later today, Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, will unveil the world's first commercial manned spacecraft.

CHETRY: This has a lot of people very excited. There are 300 tourists who have already booked a ticket for $200,000 a pop.

And joining us now live from the Mojave Desert this morning is Sir Richard Branson.

Great to talk to you again. Thanks for being on our show this morning.

So, there it is behind you. Tell us...


CHETRY: Tell us what that is and why everyone is so excited.

RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Well, first of all, it is great to be talking to you. CNN is the very, very first people to have a glimpse of the spaceship. The official unveiling is later today with Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Richardson. But, basically, don't tell anybody, but there she is. We have already built the White Knight which is the very big craft you see behind, and the spaceship now is settled beautifully in the middle of White Knight. And that's the spaceship that hopefully you and me and others will go up into space with over the next 18 months or so.

CHETRY: All right. So, explain a little bit about this thing. It can carry six space tourists and two pilots. Where? How far would it go? How high up would it go? What would they be looking at for this flight?

BRANSON: Well, what happens is that the six potential astronauts will be sitting in the central pod here, which is the spacecraft. And the White Knight will take them up to about 60,000 feet. At 60,000 feet, they will drop away and they will then go from 2,500 miles per hour in 10 seconds where they get propelled into space. And once they are in space, they will unbuckle their seats.

As you can see, there are enormous windows, which no spacecraft has ever had before, for them to look back at the earth. And they can float around and they can become astronauts, and, when they are ready to come back into the earth's atmosphere again, they will pull themselves back into their seats, they'll buckle in and they will begin their voyage back into the earth's atmosphere.

And, at that stage, the spaceship turns into a shuttlecock and that would be the genius of Ben Ritardi, the engineer behind it. And so it literally feathers its way back into the earth's atmosphere. So, it doesn't have the enormous heat buildup that some of the NASA spaceships have had in the past.

JOHNS: So as I understand it, the next thing that has to happen is testing. And I would assume that the testing has to be expensive. Could you sort of tell us how much has to be done to make this project happen?

BRANSON: Well, the technology is based on Spaceship One, which has been into space on three different occasions. So, it's not brand- new technology. It's just a much, much larger version of Spaceship One, much more customer orientated.

And, as you say, we will do extensive testing. It will be about eighteen months of testing. And then, at the end of that, myself and my children, Holly and Sam, and my parents -- I should ask my mum on the side -- on a slightly younger version, my mum on the side of the spaceship, and Ben Ritardi, the engineer will do the first flight, and Bill Richardson is building a beautiful spaceport in New Mexico, I mean it's a stunning spaceport right back in the desert, and that's where the flights will take place from. CHETRY: Wow. That is amazing. It's a family affair. You guys are -- hopefully bring a video camera with you if you can so you can chronicle some of that. The other interesting thing is where it goes from here. I mean, right now as we talked about, you need a lot of money, and now you need to have a little bit of daredevil in you to want to do this.

And there are a lot of people that do, as we have said, millions of dollars, $40 million already in deposits to guarantee some sort of trip on this once you guys are doing this. But what about the prospect then, moving forward, of just shrinking the amount of time it takes to get across the world, I mean, New York to Tokyo someday in three hours. That seems amazing.

BRANSON: Well, we would love at some stage, obviously subject to government approval, to take our engineers and start looking at shrinking the world. So maybe, you know, we're close to Los Angeles here, Los Angeles to Australia maybe a couple hours.

But that's for the future. And hopefully we can see something magical like that in our lifetime. But for now, what we want to be able to do is try to bring space travel down to a price range where literally hundreds of thousands of people would be able to experience space, and they never dreamed that they could have the opportunity in the past.

JOHNS: Certainly, looking forward to that day, Sir Richard Branson. Thanks so much for coming aboard and talking to us about this a little bit.

BRANSON: Thanks for being the first to share it with.

CHETRY: We're happy about that. And you must be very proud as well. Good luck with all the testing and with the new adventure. Sir Richard Branson, thanks.

JOHNS: He talked about bringing down the price of space travel. We are also looking into double-dipping at the banks. Are they charging you twice just to use your ATM? We will have that in just a minute. It's 20 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: I hope that's not toxic, I will tell you that. That's our New York City, where right now it's sunny, 34 degrees. A little bit later it will be cloudy and 44 for a high in the Big Apple today.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. The maker of the must-have toy of the holiday season is disputing claims that the light brown Zhu Zhu pet is unsafe. The move coming after a consumer website said the motorized hamster, there he is, contains unsafe levels of a substance found in textiles, plastics and paint. Company spokesperson says that the toy complies with all government and industry safety standards.

JOHNS: Toy season. And Stephanie Elam is here, "Minding Your Business". Talking about double-dipping.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: ATM fees. We all know about these. Well, actually, maybe we don't, because they know about one, it's out there, when you go to the ATM that's not your bank and it says, we are going to charge you two bucks for using this ATM that is not your bank. But what you don't know is that your own bank, they go ahead and says you used a bank that was not us, so we are going to charge you for that too. And so, lawmakers are calling this double-dipping. And they want to get something fixed here.

But I'll tell you what basically we are talking about here. The average fee has jumped nearly 13%, to, on average, $2.22. Nearly 99 percent of banks impose a surcharge. But then, when your bank adds in its fee, the average there is about $1.32, that's down about $0.14 because they started getting some heat so they pulled back. But 72 percent of banks about charge customers with this fees. So, look at that since 1998, all the way up to now you can see that there has been a jump.

So, lawmakers want something done about this, because they are saying banks are making money hand-over-fist at a time when people are really hurting and they really do need their money. But, think about it, you are going to just pull out $20 from the ATM, and get hit with fees from your bank. You get hit with fees from the other bank. You are talking about like $4 on top of $20. So, that's a lot of money. So obviously people want something done about it.

JOHNS: True. And these are, I mean some of these companies actually got bailed out, for example, by the United States government, and then it's just like more money and more money and more money.

ELAM: They are making more money off of this. And this is something that has been around, even before this all started last fall, right? This is something that has been just growing and growing, because this was a new era. The whole idea of the ATM, and going to get your money from the ATM was a new place, and so, hey, we can make more money off of this. And so, make sure you check your statement, and if you can, go across town to your bank and get your money.


CHETRY: Every little bit, especially in these times, add up.

ELAM: Yes, it does.

JOHNS: And then you spend extra gas if you are driving to go to your bank because it's never right across the street.

CHETRY: Or, you know, you could try to take out the right amount of money for one week. And then...

JOHNS: Or just don't spend anymore.

CHETRY: That would require budgeting, which apparently none of us are very good at. Stephanie, thank you.

JOHNS: Afghan surge. Camp Lejeune as the first base. Peter Baker of the "New York Times" is going to come up shortly and talk a little bit about an article he just wrote on this issue.


CHETRY: Twenty-eight minutes past the hour right now.

We check the top stories. It's big news in the skies. The airline industry now taking a serious look at the hazards posed by birds to commercial aircraft after a rash of close calls. The urging of the FAA, the commercial aviation safety team, a joint government industry safety group now making birds a priority for the first time.

JOHNS: Security forces and pro-government militiamen are clashing with thousands of opposition protesters outside Tehran University. Witnesses say, the militiamen moved into the crowds beating men and women with baton, while security forces fired their teargas. Authorities promise to crack down on any student protest today. The government is banning international media coverage of the university.

CHETRY: And it's the question the Obama administration cannot answer. Where is Osama Bin Laden? The prior administration, of course, was not able to answer that question as well. But National Security Advisor, James Jones, told John King on Sunday's State of the Union, that the U.S. doesn't know where the Al Qaeda leader is, but believes he could be hiding near the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Have you seen intelligence, reliable intelligence about where he is?

GEN. JAMES L. JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: The best estimate is that he is somewhere in North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border. A very, very, rough mountainous area, and generally ungoverned. We are 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.


CHETRY: At the same time, adding to the confusion, Defense Chief Robert Gates telling ABC news yesterday that the U.S. has not had good intelligence on Bin Laden in quote, "years".

JOHNS: As Marines in Camp Lejeune wait for their marching orders today. President Obama will meet with the top commander in Afghanistan in General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal is the man who said he needed more troops to win the war, and it's a decision the commander in chief wrestled with for months. Peter Baker from "The New York Times" chronicled the president's struggle in coming to this decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to war. He joins me now with details from his front page story in the Sunday "Times." And good to see you again, Peter Baker.


JOHNS: So, as I read this, it looks like the president came slowly to the number. He came slowly to the notion of how all of this would be done. Could you sort of take us through briefly the nuts and bolts of how the president got to this 30,000 number?

BAKER: Well, had a very arduous three month review. He kept asking questions, he kept insisting on more information, and it was a kind of process that required the intelligence agencies to come up with three dozen new reports to try to satisfy his enquires, the Pentagon and States Department, thousands of pages of documents they produced.

And ultimately he came to the conclusion that more troops were necessary, but that they had to get in faster than the military originally was protecting, and then they had to get out faster than anybody was protecting.

JOHNS: And what was the struggle? There was so much time taken to come to this result, obviously there was something the president really wanted to know and get at. Did he get there?

BAKER: He wanted to know almost everything. Let's keep in mind, this is a president who ran for office talking more about Iraq than Afghanistan when it came to the war, just like everybody did.

He quickly sent troops to buttress what was going on there but hadn't spent the kind of time that he spent this fall chewing through every kind of question, everything from the question of who is really our enemy? What is really the core goal here? Should it be to defeat the Taliban? What about Al Qaeda and Pakistan? Would the Taliban taking over Afghanistan lead to Pakistan falling?

All of these questions were played out through ten long Situation Room meetings with his national security team.

JOHNS: There was also a lot of frustration with the number of leaks. It seemed every day some new information was coming out of the Situation Room to news organizations like CNN, including CNN.

The question, then, would be how did the president react to that? What did he tell his staff? And it seems like the administration might have been putting some of the information out on its own.

BAKER: Of course some of that is the case. In Washington, as you know, obviously, people sometimes fight out policy disputes through the newspapers and the networks. And that is correspondent -- some of that was going on here. It breeded suspicion, though. The White House suspected the military was leaking. The military and State Department suspected that the White House was leaking.

There was one meeting in November when the president got fed up with it and he said at one of these Situation Room meetings, he said I'm not going to tolerate you all talking to the press outside the room. It's a disservice to this process, the country, and the men and women of the military.

And people hadn't seen him that angry before and everyone was sort of uncomfortably quiet.

JOHNS: Also talk if you will just a little about the advisers, the people surrounding the president who have his ear, if you will. I remember you referring to the vice president, Joe Biden as a bull in a China shop, or that was a quote that someone else said. Tell me why it is people viewed him that way?

BAKER: He was out there messing things up and breaking pottery. He was asking tough questions that nobody had good answers to. He was very skeptical and very resistant to the idea of more troops in Afghanistan. He thought he was throwing good money after bad, good lives after a situation he didn't think could be resolved with extra troops.

And he felt like the real priority was Afghanistan, but Pakistan, where most of Al Qaeda's senior leadership is these days. So a lot of people around that table agreed with a lot of what he said. They did not necessarily agree with his prescription for how to go about addressing the issues he was raising.

JOHNS: OK, another thing that I found very interesting is that question that seemed to come out at the very beginning and stayed all the way through, and that was whether the United States has to defeat the Taliban in order to defeat Al Qaeda. Did they come up with a conclusion on that? What do you think?

BAKER: Well, there was a lot of discussion about exactly that. In these meetings, you had Bob Gates, who, of course, had been in the CIA during the Soviet War in Afghanistan, very influenced by that experience. You had Leon Panetta, the new CIA director.

They said you cannot defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. It's an indigenous force, it's part of the political fabric. Ultimately it may in fact be like Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has an armed wing and a political party.

So the real priority ought to be to knock them back for awhile, long enough for the Afghan government to get stronger. And their conclusion was the Taliban itself doesn't present a threat to the American homeland. It's a threat only in the sense that it would provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda, which does still aspire to attack American territory.

JOHNS: Peter Baker in Washington, thank you so much. Again, great to see you.

BAKER: Thank you, great to see you.

CHETRY: Still ahead at 35 minutes past the hour.

The numbers are shocking. More than one in 100 families will get the news that their child has some form of autism. We are digging deeper with an "A.M." original series I'm reporting 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 maybe give these children a whole different future.


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 reports about one percent of eight-year-olds are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

CHETRY: Yes, it's shocking when you take a look at the numbers -- one out of every 100, and in some of the studies it's even higher than that, one in 91. It's a 50 percent jump from just two years ago.

But now there is new cutting edge brain research that's helping unlock the mystery of a autistic brain, and moving forward it may give these children a whole different future. We are reporting on this with an original series "Inside the Child's Mind." Today is part one.


CHETRY: Eight year old Zander Pridy has no trouble reading big words.

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

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

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

CHETRY: Zander has an autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger's Syndrome. Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are using this MEG, short for Magneto Encephalography, to study the brain waves of children like Zander with autism disorders.

ROBERTS: We are trying to study how the children's brain responds to stimulus, to sounds, to words, to speech.

CHETRY: Hoping to unlock the mysteries of how an autistic brain works.

Lead researcher Tim Roberts says new clues are already emerging.

TIM ROBERTS, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: When you hear a sound, your brain responds. When a child with autism hears a sound, their brain responds too, but a little bit later.

CHETRY (on camera): 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 world.

CHETRY: For Zander those delays mean too many sounds could be a distraction, especially in the classroom.

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

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

KARA PRIDY: He monologues. He'll get going and somebody has to tell him, like, the person is not interested anymore. They were interested, but you are 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, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Kids with autism really have a difficult time with social perception, understanding peoples' 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 will be like the actual MRI.

CHETRY: He is introducing 13-year-old Garrett Hammond to a mock MRI to help him relax for the real test.

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 the tasks are underactive.

CHETRY: In this scan of a typical brain, the red areas show activity in the parts of the brain that understand faces and expressions.

SCHULTZ: You can see when they are looking at faces they have less activity in red.

CHETRY: This research will not answer the question of what causes autism, but Dr. Schultz says it may lead to better diagnoses and earlier intervention.

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

KARA PRIDY: I hope it helps us understands some of his strengths and the ways we can help him over any weaknesses.

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

CHETRY (on camera): So when they looked at your brain with the MEG machine, what did they see?

ZANDER PRIDY: Geniusness.


CHETRY: An adorable kid, very, very bright, as well. And he is so comfortable speaking to us, and he certainly has a bright future ahead. His mom is working as hard as she can to figure out what will help him in making it happen for them as well as in the classroom with his teachers.

JOHNS: The question everybody has is what causes autism? You see what happens. You see the results. But so many people want to know how does it start, and is there any way to stop it before it starts?

CHETRY: You look at the numbers, one in 91 or one in 100, and you start to become worried. Is this something that's growing? Are more kids getting it, and why?

We put that question to almost all of the experts that we spoke with, and it really is inconclusive as to what exactly causes it. There are many theories about vaccines and environmental toxins, about pollution.

One thing they do know is that there is a genetic link. So they say that there are certain genes that increase the risk of developing autism, and they say that there are environmental factors that could then make you more likely to get it in the kids that have the genetic risks.

But again there is no test to determine, and one of the goals of this research is to figure out if there is a biological marker, if there's something in the brain that can show that.

And all of this to be able to help the children more. They have made tremendous strides in programs and behavioral therapy in helping these kids. And so all this research really is about that, is about figuring out the earlier you can get in there and make changes, can you change the chemistry of the brain and the way the brain is wired to actually have some people in some cases say you are recovered from autism or autism spectrum disorder.

JOHNS: And so you will be doing more of this this week?

CHETRY: Yes. We have one more piece that we're doing tomorrow that's focuses specifically around autism spectrum disorder. We had a chance to talk to one family whose son was diagnosed with autism, but and after intense behavioral therapy programs turned things around, and now he is just an everyday, typical 13-year-old boy. His mom and pedestrian said he has recovered from autism, and he demonstrates no signs that you would never know he had the autism diagnosis. So we're going to bring you his amazing story tomorrow with The Most News in the Morning.

JOHNS: Good work, Kiran.

CHETRY: Thanks, Joe.

JOHNS: You bet.

CHETRY: And right now, we're also bracing for a winter storm. Our Reynolds Wolf is tracking all of this for us. Where are the hot spots -- or I guess in this case -- the cold spots, especially if you're going to be traveling on the roads or on the skies today.

JOHNS: And we'll be talking just a little bit more about your kids these days; the sex talk. What's the right age for it? Younger than you might think, some say.

Back in a minute.


JOHNS: Denver, Colorado, five degrees right now and snow. We are just trying to figure out...

CHETRY: Wait, hold on. We had our "AM Playlist" -- this is Mr. Bright Side, The Killers, right. Yes or no?

JOHNS: Yes, yes I think it is.

CHETRY: Yes, ok fine.

JOHNS: Rather than -- exactly, ok so the time (INAUDIBLE).

The other question though, maybe you can help us with this, Reynolds, was the shining based on the big Colorado snow storm or...

CHETRY: This is the type of stuff we talking about in the break.


CHETRY: We knew we were going to be talking about Colorado. So where do we travel?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Ok well, let me throw you for a loop on this one. That shot of outside the Orville Oak (ph) Hotel for the movie you're showing is actually shot in northern California. Or actually the outside of it was -- the filming of it was actually done in London, but the story is based in Colorado. So there you go.

JOHNS: Well. WOLF: A little bit of something for everyone.

CHETRY: And northern -- I mean, northern California, I mean, you have Truckee (ph) and some of those places outside of Tahoe, that's where you get that types of snow, huh?

WOLF: Yes and they're going to be getting that today but also back in the places like the central Rockies where it's going to be hitting like a battering ram.

We've got two systems that we're watching very carefully; one through the eastern half of the Great Lakes, all right -- actually the western half. It's going to be driving its way through places like Detroit, eventually through Cleveland.

Farther sought though it's not going of be a snow event but rather a rain event and possibly some strong thunderstorms along the Gulf Coast. And when we push out towards the west it's going to be this complex system that we see, this area of low pressure.

Pulling (INAUDIBLE) bringing some scattered showers in San Louis and this goes to the LA basin as far north as San Francisco. But then when you get back into the Sierra Nevada, Truckee, which you were just talking about a few moments ago, Kiran, you can expect some snow really to begin to develop there.

Now, the big weather maker again for this week ahead is going to be this area of low pressure, when it interacted with that cold air that's continuing to march in from the north. It's going to give you some strong winds, too and some blizzard conditions to those high mountain passes at times exceeding winds of say 50 miles an hour.

And as we fast forward into say Wednesday and Thursday and even into early Friday, it's going to be a combination of rain and sleet and of course some heavy snow for the Great Lakes and possibly some strong storms for the Gulf Coast.

This is a story we're going to be watching very carefully through the course of the week causing all kinds of problems for millions of people.

Back to you.

CHETRY: I saw it -- do you are remember, Blue Canyon right? Blue Canyon is always the last spot of I-50 toward Tahoe...


CHETRY: ... where a local news station can get a live shot out of, so if you have some Blue Canyon...


CHETRY: Yes, you knew you're in trouble.

WOLF: Yes, that's always a bad time. Always tough times there, no question, especially this time of year.

CHETRY: Time to put the chains on the tires.

JOHNS: Yes for sure, or just stay home.

WOLF: Yes do that.

CHETRY: Yes, that's always an option as well. But you got to ski; you want to get out there.

Well, still ahead, this is something that most parents dread. They wonder just when they are really going to have to do the sex talk and what is the right age for it? It's younger than you might think according to a study. Elizabeth Cohen is going to be shedding some lights on that for us.

It's 51 minutes.

JOHNS: It's 21. No.

CHETRY: I was going to say 35. But no, apparently, it's much younger.

JOHNS: Right.

CHETRY: We'll be right back.


CHETRY: That's right. No snow there, but it's still a little chilly; it's 38 and cloudy in Atlanta this morning. But it's going up. It's probably one of the warmest spots partly cloudy and 53 degrees for Atlanta today.

JOHNS: Love that "hotlanta".

CHETRY: There you go. Or at least warm winds.

Welcome back to The Most News in the Morning.

We're at 6 minutes before the top of the hour.

If you are a parent, you know that the sex talk is never easy. It can be awkward and in many cases, the children themselves are pretty mortified by it.

JOHNS: But that may be one reason the talk is so after the fact. At least that's what a new study has found. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is live in CNN Center in Atlanta, by the way. And Elizabeth, when you mean talk about sex, what sort of issues should parents address?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pediatricians say that parents really should address everything from hand-holding to condom-wearing. The parents need to cover it all, even if their children have sex ed in school. Because what's happening they say is that too many teens are having sex without having had crucial discussions with their kids.

Let's take look at the finding from this most recent study, it's in the journal "Pediatrics" of today. What they found is that 40 percent of kids are having sex without any kind of discussion with their parents about birth control or prevention of sexually transmitted disease. The advice here is if your kid is going to be having sex, you certainly want to discuss birth control and safe sex with them -- Kiran and Joe.

CHETRY: So how early are we talking about? You have to know this type of stuff. How early are kids saying that they are having sex these days?

COHEN: Exactly, I hear you, Kiran. As a parent you almost don't want to know because it's actually pretty horrifying.

Let's take a look at some statistics. According to the authors of this study, one-third of ninth graders have had sexual intercourse. Wait another year -- excuse me -- half of tenth graders have had sexual intercourse. So that's -- at least by my book, that's pretty early.

JOHNS: That's just stunning.

CHETRY: It is.

JOHNS: I guess the next question is when -- when to have that talk, when does it work? When is the good idea?

COHEN: Right. I think what pediatricians are telling parents are look, start when they're little kids. Not about sex per se but start naming body parts and start having that good touch bad touch discussion. And then as they get older, ramp it up.

It's not one discussion. It's a series of discussions that really you start having even before they hit puberty, and then the discussions get more intense when puberty starts.

CHETRY: And it's not just the body parts. It's about self respect, it's about safety, it's about your overall health. There's a lot of issues to be tackled there. And peer pressure is a tremendous one as well.

COHEN: You are absolutely right. This isn't just about sex. It's about having the self respect to say no. That's huge. And a lot of girls don't have that. And so that's what's important. You need to teach that, and you need to teach them you know what is right, not necessarily your friends but you know what is right, and that's an important lesson for kids to hear.

CHETRY: Absolutely.

JOHNS: That's just stunning. I really can't get over it. Ninth grade, it's unthinkable to me.

CHETRY: I know. Well, you have some time to work on your talk. Your daughter is 4.

JOHNS: I am a little old-fashioned. Exactly.

All right. Thanks so much, Elizabeth.

CHETRY: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

It's 57 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back. Mark your calendars, by the way, because coming up this Thursday, we're live at a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING as President Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. We'll be live there with a special edition and it's happening Thursday, 7:00 a.m.

JOHNS: Continue the conversation on today's stories. Go to our blog at

CHETRY: And that's going to do it for us here on AMERICAN MORNING. Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Great having you with us this morning Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks. Very happy to be here, bright and bushy-tailed.

CHETRY: Bright and early. And now, you're back on the plane.

JOHNS: 2:30 in the morning.

CHETRY: Fun, fun, fun.

Meanwhile the news continues right now with Heidi Collins in the "CNN NEWSROOM". Good morning, Heidi.