Friday, February 6, 2009

Dissecting an Activist Web Site (Part Two)

This is part two of my critique of One Blue Marble. Rather than critique point-by-point on the presentation of climate change myths, I will highlight some key points. The method of argument presented throughout “One Blue Marble” remains a heavy reliance on Ad Hominem, Argument from Authority and name-calling.

The "climate scientists" who deny global warming are, with one or two exceptions, not actually climate scientists. They work at "institutes" that are funded by big oil, and they are unable to publish their "findings" in respected peer-reviewed scientific journals. They are out solely for number one. The Friends of Science (FoS) and Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) are prime examples. (The Union of Concerned Scientists has an excellent PDF available).

Again this is ad hominem attack and unsupported assertion.

As I stated in my previous post, scientific hypotheses stand or fall on merit through testing using empirical or experimental data. As such, the findings are independent of who funded them. Arguing that a study is invalid because it was funded by this or that organization is not scientific refutation, but ad hominem attack. If a study is flawed, it can be demonstrated as such through testing.

The “excellent” pdf from the Union of Concerned Scientists is similarly short on scientific refutation and long on ad hominem. A quick read will show that the author has adapted this particular document virtually whole cloth for most of his assertions, particularly when he connects to the tobacco industry.

Myth # 2: The world isn't warming, it's cooling, and it has been cooling since 1998.

Fact: See how clever the deniers are? Truth to tell, 1998, with a very strong El Nino event, was the second warmest on year on record. So if you compare, say, 1998 and 2002, you will find that 1998 was warmer.

His opening sentence is ad hominem. Satellite readings, thought by many scientists to be more accurate than surface measures, have declined or remained flat since 1995 after you adjust for the 1998 El NiƱo.1 Given that atmospheric CO2 levels have steadily increased within the same timeframe. Based on climate models advanced by the ACCTA crowd, this should not happen.

But that doesn't mean the world is cooling, and that's not the comparison you should be making. If you compare 2002 with any year in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, you'll find that find that 2002 was much warmer. And if you plot the yearly temperatures for the last 130 years, you'll get a graph that looks like this one.

Actually you get this graph from plotting the yearly temperature anomaly, not the actual temperature. Look closely at the graph. It looks pretty scary until you realize that it is measured in tenths of a degree.

The anomaly is calculated relative to an average temperature, which in this case happens to be about 14°C for the period between 1961 and 1990. The anomaly shown in this graph then is, in very simplistic terms, the annualized daily deviation from that average. Keep in mind that the average, or mean temperature, should not be called the “normal” temperature. There is no such thing as a “normal” temperature.

None of this is raw data. This data, including that used to compute the average, is a derived figure since we do not actually have complete surface coverage. According to GISS, the best estimate for global mean temperature over the past 128 years is 14°C and this value is used by most scientists as the baseline for anomaly calculations.2

Second, notice that there are three significant and prolonged anomaly drops on the graph all of which occurred while atmospheric CO2 levels are said to have increased. If the causal link between rising atmospheric CO2 and rising temperatures is so strong, then these dips or even periods of flat-line should not occur.

Third, between 1880 and 1950 there were fewer than 4,000 surface stations measuring temperature world-wide for which there are records of any kind. GISS currently uses 6,257 stations world-wide in calculating the anomaly3. Given the Earth’s surface area of 196,939,900 sqmi, the surface station density used to calculate global temperature is one station per 31,475 sqmi. Given that surface temperatures can vary wildly within a few miles, this implies huge gaps in the actual data coverage. These data gaps are filled in mathematically to create the anomaly and to feed the climate models. Additionally, measurement accuracy in the early years is dubious, given the instruments available at the time.

Fourth, there is not, nor has there ever been a uniform international standard for when and how temperatures are recorded and this includes standards for proper sighting and configuration of measuring stations. Nor is there any process in place to evaluate stations in order to ensure that sampling errors are not influencing the data. In 1997 the IPCC, during preparation of the Third Assessment, recognized the need for some system to do this, but nothing was implemented.4

In the US a grassroots effort was launched to do this after the NOAA failed to take action. This was done in large part as a result of the urging in 2007 of Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. and others who were concerned that inaccurate data could be leading to invalid conclusions resulting in alarmism and knee-jerk reactions by governments.5

There are currently 1221 surface temperature stations in the US, of which 819 or 67% have been surveyed and evaluated as of 25 January 2009.6 Of this number 58% fall into the Category IV error (an artificial heat source within 10 meters). A further 11% are Category V error (Temperature sensor located next to/above an artificial heating source, such a building, roof top, parking lot, or concrete surface). Category IV and V are most likely to create “heat island” effects. Many of these stations are classified as “rural” by GISS, which then in turn affects how the raw data is handled in creating the anomaly.

See, here's the thing. It doesn't make sense mathematically to compare one year to any other year. It does make sense to compare decades. In truth, nine of the warmest 10 years on record have occurred in the last decade, and the last decade has been the warmest our planet has seen in more than 100,000 years.

In an earlier paragraph the author compared individual years, yet here he says that it is not the correct comparison. At least the author finally throws out an actual fact. Based on the calculated anomalies recorded over the last 128 years the last ten were the hottest on record.

Given that for about 88% of the past 100,000 years the earth was in an Ice Age (IA) the assertion about the last ten years being the hottest in 100,000 years becomes a little ridiculous. And yet the earth warmed roughly 2°C (from an annual average of about 12°C to 13.9°C) starting about 12,000 years ago and all without significant inputs of human-produced atmospheric CO2.

Myth # 3: If human induced carbon emissions are responsible for the slight half a degree Fahrenheit rise in the earth's temperature since the 1970s, how do you explain the temperature increases during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) from 900-1300 prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine?

Fact: Again, notice the cleverness: take a real event, and suggest that it means more than it does. Depending on world events, our climate does naturally warm and cool, so scientists confidently proclaim that the world did go through a period of slight warming after the Dark Ages and a period called the Little Ice Age (LIA) in the 1600 and 1700s.

Most estimates of MWP temperatures are higher than the current “drastic” warming and yet the author cavalierly dismisses the MWP as a period of “slight” warming. Prior to the MWP there was another cooling period and prior to that another warm period, each of which lasted hundreds of years. There seems to be a pattern here.

All of this is occurring during something called the Holocene Interglacial (HIG), a climate event so far lasting 8,000-12,000 years. The HIG in turn is occurring during something called an Ice House (IH), where mean surface temperatures are between 12°C and 14°C. The current IH has lasted roughly 30 million years (the low end for an IH).

I've watched as global warming deniers have used these events to promote preposterous ideas, including one wag who suggested that Greenland is called Greenland because it was ice free during the days of Eirik the Red, and that Eastern Island is treeless now because the cold weather during the LIA forced natives to burn the forests to stay warm. (It's far more complicated than that).

In fact, recent glacial retreat in Greenland has uncovered Viking settlements that had been buried under ice. It isn’t a wag at all. There are historical records of wheat and flax shipments from the settlements in Greenland to Denmark and other points in Europe.7 Viking settlements in Greenland were abandoned when farming became impossible in the late-14th century with the advance of the LIA. Today it is impossible to grow wheat in Greenland because it is too cold and much of the land the Vikings farmed is still under ice.

But the point remains. Why did the Earth warm during the MWP? Well, the first point is that we don't know if the entire planet warmed, as the data is only conclusive for the North Hemisphere, which does appear to have enjoyed a milder climate for three or four centuries.

Scientists don't know the exact causes, but expect a number of variables came into play, including a shifting of ocean currents, a dearth of volcanic eruptions, and a dramatic increase in solar activity. But even still, over the 400-year course of the MWP, temperatures only rose by an estimated 0.3°C.

Temperatures have risen by more than 1°C in the last century, and more than 0.6°C in the last 30 years alone. As the above graph shows, that is a dramatic spike. Nine of the warmest 10 years on record have occurred in the last decade.

The author is comparing a 400-year average during MWP with an anomaly point-to-point increase. This is comparing apples and oranges and clearly demonstrates the author’s lack of understanding in both science and math. If we compare average to average, we are currently well below the MWP. In 2000 the 120-year average was about 13.97°C. By 2008, the 120-year average had risen to about 14.03°C, a “stunning” rise of .06°C, still nowhere near the MWP average quoted by the author8.

Myth # 4. More than 17,000 American scientists — two thirds with advanced degrees specializing in physics, geo-physics, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, environmental science, chemistry, and biochemistry — have signed a petition disputing the "consensus view" that man is responsible for climate change. If there is a scientific "consensus" that human carbon emissions are responsible for "global warming" how would you characterize the scientists who signed this petition? Are they merely heretical "deniers" in the pocket of Big Oil companies?

Fact: Of all the oily tricks played by the global warming denier industry, this is one of the oiliest. It's known as The Petition and, according to some sites, the number of scientists who openly debate the global warming consensus now stands at 31,000.

It's nothing more than a dirty trick organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.

Apart from being all ad hominem, did the author really look at The Petition Project, or did he take someone else’s word for it? Draw your own conclusion below.

Nevertheless, 17,000 did sign the petition, and Seitz would have you believe that all 17,000 - or 31,000 in 2008 - are working scientists with PhDs.

But when you look deeper into the list, it begins to fall apart. The vast majority of signatories have nothing more than a bachelor's degree. By Seitz's definition, I'm a scientist. As well, scattering among the number of "scientists" are signatures by Spice Girl Dr. Geri Halliwell, author John Grisham, Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Honeycutt from MASH.

This is more ad hominem and argument from authority, but at this point we must also argue that either the author is intellectually lazy, or a liar.

The Petition Project web site contains no declaration that all the signatories are PhD’s. In fact, the site provides a breakdown by qualification and an explanation of what qualifies a signatory to be on the list. Simply having a college degree is not enough. There are currently over 1,000 additional signatories waiting to have their credentials verified so they may be added to the list of over 31,000.

There are two Honeycutts on the Petition: John D. Honeycutt, PhD and Baxter D. Honeycutt.

There are two Grisham’s: Richard S. Grisham and Strother Grisham.

There are ten Pierces: Bill D. Pierce, PhD, Matthew Lee Pierce, PhD, Susan K. Pierce, PhD, Allan Pierce, PhD, Walter H. Pierce, PhD, Frank A. Pierce, Mark S. Pierce, William Schuler Pierce, John E. Pierce, Rhonda L. Pierce, DVM.

There is no Geri Halliwell on the petition.

There is no way the author actually bothered to check the petition, which would indicate intellectual laziness, given the above findings. The option exists that he is lying to embellish his argument.

Don’t take my word for it, check for yourself: The Petition Project. While there, check the requirements for getting one’s name added to the petition.

Almost 10,000 signatures come from engineers, another 3,063 come from physicians and veterinarians. I have no doubt that these professionals are smart people, but it would be difficult to believe they are experts on global warming.

As I pointed out in the previous post, scientists from the author’s side of the debate also come from a myriad of fields including economists, veterinarians, medical doctors and engineers. Nor should anyone be counting Al Gore, the most prominent spokesperson, as a scientist - Nobel Prize not withstanding.

But even if we allow their signatures to stand unchallenged, they prove nothing. Even if more than 3,000 doctors signed the petition that would mean that 99.7 percent of all doctors practicing in the US didn't sign the petition, and 99.2 percent of US engineers didn't sign.

The Petition is a fraud and a deception.

What the signatories show is that there is disagreement and the science is not settled. That is the intent of The Petition Project. The Petition Project only includes scientists in the US. There are similar petitions and declarations being circulated world-wide.

The author is using logical fallacy: Some scientists argue “A”, therefore all remaining scientists argue “B.”

More to the point, when did we start settling science by vote?

5.   Pielke Sr., R.A., C. Davey, D. Niyogi, S. Fall, J. Steinweg-Woods, K. Hubbard, X. Lin, M. Cai, Y.-K. Lim, H. Li, J. Nielsen-Gammon, K. Gallo, R. Hale, R. Mahmood, S. Foster, R.T. McNider, and P. Blanken, 2007: Unresolved issues with the assessment of multi-decadal global land surface temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S08, doi:10.1029/2006JD008229.
7.   Jones, Gwyn; A History of the Vikings. Oxford University Press, 1968.

1 comment:

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