Posted by: Snake Oil Baron | July 19, 2009

Another Issue of Scientific American

I once again need to take issue with something that has issued forth from the latest issue of Scientific American. Boy that was a lot of issues. I think I need a tissue for my issues.

The article in their “Climate” section of their “News Scan” hypersection (or is that the “Climate” subsection of the “News Scan” section?) is titled Stumbling Over Data and subtitled: Do minor errors erode public support on climate issues? and it is written by David Appell, a freelance science writer with a background in math and physics.

The article proposes that the publication of climate data in real-time is is eroding trust in the theory that human activity is driving an increase in the average global temperature and resulting in dangerous climate change. Such real-time data contains errors which are termed “minor” and would eventually be caught by real scientists but those skeptics of climate apocalypse theory like (raise eyebrow) bloggers (tilt head disapprovingly), pounce on these errors. The problem is that the common public do not understand the preliminary nature of the data. The fact that science writers for non-peer reviewed publications continuously use such preliminary data to justify headlines about the hottest Decemberween in the history of the universe is not what undermines our trust in climate video game simulations, it’s those wretched bloggers frisking the bad data. If they would just let the *real* scientists analyze the data they would sort it all out in time. And the sensational headlines would get retracted, if maybe not with the exact level of fanfare with which they were published.

Interestingly, the one skeptic (and blogger!) he criticizes by name in the SciAm article for making too much of a little bad data (or a lot of it) is Anthony Watt, a meteorologist and author of Watts Up with That? The reason this is interesting is that Appell criticizes Watt on Appell’s personal blog for criticizing certain data at all. So is he saying the data is too preliminary to criticize but people are wrong not to trust it? He further questions why climate apocalypse skeptics would attack temperature data that was higher than normal but not that which is lower. I would think it is because it makes a lot more sense for a thermometer located near an airport tarmac to give false high data than false low. Sun-baked pavement is not currently known to cause a refrigeration effect.

He goes on to misinterpret an opinion pole of “earth scientists”. The pole was conducted by e-mailing over 10,000 such scientists and inviting them to partake in a survey. Now I would wonder if this might screen out a segment who are dispassionate on the issue or undecided and just generally too busy to participate but what do I know about opinion poles? So lets assume that they had close to 100% participation or that the people who declined represent the same ratio of views as those who participated. Appell only tells us about the 3000 or so respondents who are climate scientists because the petroleum geologists and meteorologists supposedly don’t know as much about the climate of the earth as those who make computer models of it do. Never mind that the geologists make specific predictions that actually come true. And while we all laugh at the accuracy of the weather forecasts, we also don’t make plans without consulting the predictions of meteorologists because they actually do tend to come true. And even with the biased selection method, and selecting out the group of respondents he considers knowledgeable one can still see 3% of the group who are not on board with the global warming theory. I wonder what the level would be if there had been a fair selection process or if most climate scientists were not trained and hired by universities to prove the effects of human driven global warming.

The closest thing climatologists have come to a prediction recently, beyond “we’re all going to drown and die of thirst and hunger and pestilence”, is that the climate will cool for the next couple of decades so don’t whine about the absence of human generated global warming until then because it is hiding behind natural effects. That “prediction” seems to come well after this cooling has begun. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they tweaked their models to show this “temporary” cooling rather than just pulling the prediction out of their backsides to justify the recent cooling in the face of increasing CO2 levels. But tweaking them to be more representative of past data does not mean they were made more accurate in predicting future climate trends.

The article ends by lamenting how the poor climate researchers need to be concerned about how the ignorant public might respond to their bad data before releasing it (I paraphrased a bit). I can feel a tear on behalf of the climate scientists issuing from my left eye.

Maybe if global warming proponents want to know why people are losing trust in their theory it might be worth their while to ask them. I used to be relatively okay with the concept until I started noticing that proponents were showing a lot of similarities to Creationist/Intelligent Design activists while psychologically projecting this behavior on to skeptics. The refusal to address the points brought up by the skeptics, the shifting goalposts which shift back when addressing a new audience which has not heard the refutations; it all got me wanting to look a little closer to what was being claimed and by whom and whether these claims were self-consistent and consistent with the evidence. So far, I have not liked what I have seen. It’s not a bunch of bloggers “pouncing” on “minor” errors that has made me question the theory but the words and deeds of the political/media opportunists and assorted wealthy socialists who lead the charge on the issue from personal jet planes and the stages of rock concerts using more electricity than a small city while claiming that all the scientists are behind them… somewhere back there. Except for the ones that don’t count.

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