Monday, June 18, 2007

A reply concerning global warming.

Today I received some correspondence which I will share with my readers, along with my thoughts concerning it. I will put the correspondence in italics and in block quotes while my remarks will appear as normal text so there is no confusion.
I seem to remember you posting a while back making a big deal about a paper brought up in the press to support AGW later turning out to be wrong.
I believe the article to which this refers is The Math of Grapes but I can not be entirely sure.

Generally speaking I don’t criticize someone for errors. Errors are part of the scientific process. People present ideas and offer evidence, others refute the claim. The theory is either refined or scrapped. This sort of debate is what science ought to be about. That is one reason I’m disappointed to see widespread calls among advocates of anthropogenic warming to close off debate entirely (some have gone so far as to demand it be illegal to question warming but those are a lunatic fringe -- I hope.)

What I criticize in particular is that during this process one side (and to my knowledge only the one side) uses the debate to issue hysterical press releases ala Al Gore. The environmental lobby then uses all the power they have to whip up a panic based on these studies and then push for immediate and drastic controls on all aspects of human existence in order to “save the planet”. This side does not want the process to be completed they want “urgent” action “now” “before it’s too late”. And repeatedly the claims they have made have been wrong.

Look at the last piece I wrote about the snows of Kilimanjaro for instance. I didn’t attack researchers who wrote scientific papers and made mistakes. I went after the people who used the melting snow to whip up the press campaign about global warming. Al Gore, as usual, grabbed hold of the false claims and incorporated them into his “documentary”. That was proven wrong. It was the use of information that was still under debate that I went after. I never mentioned a scientist making an error.

In the maths of grapes article I did go after some scientists. But this case was a particularly egregious one. It does not appear that in that case that mere errors were made. It does appear there may have been intentional fraud. The claims made were easily proven wrong by looking at the actual temperature records that existed for the region under discussion. And those highly accurate records showed immediately the conclusion was false. In addition math errors were made that were consider so elementary in nature that was hard to believe they were errors. Add to that the reluctance of the author to release the data at all and it looked very bad indeed. I will not go after what appears to be an error but in that case it was far more serious.

Even still I emphasized how the warming lobby used this story, another false story mind you, to try to whip up a panic about warming. In reality a careful reading of much of what I write will show it is the politicization of science that I am criticizing more than the errors made by any one.
Browsing today, it would seem as though the attribution study of Von Storch et al (which Senator Inhofe used to criticize the hockey stick was later found to have serious flaws , but the damage had already been done, as it had fueled the denialist fire about the "hockey stick". The flaws were found quite immediately after publication, but took almost 2 years to get a mention in Science.
I have not read the paper by von Storch, et al. Nor have I read anything by Senator Inhofe. I don’t find politicians to be particularly credible on most topics. And since this is a science debate why would I quote a politician? I wish the other side would realize the same thing and kick Al Bore off his pedestal but they have canonized him and won’t do that.

However, it should be noted that the comments published in Science were also accompanied by another article which you didn’t mention. It says that the differences were not sufficient enough to change the conclusion and that other studies verified that the “Hockey Stick” reconstruction had indeed underestimated past temperature variations.

The paper which I have seen mentioned several times was by McIntyre and McKitrick not von Storch. But there are several such papers reaching similar conclusions.

In addition it should be mentioned that von Storch is not an AGW skeptic. He does think there is some warming and that man is contributing. But he says that his fellow warming advocates exaggerate the facts and distort the evidence and that the impact of warming will be far more mild than the hysterical press statements from many would imply.

The “hockey stick” is interesting because it shows steady global temperatures for centuries with a massive spike during the 1900s. Depending on how you scale your graph that spike can look really huge or relatively minute. What is odd is that during the period that is shown to be flat was the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. The first, when temperatures were warmer than today, should have shown a huge spike in the wrong place on the “hockey stick” graph. It didn’t appear. The second should have shown a big bow in the stick, it didn’t appear either.

The WMP was approximately 500 years in duration. The Little Ice Age went from about 1650 to about 1850. Of course once that ended temperatures appeared to spike considering the low from which they were being measured.

So the flaws in the “hockey stick” are well known and I don’t think anyone thought the critique rested on that one paper. And even if they did the conclusion held up.
The trouble is hardly with the scientific process but instead stems from those parties who cite papers as part of a post-hoc justification of a preordained conclusion. Popular debates and science just don't seem to mix!
I’m not sure if it is the popular debate that is the issue but the politics. Let us be brutally honest here. There is a special interest group that wants particular interventions into human existence by government. They are not shy to admit that is what they want. Many of them say they are socialists of one variety or another. That is how they describe themselves.

They want a political “solution” imposed on everyone and they want it without further debate. They are using the debate in science to further their agenda. So if someone notices the snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing they crank up the PR campaign and thousands of newspapers, magazines and television stations show the photos and claim “global warming killed the snows.” This is then usually followed by “urgent action to stop man-made global warming must be taken now -- before it’s too late.” And then the same people who crank up the hysteria with politicians who share their premises announce the new state powers that will be necessary in order to stop “save the world”.

We saw the same thing with the “grapes” story. We saw it with the story I ran Everything Now Frozen is Melting. We saw it with the story about the snow cover in Washington state supposedly disappearing. We’ve seen it with the false claims about droughts and hurricanes. And there are other stories that have been equally exaggerate or distorted which I have not mentioned.

When you debate extending state coercion into more aspect of human life you can assume that people will get involved. It is not the discussion of the science that is creating that problem. The "solutions" that are proposed are behind the rancor and anger. It is not errors made but intentional distortions and fear mongering that concerns me.