Sunday, February 15, 2009

Is this just a screw up or intentional?

The Washington Post usually can be counted on presenting a rather alarming spin on anything to do with global warming and all the disasters that are supposedly attached to it. You might remember they were the ones with the article about how global warming caused a tornado in New York -- a silly article that later vanished into thin air.

Now they have an article "Scientists: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates." That has a very precise meaning. We all know that some scientists have their computer models. They come up with formulas that they hope mimic reality and then feed data into these formulas and let the computers predict the future. If they got the formula's right, got all the proportions right and got all the data right, and didn't leave anything important out, then the results might tell us something close to what we can actually expect.

But this headline was saying that actual, observed warming has been higher than the models predicted. I was astonished by that. Generally the models predicted greater warming than has been observed. Models have been constantly refined in light of these results and the projections they make have become increasingly more mild as well. And, that was the state of affairs up until today, as far as I knew. So to be told that the warming trend was greater than these projections is quite confusing.

It is especially confusing since both 2007 and 2008 saw global temperatures decline. In addition the eight years before that saw relatively stable temperatures without any significant increase. So, if we have had ten years of stable or declining temperatures then where did this claim that the global temperature rose faster than expected come from?

If you read the article there is no such claim whatsoever. The headline, as alarming as it is, doesn't reflect what the article actually says. Right from the first sentence we discover that the article is not talking about anything that has happened. Instead some scientists have come up with new models to replace previous models. Apparently they don't think the previous models are accurate. And these new models project greater warming in the future than the previous models projected.

The headline, by making this past tense, implies that this is not a projection based on a computer model at all, but reporting of actual events. And I suspect that a lot of people, who never get past headlines when they read, will make just that assumption. Now this could be just some incompetent headline writer. But it also could be intentional. I won't make a prediction as to which is the correct reason for this rather substantial distortion. We all know the media wouldn't intentionally distort reports.

As a precaution, after the article on global warming and the tornado disappeared, I decided to take a screen capture of this headline to preserve it, lest it too get flushed down the memory toilet.

But to be clear, contrary to the headline the pace of climate change has not exceeded expectations, quite the contrary. What has happened is that new models exceeded the projections made by old models and no one knows if any of those models will actually come close to modeling reality.

Labels: ,