Monday, March 22, 2010

A Change in the Wind at Dot Earth?

Wind's in the east,
Mist coming in,
Like somethin' is brewin'
And 'bout to begin.

Doubtless you remember that quote from watching Mary Poppins over and over in the 60s. Of course you do; don't try to deny it. What Bert has noticed brewin', you will recall, is the impending arrival of practically perfect M.P. herself to put things right with the Banks family.

If you're a follower of Andy Revkin's Dot Earth blog over at the Times, maybe you've noticed a change in the wind there, too.

There's no shortage of fact-challenged climate change "skeptics" commenting at Dot Earth, but in the past Revkin has rarely engaged directly. This seems to have suddenly changed. A few examples:

To a poster who stated bluntly that Mann's hockey stick has been proven to be fraudulent:
Fraud is a serious charge and there's no evidence to support such a charge.
To a poster who ranted about the IPCCs "unequivocal" embrace of human-induced global wrming:
I'm pretty sure you understand that the only thing described as "unequivocal" by the IPCC was that there has been warming. All the statements attributing that to human activities or other influences have caveats. Are you saying you dispute that it's warmer now than it was a century ago? Or are you trying to build a challenge to something the IPCC hasn't concluded? (That human-driven warming is unequivocal?)
To a poster who states that the IPCC always overstates and never understates AGW's consequences:
Actually the folks at have made a decent case that, on sea level, the IPCC did precisely that (knowingly downplay a risk)....
To a poster who seems to think that scientific judgments on AGW are worthless because there have been no controlled experiments:
So what would you propose given a situation where there is no way to run a case-controlled study (we're in the one test tube where the experiment is under way)?

If the traditional method is not available, do we just sit on our hands and conclude, well, that can't be tested, therefore we don't consider it a risk?
You get the idea.

In the past, such posts would rarely have merited a Revkin response. Suddenly they're everywhere. What's going on?

Well, surely the fact that he's no longer a Times reporter has something to do with it. It has to be somewhat liberating to be freed of the responsibility to provide "balanced" coverage, right?

But...there has to be more to it than just that. After all, it's been three months since he left the Times. Why does he just start now? What is it? Time will tell, I suppose.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WSJ Utters an Oath

The Wall Street Journal seems to be a bit confused about what a loyalty oath is. According to a December 11 post, scientists at the UK Met Office have been pressured to sign a "government loyalty oath."

Now, here's what the statement actually says:
We, members of the UK science community, have the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities. The evidence and the science are deep and extensive. They come from decades of painstaking and meticulous research, by many thousands of scientists across the world who adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity. That research has been subject to peer review and publication, providing traceability of the evidence and support for the scientific method. The science of climate change draws on fundamental research from an increasing number of disciplines, many of which are represented here. As professional scientists, from students to senior professors, we uphold the findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which concludes that "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations".
So, I've read this several times, and I'm having a spot of trouble finding the part where the scientists pledge government loyalty. It was easier in this one:
I swear by God this sacred oath that I shall render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the F├╝hrer of the German Reich, supreme commander of the armed forces, and that I shall at all times be prepared, as a brave soldier, to give my life for this oath.
The Times of London, an actual newspaper, is fooled by the loyalty oath and headlines it this way:

Suprisingly, the WSJ manages to get one thing right.
The concept of scientists--or journalists, or artists ... signing a petition is ludicrous. The idea is that they are lending their authority to whatever cause the petition represents--but in fact they are undermining that authority, which is based on the presumption that they think for themselves.
Oh. Interesting. Scientists signing petitions is "ludicrous." I'll have to remember this next time someone mentions the scam OISM petition signed by 31,000 "scientists."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Antipetition Project

I've gotten pretty tired of responding in various places to comments like this:
Over 31,000 scientists have signed a petition that completely debunks the global warming conspiracy!!!! So much for your manufactured "consensus"!!!!
Now, you know what "petition" they're talking about: the OISM's "Petition Project." I'm not going to bother debunking the petition here since this has been done over and over etc..

But here's what I'd love to see: The Antipetition Project. It works exactly like the OISM's Petition Project, only backwards. It's a don't-worry-we-won't-actually-check-your-credentials-and-anyway-you-don't-have-to-really-be-a-scientist-to-sign petition, just like OISM's. The only difference is that says, in essence, the opposite of what OISM's petition says: "I believe that the basic concepts of significant anthropogenic global warming are scientifically valid."

We'll follow the same "rules" they do:
  1. Pretty much anyone with at least B.S. in pretty much anything is considered to be a scientist.
  2. Don't even have a B.S.? Don't worry, we're not going to actually check any credentials anyway.
  3. Pretty much any field is considered to be a "relevant field" to climate science. Are you, say, a veterinary surgeon specializing in large animals? No worries, that's absolutely relevant to climate science! Who would even question that?
  4. Anyone can print out the form and mail it in.
  5. We won't show the institutional affiliations of anyone who signs. (Oh, and feel free to use an untraceable name, just as "Jerry Green" and "R. Payne" did for OISM.)
  6. Are you dead? Not a problem. You can still sign.
Now, wouldn't that be fun? I'd pay good money to watch the "skeptics" try to simultaneously trash our petition and tout OISM's.

I only wish I had the time and resources to do it myself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Climategate and reality

There's a scene in the 1967 film "A Guide for the Married Man" that I remember well. Our protaganist, wolf Ed Stander (Robert Morse), counsels his friend, family man Paul Manning (Walter Matthau), on how to cheat on his wife without repercussions. In an imagined scene, Morse is surprised by his wife while in bed with another woman. He deals with the situation by just pretending that it didn't happen: He calmly gets out of bed, gets dressed, and ushers the mistress out of the house. To his wife's cries ("How could you?"), he simply replies, "How could I what? What are you talking about?" In the face of his persistent denials, his wife eventually becomes disoriented and thinks that perhaps she has imagined the whole thing. In Standers's words, the best strategy is "Deny, deny, deny."

Millions of words have now been written about "Climategate". There's not much I can add, and nothing I say is going to change anyone's mind. But the right's pounding on one of Phil Jones's emails reminds me very much of Ed Standers's strategy: If something's inconvenient, just ignore it. Many have explained what Jones is actually saying in this particular email, and they've done so accurately (see, for example, the seventh paragraph of this RealClimate post), but there's one thing I haven't seen mentioned anywhere: That pesky four-letter word, real.

In this email, Jones talks about a paper he's working on and says that
I've just completed Mike [Mann]'s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith [Briffa]'s to hide the decline.
Obviously Jones is manipulating the data, hiding an actual decline in temperatures. Right?

Well, there's an inconvenient word in there that the right is, Standers-like, simply ignoring. Pretending that it's not there ("How could I what?"). That word is real, as in "real temps". Jones clearly says that he has used the real temperatures to hide the decline.

Now, the "skeptics'" assumption is that the "decline" being hidden is a decline in global temperatures. A real decline. So, how do you hide a real decline using real temperatures?

Well, you can't. Obviously. It's not possible to hide a real decline in temperatures using real temperatures. That doesn't make any sense. The only thing you can possibly hide with real temperatures is a false decline in temperatures. So, what decline is Jones talking about? It can't be a real decline in global average temperatures, as the "skeptics" assume, since (a) not even "skeptics" argue that temperatures actually declined between 1961 and 1998, which is the time frame in question, and (b) even if there were such a decline, you couldn't hide it using real temperatures.

In fact, the decline he's referring to is a false decline in temperatures shown by some tree rings. The particular set of tree rings used in this paper suffers from what's known as the divergence problem: After about 1960, they no longer accurately reflect what we know the actual temperatures were. They show a decline in temperatures that we know did not actually occur. So, there's a word missing from Jones's email: What he actually "hid" was a false decline. (And, just to be clear on how bad Jones is at hiding things, he clearly disclosed exactly what he had done in the published paper.)

How does the "skeptical" camp deal with this little problem? They don't. They simply ignore it. They pretend the word real isn't there. They don't say anything about it at all.

"How could I what?"

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Beeb's "Own Goal"

Well, the BBC is at it again. Last year, it published a poorly-written and widely-misquoted piece claiming that temperatures had not risen globally since 1998. Now, in a blog post, the Beeb's Tom Feilders makes the above claim. Unfortunately, in order to do so, he has to twist what climate scientist Mojib Latif actually says into something totally unrecognizable.

Professor Latif has been looking into the North Atlantic Oscillation and thinks that we're going to see a period of cooling before it starts getting warm again. Not everyone agrees with him, but fine. Such disagreements are part of how science works. The key is that even Latif thinks it's strictly temporary.

But the BBC's Feilden grabs the ball and kicks it into the wrong goal:
The global warming narrative - that mankind's addiction to burning fossil fuels is rapidly changing the climate - may be about to go seriously off message.
With apologies to Al Gore, professor Latif's finding is something of an "inconvenient truth" for the global warming debate.
Not only is this a completely wrong interpretation of the science, it's flatly contradicted by what Latif himself says in the same blog post. Feilden quotes Latif:
"The strong warming effect that we experienced during the last decades will be interrupted. Temperatures will be more or less steady for some years, and thereafter will pickup again and continue to warm".
That's pretty clear, right? AGW hasn't gone away, and it isn't wrong; it's just being temporarily overwhelmed, in Latif's opinion, by natural factors. This isn't going to surprise any climate scientist.

There's a lovely bit of irony in the post, too:
Professor Philip Stott believes climate sceptics may seize on the research as evidence that the whole global warming hypothesis is fundamentally flawed: If natural cycles can interrupt, or even reverse climate change, maybe we don't need to take it so seriously.
Ya think, Professor? Is it possible that some yahoo will take what Latif says and write a headline like, oh, "An inconvenient truth about global warming"?

Predictably, FOX Nation takes the ball and runs with it:

But, just so we can take some comfort from knowing that not everyone is insane, here's how a real publication headlines its version of the story:

Update (October 2, 2001)

It turns out that in the portion of his talk that everyone is quoting ("It may well happen that you enter a decade, or maybe even two, when the temperature cools, relative to the present level"), Prof. Latif wasn't predicting cooling at all. If you listen to the audio of his presentation, this is just a hypothetical. The only actual prediction in the talk is a brief reference to earlier work by Keenlyside et al. For more, see DeepClimate's spectacular deconstruction of how Latif's presentation has been abused by the contrarian faction.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Convenient Omission

Well, this morning Fox Nation links to a lovely bit of ClimateDepot skulduggery:
The New York Times reports that the record cold of 2009 is due to natural variations and even warned skeptics of man-made global warming not to be "buoyed" by the brutal cold. ["Brutal cold"? The temperature in NYC failed to reach 90°F in June or July. Brrr. - ed]
Ok. Fair enough, "natural variations" caused a record cold breaking summer in 2009, according to the Times. But the question looms, how did the paper explain record warmth nearly a decade ago? Surely, if natural variations in climate can cause a record-breaking cold summer, then it would stand to reason that record breaking warmth would have a natural cause as well?

Not exactly. The Times effortlessly attributed record warmth back in 2000 to man-made global warming, noting the warm temperatures were "consistent" with model predictions.
Wow, that does seem pretty bad. But there's this one problem: it's completely false. Let's skip over the fact that the "record cold of 2009" is strictly regional (much of the Pacific Northwest just finished a record-setting warm July) and concentrate on the literal truth of ClimateDepot's claim that the Times "effortlessly attributed record warmth back in 2000 to man-made global warming".

Unfortunately for ClimateDepot, the original Times article explicitly says otherwise:
But while the winter warming trend is consistent with the projections, [NCDC climatologist Mike Changery] added, "the jury is still out" on just what has caused the especially warm winters of the last three years.

Global warming aside, scientists said prime suspects were the natural phenomena known as El Nino and La Nina. These are sea-surface temperature oscillations in the tropical Pacific that touch off changes in wintertime atmospheric circulation.

In different ways, El Nino in 1997-98 and La Nina in the last two winters influenced circulation patterns that kept most of the United States relatively warm most of the time.

(Emphasis added)
This is "effortlessly blaming" global warming? "Prime suspects were the natural phenomena known as El Nino and La Nina"? Srsly?

Now, the ClimateDepot post did—belatedly—add this:
The New York Times article did—belatedly—add "the jury is still out" however on the complete causes of record warmth in 2000.
The difference is that the Times article had an honest headline:
U.S. Sets Another Record for Winter Warmth
ClimateDepot did not:
Media Spin: New York Times Blames 2009's Record Cold on Natural Factors -- But Blamed Record Warmth in 2000 on Man-Made Global Warming!

Monday, August 3, 2009

So Much For the Inhofe List

One of the climate change skeptics' mantras is, "A growing number of distinguished scientists dispute the whole idea of human-induced climate change." Most of the time, skeptics simply state this as fact, without evidence; but when "evidence" is offered, in most cases it will be either the thoroughly debunked "Oregon Petition" or, more recently, oil state Senator James Inhofe's Senate Minority Report, which supposedly lists 700-odd "dissenting scientists."

Those of us who believe that the overwhelming majority of scientists are right about global warming have long harbored deep suspicions regarding the actual qualifications of the scientists on Inhofe's list. These suspicions are now confirmed, in spades.

The Center for Inquiry, which published the wonderful Skeptical Inquirer magazine, has stepped in and done the dirty work. CFI has released The Credibility Project, an in-depth review of all of the list's signers (687 at the time of the report). The key finding, from CFI's press release:

After assessing 687 individuals named as “dissenting scientists” in the January 2009 version of the United States Senate Minority Report, the Center for Inquiry’s Credibility Project found that:
  • Slightly fewer than 10 percent could be identified as climate scientists.
  • Approximately 15 percent published in the recognizable refereed literature on subjects related to climate science.
  • Approximately 80 percent clearly had no refereed publication record on climate science at all.
  • Approximately 4 percent appeared to favor the current IPCC-2007 consensus and should not have been on the list.
Further examination of the backgrounds of these individuals revealed that a significant number were identified as meteorologists, and some of these people were employed to report the weather.
(Meteorologists, it should be noted, are not climate scientists—as smart and as competent as they might be, they study entirely different things and typically have little relevant expertise.)

Lest anyone think that CFI is pulling these statistics out of thin air, it has provided a detailed spreadsheet that lists each individual signer along with his or her qualifications.

This is yeoman work. Well done, CFI.