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 Führer 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.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Consummate Nonsense

According to Climate Depot, a team of "prominent atmospheric scientists" has sent an open letter to Congress in anticipation of Senate debate on the Waxman-Markey "cap and trade" bill.. The letter is so full of what P.G. Wodehouse might have called "frightful horse-radish" that I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just pick a few particularly insane bits.
The sky is not falling; the Earth has been cooling for ten years, without help. The present cooling was NOT predicted by the alarmists' computer models, and has come as an embarrassment to them.
We'll skip over the the decidedly unscientist-like language ("alarmists"?) and simply note that this is, well, wrong. Just flat-out wrong. The earth has not been cooling for ten years:

(Source: NASA)
The finest meteorologists in the world cannot predict the weather two weeks in advance, let alone the climate for the rest of the century. Can Al Gore?
This is an utterly bizarre thing for "prominent atmospheric scientists" to say. Predicting weather and predicting climate have almost nothing in common--what sort of climate scientist would not understand this?

Weather is, for all practical purposes, random; climate is the average of all these events over a very long period of time. It's often the case that averages can be predicted even if the individual events that make them up can't be. For example, I can't predict what the next roll of the dice will be—but I can predict, with considerable accuracy, what the average of ten thousand rolls will be. It's the same way with predicting weather and climate. While we can't predict next week's weather with much accuracy, that doesn't mean that we can't predict average weather over a long timespan.

I also have to ask, what on Earth does Al Gore's ability to predict climate have to do with anything? Is Al Gore a climate scientist? No? Then why would he be able to predict climate? I have a follow-up question: One of the signers of the letter is Laurence I. Gould, Professor of Physics at the University of Hartford. How's he on predicting weather (since they seem to think it's the same thing)? Gore can't predict climate. Gould can't predict weather. So, why is this incompetent Gould a signer?
[C]limate alarmism pays well. Alarmists are rolling in wealth from the billions of dollars floating around for the taking, and being taken. It is always instructive to follow the money.
Indeed. One of the authors of this letter is listed as "Roger W. Cohen, Manager, Strategic Planning and Programs, ExxonMobil Corporation (retired)." Let's follow the money. (You won't find much of it, by the way, in the hands of the tens of thousands of climate scientists around the world who agree with the basic thinking on climate change.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Waiting for Retractions

Every time there's some unusually cold weather somewhere in the world, we see comments such as, "There was frost in East Spitwad yesterday. This is May. So much for global warming!"

Well, here's today's US forecast high temperature map from AccuWeather:

All that reddish stuff represents temperatures that are way above normal for mid-June. I wonder how many comments we'll see along the lines of, "Wow, they were right after all! Global warming is real!"

(No, these high temps don't prove global warming—just as low temps don't disprove it. It's just interesting that so many latch on to the cold temperatures to deny climate change but remain silent when it gets hot.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Crack in the Armor

I ran across an op-ed piece by Samuel Thernstrom in today's Washington Post titled "Could We Engineer a Cooler Planet?" A few not-so-random excerpts:
[A] growing number of climate scientists and scholars believe that [legislative efforts to reduce greenhous gas emissions] are likely to be too little, too late to stop warming.
Despite the progress we may see in the coming years, the mathematics and politics of rapid greenhouse gas reductions remain remarkably daunting.
Many climate scientists believe that a significant degree of warming is already "locked in" by past emissions and that greenhouse gas concentrations have already reached potentially dangerous levels. To avoid warming, therefore, global emissions would have to be halted immediately -- and existing emissions would have to be removed from the atmosphere as well. Not a likely prospect.
Warming seems inevitable; the only questions are its timing, distribution and severity. The effects may prove to be modest—but they could be severe or perhaps catastrophic.
The piece then goes on to discuss some geoengineering ideas, but it's what's above that caught my interest. Obviously it accepts global warming as a given; whether or not AGW is "real" isn't even dicussed. What's so interesting about that? Well, look at the information about author Thernstrom at the end of the column:
The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he co-directs a project exploring the policy implications of geoengineering.
The American Enterprise Institute? The same Exxon-funded AEI that reportedly offered cash prizes to scientists to dispute a 2007 IPCC report? The same AEI that said this in a 2006 article?
This [crusade to fight global warming] intimidates the public and would-be dissenters with its unrelenting line that the science of global warming is settled, full stop. (Time swallowed it whole: “The debate is over. Global warming is upon us--with a vengeance. From floods to fires, droughts to storms, the climate is crashing.”) The “consensus” that human activities are playing a role in the earth’s so-far mild warming trend is misrepresented as agreement that we are headed toward catastrophic results that can be prevented only by immediate and drastic action.

In fact, many scientists don’t believe the catastrophe scenarios. But those who dissent from the politicization of climate science face withering ad hominem attacks.
That American Enterprise Institute now accepts global warming as a given? Interesting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Question That's Never Answered

I've been involved in a whole lot of online discussions of climate change. In every case, a very significant portion of the deniers' posts will be some variant of this:
Global warming is a HOAX. It's the BIGGEST SCAM IN HISTORY. The ONLY reason for it is to line the pockets of Al Bore, George Soros, GE, and their minions. Follow the money, you MORONS.
And in every such discussion, I always ask something like this:
OK, let's assume that everything you said is true: Gore, Soros, and GE are peddling all this fake science just so they get rich. The problem is, what about the scientists? Where's their piece of the pie? Remember, these were the smartest kids in your grade school. They've loved science since they were little. They built weather stations from scratch in their back yards, won the science fair every year, and danced badly (if at all). Then they spent a decade of their lives and a couple hundred grand getting advanced degrees. For what? So that they could practice fake science and write fraudulent research papers for the US scientist's average salary of $70K? Why?
If I get a response at all—which is rare— it's like this:
Funding, duh!!!!!! How do you think these scientists get money for research?
To which I reply:
Funding for fake research? They did all this stuff so that they can get funding to practice fake science for peanuts? What is the point of that? You're saying that these thousands upon thousands of science-loving kids abandoned everything they ever believed in so that they could get funding to do fake science and lie about it for $70K/year? All of them? And they all manage to keep it a secret, too?

I've posted some version of that message probably a dozen times, and I've never had a single response. Not one.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Damned If You Do, Etc.

[This entry on Fox Nation has been moved to the new Fox Nation Watch blog. See ya there!]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama v. Cold Breakfast Cereal

[This entry on Fox Nation has been moved to the new Fox Nation Watch blog. See ya there!]

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Unbiased" FOX Nation

[This entry on Fox Nation has been moved to the new Fox Nation Watch blog. See ya there!]

Monday, April 13, 2009

9th Inning Comeback at the Post

The Washington Post has finally published its own climate-related editorial. There's no mention of the foolish George Will columns, and it's limited to a single issue, but still, it's welcome:
Make no mistake, Arctic Sea ice is melting.
Global warming is doing a number on Arctic Sea ice. The [NSIDC] report noted that the Arctic winter was 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average. This and other factors are causing the surface ice to melt. That ice is vital for reflecting the light and heat of the sun. Without it, the heat warms the Arctic Ocean, which then melts the ice below the surface of the water.
It remains to be seen whether or not Mr. Will will begin his next column with "Morons!", the witty and elegant retort of so many global warming critics' blog comments.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

AGW Critics: Short Term Trends Are Not Your Friends

I ran across a nice post on the excellent Open Mind blog that shows with absolute clarity why the "cooling trend" of the last decade or so has no relevance to global warming. I've posted about this before, using a similar technique, but Open Mind goes into considerably more detail.

What's nice about these analyses—Open Mind's and, humbly, my own—is that the demonstrations have nothing specifically to do with global warming. The data are not climate data, and it doesn't matter what you think about climate change. They're just common-sense math. They can't be obfuscated with charges of sensor data inaccuracy or urban heat island effects or global conspiracies of grant-happy scientists or any of that. They are what they are.

Here the Cliff's Notes version of the Open Mind post.

Open Mind's author, Tamino, programs a set of data points to have a small upward trend (simulating global warming) and then superimposes on that a bit of "noise" (random upward and downward deviations, simulating weather). If you look at the whole graph, you can see the trend clearly, despite the noise:

Then he steps into the role of Global Warming Critic and takes a subset of the data, starting with "1998" (see the blog for why Tamino labels this data point as "1998"):

Presto! An instant decade-long cooling trend! Global warming is a hoax!

Well, of course not. The long-term upward trend can't possibly be wrong, because it's built in. It's literally programmed into the model. It's as real as it gets.

What does this show? It shows very, very clearly that noise can easily hide a trend if you choose the right time span. In the case of weather "noise", it takes longer than a decade to average out and give you a true picture of the climate trend.

So, the next time your friendly neighborhood GW critic trots out "It's actually been getting cooler since 1998", you have even better information on your side. Nice job, Open Mind.

P.S.: For yet another take on the same concept, Andy Revkin of the New York Times has a good post on his Dot Earth blog.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April's Fool

Good ol' George Will, he's back for another try. Sort of like Charlie Brown and his neverending but hopeless quest to kick that football. And, just like C.B., he's never going to get it.

In his latest Washington Post windmill tilt, he goes after, of all things, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Turns out that "some" of them—he doesn't bother with any numbers— don't last very long. Well, George, I have had "some" incandescent bulbs that didn't last very long either. I've had "some" of them blow out the first time I turned them on. Have you considered a column about that scandal?

He's also discovered that they contain mercury and should be disposed of properly. Apparently he's very concerned about the environment, so he worries about this. Some people might not do it right. There's no word, however, on whether or not he's equally concerned about the mercury that's been in all those fluorescent tubes that have been lighting offices and—gasp!—hospitals for so many decades. Or on whether he's worried about the mercury that goes into the air when you burn all the extra coal needed to run your inefficient, power-hungry incandescent bulb (which turns about 90% of its energy into heat)—mercury that gets dispersed into the landscape and is virtually impossible to clean up.

George seems unaware, too, that CFLs represent a transitional technology, one that will save energy until LED bulbs, which have all the benefits of CFLs but none of the drawbacks, are ready for home use.

While he's at it, George simply can't resist abusing the UN World Meteorological Office's data just one mo' time. He's a little more subtle about it than in his earlier columns; maybe he read one of the hundreds of blog entries that pointed out just how utterly wrong he was. Or the letter from the the head of the WMO itself that said the same. So this time he shoots for misleading instead of wrong—and he scores! Where he used to say that the WMO's data show no global warming since 1998, this time he goes with the more clever thought that, according to the WMO, "there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998." Well done! This one is technically true, but wholly misleading. He implies rather than states something that's factually incorrect. Brilliant!

Of course, it still doesn't mean anything. As Chris Mooney notes, "It’s absurd to assume that we’ll set a new temperature record each year, and that if we don’t, there’s nothing to worry about."
The brilliant cartoon is by Tom Toles of the Post. It's a Web-only cartoon that unfortunately did not appear in the newspaper.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sweet Music

And here are the words we've waited eight long, hot years to hear, from AP:

Once booed at international climate talks, the United States won sustained applause Sunday when President Barack Obama's envoy pledged to "make up for lost time" in reaching a global agreement on climate change.
"We are very glad to be back. We want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us," Stern said to loud applause from the 2,600 delegates to the U.N. negotiations.

They clapped again when Stern said the U.S. recognized "our unique responsibility ... as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases," which has created a problem threatening the entire world.
Stern said no one on his team doubted that climate change is real. "The science is clear, the threat is real, the facts on the ground are outstripping the worst-case scenarios. The cost of inaction or inadequate action are unacceptable," he said — a total change of tone from his predecessors.
What a difference one little election can make.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Fodder for Climate Change Critics

You've heard about the flooding in North Dakota. Although heavy snow melt is the primary cause, portions of Bismarck had to be evacuated due to a Missouri River ice jam that was exacerbating local flooding. Demolition experts blew it up to get the water moving again.

One moment while I peer into my crystal ball, consult my tarot cards, and analyze the goat entrails.

Yes, I see it now. The future is clear to me. I see yet another bullet point for the critics who don't seem to be able to understand the difference between weather and climate (I'm talking to you, Brit and Rush):

  • In 2009, demolitions experts had to blow up an ice jam in the Missouri River to save Bismarck, ND. What do the global warming alarmists have to say about that?
Yawn. Well, what we have to say is that sometimes it gets cold in North Dakota in the winter. It will still get cold, even with global warming.

Just not quite as cold, on average.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Post Finally Prints a Response

Well, the Washington Post has finally printed a reasoned response to George Will's silly climate change column.

In the paper's March 21 edition, more than a month after Will's column appeared, science writer Chris Mooney says:
In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth.
Yet there's a bigger issue: It's misleading to draw a parallel between "global cooling" concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming....
Mooney goes on to calmly debunk Will's abuse of sea ice data and his rather bizarre claim that the UN's World Meteorological Organization said that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." (Of course, the WMO has said no such thing.)

I have quibbles with the response. It seems to imply that AGW critics have more "facts" on their side than they actually do. And I would have stated some things more strongly; for example, rather than "Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth," I might have said something like "This has been shown to be a myth," and included a link to the relevant AMS study.

But these are indeed just quibbles. Overall it's a nice piece of work. It's reasonable, and it makes its case without hyperbole and ad hominem attacks.

Update: I didn't notice that the same day's Post also contained this letter from WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud disputing the conclusion Will drew from WMO data:
It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record—as was done in a recent Post column—and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Not a Moron

I have to say that because I made a promise to myself: when I started this little blog, I promised myself that I would never call anyone a moron, that staple of friendly Internet banter, no matter how thoroughly justified it might be. So here it is: I. Am. Not. Calling. Rush. Limbaugh. A. Moron.

But it is difficult, sometimes, keeping one's promises.

Listen to this audio clip, courtesy of Media Matters:

You heard it right, El-Rushbo thinks it is "rich" and "hilarious" that three climate researchers were in danger of freezing to death in the Arctic ("were" because they've been resupplied).

I'll tell you what's chilling here, and it ain't the weather at the North Pole. It's not even that Limbaugh considers the prospect of three people dying alone in 100-below-zero weather to be "hilarious". No, what's really chilling is that this idiot (that word I can use and even emphasize, since he did), the voice of American conservatism, the talking head to whom Republican leaders must apologize when he's offended, is either too ignorant or too stupid to understand that weather and climate are not the same.

What exactly is this commentary supposed to prove, Rush? It's cold in the Arctic, therefore there is no global warming? Really? Are you really that ignorant, or does this just serve some purpose of yours?

Conservative commentators, please try harder to grasp these concepts. They are difficult, I know, but you can do it if you really try. I have every confidence in you.

1. Weather is not climate.

2. It gets cold in the Arctic. Even with global warming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fox's Time Warp

You just have to hand it to Fox "News" for creative editing.

In its latest fox pas, the Terrorist Fist Bump Network used a clip from a Joe Biden campaign speech in a way that was just blatantly dishonest. There's really no other way to describe it.

Fox's Martha MacCallum asserted that "[A]fter weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune. Take a look at what was said in recent interviews this weekend," followed by a series of sound bites from Obama administration officials, including this one from Joe Biden:
The fundamentals of the economy are strong.
MacCallum followed this with, "All right, well, the mantra for the weekend is clear, looking at what was said over the course of the shows on Sunday.”

There are just a couple of itty-bitty problems with this.

First, the Biden clip wasn't from "this weekend" at all—it was from a campaign appearance last September.

Second, Biden didn't actually say that the economy was sound, as you would know if Fox hadn't cropped the clip precisely where it did. He was quoting John McCain. Here is what Biden actually said, after asserting that McCain was not in touch with conditions outside the Beltway:
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that’s why John McCain could say with a straight face as recently as this morning, and this is a quote, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” That’s what John said. He says that “We’ve made great progress economically in the Bush years.... Ladies and gentlemen, I could walk from here to Lansing and I wouldn't run into a single person who thought the economy was doing well—unless I ran into John McCain.”
The critical part of the speech is bold and the little bit of it that Fox used is in red. Puts a slightly different spin on the Fox clip, don't it?

I want you to imagine a clip of Biden being interviewed outside the Capitol in a howling blizzard; he says, "John McCain needs to look outside once in a while because he said, just this morning, 'What a beautiful day it is!'"

Now imagine that Fox "News" gets hold of this, crops everything except "What a beautiful day it is!", and headlines it with "Biden Says Weather Is Fine."

Because that is exactly what the fair and balanced "journalists" over there did.

See the clips for yourself at Think Progress.

Update: Fox "News" has apologized:
Yesterday during a segment on the recent change in tone from President Obama’s economic team, we inadvertently used a piece of video of Vice President Biden saying “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”
Inadvertent, got it. Let's recall Biden's words immediately preceding the bit Fox used:
[T]his is a quote....
And the words immediately following it:
That's what John said.
So, in order to crop it, they had to hear that, right? They had to hear and intentionally remove the words "this is a quote" and "That's what John said."


Friday, March 6, 2009

Hume-an Error

I didn't intend for this to be a climate blog. It was just supposed to be a place where I could note odd stuff that I run across and to let off steam about foolishness that I see.

But people will keep spouting the most ignorant crap about global warming, so here we go again.

The latest loony tirade comes from the mouth of the redoubtable Brit Hume (incidentally, I think this argues for an entirely new definition of redoubtable: someone you can doubt over and over again.) Talking about a recent demonstration in Washington, he said this on the March 2 edition of Fox News's Special Report:
[Y]ou have to give those global warming activists credit for pluck. Not only were they protesting warming temperatures in a city going through its coldest winter in recent memories—a city in the midst of a snow emergency and sub-freezing temperatures—they were also doing so on a planet that has seen no average warming for the past 10 years. But climate change alarmists are not easily fazed.
The problem with [scientists' climate models] is that when data from the past have been plugged into them, they have had trouble predicting today's temperatures. The climate alarmists certainly did not foresee the cooling trend of the past decade. No matter.
Let's skip over whether or not he should be using the loaded term "climate change alarmists" twice in something that they're calling a "report." I guess that's why Fox News's slogans are "Unfair and Unbalanced" and "We Spin, You Listen Up." (I got those right, didn't I?)

While we're at it, we can also skip the bit where he apparently just makes up the "coldest winter in recent memories" factoid: a full third of the previous nine DC winters were colder.1 Maybe he has a really bad memory.

Nah. He just likes to make stuff up.

OK, that's enough Andy Rooney. Let's get to the serious issues.

"Coldest winter in recent memories"

Even if this were true—and it's not—this is a classic case of confusing weather and climate. Weather is something that happens day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. There's a lot of variability—noise, if you will—in it. It's very hard to predict more than a couple of days in advance. Climate is, in essence, weather with the noise removed.

Climate information is obtained by averaging weather over a long period of time and observing trends. Suppose you were to graph annual temperatures over many years. If you observe the temperature trends and how they are changing, you are looking at climate; but if you observe the temperature spikes here and there, you are looking at weather.

This winter's average temperature is weather, not climate. (Whether or not there's a snowstorm that discourages global warming alarmists from demonstrating is really weather.)

Let's use a classic example: rolling dice. If you roll an ordinary six-sided die many times, you will find that it averages around 3.5. If you graph this, you'll find a lot of spikes for low and high rolls, but if you make a trend line, it will be more or less flat. Here's a little graph of a hundred simulated throws:

The trend line is in red. That is climate. The line is essentially flat because the dice rolls aren't trending up or down—there's no change in the average roll as we move along in time.

The actual throws are in blue. That is weather. These vary rather wildly. Some throws are near the trend line, some are way above it, and some are way below it.

Now here is another simulation. This time I've loaded the dice: as we go on, it gets progressively easier to roll higher numbers, so now the average roll is increasing as we move along in time (this simulates global warming):

The loading of the dice is clearly visible in the upward curve of the trend line. But notice where we rolled a 2 at the red arrow. It doesn't prove that the dice aren't loaded, right? In fact, we can't tell anything at all from the one data point.

If this were a graph of average DC winter temperatures instead of dice rolls, the arrow would point to our "cold winter" (and, yes, even with global warming, there will be relatively cold winters). Just as that one throw can't tell us anything about whether the dice are loaded, that one cold winter can't tell us anything about global warming.

Here's the key point: weather is, for all intents and purposes, random. Climate is not. And you can't look at that random weather for today or this month or this year and use it to say anything about climate.2 You can't just look at a single point in time and say, "It's cold, therefore global warming is bunk." But that's what Brit did with his "it's cold this winter" comment. (Maybe he'll come back in August when it's 105° in DC and say, "It's really hot today. Looks like I was wrong about global warming.")

"Cooling trend of the last decade"

Brit simply asserts this, so we don't know where he got it from—but I think I can make a pretty good guess. A lot of people (including George Will, quite recently—coincidence?) have been saying the same thing, and it always seems to come down to this: it was a little cooler in 2008 than it was in 1998.

OK, let's go back to our loaded dice. Look at the green line I've added:

See that, loaded dice alarmists? The recent trend is downward!

Well, not really. I just drew a pretty line between two arbitrary rolls. It doesn't mean anything at all.

But that green line is what makes Brit (or whoever he got this nonsense from) say that there's been no warming for the last ten years: he picked two arbitrary years, drew a line between them, and said, "See? No warming!" Unfortunately for Brit, it doesn't work that way. The individual data points are random, and you can't draw any conclusions by comparing two random things. Just as the green line here doesn't show that the dice aren't loaded (because they are loaded), the fact that 2008 was a little cooler than 1998 doesn't mean that there's no climate warming going on (because climate warming is going on).

(By the way, 2008 was cooler than 1998 in large part because 1998 was an El Niño year, while 2008 was a La Niña year—El Niño has a warming effect, while La Niña has a cooling effect. But despite La Niña, 2008 was still the 10th warmest year on record. There's more about this claim in the George Will response.)

"They have had trouble predicting today's temperatures"

Well, this one is real easy. "Today's temperatures" is weather. You can't predict weather from climate models. Repeat after me, Brit: for all practical purposes, weather is random. Climate models do not try to predict weather. You can't predict today's weather—or this year's weather, for that matter—from any climate model. That's not what they're for. Climate models try to predict the red line, not the blue line.

And the climate models are, in fact, rather good at doing that. Scientists have gone back to look at some of the older models and have found that longer term temperature trends have been pretty much as expected. RealClimate (a great site run by actual climate scientists) has more information.

Brit, you're supposed to be a journalist. You got some splainin' to do.

1 Source: Weather Underground. The mean winter (December 1-February 28) temperatures for Washington, DC. in 2000, 2002, and 2003 were all lower than 2008.

2 Even a decade is a bit dicey (sorry). For global surface temperatures, according to climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, 15 years is the point at which weather "noise" averages out. What this means is that, if the climate were not changing at all, the average temperature for any 15-year span would be about the same as that for any other 15-year span because weather averages out over a period that long. That is not be true for a shorter span such as a decade—two different decades could have significantly different average temperatures even with no climate change. So, 15 years is about the shortest time span you can use to say anything really meaningful about global climate trends.

Unless you account for noise.

If you do that, you can point to a shorter time period as being anomalously warm or cool. The weather noise for a decade has been calculated, and it's less that 0.1°C. So, in the absence of climate change, we would expect the average temperature for any decade to be within 0.1°C of the long-term average. If the average for a particular decade is more than 0.1°C different from the long-term average, we can say that it's an anomaly and possible evidence of a change in the climate.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Post Strikes Back

A previous post noted the reported non-response response of the Washington Post's new ombudsman, Andy Alexander, to the fact-challenged George Will column Dark Green Doomsayers (see the posts here and here).

Originally, Alexander didn't have much to say beyond (I'm paraphrasing here) "The Post's editors tell me that the piece went through a 'multi-layered' fact checking process."

Today, Alexander tackles the issue officially in his ombudsman's column:
Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments. But they aren't free to distort them.

The question of whether that happened is at the core of an uproar over a recent George F. Will column and The Post's fact-checking process.
Here is what Alexander reports in regard to the actual fact-checking process on the Will piece:
It began with Will's own research assistant, Greg Reed. When the column was submitted on Feb. 12 to The Washington Post Writers Group, which edits and syndicates it, Reed sent an accompanying e-mail that provided roughly 20 Internet reference links in support of key assertions in the column. Richard Aldacushion, editorial production manager at the Writers Group, said he reviewed every link. The column was then edited by editorial director Alan Shearer and managing editor James Hill.

Next, it went to The Post's op-ed editor, Autumn Brewington, who said she also reviewed the sources.

The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will's assertion that global sea ice levels "now equal those of 1979." I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion.
Here's the key: the Post's editors apparently "fact-checked" the column by looking at the links, and only the links, that Will's team provided. This is stunningly inadequate.

Suppose I submitted a column claiming that the Apollo moon landings were hoaxed. It would be trivially easy for me to provide twenty (or a hundred) links supporting this assertion. Would it be adequate fact-checking if the Post were to look at my links, and only at my links? Or should the fact checkers also look at NASA's site and other resources to get viewpoints from someone else? Maybe they could pick up the phone and get NASA's position ("Say, did y'all send some guys to the moon a while back? Got any evidence, like maybe a moon rock or something? Or a few snapshots?").

I think the answer is obvious, but the Post's editors apparently didn't do any of that. In fact, Alexander says that no attempt was made to check with the Arctic Climate Research Center until long after reaction to the column exploded:
But according to Bill Chapman, a climate scientist with the center, there was no call from Will or Post editors before the column appeared. He added that it wasn't until last Tuesday -- nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction -- that he heard from an editor at the newspaper. It was [op-ed editor Autumn] Brewington who finally e-mailed, offering Chapman the opportunity to write something that might help clear the air.
Something is seriously wrong here. The Post failed miserably in its most fundamental obligation to readers: to provide accurate information.

To compare what the Post did with what it should have done, it's instructive to look at a description of the op-ed fact-checking policy over at The New York Times. Here's an excerpt:
Here are the clear-cut things the editor will do:

* Fact-check the article. While it is the author's responsibility to ensure that everything written for us is accurate, we still check facts—names, dates, places, quotations.

We also check assertions. If news articles—from The Times and other publications—are at odds with a point or an example in an essay, we need to resolve whatever discrepancy exists.

For instance, an Op-Ed article critical of newly aggressive police tactics in Town X can't flatly say the police have no reason to change their strategy if there have been news reports that violence in the town is rising. This doesn't mean the writer can't still argue that there are other ways to deal with Town X's crime problem - he just can't say that the force's decision to change came out of the blue.
This is certainly not to say that the Times always gets it right. But the piece contains a pretty clear statement of what did not happen at the Post: "If news articles—from The Times and other publications—are at odds with a point or an example in an essay, we need to resolve whatever discrepancy exists."

Friday, February 27, 2009

He's Baaaaack

[Update: here's the response that Will should have written, from]

He's at it again.

In today's Washington Post, an unrepentant George Will writes a "defense" of his February 15 column, in which he tried to pass off a grab bag of myths and misconceptions as evidence for his head-in-the-sand contrarian stance on global warming.

In the February 15 column, Will made numerous easily-refuted errors of fact. These were not points of view that depend on whether or not you believe in global warming; they were, plain and simple, wrong. These "facts" were shown to be wrong by just about everyone you can think of including, modestly, me. (If you don't believe me, see a partial list here.)

And here he is today:
The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged.
Whoa there, podner! Only one of your "factual assertions" was challenged? This statement in itself is blatantly false; the column contained, when you analyze it, three basic factual assertions, and all three of them were challenged. The column was picked apart in detail and at length:
  • Challenged: That there was a consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was in for a new ice age.

  • Challenged: That the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center said that sea ice levels hadn't changed since 1979 (the Center found this so wrong that it published its own denial of this particular claim).

  • Challenged: That the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said that there had been no global warming for the last decade.
In those three points, the entire original column is challenged, since it contained no other substantive factual claims.

So here he is today, defending the "one" factual assertion that he seems to think was disputed:
Citing data from the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog, the column said that since September "the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began." According to the center, global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 were "near or slightly lower than" those of 1979. The center generally does not make its statistics available, but in a Jan. 12 statement the center confirmed that global sea ice levels were within a difference of less than 3 percent of the 1980 level.

So the column accurately reported what the center had reported. But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying "we do not know where George Will is getting his information." The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center's Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data that this column subsequently reported accurately.
Now, if you follow the link to the Daily Tech post, you will indeed see what he says you will see (note that Will uses an "interpretation" of the ACRC data from an electronics magazine's blog rather than the ACRC's own discussion—I wonder why?). But if you follow the link to the Center, where the data came from originally, you will not find the "accurate" reporting that Will claims. Where Will uses this data to show that there is no global warming, what the Center says—in the very post that Will links to—is this:
Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979, as noted in the Daily Tech article. However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N. Hemisphere reduction. [My trusty calculator says that this is a net loss of a half million sq. km, an area considerably larger than California. I wouldn't call this "near or slightly lower", but that's just me. -ed]

Global climate model projections suggest that the most significant response of the cryosphere to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will be seen in Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice extent. Recent decreases of N. Hemisphere summer sea ice extent ... are consistent with such projections.


[T]he ice that is presently in the Arctic Ocean is younger and thinner than the ice of the 1980s and 1990s. So Arctic ice volume is now below its long-term average by an even greater amount than is ice extent or area.
So this post says that the sea ice data are consistent with global warming theories. In other words, Will actually tries to claim he's right by referencing a post from the original source of his data that says he's wrong. Well played, sir, well played!

Let's recap the essence of the dialog:
Will: "The Arctic Climate Research Center says there's no global warming."

ACRC: "No, we didn't. Our data are consistent with global warming predictions, and here's how."

Will (pauses): "The Arctic Climate Research Center says there's no global warming."
This is accurate reporting? Seriously? Would a more appropriate phrase be "grossly misleading"?

In my previous post, I posited that, based on the February 15 column, Will had to be either incompetent or a liar; I could come up with no additional explanations. I now see that there is a third possibility: is the man insane?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Toughest Reservation in Town

I hear the food's great, though.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sean Hannity, Two-Year-Old

Sometimes you just have to see something to believe it.

Here is a transcript of his recent "interview" (and I put that in quotes intentionally--this is about as far from an interview as you can get) of Democratic Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. Hannity complains about the "9,000 earmarks" in the economic stimulus package, and then this happens:

HANNITY: Explain that to me. You're a Democrat. Help me out.
SESTAK: Absolutely. Sean, first off, you try to name me one -- one in the recovery bill of an earmark. Now, with a --
HANNITY: Got it.
SESTAK: -- 9,000 earmarks in this omnibus --
HANNITY: I got it.
SESTAK: -- bill -- just one moment.
HANNITY: Answer.
SESTAK: There were -- OK. If --
SESTAK: -- you could, just answer this: Is -- there's 9,000 --
HANNITY: The salt harvest marsh mouse that gets $30 million. The railway from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: that is a pork project. That is reckless spending.
SESTAK: Sean, that -- those words are absolutely not in the bill, and you know it.
HANNITY: What --
SESTAK: You may be reading them off --
HANNITY: -- the stimulus --
SESTAK: -- the Internet, but those words are not in the bill.
HANNITY: Yeah, of course, because you hide it. But we know where the money's going. It's just like, for example, all-terrain --
SESTAK: Now, Sean, those words --
HANNITY: I'll give you another one.
SESTAK: Sean, if I could.
HANNITY: All-terrain vehicles --
SESTAK: Now, wait a minute, Sean, you're reading off an Internet type of thing.
HANNITY: I'm actually reading the bill.
SESTAK: You've got to read the actual bill, and I've read every word.
HANNITY: You know --
SESTAK: Now let's talk about the 9,000 earmarks.
HANNITY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You know and I know that Nancy Pelosi's district, that these marshlands to help save the mouse, that's where that money's going. This railway for Harry Reid, these all-terrain vehicle trails, they're in the bill, Congressman. We're spending $1.3 trillion of our kids' money. Why?
SESTAK: Sean, I just don't want to mislead the public. Those words are not in the bill. Number two: We're --
HANNITY: But the money is earmarked for it.
SESTAK: No, there are not, Sean. Number two --
HANNITY: You sound like Bill Clinton.
SESTAK: No, I'm just telling you what the facts are, 'cause I've read every word of the bill.
HANNITY: "I did not have sex with that woman." They -- that is where the money is going, Congressman. Be straight with the American people.
As comedian Demetri Martin says, it's almost as good to be loud as it is to be right.

Seriously, Sean, why do you even bother having guests? What is the point? You ask questions and then shout over the answers, repeating the same assertions over and over again (repeating things doesn't make them true, by the way, no matter how many times you do it).

Here are some simple tips for Sean:
1. When you ask a question, consider listening to the answer.

2. After listening to the answer, then you can respond. It's kind of a three-step process: you ask, he answers, you respond. This is called "interaction."

3. When you do respond, consider responding to what actually he said rather than just repeating stuff you already said.

4. Try to avoid calling the person you're talking to a liar unless you have some actual facts to back that up (which, you'll note, you didn't).
I learned this stuff when I was maybe three years old. Where does that leave Sean? (Hint: see the post title.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Editors

In the previous entry, we noted that the University of Illinois' Polar Research Group (misidentified as the Arctic Climate Research Center) said this in regard to its data being abused by George Will in his latest mondo-bizarro "global cooling" column:
It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.
It sure is. And this has not passed without notice.

Post ombudsman Andy Alexander and Washington Post Writers Group editorial director Alan Shearer have reportedly responded, sort of, by saying that the Post has a "multi-layered" editing process and arguing, incredibly, that maybe Will wasn't all that wrong. Or that it's possible with a little digging and some creative thinking to come up with a scenario under which Will's statements aren't blatantly false. Or that somebody, somewhere, agrees with him. Or something.

Here's Shearer:
We have plenty of references that support what George wrote, and we have others that dispute that. So we didn't have enough to send in a correction.

I can find "plenty of references" supporting the hoaxed Moon landing theory, too. Can Will write a "Moon Landings: Fake!" column for the Post and get it printed? What about a column that gets its support from the good folks at the Flat Earth Society?. Exactly how false does a "fact" have to be before the Post op-ed staff will refuse to print it? (Of course, the hollow Earth people hotly dispute the claims of the Flat Earth Society, but that's another story--maybe Will could use both of them in one column.)

No, the Post's responses are excuses, pure and simple. Any objective, halfway-competent fact checker would have seen massive problems with Will's column in a few minutes. And it wouldn't matter what the checker's take on global warming is, because everything in the column fell into one of three categories: irrelevant, misleading, or, in our most popular category, just plain wrong.

Now, I've been a Post subscriber for three decades. It has always been a good paper; at times it has been a great paper. But, multi-layered editing or no, this is a sorry excuse for journalism. If this kind of blatant dishonesty is permitted, how can we take anything in the Post op-ed pages seriously?

A little comparison is instructive. Back in January, a newspaper printed a column in which the author wrote about a dilemma: the husband of a friend had been jailed for molesting a young girl. The man professed his innocence, and the columnist seemed sympathetic.

The problem is, the column was both misleading and factually inaccurate, with the result that the ambiguity of the man's guilt was greatly overstated. So the following subsequently appeared in the pages of the same paper:
The author [of the column] was writing about the dilemma she felt when a friend's husband was sent to jail for molesting a young girl, despite his protestations of innocence. In the end, she discovered that even though she wanted to believe her friend's husband, she couldn't quite do it.

The column had factual errors, and editors in the Magazine, including me, failed to catch them. The author wrote that the man had been talked into accepting a plea agreement, and implied that there had been only one accuser. In fact, the man had turned down the plea offer, and had been tried and convicted. Also, more than one girl made accusations. The inescapable conclusion is that the man's guilt was not as ambiguous as presented. .... Today, I want to apologize for our errors ....
Now that is a correction. That is an editor who takes responsibility for what he prints. And who is this? Why, it's Tom Shroder, editor of the Washington Posts's Sunday magazine. (Read the full correction here--it even includes a letter from the victim's grandmother, reprinted in full.)

Good for you, Tom. It's a shame that the op-ed editors don't have the same kind of guts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where There's a Will, There's No Way

George Will writes the most appalling drivel in his latest Washington Post column ("Dark Green Doomsayers", February 15, 2009). Here's a summary:
  1. Scientists in the 1970s widely predicted severe global cooling.

  2. The University of Illinois says that global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

  3. The UN says that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade".

  4. Paul Ehrlich lost a 1980 bet that the prices of certain commodities would increase by 1990.

  5. Ergo, there is no global warming.
The first three items are just plain wrong, and the fourth merits a resounding "Huh?". This seems to make his conclusion rather dubious. How's about we look at each of these.

1: Scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling

No, they weren't.

The quotes Will uses to buttress this assertion are generally from news and popular media. He doesn't bother to look at the scientific papers of the era because, if he had, it would have ruined his thesis. Among other things, he would have found this comprehensive study of peer-reviewed climate-related scientific articles from 1965 to 1979 (summarized nicely in USA Today). Of the 71 papers reviewed, fewer than 10% predicted global cooling, while over 60% predicted global warming (about 30% made no prediction).

Where he does quote scientific sources, he's less than candid about context or accuracy. Here's an example: he quotes a 1976 article in Science as predicting "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation". And Science did indeed predict that--but not in the way that George wants you to think. He quotes the prediction itself, but he doesn't bother with any of the fruity topping. Here's the bit he left out:

Having presented evidence that major changes in past climate were associated with variations in the geometry of the earth's orbit, we should be able to predict the trend of future climate. Such forecasts must be qualified in two ways. First, they apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends - and not to anthropogenic effects such as those due to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, they describe only the long-term trends, because they are linked to orbital variations with periods of 20,000 years and longer. Climatic oscillations at higher frequencies are not predicted. [Emphasis added]
George, this prediction doesn't take human activity into account. It's a very general forecast for the next 20,000 years in the absence of human activity.

There was no scientific consensus for global cooling in the 1970s; in fact, scientists were already tending, although not with today's near-unanimity, in the opposite direction.

Item 1 is wrong.

2: The University of Illinois says that global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979

No, it doesn't.

In fact, University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center immediately repudiated Will's statement:

In an opinion piece by George Will published on February 15, 2009 in the Washington Post, George Will states "According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.
Plain enough? The very source that Will cites says, "We do not know where George Will is getting his information....".

Item 2 is wrong.

3: The UN says that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade"

No, it doesn't.

Will references the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) but appears to be quoting a badly written BBC News article.

Here's the deal: In early 2008, the WMO noted that 2008 was likely to be cooler than 1998. Why? Because 2008 was going to be a La Niña year, while 1998 was an extreme El Niño year. La Niña has a cooling effect, while El Niño has a warming effect. Now, anyone who was old enough in 1997-1998 will remember the extraordinary weather of that period. Along with everything else, it was damned hot--hot enough that almost everyone who tracks these things ranks it as the warmest or second warmest year ever.

So, it's not surprising that 2008 would be cooler than 1998, and the WMO said so. But here's how the BBC News article phrases that:
This would mean that temperatures have not risen globally since 1998 when El Nino warmed the world.
Uh, no, it wouldn't mean that at all. It only means that the specific year 2008 would probably be cooler than the specific year 1998 due to La Niña/El Niño effects. This has nothing to do with global warming, and it is unequivocally wrong for Will to quote the WMO as having said anything even remotely like "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." [Update: See Hume-an Error for more detail on why you can't do this.]

In fact, the WMO says this in the next paragraph of the same article that Will is quoting:
"When you look at climate change you should not look at any particular year," [WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud] said. "You should look at trends over a pretty long period and the trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming.

"La Nina is part of what we call 'variability'. There has always been and there will always be cooler and warmer years, but what is important for climate change is that the trend is up; the climate on average is warming even if there is a temporary cooling because of La Nina."
So when Will says that
[A]ccording to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade....
what the WMO actually says is that
[T]he trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming....
Item 3 is wrong.

4: Paul Ehrlich lost a 1980 bet that the prices of certain commodities would increase by 1990.

Wow, this one is true. But I'm still trying to figure out how it's relevant. The fact that an individual scientist made a foolish bet thirty years ago and lost is supposed to somehow prove that the understanding of climate change that is now accepted by 97% of climatologists is wrong? Seriously?

Now, Will's column is an op-ed piece. He's entitled to his opinion (however wrong-headed it may be). But here's the thing: it doesn't matter what your view of climate change is--these "facts" are simply wrong. Opinion is opinion. Facts is facts. If your facts are wrong, your opinion is of no value.

It gets worse: not only is the column wrong on facts, it is fundamentally dishonest. Will had to know that everything he wrote was wrong (well, except for the part that's irrelevant). If he read enough of the BBC News article to find the WMO "statement" he used, then he had to have also read the WMO's refutation of that point--it's the next paragraph. Furthermore, Will was taken to task on the 1970s global cooling myth (and much more) when he wrote the same thing at least three times before.

George Will is a professional writer with a professional research staff. He is paid top dollar to write these pieces. It is inconceivable to me that he was unaware of the factual inaccuracy of this column. If he was, then he is grossly incompetent and shouldn't be writing for a top newspaper like the Post. If he wasn't, then he is lying.

I do not see a third alternative.

Update: We now know for a fact that Will was previously apprised of his misuse of a Science News article--but the current column misuses the same quote in the same way. Journalist and science writer John Fleck reveals in the Albuquerque Journal that he sent a copy of the complete article to Will in 2008:
When George Will last wrote about this subject, in May 2008, I sent him a copy of the 1975 Science News article, hoping he might get a fuller picture of what was going on at the time. I got a nice note back from him thanking me for sharing it. It doesn't seem as if he read it, which would have been nicer.