Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting hot under the collar

One last bit, really, just this one, before I switch topics to something else. I'll note in case I haven't before that the reasons for posting these here is that it's a cheap way to get a post and I thought the links might prove useful to others. (By the way, the reason I use the term "denialist" and call the practice "denialism" is because all they really have to go on is a type of religious faith. Facts don't move them.)

MMFA had another item about media coverage of global warming and of course the comments section brought out the denialists. Naturally, I just had to get involved. The issue this time was the so-called "Medieval Warm Period."

(Noted for the record: The responses below are slightly edited from the originals for clarity and to add a couple of links. The unedited originals, along with all other comments, are here.)
Oh sigh, the so-called "Medieval Warm Period" strikes again.

the warmest period in record was the 13th century

No, it wasn't. Period.

In fact, the MWP very likely did not exist except as a temporary reversal of an overall cooling trend, a reversal that was limited to parts of the Northern Hemisphere. And while there is some data that indicates that area might have been as warm then as it was in the early 20th century, about a hundred years ago, there is nothing to say it was anywhere near as warm as now. NOAA says "the late 20th and early 21st centuries are likely the warmest period the Earth has seen in at least 1200 years."

The 2001 IPCC report summarized current knowledge this way: "Current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this time frame, and the conventional terms of 'Little Ice Age' and 'Medieval Warm Period' appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries."

Certainly we've learned a lot since then but it hasn't helped the skeptics. In fact, in October, at the 2008 Joint Meeting of the Geological Society of America, two geologists presented a paper arguing that "several glaciers in western North America were advancing during the Medieval Warm Period," which would mean either that it was actually cooler then than now or, as other evidence indicates, any warming was regional, not worldwide.

And should it be necessary to point out that whatever the precise truth of the climate of 700 years ago, we do not live 700 years ago? That the world we inhabit is nothing like medieval Europe and attempting to draw present-day sociological lessons about growth and plenty from that period is just downright silly?

technology will allow us to cope

It might help - that is, if it's technologies such as renewable energy and conservation.
Twenty minutes later (before my reply), that same commenter put up a link to this article in The Register, an online magazine about technology. It referred to a recently-released study that argued that global warming may stall for several years due to a cooling forcing arising from a cyclical shift in ocean currents. The author used that to attack the whole idea of global warming before going after a temperature study that questioned the Medieval Warm Period.
At the top, let me say I am familiar with The Register; it is on a list of publications I check from time to time about technological issues. But that very familiarity enables me to say I do not regard it as an unbiased source.

It's also worth noting that everything that author Steven Goddard has on the site is the same thing: nit-picking at data points to disprove global warming. And in this case he essentially argues that NASA - more particularly, Dr. James Hansen - is deliberately falsifying data to indicate continued warming. That is a very serious charge which of course he didn't dare make directly, but I defy anyone to read the article and reasonably reach a different conclusion.

By the way, back in August he used totally invalid methodology in a failed attempt to claim NASA data showing a large-scale loss of Arctic ice was skewed and got ruthlessly debunked by the very source he cited.

So neither the source nor the author can be considered unbiased on the issue. (In fact, there appears to be something of a mystery as to just who this Steven Goddard is.)

And last before getting to the article, in the above comment (i.e., the link to the article) we see again how the denialists pluck one single article out of one single source making one single claim about one set of data and tossing that up as if it were a crushing rejoinder to the whole notion of global warming.

With that, to the article:

First, the very link Goddard cites about the study that "reignited the debate" about global warming by predicting a period of slightly cooler temperatures quotes the study as saying that this cyclical change in ocean currents would "temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming" for maybe a decade. (Emphasis added.) Despite Goddard's attempt to distort the finding, they are not predicting an end to global warming but only a stall in it. What's more, the authors themselves say they used "a simple approach" that only used one set of data.

(By the way, Nature is a peer-reviewed journal which has published other studies related to global warming. For example, in November, it had a study that indicated that the rise in carbon dioxide in the oceans "could increase the volume of oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in tropical oceans by as much as 50% before the end of the century." In December, in its "Nature Reports," it had an article on what's been learned about climate change in 2008. None of it is beneficial to Goddard's arguments.)

Then Goddard compares graphs of temperature records, one done by the UK Meteorological Office's (popularly known simply as the Met) Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research and another by NASA, claiming the former shows the world is "not much warmer now than it was than it was in 1878 or 1941" while NASA's shows "worldwide temperatures increasing at a record pace - and nearly a full degree warmer than 1880." That is a patently deceptive description: The apparent difference in the slope of the graphs is due entirely to the difference in scale on the Y (vertical) axis. When you look at the actual numbers charted, you'll see that the Met's graph says the difference between 1940 and now is about 0.4 degrees and NASA's says it is about 0.45 degrees - and the difference between 1880 and now is about 0.7 degrees for the Met and 0.75 degrees for NASA. So according to Goddard, 0.7 degrees is "not much warmer" but 0.75 degrees is "nearly a full degree." He clearly is stretching and distorting words to reach a wrong but for him convenient conclusion.

He then challenges NASA's reevaluation of 70 years of earlier data by claiming it's statistically ridiculous, but he's the one that's absurd: "From a statistical viewpoint, data recalculation should cause each year to have a 50/50 probability of going either up or down." That's true if and only if any adjustments are correcting previous, randomly-distributed errors. If the need for such corrections arises from a systematic error, there is no reason to assume a 50/50 distribution.

He can't even get the math right: He says the corrections show a 55/15 distribution toward what would show increased recent warming and says the odds against that are a trillion to one - only to have to admit it's actually about a million to one; he was off by six orders of magnitude.

He can't even get the source right: It turns out the adjustments were made by an agency of NOAA, not NASA.

And all that is without even going to the second page.

Conclusion: The article is trash.

Footnote: Before Goddard or anyone else tries to use info from the Met again, they might check out its website, particularly its "Climate Change Facts."
And finally, a second denialist offered this link as "a cogent read." (Be aware that for some reason I've not been able to determine, the link takes you to the wrong page. At that page, use the link to the right for the "hockey stick" post, which will work - even though the URL is as far as I can tell identical to the one here.)
Sometimes I wonder if the denialists actually read and understand the sources they cite. The piece at the link at least cites more than one source, unusual for denialists, but it still for the most part uses data more than a decade old and trots out the standard accusations that anything showing global warming is "spurious," "politicized," even fradulent, and exists solely to "fit some policy agendas." In short, global warming science is all part of some huge conspiracy driven by NASA or the UN or the IPCC or "Big Science" or environmentalists or the Illuminati or, well, by somebody.

You want fraudulent analysis? I'll show you fraudulent analysis. Look at Figures 3 and 4 at the link, designed to refute temperature data that challenged the idea of the MWP. Figure 3 is the original graph of the data. Figure 4 is a supposed "correction" of the data with a label pointing to peaks in the year 1400-1500 range reading "20th century no longer highest." But note that Figure 4, the "corrected" version, stops at 1950. If it had included the remaining 50 years of the century, as Figure 3 did with numbers based on actual temperature readings, the 20th century still would have been warmer even after the "corrections."

That is another trick of the denialists: Picking whatever time frame is convenient for them: You want to say it was warmer at some time in the past? Just ignore the last 50 years of hard data.

It is also at best dishonest to proceed as if the study graphed in Figure 3 (and a follow-up a year later by a team lead by the same researcher, Michael Mann) are the only sources questioning the MWP.
This is patently false. Nearly a dozen model-based and proxy-based reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature by different groups all suggest that late 20th century warmth is anomalous in a long-term (multi-century to millennial) context.
In fact, looking at the graphs of all of those studies clearly marks the "corrected" one used here as an outlier. And that, too - that is, using a known outlier as reliable, even conclusive, data - is dishonest.

But even beyond that, the corrections themselves are interesting: Our other denialist here in these comments at MMFA linked to a piece that challenged corrections to earlier data on the grounds that most of them pointed to increased evidence for global warming and that, the author there insisted, was statistically absurd. Yet here we have a case where every claimed correction runs in one direction, that of proving the existence of a MWP. So we have two cases trying to deny global warming, the second of which uses an argument the first calls ridiculous.

(I also can't help but notice that the "corrections" for the period in question seem to consist mostly of running across the top of the larger error bars on the original graph.)

My earlier statement stands: "The MWP very likely did not exist except as a temporary reversal of an overall cooling trend, a reversal that was limited to parts of the Northern Hemisphere. And while there is some data that indicates that limited area might have been as warm then as it was in the early 20th century, about a hundred years ago, there is nothing to say it was anywhere near as warm as now."

The author of the linked piece blandly asserts that the MWP is "a well-established phenomenon ... during which global temperature conditions were warmer than those at present," but since that is exactly what is as issue, it can't be taken seriously as an argument any more than can his use of an IPCC graph from 1996 (funny how the IPCC becomes a reliable source when it serves his ends) since the climate study he spends the rest of the time trying to shoot down postdates that graph by two years.

In other words, it can be taken as seriously as the rest of the post.

A few last things:

- The first source cited, Dr. David Deming, is a notorious anti-global warming fanatic who considers global warming "pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo" and the very concept of environmentalism "anti-scientific." He is associated with two rightwing think tanks and he has been blessed with op-ed space in the Washington Times and Investors Business Daily. One of those think tanks is the National Center for Policy Analysis, which says its goal
is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector.
That is, "the magic of the marketplace" solves everything. Something with which the US has had a fair amount of experience these past few months.

Deming's most recent appearance in the media was a couple of weeks back, in a FauxNews hit piece on an AP article that had suggested we're running out of time to act on global warming. Deming called the AP piece laughable, a "polemic ... propaganda" that was (know your audience, 'cause you want them to keep calling you) "not fair and balanced."

- The committee before which he testified in December 2006 in the quoted passage was chaired at the time by Sen. James Inhofe, whose views on the issue I expect you know. The hearing was held for the specific and avowed purpose of getting testimony from every skeptic Inhofe could find. During his testimony, Deming actually argued that humans should emit more carbon dioxide as a hedge against a future ice age.

- Finally, the blogger himself, one Andrew Bostom, is a rightwing hack who is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and to David Horowitz's FrontPageMag which I almost typed as FrontPageRag but decided against it. Bostom is best known for writing books devoted to "proving" that Islam is both inherently anti-Semitic and permanently devoted to brutal, violent conquering of and bloody, oppressive rule over, non-Muslims. In a post right before the linked one he called the naming of John Holdren as Obama's chief science adviser "Climate Scientology Jihad" that "puts our economy and our security at risk" and insisted we need more "energy development (coal, natural gas, oil) now." (Emphasis in original.)

If you want to understand his perspective, consider it adequate to note that Pam Atlas, the space cadet who actually claimed to have proved that Barack Obama was the illegitimate son of Malcolm X, appears to get wet just thinking about him.

Sort of a self-reinforcing circle jerk of denialists. One I find quite unpersuasive.
Should I be surprised that in the two to three days since, I have gotten no further response from any denialists? Maybe not.

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