Tag Archives: science

Epic Global Warming Debate on Facebook

Well folks, I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve managed to get in to a long, drawn out Facebook debate with a couple of my friends who happen to be global warming deniers and I tell you, it was a blast!  For the purposes of this transcript, I’ll call my friends Cleanthes and Demea. At the end of the day, I didn’t change their minds and of course, they didn’t change mind, so for those neutrals out there, I’ll let you decide who carried the day.  Enjoy:

Here’s the post that started it all:

Autodidactosaurus: Interesting but not at all surprising academic study on the relationship between exposure to cable news channel content and acceptance of global warming as a scientific norm, as well as how political partisanship moderates these relationships.

http://climateshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/FeldmanStudy.pdf

Demea: This is largely due to the global powers that be making it a live or die political issue leading to power grab based on shoddy science. It’s called a back lash. Al Gore’s many distortions and mainstream media’s blind acceptance of his distortions played no small role. He’s the modern William Jennings Bryan.

The shoddy science I refer to is primarily the computer models and a lot politically motivated rubber stamping of some crappy work by the IPCC.

And this supposed conensus’s ignorance of statistics or cost benefit analysis.

Cleanthes:  Funny how causal factors are ignored by some who purport to apply the scientific method they so revere…people watch what they want because of what they believe, not believe what they do because of what they watch. Those of us who don’t fall for the ruse try not to subject ourselves to the lemmings who do.

Autodidactosaurus: Demea – I think this paper is illustrative of the power of one sided reporting and frankly it’s a bit astounding, given the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. Al Gore or not, to me, you either trust climate scientists (computer models and all) or you don’t. Peer reviewed scientific evidence suggests that global warming is occurring and that humans are the dominant forcing function for that change. Climate scientists no longer debate this as an open issue in need of more experimentation or hypothesis testing and there are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change.

Cleanthes: 8 million years ago the Atlantic Coast ran through Columbia SC and gave us the sand hills. Who caused the change?

Even though there is an overwhelming body of evidence that solar activity drives a significant (even a majority) of global temp changes…the most famous and most quoted “models” don’t even consider it as an input or causal factor. Please explain.

What makes you think you know the “correct” temp for the planet? Its always been changing, right?

Demea: I have a real problem with this statement:

“Al Gore or not, to me, you either trust climate scientists (computer models and all) or you don’t.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but doesn’t science occur BECAUSE OF skepticism? What’s this trust thing? When it comes to science, I trust proof better than people. Science, hard science, is supposed to be binary. And yes, I understand that some things are so complex or so theoretical and abstract, that getting a nice demonstrable 2+2=4 result is difficult. And you know what? That’s fine. That’s what academia is for.

But, when you start taking these theories based on science ‘that suggests’ this or that, regardless of whatever the poll results of scientists are, and trying to turn global economic policy over to a bunch of chin scratching transnationalists who think they know better than you or me what is best for us. THAT’S when I put a really high bar for these science to cross. A consensus does nothing for me. I want observable proof that doing X will solve Y problem.

None of the computer models to my knowledge predicted that plateauing of the temperatures the last decade and a half or the unusually harsh winters the last 3 years. There may be a rational reason for this in AGW theory. Fine. I’d like to hear it. Better yet, I’d like to see that this all knowing consensus predicted it.

Again, my problem with AGW is the political angle and THAT is why you have the back lash. You have non-intellectual simpletons asking pretty reasonable questions (I know, how dare they). How can you know that big ball of plasma in the sky is a non-factor? So, CO2 ‘poisons’ the atmostphere? Do plants agree with that? No one in their right mind would bet hard money on a 10 day weather forecast but we want to bet global prosperity on a 100 year forecast? We’ve had wide swings in CO2 that pre-dated SUVs. How exactly is this different? How can I trust weather measuring equipment that seems to have a high percentage of which placed in urban environments? So, science has advanced so much that a 100 year sample size of data of varying quality tells us all we need to know about climate history and how to predict the future? And this is not viewed as hubris? And finally, so the earth warming a few degrees is bad because…why again?

And yes, there is a consensus, but this ‘consensus’ basically agrees that we’re warming, man is partly responsible but there is a big gap in the ranges to what extent we are warming and how much we are causing it. The reason Al Gore is such a windbag is that he takes the worse case scenario from the outlier studies and uses that as fact. His movie had ‘facts’ that not even the ‘consensus’ backs up. More than a few politicians play that game.

Lastly, I work in software. Not only software, but forecasting software. I know a thing or two about the complexity involved in developing such software. And I know the complexity of it when all the variables are known. To say that this consensus knows all the variables in climate models with great certainty is a level of ‘trust’ that borders on faith. So, I am certainly a sceptic that a bunch of professors who learned Fortran as a hobby in 1985 can put together a computer model without the software discipline it takes to actually do such a thing. The FDA and the DOD have some very rigid rules around software development that can be sold to the government or in regulated industries (like say pharma). I know of no evidence that these computer models we are supposed to trust actually pass those tests. The East Anglia emails and code dump from the ClimateGate scandal merely reinforced my belief that some scientists are political hacks doing hack programming to build models meant to scare people into allowing centralized control of the economy.

You show me a computer model that nailed its predictions, complete with seasonal variations, across the globe over a 10-15 year period, and then I MIGHT ‘trust’ this consenus. Until then, I don’t want this ‘consensus’ within 10 light years of the political process.

Autodidactosaurus: I hear ya Demea – so let’s back up. Can we first agree that science absolutely works because of skepticism, among scientists? Not because you or I or Al Gore or Rick Perry, who are not scientists, are skeptical of their findings. The whole process of peer review is based on scientific skepticism (hey, here’s what I found, here’s how I did it, go poke holes in it fellow scientists, what? no holes, ok, so we might have something here, let’s go do more experiments, rinse and repeat 😉 I’m saying I trust the outcomes of this process and that it doesn’t have to have mathematical precision – if the weight of the evidence is so great, then it gets added to the human knowledge bucket.

To your second point. that’s not to say that there aren’t entire sections of the population who will continue to doubt scientific findings despite the weight of evidence; perhaps those findings are in conflict with a personal belief system, or perhaps, the policy reaction to those findings requires a multi-national response in order to create a mitigation strategy (which is another way of saying nations have to give up some sovereignty) which is a very tough pill to swallow without a doubt! I think that’s where you’re coming from on global warming. While the evidence is no longer debated among scientists, the practical question of “what to do about it” and who pays and how much, etc. is a much different set of issues. Maybe the answer is we don’t’ do anything at all thing about it? But the scientific community also predicts an increase in erratic and powerful weather events as global warming continues – so not doing anything will also have costs associated with it as well. I think answering these kinds of questions is far more complicated than the science!

Finally, the science I’ve read indicate that the earth’s heat is not leveling off at all, but continues to accumulate. In fact, the most recent piece of “news” on the subject has more to do with a scientist changing his mind (i.e., Richard Muller’s Koch funded research validating what 97% of climate scientists already accept) – which means it’s a non story from a science perspective but only gets press because of who funded his research (but David Koch helps fund NOVA too – so I don’t get the rub on that one 😉

Ok – dang you guys are good! This is good practice for me before Thanksgiving dinner! haha! Ok, I only have time to talk about the sun and then I gotta run. So you are saying that the sun is not factored in to global warming models; but I believe we need to be a bit more specific. There have been multiple hypotheses posited which suggest and in some cases prove that the sun is a major forcing factor including: direct solar effect (http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/ccr/publications/meehl_additivity.pdf , http://www.cawcr.gov.au/staff/jma/meehl_solar.pdf , http://sun.stanford.edu/LWS_Dynamo_2009/61797.web.pdf ), indirect solar effects such as ultraviolet radiation (http://individual.utoronto.ca/ekwan/ozone.pdf, and galactic cosmic rays (http://rjes.wdcb.ru/v06/tje04163/tje04163.htm, http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/6/5543/2006/acpd-6-5543-2006.html, http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/10/1885/2010/acp-10-1885-2010.html), and Dansgaard-Oeschger Events. That said, here’s a nice summary paper though if you don’t want to dig through the calculus above which wraps up pretty nicely the fact that 1: the Sun influences climate and 2: that over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures: http://www.eiscat.rl.ac.uk/Members/mike/publications/pdfs/2007/Lockwood_PRSA1.pdf. Ok, I gotta run, but hopefully I can address your other critiques as well. Later gents! (I’m telling you, it’d be much more fun to talk about these things over beers – or Gentlemen Jack Mr. Cleanthes! haha!)

(Here I had to leave to take my daughter to a soccer charity event where she was volunteering)

Cleanthes: When continued funding (and therefore collective livelihoods) for research is justified by certain results, your peer process tends to lose validity…I’m not saying, I’m just sayin’…

Demea: As if on queue:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/22/climategate-2-0/

It’s hard to ‘trust’ scientists who have an ax to grind (note the conversations around trying to avoid FOA requests). Seems like confirmation bias would be a concern. I know it’s considered a concern if anyone accepted money from Exxon or the anti-Christs (aka the Koch brothers).

BTW, it’s the East Anglia folks who were nailed in the previous e-mail dump to have been trying to cook the peer review process. These are also the guys most closely associated with the IPCC.

Again, I’m not trying to paint the entire climate science community as tainted or fraudulent. I am merely trying to note that scepticism is warrented and necessary. And massive layers of proof, not concensus or peer reviews, must be achieved before we attempt any ‘multi-national’ solution to the supposed problem. If you care anything about freedom, given the general hostility to democracy and freedom by the folks most agressively pursuing these solutions, such a high threshhold should be the minimum requirement.

Lastly, surely writing a statement such as “While the evidence is no longer debated among scientists,” should make you feel a little dirty right? Leaving aside that it’s not true (many scientists, real scientists are debating the evidence all the time, the validity of the temparature equipment as just one example), if you believe in science at all, you would hope that evidence is always being debated until the theory turns to law. AGW is not law. Not even close. If for no other reason than it’s damn heard to accurately simulate the problem in a lab. I know of a couple of scientists who actually believe CO2 increases are a trailing factor to temparature rises, instead of being the cause.

Also, and I certainly may be wrong here, but peer review to my understanding is a review of the methology, not the results. It is not a full audit or reproduction of the entire scientific process and findings. Echoing Clenathe’s point, the climate science community (largely because of its integration with political goals) is a big peer pressure community and to agressively go against your consensus is professionall problematic, not to mention a danger to your livelyhood (since the grant money is mostly handed out by people who most definately want their agenda advanced).

I’ll check out your links later. I would be interested. If the sun is considered a big factor, it seems the thrust of man’s ability to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’ is highly limited.

And Autodidactosaurus, even if I get a bit snarky, I do love this stuff.

Autodidactosaurus: No snark at all Demea, I too love it! 😉 Ok, here’s the original CRU rebuttal: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/apr/14/oxburgh-uea-cleared-malpractice and the very real time link you posted says absolutely nothing other than some dude’s emails got hacked – again. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy until it’s proven that the evidence has been doctored to support the story (ala the tobacco industry research – which is junk science of the highest order). Until that such time as that happens – it’s a non issue for me.

Furthermore, to suggest that funding somehow automatically compromises scientific integrity leads me to the question, which science then do you believe? Only government sponsored science, industry sponsored science, military sponsored science, privately sponsored science, academic science? And which bodies of science are exempt? Medicine, quantum mechanics, biology, geology, astronomy, physics? The thing about global warming is that all of the science points to the same conclusion.

So do I feel dirty? haha! Well, if I’m dirty I’m in good company:

American Association for the Advancement of Science: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society….The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years.”
American Geophysical Union: “The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.”
American Chemical Society: “Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles.”
American Institute of Physics: “The Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics has endorsed a position statement on climate change adopted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Council:”
Ok, so what about Europe?
The European Physical Society: “The emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, among which carbon dioxide is the main contributor, has amplified the natural greenhouse effect and led to global warming.
European Science Foundation: There is now convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, resulting in increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases have become a major agent of climate change.”
What about down under?
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies: “Global climate change is real and measurable. Since the start of the 20th century, the global mean surface temperature of the Earth has increased by more than 0.7°C and the rate of warming has been largest in the last 30 years.”
What does those Fortran dorks at NASA have to say: “The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane to higher levels than at any point during the last 650,000 years. Scientists agree it is very likely that most of the global average warming since the mid-20th century is due to the human-induced increases in greenhouse gases, rather than to natural causes.”
How about meteorologists and oceanographers?
American Meteorological Society: “Human activities have become a major source of environmental change. Of great urgency are the climate consequences of the increasing atmospheric abundance of greenhouse gases.”
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society: “Global climate change and global warming are real and observable … It is highly likely that those human activities that have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been largely responsible for the observed warming since 1950.”
How about our friends in Paleoclimatology at the American Quaternary Association: “Few credible Scientists now doubt that humans have influenced the documented rise of global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution,” citing “the growing body of evidence that warming of the atmosphere, especially over the past 50 years, is directly impacted by human activity.”

Cleanthes: Just take a look at who funded the original study you posted –>the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation; the 11th Hour Project; and the Pacific Foundation…all radical climate change proponents or investors in alternative energy companies. Would they be giving money to groups who would come up with different results? Answer=NO. Same thing holds true with grants to build “models”…and since we are back on your original post, the data seem to suggest that CNN is more one-sided than Fox…

Autodidactosaurus: The underlying assumption behind this study is that global warming is real. So if by CNN being one-sided you mean that they tend to report in a tone accepting of the science, then I’d say that’s right. As for the funding of the study – again those groups, including the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, are asking some form of the question, “is there an anti-science bias in certain media outlets?” once again predicated on the idea that the science is correct. The answer according to the data is yes – and for whatever reason – Fox news reports on global warming in a fashion that is contrary with the prevailing scientific consensus. I would hope that if CNN or MSNBC were also reporting stories that didn’t match the science, that Feldman et al. would have shown that as well regardless of who financed the study – but as it happens, it didn’t 😉

Cleanthes: Bad assumption, obviously.

(at this point it should be noted that I felt all pretense of rational discourse with Cleanthes getting sucked right out of the dialogue)

Demea: Leaving aside the Wolves-Henhouse nature of the university’s investigation, I’d suggest you read up on those e-mails and on the code dump (which included forced values in some of the results). I’d even suggest you do it on some skeptical sites to get an alternative interpretation and at least understand how one could come to some of these conclusions. Most skeptics are lovers of science and are not intellegent designers or some such. The media tried like mad to avoid that story when it hit. When if finally did, they made sure to start every article with the qualifier ‘while the scientific consensus still believes yada yada’ so that they won’t be seen as on the wrong side.

Seriously, you make a very willfully naive assumption to believe that the news media begins with the idea that the science is sound…because its sound (and are not at all bought into the political and idealogical underpinnings of the environmental movement).

Again, the problem is the political issue that is at the root of this. The far left has mostly hard control of academia since the ’70s (this is even more true in Europe, if you can imagine). Poll after poll has shown journalists lean much farther to the left than even the Democratic mainstream. So, to believe that all this scienceand the favorable coverage of it has no agenda behind it is to almost fetishize credentials in the name of science. The policy proposals all move in one direction (the government dictates economic activity to assuage the computer models) with very little free market, private sector or personal choice oriented solutions (i.e. the way we used to do conservation in this country).

We hear endlessly that we can’t trust Exxon et al because they are profit oriented, but no one seems to bat an eye at how lavish the head of the IPCC lives, or the fact that the NASA guy (Hanson?) has pulled in over a million bucks in ‘consulting’ fees. Being a Green Expert is very very lucrative. Especially in Europe.

I’ll believe that the scientists are really only concerned with the science when they make a joint statement that says that the term ‘denier’ is both vitriolic propaganda and anti-science. They should welcome the skeptics if they are really men and women of science. This seems pretty straightforward to me.

Autodidactosaurus: Demea – I’m not making a naive assumption that the media begins with the idea that the science is sound. Frankly, I don’t watch any cable news channels so I don’t care other than it seems that many conservatives are getting duped by Fox – unless Cleanthes is correct and folks showed up at Fox’s table with this view already on the menu. For me it’s like Huntsman says if I may paraphrase, when the Republican party becomes the anti-science party, we’re sunk. I chunk a lot of what you call “media”: talk radio, cable news, op-eds, blogosphere, under the infotainment realm to be taken as such.

In contrast to media, most of the links I’ve posted in here go to actual scientific papers just dealing with the impact of heliocentric global warming alone – since that was one of the arguments made against it – they weren’t links to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, blogs but to the actual primary source. So you can read for yourself and arrive at your own conclusions about the science.

I’m going to close my piece of this out by saying there’s either a fantastic global conspiracy which requires the coordination of experimental results among otherwise classically skeptical individual scientists or scientific teams in physics, geology, agronomy, meteorology, oceanography, astrophysics, paleoclimatology, geoengineering, ocean acidification, atmospheric chemistry, dendrochronology, geochronology, glaciology, hydrometeorology, etc., from competing universities, governments, non-profits, for-profits, etc. as well as the coordination of their publications in unaffiliated journals such as Nature, Science, Climate Dynamics, Reviews of Geophysics, Journal of Geophysical Research, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Climate Research, Earth Interactions, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems (GGG), Geophysical Research Letters (GRL),Transactions American Geophysical Union, Deutche Geophysikalische Gesellschaft, Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, and dozens of others, and finally the coordination of statements in scientific consensus bodies such as the ones I listed above – from which there is no longer a single dissenting opinion – either all that is happening – or we can believe the evidence that global warming is real. I’ll point you to one last study (with no media affiliation: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.full.pdf)

If you guys chose not to believe it, that’s fine too. I still like you both!

That said, your certainty of this as a diabolical ruse has really piqued my interest so help me out – point me to the countervailing evidence. Maybe I’m the one being duped here! 😉

Stay tuned – sorry I had to pull an argumentum ad ignorantum because I know there is no evidence to the contrary, but my goodness, if I fly you to Cairo, show the Great Pyramid, let you drive up to it and touch it, if you still choose not to believe it’s there in front of you, there’s nothing more I can do.

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Computer Animators Get it Right with Saber-Toothed Squirrel

This week’s cool science story involved the discovery of a saber-toothed squirrel that lived around 100 Million years ago.  So unlike the animated critter from the Ice Age franchise who hobnobbed with other large mammals, the actual squirrel/shrew like cronopio dentiacutus scurried around under the legs of dinosaurs.

According to the AP:

“During the age of the dinosaurs, no mammal was bigger than a mouse, and they could do what they wanted, but under ground or at night — out of sight of the dinosaurs,” said [Sebastian Apesteguia, one of the study’s author and] a researcher at Maimonides University in Buenos Aires.

“Such discoveries of remarkably complete Mesozoic fossils always represent giant steps” in mammalian paleontology, [the scientists] added in a commentary in Nature. “In fact, one reasonably preserved Mesozoic mammalian skull in a critical stratigraphic and geographic position can be more relevant to our understanding of mammalian evolution and biogeography than hundreds of isolated teeth — even if teeth are the most common (and sometimes the only) remains” paleontologists work with

Prepare In Advance for Climate Debates at the Thanksgiving Table

You have that relative.  The one who has an addiction to Fox News on the TV,  Rush Limbaugh on the radio, and Glenn Beck on…I guess now the internet.  This relative is convinced of the absolute correctness of whatever comes out of the mouths of any of these three sources.   They are so convinced in fact, that they can’t wait to try their “knowledge” out on you.  So with that said, if you want to have a little fun at Thanksgiving this year, might I recommend that you turn the table so to speak?

Once you’re ready, after the second helping of pumpkin pie is consumed and folks are vegging in front of some football game, drop a little feeler.  It shouldn’t be too hard with the GOP primary in full swing; perhaps you could mention that the only “sane” candidate is Jon Huntsman (for many of my climate denying friends, that alone will be enough to get the debate going); or you could launch right in to a critique of the willful scientific ignorance of one of several candidates (Perry, Bachmann, or Cain will be fine).  Lastly, you could just get straight to the point with a conversation about the extremeness of recent weather, the increasing warmth of the Earth’s surface (a particularly interesting  – if not scientifically validated – resource to use since it was funded by the Koch brothers), the melting of ice, etc.

But don’t wade lightly in to the debate.  Of course arm yourself with the appropriate, scientifically backed responses well in advance.

So here I’ll point you to some excellent resources:

“Arguing with Your Crazy Uncle About Climate Change” by David Brin.

“Simple rebuttals to denier talking points — with links to the full climate science” by Joe Romm

And of course, you can familiarize yourself with as much detail as you can stand at http://www.skepticalscience.com/ and have a look at the <arguments> link.

Now enjoy the roast this Thanksgiving!

Sunday Morning Musings: October 23, 2011

While I enjoy the Manchester derby this beautiful autumn morning, I’m reflecting on some of the events, both near and far, from the week:

Which Star Trek Character Are You? I’m now officially called the Vulcan in my house. Because I try to approach issues with an emotional detachment and look at the root causes logically, I’m Spock. I think I enjoy that label; I always admired Spock’s extreme calm under pressure and thoughtful problem solving. Incidentally, my wife if Kirk. A natural leader, she puts herself out there but where’s her emotions on her sleeve. She’s definitely the Tabasco sauce to my bland soup!

Facebook arguments? I managed to go the week without arguing on facebook with any of my friends. I have taken the approach, depending on the friend, of just choosing to not reply. Much like when Richard Dawkins says he doesn’t debate Creationists on science, I think I’ve arrived at a similar conclusion. If my friends choose to argue via slothful induction, then I’m not going to waste time pointing out the evidence they are ignoring. Similarly, it’s not my place I believe to tear them from their religious foundations as an end game; so if they arrive at any conclusions on their own, after having discussed something with me, then that’s on them.

Big Ideas:  As the North American holiday season approaches, I’ve been thinking about the reality of death.  Sounds rather macabre doesn’t it?  Well, inevitably the news stories about depression and suicide will start to spike as we near Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Loss is painful and during the holiday season, memories of good times gone by are often accompanied by an overwhelming nostalgia that leads in many cases to downright depression.  I’ve also been brushing up on my evolutionary biology and after a visit to Zoo Atlanta this week, something sort of dawned on me.  I’ve never really thought about just how important death is to species survival until this week.  That sentence almost doesn’t make sense does it?  How can death be important for survival right?  Well, more specifically, I’m thinking about the idea that death is necessary for natural selection to work; in fact, it’s fundamental to the whole thing!  With each death, you also have survivors, and without survivors, you don’t have natural selection, without natural selection, you don’t have adaptation, and without adaptation, you don’t have procreation, and without procreation, you don’t have a species.  It’s seems so obvious, yet I’ve been aware of evolution by natural section since my 6th grade science class, but I’ve never really connected up the importance of death to the success of the process until now, 33 years later.  I contribute my epiphany to a lack of good soccer on tv this week!

The 1968 Classic: Powers of Ten

The Magic of Reality Deployed!

I let my 12 year old daughter watch Insidious.  There, I said it.  The cat’s out of the bag and I’m officially a bad dad.  Since that night, she’s manifested an incredibly irrational fear of the supernatural.

About the same time, I bought Richard Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality, somewhat geared for kids about her age, and entertaining enough to be geared for kids my age!

So I’ve spent the last couple of days talking to her about some of the first big ideas Dr. Dawkins introduces in the book and she’s actually started reading chapter one.

I wanted to break out for her the three kinds of magic:

  1. Supernatural magic  – the kind of magic that exists only in fairytales, myths, and of course, fiction (movies, books, etc.)
  2. Stage magic – the awesome slight of hand and illusory magic performed for our entertainment by David Copperfield, David Blaine, Penn and Teller, etc.
  3. Poetic magic – the kind of magic that one “feels” when you see something beautiful, natural, artistic, poetic, etc.

And ultimately give her the logical tools to quite easily tell the difference in an attempt to help her regain control of her rational brain, and unload that nagging nugget of irrationality that has been imbedded like a splinter ever since she watch that dadgum movie!

Here’s hoping for a good night’s sleep!

Examining a Global Warming Denial Letter

First, let us set some terms.

Global warming, and more specifically man-made or anthropogenic global warming, is an actually occurring phenomenon, supported by the peer-reviewed findings of approximately 97% of the world’s climate scientists; scientists who have published greater than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change.

Global warming denial is a political response to a scientific finding, not a scientific response.

In a recently published Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, claimed by his title that there are “Five Truths About Climate Change,” with a subtitle that said, “during the decade that Al Gore dominated the environmental debate, global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.”

Given our previous two definitions, let’s assume that by climate change, Mr. Bryce means man-made global warming.  He recognizes that science indicates CO2 levels have increased dramatically over the last decade (although he didn’t attribute this number to a source, so I can’t verify its accuracy).  He also recognizes that Al Gore dominated (let’s say, escalated) the issue of global warming.  However, it is less clear why Mr. Bryce decided to connect those two items in the same sentence as they are unrelated.

But you, the critical reader, should already have an understanding of the purpose of this opinion piece, based on the title and subtitle. Here is a writer, speaking of the “truths” of global warming, so we should clearly be looking for references to peer-reviewed scientific findings throughout this piece to support his truths.

Let us begin.

Point 1:  Mr. Bryce I believe is implying that it is futile to regulate or incentivize the reduction of CO2 emissions because the global demand for electricity is increasing.

Counter: The “truth” in this statement is that global demand for electricity is increasing.  Now, the “truth” about mitigating climate change is a little less clear.  It would appear that he is using the statement to advocate a policy position, which in this case is to do nothing; an odd position if an increase in global demand is occurring.  His position would be more defensible had he suggested that humanity must regulate or incentivize the reduction of CO2 emissions due to the increasing global demand for electricity.

Point 2: Mr. Bryce says, “of whether it’s getting hotter or colder—or both—we are going to need to produce a lot more energy in order to remain productive and comfortable.”

Counter: First, I believe it is impossible to get both hotter and colder at the same time.  But given now the pattern of these “truths,” we can now be certain that this is not a piece about climatology, rather a piece on Mr. Bryce’s view of energy policy.  So ignoring the both hot and cold logic gaffe, he’s recommending more energy production which is fair enough; increased energy production does not necessarily equate to increased dependence on fossil fuels.

Point 3: Mr. Bryce says that carbon-dioxide emissions are now a global problem.

Counter: I think most informed people around the issue have understood that this was always the case.  Our pesky atmosphere has never wanted to honor our terrestrial national borders.  So he may actually be saying that the green-house effect is a global problem and needs some sort of international accord or framework from which to tackle it.

Point 4: Mr. Bryce says that we must get better at converting fuel in to energy rather than leaking off otherwise valuable wasted energy via technologically deficient plants, processes, and people.

Counter: No argument from me.  Pretty basic second law of thermodynamics so no matter the fuel source, technological gains should strive to reduce entropy.

Point 5: If Mr. Bryce would have stuck with his policy positions in points 1-4 and provided a bit more guidance on his intentions, then he may have come out of this Op-Ed ok.  But alas he did not.  And included as his crescendo, this zinger of a non-sequitur, quoted here:

The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Counter: Wow.  This statement makes Mr. Bryce’s Al Gore to carbon emissions non-sequitur in the first paragraph look like a young second cousin twice removed compared to this doozy.   By suggesting that one un-tested, un-proven, un-published result of one experiment in quantum physics which still has months if not years of validation to go in order to stand up on its own, means that we should throw out an entire body of another, separate body of science, is, well, silly.

What Mr. Bryce implies in his point 5, is that scientists stop looking.  Clearly he does not understand the scientific method; otherwise, he would know that scientists are the natural world’s skeptics and their only true currency is credibility. By definition, they never stop asking questions.

Theory (in conversational English)

We’ve discussed what scientists mean when they speak of a theory.  By knowing the proper definition of a scientific theory, we can now easily see that using the dismissive phrase, “x isn’t true because it’s just a theory” as an argument against “x” doesn’t make sense anymore.

The mistake gets made because theory in common conversational English means nothing more than an assumption or an idea.  Not only that, often it denotes something that doesn’t work in practice!  For example, someone in an office environment might say that, “If I run the numbers this way, in theory we should always get this result, but that’s rarely what happens.”

So now we are suggesting that theory doesn’t represent reality; which is almost the opposite of theory in science!

Theory (in science)

In debates about science, particularly about evolution, one often hears the phrase, “it’s just a theory.”  This is an example of argumentum ad nauseum in that it is meant to dismiss the science of evolution by using the often repeated phrase.

So where did the “just a theory” phrase come from?  Essentially it’s a substitution of the scientific use of the term “theory” with the daily use of the term “theory.”

A theory in science is an accepted principal used to explain phenomena.

Here’s what the US National Academy of Sciences has to say on the matter:

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.

The Scientific Method

What makes science so, well, awesome?  In a nutshell, it’s the method by which scientists make sense of the world and ultimately add to the body of human knowledge.

It’s the method that allows other scientists to critique, challenge, replicate, poke holes, etc. in anything new.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present, the one, the only, scientific method!

Step 1: Make an observation (i.e., grass grows outside)

Step 2: Ask a Question (i.e., I wonder if grass needs sunlight in order to grow)

Step 3: Do Background Research (i.e., Let me learn a bit about what other scientists say about photosynthesis)

Step 4: Construct a Hypothesis (i.e., Only light from the sun can make grass grow)

Step 5: Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment that is Repeatable (i.e., I’ll grow two pots of grass: one outside in sunlight, and one inside under artificial light)

Step 6: Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion (i.e., hmmm, turns out grass grew in both instances – therefore I reject my hypothesis)

Step 7: Communicate Your Results (i.e., Dear world, grass does not need sunlight in order to grow)

There it is.  The scientific method.  That’s certainly a ridiculously simple example – but the point is, that’s how scientists do it regardless of what country they’re from or what language they speak.

To make the whole thing work, the results must be shared and the experiment (Step 5) must be repeatable.  If neither of those conditions are met, then you can feel free to dismiss the results with a big skeptical resounding boot to the keister!