Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 17, 2011

The Science that Should Never Have Been So Politicized: Global Climate Change


Introduction

This is actually going to be a fairly short post, and it occurred to me to write it after seeing this headline, “In New Hampshire, Perry Calls Global Warming ‘A Scientific Theory That Has Not Been Proven.'”

Climate Change

I’ll start with the obvious: Global climate change is about as real as it gets, and the change is a general warming trend. It is the state of the science. Well over 95% of scientists who actually study climate science agree that global climate change is happening, and they agree that humans are helping it along a lot more than would be happening via any natural processes. For what it’s worth, even George Noory, the host of the paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, agrees that global warming is real (though he doesn’t think humans are the main cause).

What I’ve just very briefly summarized is the science. As in the vast overwhelming majority of the evidence and models and data point to this. Science is neutral politically. Unfortunately, politicians have made it not.

Politicization

This is actually something that I don’t quite understand. It seems as though the general theme in American politics is that Democrats are on the “side” of science while Republicans tend to be “against” science. This has been evidenced throughout the past several decades via the positions and votes of politicians on both sides of the aisle, and I think that most people who follow this in any way would agree, regardless of their political leanings. (I will admit that I generally vote on the liberal side of issues, but I don’t think that that should matter for the sake of this post.)

Where this has really come to the fore probably more-so than almost any other topic (bar, perhaps, the EPA), is on global warming: Democrats say it’s real, Republicans vehemently deny it.

As an aside, I can understand fully if Republicans were to accept that the science shows global warming is real, but that it would be cost-prohibitive to do something about it. I may disagree with that stance, but that would be political and something for the politicians perhaps to figure out. More likely the economists, but anyway, it’s a consequence of the science that they disagree with, not the basic, fundamental science for which they have no background with which they can evaluate it (I think last I heard that there were three physicists in Congress? and even a physicist is not a climatologist despite the fact many like to think they know everything).

Rick Perry

Enter the latest Republican science denier, Rick Perry. For those who have been deaf to news in the last few months, Rick Perry is the current, third-term governor of Texas. He is also, by many accounts, a young-Earth creationist, having stacked the state Board of Education with young-Earth creationists, and having recently held an evangelical Christian rally called “The Response” to effectively pray away America’s problems. Enough background …

The ABS blog story I linked to above starts out with, “At his first stop in the first primary state, Texas Gov. Rick Perry questioned the validity of scientific claims of global warming.” I would like to know when Rick Perry did his graduate work on climate science or any related field. Any.

The quote from Perry, specifically, is:

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their — to their projects. And I think we’re seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climate’s changed, they’ve been changing ever since the Earth was formed. … I don’t think from my perspective that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.”

Perry fails to realize three things. First, scientists are generally not like politicians: We don’t change our views to pander to people to make them happy or to get money from them. Second, the scientists who are “coming forward and questioning … man made global warming” are generally not climate scientists. They’re engineers or weathermen or physicists, not climate scientists. It’s like the Discovery Institute (Intelligent Design -central) and their “Dissent from Darwinism” list that contains the name of scientists who “doubt darwinism” when <1% of the people on that list are actually biologists. Finally, Perry obviously has not read my post about what scientists mean by the term “theory.” (Hint: It doesn’t mean “some idea I came up with while channeling Jeshuah and can throw away just as easily.”

Final Thoughts

I expect that this post isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything. People who already accept science will continue to accept it. People who don’t will continue to not. And the political machine will continue to distort, ignore, stifle, or try to destroy science when it suits their particular message of the hour.

But, I’ve now said what I wanted to on this for the moment, and I haven’t done a global warming post in awhile.

January 21, 2011

Planet X and 2012: Sun Returns to Greenland … Two Days Early!? And a Major Fail by Time Magazine


This is a very quick post so I’ll dispense with the normal subject headings. A few days ago, Canadian host Karl Mamer of The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast pointed me to a page describing the sun returning to Greenalnd – specifically Ilulissat – two days before normal (January 11 instead of January 13). The most plausible explanation is melting ice decreasing and changing the horizon. But that didn’t stop 2012 doomsday folks from saying it’s a pole shift and all that nonsense in the comments page.

I wasn’t going to post about this until I saw this story on Time‘s website. Zoe Fox’s article has to be one of the absolute worst ones I’ve read on their site in years.

The third paragraph states: “While scientists are yet to agree upon an explanation, ideas are circulating, such as the impending 2012 leap year and the changes in the constellations.”

Changing constellations!? What!? Constellations have nothing to do with what day of the year the sun rises, and they don’t affect Earth in any way, shape, nor form (unless you’re an astrologer, but then I’ve talked about that before). And of course, a coming leap year would also have absolutely nothing to do with the sun rising two days earlier from one year to the next. I’d like to know what “scientists” Zoe Fox interviewed to come to this wacked-out statement.

The next paragraph actually does state the likely cause: “Perhaps the most convincing explanation is Greenland’s melting polar ice caps. The average annual temperature in Greenland was three degrees Celcius higher in 2010 than average. As the ice caps melt, the horizon line sinks, potentially paving the way for an earlier sunrise.” Although Zoe is apparently too busy to use spell-check … it’s “Celsius,” Zoe, not “Celcius.”

Absolutely horrible article on a well-respected news site/magazine.

February 10, 2010

Another Winter Storm, More “Global Warming Hoax” In the News


Introduction

Well, the intro to this is basically the title of this post: Another winter storm blankets the eastern U.S., and of course we have, as a result, people trying to use it as evidence against global climate change.

Good Time Article

Last time I made a post like this – last month – I gave kudos to ABC News and their article explaining that climate is NOT the same as weather. This time, I would like to draw attention to Time article, “Another Snowstorm: What Happened to Global Warming?” by Bryan Walsh. Another good article that understands “it’s a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season’s worth of storms — to disprove climate change.”

The most relevant part are the following two paragraphs (emphasis mine):

“Climate models also suggest that while global warming may not make hurricanes more common, it could well intensify the storms that do occur and make them more destructive.

“But as far as winter storms go, shouldn’t climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32°F [0 °C], it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms. And while the mid-Atlantic has borne the brunt of the snowfall so far this winter, areas near lakes may get hit even worse. As global temperatures have risen, the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has shrunk, which has led to even more moisture in the atmosphere and more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Climate.”

The article also points out that the fallacy of equating weather and climate is used by people on both sides of the debate – both by people claiming winter storms disprove climate change and by people claiming that droughts or record highs during a month period mean that global warming is definitely happening.

Final Thoughts

Wow! A short blog post! Okay, but anyway, as is generally the case with a politically charged issue, and with one where there are people who are dogmatically set on a premise that fundamentally misunderstands the basic concepts, any ray of hope that can be grasped by a current event is used and exploited to its fullest. As I’ve mentioned before, unsurprisingly George Noory had on guest Robert Felix at the beginning of tonight’s Coast to Coast AM show to talk about how this storm and other record lows and snows prove his own pet ideas – that we’re going into an ice age, not a warming period. Sigh.

But, this Time article is an example of more good science reporting, and trying to explain to a misunderstanding public that weather and climate are two different things.

January 8, 2010

ABC News Gets It – “Weather” Is NOT “Climate”


Introduction

It’s cold here in Colorado. Last night after I walked from my car to my apartment after a meeting, just spending about 2 minutes outside, my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t type for about 15 minutes. The temperature was 3 °F, and as the evening progressed it got down to -6 °F (that’s way below zero for you Celsius users).

And then, I was supposed to receive a UPS package today. But, when I checked the status, it was: “ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS – LATE TRAIN” and UPS doesn’t know when they’ll actually deliver it (I’m guessing Saturday if they do a Saturday delivery, or just on Monday).

And then there are other “cold snaps” throughout the rest of the continent of North America. Could this mean that global warming is just another leftist environmentalists ivory-tower-loving scientists conspiracy?

No

Well that about sums it up.

Okay, Really …

I’ve already addressed this before, over a year ago in my post “Record and Unusual Snows and Cold – Proof Against Global Warming?” I suggest you read that if you need a primer. The very basic idea is that weather ≠ climate. For those of you who may not be mathematically inclined, “≠” means “not equal to.” The ability to predict weather patterns on a day-to-day basis is very different from predicting general climate trends years out.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to get into that again, but to point out an article and give kudos to the author, Bill Blakemore. The article is entitled, “No, the Cold Doesn’t Mean No Global Warming” and can be found by clicking that link, hosted on ABC News.

I’ll quote the most relevant part:

Bottom line — fast and simple? Three points:

  1. Weather is not climate.
  2. 2. Manmade global warming means less frequent cold snaps (not none at all) and more frequent heat waves — just as we’ve been having.
  3. 3. You know (don’t you?) about the record high temperatures this week in Washington State, Alaska and Bulgaria in the Northern Hemisphere — plus, down south, the record-breaking high temperatures in New Zealand, and the second hottest year on record (after 2005) in Australia?

Why am I pointing this out? Because I think that it’s very important that the news media actually get the science right. On a topic that is a scientific one – global warming – that just so happens to be one where people make it a very political one, it is even MORE important for reporters to get their facts right, and Bill Blakemore has done a nice job.

Final Thoughts

I listen to a lot of Coast to Coast AM radio episodes in order to get ideas for blog posts, and often during these times (I’m a week behind so don’t know if he’s done it for this), the host, George Noory, will bring on Robert Felix, a man who has the book Not by Fire But by Ice that insists we’re plunging into an ice age rather than a warming period. George himself – I think – doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, but he seems to not have made up his mind about whether we’re warming or cooling, but he does believe that it’s a purely natural cycle rather than human-made. But, he gives people like Felix a platform to spread their conjecture and misunderstandings.

And Coast is the largest late-night radio show in the world, with at least 528 syndicates (last I heard) and over 10 million listeners. And judging by the comments on the ABC story, people like him make a difference. I’ll leave you with a sampling of a few of the comments:

“Global Warming is just a big hype pushed onto the people of the world to invoke fear in order to further an agenda. There are as many scientists that discount it as there are that push it. The climate of the earth has had warming and cooling trends as long anyone knows. 25 years of “warming” is not that much time in relation to the age of the earth itself.”

“Global Warming is a farce used to keep 3rd world countries from developing,and taxing everyone else.It’s not gonna stop pollution as big corporations will just trade carbon credits with smaller non polluting companies.It’s just gonna be another stock market.The msm plays it off as a left/right issue but that’s just the ptb’s using the divide and conquer trick on us.Wake up they’re all liars on both sides.Gore was given this agenda to push in order to not contest the 2000 election that the neo-cons stole.He and the Rothchild’s stand to make billions. It’s just another fear tactic put forth to keep us scared and under control.GW is just another UN conspiracy to take away more of our soverignity. The world’s climate has always fluctuated even to the point that in the 70’s they wanted to prevent Global cooling.Just like everything else we’ve been lied to.The climate scientists at East Anglia were caught changing stats and dropping other inconvienient truths. This is the next big scam just like the war on drugs and the war on terror.As long as we’re scared and rely on the so called “news” we’ll continue to be sheep to the elite’s.From Foxnews,CNN, BBC or MSNBC they are just corporate propaganda pushers.The ptb’s continue to suppress new energy to stick with oil and keep us in the Middle East.The Bilderberg group and Club Rome decide everything and there elitist opinions trickle down to the UN,CFR and Trilateral’s.These groups represent Big Oil, Big Pharma and the Military Industrial Complex.All the while we get milked by the Federal Reserve,the IMFand the IRS.Even the enviromental groups are crooked.We’re living in a backwards world.I lost all faith when Time gave Ben Bernanke the person of the year award and Obama who expanded Bush’s bs wars gets a Nobel.Just to let you know I have no party affiliation whatsoever but consider myself a constitution minded libertarian.I’m sick of these corrupt globalist/eugenists who really run the US and most of the world.No to NWO!”

“I can blow #2 right out of the water where I live. Thus far this Global Warming nonsense has NOT been proven to me whatsoever. The earth, well it’s been a changin’ since it’s creation and we the youngsters of this planet, the newest animal to it are just around now for one of it’s changes. We haven’t been kind to the planet; you can not be Capitalistic and Materialistic with continual reproduction without there being ramifications, however the Global Warming they say exists can be simply another of earth’s changes like the times of volcanos, earthquakes, glaciers, etc., Stop with the nonsense!”

December 7, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Argument from Personal Incredulity


Introduction

In my continuing series on logical fallacies, this post is going to be about another fairly common fallacy, and one that is almost always used to negate a claim rather than support it: the Argument from Personal Incredulity.

What is the “Argument from Personal Incredulity” Fallacy?

Yet again, we have a fallacy whose name is fairly descriptive, so long as you know what “incredulity” means (“the state of being unable or unwilling to believe something”). In short, this fallacy is invoked when someone simply says, “I don’t believe that” and leaves the rebuttal there.

Example from Neil Adams, the Expanding Earth

Neil Adams is a relatively famous illustrator who is credited with – among other things – reviving Batman as a dark hero in the comic book world several decades ago. Separate from Adams’ comic book pursuits, he fancies himself an “amateur scientist” who has, among other things, completely re-written modern physics, all stemming from his disbelief in the Theory of Continental Drift (Earth’s crust being made of many plates that move around on a plastic aesthenosphere).

I have listened to three interviews that Neil Adams has given – one being on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, another on Coast to Coast AM, and a third being on a podcast that had commercials so I stopped listening to it after that one episode. In all of the interviews, one of the main, founding points that Adams’ made as to why he started his re-writing of physics is that he simply doesn’t believe Earth’s crust can move around. He also states that he thinks that a planet with all the land masses on one side (as in Pangaea) would just look stupid and shouldn’t be able to happen.

That is an argument from personal incredulity — he ignores all evidence of continental drift, seafloor ages and spreading, evidence of Pangaea, and then of course the standard model of particle physics, simply by starting from the Argument from Personal Incredulity.

Example from Global Climate Change Deniers

I try to keep this blog apolitical, and I personally don’t think that global climate change should even be considered a political issue, but unfortunately these days it is. I have heard a few pieces of presumed evidence against human-caused global climate change that actually have some science behind them — this post is not meant to talk about them at all.

Rather, there are many on the anti-human-caused global climate change who start and end their arguments with, “Humans can’t possibly be responsible for global warming [sic] because Earth is too big of a system for us to have that great an effect on it.” Besides this (a) being not true, it is also (b) a rather simple argument from personal incredulity because they refuse to accept that something is possible, regardless of the evidence.

Final Thoughts

Woo-hoo! I did a Logical Fallacies post without broaching the subject of creationism. But anyway, the Argument from Personal Incredulity is another one that is incredibly easy to spot and I have seen almost everyone do it. Since becoming aware of it a year or so ago, I have tried very hard to avoid falling into the trap, though I probably have from time-to-time. It’s so easy for someone to make a claim you don’t agree with and say, “No, that’s wrong,” and leave it at that. I have even observed it when people have reviewed grants I’ve written, (start rant) stating that they don’t believe the work could be accomplished in the time stated despite me being already half-way done with it and the second half being exactly the same as the first (end rant). But now that you are aware of it, it should be simple enough to avoid using it in almost all cases.

December 19, 2008

Record and Unusual Snows and Cold – Proof Against Global Warming?


Introduction

It seems as though every winter now for the past few years, there’s some report of record snowfall or cold temperatures. Last year it was snow in Baghdad for the first time in a century. This year it just snowed in Las Vegas, NV and we have record cold in New England.

And, for the past few years, whenever this has happened we have had global warming deniers clamoring to say that this is proof that not only is man-made (anthropogenic) global warming not true, but global warming period is not true. And predictably, this has happened in the last few days.

I haven’t yet written a post focusing on global warming in this blog, and I don’t really intend to concentrate on it – this is more of an astronomy blog. However, as an astronomer/geophysicist as well as someone sharpening my teeth on instances of bad logic, I wanted to address this issue at least once.

Logical Fallacies

There are two main logical flaws here that I want to address – correlation without causation, and anomaly hunting.

The basic idea behind confusing a correlation (or association) with causation is that because two or more things seem to fit together (they look alike, they happen at the same time, etc.), then they must be related. For example, under this fallacy I would assume that if I turn on my computer and the doorbell rings, then me turing on my computer caused the doorbell to ring.

It should be noted that things that are correlated sometimes really are due to a cause and effect. In that above example, if I turn on my computer and I hear the Apple start-up chime come from my computer’s speakers, then those two correlated events really are causally connected.

The point of the fallacy is that you cannot – and should not – always assume that just because things are associated then they are connected.

The other fallacy is anomaly hunting, where you search for anything that will support your cause out of a vast array of information that doesn’t support your cause, and then use that as proof that your cause is correct. This is very often used in conspiracy theories – such as the Apollo Moon Hoax or even the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – and since the anti-global warming movement has by this point adopted many of the tactics of conspiracy theorists, it is no wonder that this fallacy abounds in their arguments.

What Global Warming Actually Is

The theory of global warming is that, over time, and on average, Earth’s temperature increases. Pretty darn simple. This is also referred to as “climate change.” And this terminology is key: When I took an intro weather geology class in undergrad, I was hammered on two vocabulary words that are often used interchangeably but really mean very different things: Weather and Climate.

Weather is the condition of Earth’s atmosphere at a given time and place, including such things as density, pressure, humidity, and temperature. Climate is the weather patterns over a long period of time. I hope by this point you can see where this post is headed — tying together three threads: Correlation is not causation, anomaly hunting, and weather is not climate.

Now the question is – what would happen if the overall temperature of Earth went up by just a few degrees? Well, the obvious answer is that things would be warmer. But this is NOT the only consequence. A result of areas becoming warmer is that weather patterns can change. Regions of Earth that once got plenty of rainfall could see that diminish, and vice versa. In addition, the overall warming can lead to more extreme weather patterns, including colder weather in some places during the winter. Just a few small changes in the jet stream over North America can easily bring cold air from over Canada down into the lower 48 states.

Why An Abnormally Cold Winter Does Not Sound the Death Knell for Global Warming

Let’s go in reverse order. First, these nay-sayers are focusing on weather events and are not looking at overall climate. Overall climate does show a trend of increased temperatures tightly correlated with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the last few decades.

Second, they are assuming, effectively, an anti-correlation here, saying that this abnormally cold weather is the effect of global cooling, far from global warming.

And third, they are anomaly hunting, searching for the few events of cold weather or snowfall amidst an incredibly large amount of data that show evidence of global warming, such as the afore-mentioned actual temperature tracking, shrinking glaciers, and longer term temperature tracking from ice core samples and tree rings.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this post has fairly clearly shown that snow in Baghdad does not prove that global warming is a vast conspiracy propagated by leftist media and liberal scientists. I have no desire, here, to get into the politics of global warming nor really consequences — I simply want to show that the cold weather that global warming deniers use as evidence against it are really missing the point in three main ways.

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