Thursday, January 03, 2008

The sound of selective science

(With apologies to Kate)

From the New York TimesJohn Tierney (h/t: Andrew Potter):

Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

A year ago, British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record. At year’s end, even though the British scientists reported the global temperature average was not a new record — it was actually lower than any year since 2001 — the BBC confidently proclaimed, “2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend.”

When the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole planet was warming. When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored. A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.

When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, it was supposed to be a harbinger of the stormier world predicted by some climate modelers. When the next two hurricane seasons were fairly calm — by some measures, last season in the Northern Hemisphere was the calmest in three decades — the availability entrepreneurs changed the subject. Droughts in California and Australia became the new harbingers of climate change (never mind that a warmer planet is projected to have more, not less, precipitation over all).
--John Tierney, New York Times, January 1


CT said...

Joan, the same column says that "The planet has indeed gotten warmer, and it is projected to keep warming because of greenhouse emissions" and quotes an expert that says "I don’t doubt that climate change is real and that it presents a serious threat." The author is simply trying to make the (not-so-relevant and unproductive) point that since climate science is very complicated, it's hard to draw a direct line between climate change and any one weather event. Yet you try and make it seem as if he's arguing climate change isn't really happening, or isn't really a threat. Both of those ideas are now solidly within the realm of scientific consensus. Are you sure that you really want to criticize others for being "selective?"

Joan Tintor said...

I see part of what you are saying, and should have included the paragraph you quote.

I don't accept that I tried to make the column seem like anything other than what it was, given that I offered no comment of my own but published excerpts from an interesting column (and provided a link).

Nor do I agree that the author's point is "not-so-relevant and unproductive," because (1) relating isolated weather events to global warming is exactly what many are doing to make the case for global warming, and (2) many people and politicians are advocating that we should massively change our economy and way of life because of global warming (but the Chinese and Indians shouldn't have to).

As for scientific "consensus," you might want to read the Financial Post's recent series "The Deniers" by Lawrence Solomon if you have not already.

CT said...

You're hedging Joan. First you backtrack from suggesting that climate change isn't something to be concerned about, then you suggest that climate deniers--many of whom are the same individuals who used to be paid by big tobacco to tell us that smoking doesn't cause cancer--deserve more of a voice.

So what DO you believe? Do you recognize that climate change is real? That human activity is a significant factor? That it represents a threat to our quality of life?

JR said...

ct, I don’t know of anyone who denies that “climate change is real” - not even the “Deniers” Joan mentions. There’s abundant, credible evidence that climate is always changing.

There is, however, lots of legitimate skepticism about claims of man-made global warming. So claims of an overwhelming “consensus” supporting AGW theory are largely propaganda. The most comprehensive evidence of this bogus “consensus” can be found in this U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Report. It identifies “[o]ver 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries [who] recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called "consensus" on man-made global warming.”

It makes for interesting reading. When you’re done maybe you can let us know what parts you dispute and why, and who of the 400 you can link to “big tobacco”.

ebt said...

Surely Al Gore denies that climate can change. He believes that climate naturally can only remain dead constant, and can only be changed by human activity. This is why he asserts that humans are changing the climate, with no evidence other than the fact of change itself.