9 June 2008

Where NOT To Get Your Science

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I am constantly amazed at the amount of bad information about climate change that is available on the web, masquerading as Science. I frequently get questions asking or commenting on some of these ridiculous claims.

To be sure, there are a lot of things about the Earth’s Climate that are understood poorly. One of the biggest debates in literature right now is on the question of hurricanes in a warmer world. Will there be more or fewer. Will there be stronger or weaker storms. The answer to this question is still in the future. The current leading candidate for an answer is fewer storms but stronger ones. It is not settled and there is no consensus. There are tons of other questions from the affect of cloud on the radiation balance to how much CO2 the oceans can absorb. It is a very fascinating field.

There is a consensus on the broad issues. An absolutely overwhelming consensus. In the past 10 years there has been no published paper in a respectable journal concluding that the basic theories on warming are wrong!

(Oreskes:Science 3 December 2004:
Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686
DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618

The planet has warmed about 6/10 of a degree Celsius. Most of that in the last 50 years and the warming rate is increasing. The top 800 Climate scientists in the world have said that there is a greater than 95% confidence that this warming is mainly due to human behavior. (Adding CO2 to the atmosphere)

I was ill and stuck in bed for almost all of last weekend (I will spare you the details, and be thankful!). I did use the time to catch up with some of the latest in Climate Change Science. Want to know what I found out?

It is worse than I expected.

Considerably worse.

Most of the latest published papers are indicating that the IPCC forecasts that were derided as being alarmists by some, are actually turning out to be too conservative. Just one example is Arctic sea ice. It is melting considerably faster than expected.

People tend to gravitate to explanations they understand when researching something. This is where the junk science sites do their best fishing. I think the world’s climate scientists have fallen down on the job a bit. Yes I know they get tired of refuting the same tired old claims over and over, but someone needs to help the public understand the real science. Especially on the web.

The junk science sites on the Internet have done a really decent job of confusing the issue. Much of it is a mix of a little truth, Spin disguised as basic high school Physics, and a whole lot of just plain wrong facts.

There are some shining examples of good science though.

The IPCC summary for policy makers is written in plain language and is very good. A group of very brainy climate scientists at the Goddard Inst. for Space Science (NASA) at Columbia University have been posting to a blog for about 4 years. It is probably the best source of information for someone who turns green when reading a paper published in a front line peer reviewed journal. The blog is called Real Climate. This blog has won awards from scientific organizations for it’s excellence.

So, what follows is Dan’s Junk Science detector. If you see any of the following claims on a web site purporting to give you unbiased climate science, run.

  • Volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans.
    (This one is quite popular with numbers and percentages from the Carbon cycle to make it’s point.)
  • Global Warming stopped in 199*
  • CO2 does not cause warming
  • The Troposphere is getting colder, and this does not match the climate model predictions.
    (There was a mis-match in data and this was very concerning for a couple of years, but almost all of it has been explained as errors in adjusting for instrument bias. (This episode is an excellent example of how science works) There is still some discrepancy over the tropics and this is the subject of much research) Real Climate mentioned above has links to some exc. papers on this.
  • Antarctica is getting colder.
    (The climate models predict it should possibly cool some so if it is this means the models are doing well. Researchers do not really have a long enough data set to say for sure yet. The Antarctic Peninsula is warming very rapidly)
  • Anything to do with water vapor being responsible for all the warming.
    (This is even on some of the sites that say we are not warming. Which is it??)
  • Back in the 70’s they said it was going to get colder….
    (Actually the overwhelming opinion in the late 70’s was warming but no one then knew how much)

If you see any of the above, (and those are just a small percentage), then you should realize that you are being given information that is not based on peer reviewed Science.

No front line Climate Scientist would give them the time of day. Why? They have ALL been refuted (Some many times) in peer reviewed journals.

Even the few scientists who are skeptical of the consensus pay little attention to most of these claims.

I have a list of very good resources for anyone who really wants to learn more about climate change. If you want some pointers on where to go, email me. I will probably put them together in my next blog. The links above are a good start. If you hear some other outlandish claims, email me.

I collect them!