Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stepping up on the Soapbox (long!)

Ethan forwarded me an e-mail from his friend about this article:

It was an article arguing against global warming; it started out as an article saying that the proponents of global warming (scientists/government) were alarmist, but then rapidly moved into full-on "this is why there is no global warming". Here is my response:

Hmmm, interesting article. I am thinking about posting about it on my blog. I think it does a good job of demonstrating how you can manipulate the data to support either side of the argument. However, I wouldn't really advise basing any opinions on this article. For one thing, it's obviously very biased as well. Liberal use of quotations, such as in the phrases "global cooling", "global warming" and "scientists" belie the fact that the author is trying to sway the reader toward the opposite end of the argument. I personally took issue with the use of the phrase "scientists". For the most part, the scientists who are conducting the studies or are on advisory panels are actually scientists, with advanced degrees in climatology, or atmospheric chemistry or related subjects. I found this sentence rather ironic: "Unfortunately, a lot of disinformation about where Earth's climate is heading is being propagated by 'scientists' who use improper statistical methods, short-term temperature trends, or faulty computer modesl to make analytical and anecdotal projections about the significance of man-made influences to Earth's climate." Beside the fact that the author is guilty of some of the very same "improper statistical methods", as far as I can tell, he has absolutely no background in atmospheric sciences, much less an advanced degree. In fact, he seems to have a vested interest in fossil fuels (I have found some uncorraborated statements that he actually works for the WV Office of Miner Safety)!

Now, let me address some of the statistical issues with the article. While plenty of what he has to say is indeed fact (he has not lied outright, as far as I can tell), he does not paint the whole picture. For example, he states that "U.S. Temperatures show no significant warming trend over the past 100 years". This was actually taken from another article/blog to which he does indeed give credit. Both authors neglect to examine the fact that the U.S. has not been reliably cataloguing data for the past 100 years. While there were a few reliable stations 100 years ago, data collecting methods have changed significantly since then, and the observation network has also increased. To use an example that's close to home, most Alaska stations did not report temperature 100 years ago. To compare an observation trend over a period where the number of data points varies so greatly is not a very accurate statistical analysis. He in fact, admits this about 3 sentences later, when he says "...these reports are generally founded on ground-based temperature readings, which are misleading." So in the same paragraph, he has used the data to prove his point (that U.S. temperatures are not rising) and then argued that it's not useable!

I would also argue that due to the fact that the author have an atmospheric background, he is not able to effectively argue his point. He spoke of a study by Dr. Patrick Michaels (an actual climatologist/atmospheric scienctist) that indicates that the increase in temperature at land-based stations is due to to the "urban heat island" effect. While this is a good argument, there is no mention of the possibility that increased urbanization has actually had an effect on the radiation budget. The radiation that is reflected from asphalt and concrete does not simply escape out to space, as implied. Some portion of it is in fact, reabsorbed by the atmosphere. Perhaps this had been addressed by Dr. Michaels, I don't know. However, it doesn't support Mr. Heib's argument (or more probably, he is unaware of the subtleties of microclimate) and so it isn't mentioned.

I could actually tear apart this article paragraph by paragraph, but I won't. What I will say is that he is right on one thing -- the data can be, and often is manipulated to prove a point. The ultimate say on global warming is that we simply do not have enough data to indicate whether our current warming trend is a phenomenon caused or affected by humans. Our presence on earth is a blip on the timeline, and our scientific window is even smaller than that. Regarding Scott's comment that he doesn't "need propaganda from governments supporting a cause via scare tactics", this article does nothing to prove or disprove the use of government scare tactics, and based on the scientific (not factual) inaccuracies, I would not deem this author a reliable source for knowing "the truth about global warming".

As an aside: there are theories that indicate humans have been modifying the climate since they ever set foot on the planet -- in other words, long before the industrial revolution. But again, it has not yet been proved or disproved either way.

I neglected to mention a few other issues I have with the article: 1) most scientists are not necessarily concerned with the rise in temperature, but the rate at which the temperature is rising. The rapid rate increase in global temperatures is not equivalent to anything scientists have been able to find in pre-Industrial revolution history. The article did not mention this at all. 2) The article mentioned two sources of data for indication of a rise in global temperature: surface based obs (which I addressed) and satellite data. Regardless of the fact that I'm not sure he can support his statement about satellite data, he also neglected to mention other indications of rising temperatures: rapid glacial/ice cap melting, northward progression of the boreal forest, decreasing permafrost and changes in the fat stores of certain animal populations, to name a few.

Anyway, if you've stuck with me this long I appreciate it. Suffice to say that I think Mr. Heib's article is a bunch of crap.

See, this why I should so TOTALLY get my Master's in climatology -- I love this stuff!

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