Thursday, March 25, 2010

What to do when you don't have science.

I am hoping to write a couple of posts about the topic above (as time allows). The thing about the climate debate that has struck me this year is how much is being voiced over so little. Today I am going to look at three scientific papers, what the papers show and how the press releases and/or the results are spun.

The first is “Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature” by McLean, de Freitas and Carter. The paper itself is an interesting look at the effect of the Southern Oscillation on global temperatures. While this effect is well known, they provide some useful numbers about it. However the problem begins when Bob Carter (one of the authors) starts talking about the paper and says “The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions.” The problem with this statement is that their methodology (by design) ignores any trends and instead looks only at the variation. Tamino did a wonderful job of showing this very clearly by using the exact data they did, but introducing a fake warming rate of 1 degree per year (about 30 times the current warming rate). What effect did this large rate have on their final results – none, zero, zip, zilch. Of course simple facts do not deter the people who wish to spread Dr. Carter's quote and thus we are left with it echoing through the blogosphere.

The second example is “Amazon forests did not green-up during the 2005 drought” by Samanta and a number of co-authors who looked at satellite images of the Amazon forest and counted the “green” pixels during several years around 2005 – a bad drought year. (It may seem paradoxical, but one reaction of a rain forest to drought is more green.) The meme created out of this paper is that because there is no change in greening during a drought, a drought does not cause changes in the health of a rainforest as predicted by the IPCC. Canada’s own Terrance Corcoran was active in spreading this bit of disinformation (although it has been pointed out that he was possibly misled by a poor press release). Of course when you look at the actual numbers, what they describe as no change actually shows a significant greening. The % of pixels that were green in the 5 years prior to 2005 was on average 6.2, in the 3 years after 2005 was 4.3 and for 2005 was 10.8! This result fits in quite nicely with other studies and shows that, despite the title, the Amazon did green up. So while Mr. Corcoran says “None of this resolves the Amazongate issue. What it does show, however, is what all the of the IPCC science problems show: The science isn’t settled.” the study actually supports the results of previous studies and strengthens the conclusions of the IPCC. Anyone want to bet on Mr. Corcoran issuing a retraction?

My final example is that of sea level rise, specifically a paper titled Constraints on Future Sea-Level rise from Past Sea-Level Change. That paper predicted that the maximum sea level rise would be 82cm by 2100. It turns out that the study was flawed and the authors have since withdrawn it. The people who are credited with finding the errors in it are Vermeera and Rahmstorf who have their own study out that predicts a rise between 70 and 190 cm by 2100. So we have two studies out, one shows low sea level rise, one that shows high sea level rise. The people who show high rise are able to show why the low rise is wrong and how is it reported?

Seas not rising, warmy credibility sinking:
Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.

It’s trifling little errors like these that lead to mood shifts among the broader public.

So there you have it – three scientific studies that are touted as showing that global warming isn’t happening or isn’t a problem when in fact they show nothing or the exact opposite. They call this science, I call it fraud!

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