Saturday, 1 March 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - Global Warming Deniers

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former - Albert Einstein
What a sad, and true, indictment of our species. Now let’s get one thing straight. This argument is not an argument, it is finished - my side won many years ago. Not just my side, the side of science, of logic, of reason and plain old garden variety common sense.

Over the years I have written many articles about this topic arguing with a smaller and smaller and nuttier minority. Now, because I have already won this argument many times over, instead of continuing the argument and getting a headache I will point out in the simplest possible terms the stupidity of global warming denial.

For this article to work I need to clarify a few terms. I will be talking specifically about anthropogenic climate change, that it’s us humans that is causing the warming of the earth.

The original climate sceptic believed the climate was just following its standard cycle and that we are due for another ice age. The other studied recent records that showed the world was slowly getting warmer and at the current rate another ice age was not on the horizon.

Back then there was a somewhat valid argument between both sides, comparing geological records, ice cores, growth rings in old trees to the atmosphere and temperature today. Most of these people saw the evidence of anthropogenic climate change and accepted it.

Meanwhile in the lunatic fringe they used a number of different methods to support their denialist agenda.

1. Cherry picking data.

This one is a favourite among non-scientist deniers such as Andrew Bolt. This simply involves grabbing any graph showing global temperatures over say a 20 year period. Then all you do is arbitrarily mark a spot on the graph (usually 1998) then you find another spot down the other end of the graph that was a particularly cold year and draw a line between both points.

Instantly you have “proven” that the world is getting cooler and that we should invest in some warm clothes because an ice age is just around the corner. I have seen many graphs like this and most of them actually show a positive trend if you ignore the arbitrarily selected points.

How a graph with a trendline is supposed to work is that you ignore the highest point and the lowest point and then draw your trendline. This is used to eliminate aberrations in small sample sizes. Deniers generally use old graphs because the latest graphs are completely an undeniable with a positive trend even without eliminating any of the points.

Another favourite trick of the cherry picking variety is to find a particular glazier in Upper Bumfuck that is growing. You can ignore every other shrinking glazier or ice cap because this one is getting bigger.

2. Misrepresenting the way science works.

Science can be a dirty business. Science works by creating a hypothesis that explains how a particular observation occurs. It is very difficult if not impossible to prove that anything is true; instead you create experiments to test your hypothesis. In other words you are trying to break your theory. If your theory survives experiment after experiment, if multiple scientists have tested the theory repeated your experiments and created their own - only then do you start to create a consensus.

In an industry where you are trying to prove everybody wrong it can get quite nasty. Competition for grant money also increases the friction. There are also egos that that grow or get damaged in the dog eat dog world of science. There has been incredible rivalries in science such as the battle between Sabin and Salk when developing a vaccine for polio.

This can make it easy to represent science as some sort of evil dystopian bureaucracy. Oh look at these two scientists they hate each other’s guts - their science must be biased. Or they say Science is about the truth, how can these two scientists disagree if it is the truth? There is a Variant of this Used by intelligent design proponents called Teach the Controversy.

3. Ridicule.

This one is insidious and nasty. This has been used for many years by some of the more nastier scientists. The idea is if you can’t think of an experiment to disprove a rivals theory you make them and/or their theory a laughing stock in order to discredit them and hopefully their theory. There have been many very talented scientists over the years who have had their reputations tarnished to such an extent that they could not continue in their work sometimes with tragic consequences. Some even have their theories stolen by rivals.

Usually ridicule isn’t quite this nasty and the form that worries me at the moment is Snarky named PDF documents that are sent around to try to convince the uninformed that humans are not causing global warming. The tone is a bit like this:

Recently the sceptics have changed “theory” to something that, in their minds, is only slightly less ridiculous. Yes, global warming is happening, but humans are not responsible. Yay! The deniers have finally accepted the inevitable... Hang on a minute…

You don’t think this is having an effect on the planet?

Then what about this?

Even when every glazier has melted (except the one in Upper Bumfuck), the ice caps have gone and somebody has moved polar bears from the North Pole to the south resulting in the extinction of several penguin species and a LOT of very hungry bears, snow no longer exists, Greenland is an exporter of wheat and the face of the earth is unrecognisable because sea levels have risen. Even then, some people will deny that humans were responsible for destroying the earth.

Here’s a song to lighten the mood:

No comments:

Post a Comment