The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for January 13th, 2010

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 13, 2010

One of the most public scientific topics in recent years has been that of human-influenced global warming, also known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  As I’ve posted before, for a variety of reasons – ranging from basic ignorance of climate science to the outright promotion of a cynical ideology – some people insist upon claiming that AGW (or even GW in general) is “false”, a “lie”, or a “hoax”.  In fact, some of the more extreme folks are claiming – in spite of all data to the contrary – that the Earth is actually in a period of global cooling.

Their evidence?… the most recent cold snap that has gripped the United States over the last week or two.  No, I’m serious – that is their “evidence”.  I’d be laughing my head off if it weren’t so sad that there are actually people who are seriously making this argument, so in true skeptical teacher fashion, I shall explain exactly where this argument falls apart and why it is inaccurate…

The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend.

Lastly, I should point out that the intellectual vacuity of the “cooler” argument above cuts both ways.  Case in point: where I live in the upper Midwest we have, of course, been gripped by the recent cold snap, but weather (not climate) projections show that starting tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 13) through the weekend – at least – there will be an unusual warming trend.  In fact, temperatures will be well above freezing throughout the region, and this is in the middle of January!  ZOMG!!!

Thus, using the “cooler” method of cherry-picking, I could start going on and on about how this “proves” global cooling is false and “proves” that global warming is true.  I could also cherry-pick by stating that very high temperatures in some regions during the summer are “proof” of global warming.  But these would be ludicrous assertions, and I only mention them in jest as a way of making fun of the “coolers” and their pseudoscientific tactics.

So, putting such silliness aside, I suggest that we focus on actual climate science in this discussion, as opposed to using methods such as purposefully confusing weather with climate, cherry-picking, and so on.  In the long run, a rigorous application of the scientific method will allow us to see what’s really going on, and all else will be revealed as hot air. 🙂

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