The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘anthropogenic global warming’

Global Warming Deniers Confuse Climate with Weather, AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2014

If you live in North America, then no doubt you’re aware of the so-called polar vortex which has come down from the Arctic to freeze the hell out of the continent.  And, just as surely as the temperatures started to drop, global warming deniers began to shout about how this supposedly proves that global warming isn’t real.

Okay, so you see here’s the thing… it’s called *global* warming because the whole globe, on average, is getting warmer.  Saying that a cold snap disproves global warming is like saying that the IRS no longer exists because you got a tax refund once.


See all that red?  Yeah, that’s where the climate is getting warmer.  And notice how there’s more red than blue? [image source]

I’ve blogged about this very topic before, namely that “climate” isn’t the same thing as “weather”, but seeing as how the deniers are once again spouting their nonsense, it bears repeating…

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

… 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. …

There are some other really good articles about this latest confusion regarding how the polar vortex fits into the broader picture of global warming.  For your reference, I’ll suggest two of them:

1. Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

This article is really good because it goes through some of the basics about global warming and climate change in general, and then it emphasizes the importance of temperature trends and statistical analysis of the data.  My favorite part is as follows:

Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.

Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. …

2. Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.

This is a humorous and informative post from my skeptical colleague Greg Laden wherein he lays out just how it’s possible for global warming to actually account for the polar vortex phenomenon:

… The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. …

Of course, I don’t expect any of this to phase the hardcore global warming deniers, because they’re off in a fantasy world of their own.  No doubt that next time winter strikes the northern hemisphere, they’ll be back spouting this nonsense once again; it’s just plain sad and predictable.  I almost feel sorry for them.  I mean, how can you not feel sorry for them when this moron is one of their primary spokesmen?

trump daily show GW

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The Debunking Handbook

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 16, 2012

I recently listened to an episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast titled “The Debunking Handbook” which dealt with the question of how to most effectively go about “debunking” various myths, pseudosciences, and misconceptions.  The general thrust of the episode, which I highly recommend, is that most of us who call ourselves skeptics don’t really do that good of a job of communicating our debunking in a successful manner.  In fact, many skeptics actually make the problem worse by inadvertently reinforcing the bunk they are trying to debunk!

Needless to say, this kind of thing is right up my alley, and I think it is well worth your while to take heed of the advice given in “The Debunking Handbook”…

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

Posted on 27 November 2011 by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:


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Climate Rapid Response Team: Scientists Fight Back Against Misinformation

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 26, 2010

I was listening recently to a Point of Inquiry podcast, where host Chris Mooney interviews John Abraham & Scott Mandia concerning the a new initiative called the Climate Rapid Response Team. I felt it worth passing along, so here ’tis…

John Abraham and Scott Mandia – Climate Science Strikes Back

November 19, 2010

Host: Chris Mooney

For the community of scientists who study the Earth’s climate, these are bewildering times.

They’ve seen wave upon wave of political attacks. They’re getting accustomed to a public that grows more skeptical of their conclusions even as scientists grow more confident in them.

No wonder there’s much frustration out there in the climate science world—and now, a group of researchers have organized to do something about it. Their initiative is called the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, and it pledges to organize dozens of researchers to help set the record straight. …


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Climate Science Deniers Copy & Paste Creationist Tactics

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 11, 2010

I recently received the following alert from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)…

AAAS PolicyAlert — June 4, 2010

Climate Change Education Challenged. A petition has been submitted to the Mesa County (Colorado) School Board to prohibit “the teaching of man-made climate change theory as scientific fact in the students’ curriculum.” The petition, which has 700 signatures, was circulated by a movement called Balanced Education for All (http://www.members- l.jsp?d=4954. 550777.654. 2aatBFCrt9Q. A), a group denying the reality of and human role in climate change, which also submitted a petition to “create and enforce a policy that prohibits teachers from applying their political views to the teaching and grading of students.” School Board members accepted the petition but took no action. The petition is part of a larger campaign by the Independent Women’s Forum, a non-profit based in Washington, DC, “challenging public schools to provide balanced education on the issue of global warming.” The group is promoting a documentary (http://www.members- l.jsp?d=4954. 550776.654. 2aatBFCrt9Q. A), Not Evil, Just Wrong, that claims to “confront erroneous claims of environmental extremists,” and offers an allegedly “compelling and scientifically accurate film about the true relationship between humans and the environment. “

Here we see that climate science deniers are employing the same pseudoscientific & intellectually dishonest tactics often used in the past by creationists as they misrepresented evolutionary science: the “teach the controversy” and “teach all views” canards.  Of course, these slogans imply that there actually is a supposed controversy about climate science within the scientific community – that is, the notion of human-influenced global warming is somehow “controversial” among scientists, when in fact it isn’t.  The whole point of these kinds of arguments is to sow doubt & suspicion about climate science in particular and, among some extreme anti-science ideologues, about all of science in general.

In addition, note the language in the petition which implies that when teachers try to teach actual, substantiated science that they are actually pushing a political agenda.  This kind of argument is intended to poison the well and explicitly politicize the issue of climate change science so that anyone who, likely for ideological reasons, doesn’t like the science can just dismiss it as part of a conspiracy.

Don’t fall for it.  Fortunately, we’ve seen all these tactics before from creationists & various other pseudoscientific woo-woos, so hopefully we can recognize & fight this junk when those with an anti-scientific agenda push it.  When confronted by those who would distort & misrepresent climate science, or someone who is legitimately confused, a great way to fight back is to download the free app for the iPhone or iPod Touch called Skeptical Science!

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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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Global Warming Deniers Get a Double-Dose of Pwnage

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 17, 2009

I’ve blogged here before about various claims made & tactics used by climate science deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics” because they are not guided by evidence, merely ideology), but what I have to share in this post is truly damning stuff.  One of the things which is really interesting is what happens when a group of pseudoscientific ideologues (like global warming deniers) gets caught red-handed playing fast & loose with the facts…

Exhibit A: Statisticians Confirm Reality of Global Warming in Blinded Tests

Recently, one of the claims making the rounds has been that, contrary to the consensus within the climate science community, the Earth is actually entering a period of global cooling – this claim is patently fallacious, and anyone who has a basic understanding of statistics knows it.  But what happened recently, as reported in a widely-circulated AP story, really slams the door shut on this bogus claim: the temperature data for the planet was analyzed by a series of independent statisticians, all of whom found a warming (not a cooling) trend in the data.  And here’s the kicker: these statisticians didn’t know what the data were – in other words, the examination of the Earth’s temperature data was a blinded test!

Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It’s not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.

The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It’s been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather’s normal ups and downs?

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

“If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

This result puts paid to the oft-repeated claim by GW-deniers that there is a cooling trend in the data.  Of course, the only reason why these pseudoscientists were able to get away with their false claims for so long was because they, as professor Grego said, have been cherry-picking the data and presenting it incomplete & out-of-context in order to give the impression that the Earth is cooling.  But, as we’ve seen, once the experimenter & statistician bias is removed from the analysis, which is the whole purpose of doing blinded tests, a very real and consistent warming trend is revealed.

But it gets even worse for the GW-deniers…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Global Warming Denial: Full of Hot Air

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2009

As I’m going through my day at school earlier this week, I did the usual thing – after lunch I went by my mailbox.  Inside I find an article from a colleague of mine with the following message on a sticky note: “It’s nice to see a newspaper giving time to the conservative viewpoint on global warming.”  Argh.


Full disclosure: I tend to be more liberal than conservative in my personal politics, but to imply that there is such a thing as “conservative” science and “liberal” science does a grave disservice to science in general.  I might add this goes the other way as well – when Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” (AIT) came out a few years ago, I refused to watch it even though many of those on my side of the political isle were encouraging me to do so.

Read the rest of this entry »

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