Thursday, February 03, 2011

At the sausage factory

In our last thrilling episode, Fox science reporter Gene Koprowski was trolling ProfNet for comments from "someone who can point out the ridiculousness" of Al Gore's contention that, you know, changes in the climate can mean lots of assorted changes in the climate. Let's see how Gene did:*

If the planet is warming, why is a third of America locked in a deep freeze, with record-low temperatures as far south as the Mexican border, where the thermometer in Ciudad Juarez plummeted Wednesday night to a bone-chilling 9-below zero?

Self-proclaimed planetary climate czar Al Gore thinks he has answer.

Dude. You gave yourself an extra day on the story (the original plea said comments were needed by 11 p.m. Tuesday) and you can't proofread yourself any better than "thinks he has answer"? "Self-proclaimed planetary climate czar," to my knowledge, is simply a lie. But onward!

"As it turns out, the scientific community has been addressing this particular question for some time now, and they say increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with what they have been predicting as a consequence of man-made global warming," Gore write in a blog post. (He do?) The Nobel Prize-winning former vice president was responding to a question posed by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who wondered on air why global warming was such an urgent science policy priority when the New York City area had become a “tundra” this winter.

Gore also indicated that he believes a rise in global temperatures is creating “all sorts of havoc,” from hotter dry spells to colder winters and ever more violent storms. This is even endangering certain species of animals and leading to forest fires and floods.

But not surprisingly, some climate-change skeptics are a bit hot under the collar over Gore’s “scientific” explanation.
Those aren't claim quotes. They're old-fashioned finger quotes.

“Gore’s statement actually indicates a deeper problem -- lack of precise predictions,” said Dr. William M. Briggs,** a statistician and climate scientist. His research shows that there are no increased weather problems because of global warming, Briggs told

“He’s saying that anything bad that happens must be because global warming caused it. Activists like Gore are great at identifying events after the fact as being caused by global warming, but terrible at predicting them beforehand,” Briggs said.

Precise reading is a precursor of precise prediction. Gore isn't the one stating the causal relationship. He's saying abnormal events are consistent with predictions, not that they're a "must be" outcome. And -- frailty, thy name is precision! -- what "events" are "activists" so good at post-hoccing and so bad at predicting: the snowstorm, or how much more or less snow than it might have produced a year ago?

Meteorologist Art Horn*** agreed, noting the extensive history of devastating weather over the millennia -- none of which he connects with global warming.

“If one actually studies the history of weather over the last 2,000 years, you see massive storms, amazing heat, brutal cold waves, devastating droughts, terrible floods and disastrous hurricanes -- none caused by global warming,” he told

After 11 grafs, we lurch into the "however":

... Other scientists were quick to leap to Gore's support, arguing that the extreme cold weather is a logical, expected outcome for our warming planet.

“It’s not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow in a world experiencing global warming,” meteorologist Jeffrey Masters told “There will still be colder than average winters in a world that is experiencing warming with plenty of opportunities for snow.”

Wait, wait. Is this the "so-called meteorologist Jeff Masters" who was pilloried by the loonies last year for pointing out that "warmer" doesn't mean "too warm to snow"? And seems**** capable of writing about the recent unpleasantness without invoking ideology, polar bears or the Old Testament? When the first blog post I see from Weather Camp A is about how the Democrats have yet again assaulted freedom through new limits on public smoking and the first from Weather Camp B is about, you know, the weather, I think it's fair to draw inferences.

The contretemps over global warming and winter weather -- and the bickering among scientists about man's effect on the climate -- has had a profound impact on public opinion around the globe.
As the Hutchins Commission pointed out all those years ago, the sum of two half-truths isn't "the truth." There are some notable changes in public opinion, correlated with a strong (and often fundamentally dishonest) propaganda campaign. The degree to which that represents genuine "contretemps" or "bickering" is, I suppose, up to the conscience of the individual believer.

A January poll by Rasmussen Reports indicates that Americans are still more inclined to believe global warming is primarily caused by long-term planetary trends, although the gap narrowed a bit this month. But Americans don't blame global warming for this winter’s weather.
Care to place a small stake on whether there's a significant difference between that latter answer and "do you think climate change has unusual and sometimes contradictory effects"?

Skepticism is very clearly increasing overseas; a poll released this week by the Office for National Statistics in the U.K. indicated that the number of climate skeptics there had nearly doubled during the last four years. The proportion of people who said they were “not very concerned” about global warming now numbers more than one in five, the U.K. government said.
I'm at a bit of a loss here; I can't find any such poll "released this week," though the numbers aren't a bad approximation of the 2005-2010 data (here's a nice discussion, with slideshow, of British attitudes toward climate change). It's probably dogpiling to point out that, although Britain is definitely "overseas," it is not a synonym for overseas.

But many still argue that global warming is real, and the ultimate cause of the wretched weather.

No. Those are still two very different things. I'm still waiting to hear anyone (I'd recommend starting with Al Gore) say that "global warming is the ultimate cause of the wretched weather." Anyway, let's get back to our weatherman:

... “The last 2,000 years is full of incredible weather events that dwarf what we see today,” said Horn. “Nature isn't cooperating with the global warming camp and theory.”

He points to a New York Times story from the 1970s, which said the planet was getting so cold that humanity was in danger of starving to death. The article argued that the world’s weather would soon be so frigid that it could no longer permit the cultivation of crops for food. The Times’ headline on August 8, 1974, was simple enough: “Climate changes Endanger World’s Food Output.”

He should be careful pointing to that article, because it says nothing of the sort. (If you're looking yourself, it's by Harold Shmeck; it starts at the top of page 35 and jumps to page 66). One, it's a news article, and it's actually "fair" and "balanced"; it presents experts who think the evidence points to one kind of relationship and experts who don't. You know, sort of like "journalism."

But the argument isn't over whether the world will "soon be so frigid that it could no longer permit the cultivation of crops for food." That's -- is this getting tiresome? -- a lie too, but it's a bigger and more interesting one than a few ad hominem fictions about the former vice president.

Toward the end of the first leg of the jump, you can find "some scientists" contending that a decline in average Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the past three decades "could have important effects on the world's weather and agriculture." But the bulk of the article is devoted to the effect of heat and drought on Iowa's soy and corn crops, or changes in the strength or intensity of monsoons. And a statement in the reporter's own voice that there's "no prospect of a food shortage in North America" -- in the hemisphere where the change is being recorded -- seems pretty definitive on the idea's of humanity's imminent demise.

Schmeck's story is a look at the interplay among weather, climate, and the social-political-economic issues entailed by a growing world population. It's not an argument about global warming or global cooling. Which, I think, puts the conclusion in perspective:

“First we were told the world was cooling. Then it was getting hotter,” Dan Gainor, a spokesman for the Media Research Center, tells***** “Then cooling again. Then hotter. Now it’s just climate change -- so they can’t be wrong no matter what change occurs.”

That's the big change I see in the party line from last year; as one of the comments left on Wednesday's Fox storm newser put it, "Global Warming = Global Cooling = Climate Change = Al Gore's checking account get fatter." I'm starting to wonder how much of that whole superstructure is built around a flagrantly dishonest reading of one pretty good science article from 1974.

* No. 3 story as of midafternoon, vanished from the frontpage as of this writing (~8p). Make of that what you will.
** Link mine, not Fox's.
*** Ibid.
**** Ibid ibid ibid.
***** If you can get the party line from one of your in-house sources, why bother with the experts-for-hire anyway?

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