Protected: Thesis: Research question

27 03 2007

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Why fighting the denialists matters

24 03 2007

It matters because of the kids. This science class in Colorado, asked students to put global warming on trial. Guess who won?

LONGMONT — Humans don’t cause global warming, a jury of sixth graders at Trail Ridge Middle School concluded Thursday after hearing opposing arguments from their peers.

“They’re pretty young for this kind of thinking. They did great,” paleontology teacher Ken Poppe said after the 40-minute “trial” in his classroom.

With Earth’s warming accepted as a tenet, pre-teen “lawyers” and “scientists” debated whether humans have caused it.

The students found all their arguments and “science” on the Internet (actually the article says “the school’s computer lab”, so I assume they were searching the Web. The alternative is even more appalling). There are sites that cater to climate warners and climate sceptics — but they apparently have not been taught the skills to evaluate the trustworthiness of these sites.

“The earth has warmed and cooled over many years. If it’s caused by CO2, why haven’t the charts shot up?” Poppe’s son and lead prosecutor Caleb argued during a rebuttal.

In a climax that sent half the class to its feet and forced the judge to call for order, opponent Monique Nem slapped a contradictory graph onto the prosecution’s table.

“We’ve proven you wrong! The CO2 levels have shot up,” she said.

In the end, it seems that the winning side did so purely on their superior debating skills.

Seven of 11 jurors decided humans are not to blame, but everyone agreed classroom debates make for fun learning.

“It was a hard decision, because both sides made good points,” said student Samantha Roberts.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong per se with students learning in this fashion. One thing that is sure is that motivation levels would have been very high among the class. However, that there was no effort on the part of the teacher to vet the information for scientific validity, that he did not point out that the consensus was overwhelmingly towards an acceptance that global warming is driven by human activity — that is unconscionable.

Makes you wonder about where the teacher stands, doesn’t it?

Ken Poppe said he let students choose which side of the debate to argue. Poppe personally believes global warming is cyclical and not affected by humans, while his Colorado State University student aide David Richards believes the opposite. Both, however, said they presented both sides equally to the students leading up to Thursday’s debate.

“What I think is not the issue. It’s what the students dig up and how they present the case,” Poppe said.

Only one parent questioned Poppe’s decision to hold a global warming debate. That mother expected him to present Al Gore’s global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” as indisputable facts, Poppe said. After he explained his neutrality in the classroom, the mom allowed her child to participate in the debate, he said.

“You don’t understand someone’s position until you can argue it to their satisfaction,” Poppe said, quoting a famous physicist. “I don’t believe in Darwinism either, but I can argue it as well as any Darwinist.”

That’s right. As well as denying anthropogenic global warming, he denies evolution.

May this cancer never reach New Zealand.

More from PZ Myers, a teacher who actually teaches well.

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Right-wing logic

19 03 2007

Snow FestivalIt’s amazing what passes for logic among the those in the right-wing world sometimes. Over at his virtual Bedlam and cranktastic soap box, Adolph Fiinkenstein teases the reader with a rant about antiwar marchers in Washington, but bless his heart, he can’t keep it up for long before he veers wildly off-topic onto what he really wants to talk about: Al Gore. (I swear, the man is like catnip to wingnuts.)

Now, one of the “gotcha” games conservatives love to play when it comes to climate change and global warming is to point out how cold some winter days can get. Goodness gracious! It’s brass monkey weather! But doesn’t global warming say winters are supposed to be tropical, starting tomorrow? Fiinkenstein is no exception and wastes little time before rushing for that oh-so-soothing Ctrl-B.

There was one moment of sheer hilarity in the report. Obviously Al Gore has been to Washington DC recently. The evangelicals should send him down for a visit to Hell – the place would immediately freeze over!

Organisers of the protest march said the turnout had been hurt by a winter snow storm on Friday that moved up the East Coast from Washington into New England, disrupting travel.

These same jerks and misfits who are protesting outside the White House would have you believe we are doomed because of global warming.

That’s right. It’s winter. It gets cold in winter. It was so cold on this day that fewer people than expected turned up to a march. Therefore there’s no such thing as global warming.

But wasn’t it pretty cold all over the States this winter? Weren’t there all those stories of record blizzards and stuff? Yes, there were, but get this: Across the planet, the December – February period was the warmest on record. As for those cold days in the US:

For the United States, meanwhile, the winter temperature was near average. The season got off to a late start and spring-like temperatures covered most of the eastern half of the country in January, but cold conditions set in in February, which was the third coldest on record.

Oops! Guess Adolph didn’t study statistics much.

Protected: Thesis: Facts vs message

17 03 2007

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The old codgers

16 03 2007

I found this interesting post at Andrew Dessler’s place about the prevalence of retired scientists among climate change sceptics linked from a more recent Gristmill piece. He evaluates the ability of all these professors emeritus to usefully contribute to the GW debate, and narrows it down to two options: either (a) they are better able to usefully contribute since they no longer depend on any form of university patronage, or (b) they haven’t kept up with the reading and therefore misunderstand current research.

He pins a wonderful anecdote about Bill Gray:

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago where I ran into Bill Gray, a famous emeritus skeptic. He gave his standard stump speech in which he claims that the water vapor feedback is negative. I followed up on this with him and it became quite clear to me that he is unfamiliar with all of the peer-reviewed literature on this subject that has been published in the last five years. This makes sense. Reading the literature is a difficult and full-time job, and emeritus faculty simply don’t need to do that. Especially (in the case of Gray) when your time is occupied being interviewed and screaming at people. As a result, my sense is that the views of emeritus skeptics are often substantially out of date.

But the story goes on. After arguing with him for a few minutes, it became clear that Bill Gray has no scientific theory of his own *why* the water vapor feedback is negative, and no data to support his non-theory. He has no manuscript describing his non-theory and no plans to attempt to publish it. After I pointed out all of the evidence supporting a positive feedback, he looked confused and finally said, “OK, maybe the feedback isn’t negative, maybe it’s neutral. I’ll give you that.” I quickly concluded that he has no idea what he’s talking about. I wish everyone that considers him credible could have witnessed this exchange.

This glimpse inside the scientific community is exactly what non-scientist onlookers like myself absolutely relish.

Eli Rabett takes Dessler’s original post and widens it to a theory about why aged professors tend to be resistant to new paradigms in general. He points to the way atomic theory was resisted by the contemporary scientific fraternity.

These sort of things always repeat themselves. It is difficult for us to conceive, but the existence of atoms was not settled at the turn of the 20th century, and what evidence existed was indirect. Many scientists whose intuition was trained in the time when theories based on continua dominated physics found it impossible to accept atomicity. They preferred their intuition to their lying eyes.


For example, when I took general chemistry we were still using the old Mendeleev form of the periodic table which is based on the stoichiometry of the oxides and hydrides. Today. of course, we use the table based on the quantum solution of the Schroedinger Eq.

Now, I went straight from high school to university, where I studied chemistry, and I always thought it odd that I learned three different models of atomic theory: the old Mendeleevian theory, and then two orbital models.

At the time, I put this down to a sort of academic need to know model of learning. From the student’s point of view, there is still much in the field that seems more like alchemy than modern science, and having to learn serial models of the atom is not so much different from having to pass through several layers of initiation to enter the fold.

That this could be a motivating factor for a number of global warming sceptics makes a lot of sense to me. But it also shows that the global warming culture—the nature of the sociological relations between the two camps—is in fact the opposite of the way that critics like to portray themselves.

The critics are fond of comparing themselves favourably to Galileo and Copernicus. They are changing the paradigm, or so the script goes, and that is why they’re locked out of the big university funding. That’s why their enemies belittle them. They’re the underdogs.

But if you judge them by their allies (the retired professors), you begin to see a different picture emerging. It’s the cranky geezers who haven’t kept up with their reading and are railing at the way their field has passed them by. They’re fighting for a scientific cause on the basis of their reputation alone.

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This is what I mean …

11 03 2007

chips… when I say that those opposed to doing anything about climate change are not only not serious about the threat, they’re gamblers when it comes right down to it.

A recent study indicates that polar bear numbers have risen dramatically in the last two decades, from about 850 in the mid-’80s to 2,100 today. This is enough for Andrei at to contrast it to an AP article warning of the dangers facing the planet: increased disease and drought, and polar bears no longer able to survive in their natural climate.

The source for the AP article is a leaked version of the IPCC’s AR4. The source for the claim that polar bears are thriving? A single study written up in the UK’s Telegraph. And note that while Andrei mentions the parts of the Telegraph article he likes—the increase in bear numbers in Canada’s Davis Strait—he ignores other parts of the article that go against his denialist sensibilities.

Polar bear experts said that numbers had increased not because of climate change but due to the efforts of conservationists.

The battle to ban the hunting of Harp seal pups has meant the seal population has soared – boosting the bears’ food supply.

At the same time, fewer seal hunters are around to hunt bears.

Moreover, polar bear numbers in other parts of the Arctic aren’t exactly on the rebound.

“I don’t think there is any question polar bears are in danger from global warming,” said Andrew Derocher of the World Conservation Union, and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “People who deny that have a clear interest in hunting bears.”

Bear numbers on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay had shrunk by 22 per cent over the past decade, he said.

“They are declining due to global warming and changes in when the ice freezes
and melts in Hudson’s Bay,” he added. He and other scientists in his group are concerned that the retreating ice in the Arctic may pose a danger to future generations of polar bears because of ‘habitat loss’. “The critical problem is the sea ice is changing. “We’re looking ahead three generations, 30 to 50 years.

“To say that bear populations are growing in one area now is irrelevant.”

Which brings me to my point about climate denialists and the right wing. Despite the mountains of evidence supporting the consensus that humans are responsible for dramatically increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that, unless steps are taken to mitigate it, the future is going to be bleak for many species on the planet—denialists have a remarkable ability to ignore or discount all this evidence.

Conversely, they will fasten onto the tiniest data point that supports their contention that the global warming “scare” is overblown, and that the good old days are just around the corner. They seem not to care that they’re engaging in a form of gambling, with the stakes the survival of the planet.

Delusional. Absolutely delusional.

Ian Wishart is embarrassing

3 03 2007

Ian Wishart writes yet another idiotic post about global warming:

So much for anthropomorphic global warming…will
that stop the Left from ranting about it? Probably not, there will be
websites and magazines like New Dawn alleging secret American bases on
Mars burning fossil fuel…

Tinfoil hats, anyone?

The article is about a Russian scientist (an astronomer !) who believes that solar forcing is going to save the whole world. This has cropped up a few times in recent months, and has always been discredited.

(And never mind that it’s anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic global warming… Idiot.)

Wishart gets the link from the World Net Daily, which should pretty much say everything. Although the article is legit, being from National Geographic, Wishart leaves out an important snippet — the criticism of the astronomer from just everybody else.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in [Habibullo] Abdussamatov’s theory is his dismissal of the greenhouse effect, in which atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide help keep heat trapped near the planet’s surface.

He claims that carbon dioxide has only a small influence on Earth’s climate and virtually no influence on Mars.

But “without the greenhouse effect there would be very little, if any, life on Earth, since our planet would pretty much be a big ball of ice,” said [Amato] Evan, of the University of Wisconsin.

Evan is an actual climate scientist, not an astronomer.

Leaving aside the obvious entertainment value of Wishart’s post, it also underscores a common tactic of climate denialists: cherry-pick a lone contrarian’s views and act as if it shakes the very foundation of the climate change consensus. Pitiful.