Climate Scientists Embarrassed but Thankful for People on Internet Telling Them About the Sun

In a surprise reversal of position, numerous climate scientists now say they could be all wrong about climate change, thanks to a plucky group of public skeptics who have spent numerous hours on the internet reading articles by people not associated with the climate research in any way.  For years climate researchers have failed to listen to these pleas for reason and understanding.  Much to the chagrin of the climate community, a major misstep has been brought to light, climate researchers have forgotten to take into account the sun in the now shaky theory about human-induced climate change.

The moment of truth came Dec. 9th when an article that was reporting 2016 was shaping up to be the hottest year on record when a commenter who goes by the name “drillbaby” said the warming we are seeing is caused by the sun.  We were able to track down this commenter as internet climate expert and full-time real estate agent, Derek Laskin, to ask him how this revelation came to him.  “It really was the stuff of stories the way I was inspired,” exclaimed an excited and proud Laskin, “it was a cool morning, but the sun was out, and I noticed that throughout the day things started to get warmer.  That’s when I came upon this article about climate change and global warming, where the scientists are blaming on carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, but based on my experience on how the sun seemed to be working, I decided to comment on this article to suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking at carbon dioxide, and that the sun is responsible for the warming.”

This comment may have been missed by the climate science community if not for a bit a random luck.  Climate researcher, Dr. Mike Hulme, received a text message from his sister who happened in the article that simply read “Holy shit, some guy commented on an article and mentioned the sun!  I’ve never heard you talk about the sun before in telling me about your work.  WTF!?”  The word spread at the speed of light in the scientific community, and while some resistance remains to this new development, the change has been visible and scientists are now contemplating a spectrum of new ideas in regards to the warming we are seeing.  We had a chance to go to King’s College in London to talk to Hulme.  “Needless to say I am shocked.,” said a shaken Hulme, ” All those years in school studying weather and climate, and nobody ever brought up this glowing orb in the sky called the sun.  I’ll admit it made the physics of climate somewhat implausible, but you know we tend to respect our teachers and believe what they tell us without every going through that process of discovery on our own.  I am just glad that we have internet commenters like drillbaby to clue us in to important things we have missed.”

When asked why some researchers are still resistant to this very pervasive idea of the sun causing warming, Hulme replied “Well I have no idea why they would prefer to remain in the dark as it were, but I guess most scientists care more about money, and it’s a tragedy really.  But I have no other explanation.  I will say that there really is a lot of confusion right now and so some scientists are reticent about changing their views yet until all the information comes out.  Currently we are still mining internet comments and finding out all sorts of things we previously did not know.  As it turns out there are many people who haven’t spent years studying atmospheric physics and research climate data who are writing some pretty in depth articles about how we got it all wrong.”  We then asked Hulme if there was anything else these internet comments were shedding important light on.  “Absolutely,” responded Hulme, “Quite a lot really, but one thing stands out.  As it turns out there are many people saying that the climate has actually changed naturally over the course of Earth’s history and there really is no need to worry.  Apparently if things change naturally any suggestion that changes may be enhanced or made more severe unnaturally is a pointless argument.  I’ve even changed my views about gun control.  People die naturally, thus homicide is irrelevant.  I’m just going to retire early and hang out with my Scottish Terrier”

Silence ensued for a few minutes as the exasperated Hulme simply shook his head in quiet contemplation.  I then asked him about the field of paleoclimatology that looks at how climate has changed in the past.  Hulme looked up at me wild-eyed and said, “Don’t you understand, it’s all been a lie? We missed the part about the sun and so you can’t trust any of our understanding about past climate either!  Honestly how can you trust us or anything we say ever again?!”

The Sun, featured here in the upper right.  The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.
The Sun, featured here in the upper right. The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.

We left the sobbing Hulme, but there still seemed to be some questions.  Previously computers models had demonstrated the warming could only be explained with the additional CO2 going into the atmosphere, and not by natural causes alone.  What then were those computer models even showing?  We sat down with a distraught Dr. Michael Mann at his office at Penn State University to ask him.  “We’ve all been taken aback by this sun thing, and it’s really made us look more carefully at the qualifications of the people involved in this research.  Models are really complex and most of us don’t really understand it.  As it turns out those who make these models don’t have years of experience studying computational fluid dynamics, but are rather out of work video game designers.  Apparently it’s quite common to randomize things in a video game, and this is apparently what the designers were doing – just randomly throwing in some false warming into the models.  Overall it’s pretty disappointing that we missed the sun in our models.  Right now I’m in the processing of going through my old syllabi that I have from my many years in college to make sure that there was no section called “the sun”.  If not, I think I have grounds to ask for a refund on my tuition.”

Finally, we asked Mann when the climate research community would have an official statement to make to the public they lied to all these years.  Mann, like Hulme, said there are many more internet comments to troll through, but he did say this “Right now I’d just like to say thank you to all those who persevered through perhaps 6 or 7 articles from right wing media outlets and were still able to find time to post their well-defended comments underneath articles with our nonsensical babbling which represents, to be honest, some of the shoddiest science mankind has ever seen.”

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Science…not Science

I read a couple of troubling articles today about some forensic techniques that were used by the FBI that were used as evidence in criminal cases and were sold by the FBI as reliable techniques, but as it turns out were not the case.  Those articles can be found here, and here.

In a horrible fit of madness I looked at some of the comments, and of course there are plenty of conspiracy people there, but what was more interesting is how many people thought that this was confirmation that scientific consensus doesn’t mean anything, or how science is unreliable, and many of these people were clearly conservatives who are climate change deniers.  It annoys me to see science and logic so misunderstood, so I thought I just write down a few thoughts.

First of all it’s important to remember that one case of science being misused is not evidence that all science can’t be trusted.

Second, this is not a case of science being misused.  The science was correct the entire time, it’s the FBI that lied about the science.  Whether it was the forensics people themselves who misrepresented the science or lead investigator in charge of the case is unclear, but it was actually objective scientific investigation that showed the corruption of the FBI.  There were actually peer-reviewed publications that demonstrated the lack of reliability of these techniques, just as there are 1000’s and 1000’s of peer-reviewed journal articles that establish the truth of human-induced climate change and this is much different than someone having the truth in a journal article, but then lying about it in terms of how that knowledge is applied.

Third, you could call what the FBI is doing bad science, but you can also see how easily that bad science was uncovered by the recent investigation.  However when it comes to climate change, even their own scientists agree about the evidence for human-induced climate change.  The party just refuses to listen.

More careful investigation of this exposure of the FBI’s techniques is  not an indictment of science, but rather something that reveals it’s value at uncovering bias.

 

 

Tin Foil Hats

Hey, Travis, when everybody is out to get you, paranoid is just good thinking!

– Dr. Johnny Fever

 

If there is one group of people that I despise arguing with, it is conspiracy theorists.  I find it even more frustrating than debating someone with strong religious convictions.  Maybe it’s just because I can sympathize better with people with strong religious beliefs because I have been exposed to religion and have had family who have strong religious beliefs.  Now both types of people are belief driven and in many ways there is no difference at least in terms of how neural pathways are formed and how the impact of reinforcing those neural pathways impacts the brain, but there is something about conspiracy theorists that seems more concerning.  Maybe this is true only for religious fundamentalists in the west.  In other areas of the world I would fear religious fundamentalists much more, but maybe it’s because with religion the crux of the debate falls to the supernatural and with the supernatural there is no way to disprove it.  For those who have faith it’s tangible and real and this is what governs their thinking.  A lot of times if you bring into the realm of the real world you can often find common ground and agree on things, even if you disagree on the mechanism.  In fact I’m pretty sure I’d be less surprised if someone found actual evidence of the existence of God than some of the conspiracy theories that some people believe in as being real.

When it comes to conspiracy theorists, the troubling part to me is that all of what they believe is easily disprovable.  There are no supernatural forces at work; it’s a conspiracy that involves this plane of existence.  It’s physical and tangible in a very real sense.  We can actually settle the debate.  With God, you’re never going to settle it, because God cannot be disproven in a strictly logical sense (of course that’s because for something to exist the onus for proof is on those that would assert its existence).

I was talking to a colleague recently who is a geologist.  He had told me before that his father was very conservative and does not think evolution is real.  More than not accepting the scientific evidence he has invented a conspiracy theory in which all fossils are fabricated and made in a factory somewhere and then scientists plant them around the world so that they pretend they have evidence.  It just blew my mind when he told me.  The amount of fossils we have is enormous and the time and energy to make all of those, plant them all over the world, all so that we could tell a false narrative about the origins of life are astronomical for me to even wrap my head around it.  Of course I’ve heard the general theme before that evolution is just a conspiracy to try and disprove the Bible and I literally don’t understand.

As an atmospheric scientist of course the one I deal with the most is the conspiracy associated with global warming.   Thousands and thousands of scientists all banding together trying to get greedy off that alternative energy money and trying to destroy the poor fossil fuel companies who apparently are struggling to make ends meet.  Debates usually go something like this:

Me. “As somebody who studies this and understands how the atmosphere works…” I list a lot of hard evidence, and explain how the greenhouse effect works.

CT (Conspiracy Theorist)  Evidence ignored and the grand retort is “But other people are experts too and they disagree”.

Me. Thinking, ohh they want to try to take that right now  “Actually not really, few people who deny climate change are actually atmospheric scientists, and none of them have been able to publish any scientifically sound papers in peer-reviewed journals on the subject.  Such scientist’s research is always funded by oil companies.”

CT:  “That’s because the journals are controlled by the IPCC and they prevent any contrary evidence from getting published.”

Me: *bangs head*

The back and forths are usually longer, but this was just a glimpse. One thing I have noticed that is common with all these debates is that they never address any scientific evidence you present directly.  So in retrospect, debate is a bad word.  They have no defense on the workings of antigens, the physics behind the greenhouse effect, or the random mutations of genes.  There is always some larger organization involved pulling the strings, shadow networks, cover-ups, secret e-mails, vast sums of money involved.  They post links to sites that reference other articles written by someone with equally little knowledge of what they are talking about.  There are vague references to events that never happen, or if they did happen there is no way to prove that they happened.   And why do these conspiracy theories always involve the government or scientists?

Governments are for the most part, simply incompetent.  The level of organization they need to have to pull some of the shit off that people give them credit for is truly astounding.   The really corrupt ones are so obviously corrupt and drunk on power there is no need of secrecy they do it right in front of your face.  And of course I know many scientists.  They are some of the finest people I know: curious, intelligent, and for the most part noble and compassionate.   Corrupt scientists are few and far between and are easily exposed because scientists believe that what they are doing is valuable and important and have zero tolerance for those that would make a mockery of the scientific process and allow bad science to flourish.

Now certainly you might say at this point, while we have never proven the existence of a supernatural deity, there have been conspiracies.  To that, I say most definitely and in fact that’s what makes conspiracies relatively short-lived and small.  Because people are generally good and if there is some conspiracy that is causing harm to people, and lying to people it’s not long before somebody’s conscience gets the better of them and they get the message out.  In fact, this would seem to put a natural limit into how large a conspiracy can grow.  Once it gets too big or too harmful, whistleblowers will come out of the woodwork.  And there will be tangible evidence of this conspiracy and unsubstantiated hypotheses are no longer necessary.

I have decided that I need to stop engaging such people.  But it’s hard, because there some of the conspiracy theories, if allowed to spread, can cause real harm.  Like ones related to climate change or vaccinations and then I find it hard to keep quiet because lives are literally at stake.  Ultimately it feels like people who purport conspiracy theories enjoy the attention, the feeling of importance that they are part of the minority and they get it and everybody else has been duped.  Perhaps it’s just ego.  Perhaps it’s just pure and utter fear of a world they don’t understand. Perhaps it’s just people wanting to believe in something do badly that they will invent anything to rationalize that belief.  I don’t know.  I’d be curious to learn how some of my other readers deal with conspiracy theorists.

 

Note:  A study was conducted to determine whether Tin Foil Hats really protect your thoughts being read.  Turns out it makes it worse.  At least that’s what “physics” tells us. (That’s the punch line if you don’t want to read the article).

More ramblings about climate change

I was asked to submit an essay to include in an introductory climatology text by a colleague but what I originally wrote didn’t get accepted because it was decided they wanted to place it in another chapter with a slightly different take so I had to make some revisions and changes.  I liked the original though and thought I would post it here.

In 2010 the burning of fossil fuels and the production of cement released 33.4 billion metric tons of carbon into the air.  It’s a big number.  An intimidating one perhaps, but what does it really mean?  Can any human identify with such a number?  A weight we can’t possibly experience for a gas that we can’t see.

Global averages temperatures which are not experienced by anyone. (from http://www.globalsherpa.org)

As individuals we experience only a fraction of the surface area of the Earth at any one time.  Our ability to experience change on a global scale is extremely limited.   The detection of changes in temperature on such long time scales is masked by diurnal and seasonal fluctuations.  We don’t experience average temperatures, yet the important environmental issue of our times asks us to take action based on things we do not perceive in our everyday life.

As individuals we are heavily biased towards survival from the pressures we face every day.  Civilization has given us the comfort of living apart from environmental pressures that other species experience more acutely.  It could be that civilization only gives us the advantage of delaying these pressures and gives us the illusion of comfort.  As an evolved species of animals who depends on other life for our very survival, our ability to fight off the enormous pressures that nature can exert may be dwindling.

In a typical thunderstorm there are approximately 1 x 1018 droplets.  Of course no one droplet means very much, but the collective of droplets in

From http://www.albany.edu

the cloud itself can produce lightning, damaging winds and hail, and flash flooding.  With approximately 7 billion people on the planet it is easy to view ourselves as a single drop.  With the issue of climate change it may be time to focus on what we are in fact part of:  As a species with a massive and growing global population with a great deal of power to change the world for better or for worse.  The question then becomes, “What can we, as individuals, do?”

On September 27th meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, in response to the 5th Assessment Report on Climate by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), vowed never to fly in an airplane again.  He felt very strongly about his carbon footprint.  A criticism often made against climate scientists who travel to conferences and meetings to discuss the issue.  His gesture is extremely noble and perhaps sets a good example for the rest of us.  He participates in many meetings now via Skype to avoid flying.  There are probably many of us, companies and organizations alike, who may not be taking great advantage of the technology that is available to us.  However, his case may also be an example of our disconnect between experiences as individuals without seeing the whole picture.  A response by William MacAskill, an ethicist at Oxford, pointed out that while Holthaus’ individual footprint might be high, his active participation through face-to-face interactions with policymakers internationally may reduce carbon emissions so drastically that it more than offsets his carbon footprint.  We all have different roles as individuals as part of the whole and although Holthaus’ sacrifice is well intentioned, perhaps he has not chosen the best way to reduce his carbon footprint given his abilities and role in this world.

Life constantly asks us to find that delicate balance between our individual needs and those of the collective.  It asks us to evaluate how our individual freedoms impinge on the freedoms of others.   The consequences of our actions as individuals have never had more far reaching impacts.  Climate change impacts the largest community we are part of: the global community.  The truth is, we all share the same space even if we can’t experience it.  It’s important to remember that in the individual fight for survival we always do it best when we work together.

Correlation vs. Causation

I decided to write a response to one of the many excellent posts written by a fellow blogger.  It became long enough and I thought a worthy enough to be a blog post of it’s own!  If you are interested in the idea of correlation vs. causation you can read his blog here first.

In your last paragraph I was reminded of Dawkins’ argument in the God Delusion when he is talking about miracles.  Since miracles are by definition unique and rare events there is no way to really disprove a divine explanation.  This is of course if the same thing doesn’t keep happening again and again, which if it does, you really don’t have a miracle on your hands anymore.  He uses the example of the one documented miracle in Catholicism in which some 100,000 witness near Fatima, Portugal reported the Sun doing some odd things including zigzagging towards them and crashing to the Earth.  Dawkins argues that in looking for a natural explanation for the event, all of them, including the possibility that all 100,000 people are lying are actually more probable than the laws of physics being thwarted for a group of people in one part of the world (no other people reported seeing anything other than those at the event).  So I think that you are very correct that we the “correlation does not mean causation” argument does not negate a particular postulation for why a correlation exists.   However I would go a step further and say that it is not even an argument in of itself.

It is of course the responsibility of anybody who poses a correlation to provide a reason why such a correlation exists.  Provided you have done that, then the “correlation does not mean causation” response isn’t a logical argument in response to yours.  The person on the other side of the debate must either address why your reasons why are not valid, or must present something else that correlates better and why their reason for x causing y is more probable.  So I think you might be giving a little too much weight to the argument in how much it actually negates a correlation between two variables.

In many areas in science we can say why pretty easily because there are usually physical laws that explain why quite easily, and those things are testable and repeatable.  In social science this may be harder to do.  Especially since it is not always clear what all the variables are.  For instance it is clear that there is a positive correlation between gun deaths (accidental, homicide, and suicides) the amount of guns per capita in a population.  There are plenty of psychological factors of course to consider here on why would a person own a gun or why would someone choose to kill themselves?  There are practical questions like how to we get people to be more responsible about locking up their guns so their kid doesn’t pick it up, how to we make sure that more people remember to store their guns unloaded, how can make guns safer from accidental misfires, and how can we make sure that people who buy again are well trained in how to use it? There are likely even bigger questions like how does income disparity lead to increased crime in general? What are other ways that don’t involve firearms where people can be made safe?  All of these and plenty more are likely part and parcel of explaining gun violence, but that doesn’t change the fact that reducing access to guns would result a lowering of the number of gun deaths.  So making some laws that create a national gun registry, that do better background checks, and limit the type of weapon the general public could buy, would make some sense even though it clearly won’t eliminate gun deaths completely.  If by a counter-argument someone says “correlation does not mean causation” they haven’t actually addressed the argument being made.  They actually have to find an example with all other variables relatively constant between the U.S. and that country, except gun control laws, and show that an opposite correlation exists. i.e. Restrictive gun control laws and increased gun deaths, or high gun ownership and low gun deaths.  And that would be for a country with similar economies, democratic, with a high standard of living, and that doesn’t have mandatory military service in which the high amount of gun ownership isn’t because they keep their piece given to them in the military (Switzerland the example always used here).

So in the classic humorous example that has been around for awhile is that graph between global temperature and the number of pirates.  I can’t just show that graph and say see…look how the number of pirates is impacting global temperature?  I actually have to provide a reason why pirates might impact temperatures.  I can say there is less plundering and razing of towns so the urban heat island effect has increased thus raising global

From Wikipedia.org

temperatures.  Obviously this is a silly argument, but a response of “correlation and causation are different”, while a true statement, does not negate my assertion.  There are many ways to disprove my assertion but pointing out a correlation is not causation does not. Because the truth is, “correlation does not always mean causation” so one has to go past this statement to further argue one’s point.  This is true for many arguments that contain logical fallacies.  You could take the classic argument used against gay marriage.  Well if we let gays marry, pretty soon we’ll have to let people marry their pets.  Well this is of course the slippery slope logical fallacy.  Slippery slope arguments may not be incorrect, but are very often wrong.  So it’s not enough for me to counter your slippery slope argument with “Hey that’s a slippery slope argument”.  I would be quite wrong to think the argument was done, because they could actually be right.  Some events do lead to a chain of events that are far from where things started.  To win the argument I would actually need to argue that there has never been a push for legislation to marry a pet, that if anybody has tried this they were a crazy person, that this is not a psychological drive of human beings as a species, etc.  I could also point to many other marriage related laws or other laws that have not led to a hyperbolic slippery slope situations.

To say that “correlation and causation are not necessarily the same thing” is actually a Straw Man argument (which is fallacious) because the argument assumes a position that you have not taken in the argument.  Correlating variables is a valid method for discovering relationships, and by presenting that correlation, one’s assertion is not that correlation is a valid method, but rather that two variables are related to each other.  And to say two things are correlated doesn’t imply that this is the only important variable, or that even it is the primary or secondary cause of a particular event.  One has simply said there is a relationship and a counter argument must challenge the relationship.  A correlation must be presented along with some sound reasons why there is a correlation, and an argument in response must challenge those reasons.  The art of argumentation isn’t easy and few people can actually argue well. 🙂