Open Mind

True Grit

November 30, 2006 · 2 Comments

I keep tabs on global-warming related posts, and I noticed one today from Brit and Grit basically asking, “Where’s the evidence?” for global warming. So I posted a reply, pointing to some online sources of information. I received a very polite and thoughtful reply from “the Grit.” In it he (she?) mentions some of the reasons for his doubt:

There are questions as to the reliability of the historic data, various warming and cooling cycles prior to any influence by human activity, satellite observations that don’t correspond to ground measurements, and so on.

He then concludes that there’s no justification for action until further study is undertaken. Given the state of information made public in the USA on the subject, this is an entirely understandable opinion. It also concords with my own approach: healthy skepticism. I felt an especial empathy for his statement, because a mere two years ago I was of exactly the same opinion.

For me, the catalyst of doubt about global warming was learning of an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal by Harvard astronomers Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, casting doubt on temperature reconstructions for the last 1000 years or so (like the hockey stick). I knew of Dr. Baliunas’ — I have referenced her work in my own published papers — so her reputation alone was enough to make me doubt the reality of global warming. If that were all there was to it, I’d probably still be a skeptic.

But I too am a scientist. I’m not a climate scientist! But the paper by Soon & Baliunas (who aren’t climate scientists either) had to do with the analysis of data, and I am a mathematician, specializing in the statistical analysis of time series. That puts it right in my own backyard. So, I tracked down the original paper and read it. Frankly, I was appalled: the methodology of the analysis was so flawed, it would be generous to refer to it as “amateurish.” Apparently I’m not the only one to reach this conclusion: so did the referees who reviewed the article (peer review), who recommended rejecting it.

On that basis, the editorial staff decided not to publish. That’s when the publisher (not a scientist) intervened, insisting on publication anyway. That’s the publisher’s right; it’s his money. But it is an interference with the process of scientific peer review, which is why the editor-in-chief and four other editors of the journal resigned in protest. And this is not because of their favoritism toward global warming; the editor-in-chief, Hans von Storch, is one of the very few legitimate global warming skeptics in the scientific community (not a denialist, but a healthy skeptic).

I have since learned that Soon & Baliunas are paid consultants for the Marshall Institute, an ultra-conservative think tank in Washington D.C. It is my opinion that the Soon & Baliunas article was motivated by a desire to increase doubt in the public debate about global warming, by putting the stamp of “legitimate scientist” and “peer-reviewed journal” on documents denying global warming.

Now to the real point of this post: there is a coordinated, well-crafted effort, funded by ultraconservative groups and the fossil fuel industry, to sway public opinion. The main thrust of this effort is misinformation. And the general public cannot be expected to track down original papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, check the references, validate the numerical analysis, then evaluate the effectiveness of the arguments and legitimacy of the conclusions. Without a solid scientific background, that’s just too much to expect from the lay public.

So the Grit (who is not uninformed on the issue) sees contradictory arguments on all sides. It is entirely appropriate for a thoughtful, naturally skeptical individual to have plenty of doubt under such circumstances.

In my case, as a scientist I am familiar with scientific literature, I know how to track down references, and I’m very well-equipped to “run the numbers” for myself. So, the Soon & Baliunas article didn’t have the desired effect on me; quite the opposite! Before learning of that article, global warming was, for me, merely a curiosity. But their article spurred me to investigate the issue thoroughly; I’ve spent quite a bit of effort over the last two years learning as much as possible about the issue. What I have learned has so alarmed me, that I now consider global warming to be the single most important issue facing the human race today. And here I am, blogging away, hoping to persuade my fellow voters that global warming is certainly real, it’s certainly caused by human activity, and it’s almost certainly gonna be bad.

So, in future posts I hope to deal with all of the Grit’s causes for doubt. I’ve already posted about the reliability of the historic data. I’ll probably soon post about satellite observations that don’t correspond to ground measurements. And I invite interested readers (especially Grit and Brit) to suggest other sources of doubt about which they’d like more information.

But a note to those who are entrenched in their opinion and only want to ask questions in order to raise doubt, rather than raise awareness: don’t bother. I’m not interested in arguing with those who will not hear. But if you have an open mind, and you doubt that global warming is real and/or dangerous, feel free to post your primary sources of doubt.

Categories: Global Warming

2 responses so far ↓

  • britandgrit // December 3, 2006 at 1:56 pm | Reply

    Hi tamino,

    Nice post. I’m looking forward to more. One other thing I’d like to read your thoughts on, if the globe is warming, is it due to human activity?

    the Grit (male :)

  • the Brit // December 7, 2006 at 4:09 pm | Reply

    Hi Tamino

    Although I am from the UK, I have similar concerns to the Grit. However, in my case I would say that there are three key issues.

    1) With so much conflicting information it is extremely difficult to understand or even recognise the truth. For example, in the case of the Al Gore film, almost immediately, there were articles providing (so-called) factual evidence to say that in at least 25 aspects the film and book were incorrect.

    2) I see no evidence that the taxes etc that we pay here are being used for the prescibed purpose, namely globlal warming issues. Therefore there is a transparency issue. If it exists in this area, where can someone like me, find clear transparent and indisputable facts?

    3) The world and us are part of an evolutionary process. As such, has anyone taken into account the impact this may be having on global warming.

    Like the grit, I look forward to reading more of your posts, because it is important to know the truth of the issue and also, be aware what we as individuals can do about it, if anything. In addition it is important to me to know how to gain the truth from those who are supposed to be our leaders.


    The Brit

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