Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Question about Global Warming Comic

Rate this topic


DonAthos
 Share

Recommended Posts

Over the years, I've become aware that there are a number of people on this forum who are skeptical/critical of various "global warming" theories. (Significantly, I think I've noticed softwareNerd prominent among this group, who is both thoughtful and knowledgeable.)

I don't tend to discuss global warming much, because while I've done some to educate myself (e.g. reading Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist), I really don't have the kind of scientific background -- or the time, or the energy -- to fully investigate the ongoing debate in all of its myriad detail.

Recently, I was made aware of this comic. I find it quite striking. Though rhetorically powerful, it doesn't amount to an argument, per se, and it doesn't directly deal with any number of the arguments which normally pervade global warming discussion (like, how much observed warming is human-caused; what policies, if any, should be implemented to deal with it; etc.). So I wonder: is the information presented here genuine? Or do the current controversies over global warming extend to the data this comic represents?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

These guys just love their hockey sticks. Too bad that's not what happened:

in the 20th century, there were three periods:

1. dramatic global warming, until the mid 40s...all the way up to 0.5 degrees Celsius

2. global cooling, followed by constant temperatures into the late 1970s

3. another period of warming

Isn't it odd that this drawing (I can't call it a graph, because even with massive amounts of "adjusting", there's just no way for that line to represent actual data) never goes over 0 degrees Celsius, or shows any kind of mid century spike and consequent cooling?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember when the Marcott 2013 paper (used in the comic) came out, because it was by a student at Oregon State University.  It was reviewed extensively by Steve MnIntyre at Climate Audit and here.

As Nicky notes, there is no reference to the 1910 to 1940 warming, 1940 to 1970 cooling and the 1970 + warming.  In addition, it was not clear how he reconciled the paleo-data with current thermometer-based temperature data.  This prompted McIntyre to write a letter asking about a "1940 up-tick".  Here was Marcott's response (seen in the comments section of the above link):

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for the inquiry. Please note that we clearly state in paragraph 4 of the manuscript that the reconstruction over the past 60 yrs before present (the years 1890 − 1950 CE) is probably not robust because of the small number of datasets that go into the reconstruction over that time frame.

The data used in the reconstructions prior to the present is based on sediment cores.  Irrespective of whether or not this type of data is capable of representing a global average temperature (I don't believe it is), there were none the less, fundamental problems with the methodology of the reconstruction which, pretty much, invalidated it.

The NPR article is (surprisingly!) good.  You have to understand that the resolution of the sediment cores is so poor that it's impossible to detect temperature swings of less than 500 or 1,000 years.  This means that a 300 year warming or cooling period (such as the Medieval Warming period and the Little Ice Age) are - methodologically - not shown in the graph.   They are "smoothed" out.

Also, whenever you look at a global warming temperature graph, you have to understand that it's a temperature anomaly compared to a base-line (1960 to 1991 typically).  When you hear that by 2070 it will be 2 degree hotter, this means that the yearly averaged temperature will 2 degrees hotter compared to 1960 - 1991 - and not that every minute of every day will be 2 degrees hotter.  If the winters are slightly warmer than the base-line, then this would still qualify as "global warming".  Would you even notice such a thing?  No.  Especially since most temperature gauges are themselves subject to this type of margin of error.

Edited by New Buddha
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find the question of "smoothing" an interesting one. I don't think it's necessarily an inappropriate means of describing data: that depends on how the representation is subsequently conceived of and used. I think it's the difference of statistical averages versus the individual, or forests versus trees. Because we perhaps call a certain historical time period the "Dark Ages," that doesn't mean that there weren't bright spots, and during the Renaissance there was plenty of darkness. But considering them on the whole perhaps justifies their respective appellations, so long as the methodology of concocting them is considered and preserved in our conceptualization, and so long as we do not apply such generalizations deductively to specific cases, where it might not be appropriate or applicable.

If one's (rhetorical) point is to show something trending up, and if it is in fact trending up, and if one "smooths" the data to demonstrate that unambiguously, then I don't necessarily count that as dishonest so long as 1) the method is understood/communicated, and 2) the results of this "smoothing" is not then used to imply that the trend was unbroken or regular (i.e. we cannot reliably infer particular data points from the plotted line).

The educational value of such "smoothing" may well be called into question, because if we cannot observe irregularities in the data (those points which conflict with the "trend" being presented), it may disincline us from probing into particular causal relationships. But on the other hand, I think such "smoothing" or simplification can help us to observe large patterns, and perhaps discover other, more fundamental causal relationships.

Anyways, here are my takeaways from this comic: that temperatures are indeed increasing (perhaps towards values that we have not encountered in civilized existence); that the rate at which they are doing so is fairly unprecedented (though here, the question of how we determine earlier temperatures is vital: if earlier global temperatures potentially spiked and fell as rapidly as what we currently observe, notwithstanding cataclysm [like large meteorite impacts], I think that would be meaningful to my interpretation of this comic); that the difference of a few degrees is not negligible (if four degrees colder, Celsius, means the difference between Boston being habitable or covered in ice, it perhaps becomes necessary to ask -- as temperatures grow warmer, and rapidly -- what four degrees warmer potentially implies).

Is the information the comic conveys so skewed/unreliable/false that these conclusions are unwarranted or unsupportable, in reality?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

44 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

Is the information the comic conveys so skewed/unreliable/false that these conclusions are unwarranted or unsupportable, in reality?

You have to think about what is being said by the data and what is inferred from it.

The "data" says that the Earth's temperature has risen at a fairly slow rate over the millennium, until the mid-20th Century - at which point we see a dramatic and unprecedented rise in temperature over a very short period of time.  It is inferred that this can only be explained by the release of CO2 via industrialization.

Do I think that over the millennium the temperature has increased?  Sure.  But the post 1950 "dramatic" up-tick is not dramatic or unprecedented.  We have evidence in the thermometer based temperature record (as poor and as short as it is) going back to the late 1800's that there appears to be a 30 year warming, 30 year cooling cycle - probably tied to Ocean Currents.   And the rate of the post 1970 warming is not "unprecedented" - it matches the rate of warming in the 1910-1940 cycle.   And, per the 1960-1991 base line, there has been no warming since around the year 2000 - except for a 1998 El Nino year which was warmer than usual, and a warm 2010 year.  Much of the claims about how warm the last 10 years have been are based on a different base line and/or starting date.  This is easy to do to manipulate how a graph looks.

The historical data (per my understanding) is derived from the sedimentary layering of a type of plankton.  It is inferred that the thicker the layer, the warmer the period - due to an increase in growth attributed to warming.  But can this data be used to represent a global average temperature?  And is it proper to graft the modern thermometer temperature record on to this other type of data?  This latter question is what is explored on the Climate Audit web site.

From one of the Climategate emails:

If you look at the attached plot you will see that the land also shows the 1940s blip (as I'm sure you know). So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 degC, then this would be significant for the global mean — but we'd still have to explain the land blip. I've chosen 0.15 here deliberately. This still leaves an ocean blip, and i think one needs to have some form of ocean blip to explain the land blip (via either some common forcing, or ocean forcing land, or vice versa, or all of these). When you look at other blips, the land blips are 1.5 to 2 times (roughly) the ocean blips — higher sensitivity plus thermal inertia effects. My 0.15 adjustment leaves things consistent with this, so you can see where I am coming from. Removing ENSO does not affect this. It would be good to remove at least part of the 1940s blip, but we are still left with "why the blip". Let me go further. If you look at NH vs SH and the aerosol effect (qualitatively or with MAGICC) then with a reduced ocean blip we get continuous warming in the SH, and a cooling in the NH — just as one would expect with mainly NH aerosols. The other interesting thing is (as Foukal et al. note — from MAGICC) that the 1910-40 warming cannot be solar. The Sun can get at most 10% of this with Wang et al solar, less with Foukal solar. So this may well be NADW, as Sarah and I noted in 1987 (and also Schlesinger later). A reduced SST blip in the 1940s makes the 1910-40 warming larger than the SH (which it currently is not) — but not really enough. So ... why was the SH so cold around 1910? Another SST problem? (SH/NH data also attached.) This stuff is in a report I am writing for EPRI, so I'd appreciate any comments you (and Ben) might have. Tom.

Edited by New Buddha
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Anyways, here are my takeaways from this comic: that temperatures are indeed increasing (perhaps towards values that we have not encountered in civilized existence); that the rate at which they are doing so is fairly unprecedented...

IF the criticism in the NPR article holds up, I don't see how this follows.

cartoon_gw.png

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's a question that has less to do with the science and more with the character of the people behind it:

When Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth came out, making a series of demonstrably false claims (that even Al Gore has since admitted were intentionally exaggerated), and saying that his proof is climate science, all the climate scientists had the chance to publicly stand up against those lies. They didn't.

If I was a scientist, and the former VP of the United States had just won an Oscar for a movie spreading falsehoods about my research, I would consider it my moral obligation to publicly correct him.

Why didn't they? And what does that say about their character and trustworthiness? Or, if they actually believed the stuff in Gore's movie, what does that say about their whole "science"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, New Buddha said:

You have to think about what is being said by the data and what is inferred from it.

The "data" says that the Earth's temperature has risen at a fairly slow rate over the millennium, until the mid-20th Century - at which point we see a dramatic and unprecedented rise in temperature over a very short period of time.  It is inferred that this can only be explained by the release of CO2 via industrialization.

But there are (at least) two separate questions here. First, we can ask whether it's true that we've seen a dramatic and unprecedented rise in temperature over a very short period of time, and then (if that's true) we can investigate causes -- whether this has to do with industrialization, flatulent cows, solar flares, or whatever else.

My initial interest is less about causes and what you say is inferred here (and there's no question you're right -- that's the comic artist's clear belief and inference), and it's more about the underlying material. Is it true that we've experienced a dramatic and unprecedented rise in temperature over a very short period of time?

If that isn't true, then I don't think there's anything more to discuss. (Except for how to deal with the misinformation of global warming advocates.)

3 hours ago, New Buddha said:

Do I think that over the millennium the temperature has increased?  Sure.  But the post 1950 "dramatic" up-tick is not dramatic or unprecedented.

What I'm looking at and referring to is the solid line portion of the comic, which appears to start ~1850 and continues to today (leaving out the future projections). As presented in the comic at least, that rate of change in that amount of time does not appear to have an equal along any other section of the graph.

What I believe I'm hearing here -- someone please correct me if I'm wrong -- is that this is pure propaganda. That our understanding of the past is limited such that we don't know what the temperatures were like before, and we cannot rightly compare our current measurements against the kinds of measurements we are able to perform, to assess older temperatures.

3 hours ago, New Buddha said:

The historical data (per my understanding) is derived from the sedimentary layering of a type of plankton.  It is inferred that the thicker the layer, the warmer the period - due to an increase in growth attributed to warming.  But can this data be used to represent a global average temperature?

This is the kind of thing I feel incompetent to address. I don't know how to assess a "global average temperature," either today or in the past, or how to compare the findings of various methodologies (or whether it is even possible to compare them fairly).

2 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

IF the criticism in the NPR article holds up, I don't see how this follows.

cartoon_gw.png

I agree that this is the nature both of this comic, and many other graphs besides. I remember (though long ago) in math class, learning to plot a line through the average of data points. The line wouldn't necessarily hit any of the data points, yet it reflected the trend -- which can be harder to see when simply presented with your first picture, for instance. So I think that's the advantage of the line in your third picture; the "smoothing," the simplicity of the line, is not a criticism, but it reflects the value of plotting such a line, in making what is potentially a mass of visual information more comprehensible.

I think that the criticism offered by the NPR article speaks primarily to the difficulty between comparing our modern measurements (which track ups and downs with far greater regularity/granularity, akin to your first picture) versus our means to measure past ages, which provides far fewer data points. Let me expand on this a bit. If I'm understanding this correctly (and I recognize I may not be), we have solid, reliable data on what temperatures were like (howsoever we measure them) in 1960 and also in 1970. Even if we mean to plot a "smooth," straight line between them (averaging, while not hitting, the bumps and dips in 1961, 1962, 1963, etc.), we can do so based on our knowledge of all of the temperatures in between.

Through other means, we also have a general idea about what temperatures were like in past ages... but we don't have nearly the kind of data that we do of modern times. So we may have an idea of what temperatures were in 1000 BC (through many rigorous, scientific means, no doubt), and what temperatures were in 900 BC, and we may understand what must have taken place between them in general terms, but we don't know specifically what 990 BC versus 980 BC were like because we lack the means of differentiating between them, given the limits of our current method of data collection.

Now, I suppose that it's possible that what looks smooth on the graph in the past really was a wild series of extremes that our current means of collecting simply have failed to record. If we don't have the requisite data to deny it, then we can regard such a scenario as possible at least? (Sort of like asking about the "missing links" between what we have in the current fossil record.) But wouldn't the preferred approach be to look at what data we do have, according to our best collection processes, and then try to make the best inferences that we can from that data? If we know (roughly, to the extent that we do, and I'm taking a lot for granted here, I know) what temperatures were like in 1000 BC, and if we know what temperatures were like in 900 BC, then even granting that there were probably any number of rises and falls along the way, accounting to various natural processes, doesn't it make sense to expect that there was something like a gentle slope between them, on average?

I'm sure that there were probably phenomena that did result in dramatic spikes and/or dips, at various times. I mentioned the possibility of a meteor strike, which I think would hold up, despite my ignorance of climate science. But absent knowledge of such violent events, and without factual data to suggest otherwise, why would we suppose that there were such erratic temperature events? Don't we start with the evidence we have and go from there (even if this risks error and future discovery)?

If we have evidence that temperatures have moved thus, over the last 150 years, and no current evidence that temperatures have moved so much (absent catastrophic event) so quickly before, then isn't the proper provisional conclusion that this is -- so far as we know -- unprecedented? (Or is there evidence that such large swings as represented by the comic's solid line have taken place before, naturally, which is simply not represented by the comic due to its "smoothing"?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

SN

That picture says it all.  Selective ignorance (not necessarily voluntary) can give rise to the cartoon.

Well, it goes both ways. It is surprising, in general, how bad people are at reading graphs or sets of data. People either make exaggerated projections from limited inferences, or put inconvenient outliers as bad data. Nothing is -wrong- with the graph. Yes, you would "smooth" data with a mean, or a logarithmic scale, or the center of a bell curve and difference from it. To be sure, it wouldn't tell us what is natural, but we'd identify deviations from the norm. The graph with lots of variability isn't "more accurate", it's just more detailed. If you know WHAT is abstracted away to go to the smoothed graph, all is good.

As far as presentation, to prevent erroneous interpretation you seem to speak of, showing a non-smoothed graph beside the smoothed one helps a lot.

Edited by Eiuol
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

The graph with lots of variability isn't "more accurate", it's just more detailed. If you know WHAT is abstracted away to go to the smoothed graph, all is good.

But the premise behind catastrophic global warming alarmism is that the RATE of warming in the 2nd have of the 20th Century is unprecedented, and can only be explained by a "forcing" i.e. an increase in CO2 which amplifies the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere (the true dominate greenhouse gas).

It has been warmer in the past than it is now.  But if modern warming occurred at a RATE that is unprecedented, then there might be cause for concern.  Think of the difference between leaving a pot of water on the counter and letting it slowly reach room temperature, and placing a pot on the stove with the burner turned on.  The AGW position is that the CO2 released into the atmosphere in the 2nd half of the 20th Century is the equivalent of a turned on stove top and that the overwhelming majority of the observed warming is due to the CO2.

The comic has two different data sets.  The historical paleo-data that does not and is not capable of showing a rate of change with a resolution comparable to the modern one (decadal).  This is why the comic is dishonest and misleading.  Edit:  And this is just methodologically wrong, and has nothing to do with whether or not historical temperature data is/was "adjusted" per the email I quote above.

 

Edited by New Buddha
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@DonAthos:  NewBuddha provided the details.
Philosophically, if we have to make a default assumption about the past, then it seems reasonable to start by assuming it was pretty similar to the present. Better still, assume nothing unless we have some relevant data about the past. 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 minute ago, softwareNerd said:

@DonAthos:  NewBuddha provided the details.

What details? In reference to what? I don't know what this means.

1 minute ago, softwareNerd said:

Philosophically, if we have to make a default assumption about the past, then it seems reasonable to start by assuming it was pretty similar to the present.

Probably we have to approach the past according to our understanding of the present world, yes. But then we can move beyond assumption when and where we have data. For instance, according to that comic, the Northwest Passage is open, which is presented as something of a novel event (maybe not unprecedented in the history of the world, but I believe it has not been the case for quite some time, at least).

That's either true or false, it is or it isn't. (And if it's false, then so be it, let the record be corrected, my underlying meaning is the same) While we may not have a complete historical record such that we can answer with no possibility for error that -- yes, even when we weren't looking, the Northwest Passage remained closed to naval travel... but it recently opened -- we do have some amount of data that we can use to make an inference here.

1 minute ago, softwareNerd said:

Better still, assume nothing unless we have some relevant data about the past.

But... we do have "relevant data about the past" -- right? Isn't that what the comic means to display? That is the data we have (to the extent that the comic presents that data faithfully). The inferences and extrapolations we make from that data is not bald "assumption," and it is horrible advice to "assume nothing" in the sense that we ought not make any inferences or extrapolations from what data we have.

You can want for more data (we all do, and scientists are working hard to acquire it), and you can be critical of the means of data collection (if you have the scientific wherewithal to judge such matters), but you can't nix the entire project of trying to understand the past for the reason that our data about the past is incomplete. It is, always has been, and always will be incomplete. If we are to understand the past at all, and use that understanding in our present circumstances, then we have to fill in the gaps of our knowledge, as best as we know how.

I mentioned "missing links" earlier, and it seems to me that your approach to this data is similar to that of those who questioned the theory of evolution due to the supposed paucity of the fossil record. "But where are the missing links?" they would ask. And then every time we found another fossil, there were new gaps to be answered for, new supposedly missing links. It was a thirst that could never be satisfied, because obviously we would never manage to find a complete fossil record. "Assumptions" had to be made to account for those times and places where we did not have fossils.

Is that what's going on here? We have data about temperature in 1000 BC and 500 BC, let's say, but we don't know about 750 BC. So then we get information about 750, but still we don't know about 825 or 675. And on it goes. At what point will we have enough information about the past such that we can construct a chart like this to your satisfaction?

Or to put it another way: suppose it was the case that our global temperature was rising in an unprecedented fashion. Forget what you think this implies in terms of potential political response, or whatever it might cost to deal with, or what it might mean to you personally -- but just suppose that this is what's happening on Earth at the moment. How would you propose we discover that fact? What would we do to determine that it is the case, and at what point would you be satisfied that we had established it? (Or do you think it's impossible to determine, without a complete historical record of climate change?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, New Buddha said:

The comic has two different data sets.  The historical paleo-data that does not and is not capable of showing a rate of change with a resolution comparable to the modern one (decadal).  This is why the comic is dishonest and misleading.  Edit:  And this is just methodologically wrong, and has nothing to do with whether or not historical temperature data is/was "adjusted" per the email I quote above.

It's only misleading if we don't think about the data. It isn't misleading, unless we assume people are too stupid to know how to read a graph and the data it represents. It's not dishonest, as reading a graph really does take some specialized knowledge in the field. Also, it takes some good skill with understanding what data is. I see the visual, and my thinking is that "oh, there are, in terms of measuring average temperatures, data shows a greater trend of rapid average temperatures, compared to periods of time where less data is available but best approximations are made".

Looks methodologically fine to me, if we keep in mind that the point is to see lots of data at once. The point of the graph, or any graph, is to SEE where data looks weird. More recent data IS weird compared to what we know about the past. I don't think it's due to widespread bad data practices, so we'd look for explanations of change, or what you would need to see about the past for it to trend as we measure today. If this were for a detailed book on climate science, it wouldn't be appropriate - it takes out too much to prove a theory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

55 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

It's only misleading....

See the graphs in SoftwareNerd's post .  What they demonstrate is that if the Medieval Warm period were, in fact, warmer than today's temperatures, they would not show up as so.  The third graph on the right shows the modern era "up-tick" that is still "colder" than the past.  But, because the past has been "smoothed" by a running average, and the current temperatures have not, it leads one to believe that the Medieval period was cooler than the present when in fact it was warmer.  This is what is misleading.

Edit: If you could continue the running average to the present, then the modern "up-tick" would also be smoothed out.  Meaning that it would "disappear" just like the Medieval Warm Period.

Edited by New Buddha
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

We have data about temperature in 1000 BC and 500 BC, let's say, but we don't know about 750 BC.

Why do you think we would have data for certain specific points in time like this? If we could know the temperature in 1000 BC and in 500 BC, why would we not also use the same mechanism to figure out what it was in 750 BC ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

Why do you think we would have data for certain specific points in time like this? If we could know the temperature in 1000 BC and in 500 BC, why would we not also use the same mechanism to figure out what it was in 750 BC ?

First, to emphasize something I've previously said, I don't have any knowledge of the actual science involved, beyond that of a not-very-informed layperson. I'm no scientist. (So far as I know, no one else here is a scientist either -- but I could be wrong about that. Because others here seem much more passionate about the subject than I consider myself, I would not be surprised if I were the least informed one on this subject currently contributing to the thread; that is, in part, why I came with questions.)

When I talk about 1000 BC or 500 BC, I'm being a touch flippant and also applying some of the "smoothing" discussed earlier, though very informally. I don't believe that we have some means of determining, say, the noontime temperature on March 18, 1000 BC in Leeds, England, in the shade.

But what I believe is that we have data in the form of information from a variety of scientific disciplines, collected by many thousands of people over hundreds of years, including geology, botany, biology, archaeology/paleontology, meteorology, astronomy, and etc., all of which can be cross-referenced to help paint a portrait of an earlier time (perhaps in conjunction with recorded history -- especially in the case of something so recent as 500 BC, or even 1000 BC), including the climate. When we're discussing climate specifically as the focus of our study, our conclusions must draw on all of these disciplines -- all of the information that they provide -- and contradict none of them. This strikes me, the layperson, as a monumental undertaking, and my ability to assess what conclusions scientists working in the field have come to, with regards to climate change in the near or distant past, is minuscule.

So no, strictly speaking, I don't think we have some slice of hard data for 1000 BC and some slice for 500 BC, and then (for the purposes of our graph) we draw some line between them. Instead, I think that we have data from all of the disciplines I've mentioned, and possibly more, drawn as well as possible from the historical record (which means: patchy and rough) and we form hypotheses and models which attempt to explain them, according to all that we know (which are then subject to revision as we learn more, as we always will). I believe (without much hard knowledge, so I am particularly open to correction in these areas) that this represents the data we currently have about the past -- the data represented, again, in that comic -- which some in this thread appear to reject out of hand.

It is hard for me, thus far, to see this as something other than a rejection of science, and an analogue to how creationists have rejected the science undergirding evolution, or the history/timeline of the universe, and etc. It would be one thing if the creator of the comic were simply making things up, or if he were misrepresenting the data somehow. But so far, it seems like he's simply representing the data that we do have, and the critiques are focused on how that data is incomplete, or how it oughtn't be compared to modern data, or how it oughtn't be represented by such a "smooth" line, or how we ought not draw certain inferences/conclusions from it, or etc.

But we will never have "complete data" of the past and it will never be possible to go back in time and take measurements with the kind of precision we're capable of today, so unless the answer is that we can never assess earlier climate change, and that it is never appropriate to try to compare what's happened in the past to what's going on today, then it seems to me that the best that science can do is the best that we can do. Models may be imprecise or otherwise poorly made or have incomplete (or even bad) data -- all of which could, and should, be hashed out by the people who have the proper expertise -- but I cannot agree with a rejection of modelling, as such. Or if you have something superior to modelling to offer, based on incomplete data, for the purpose of understanding the past (for the purpose of projecting into the future), I'm all ears.

Beyond that -- and again, I invite correction, but now I'm growing doubtful that any is coming on this score -- it seems as though we have evidence of a fast change of temperature in the recent past, and no evidence of any similar fast change of temperature going back at least 20,000 years (which means: for all of recorded human history, plus some). Perhaps the evidence for something like that is out there, somewhere, but if it exists to one day be found, I expect it will be a scientist who finds it (Nicky's moral condemnation of the scientific community notwithstanding).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, DonAthos said:

First, to emphasize something I've previously said, I don't have any knowledge of the actual science involved, beyond that of a not-very-informed layperson.

Of course a layman cannot explore the details to the Nth degree. Heck, even most scientists in the field cannot explore the details within the work of others in their field if it is a different sub-field. It is fair to take the government's recommendation that fat is killing you, and that carbs are the way to go. Who would say that individuals have a general responsibility (to themselves) to question everything and even end up rejecting majority scientific consensus?

However, a layman who is as thoughtful as most Objectivists are would do well to understand the context and overall epistemology of modern science.  Secondly, a layman can have legitimate reasons to be interested in peeling back a layer or two in a particular scientific topic. 

For starters, this is a cartoon and -- in principle -- it could all be made up; but the XKCD cartoonist has a good (and well-earned) reputation for his info-graphics. Still, if one wants to think about it, the first step would be to go beyond the cartoon. Perhaps a first step would be to look at the Wikipedia or to Google, to understand whether the cartoonist is reflecting one paper by one scientist, or some type of consensus drawn from botany, paleontology and so on.

Secondly, the key is to ask what is being depicted, and what's the argument being made. For instance, let's put to bed the question: is the world warmer today? I think you mentioned in one of your posts that some folk here would answer that as a "no". I doubt it. How can that question be answered at all? Would anyone here deny that the Earth was once fire and brimstone? On the other hand would anyone here deny that the earth has had ice ages? I know there are probably some kooky folk on the internet who will say anything, but you'd be hard pressed to find any "skeptic" sites that are not obviously crazy and are arguing that the temperature today is cooler than it ever was.

If you're interested in the topic, I suggest that wherever you have said "I believe" in your posts above, you do some Googling to figure out the next level of detail. For instance, one of the posters above made a pretty surprising claim: that the cartoon is based on a single Phd thesis, not on general scientific majority opinion, and that when the scientist was questioned he said that the reconstruction for the last few years (the whole point) "is probably not robust". If that poster's claim is true, and if the majority opinion actually does not support the cartoon, would you argue the way you did above?

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

For instance, one of the posters above made a pretty surprising claim: that the cartoon is based on a single Phd thesis, not on general scientific majority opinion, and that when the scientist was questioned he said that the reconstruction for the last few years (the whole point) "is probably not robust". If that poster's claim is true, and if the majority opinion actually does not support the cartoon, would you argue the way you did above?

To be clear, the cartoon references Shakun et al (2012), Marcott et al (2013), Annon and Hargrave (2013) and HADCRUT4, IPCC. (HADCRUT4 is the fourth temperature reconstruction of the Hadley Climate Research Unit, managed by Phil Jones [the receipient in the Climategate email that is discussing how to get rid of the 1940 "blip"].

I do have training in  architecture/geotechnical, civil, structural, electrical, mechanical, acoustical and traffic engineering and have worked on a daily basis with engineers for over two decades.  I employ scientific modeling as part of my job, and I also review scientific models by engineers that I hire.  I am not an anti-science "creationist".  In fact, my interest in Climate Change was driven by the growing number of Clients who wanted "sustainable" zero-carbon buildings and the enactment of very strict energy codes in Oregon and Washington State.  Carbon neutral buildings and alternate forms of sustainable energy (PV, Wind, Geothermal, etc.) add a great deal of cost to a buildings, and I felt a need to be informed when discussing such options with Clients.  This just happened to coincide with the release of the Climategate emails in 2009.  Prior to that, I pretty much just accepted what I was told.

With specific regards to the cartoon, there is a misleading change in units that is not made clear in the chart.  Prior to the 20th Century, the running average was on the order of centuries.  Post 20th Century, a switch is made to a decadel running average.  These are spliced together without clearly stating so.  I saw this immediately, even before I read the NPR link.  From the NPR link:

But the dotted line comes from computer models — from scientists reconstructingEarth's surface temperature. This gives us very, very coarse information. It averages Earth's temperature over hundreds of years. So we can see temperature fluctuations that occur only over longer periods of time, like a thousand years or so. Any upticks, spikes or dips that occur in shorter time frames get smoothed out.

So in a way the graphic is really comparing apples and oranges: measurements of the recent past versus reconstructions of more ancient times.

In fact, if you take the modeling method used to create the dotted line and extend it all the way out to the present, the recent spike in Earth's temperature would be partly smoothed. Kevin Anchukaitis, a paleoclimatogist at the University of Arizona, ran that exact experiment Tuesday and showed his results on Twitter.

 

The comic is not reconstructed from any more data than the ones referenced in the studies above.  And they are all paleo -data (except for the HADCRUT4).

BUT, as I stated above, irregardless of whether or not you accept the validity of paleo data (ice cores, tree rings, sediment, etc.) you can critique the methodology behind the reconstruction.  This is what the person who wrote the NPR article did.

 

Edited by New Buddha
Link to comment
Share on other sites

48 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

Of course a layman cannot explore the details to the Nth degree. Heck, even most scientists in the field cannot explore the details within the work of others in their field if it is a different sub-field. It is fair to take the government's recommendation that fat is killing you, and that carbs are the way to go. Who would say that individuals have a general responsibility (to themselves) to question everything and even end up rejecting majority scientific consensus?

However, a layman who is as thoughtful as most Objectivists are would do well to understand the context and overall epistemology of modern science.  Secondly, a layman can have legitimate reasons to be interested in peeling back a layer or two in a particular scientific topic.

All of this is true. The creation of this thread, with a reading of sufficient benevolence, might even be understood as "peeling back a layer" of this particular scientific topic. Our ongoing conversation within the thread, too -- this very sentence.

48 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

For starters, this is a cartoon and -- in principle -- it could all be made up; but the XKCD cartoonist has a good (and well-earned) reputation for his info-graphics. Still, if one wants to think about it, the first step would be to go beyond the cartoon. Perhaps a first step would be to look at the Wikipedia or to Google, to understand whether the cartoonist is reflecting one paper by one scientist, or some type of consensus drawn from botany, paleontology and so on.

Yes. Or a layman could enroll in a course at his local community college, or pursue any other course for addressing his particular ignorance. Some approaches may be more or less advisable than others, perhaps, but as for my own course of action, it was selected to fit within my own personal context. Creating this thread for the purpose of discussing the comic was my choice.

Among the variables factoring into that decision include my participation in this community (wanting to create discussion on topics for other members to participate), knowing that the members of this community are thinkers of a particular stripe (with a philosophical perspective that I am apt to share), knowing that certain members -- including yourself -- already have a developed perspective with respect to global warming, and presumably (or hopefully), therefore, some pertinent information.

Perhaps you're right -- perhaps I should have gone to Wikipedia instead. But feeling the rhetorical force of the comic, and knowing that there is a community of people disinclined to reject the inferences intended by that comic, I wanted to query those people about that seeming disconnect, to try to understand it (meaning: more than the comic itself, but also the perspective of those who reject the message its creator intends to send). That's not a perspective I'm likely to find on Wikipedia, and even if I did, I wouldn't have a back-and-forth discussion to probe it (the conversations I find in the Wiki "talk" pages do not much inspire me, and I don't think they are geared towards philosophical exploration anyways).

So here, within this thread, at every step along the way, I have tried my best to participate in the discussion to the extent that I'm able. The responses I've found have discussed "smoothing" and data collection, and so forth, and so I've attempted to respond to each of those in their turn, again, to the extent that I am able. I find it frustrating that each of these threads seem to get dropped almost as soon as I respond to them, instead replaced with new questions (which I am then expected to answer, even as the questions I ask lie unanswered), and here a critique of my approach to self-education (based at least in as much ignorance of me, and my life, as my approach to the topic of global warming).

48 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

Secondly, the key is to ask what is being depicted, and what's the argument being made. For instance, let's put to bed the question: is the world warmer today? I think you mentioned in one of your posts that some folk here would answer that as a "no". I doubt it. How can that question be answered at all? Would anyone here deny that the Earth was once fire and brimstone? On the other hand would anyone here deny that the earth has had ice ages? I know there are probably some kooky folk on the internet who will say anything, but you'd be hard pressed to find any "skeptic" sites that are not obviously crazy and are arguing that the temperature today is cooler than it ever was.

I'm not sure what you're referring to, off-hand, when you say that I expected people here would deny that the world is "warmer" today, or growing warmer. Perhaps you could quote what you're referring to specifically?

But when you say "how can that question be answered at all," I find myself again at a loss. The comic shows a warming trend -- yes? The inference (which is a secondary consideration) is that such a warming trend is noteworthy, in part, because a few degrees on this scale may have significant consequences for human life on Earth. Not that there were never warmer periods, per se.

To look at this another way, yes there have been ice ages, and indeed the comic mentions that Boston was once under ice. (A claim which is either true or false. If it is false, I would like to know it.) So if we detected a significant cooling trend, one which -- according to our best understanding (i.e. the best that we can do, given our current knowledge, technology, etc.) -- would drop us down four degrees centigrade on that scale... well, that would be important information, well worth discussing, and perhaps even representing on a comic like this. Not because it would make Earth the coldest it has ever been, but because people live in Boston, and that would become much more difficult if Boston were again buried under ice.

So anyways, I'm not asking whether the temperature today is warmer or cooler than it ever was, but I am asking whether the warming trend as demonstrated in the comic is true.

48 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

If you're interested in the topic, I suggest that wherever you have said "I believe" in your posts above, you do some Googling to figure out the next level of detail. For instance, one of the posters above made a pretty surprising claim: that the cartoon is based on a single Phd thesis, not on general scientific majority opinion, and that when the scientist was questioned he said that the reconstruction for the last few years (the whole point) "is probably not robust". If that poster's claim is true, and if the majority opinion actually does not support the cartoon, would you argue the way you did above?

When I make explicit the "I believe" (which implicitly attaches to every claim a man might make), it is an invitation to contest. If the cartoon is based on a single thesis, then it is as good as that thesis, which is neither necessarily better nor worse than "general scientific majority opinion." However, I have been led to believe that those who "deny" global warming generally are not instep with "general scientific majority opinion," either, so I don't know why that should be raised here as the seeming gold standard.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

21 hours ago, DonAthos said:

The creation of this thread, ... "peeling back a layer" of this particular scientific topic.

Sure, I didn't mean to imply that you should not create a thread and discuss it with people who think they've already read enough of the Wiki etc. to give you a summarized version. At this point, I'd specifically suggest you skim over the Wiki article on Paleoclimatology to get some context for the cartoon.

Let me try a reboot of the topic:

The critique of the cartoon requires very little knowledge of global warming.

My first problem with this cartoon comes with zero knowledge of GW. Let's assume it is not just a cartoon; but, means to be an infographic. Then, by any reasonably objective standard of graphical presentation it breaks a key rule of condensing information. A good picture is like a well-chosen concept: it should help us summarize the underlying information and think about it as a unit. With rare exceptions, this means it should present a picture that is viewable as a whole. (People will resort to multiple pictures, and insets showing where a child picture belongs in the big view and all that is great.) But, here, the cartoonist makes the viewer scroll, and the mind is really unable to form the big picture. In my opinion, this is done because the cartoonist wanted to steer away from an objective presentation to a rhetorical, polemic one.

What would it look like if we scaled the cartoon down and played with the aspect-ratio (because these are things that infographic folks use to push viewers one way or the other) ? I've done that, and also rotated it 90 degrees to be in a more familiar format where time is on the X-axis. See the attached graphic. 

The second problem (the one primarily addressed by responses to your post above) is not even visible at the "stepping away" scale in the chart I've attached. Zooming in we can see what looks like a little spike. However, it is the typical type of short-duration spike one would see in any such data series. If we were to know the details of the past, it is pretty likely the whole of the past is made up of just such "spikes". 

I prefer to keep my focus on the above two alone. Personally, I find it difficult to respond to forum posts that too many different points. My personal preference is to explore down a single branch, and then (perhaps) come back later to go down the next route. 

So, the following is not my focus, and I'd rather stick with the above two points:

21 hours ago, DonAthos said:

The comic shows a warming trend -- yes?

One cannot speak of a trend in a time-series without specifying a time-span. If I translate this question to: is there a warming trend from 20000 BC to today, the answer is yes. But, why choose 20000 BC? What if I chose to start at 5000 BC instead (to counter the rhetorical point)? In that case, you'd be hard pressed to find any trend at all. Or, I could start at 1000 BC and I'd see a bit of a warming trend but nowhere near what happened between 20000 BC and 5000 BC. [All this is with reference only to the data in the cartoon itself; for other paleoclimate information, check the Wiki page referenced above.]

The XKCD Cartoon rescaled.png

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
On 9/18/2016 at 6:31 AM, softwareNerd said:

Sure, I didn't mean to imply that you should not create a thread and discuss it with people who think they've already read enough of the Wiki etc. to give you a summarized version. At this point, I'd specifically suggest you skim over the Wiki article on Paleoclimatology to get some context for the cartoon.

I understand and agree with the critique that our methods of assessing ancient climates (or even more recent ones) is fraught; but don't we have to proceed based on the best methods we currently have available to us? Today's science may well be overthrown by tomorrow's science, but what better option is there today apart from the cutting edge of today's science, however sharp or dull it may be?

On 9/18/2016 at 6:31 AM, softwareNerd said:

Let me try a reboot of the topic:

The critique of the cartoon requires very little knowledge of global warming.

My first problem with this cartoon comes with zero knowledge of GW. Let's assume it is not just a cartoon; but, means to be an infographic. Then, by any reasonably objective standard of graphical presentation it breaks a key rule of condensing information. A good picture is like a well-chosen concept: it should help us summarize the underlying information and think about it as a unit. With rare exceptions, this means it should present a picture that is viewable as a whole. (People will resort to multiple pictures, and insets showing where a child picture belongs in the big view and all that is great.) But, here, the cartoonist makes the viewer scroll, and the mind is really unable to form the big picture. In my opinion, this is done because the cartoonist wanted to steer away from an objective presentation to a rhetorical, polemic one.

I don't doubt that the cartoonist had rhetorical, polemic ends... but then, so too have some of the best thinkers and artists I've enjoyed, and I don't discount the information they present for that reason. In trying to assess this cartoon, and through it the global warming debate, I don't think it's as important to me as to whether or not this cartoon succeeds as an "infographic" as whether or not the information it purports to present is accurate. (Again: according to our best current science.)

If the information is inaccurate (meaning: it contradicts our current science), then I can dismiss the cartoon and its rhetorical ends entirely, whether we consider it to be a proper "infographic" or anything else.

On 9/18/2016 at 6:31 AM, softwareNerd said:

What would it look like if we scaled the cartoon down and played with the aspect-ratio (because these are things that infographic folks use to push viewers one way or the other) ? I've done that, and also rotated it 90 degrees to be in a more familiar format where time is on the X-axis. See the attached graphic. 

The second problem (the one primarily addressed by responses to your post above) is not even visible at the "stepping away" scale in the chart I've attached. Zooming in we can see what looks like a little spike. However, it is the typical type of short-duration spike one would see in any such data series. If we were to know the details of the past, it is pretty likely the whole of the past is made up of just such "spikes".

If we were to know about the past in greater detail, I agree that it's possible that there would be spikes and dips (I'm not yet certain how precisely to assess whether this is "pretty likely" or not). Presumably those spikes and dips would each have some reason for occurring, and then our climate science -- to the best of our ability -- would attempt to ferret out those reasons.

Isn't that the process?

If, now, we observe some spike in our current climate (if that's true, which I don't yet take for granted), and if we believe ourselves to have some reasoning to explain it (even while subject to shortcomings in our best methodology, the available record, and subject to future amendment)... well, again, isn't that the scientific process, as it always has been and must be? Honestly, I would love to find grounds to be a "global warming skeptic," or to dismiss those sorts of claims entirely. I have no sympathy with what appears to be the underlying philosophy of many global warming advocates, and even less with their political ends. But if I am to dismiss what seems to be the current scientific consensus (or is purported as such, at any rate), I want there to be some reason more significant and defensible than what currently appears to me to be a general skepticism against science.

I'm now going to repeat myself in asking questions I'd asked before, which (so far as I can tell) drew no response. I'm hopeful that you'll now respond to this, because I think it gets at my frustration with this discussion:

Suppose it was the case that our global temperature was rising in an unprecedented fashion. Forget what you think this implies in terms of potential political response, or whatever it might cost to deal with, or what it might mean to you personally -- but just suppose that this is what's happening on Earth at the moment. How would you propose we discover that fact? What would we do to determine that it is the case, and at what point would you be satisfied that we had established it? (Or do you think it's impossible to determine, without a complete historical record of climate change?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Suppose it was the case that our global temperature was rising in an unprecedented fashion... How would you propose we discover that fact? What would we do to determine that it is the case, and at what point would you be satisfied that we had established it? (Or do you think it's impossible to determine, without a complete historical record of climate change?)

I have no reason to doubt the paleoclimatology data that I linked to above (Wiki article contains various charts), as long as one recognizes that there's a degree of error involved, particularly because the very concept "global temperature" is an average of averages (across time and space).

For the moment, if we take that record as correct, we could definitely answer whether the change is unusual in any particular period. As a starting point, we need to decide what we mean with a little more precision: what is unprecedented? the level? the rate of rise? during what period: last 100 years? last 50 years? compared to what: last 500 years? last 2000 years? last 5000 years? 

So we can define what we mean by "rising" (i.e., level or rate), "now", and  "the past". Then, we can see if "now" is "rising" unprecedently compared to "the past".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...