Monday, June 09, 2008

Bad Science -- A grand tradition

The title for this blog is borrowed from the National Review article by Roy Spencer. Even I don't know much about Spencer, this kind of title suggests that he is clearly among Algore's "overwhelming majority."

Mr. Spencer asked and a few good questions in the article, for instance, he asked "Just how certain are we that recent warming really has been caused by SUVs spewing carbon dioxide and cows belching methane?" Answer: "After all, the greater the cost of the advertised fixes, the more certain we must be that the scientific consensus really is more than just a political statement."

Here's another: "And why should the science of global warming be so uncertain?" and a good answer: "Mostly because it is a whole lot easier to make scientific measurements than it is to figure out what those measurements are telling us about how the natural world works." Then he quoted Mark Twain as saying “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” I like this quote. Sadly many scientist distort things even without facts. he also pointed out this famous Twain quote: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture from such a trifling investment of fact.”

As someone working on the Great Lakes, I am interested in Spencer's comments on Great Lakes water level:
one you might not have heard about is the recent decline in Great Lakes water levels which is (of course) also due to global warming. For instance, Lake Superior water levels in 2007 reached near-record lows.

I say “near-record” because a similar decline was observed in the early 1920s which culminated in the record low lake level of 1926. From reading media reports of the 1926 event, one can see the continuing tradition of experts to predict events that non-experts (the public) recognize to be foolish. A Duluth Herald editorial at the time gave the common sense explanation for low lake levels:
The weather bureau has issued a report on low lake levels…the Great Lakes watershed is in a cycle of light precipitation…levels will come back when…the dry cycle is succeeded by a wet one. There have been dry cycles before….and for every dry cycle there has been a wet one to follow…
But the “experts” had a very different take on the issue, as reported in the May 27, 1926 issue of Daily Mining Journal:

Ultimate extinction of the American side of the falls at Niagara is mathematically certain unless water levels in the Great Lakes are raised.

I have a difficult time reading that statement without laughing. But I suspect it wasn’t meant to be a joke.
The article is really about commenting on global warming as:
While the global-warming debate will probably slow down for some number of months, it will likely return with a vengeance sometime after the fall elections. This is, of course, unless our eight-year stretch of no warming continues. Since January of 2006 when Al Gore announced we have only ten years left to save ourselves, the globally averaged satellite measured temperature of the lower atmosphere has fallen by one degree Farenheit. Last month was the fifth-coolest month in the 30-year satellite record.

If global warming doesn’t get its act together pretty soon, there will be a lot of scientists (and more than a few politicians) who will look pretty foolish — but only to those who remember the foolish predictions. Since we still remember a few scientists in the 1970s who were announcing the arrival of a new ice age, I am hopeful that we will also be reminded of the catastrophic warming forecasts when they also fail.

But by then we will have moved on to new kinds of environmental catastrophes to predict and wring our hands over. After all, we scientists are human, too, and we must preserve our traditions.
I could hardly wait to get my hands on his new book "Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor "

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