Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks
Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks
Illustration for article titled AGW 101: Science, pseudoscience, and trolls

Because I showed up a day late to the article, I threw a quick comment onto the frontpage article about the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Last night, my comment got a reply which I'm dismissing over there but I'm willing to dissect over here. I hope it provides an intriguing view into a brain addled by pseudoscience.

Fixed ideas - no matter whether the temperature goes up or down, climate change is happening!!! OH NO!!!
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism is unable to adapt to new evidence; it has, for decades, shown an unwillingness to admit that modern average global temperatures are anything unique during the Holocene, and an unwillingness to admit that this temperature rise is because of human activity.
Unfortunately, the commentator doesn't attempt to discuss these issues and instead shows some confusion: there are very few areas on the Earth's surface, shallow oceans, or deep oceans where temperatures have gone down in the past century. The vast majority of places on land, on the oceans, or in the oceans, have increased in temperature. Scientists respond to this observation by labeling it the 'global warming' aspect of 'climate change'. Pseudoscientists insist that the thermometers are broken, or that the thermometers are placed too close to air vents, or that "it snowed last night so there's no warming", because apparently that's better than accepting the evidence.


No peer review - "I gave my paper saying anthropogenic climate change is happening to everyone that get government grants to study why anthropogenic climate it true, they all reviewed my stuff and said I was right!"
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism is rarely able to pass the quality control that is scientific peer review at high-impact journals (Science, Nature, PNAS) and finds itself happy to be published in either lower-impact journals or the Internet. I think it can be safely said that in a world without the Internet that climatology would still survive but climate contrarianism would find itself isolated to appearances on Coast to Coast AM.
I approve how the commentator makes reference to government grants and calls peer review a conspiracy in the same sentence, it's like playing pseudoscience bingo. But he or she has a point: peer review is a conspiracy. It's a conspiracy wherein we reviewers will find whatever fault we can to keep our peers from publishing inferior papers. I am confused on what kind of "peer" review the commentator is insisting on: should a paper about climatology be reviewed by people who are ignorant of the evidence underpinning anthropogenic global warming? If I submit to a journal about evolution, it's unlikely that my reviewers will think evolution didn't happen. "Peer" review implies exactly that: competent researchers in the field are reviewing the submitted paper. Climatologists who argue that AGW isn't a real thing are generally not competent, any more than doctors who argue that vaccines cause autism aren't competent.

Selects only favorable discoveries - Arctic ice melting? Climate change!!! Antarctic ice growing? Doesn't matter who cares.
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism ignores big picture evidence and long-term trends in order to highlight favourable data: the commentator provides a direct example.
The commentator mentions that Arctic sea ice is decreasing in both volume and area. This would lead most people to think that the Arctic sea ice is melting. But but but! Antarctic sea ice is "growing"! Well... let's go to the data, shall we? The NOAA has satellites that are taking readings of sea ice in both the northern and the southern hemispheres. When they started (late October 1978) they took readings every other day, in August of 1987 they switched to taking readings every day (science changes its methods over time and is generally in favor of collecting more data whenever possible). The following graphs have days as the x-axis (1978 on the left, 2012 on the right) and the area of sea ice in 1,000,000 sq kms as the y-axis.

Illustration for article titled AGW 101: Science, pseudoscience, and trolls

There's Northern Hemisphere sea ice. If we throw a linear trend onto the data, there's a long-term trend towards lower extent of sea ice, irregardless of seasonal wiggle. What worries climatologists is the annual minimum sea ice extent: this used to be around 6 or 7 million square kilometers, now it's around 4 or 5. It's almost as if the summer melt-off of Arctic ice is becoming more noticeable over time.

Illustration for article titled AGW 101: Science, pseudoscience, and trolls

Here's the Southern Hemisphere sea ice. If we throw on a linear trend line, there is a weaker positive trend line, with a lower r-squared value (r-squared value expresses how much the data agrees with the trend line. higher says a closer congruency with the line).

Obviously a linear trend line is not going to be the best trend to analyse this data with. I'm being quick here and using excel instead of a good statistical program. But, if there is a long-term 'melting' or 'growing' trend in the ice extent data, a linear trend line would find it. There is a long-term melting trend in the Northern Hemisphere, there is a long-term growing trend in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Northern Hemisphere melting trend is a stronger signal.

A climate contrarian will select only favourable discoveries. Instead of mentioning that Arctic sea ice extent is dropping, and that this drop in extent is larger than any increase in Antarctic ice, the contrarian will simply claim that Antarctic ice is increasing. Or will make the claim (as I've seen elsewhere) that "the ice caps grew by 60% this year" without looking into whether this claim makes any sense. Or will ignore the fact that climatology can explain Antarctic sea ice growth in the absence of cooling in Antarctica, since, actually, Antarctic sea ice is growing even though Antarctica is warming. Contrarians don't mention that; they think that an increase in ice must indicate cooling, without looking to see if the data support their claim.

Sees criticism as a conspiracy - BIG OIL!!!! BIG OIL!!!! You don't sacrifice your lifestyle and income to the climate change cult? You think rationally instead of chanting idiotic green slogans at rallies in the park? YOU WORK FOR EXXON!!! YOU'RE WORKING FOR CREATIONISTS AGAINST SCIENCE!!!!!!
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism usually thinks climatology is in the pocket of someone; this "someone" is some form of combination of environmentalists, intellectuals, scientists, politicians, and socialists (note: individuals can fit more than one category) who are either making up climatological data or skewing the real data to promote global wealth redistribution and/or the economic destruction of developed countries.
The commentator's statement about creationists is confusing in light of the commentator's pro-creationist statements on io9. Honestly, ExxonMobil (Exxon stopped being the name of the company in 1999) have poured money into combating climatology. However, no one in the scientific world thinks every criticism of climatology is funded by ExxonMobil: there are people who say stupid things about the climate who don't get a paycheck from anyone. The commentator is one of them: they are embracing pseudoscience for free, much as other Internet commentators promote vaccines->autism pseudoscience for free.


Non-repeatable results - This time, really high CO2 levels will CAUSE ARMAGEDDON!!! (all the other times CO2 levels were much higher than today and life thrived don't count)
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism, faced with a geological record, is unwilling to discuss actual natural global warming events, and instead focuses on this imaginary past wherein life on Earth thrived while there were "really high" (numbers, please?) CO2 levels. Faced with the non-existence of multiple Earths to test climatology in, they complain that models of Earth climate are "wrong", and essentially demand other people ignore any results of these models.
Anyone reading the paleoclimate literature of the past 2 decades will have heard of the PETM. This is an actual event in which there was a large amount of isotopically-light carbon dumped into the atmosphere, and in which there was a subsequent increase in global temperatures. The PETM is essentially the closest thing we have to a natural analogue to modern human activity, and when climate contrarians have to think about it or the effects it had on the biosphere (i.e., extinctions of cold-adapted benthic microorganisms), their heads explode. But the PETM is sort of a useless natural analogue because it was, literally, a different world: it was warmer and thus carbon sinks and sources worked a bit differently than they would today. Modern research attempting to replicate a PETM event suggests that adding similar amounts of carbon into a cold world might be a really really stupid idea.


Claims of widespread usefulness - "Green jobs" will fix our economy! Fighting global warming will make you happier! "Sustainable technology" will fix all societies' problems!
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism argues that if the socialist scientists are actually somehow correct and global warming is happening... global warming is good.
Climatology, being actual science, can't make that kind of argument. Climatological predictions of future climate accentuate that some parts of Earth will have better growing seasons while some won't. Oddly, climatology has nothing to do with "green jobs" or "fighting global warming" or "sustainable technology", but climate contrarians are often more interested in discussing sociopolitical issues than scientific issues. That's part of being a pseudoscientist; when science isn't your strong suit, you're going to Gish gallop to other topics.

"Ball-park" measurement - Sea level rise of 1" in 100 years, or 10" in 10 years, or 100" in 1 year... we don't know for sure, but we do that if WE DON'T STOP CLIMATE CHANGE (!!!!!) one of those things will happen!!!!!
The pseudoscience of climate contrarianism does not generally produce its own measurements. It uses the measurements of climatology and then either chooses to filter out some data (to try to find the "true" signal) or tries to find small errors in either original data procurement or subsequent analysis to discredit the entire analysis (see: Hockey stick "debunking").
Psuedoscientists don't get science, that's part of why they took up pseudoscience. One of the areas of science they don't get is that scientific forecasts are not the same as scientific data. The commentator, in attempting to show how climatology doesn't have accurate measurements, instead complains that climatology can't forecast how much sea level rise will happen. Generally that's because forecasts are more difficult than taking actual measurements: forecasts require good predictive measurements from multiple systems, measurements require less work. And when climate contrarians try to forecast?

Illustration for article titled AGW 101: Science, pseudoscience, and trolls

It's kind of a disaster.

So what you're chart is saying, is climate change is pseudoscience. A lot of us already knew that, but thanks for pointing out exactly why it is.
Thank you for the excellent comment highlighting how pseudoscience hurts a brain. I am really honestly not trying to be mean here, I expect that the commentator means well, even though they're accusing a scientific field of being a cult. If the commentator decides to comment, my main advice is: embrace actual science. It's what lets us talk on the Internet. Pseudoscience gives us nothing but superstition, distrust of reality, and distrust of people who work with reality.

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