Gotta hand the folks at Wunderground some credit on this one – I love their “Climate Change” tab, and especially the way they have organized the evidence for climate change. Hats off to you!
Last summer, it was hotter than hell in Texas. We nearly broke the all-time record for most consecutive days over 100F. We missed it by a mere one day, which – as far as I am concerned – is a statistical fluke. Remember that the winter of 2011 was termed “Snowpocalypse,” and less-responsible media outlets were calling it the “end of climate change.” They seemed, back then, to have missed the meaning of the word “change.” Global climate disruption, a more accurate phrase that describes the whole phenomenon, is expected to cause the extremes of cold and hot to grow more extreme, while also accompanied by an increased frequency of extreme phenomena. Such phenomena would include blizzards (due to the increased concentration of water vapor in the air), hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms, as well as droughts.
The summer of 2011 was the hot answer to the winter “Snowpocalypse.” Both of these were phenomena in-line with the predictions of human-induced climate disruption. I thought it would be useful to once again review the NASA GISS data, satellite temperature data collected routinely by NASA and made publicly available for viewing .
Last year, in a post entitled “Revisiting the end of climate change,”  I discussed the buzz over the extreme snow of the winter of 2011 and the extreme drought of the summer of 2011. At the time, I did not have access to the full 2011 summer of data from the NASA GISS satellite. However, now that more than a year has passed we can easily get the temperature data from 2011 and compare to the average of temperatures from 1951-1980 (a typical period from which climatologists take a running average in order to compare historical temperatures).
The maps for the springs (March-May) of 2011 and 2012 are below (top row). We can see (top row, left) that the U.S. and Europe both experienced average temperatures in Spring, 2011, that were almost 4F HIGHER than the average of 1950-1981. Similarly, we can see the temperature data from the same period in 2012 and in the same scale (temperature relative to the average between 1951-1980). Worse, the high temperatures now spread MUCH further across the U.S. Nearly the entire U.S. experienced spring temperatures that were 1-4F HIGHER than the average between 1951-1980. This is backed up by other data from NOAA, which reports that tens of thousands of temperature records have been broken across the U.S. in 2012 . All of this is consistent with the patterns predicted by climatologists looking at the trends in temperature, moisture, and climate.
We can then look at last summer’s (June-August) temperature data and compare to the numbers from June of this year (bottom row). Again, the trend is clear. Last summer (bottom left), the heat wave was mostly contained in the South and Southwest of the U.S.; this year, it’s more widespread (at least, as of June).
Water use has become a larger issue in the Southwest. Jodi and I installed a rain barrel in the spring so that we could store rainfall water for use on non-eating plants in our yard (flowers, vines, shrubs, etc.). The water restrictions are still in place in Texas, and we wanted to stay ahead of the restrictions by stockpiling water. This has worked really well; better than expected, in fact. We actually don’t have enough storage capacity for the amount of spring rainfall we received, so we plan to expand water storage as we can afford to.
I wish we had the money to do something about our A/C. For instance, I’d love to run the water condenser drain, not to the sink drain (its current target), but to the water barrels outside. I’d also like to power the A/C by other means, such as batteries fed by solar panels. But Texas is not quite there yet on accepting such technology in residential settings, and we don’t have money for a legal fight.
Will next year be hotter? Who can say? Money is good that it won’t get suddenly cooler, although statistically that could happen (there is always a chance for a temperature fluctuation in a given year… that’s why weather is not the same as climate). We’re erring on the side of trying to increase conservation. Since President Obama has foregone leadership on the climate issue, something for which I am not ready to forgive him, it seems like it’s up to ordinary citizens to set policy in their homes until a national policy can be written to help offset greenhouse gas pollution.
This was a good week for prime examples of propaganda and pseudoscience. Let’s get started.
49 Cherry-Picked Questionable Authorities Can’t Be Wrong
There was some recent buzz about “49 authorities” who sent a letter  to NASA’s chief and asked the agency to stop promoting the idea of human-induced climate change. A blog, “Scholars and Rogues,” noted a number of serious instances of pseudoscience, mis-information, and logical fallacies in the letter . “Scholars and Rogues” is a blog site that has a number of contributors; this particular article was contributed by Brian Angliss, a working electrical engineer (BSEE and MSEE) and the science editor and climate/energy writer for the blog. What makes him credible here is that he is careful to cite multiple examples of peer-reviewed, published scientific research to back up his arguments, and he demonstrates a clear mastery of the fundamentals of argument analysis (ala ) and a recognition of the use of logical fallacies to distract the reader of the “49 authorities” letter from an otherwise weak argument.
Here are a few good examples (you should read the letter and the criticism for a more complete picture):
- The authors of the letter cited “hundreds”  of climate scientists who disagree with the conclusion that climate change is human-induced. An investigation reveals that this statement is based solely on information from Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) own 2008 minority report (Inhofe is a well-documented and proud climate change denier). Of the 700 scientists on the list provided by Inhofe, only 70 of 700 are practicing climate scientists; 680 of them have no publication record on climate science. And, in a funny twist, about 28 of 700 actually have been convinced by the scientific evidence of the reality of human-induced climate change. Whoops.
- The letter points to “tens of thousands”  of other scientists who disagree with the conclusion that climate change is human-induced. That sounds impressive, until you breakdown the numbers (which themselves come from the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine, a non-profit private organization that denies the existence of human-induced climate change). First, the list is compiled using the loosest possible definition of “scientist” – it doesn’t even constrain itself to practicing scientists, just to anyone with a Bachelor of Science degree. By that definition, US institutions have produced over 10 million “scientists” since 1970; the 31000 “scientists” on the OISM’s list represents only 0.3% of all “scientists” produced since 1970. Take a room full of people, and you’re guaranteed to find that at least 0.3% of them disagree with the other 99.7% of people in the room (on any issue, for any reason, right or not).
It goes on. Have a look. The above is a great example of “equivocation,” a key logical fallacy. The authors rely on the vague term “scientist,” which means something very different to the public than it means to the scientific community, to fool the reader into thinking they have found some very impressive numbers. They rely on vagaries and mis-direction to try to skirt your critical thinking defenses and trick you into agreeing with them.
In life, no “white knight” is going to save you from propaganda and mis-information. You have to learn to recognize good and weak arguments and think for yourself.
How would you have spotted the weaknesses in the “49 experts” letter? First, ask what are the vague terms. Believe it or not, “scientist” is a vague term unless it’s qualified (“practicing scientist,” “publishing scientist,” “actively publishing climate scientist” – these are all the minimum required qualifications needed into order to clarify the meaning of the vague term “scientist”). Second, check their reasons. When they cite figures on the numbers of “scientists” that agree or disagree with a position, then it’s incumbent upon you to ask questions like:
- Where did they get these numbers? Are they published? Are they peer reviewed? A quick check (which the blog above has done for us) reveals that the sources are neither published (in a respectable journal) or peer-reviewed. For a list of primary, peer-reviewed and published sources that help to understand the real number of climate scientists that have been convinced by the scientific evidence, see Naomi Oreskes’s essay in the journal “Science” .
Serial Killers Sleep, Poop, Eat, and Believe in Climate Change
This one goes under the “propaganda” header. The Heartland Institute, a non-profit private thinktank that originally partnered with the tobacco industry in the 1980s to fight medical research pointing to the dangers of tobacco, posted billboards this week that sought to terrify readers into being against the evidence for climate change. I’ve placed an example of this billboard to the left.
Propaganda is described at length (with examples) on our SMU course page for PHY/CFB 3333 . In short, propaganda is any message that is delivered with the intent to “alter public perceptions and/or induce action” . Everybody uses propaganda, from personal workplace politics to national politics. The key is to recognize that what is being used is propaganda. As Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi father of modern propaganda, noted, “Propaganda becomes ineffective the moment we are aware of it.”
So let’s make you aware of it. The above billboard is propaganda. It uses emotion – fear, in this case – to spur you to disagree with the scientific fact of global warming. It uses a convicted serial murderer – Ted Kaczynski – to do this. Basically, it implies that if you agree with the fact of global warming, you are no better than a serial murderer. You are then directed to the Heartland Institute’s website.
In order to see that this is propaganda, you need to understand that it is built on a logical fallacy: “Appeal to Questionable Authority” and an implicit “Ad Hominem Attack.” The Ad Hominem attack is on you; basically, if you believe in the fact of global warming, you are a serial murderer. The appeal is the use of Kaczynski’s photograph, implicitly linking acceptance of the fact of global warming with being a crazed genius murderer. The intent is purely to scare you, forcing your rational mind to be subsumed by your irrational mind. To deconstruct the propaganda, you should always change the words in the sign to something that is easier to understand and see if the argument still works. For example, imagine instead the sign read, “I still go to the bathroom. Do you?” The implication here is, “Ted Kaczynski poops. Ted Kaczynski is a crazed serial murderer. Only crazed serial murderers poop. You don’t want to be a crazed serial murderer, do you?” Of course that’s ridiculous; pooping has nothing whatsoever to do with being a crazed serial murdered. Neither does acceptance of a fact, like the fact that the Earth’s average temperature has shot up exponentially for the last 150 years.
Once you recognize and then deconstruct the propaganda (I find that using absurdity helps to take away the power of propaganda), then you find this billboard is a toothless fallacy. You are not weak-minded. Don’t let propagandists like the Heartland Institute try to treat you like a weak-minded person.
 Oreskes, Naomi. “Beyond the Ivory Tower, The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (including corrections)”. Science. 2005.
 Browne, M and Keeley, S. “Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking (10th Edition).” ISBN-10: 0205111165. ISBN-13: 978-0205111169. Amazon URL: http://www.amazon.com/Asking-Right-Questions-Critical-Thinking/dp/0205111165/ref=dp_ob_title_bk
Peter Gleick’s unethical subterfuge to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute has begun to give some interesting insights into this anti-science institution. While not all of the documents have been confirmed, enough has been confirmed from independent sources (including those named in the documents) to begin shedding light on the dancing shadows of anti-science. “The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” 
The Washington Post provided some useful insights into the alleged strategy that Heartland intends to take . Rather than fight science in the science literature, they are doing exactly what the forces of anti-science are trying to do with Biological Evolution: end-run around the scientific method and try to inject ideology directly into American classrooms.
The documents claim that Heartland has hired a coal-industry consultant to construct teaching modules to be directly distributed to schools. The Washington Post confirms that the consultant has independently confirmed that this is true, and that he has received $100,000 to develop these modules (incidentally, $100,000 is about enough money to support a full-time post-doctoral researcher, a full-time graduate student, and pay grant overhead to the managing institution, all for the purpose of accomplishing actual scientific research). As The Post reports:
These modules would include material for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”) and carbon pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial”). In fact, none of these issues are scientific controversies — the vast majority of climatologists believe, with a high degree of confidence, that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions are heating the planet.
Here I have a bone to pick with The Post. It’s not that “climatologists believe” – it’s that “climatologists have been convinced by the evidence.” Those are two different things; a belief can be based on things other than evidence, while a conviction based on evidence is the hallmark of true scientific and critical thinking.
Of course, the two issue modules mentioned above are also based on logical fallacies; the first, “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy,” is based on a lie – there is no scientific controversy about this; the second, “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial,” is based on a “red herring” fallacy – CO2 is a greenhouse gas, not a pollutant, and it’s only been classes as a pollutant by the EPA in order to get some kind of regulation under the existing EPA framework. That’s a semantic, not a scientific, issue.
Heartland’s strategy is a copy of that pursued by The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think-tank that is a cookpot for anti-science ideas. Their aim was to eradicate science and replace it with a theistic framework  by weakening public perception of Biological Evolution. As The Post reports:
[NCSE member] Rosenau says that Heartland could do what creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have been doing for years and simply mail out supplemental materials to educators far and wide.
While the Heartland documents were obtained under questionable circumstances, they are beginning to shed light on the forces of anti-science.
 Sagan, Carl (2011-07-06). Demon-Haunted World (Kindle Locations 603-604). Ballantine Books. Kindle Edition.