Friday, August 12, 2011

On the "Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism"

An opinion piece that just came out in Forbes recently  "New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism" cites an article published in "the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing" by "Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models."

The editorial is written by  "James M. Taylor,  senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute" and the implication is that it summarizes Spencer's 15 page article.

Problems I have in accepting this:

  1. The "peer-reviewed journal" has been in existence for 3 years, publishing once a year.  It is "open access" and writers must pay to have their articles published.  Its subject is the extremely general topic of gathering data from a distance via passive wave sensing, radar, etc.  There is no indication of special ability to judge a climatological article.
  2. The 567 word editorial contains the phrase "alarmist computer models" eleven times, one each of "alarmist climate models" "alarmist global warming theory", "alarmist" and "alarmism".  These phrases and words and their repetitions make up 7% of the words in the text -- 6% consists of just repetitions of "alarmist computer models".  If you ignore all that and just look for the argument, it is frankly hard to follow.  E.g. "the single most important issue in the global warming debate is whether carbon dioxide emissions will indirectly trap far more heat by causing large increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds.   Alarmist computer models assume human carbon dioxide emissions indirectly cause substantial increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds (each of which are very effective at trapping heat), but real-world data have long shown that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing as much atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds as the alarmist computer models have predicted."  I can't help but wonder whether the writer is really snowing the reader with a lot of impressive sounding words and it not trying to be as clear as possible.
  3. I also tried reading the original article by Roy Spencer (more on him later), and in my opinion it is more dense with obscure and equations than most other articles I've examined by people whose primary field is climatology.  The main conclusion is that the article doesn't really scream out Conclusive Proof Global Warming a Hoax.  Rather it, like probably hundreds of peer reviewed articles, looks at a subset the same NASA data that everyone discussing satellite findings has to use, applies a theoretical model of unknown value, certainly contested by some, and concludes that more of the sun's energy is being reflected back into space than we would expect based on some studies that support AGW.
We live in a very different news environment that of, say, 20 years ago.  It is much more dominated by opinion pieces by people with no claim to being investigators trying to get at the truth, and no reputation along those lines to worry about.  We used to pick up the newspaper, and know what part of it was reporting, and what part was the "opinion" or editorial page, and having sampled that section, most of us knew what to expect, and that editorials took all sorts of wild positions and should be taken with a grain of salt. Even looking this article up in Forbes online, I see nothing to nothing to distinguish it from straight reporting which it definitely is not.

Also, aside from the quality of the article, there was a time when one could look at a headline (outside of the hysterical tabloids), and expect it to reasonably represent the case made by the article, so even by skimming the headlines we could get reasonable idea of what is happening and what is being said by credible sources at a given time.

Here we have, with the apparent authority of Forbes magazine, a piece by lawyer and propagandist for a "Think Tank" that in the past worked with tobacco companies to combat perceptions of the dangers "second hand smoke", making a screed of an argument based on a "peer reviewed" paper with less than sterling credentials that presents a much more ambiguous case than the Forbes piece represents, topped with a headline that claims far more than the article does, and tries to make it sound like the study has NASA support whereas it is just one of many analyses of NASA data most of which draw a different conclusion.

Towards the end the Forbes writer writes "Real-world measurements, however, show far less heat is being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere than the alarmist computer models predict".  This is the worst sort of misleading spin.  Why?  Because the hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed articles that, taken together, support AGW, all use real world data usually in combination with one or more models, no more nor less than the article cited.

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