Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bad Place For Science

Two recent editorials in Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) are examples of why you don’t want to get your science from the editorial page.  The paper touts its views as conservative, but these examples are either meant to mislead or are out of ignorance.  They deserve to be put to rest once and for all.  You can read them here and here.

The first editorial attacks the notion that there is no consensus on climate change.  It uses a study published in November and can be read here.  The first red flag in the editorial is that they never mention where the study is published.  However, it did not take long for me to track down the paper.

It seems that the editorial originated with James Taylor, managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Environment and Climate News, with a post he wrote on the Forbes website.  The original post on Forbes and thus the editorial in IBD have been thoroughly debunked here, here, and here.

Brian Angliss of Scholars and Rogues writes:

“The reality is that, contrary to claims made by Taylor and others at Heartland, every serious attempt to measure the degree of consensus among scientists and climate experts has concluded that the overwhelming majority of experts agree that climate is changing rapidly, that humans are the dominant drivers of the changes, and that model projections indicate that the changes will be highly disruptive if they’re not planned for. And every attempt to disprove the reported consensus has been disproved or shown to be based on distortions. Just like this attempt by Taylor has been.”

Next, the IBD editorials cherry-pick information about the Arctic and Antarctic, leaving the impression that global warming is nothing to worry about.  In the Arctic they mention the tremendous growth of ice from the summer minimum.  The figure they use is true, more than 10 million square kilometers of ice formed this winter from the summer 2012 record minimum.

What they do not tell you is that both the minimum and maximum extents have been declining over the past few decades.  The minimum extent has been declining faster than the maximum extent.  This means that the amount of ice growth in the winter is increasing from minimum to maximum.  That does not mean that ice is increasing in the Arctic.  It’s not.  The overall trend in both is down.

Maximum sea ice usually occurs in March whereas the minimum occurs in September.  Note that both trends are declining, but the decline is greater in September.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: NSIDC.

Furthermore, this only looks at the sea ice extent.  When you look at ice volume the situation is critical.  Recent studies have confirmed that at the minimum last summer more that 50% of the sea ice extent disappeared.  However, the volume was about 80% less than in 1979.  The situation is moving rapidly to where ice free summers will be the norm.

The decline of Arctic sea ice volume.  Click on the image for a larger view.  Image Credit: Andy Lee Robinson, Feb 2013.  Note: Andy did a great job of the visualization.

Global warming does not cancel winter so ice will still grow to a maximum each winter.  However, the maximum will continue to decline and the added heat to the Arctic will change weather patterns.

Finally, the editorials scoff at the melting Arctic because of gains in Antarctic sea ice.  Again, they cherry-pick the information and try to compare apples to oranges.  The pattern in the Antarctic is complex.  The Antarctic is a cold continent with a vast, deep ocean surrounding it.  The gains occurring in the Antarctic are 25 times less than the declines occurring in the Arctic.  Justin Gillis, of the New York Times, wrote a fine discussion of this last October.  You can read his article here.


Cherry-picking and misrepresentation of the science is a disservice to the readers and destroys credibility.  One has to question many of the other topics covered in IBD.  Being anti-science is neither conservative nor liberal.  It’s simply stupid.

What happens at the poles is important to the weather and climate because of changes in the albedo and increases in energy absorption.  Furthermore, the changes are happening at an unprecedented pace geologically.  The impacts are already being felt and will likely increase in the near future.

Climate science is crystal clear on what is happening.  There is a consensus among climate scientists that climate change is happening and that man, now, is the primary driver.  The increase in carbon dioxide is driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.