Watt about the most ironic post title of them all?

Watts Up With That (WUWT) has a new post called Climate persuasion – or how to ignore data and influence people. I had to laugh when I read this post title since if anyone asked me to describe WUWT in a few short words it would probably be “it ignores data and tries to influence people”

Anyway, the post is by someone called Peter Kemmis and it concerns two articles – about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) – that a couple of his friends have sent him (the two articles are here and here). His friends are clearly concerned about AGW and the WUWT post is essentially his attempt to explain why they’ve been mislead by these articles because they ignore crucial data. I thought I’d highlight a few things that might indicate that it is not the two friends who’ve been mislead. So, Peter Kemmis says

The article raises no question about natural variability in climate, about the natural warming that has been occurring at an approximate rate of 1.70C.

I assume that 1.70C means 1.7 degrees per century (maybe I’m wrong though). Now I wouldn’t regard this as ignoring data, I would regard it as plucking it out of thin air. There is no evidence to suggest that we can explain our current warming through natural variability. He goes on to say

the clear pause in global warming since 1998 (officially acknowledged subsequently by the UK Meteorological Office in December 2012).

This I would call ignoring data. There may be a pause (or slowdown) in surface warming, but the ocean heat content continues to increase at the expected rate and arctic sea ice is declining faster than expected. There is extensive evidence to suggest that global warming continues and virtually nothing to support the idea that it has stopped. Furthermore, the UK Met Office didn’t acknowledge what Peter Kemmis claims they did. They acknowledged that the surface temperatures were rising slower than expected (although still consistent with the models at the 5 – 10% level) and that this may continue for a few more years. This is not the same as saying that global warming has paused!

When discussing the second article Peter Kemmis notes

Did you notice the caveats – “can”, “could”, and “if”?

This is essentially how science works. There are uncertainties. Scientists typically like to
make that clear and dislike making absolute statements. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have a very good idea of what is likely to happen, simply that there are aspects that may turn out differently to what was expected. You could decide that the uncertainties are so large that we should do nothing (the wrong decision in my opinion), but there will always be uncertainties and a big part of the discussion we should be having, again in my opinion, is about the significance of these uncertainties (i.e., what parts are we quite certain about and which aspects are less certain).

Maybe the bit of this post that frustrated me the most was when he commented on something said in the second article about the oceans’s uptake of CO2. Peter Kemmis says

Wait a minute! “Between 1981 and 2004, the Southern Ocean has been soaking up as much CO2 as ever” (I think “as ever” means as it has been absorbing CO2 at a constant rate). “more CO2 in the air should mean more CO2 entering the ocean. ‘This did not happen . . . the carbon sink was very stable’ ” (Team Leader Corinne Le Quéré ). This contrasts with the general claim of a few paragraphs earlier: “The oceans have been acting as giant sponges, soaking up half of the excess CO2 we are pumping out and 90% of the excess heat the planet is absorbing because of higher greenhouse levels.”

He claims that this contrasts with the earlier part of the article in which it was claimed that the oceans were absorbing half of the excess CO2 that we were releasing into the atmosphere through our use of fossil fuels. He seems to think that somehow they’ve contradicted themselves. However, if you read the article carefully, you discover what the
person quoted was actually saying.

What the person was actually saying was that in the past the oceans were typically absorbing half of the human emitted CO2. However, recently, it appears that the amount being absorbed by the oceans is remaining constant (stable) while we emit ever increasing amounts. The oceans are now absorbing less than half of what we are emitting and therefore more than half will be remaining in the atmosphere. This is fairly obvious from the statement a few paragraphs later in the article

So the shifting winds have already opened the door to the Southern Ocean wide enough to reduce its ability to soak up CO2. If the door opens even wider, the ocean could even start releasing CO2.

So, the person being quoted wasn’t contradicting themselves, they were pointing out that the carbon sink being “stable” wasn’t a good thing as it could lead to an acceleration of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

So, far be it from me to give advice to anyone else but it’s certainly my view that if you write a post criticising other articles for ignoring data, best you don’t do the same yourself. Also, if you write a post trying to explain to people how they’ve been mislead, best you don’t illustrate the reverse by mis-interpreting parts of the articles you’re criticising. Maybe this doesn’t actually mean that you’ve been mislead yourself, but it does indicate that you don’t understand what’s being said nearly as well as you think you do. Certainly, if my friends started suggesting that maybe my understanding of something was wrong and sent me scientific articles from reputable scientific sources, I might at least consider that I was the one who had been mislead instead of them.

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7 Responses to Watt about the most ironic post title of them all?

  1. andrew adams says:

    Did you notice the caveats – “can”, “could”, and “if”?

    I love the way that skeptics complain when scientists include caveats in their work but yell “but uncertainty!” if they leave them out.

  2. Precisely. It’s sometimes quite remarkable how people don’t see the irony in what they’re saying.

  3. dana1981 says:

    Geez, it never ceases to amaze me the crap that Wattsy will post. Anything But Carbon doesn’t even cover it. Anyone who blames global warming on Anything But Carbon. I mean seriously, ‘the natural warming rate that has been occurring at 1.70°C? WTF? That isn’t even a coherent sentence. That’s like saying “I’ve historically lost weight at a rate of 5 pounds”.

    Not only is it nonsensical, but you can’t even revise the sentence in a way to make it remotely correct. 1.7°C per century would be ludicrous. There hasn’t even been a 1.7°C change over the past 10,000 years, and the temp change during that timeframe is one of cooling anyway.

    This is Dunning Kruger at its worst, some random yahoo who doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about but thinks he has the expertise to teach his friends about the subject. And Wattsy apparently thinks Mr. DK has enough expertise to deserve a WUWT blog post.

  4. Yes, the sentence with the 1.70C doesn’t really make any sense, either in terms of units or quantity. When I read these posts I am often amazed at the confidence of someone who clearly doesn’t really understand what they’re talking about. Dunning Kruger is certainly something that regularly comes to mind.

  5. You might need to write a “Part 2”, following this gem: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/08/11/thanks-marc-rodrigues-mprodrig/

    One of the best comments is:

    “Some people don’t handle reality outside of their belief system well I suppose.

    ====================================

    Cults are that way Anthony. They choose to be ignorant..”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

  6. You could always write a guest post on the topic 🙂

  7. I half considered a blog called “Denier Quote of the Day”, but with two other part-time blogs on the go and everything else to do, I can’t be arsed, frankly! Shame, it’d be pretty funny 😉

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