Dueling Science! Headlines

Two headlines that appear today in Google News’ Science! Section:

IPCC Gets It Right on Climate Change, But Too Conservative

and:

The UN’s Global Warming Forecasts Are Performing Very, Very Badly

The first is from SustainableBusiness.com, a site that defines sustainable business as: “Business that contributes to an equitable and ecologically sustainable economy”.

“Equitable”?

The next is from Forbes, a bastion of business and all that.

To sum up: can we assume these people are looking at the same data? I mean, both are making claims about the predictive accuracy of the IPCC. What are they looking at if they are not looking at the same data?

Forbes gives us a nice, if somewhat incomprehensible, graph direct from the IPCC:

After a little background to help us read the graph, including noting that the grey areas are essentially meaningless, the author concludes:

Quite obviously, for more than a decade, the observations have fallen near or below the lower end of the IPCC projected range. Houston, we have a problem.

Using just my eyeballs, I can go with that. Not exactly rigorous science, but OK.(1)

The first article has no graphs and only occasional numbers meant to be scary – what I mean is that few of us can really say that 3.3 centimeters per year in sea level rise signals immanent disaster in a way 2.0 centimeters doesn’t. For example. None of the links, as far as I can tell, lead to anything other than other news sources and advocacy groups. Most point to other articles on the same site. While not necessarily damning, it does mean that you’re at least a couple clicks away from any real sources, assuming the linked articles are sourced. I, like most people, are not about to spend the time to click through in order to then click through some more in order to see if there’s anything there – but, from a marketing POV, all those links sure look scientifilicious.

Some of the stuff they say in the body of the article is borderline hilarious:

Governments and the public could be blindsided by the rapid onset of the flooding, extreme storms, drought, and other impacts associated with catastrophic global warming

Sure, and we might not, or we might be blindsided by sudden ice age, or an asteroid, or a particularly pleasant spring. This is pure marketing-speak.

The item from Forbes gets points for using data from a source the opposite side would agree is a good source – THE good source. But it’s only an eyeball-level test – looks to me like a level, or nearly level, trend line would fit the data pretty good. But so might a more sloped one – that’s the problem with eyeballs.

Forbes wins this round, but largely by default – it’s not exactly hammering its point home with pure scientific goodness. SustainableBusiness.com is just phoning it in, scientifically speaking.

And that’s the problem, here.  Since I do marketing for a living (I didn’t mean to, it just kind of happened), I’m sensitive to spin perhaps more than most people – and virtually every time I’ve read anything supporting  immediate drastic action on AGCC, it’s getting spun like a gyroscope.  i don’t know what’s true, here – but I do know when I’m being herded along.

This little doggie ain’t a going to Wyoming.

1. His main point is that he expects the IPCC to suppress this graph in its final report, as it has suppressed such inconvenient data in the past – but that’s politics, this here is Science!

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

5 thoughts on “Dueling Science! Headlines”

  1. Been enjoying your blog for a while. Love your Science! posts especially. Just thought out that using my long-abused eyeballs (it’s Science!) I can pretty much state flatly that none of the scenarios look even remotely like the observed “reality” to me, except for AR4, right up until about 2005. Which is sad, because if the little labelled hashes at the bottom mean what I think they mean… AR4 was conceived in ~2007. Additionally, the eyeballo-scope (patent pending) reads the curve flat or even falling from 2005 onwards.

    Otherwise, keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for reading! Yea, the point, insofar as there is one, is just that – what, if anything, are we to make of a tiny sample – 10, 15 years, or even a century or 3 – of data where the mechanism that generated it is both complex and poorly understood? Up, down, flat – the trend line over such a tiny sample means what, exactly? The level of shrill panic seems a bit excessive…

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