Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ignorance, blindness, and outright misinformation

A childhood acquaintance on Facebook posted a link to a CBN News article that serves as a good example of what is wrong with conservative news media.  Written by Dale Hurd, it is a mash-up of science denier canards with little in the way of actual science or evidence.

The first paragraph sets the tone, making fun of the scientists who were trapped in Antarctic ice.  Nowhere does Hurd mention HOW the scientists were trapped: A storm packed sea ice into the bay their ship was in.  Now this can happen at any time of the year but it doesn't mean that the ice is growing.  It's summer down in Antarctica, a time when Antarctic sea ice melts from ~19 million km2 in September down to ~2-3 million km2 by March.  That leaves plenty of broken pack ice for winds to blow around, especially in the early part of the melt season such as December when the ship was trapped.  So the irony is that those scientists were trapped by MELTING sea ice, an irony completely lost on Hurd.

Hurd's claim: "Ice is not only growing in the South Pole, but in parts of the North Pole, too."

While satellite data shows that Antarctic sea ice is growing, there's reason to believe that some of that growth is not real.  Eisenman et al. (2014) showed that part of the reported growth in Antarctic sea ice is due to how the satellite data is processed rather than actual ice growth.  The most likely source of that error is a change in the type of sensor used to measure ice extent in December 1991 which made the ice appear more extensive than the previous sensor (see their figure 2).  Eisenman and his co-authors suggest subtracting 150,000 km2 from all monthly Antarctic sea ice averages after December 1991 to calibrate the data and factor out the shift due to the change in sensors.  When I do that, the trend in Antarctic sea ice changes +17,961 km2/year (± 2,427 km2/year 1σ standard error) down to +11,819 km2/year (± 2,689 km2/year 1σ standard error).  Still statistically significant but 1/3 less than the trend of the uncalibrated data.  Hurd also ignores the research that shows Antarctica lost an average of -71 billion metric tons of land ice per year for the past 20 years (Shepherd et al. 2012) and that Antarctic sea ice is growing because of the melt water flowing off the continent diluting the top layer of the Southern Ocean and making it fresher (Bintanja et al. 2013).

The only way his claim about growing ice in parts of the North Pole works is if you start your trend in September 2012, the lowest point on record, and completely ignore everything else.  Yes, Arctic sea ice "rebounded" in 2013—to the 6th lowest extent on record.  And Arctic sea ice in December 2013 was "only" the 4th lowest on record.  One years worth of random fluctuation doesn't change the long-term trend, a statistical concept that is apparently lost on Hurd.

Hurd's claim: "And the coldest arctic temperatures in decades have descended upon North America."

Just because it's cold in your backyard doesn't mean that it's colder everywhere.  Look beyond your nose:

Average surface temperature anomaly December 2013
 Notice anything?  And you can't claim that it's just GISS, either.  UAH satellite temperature anomaly maps for December 2013 shows the same pattern:

Hurd's claim: "There are signs that the Earth is entering a very unpleasant cooling period. Sunspot activity remains very low."

Sunspot activity has been falling since 1957.  If global temperatures depended solely on sunspot activity, then global temperatures would have peaked in the late 1950s/early 1960s.  As it is, there's plenty of research available that shows that solar activity has had little to no impact on global temperatures over the past 40+ years (i.e. Usoskin et al. 2005; Foster and Rahmstorf 2011; Huber and Knutti 2011).  Scientists have also examined the impact of a new Maunder Minimum (the lowest solar activity on record) and found that it will have minimal impact, with global temperatures rising by "only" 3.7ºC by AD 2100 rather than the 4ºC rise currently forecast (Feulner and Rahmstorf 2010).

Hurd's claim: 'The last time the sun was this quiet, North America and Europe suffered through a weather event from the 1600s to the 1800s known as "Little Ice Age..."'

First, Hurd might want to check his dates.  The Little Ice Age began around AD 1300 with a series of volcanic eruptions (Miller et al. 2012), NOT in the 1600s.  Second, once again, just because it's colder in your backyard does not mean that it's colder everywhere.

Average temperature anomaly (1961-1990 baseline) during the Little Ice Age.  Taken from Mann et al. 2009.
Hurd's claim: "Pedersen said climate scientists know the Earth stopped warming 15 years ago."

If this statement is true, Jens Pedersen should be ashamed of himself for spouting a blatant lie and for botching his calender to boot (1998 was 16 years ago, not 15).  I've dealt with this one extensively before.  There's no evidence that the Earth stopped warming in 1998.  In fact, as I've already shown here, you can't even conclude that the rate of temperature rise has even changed.  Most of the apparent "pause" in global warming is due to problems with the current surface data sets (HadCRUT4 doesn't include the polar regions, GISS doesn't calibrate buoy-based sea surface temperature measurements to ship-based measurements).  As Cowtan and Way (2013) showed, once you correct those problems, warming since 1998 continues at a 0.1ºC per decade clip—and the underlying rate of rise after factoring out ENSO, volcanic activity, and the solar cycle is running at 0.18ºC per decade.

Hurd's claim: '"In particular one of the issues has been why global warming has stopped during the last 15 years, and climate scientists were very frank that the climate models do not match the climate we observe," Pedersen said.'

Leaving out the fact that Pedersen repeats his lie about global warming stopping 15 years ago, the more interesting question is WHY climate models do not match observations.  I've already considered this one as well and shown that much of the mismatch is due to a combination of errors in the observations and changes in ENSO, volcanic activity, and solar activity.

Hurd's claim: "It has become a political movement, a cash cow for climate scientists and environmental groups, and a way for world leaders to control economies and people."

Ah yes, when all else fails, pull out the conspiracy theories.  Does Hurd also doubt the moon landing as well?

Hurd's claim: "Climate change skeptics have been censored and compared to Holocaust deniers and even child molesters."

 Actually, it was science deniers who compared a climate scientist to a child molester.

In short, Hurd's article is very short on actual facts and analysis, long on debunked talking points, and really just serves to keep his intended audience ignorant while thinking that they know far more than they actually do.  Which appears to be the entire point.


  1. Yeah I'm always dealing with the same denier argument, it seems to go in cycles. Now you are apparently heading towards an ice-age if we are to believe them.
    Also because more and more deniers accepts the earth is getting warmer, they now says is natural namely the sun.
    That is at least a small progress in my book.

    There is a nice glacier blog with lots of info about Antarctica

    1. Oh forgot the Antarctic blog.