Cutting-edge science and long-pondered questions explained in plain English. Bad science gutted. Great science extolled.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NPR Interview of Kristen Byrnes, Global Warming Denier

Morning Edition on NPR recently produced a puff piece about Kristen Bynes, blogger of Ponder the Maunder, a blog dedicated to refuting the idea that global warming is a man-made phenomenon.

While the issue of a 16 yo kid becoming a leading global warming contrarian is devastating for the contrary view's validity as a scientific theory, and it seems that she indeed attended a short course at UGoog in Climate Science to arrive at her pre-ordained conclusions (which is the complete antithesis of how science should be conducted,) and that NPR is succumbing to natural selection by lowest common denominator, it seems that there is more to this story.

Personally, I’m not sold on the whole idea of global warming, man-made or not. I used to be. I was upset by the enormous amounts of CO2 that we humans were venting into the atmosphere, just like we exhaust raw sewage into our oceans, etc., etc., etc. And, you know, it seemed warmer, discounting that horrendous Iowa winter of 1995 when temps hit -40F and the Iowa River froze over. You can eliminate outliers in your data, as long as you can account for them, or at least make a nice statistical argument for ignoring them. It seemed that the consensus of the scientific community is that man-made global warming is a threat, and I generally go along with scientific consensus unless there’s a valid reason to doubt, and it had better be a good one. I don’t like the contrarian position.

I do, however, like data. Hard data. Preferably raw, pre-crunched data.

Here’s what changed my mind on global warming: I read that horrible anti-GW novel by Michael Crichton, which so sticks in my mind that I can’t recall the title, and I thought that his novel was so badly written that surely its conclusions can be tossed aside with great force. Crichton is both a horrid novelist and merely an MD.

(Yes, I am arrogant to snark so widely. I hold a fiction MFA from Iowa, where I received many prizes, and have published two well-received novels. During my PhD work in microbiology, I taught medical students in a Midwestern medical school. They’re great at memorizing things but, let’s face it, medical school does not reward original thought nor critical thinking. Their exams are multiple-guess. So, I’m snarky and arrogant. Crichton has loads more money than I have and a huge house on Kauai. He can take the shot.)

So, I set out on my own course of study at UGoog. I expected to quickly dismiss Crichton’s objections with data and confirm the majority opinion. It seems like an overwhelming opinion. I figured it would take an hour.

Here’s what I found: the global warming data is terrible. The methods that collected the data that produced the scary graph that we’ve all seen (where temperature spikes up in the 1970’s) are beyond shaky. It’s really bad science.

I read the whole UN report, and the data that is cited in the prologue, which everyone reads, is a minor part of the whole report. Only surface temps, and only those in major urban areas, are going up. Atmospheric temperatures are not. This is to be expected by the “heat island” effect, where asphalt retains more heat than soil and re-radiates this heat at night.

Personally, I’m on the fence. The data behind GW, whether man-made or not, sucks.

Here’s the problem: whenever you say that the data sucks, people jump on you like you insulted Jesus. They label you a “denialist” and, rather than debate the data, accuse you of wanting to rape the planet.

The global warming debate has moved from the arena of science, where one is free to debate data, methods, and conclusions, and into the area of religion, where one must adhere to dogma or else risk retribution.

That’s a huge problem.

When I published a short blog post about this (http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/2007/11/hoax-of-global-warming-john-coleman.html ), I got hate mail. Not refute mail. Not argue mail. Hate mail.

Even though my blog post encouraged recycling and conservation, people accused me of trying to destroy the planet.

The debate about global warming must return to being a debate, not a tirade, not a crusade, and not a sermon.

TK Kenyon
http://www.tkkenyon.com
http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/

Author of RABID ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640021 ) and CALLOUS ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ): Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

1 comment:

BHUVAN CHAND said...

IF President Bush had unveiled his goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at the beginning of his administration instead of in its waning months, he might have actually played a role in linking the United States to global efforts to curb climate change. But the proposals he made yesterday, which in 2001 could have been a starting point for negotiations with advocates of stronger action in Congress, are now too belated and too weak to be more than a historical footnote. All three remaining presidential candidates are committed to much more stringent, mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide.