Yes, the Earth is still warming. No, it didn’t stop 16 years ago

7 02 2013

There are probably as many climate change myths circling around the internet as there were days of record-breaking temperatures in 2012.  The latest myth (a variation on another myth) is that global warming stopped 16 years go.  This is similar to other claims that say, “global warming stopped in year X”

This variation of the myth got its start after the Daily Mail (a London tabloid) reported:

“The world stopped getting warmer almost 16 years ago, according to new data released last week.

The figures, which have triggered debate among climate scientists, reveal that from the beginning of 1997 until August 2012, there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures.

This means that the ‘plateau’ or ‘pause’ in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years” (Source).

As this article from Discovery shows, the Daily Mail article is filled with misrepresentations and falsehoods (not that such a fact ever stops these myths from spreading).  The Daily Mail attempted to use a report from the Met Office to show that the planet hasn’t been warming for the last 16 years, but as this statement from the Met Office explains, “The first decade of this century has been, by far, the warmest decade on instrumental record”.

The report the Met Office did put out doesn’t even make mention of the issue brought up by the Daily Mail article.  In fact, the Met Office explained this to the Daily Mail in an email exchange:

Q.1 (From the Daily Mail) “First, please confirm that they do indeed reveal no warming trend since 1997.”

The linear trend from August 1997 (in the middle of an exceptionally strong El Nino) to August 2012 (coming at the tail end of a double-dip La Nina) is about 0.03°C/decade, amounting to a temperature increase of 0.05°C over that period, but equally we could calculate the linear trend from 1999, during the subsequent La Nina, and show a more substantial warming.

As we’ve stressed before, choosing a starting or end point on short-term scales can be very misleading. Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system. (emphasis added) If you use a longer period from HadCRUT4 the trend looks very different. For example, 1979 to 2011 shows 0.16°C/decade (or 0.15°C/decade in the NCDC dataset, 0.16°C/decade in GISS). Looking at successive decades over this period, each decade was warmer than the previous – so the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 2000s were warmer than both. Eight of the top ten warmest years have occurred in the last decade.

Over the last 140 years global surface temperatures have risen by about 0.8ºC. However, within this record there have been several periods lasting a decade or more during which temperatures have risen very slowly or cooled. The current period of reduced warming is not unprecedented and 15 year long periods are not unusual (Source).

Choosing a random starting point in order to get the data to say there is no warming is an old climate “skeptic” trick.  The last part of that message is important so I’ll restate it: “However, within this record there have been several periods lasting a decade or more during which temperatures have risen very slowly or cooled.”  Global warming isn’t about temperatures rising year-by-year in a straight line.  Variation is expected (a point I touched on in my previous post).

So what else do we know?  Well, the last 35 years have shown an increase in global temperatures.  But the warming has varied from year-to-year.  Various weather events, such as El Nino, along with volcanic activity have an impact on this year-to-year variation.  The upward trend is driven by greenhouse warming from human-created emissions.  Watch this video , even after those natural causes are taken out we still see an upward trend in temperatures over the last 16-years.

And let’s not forget that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US (Source).

It’s as simple as that really.  This myth is, well, a myth.  The planet is warming, and humans are the cause.

Weird weather. Soon to be normal weather

1 02 2013

2012 was the year of extreme weather and 2013 is already looking like it will be runner-up, if it doesn’t break 2012’s records.  Over the past couple of weeks here in Southern Ontario the temperatures have gone from -20 (windchill -29) Celsius, to a high of 12.  As of right now the temperature sits at -9 (windchill -16).  At the start of the week I was walking around in shoes.  A couple of days later I had my winter boots back on.  The U.S., along with the rest of the world, has seen its fair share of extremes over the past year as records were shattered in 2012.

From The New York Times:

While parts of China are enduring the harshest winter in 30 years, the Antarctic is warming at an alarming rate. In Australia, out-of-control bushfires are partially the result of record-breaking weather (new colors were added to weather forecast maps, to account for the new kind of heat). In the United States, where Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York and where extreme drought still lingers in the Midwest, the average temperature in 2012 was more than a whole degree Fahrenheit (or 5/9 of a degree Celsius) higher than average – shattering the record.

More from The New York Times

Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.

Here in Britain, people are used to thinking of rain as the wallpaper on life’s computer screen — an omnipresent, almost comforting background presence. But even the hardiest citizen was rattled by the near-biblical fierceness of the rains that bucketed down, and the floods that followed, three different times in 2012.

The extreme weather of 2012 has raised concerns among scientists, who say that these events are linked to climate change.  According . According to the National Climatic Assessment report released in 2012:

There is “unambiguous evidence” that the earth is warming. “Certain types of weather events,” the panel concluded, “have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting.”

The report makes it clear that the earth is warming and extreme weather events are occurring with increased frequency.  But is extreme weather proof of a warming planet?  Yes, and no.  Let’s get this out of the way:  Weather is not climate.  We’ll start by looking at some definitions:

Weather is the mix of events that happen each day in our atmosphere including temperature, rainfall and humidity. Weather is not the same everywhere. Perhaps it is hot, dry and sunny today where you live, but in other parts of the world it is cloudy, raining or even snowing. Every day, weather events are recorded and predicted by meteorologists worldwide.

Climate in your place on the globe controls the weather where you live. Climate is the average weather pattern in a place over many years. So, the climate of Antarctica is quite different than the climate of a tropical island. Hot summer days are quite typical of climates in many regions of the world, even without the effects of global warming (Source).

All this means is that you can’t point to a single weather event and say, “It was climate change”.  However, weather conditions can tell us something about the state of the climate.  A warmer planet increases, “the chances of weather disasters” (Source).

Another point to note is that although scientists predict a warmer planet, certain regions could face harsher winters.

The unprecedented expanse of ice-free Arctic Ocean has been absorbing the 24-hour sun over the short polar summer. The heat in the water must be released into the atmosphere if the ice is to re-form this autumn. “This is like a new energy source for the atmosphere,” said Francis.

This heat and water vapour will affect the all-important jet stream – the west-to-east winds that are the boundary between cold Arctic and the warm mid-latitudes. Others researchers have already shown that the jet stream has been shifting northwards in recent years.

This should serve as a reminder that while the global trend is a warming planet, that trend may not be evenly distributed.  We shouldn’t expect the global average temperature to increase in a nice straight line.  There could be cold periods, but the overall trend is a warming planet.


Reasons to Debate the Creationists “It’s just plain wrong”

6 11 2012

Creationists.  The mere mention of them is the cause of much hair-pulling and frustration among the atheist community.  “People believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that the flood killed the dinosaurs? Really?”  It’s no surprise then that a favourite pastime in the community is coming up with arguments against creationism.  Load your brain up with facts that you can use in an effort to get the creationists to stop running their mouths.

Last week’s AAFW discussion was on creationism.  After the group went over the various types of creationists I asked the question, “What point is there to coming up with critiques for creationists?  We’ve already stated that most of these types are more or less committed to denying reality so why waste our time?  Advice on debating a creationist should consist of one word: “Don’t”.

The rest of the AAFW group, however, put forward some satisfying reasons for why going after creationism can still be a worthy venture.  The most important point to draw from the various combinations of arguments that were brought up is that this is about propaganda.  The creationist effort is propaganda.  Not only to spread creationist ideas, but other values you’d expect of a creationist, e.g. social conservatism.  We can’t forget that there are people out there sitting on the fence.  If we don’t offer counters to the creationists’ claims, then those on the fence only hear one side.  Therefore, a critique of creationism doesn’t have to mean debating with the creationists directly, but providing information to keep those on the fence from falling the wrong way.

Another concern is education.  I don’t think this is happening in Canada so much, but down in the U.S. there are stories of school councils that want to teach creationism in the science class.  A science education that focuses on a myth will not do any favours for children who will find themselves at a disadvantage when they walk out of school with a view of the world that is based on fantasy.  Knowing how to counter the claims of the creationists could be a useful tool for community member’s wanting to speak out and make a case against a science class that teaches creationism.  There are people who know creationism is false, but may not have the knowledge to counter the popular creationist claims.  The efforts of atheist and sceptic groups to put out pamphlets on how to debate a creationist could prove useful.

For those who have dedicated their life’s work to science, the theory of evolution in particular, hearing someone spreading lies and misinformation can be a very frustrating experience.  My patience level for those that deny that we are experiencing a cycle of human-caused climate change is close to non-existent.  I understand, and agree, with the desire to get angry when people actively try to undermine your work, and fully support the efforts of those that want to counter the claims.

Critiquing creationism is certainly not the most important task in the world, but doing so does serve a purpose.  In the hands of the religious-right, creationism is a propaganda tool that draws people in to an unfavourable world view, damages opportunities for education, and it’s just plain wrong.

Time For a Split in the Community

18 08 2012

Over the past year it has become evident that a rift is growing in the atheist/skeptic community.  The rift first formed when some in the community had the audacity to bring feminism and gender issues into our big tent of people who don’t believe in fairy tales.  Overnight, sometime after coffee in an elevator (or something), “feminism” was on the tongue of every individual in this community, for good or bad.  (Though many would point out that these issues have been going on for much longer than Elevatorgate).   We on the side of those trying to bring the feminism and gender issues to the forefront became painfully aware that our community was crawling with individuals who felt that it’s fine for a woman to talk about science and laugh at the silly superstitious folk, but that she better keep her damn mouth shut when it comes to equality and get back to showing her tits.   Our movement is not as progressive and forward thinking as we thought it was.  It can be, but first we need to have a split, and send the sexist/MRAs packing.

Jen McCreight has written an excellent article  on the current status of the atheist/skeptic community and its many problems when it comes to how it views feminism and gender issues.  There is a certain segment of this community that can not see past its own privilege.  It resorts to failed arguments whenever it is called out on said privilege, and, when all else fails, will resort to threats and intimidation.  Some of us have expressed bafflement at all of this.  Matt Dillahunty said he was “baffled” by the behaviour of Thunderf00t in the recent Freethoughtblogs debacle, but there’s nothing to be baffled about when we see individuals in this community taking the sexist/MRA line.

There’s a line of thought in the community that goes something like this: Being skeptical is very important.  We should be skeptical about every claim made.  Therefore, we should express “skepticism” at claims made by feminists.

More on that line of reasoning in a moment.  I want to quickly touch on another problem: Atheists/skeptics stepping outside of their areas of expertise.  I’m going to refer to this as, “The Sam Harris Problem”.  Sam Harris has been well known for writing appallingly bad, and hilariously wrong opinion pieces on foreign policy and religion’s influence on terrorism (especially Islam), that’s because Harris is stepping outside of his field of expertise.  Sticking to his own field, he’s fine, but when he reaches outside the boundaries he leaves behind a mess of nonsense.  Likewise, we see The Sam Harris Problem afflicting atheists like Thunderf00t.  What TF did for the community as far as his “Why Do People Laugh at Creationists?” series goes was excellent.  Here is someone efficiently debunking creationist nonsense.  However, as soon as TF dipped his foot into the world of feminism he became another sad case of, “Please, stop talking.  It’s painful for us all.”

Now back to “skepticism”.  Time and time again, whenever I’ve found myself in a discussion about feminism with someone who thinks that the Rebecca Watsons and Jen McCreights of the world are just full of it, I find myself confronted with this claim that the individual is just being “skeptical” about the issue.  Here, “skeptical” means “questioning every single claim made and demanding that every point the ‘skeptic’ brings up is refuted, otherwise the whole theory must be invalid.”

An argument broke out on the AAFW Facebook page recently in which this “skepticism” was on display.  One individual made the claim that “female privilege” exists and preceded to list a few examples of ways in which women have advantages over men.  I dismissed the points as being MRA nonsense, and was accused of committing a logical fallacy.  Rejecting the claims because they likely came from MRA sources was viewed as poor form on my part.  I had committed the genetic fallacy.  So here’s where the “skepticism” comes in.  I wasn’t being “skeptical” because I didn’t want to make an argument against every single point that had been made.  The problem being: The points are irrelevant to the larger issue of male privilege and patriarchy.  “Female privilege” is not a thing, it doesn’t exist.  Listing a few examples of ways women have it better than men (some of which were in fact refuted by other AAFW members) does not build a case for the existence of female privilege.  It just shows that the individual does not understand what privilege means in this context.

Given that this community is dominated by science/math types, it comes as no surprise that there is a complete failure, on the part of some, to grasp and understand social science issues (I’m not trying to bad-mouth the science/math types here, they aren’t all guilty of this.  It’s just my thought on why we see such hostile attitudes towards feminism.  They don’t view the conclusions draw by feminists as having been formed by careful analysis.  We aren’t throwing around terms like “male privilege” and “rape culture” lightly and without reason, but it’s what we are accused of doing.)

The other problem with thinking that it is necessary to question and debate every claim, to demand that all  your arguments be responded to even if they are points that have been refuted a thousand times elsewhere, or are just plain wrong is that in doing so you end up sounding like a creationist.  (The sort of person whose level of thinking you’ve supposedly elevated yourself above).  Can’t disprove point #4? Well I must be right and you’re wrong.  Don’t want to debate me on this? Well I must be right and you’re wrong.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I want the sexist/MRAs out.  They are not helping the community at all.  Instead, they are making what should be a community that, through it’s ability to think critically, should be able to see beyond the patriarchy and male-privilege of our society into a place where many do not feel safe and have become afraid to speak out on important issues.  You, the sexist/MRAs (who need to have it explained to them why calling Rebecca Watson a “cunt” is wrong), need to leave right now.  I know I’ll draw the ire of some, even on the AAFW page, by saying that I’m tired of listening to apologists for this nonsense, but I’m not bothered by it.  Plus I’m hoping they realize that a discussion on this is a waste of time for everyone.  In the long-run, we will all be better off thanks to a split.  There will be benefits that come from this.

Some may be rightly concerned over what a split like this would do to the movement, but I see it as a way of life, movements split all the time. There may be a shared view on one point – don’t believe in gods – but a lot of divergence on another point, such as feminism. I also think a split might be a way to draw back some to the movement who have left it because of this “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men”, (to borrow from Jen McCreight) tendency. If we can hold up a sign saying, “Hey! We reject that bullshit.” We could bring them back.  If we need to dump a few people along the way to reach that point, I’m all for it.

Time to split.






Dr. Robert M Wagner: Global Warming Denier

14 05 2012

Reading this story about a recent global warming denying presentation given by Dr. Wagner filled me with a sense of frustration but also of satisfaction.

The frustration is obvious.  Here we have, once again, an unqualified “expert” trying to make a case that humans are not to blame for the current global warming.  His arguments, which will be discussed further below, are easily dismantled and yet he will continue to persist no matter how much evidence is shoved in front of his face.  My satisfaction stems from a number of factors.  First, go take a look at the picture in the link to the story.  That lecture hall is next to empty.  I think I saw a larger audience at a 9/11 Truthers talk I went to a few years back.  It’s an encouraging sign that many in that community realize that Wagner’s views, along with the College Republicans, on this issue are a joke.  Right up there with “the Earth is flat”.  Second, the article gives sufficient space to the arguments from climate scientists who are quick to – rightfully – dismiss Wagner.  A sign indicating that people are getting the message that a for and against view of global warming are not on equal playing fields.  We still have a ways to go.  Public misunderstanding of science is still a problem.  But this is a start.

Now lately I have found myself hand-waving away arguments against the existence of climate change, likening it debating creationists.  There’s no point.  The science is settled and there’s no sense wasting time on people who, no matter what you say or what you present to them, will always find “holes” in the theory that they believe provide a satisfactory reason to dismiss it.  The “Earth is flat” line is referring to a scientist who, in response to the leader of the Wildrose Party in Alberta who said that the science on climate change is not settled, asked if this leader thought scientists are debating whether the Earth is flat or not.  Some people may still be uneasy to take this position but, we are at the point where we can have a bit of mockery towards the global warming deniers in the same way we do with those who think the Earth is 6,000 years old.  Michael Shermer has even gone as far to show how creationists, global warming deniers, and holocaust denialists all think alike.  Needless to say, this comparison will make people anger but it’s not without merit.  All of that being said, I do want to take a look at what Wagner is saying because it’s too amusing not to bring up.

As this is a scientific issue we can expect that Wagner brings out a scientific argument.  Nope, the first argument we get is how this is about politics.

“If you really boil it down, [the climate change debate] is about control,” Wagner said. “How can we maximize and centralize the power to make all your decisions for you.”

There you have it folks.  We can deny global warming on the basis that some will use it increase government influence and power.  Well on that accusation I, and many others, would be guilty.  We are of the opinion that a free market has not proven itself capable of creating a system that will allow for a satisfactory reduction in greenhouse gases.  Therefore, drastic action by governments has to be taken in order to implement the changes.  One of the comments on the article stated that the author of the comment was skeptical of global warming because of how it seems to play into a liberal view of government.  The argument has nothing to do with science.  It’s all politics.  Aside from the obvious, that what political view seems most related to solving a problem revealed by the science is irrelevant, it also ignores – in this case – the existence of Republican scientists that accept the sciene or the existence of ecological capitalism and other sustainable business ideas that propose that companies can do a much better job at self-regulating and reducing environmental harm and greenhouse gas emissions – while making a huge profit – casts doubt on the “this fits a liberal view” argument.  Not to mention that companies that take on a line of being “sustainable” are doing fairly well.  Wal-Mart is considered one of the greenest companies.  Whether or not these are truly “sustainable” companies is a matter for another discussion.  Suffice to say that liberals and “big government” types are not the only ones benefiting from global warming issues.  Despite what the deniers try to argue.

This isn’t the only argument made by Wagner. There are some scientific arguments presented by this article (perhaps more were made in the presentation but they aren’t given here).  The first one is given a refutation in the article itself.

Wagner used numerous charts and throughout his presentation to show that “global warming” is a myth created to support green energy.

“At a level of 10 times the atmospheric CO2 we have today, we fell into an ice age,” he stated. “And you’re being warned that you need to shut down the oil industry and live a life of half the quality you’re used to living.”

Fogt refuted that glacial and interglacial cycles from the past have followed this pattern. “However, currently, we are seeing the sharp changes in CO2 lead the changes in temperature,” he stated. “And these sharp CO2 changes are due mostly to man.”

Wagner states in his second argument that, “There is no real connection between temperate and atmospheric CO2. Temperature increases first then CO2, they get their variables mixed up”.  This simply isn’t true.  I found a similar variation of the argument and subsequent rebutall here.

CO2 lags temperature
“An article in Science magazine illustrated that a rise in carbon dioxide did not precede a rise in temperatures, but actually lagged behind temperature rises by 200 to 1000 years.  A rise in carbon dioxide levels could not have caused a rise in temperature if it followed the temperature.” (Joe Barton)


Earth’s climate has varied widely over its history, from ice ages characterised by large ice sheets covering many land areas, to warm periods with no ice at the poles. Several factors have affected past climate change, including solar variability, volcanic activity and changes in the composition of the atmosphere. Data from Antarctic ice cores reveals an interesting story for the past 400,000 years. During this period, CO2 and temperatures are closely correlated, which means they rise and fall together. However, based on Antarctic ice core data, changes in CO2 follow changes in temperatures by about 600 to 1000 years, as illustrated in Figure 1 below. This has led some to conclude that CO2 simply cannot be responsible for current global warming.

This statement does not tell the whole story. The initial changes in temperature during this period are explained by changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, which affects the amount of seasonal sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. In the case of warming, the lag between temperature and CO2 is explained as follows: as ocean temperatures rise, oceans release CO2 into the atmosphere. In turn, this release amplifies the warming trend, leading to yet more CO2 being released. In other words, increasing CO2 levels become both the cause and effect of further warming. This positive feedback is necessary to trigger the shifts between glacials and interglacials as the effect of orbital changes is too weak to cause such variation. Additional positive feedbacks which play an important role in this process include other greenhouse gases, and changes in ice sheet cover and vegetation patterns.

2012 study by Shakun et al. looked at temperature changes 20,000 years ago (the last glacial-interglacial transition) from around the world and added more detail to our understanding of the CO2-temperature change relationship.  They found that:

  • The Earth’s orbital cycles trigger the initial warming (starting approximately 19,000 years ago), which is first reflected in the the Arctic.
  • This Arctic warming caused large amounts of ice to melt, causing large amounts of fresh water to flood into the oceans.
  • This influx of fresh water then disrupted the Atlantic Ocean circulation, in turn causing a seesawing of heat between the hemispheres.  The Southern Hemisphere and its oceans warmed first, starting about 18,000 years ago.
  • The warming Southern Ocean then released CO2 into the atmosphere starting around 17,500 years ago, which in turn caused the entire planet to warm via the increased greenhouse effect.

Overall, about 90% of the global warming occurred after the CO2 increase

There you have it.  The scientific arguments given by Wagner are refuted by people that actually know what they are talking and, more importantly, the evidence.

Those are the only scientific arguments from Wagner that are detailed in the article, perhaps there are more.  Not that it really makes a difference.  The closing argument from Wagner given in the article is to point out the strong correlation between party affiliation and belief in climate change. A) Climate change is not a position of belief and B) So? You’re also less likely to believe in creationism if you fall anywhere left of Republican.  Could it be that non-Republicans are just better at understanding science and that doing so doesn’t contradict our world-view the way it does if you are a religious Republican?

Wagner is your typical global warming denier.  Spend a small chunk of time talking about actual “science” even though the arguments have been refuted and then spend the rest talking about how you don’t like the politics.  I saw the same behaviour from the speaker at the 9/11 Truther talk I mentioned.  He spent most of the time talking about how evil the Bush administration was and very little time actually making a case that the towers were brought down by the government.  You see this line of thinking in the anti-science-based-medicine and anti-gmo crowd too.  Their arguments are based more on an objection to the shady business practices of the companies behind those things than the actual science.  We who accept the evidence are accused of having a bias, but it is the reversal of this accusation that is the truth.

Do Wind Farms Cause Global Warming? *Spoiler* No

13 05 2012

Wind farms may cause global warming is a line that went around the mediasphere recently in response to a study Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature, that was published in Nature.  As with most sensationalist reporting of scientific studies by the media, the claim that wind farms may be contributing to global warming is a misreading/misunderstanding of what the study was actually saying.

Here’s what Liming Zhou, the study’s lead research had to say on the matter:

“We need to realize that the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning fossil fuel will have global impacts,” Zhou wrote in a question-and-answer piece, “while the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small. Generating wind power creates no emissions, uses no water, and is likely green. Wind power is going to be a part of the solution to the climate change, air pollution and energy security problem.”

So what does the study say?  Basically, the research indicates that wind farms may have an impact the temperature’s surface of the earth, albeit a minor one.

The researchers studied west Texas, where four of the world’s largest wind farms are located. They analyzed satellite data collected from 2003-2011, and concluded that the wind farms there may cause a “significant warming trend of up to .72 [degrees Celsius] per decade.” The likely reason for the warming is that windmills act as fans, pulling warmer air from above down to the surface, especially during nighttime hours.

But, as Zhou notes, this is hardly sufficient evidence to state the wind farms are causing global warming and we should therefore abandon them.  This was a small and local effect and furthermore, wind farms do not create the greenhouse gases that are the true concern of climate scientists.


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Jay Ingram: “Truth, An Inconvenience”

20 04 2012

Carleton University, Ottawa – Jay Ingram, former host of Daily Planet, was in town this week to give a talk on research that indicates that our political and social views impact our stance on a scientific controversy.  It’s important to note that this research is fairly new and still in its infancy so it could turn out to be wrong.  That being said, it still makes for an interesting conversation for the sceptic community.

Ingram began the talk with a personal story demonstrating how we tend to become annoyed, even angered, when our values are challenged by science.  In many cases our stance on a scientific issue is formed not by what the data says but by our political and social values.

He spoke of how our scientific views tend to be affected by what end of the social/political spectrum we land on i.e. individualist vs. communitarian/hierarchical  vs. egalitarian.  Using the example of climate change, Ingram discussed a study that found that those on the individualist/hierarchical end of the spectrum were more likely to disagree with a statement saying the science on climate change is settled.  Meanwhile, the communitarian/egalitarians tended to disagree with the statement saying the science is not settled.

It didn’t matter that these statements were given with no scientific data and thus there was no proper sceptical inquiry being done to come to the conclusion.  The values of those in the study dictated their conclusion long before they were presented with any information.  All of this seems to fit under the category of “obviously”.  Now we have studies that may confirm this obviousness.

It does make sense.  The individualist tends to be the anti-big government type.  Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change is typically thought to involve government actions, taxes, regulations etc.  We see this thinking in libertarian sceptics.  Penn Jillette, populizer of scepticism and die-hard libertarian/randian, presents a view of human-caused climate change that comes off as rather doubtful in his book “God, No!”.  Michael Shermer was, for some time, a doubter as well.  He’s also a libertarian.  My own life has seen me crossing paths with a libertarian who professed doubtfulness towards the human contribution to climate change.

This seems, as stated, to be rather obvious.  How about a surprise then?  Scientifically literate individualists are actually more likely to disbelieve in the climate change science.  How could this be?  The reason seems to lie in the fact that their increased knowledge of science leads to a confidence that has them conviced that they can see holes in the science.  Knowledge breeds cockiness.

One climate change doubter/libertarian I know stated that he was simply approaching the issue from an honest perspective of academic debate.  This argument is nonsense, of course.  The academic debate is long over and he might as well have said that scientists are still debating whether the Earth is flat or not.

Tempting as it is for me to continue ragging on libertarians, I’ll point out that flawed scientific thinking exists among their counter-parts on the other end of the spectrum (the end that I consider myself to be on).  I think you know what I’m referring to here, that lefty that distrusts GMOs and science-based medicine because both are the products of corporations with highly questionable ethics.  They try to argue that the science can’t be trusted because of the source of the product.  They’ll turn to disproven or unproven forms of medicine because it represents something in opposition to this corporate evil.

It has been shown that we are more likely to seek out flaws to opinions that clash with our beliefs.  Show a person two studies that are for all intents and purposes equal in their methodologies and quality of data but with two different conclusions.  The one that has the conclusion the person disagrees with is the one they will attempt to find flaws in more so than the one they agree with.

This habit is reflected in my own biases that work against good sceptical practices.  When I see a post on Facebook that I agree with my typical reaction is to give it a “like” and move on.  On the other hand, if someone posts a link or comment that I find to be highly flawed, I’m likely to dig into the article/comment, search for other articles to gather evidence to call its validity into question and write out a response that consumes the little free time I have these days.  This habit is going to come back to haunt me one day when I’m shown that a view that I strongly held and never challenged or questioned is proven to be wrong with no room for arguing otherwise.

Ingram also asked if biology plays a part.  In studies, those who identified as republicans tended to have a higher fear reaction based on functions in the brain.  This may explain why they believe in a need for stronger law enforcement and authority to protect them.  In another test, the classic “read the colour, not the word” test it was found that people who identified as democrats spent more time revaluating the decisions and correcting their mistakes.  On average, there are differences in the brains of people with different political views.

It may turn out that the science is wrong here and that it’s shown that our political/social views don’t have an impact as strong as suggested by the studies.  For now though, it provides an important lesson for sceptics.  Understanding how our views may impact our reading of science allows us to be mindful of the fact and challenge ourselves to see outside the limits of political and social ideologies.  We need to let the data speak.




Exorcism in Saskatoon (Yes, Exorcism)

15 04 2012

Bishop Don Bolen of the Saskatoon Bishop’s office is a man with a B.A. Honours in English and Religious Studies at the University of Regina.  Bishop Bolen also believes in demons and the ability to perform exorcisms and his make-believe fantasies are putting a man’s health at risk.

A case of what is being called possible demonic possession in Saskatoon has prompted local church officials to consider the need for an exorcist.

According to church officials, a priest was called to a Saskatoon home by a woman who said her uncle showed signs of being possessed by the devil. The woman believed a priest’s blessing could help the distraught man.

At the home, the priest encountered a shirtless middle-aged man, slouched on a couch and holding his head in his hands.

The man had used a sharp instrument to carve the word Hell on his chest.

When the priest entered the room, the man spoke in the third person, saying “He belongs to me. Get out of here,” using a strange voice.

The priest told CBC News that he had never seen anything like this and was concerned enough to call police, for safety reasons.

He said he then blessed the man, saying he belonged to the good side, to Jesus. With that, the man’s voice returned to normal for a short time.

Welcome to 21st-century Saskatoon, where people believe The Exorcist was a work of non-fiction.  A man who most likely needs psychiatric help will not receive it because his niece believes in monsters and magic.  It’s a shame that in this day and age, with all our knowledge, that people are still relying on these ideas.  Bolen does deserve credit for calling the police, but that’s all he or the niece should have done.  The uncle needs real help, not magic.

It’d be difficult to call this an isolated incident involving one over-zealous priest.

Church leaders in Saskatoon have been considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist.

The last person in the city with formal training, Rev. Joseph Bisztyo, retired in 2003.

Nor does the Regina archdiocese have an exorcist, so Bolen said they are looking to other locations.

Could it be that they don’t have one because they don’t need one?  When they could be out helping to better the real-world, Church leaders are out chasing around invisible monsters that probably aren’t real.  No wonder many have a hard time taking them seriously these days.

We also need to discuss the embarrassing excuse for journalism on display by the CBC.  The public-run news organization is facing budget cutbacks that will force it to cut programs and staff.  They can start by firing the person behind this report.  Rather than question the statements of the priest or the niece, they take everything at face value.

CBC News followed up on the incident to learn if an exorcism had been performed, but church officials said a formal exorcism did not happen.

Bishop Don Bolen explained that the ritual of exorcism is a very structured exercise. He said it was not clear if the Saskatoon man was possessed or experiencing a mental breakdown.

There is a 99.999999999999% chance that this man was experiencing a mental breakdown.  The certainty in saying this comes from the fact that we have no evidence, zero, zilch that demons exist and can possess humans.  We have plenty of evidence regarding mental breakdowns and the functions of the human brain.  But, the report doesn’t even need to realize that.  All he needed to do was ask questions, press the priest to explain what would make a demonic possession different from a mental breakdown.  Next, the reporter could contact medical health professionals that deal with mental health.  The right expert could provide the information to answer the questions readers of the article may have regarding this incident.  Instead, readers are treated to the promotion of myth and fantasy.

Challenging the Doubters: A Guide to Debating Global Warming Doubters

19 03 2012

I intend for this to be an expanding guide.  As I come across arguments used to cast doubt on the evidence for human-caused global warming I will add them to this list along with counter-arguments. As the list grows I also hope to improve on the sources I can provide.  If you can recommend a source post it in the comments section.

The first thing that may jump out at you is that I have labelled the other-side “doubters”.  They prefer to call themselves “climate change skeptics”, but I think the use of the word “skeptic” is at best laughable and at worst insulting.  If these folk actually followed the guide of scepticism they would not come to the conclusions that they do and make the claims they spout.  My number one piece of advice for debating a doubter would be: Don’t.  They behave like creationists.  Engaging in fallacies and Gish Gallups that will leave you wanting to crack your skull open against a wall.  But, if you ever do find yourself unable to avoid the painful circumstance in which walking away is no option, then read on as I offer up a point-counterpoint for this “debate”.

1. The Debate Is Still Ongoing in Academia

This is false.  The debate on the cause of this current cycle of warming exists only in the media and among “think-tanks”.  Scientists and major scientific institutions have come to the conclusion that the evidence all points to the same source for this global warming: Humans.[1]

Anyone who tries to hide behind the guise of academic integrity and sceptical inquiry when they cast doubt on the science is simply playing games, or honestly does not realize that the debate as to the cause has long since ended.

2. Volcanoes Are Releasing More Carbon Than Humans

Volcanoes can impact climate change, but are they having a more significant impact than humans currently are? No, the numbers clearly show this is not the case:

Human activities, responsible for a projected 35 billion metric tons (gigatons) of CO2 emissions in 2010 (Friedlingstein et al., 2010), release an amount of CO2 that dwarfs the annual CO2 emissions of all the world’s degassing subaerial and submarine volcanoes (Gerlach, 2011).

The published estimates of the global CO2 emission rate for all degassing subaerial (on land) and submarine volcanoes lie in a range from 0.13 gigaton to 0.44 gigaton per year (Gerlach, 1991; Varekamp et al., 1992; Allard, 1992; Sano and Williams, 1996; Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998). The preferred global estimates of the authors of these studies range from about 0.15 to 0.26 gigaton per year. The 35-gigaton projected anthropogenic CO2 emission for 2010 is about 80 to 270 times larger than the respective maximum and minimum annual global volcanic CO2 emission estimates. It is 135 times larger than the highest preferred global volcanic CO2 estimate of 0.26 gigaton per year (Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998).

In recent times, about 70 volcanoes are normally active each year on the Earth’s subaerial terrain. One of these is Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii, which has an annual baseline CO2 output of about 0.0031 gigatons per year [Gerlach et al., 2002]. It would take a huge addition of volcanoes to the subaerial landscape—the equivalent of an extra 11,200 Kīlauea volcanoes—to scale up the global volcanic CO2emission rate to the anthropogenic CO2 emission rate. Similarly, scaling up the volcanic rate to the current anthropogenic rate by adding more submarine volcanoes would require an addition of about 360 more mid-ocean ridge systems to the sea floor, based on mid-ocean ridge CO2 estimates of Marty and Tolstikhin (1998).

There continues to be efforts to reduce uncertainties and improve estimates of present-day global volcanic CO2 emissions, but there is little doubt among volcanic gas scientists that the anthropogenic CO2 emissions dwarf global volcanic CO2 emissions.[2]

You can’t get much more straightforward than that.  Amazing what you can learn with a few minutes on the internet and VALID sources.

3. Solar Flares Are The Cause

As with volcanoes, the impact the sun has on climate change is not in dispute.  What is disputable, is the claim that solar flares are causing this current warming trend.  The changes to the sun’s brightness over the past millennium are too weak to explain what we are witnessing now.

The new study looked at observations of solar brightness since 1978 and at indirect measures before then, in order to assess how sunspots and faculae affect the Sun’s brightness. Data collected from radiometers on U.S. and European spacecraft show that the Sun is about 0.07 percent brighter in years of peak sunspot activity, such as around 2000, than when spots are rare (as they are now, at the low end of the 11-year solar cycle). Variations of this magnitude are too small to have contributed appreciably to the accelerated global warming observed since the mid-1970s, according to the study, and there is no sign of a net increase in brightness over the period. [3]

4. David Suzuki and Al Gore Manufactured the Whole Thing To Make Money

I’ve never actually heard a Suzuki-related conspiracy theory myself, but, a fellow student of mine once encountered a politician that argued that Suzuki/Gore were making the whole thing up to sell energy efficient light bulbs and make a profit.  No, really.  I think this one can be dismissed as crazy, or at the very least, ask the claimant for evidence and hope that shuts them up.  Now with Al Gore, I’ve heard so many global warming doubter comments that include Al Gore that I think we need to name a fallacy after Al Gore.  “Al Gore got this one detail wrong.  The whole thing is a hoax”, “Al Gore makes a lot of money.  The whole thing is a hoax”, “Al Gore’s home uses a lot of energy.  Glenn Beck said so.  The whole thing is a hoax” and so on.  The argument takes on some strange version of appeal to authority, only this is questioning authority.  A prominent figure makes a statement.  Not everything that figure said is true or completely accurate.  That figure represents the issue.  Therefore, the entire issue is a farce.  Poor scepticism is at play.  The issue has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the evidence.  We like to state that the vast majority of scientists have accepted human-caused global warming.  Though it would be more accurate, and honest, to say that the evidence points to human-caused global warming.

5. It’s the Earth’s Natural Cycle

They are half-right on this one.  Climate change does occur naturally.  What has scientists concerned is the rate at which it is occurring.  It is happening too fast for the Earth’s systems to properly adapt.  Now the first response you give should be to lay the burden of proof on the person making the claim.  What natural mechanism is causing this current trend in warming?  The next response is to point out that the claim is irrelevant.  What happened in the past is not what’s causing it to happen now.  The fact is, the link between an increase in greenhouse gas output by humans since the Industrial Revolution explains the current warming trend.  We have offset the natural balance of greenhouse gases in the ecosystem to the point that the planet’s natural sinks can’t handle it.[4]

6. 1998 was the hottest year on record.  There hasn’t been any warming since

Identifying the first flaw in this argument comes from understanding how determining climate trends works.  You cannot pick a single year and then measure from that point in order to see the proper picture.  Year-by-year analysis is not how the trend is determined.  The proper approach is to examine the trend over a longer period.  When you do so, you’ll see that 1998 is simply a peak in what has been an upward trend.

The striking blow, however, comes from evidence suggesting the claim isn’t even true.  New research suggests that 2005 and 2010 both surpass 1998.

As expected, the changes (a little from both data sets) lead to a minor rearrangement in the ordering of ‘hottest years’. This is not climatologically very significant – the difference between 1998 and 2010 is in the hundredths of a degree, and most of the attribution work on recent climate changes is looking at longer term trends, not year to year variability. However, there is now consistency across the data sets that 2005 and 2010 likely topped 1998 as the warmest years in the instrumental record. Note that neither CRUTEM4 nor HadSST3 are yet being updated in real time – they only go to Dec 2010 – though that will be extended over the next few months.[5]


Ron Paul is the Enemy of Secular/Skepticism

11 02 2012

Ron Paul is an enemy of secular values and reason.

I find myself baffled by the support my secular/skeptic counterparts in America have displayed for this Republican Congressman.  Over the past months I have watched support for Ron Paul come across my Facebook Newsfeed.  Some has come from right-wing Christians (this should tell you a lot about Ron Paul), but a number of supporters are those I know to be active in the secular/skeptic movement.

The simple argument given for this Ron Paul support is usually along the lines of, “well Obama is worse, bad, etc.”.  I fully sympathize with this feeling of anger and betrayal that American progressives hold towards Obama.  Regardless, I find it a sad commentary on the state of the American political landscape that secular/skeptics are being driven into the arms of a man who stands for everything we in the movement are working against.  Our movement is a divided one, there are a diversity of views so perhaps you do support Ron Paul’s economics stance.  I’m not here to make an argument regarding such matters.  My aim is to demonstrate how Ron Paul stands against a few specific ideas that unite us.

Ron Paul is the Enemy Reason #1

He opposes Church/State separation.

I’m going to presume that if you call yourself a secularist, that you stand for the separation of Church and State.  If not, you’re doing it wrong.  Ron Paul is often touted as a strict constitutionalist, which causes me to believe that his support for the Establishment Clause is taken as a given.  He, as many conservative Christians do, believes that the courts have wrongly used it to trample on the religious freedom of Americans.  His evidence he gives for this is as follows:

 ban children from praying in school, prohibit courthouses from displaying the Ten Commandments, or prevent citizens from praying before football games. 

Hmm, I have no idea why this sounds familiar.  When it comes to the Establishment Clause Ron Paul is as loony as his fellow Republican blowhards.

Ron Paul is the Enemy Reason #2

He doubts the theory of evolution.

Here again we see Ron Paul acting more like a typical Republican than an ally of skepticism.  He believes in the idea of creation by a creator and does not accept evolution as a theory. (Note: I strongly disagree with the ending statement given in the post from “reason”.tv.  Ron Paul holds much more than a “bit” of ignorance.  He holds a mountain).

Ron Paul is the Enemy Reason #3

He promotes woo and quackery.

First off, why in the hell is this man an MD?  You should be very worried if your doctor supports the things Ron Paul appears to.

From Respectful Insolence:

For example, here’s what woo-meister supreme Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs one of the most popular “alternative” medicine sites on the Internet, which is chock full ofmisinformation and hypocrisy, says about Paul in a gushing article:

Ron Paul (R-Texas) has the power and the integrity to impact your health freedom, should he win the 2008 presidential elections. This is why I was thrilled to hear, and wanted to share with you, Paul’s unprecedented outpouring of support that earned him over $4 million in just 24 hours.This sets a record for one-day online fundraising by any candidate.

The fundraising drive was appropriately tied to Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), which is a British holiday commemorating the failure of a plot against the government. The day was undoubtedly chosen because Ron Paul supports the principles of the Constitution — and limited government involvement.

What does this mean for your health? Just as I encourage you to Take Control of Your Health, Ron Paul seeks to maximize your individual freedom, including those basic rights that pertain to your health.

Already, Paul introduced a bill (The Health Freedom Protection Act) that would strongly and positively affect and many other natural health organizations and advocates, along with the field of natural health in general.

Warning bells! They are ringing.  A natural health organization singing praise of a doctor.  Something’s not right.

More from Respectful Insolence:

Not to be outdone, über-crank Mike Adams of Newstarget (whom we’ve met before many times) really, reallyreally loves Ron Paul for President:

Only Ron Paul believes in genuine health freedom. He’s the creator of the Health Freedom Protection Act, a bill that would reestablish Free Speech provisions for makers of superfoods, herbs, nutritional supplements and other natural remedies. Under the HFPA, those individuals would be able to state scientifically-validated facts about the health benefits of their products right on the bottle! Today, the FDA doesn’t allow that. All truthful statements about nutritional supplements are presently censored! (It’s a way to protect Big Pharma and keep the American people ignorant about how plant-based medicines can prevent and even cure degenerative disease.)If elected, Ron Paul would work to restore genuine health freedom in this country, giving consumers access to accurate, scientifically-validated information about how cherries can ease arthritis inflammation, for example, or how pomegranates can prevent prostate cancer, or how broccoli sprouts can prevent breast cancer. There are thousands of healing medicines in plant (herbs, foods, superfoods, etc.), and the public currently isn’t being allowed to know about any of their benefits. It’s a state of outright censorship promoted by the Big Pharma/FDA criminal partnership, and Ron Paul is the only candidate with a realistic shot at winning who would put an end to it.

Medical standards are strict (or they should be) and with good reason.  “Free Speech” for alt. med. practitioners means a clear field for these charlatans to peddle their “treatments” to good, honest, and decent people just seeking a cure for what ails them.  People who are not medical experts.  Restrictions should be put in place to prevent anyone from taking advantage of another person simply because they lack proper knowledge of health matters.

The Respectful Insolence articles goes on and I highly suggest taking a look at it.

Ron Paul is the Enemy Reason #4

His stance on global warming is rather fuzzy.

Taking a look at this article, Ron Paul appears to have moved from, it may be caused by humans but there are other factors to consider, to calling it a hoax.  Another instance in which Ron Paul stands against the scientific evidence.

Ron Paul is the Enemy Reason #5

He’s intellectually dishonest.

Referring to Ron Paul as “intellectually honest” seems to be in style these days.  A 10+minute Ron Paul ad that was playing before some Youtube videos for a time had one moment in which clips of people referring to him as “intellectually honest” were spliced together.   Does Ron Paul deserve that credit?  For all of his failings can we at least give him that much?  No, obviously not.  Intellectual honesty means not allowing one’s own personal beliefs to interfere with the pursuit of truth or to distort facts based on your own biases.  Given what we have learned, would you still contend that this describes Ron Paul?  I would hope not. Ron Paul has cleared shaped his views on evolution, and global warming upon his conservative Christian world-view, not, as he would likely argue, through an objective view of the world.

Ron Paul is the Enemy

Many will argue (rightfully so) that the secular/skeptic movement is not a homogeneous voting block.  There are free-marketers, libertarians, liberals, socialists, communists, anarchists, and plenty of folk from a variety of backgrounds that make up this group.  However, there should be some uniting factors.  As a capitalist, you may drool over Ron Paul’s economic plans, but as skeptic you should be offended by what else he stands for.

In the long-run our community gains nothing if we are willing to back politicians who so clearly stand against what we are working for.  To so readily abandon principles is detrimental to the advancement of objective, science-based thinking.




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