Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to handle a global warming denier

Ron Johnson, a Republican candidate for Senate from Wisconsin, has made some crazy claims about global warming.  He recently blamed it on sunspots, even though the sun has in an extended period of low sunspot activity.   Russ Feingold and the Wisconsin Democratic party released a video making fun of Johnson’s statements.  Take a look:



I think this is the right response when dealing with someone who denies science and logic. Reason doesn’t work, so we may as well use mockery to expose the craziness.

Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the tip.

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Benevolent Catholic Dictatorship”


That’s what this guy says we need.  Oh – and only good Catholics get to vote.  This is a great example of Poe’s Law.  This almost has to be a parody, but I can’t really tell.

Now that we know they want replace our government with a Catholic version of Sharia Law, should we ban construction of new Catholic churches?

Thanks to PZ for the tip.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Language Sensitivity

Rebecca at Skepchick is auctioning her magical powers to induce whatever bodily enlacement the winning bidder desires.  Proceeds will fund her trip to DraconCon in September.  I think it’s a great idea, and suitably snarky for Rebecca.   But here’s the rub:  her initial Ebay listing had the word “shit” in it, so they yanked it.  They are perfectly fine with a listing that’s selling obvious hocus-pocus, but a little 4-letter word is too much.  Where does this sensitivity to words come from?  I don’t know, but I like George Carlin’s classic take on it:

What Global Warming Looks Like




Dr. James Hansen has posted a brief paper on current weather patterns. Much of the earth is experiencing warmer than normal weather, and there have been extreme floods in some areas, and fires in other regions.  Hansen asks whether these patterns could be the result of global warming.  While it’s not possible to definitively link near-term weather to long-term climate patterns, the current trends are consistent with patterns predicted by climate models.  From the paper:

“What we can say is that global warming has an effect on the probability and intensity of extreme events. This is true for precipitation as well as temperature, because the amount of water vapor that the air carries is a strong function of temperature. So the frequency of extremely heavy rain and floods increases as global warming increases. But at times and places of drought, global warming can increase the extremity of temperature and associated events such as forest fires.

Fortunately there is an emerging La Nina, which should have a cooling effect during 2nd half of 2010. 

Thanks to Daily Kos for the tip

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Climate Denial Croc of the Week

If you haven’t discovered Peter Sinclair’s excellent video series, check it out.  This 2-part episode does a great job of explaining how the deniers distort the temperature data to support their claim that the earth isn’t heating, and is actually cooling.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Greenland Continues to Lose Ice

This can’t be good (from Science Daily): 

Greenland Glacier Calves Island Four Times the Size of Manhattan

“In the early morning hours of August 5, 2010, an ice island four times the size of Manhattan was born in northern Greenland," said Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

I haven’t been following the conservative denial machine in the past few days, but I wonder if the time is changing in light of the recent NOAA report and this news about Greenland.  Are they going from “It’s not happening” to “It’s part of natural cycles”?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Too Hot

From my friend Sam.  It’s 100F here today, which just ain’t right.


What Would It Take?

We all become attached to our strongly held beliefs, and must constantly struggle to be open to new ideas.  I sometimes find it useful to ask myself “what would it take to convince me that a strongly-held belief is wrong?”  Using more scientific terminology the question becomes “How would I falsify this claim?"   A famous example reportedly comes from biologist J.B.S. Haldane.  When asked what it would take to convinced him that the theory of evolution is false, he answered “A rabbit from the Precambrian.”    

This question has lead to some interesting discussions with friends over the years.  It’s also a useful question to ask a debate opponent when discussing a particular idea.  For example, if you ask “what would it take to convince you that the earth is billions of years old?”, and they answer that no evidence would convince them, you might as well end the debate.  Their position is based on ideology and not reason, and no amount of evidence will change their mind.

Someone once presented me with a “what would it take” question that I still have not been able to answer.  The question was “can you imagine a piece of evidence that would convince you that plate tectonics is false”?   This one has me stumped.  Plate tectonics so completely explains all the observed data that I simply cannot think of a piece of evidence or a competing theory that would convince me that it’s not happening.   This doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen some day, but the evidence would have to be overwhelming.  Sort of like the Precambrian rabbit. 

New NOAA Climate Report

Ten Indicators of a Warming World.

NOAA came out with a report last week that contains the results of a review of climate date. Their study involved more than 300 scientists for 160 research groups. Money quote:

“Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world.


For the first time, and in a single compelling comparison, the analysis brings together multiple observational records from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The records come from many institutions worldwide. They use data collected from diverse sources, including satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys. These independently produced lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion: our planet is warming,”

What I like about the article is the rigorous adherence to the scientific method. It's apparent that they didn't set out to "prove their case". Instead, they did what scientists are supposed to do: they made predictions based on their hypothesis, then designed experiments or observations to test the predictions. In this case, all ten of their predictions supported the hypothesis. I have never seen a global warming denier take this approach.

Livingston, Louisiana Creationism Update

The Livingston, Louisiana Parish School Board has decided not to push creationism into the curriculum this year. They have decided injecting creationism into the science classroom would lead to expensive litigation and that they would likely lose in court. But for some reason, they are still considering adding it next year. Here is a quote from School Board Member David Tate:

"We don’t want litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation?"

So I guess he's ready to drag is Parish down the financial toilet "for Jesus".

He also said this, which demonstrates how deep his profound ignorance of the way science works:

"Creationism is another thought of how things came into being,” he said. “Give every theory due time” in the classroom.

This is a common theme among creationists: scientists are being unfair by not allowing opposing ideas to be heard. Why not just teach both theories and let the students decide? Well, here's the thing - science is not democratic. It's based on testing and observation. Scientific theories are tested by making predictions based on the theory, then testing those predictions using experiments or observed data. Evolution has survived this process and has emerged as the theory that best explains the data. None of the alternatives can claim that, and therefore, don’t deserve a place in science classrooms.

Once again, we have a great demonstration of why it's so important to teach basic science and critical thinking to our young people.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Is AGW causing a Decline in Phytoplankton?

Microscope picture of planktonThere is a recent article in Nature that reports a 40% decline in the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean over the past century. Here's a good summary of the paper. If this is true, it's very disturbing news. Phytoplankton is a vital part of the food chain, and also plays an important role in the carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The authors speculate that global warming has caused the declining numbers by increasing the stratification of the ocean, which in turn reduces circulation and decreases the amount of nutrients that reach the plankton from deeper layers. There may be other causes as well. Clearly, more study is needed to confirm the trend and it's causes. But if phytoplankton numbers are indeed falling, could this trigger one of those dreaded "climate feedback loops" that we keep reading about?