Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


What would a real sceptic do?

I came across ‘The Rational Optimist’ blog which has a rehash of the old AGW denier argument; ‘The cure is worse than the symptoms’. In support of this argument an example was used to down play the serious of erratic changing climate by reporting on a research paper in the Journal of Coastal Research which (apparently) concludes;

“Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in US tide gauge records during the 20th century. Instead, for each time period we consider, the records show small decelerations that are consistent with a number of earlier studies of worldwide-gauge records. The decelerations that we obtain are . . . one to two orders of magnitude less than the +0.07 to +0.28 [millimetres per year squared] accelerations that are required to reach sea levels predicted for 2100 by [three recent mathematical models].”

To translate: sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up. Sea level rise is the greatest potential threat to civilisation posed by climate change because so many of us live near the coast. Yet, at a foot a century and slowing, it is a slight nosebleed.”

Ok, as a real sceptic I am very doubtful about the interpretations of these conclusions simply because no reference to this ‘science’ is given other than it is supposed to have appeared in the Journal of Coastal Research. Why no Volume and issue No., paper title or author? 

Skeptic Skydiving Flowchart

Let’s Pretend

But let’s suspend our critical thinking on that particular point and pretend that we know everything above is kosher. Let’s say we are fairly certain that there is a good, properly peer reviewed paper in the scientific literature that is able to conclude based on the research that “sea level is rising more slowly than expected, and the rise is slowing down rather than speeding up”. What would a real sceptic do?
Given that anyone who has ever considered the predicted effects of anthropogenic climate change would have had the impression that ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating and therefore sea levels should be rising or rising very soon, as a sceptic they would ask WHY? Why does this paper seem to contradict everything I have been lead to believe? How does it fit in with the overall body of scientific research?

Something very similar happened in climate circles a decade or so ago. Satellite temperature measurements showed much less warming than ground records. Real sceptics, the scientists, asked; Why? Why were the two records different? Why when the ground station records tallied with other signs of warming, (changes in seasons, melting of ice etc), did the Satellite record which could measure parts of the globe where no recording equipment existed, show little warming. The so called ‘Skeptics’ didn’t bother to ask why, they just chose the temperature record they preferred to support whatever point the needed it for.

As it turned out the Satellite record was in error and was due to diurnal drift. Skeptical Science has a good explanation of this and how when corrected the two records more closely matched.

So what does the Rational Optimist do? Unfortunately it is a epic fail because not only do they accept that their interpretation of this single paper is enough to dismiss any science to the contrary, but on the strength of it they are willing to base all the worlds global warming policies.

Certainly optimistic but very far removed from rational!

If you do think Sea level rise is exaggerated and this is a problem that can be used to ignore all other related climate change research it would be worth considering what Skeptical Science has to say

The second example used to support the idea that climate change isn’t worth the effort is the idea that growing biofuels are causing thousands of deaths – a classic straw man argument. Whether biofuels are being produced with the stated aim of mitigating emissions or just as a commercial enterprise says absolutely nothing about the impact climate change will have. And climate change certainly says nothing about what policies must be adopted in response to it, especially one that could involve using arable land more useful for producing food crops.

BTW 2.
Skeptical science also has a page on “It's not bad”;

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