Monday, February 22, 2010

The silver bullet proving there's no climate conspiracy

There's another hopelessly misinterpreted story making the rounds in the denialsphere. Apparently one of the lower projections of sea level rise has been retracted due to errors in its methodology. Most people understand that when you have a set of numbers and remove one that's below average, the average rises, so the only logical conclusion to draw from this retraction is that sea level rise will likely be greater than expected. Indeed, observed sea levels over the past decade have risen at the very upper end of IPCC projections:

But leave it to the denial PR machine to twist evidence that proves them wrong into the opposite conclusion. Joe Romm lists the insanity:

Betsy Newmark: Another global warming claim that has had to be retracted because of problems with the data.

Sammy Benoit: OOPS Never-mind! Climate scientists withdraw IPCC-related article claiming sea is rising.

JammieWearingFool: Another global warming myth comes crashing down. No warming since at least 1995, no melting glaciers and now no rising sea levels.

It goes on like that. To deniers, any time a scientist admits an error, it's proof that all of climate science is crashing down. And yet at the same time that deniers trumpet scientists' admissions of error, they also cling to the delusion that climate scientists are engaged in a vast conspiracy to cover up errors in their research. You can't have it both ways: either climate scientists are honest operators who make honest mistakes, or they're conspirators who never admit to the possibility that they are in error.

In this sense, far from being another brick in the conspiracy theory, this retraction is in fact the silver bullet which proves there’s no climate conspiracy at all. A couple scientists made a mistake. Other scientists spotted and pointed out the mistake. The original scientists accepted their errors and retracted the paper. No trying to cover up the mistake. No bruised egos or defensive, politician-style squirming. No intentional manipulation of data. Just an honest mistake, and an honest response. Sorry deniers, science still works.

Bottom line: Any time you read a denialist take on an error or retraction in climate science, keep three things in mind:
  1. The error is only one in a vast body of research. Retracting one study does not discredit the others.
  2. In this case, the retracted study was on the low-end of projections of sea level rise. When a below-average estimate gets eliminated from contention, the logical conclusion is not that sea levels will not rise.
  3. An admissions of error is not evidence of ineptitude or fraud. Quite the opposite: it proves that science works, and should give you more reason to trust the body of climate science as the product of honest research and rigorous review.

UPDATE (2/23/10 at 9:28am)

Right on the heels of this fallacious fracas over sea levels, new research by the US Geological Survey confirms that Antarctic ice shelves are melting faster than previously thought:

Ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula due to climate change. This could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

Retreat along the southern part of the Peninsula is of particular interest because that area has the Peninsula’s coolest temperatures, demonstrating that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula.

Yes, sea level rise will be on the high end of estimates.

h/t Financial Times Energy Source


Climate craps: Global warming and uncertainty (or what to say when you hear "the science is not settled!")

When global cooling is only in your backyard


  1. WAG,

    Nice summary of the issue. I have a set of "conclusions" that I use often on blogs:

    1) An overwhelming majority of international climate experts agree about much of the tenets of AGW and are honest.

    2) An overwhelming majority of international climate experts are ignorant about their own expertise in a sudden and collective manner.

    3) They have all agreed to conspire to delude the billions of folks on the planet and just a very tiny percentage of them (and mostly oil-funded and unpublished) are trying to save us all from this mass hoax.

    Common sense and a sense of probability should lead one to the likely correct choice (#1) above. The first person to show proof of what IS causing the modern day global warming and that it is not AGW is likely to be the next Nobel science winner.

  2. Exactly - if there were a vast conspiracy to cover up global warming, there would be HUGE incentives for any whistle-blower. Not just the Nobel Prize for proving the current consensus wrong, but millions of dollars in book sales for such a bombshell story.

    Also, added an update - new USGS study finds Antarctic ice shelves melting more than previously thought. Fortuitous timing on that study.

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