Re: Arctic Sea Ice


Another blog out there posted an entry that was very critical of the original Daily Tech and Boing Boing stories about Arctic Sea Ice levels that I posted about the other day. Among other charges, the post claims that:

You can see that there might be a downward trend, and any idiot (well, apparently not any idiot) can see that connecting two data points and drawing a conclusion about the trend, or what we might expect the future to bring, is … you get the idea.

In response to this article I posted a comment asking where the author got their graphs and information. The author responded by writing that:

[Response: I made the graphs myself using data available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (there’s a link on the Climate Data Links page).

The stories reproduce a graph from Cryosphere Today, which shows the same trend. It’s just as significant statistically but not as evident visually, because the y-axis is on a much smaller scale so they can include more information on a single graph.


And there is a concensus on the issue — among those who know!]

This is exactly the problem that I have with any debates about climate change or global warming. The two extremes are just so set in their beliefs that they consider anyone who disagrees with their stance as an “idiot.” Each side picks some data composed of measurements, graphs, and “indisputable facts” that come from various organizations, etc. What neither one seems to realize is that they are picking the data that matches their viewpoint. With the multitude of sources out there for “facts” about global warming each side uses those that match their opinion and then decry everything else for being misleading and untrustworthy.

Furthermore, what gives either side the confidence that they can accurately predict what the climate and the Earth will do in 50 to 100 years? We got into this whole mess because those in control of industry believed that they could control and harness the power of nature to do their bidding without suffering consequences. Well, isn’t it just as misguided and egotistical to believe that we can predict the course of events in the natural world through computer models and an assemblage of “facts”? To me this falls into the same trap as the industrial greed that led us here.

Why does change need to be forced down people’s throats? I would like to see each side advocate for just living conscious and sustainable lives for the social and personal benefits that it brings and not feel the need to force this stuff upon people with tales of doom and gloom. If cutting carbon emissions and becoming more environmentally-friendly is truly as rewarding a change as some people claim then why can’t they argue for their position through positive claims? Instead of propounding the benefits each side resorts to threats and pessimistic proclamations as to why we must change now.


tamino says:

The real problem with the global warming “debate” is that you’ve been suckered into thinking that I (and others who share my belief) am “just so set in their beliefs that they consider anyone who disagrees with their stance as an ‘idiot.'”

I do think that it’s idiotic to take two momentary values and use them to imply what the trend is and what we *might* expect in the future. This is especially true when a *real* trend analysis demonstrates exactly the opposite conclusion.

The impression given by the Dailytech post is completely false. If they know anything about trend analysis, then they’re outright lying to you. If they don’t, they’ve got no business pontificating about the implication of sea ice for global warming. You read my post. Do you disagree?

When sites like Dailytech (and boingboing) post patently false, easily proven wrong misinformation, then are called out on it — that’s when they scream “foul” and claim that the climate science community stifles debate and squashes disagreement. They might as well post that the earth is flat, and when they’re shown the error of their ways whine about how “round-earthers stifle debate.”

There are lots of aspects of climate science worth debate. The trend in sea ice is not one of them.

Jay says:

It may be pertinent to understand that Tamino is a proper bona-fide statistician with a badge and a certificate and everything. He knows what he is talking about in this instance and you could do worse than listen to him.

The Boing Boing article is unfortunately very misleading, both in the material and also with potential to further mislead those who are willing to be mislead, want to mislead others or simply lack expertise in climate science or statistical analysis (which is probably most of Boing Boing’s audience).

Let’s look at the material error first of all. It’s a short article with only one proper sentence in it so it shouldn’t take long.

“Based on satellite observations, the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center reports that the amount of sea ice on the planet is the highest in 29 years, when satellite record-keeping began.”

Umm, no they don’t. UIACRC have said no such thing, the source of the article (Daily Tech) says no such thing and it is difficult to see how any such interpretation could be made looking at the supplied graph. I’m sure it’s an innocent mistake by Boing Boing, but anyone reading the article thinking that extent of sea ice on the planet is at it’s highest in 29 years and believe that such a claim is reliably sourced would have been mislead. Sea Ice is categorically not at it’s highest in 29 years.

Let’s take a quick look at the potential for further misleadability.

The rest of the article consists of a quote. A cursory glance might lead you to attribute the information in the quote to Bill Chapman from the UIACRC, but careful reading reveals no such thing. The opening line of the quote “Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery.” was made not by Bill Chapman but by Daily Tech, who have craftily positioned Bill Chapmans explanation of the events next to their own spurious description of events in order to make them appear associated.

Surely Daily Tech would not stoop so low! Oh I’m afraid they do, regularly. Stooping low is the grist in Daily Tech’s mill. Follow the Boing Boing linky to the source.

“In May, concerns over disappearing sea ice led the U.S. to officially list the polar bear a threatened species, over objections from experts who claimed the animal’s numbers were increasing.”

Notice how those who have called for protection don’t qualify as ‘experts’ – curiously Daily Tech’s ethical policy promises keep its articles “unbiased and accurate” – yeah right!

By the way, one concern over melting sea ice is that the albedo (wikipedia is your friend) of the planet is reduced. Ice is white and reflects solar radiation rather than absorbing it. Cold water particularly is dark blue absorbing more solar energy; it’s an example of one of those positive feed back loops that threaten to take global warming closer to climate change.

People should be able to refer to popular websites and expect a degree of factuality and accuracy in the reporting. Faulty reporting, whether pernicious such as in Daily Tech’s case or through a lack of care and attention in Boing Boing’s can lead to confusion and the unhelpful impression that the science surrounding climate change is less certain than it actually is. It also means that some of us waste endless hours trying to set the facts straight when rumors of a record Arctic recovery spread like wildfire ( and people unfortunately think their mistaken points of view are backed up by a reliable sources of information. That’s time we don’t get back.

All the best,

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