A big day for cranks

Today is a big day for cranks in two separate areas, but the interesting thing is the similarity of the responses.

First we have Casey Luskin of the “top think tank” the Discovery Institute (wow, they must be right up there with Cato and CEI!) blathering about paleontologists don’t know anything because of the self-correcting nature of science.

After this latest find, one researcher realized its implications and was quick to quash any doubts this may spark regarding human evolution, stating: “All the changes to human evolutionary thought should not be considered a weakness in the theory of evolution, Kimbel said. Rather, those are the predictable results of getting more evidence, asking smarter questions and forming better theories, he said.”

I’m all for “asking smarter questions and forming better theories,” and it logically follows that I therefore must also favor abandoning theories that aren’t working. The aforementioned Harvard biological anthropologist, Daniel Lieberman, apparently did not get the memo about refraining from making statements that might lead to doubts about evolution: he stated in the New York Times that these latest fossil finds regarding habilis:

“show ‘just how interesting and complex the human genus was and how poorly we understand the transition from being something much more apelike to something more humanlike.'” (emphasis added)

Indeed, as explained here, the first true members of Homo were “significantly and dramatically different” from our alleged ape-like ancestors, the australopithecines. So far, the data isn’t doing a very good job of explaining precisely from what, if anything, did our genus Homo evolve.

Well soooorrrry for actually looking for answers rather than stopping at, “a magic man done it.” Or rather, “I see design, therefore a magic man done it!” It’s really tiresome when denialist cranks like Luskin attack science and scientists because we’re self-correcting and willing to revise theories based on new evidence. That’s science people. I would hardly say looking for “smarter questions” involves dropping evolutionary theory, which is unaffected by this result as PZ has noted, to search for a magic man.

Anyway, that leads me to the second group of cranks dancing around a new result today. In this case it is global warming denialists like Steven Milloy, Tim Blair, Joseph D’Aleo at Icecap, NewsBusters (It’s a scandal!), etc. jumping up and down because of an error found in a dataset of US temperature that revises the records to show that 1934 was actually hotter than 1998. The chart and more below the fold.


One wonders how long it will take them to figure out that the record is for the US and not the globe, and that it doesn’t do much to trends. But again, we’re running into the same problem here as we are with the creationists. A change is made to the record (found by McIntyre – who to his credit at least is looking at the data however cranky he is), and all the denialists hoot and holler and say “gotcha” as if one revision is somehow a scandal and overturns every other observation that is made. How is this different from Luskin’s cheering of a revision in the fossil record? It’s not a matter of an interest in pursuing the truth and getting it right, it’s more about trying to put egg on the face of a branch of science – ineffectually I might add.

Between this and the release of results from von Storch and Bray of their 2003 survey, it’s a field day for cranks.

Now, Lambert still doesn’t like their methods and I agree that the solicitation likely led to contamination from cranks. Further the questions and the rating system are far too non-specific in most instances – especially with regards to models which get a drumming. It made a splash a few years ago because of this chart.


But even so, it couldn’t be too pleasing to the deniers due to graphs like this:


or this:


or this


or this:


or even this (notice the leftward shift from 1996 to 2003):


or this:


I’m sure they’ll find a nice way to quote-mine it all the same, but even with a potential crank contamination from distribution to the climate skeptics (200 potential spoilers and the overall survey n=557 according to Lambert), there is nothing close to a majority for any of the skeptic positions. So, take it with a hefty grain of salt, but even with contamination from freeping the signal emerges from the noise to show that the scientists in the field overwhelmingly think global warming is real, greenhouse gases are important, and we should do something about it.

Finally, for those interested in improvements in climate modeling Science has an article today on modeling (with forecasts for the next 10 years) using more data on current conditions which they have shown greatly reduces uncertainty.

For a century or more, meteorologists have known the secret to weather forecasting: To glimpse tomorrow’s weather, one must know today’s. And lately they have realized that the same precept applies to predicting climate years or decades ahead. Stirrings in the North Atlantic Ocean today that have nothing to do with the strengthening greenhouse–just natural jostlings of the climate system–could lead to drought in Africa’s Sahel in a decade or two, they recognized. Ignore today’s ocean conditions, and your 2020 global-warming forecast could be a bust. And such natural variability can be far-reaching. In a recent study, researchers found that when the Atlantic Ocean swung from one state to another, it apparently helped trigger a decade-long climate shift in the late 1960s that sprang from the Atlantic and reached as far as Australia.

But until now, climate forecasters who worry about what greenhouse gases could be doing to climate have ignored what’s happening naturally. Most looked 100 years ahead, far enough so that they could safely ignore what’s happening now. No more. In this week’s issue, researchers take their first stab at forecasting climate a decade ahead with current conditions in mind. The result is a bit disquieting. Natural climate variability driven by the ocean appears to have held greenhouse warming at bay the past few years, but the warming, according to the forecast, should come roaring back before the end of the decade.

“This is a very valuable step forward,” says meteorologist Rowan Sutton of the University of Reading, U.K. “It’s precisely on the decadal time scale and on regional scales that natural variability and anthropogenic effects have comparable magnitudes.” So improved climate forecasting of the next few decades could help decision-makers focus on where and when the most severe climate change will be happening. Or, conversely, they could recognize when the looming threat of global warming will be masked–temporarily–by natural variability.

Appreciating the power and reach of natural climate variations is a major step. To put that information to use, however, climate forecasters must find a way to model the future course of the variations themselves, starting from current conditions. Climate researchers from the Hadley Centre, led by Douglas Smith, are the first to try that, as they report on page 796.

The Hadley group tested the usefulness of their new prediction model by “hindcasting” the climate of two past decades. Starting from the observed distribution of ocean heat content, the model outperformed its own forecasts that lacked observed initial conditions. Errors in predicting global temperature declined by 20% or 36%, depending on the type of error. The model successfully predicted the warming of El NiƱo and the effect of unusually warm or cold waters around the world. An actual forecast starting in June 2005 correctly predicted that natural variability–the appearance of cooler water in the tropical Pacific and a resistance to warming in the Southern Ocean–would offset greenhouse warming until now. But beyond 2008, warming sets in with a vengeance. “At least half of the 5 years after 2009 are predicted to be warmer than 1998, the warmest year currently on record,” the Hadley Centre group writes.

Milloy, of course, waves it off with the classic there is no Global Mean Temperature canard, but what can you do?


  1. #1 bigTom
    August 10, 2007

    And stupid headlines that denialists will tout as silly apocalyptic poppycock. The first thing I saw about the Hadley paper was an ABCnews
    headline “tipping point in 09”. But the paper says nothing about tipping points, just that they think they now can predict/filter out, much of the short-term autovariation.

  2. #2 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    Ack! Why do they do this to us.

  3. #3 sinned34
    August 10, 2007

    Ack! Why do they do this to us.

    Because in this day of over-sensationalizing everything (Britney leaves her kids with a babysitter so she can go out and party!), you can’t get joe public to pay attention to anything that doesn’t stated in apocalyptic terms?

  4. #4 blf
    August 10, 2007

    Ack! Why do they do this to us.

    How much does ExsonMobile pay them? (Advertising or otherwise.)

  5. #5 Loc
    August 10, 2007

    Exxon chips in a couple million for the “research.” However, reading the cranks’ websites, the justification for this is to get a balanced view due to the billions spent by AGW proponents.

  6. #6 SLC
    August 10, 2007

    Re climate change

    Attachked is a link to an article by the distinguished British physicist Freeman Dyson which appears to be rather negative about climate change. Perhaps Mr. Hoofnagel may want to comment on it.


  7. #7 SpamBucket
    August 10, 2007

    So, the response to the temperature analysis is merely “There’s more of us than there are of you, so therefore we’re right.” ???

    When did the pursuit of scientific truth become a democratic process? Galileo was a crank too…

    Just who is engaging in “denialism” here?

    And why the Science article quote? How is it possibly related, other than “nyah, nyah, there’s still more of us”?

  8. #8 Ex-drone
    August 11, 2007

    I always thought that 1934 reading seemed a bit low.

  9. #9 Brian
    August 12, 2007

    to see the error and correction graphically, check out tamino’s post here

    in typical fashion none of those getting all excited about the implications of this announcement say anything about the error and correction, and its implications to global temperature trend (i.e., very, very tiny)….they try to deflect this with lame pseudo-philosophical arguments about skepticism, doubt, and such

    go to tamino’s post and challenge it

  10. #10 pough
    August 13, 2007

    So, the response to the temperature analysis is merely “There’s more of us than there are of you, so therefore we’re right.” ???

    One wonders how long it will take you to figure out that the response you skipped to is not the response you bypassed. I just gave you a hint.

  11. #11 MarkH
    August 13, 2007

    Actually spambucket, the point of showing the data from that survey wasn’t to respond to the data correction. The response to that was far more simple. There is no effect on the science from this correction at all. It was the temperature record for a single country, it did not change that 1998 was still globally the warmest year on record, etc. realclimate has the full explanation of why this is largely irrelevant.

    I listed results from the survey, which the cranks are also happen about for the reasons I described, to demonstrate that even in a survey of climate scientists that was likely freeped by denialists, it is still clear that the fundamental points of global warming are still believed by a majority of those in the field. WHile an opinion poll is by no means a scientific victory, it goes to show that statements by cranks that there is some huge amount of disagreement about the basic facts of the science among climate experts are false.

    As far as Freemon Dyson this is hardly news, and one dissenting physicist does not toss out the results of an entire field. His arguments have been addressed before by others and aren’t that different from any others you hear from the AGW denial side.

  12. #12 alex
    September 9, 2007


    Whether scientists ‘think’ that global warming is caused by the actions of man is actually irrelevent. What is important is whether the science (ie, the theories proposed, and the empricial evidence gathered) show that man is responsible.

    This is an important distinction to make, because in the current political circumstances (in which climate skeptics are branded with same title as holocaust deniers), it can be difficult for a scientist to go against the ‘consensus’. There is a lot of pressure on scientists to tow the ‘anthropogenic global wamring’ line.

    I would also like to point out that computer models – and their predictions – are not science. Science requires two things: a theory; and experimental evidence backing up that theory.

    Most climate change computer models only match the theory element of this, and therefore cannot be construed as science. And yet, the vast majority of the media – in the UK at least – take the predictions of climate models as gospel, and print unquestioningly hysterical headlines about the future.

    As Freemon Dyson lucidly points out – and you blithely dismiss – we don’t fully understand how the climate works, and therefore all our climate models are inherently flawed, though not necessarily without worth. We should never trust a model until it predictions can be shown to be consistently accurate with the real world. And yet, unsubstantiated predictions of climate modellers are now influencing policy throughout the world, in my view to the detriment of humanity.

  13. #13 MarkH
    September 9, 2007

    Ahh yes, the “don’t call us deniers” whine. Then you repeat the AGW=models canard. Classic.

    Tell you what. I’ll stop calling you people denialists when you stop rehashing the same stupid arguments over and over again, stop cherry picking data, stop suggesting conspiracies, using fake experts, logical fallacies and moving goalposts.

    You get the label if you use the tactics, and as we’ve explained many times, denialism has nothing to do with guilt-by-association (as much as they would like to deflect criticism with this distraction) and everything to do with dishonest tactics to challenge science. All the cranks eventually show up and say the same thing. Holocaust denial is terrible, how dare you compare my HIV/AIDS denial, evolution denial, germ-theory denial etc., global warming denial to that?

    We’ve made it clear, again and again, denialism has to do with tactics, not motivation. It’s a behavior. Holocaust deniers do it, so do HIV/AIDS deniers, so do evolution deniers, etc. Just because holocaust denial is particularly disgusting doesn’t mean the word can’t be used to describe the general behavior. The fact is that the denialists can’t defend their behavior, since the tactics are fundamentally dishonest. All they can do is whine that they’re being persecuted, and labeled as deniers, when that’s just what they are.

  14. #14 Alex
    September 10, 2007

    Was that a response from Mark H, or an incoherent rant. Difficult to tell.

    Either way, he obviously did not read what I wrote. Nowhere did I say that AGW theory is based entirely on models. I am sure there is a lot evidence from other sources suggesting that humanity might be contributing in some way to the current spate of global warming. The impornat thing about this evdience is that empirical results to back up the theory of AGW. Climate predictions – by there very nature – do not have emprical evidence, and therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt.

    You may deny the importance of climate models, but there is not doubt that unsubstantiated predictions of catastrophe are having an impact on policy and public opinion. In the UK, the Independant – one of our biggest newspapers – ran a series of articles reporting on the state of the world 50-odd years in the future. They based their vision of the future on some extremely dubious climate model forecast which suggested that the world was on the brink of major catastrophe.

    You can’t deny, people are being terrified by cataclysmic predictions of the future for which there is no scientifc evidence. You should reserve some of your criticism for the unquestioning coverage of these predictions in the press, rather than constantly berating the so-called deniers.

    By the way, I have an open mind on AGW, which, I presume, by your perverse standards, would make me a denier anyway.

  15. #15 Ted
    September 10, 2007

    You can’t deny, people are being terrified by cataclysmic predictions of the future for which there is no scientifc evidence.

    Meh, when scientists start to set public policy we’ll need to worry about that one; as it is, economists generally are much closer to actually setting public policy, and recently, a number of them have turned their attention to AGW. [1][2] .

    There could be motivations other than science that push AGW to the front pages.

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