The Scientific Activist

Oh boy, it was a real scorcher in our nation’s capital today… at least by April standards! With temperatures in some locales surpassing 90 degrees, several area daily high temperature records were broken.

As I sweated through the day, I got to thinking: where are all of those oh-so-clever political cartoonists and global-warming-denying Republican politicians who just a couple of months ago were incessantly using February’s record-breaking snows to “mock” the idea of global warming?

(Bueller…? Bueller…? Bueller…?)

The fact is that this is largely an irrelevant*** question (well, irrelevant in terms of science; politically, we should seriously be questioning the integrity and competence of these people). As anyone with a grade-school education should be able to tell you, climate and weather are two distinct concepts. Weather deals with events on the timescale of hours and days, whereas climate concerns averages on the scale of years. Although day-to-day weather can be erratic and somewhat unpredictable, the average global temperature has been increasing at a fairly steady rate for many years now (i.e. global warming), and this change has accelerated recently. There is very strong evidence that this warming is due to the actions of humankind.

Although the behavior we saw back in February was just political theater on behalf of opportunistic Republicans, one might be somewhat surprised to learn that some of those we might–superficially–expect to be experts on our changing climate, meteorologists, are particularly skeptical about global warming. This is something I have observed personally, and Leslie Kaufman of The New York Times recently had an interesting article about this phenomenon–and why this shouldn’t be taken as strong evidence against global warming:

But it has also created tensions between two groups that might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters.

Such skepticism appears to be widespread among TV forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.”

More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found.

The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.

The reasons behind the divergence in views are complex. The American Meteorological Society, which confers its coveted seal of approval on qualified weather forecasters, has affirmed the conclusion of the United Nations’ climate panel that warming is occurring and that human activities are very likely the cause. In a statement sent to Congress in 2009, the meteorological society warned that the buildup of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to “major negative consequences.”

Yet, climate scientists use very different scientific methods from the meteorologists. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who straddled the two worlds when she worked at the Weather Channel, noted that meteorologists used models that were intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but had little accuracy more than seven days out. Dr. Cullen said meteorologists are often dubious about the work of climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.

But the cynicism, said Dr. Cullen, who now works for Climate Central, a nonprofit group that works to bring the science of climate change to the public, is in her opinion unwarranted.

“They are not trying to predict the weather for 2050, just generally say that it will be hotter,” Dr. Cullen said of climatologists. “And just like I can predict August will be warmer than January, I can predict that.”

Resentment may also play a role in the divide. Climatologists are almost always affiliated with universities or research institutions where a doctoral degree is required. Most meteorologists, however, can get jobs as weather forecasters with a college degree.

Thomas Lin has an additional blog post at The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog chronicling why this climatologist/meteorologist divide is so dangerous: the outsized influence over public opinion that TV weathermen wield from their very visible platforms.

Interestingly, I also received a surprisingly timely press release today on this very topic from the Union of Concerned Scientists–regarding tonight’s episode of The Colbert Report:

UCS Climate Scientist, Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel will go head to head with a skeptical meteorologist during “couples counseling” tonight on the Colbert Report. It should be funny and informative. We hope you tune in, tonight, April 6 on Comedy Central at 11:30 p.m. EDT.

Both sciences are indeed “married” through their focus on the atmosphere, but they differ when it comes to identifying short-term trends, such as storms, versus long-term trends, such as human-induced climate change. Brenda will set the record straight: Global warming is real and its consequences are becoming increasingly apparent as sea levels rise, glaciers melt, and extreme weather events become more prevalent.

I imagine it will be entertaining as usual!


***In addition to the political caveat above, one could also make the case that the recent weather may not be totally irrelevant scientifically to discussions of global warming, as increases in global temperature are expected to also increase the frequency of extreme weather events (as noted with less measured language in the press release). However, no single weather event can be attributed directly to global warming with absolute certainty, so this is a point that should only be made cautiously.

Comments

  1. #1 Global Warming denier for life
    April 6, 2010

    We normal people are still here. Yes it is hot. That is becuase it is APRIL! When November gets here, it will turn cold. Please remember that we generally have a thing called SEASONS!

    I guess I better be careful what i say on the internet, since it does belong to the global whining king Al Gore. I wonder if he still pays a $30,000 electric bill and leaves his lemo running for hours?

    Global warming is just another marxist leftist scam to gain more control over the people and to gain more money while having an excuse to have an abortion.

    As far as I am concerned we need to repeal the EPA and they can politely screw in those CFL bulbs up their asses. Please help stop the treehugger dictators from taking over the world!

    I urge all conservatives to screw up earth hour. Fir that hour, turn everythin g in your house, office, barn, wnhatever, ON wide open for the whole hour. Then fart, burp, and leave your cars running for that whole hours. As a matter of fact, pour a gallon of gasoline onto a brush fire that day. Help pollute the treehuggers into their usual fit of terrorist rage. They will probably retaliate by burning another hummer dealership.

    Remember fellow conservatives, when earth hour comes, run everything you can wide opne for the whole hour. Drive the libs crazy. Also, leave your water running too. Spray alot of hair spray into the air.

  2. #2 Daniel J. Andrews
    April 6, 2010

    GWDFL = Poe. :-)

    Tragically though, I have heard people seriously state some of the same things.

  3. #3 Poe Global warming denier for life
    April 6, 2010

    Edgar Allen Poe?
    or just Poe? I will be poe after Obama’s radical socialist population control healthbill takes full effect. i have a sneaking feeling that Crap and Trade will make us all poe since it will tax us to death. Yep, I be poe.

    Daniel, are you a 13 year old girl with a cell phone? Stop abbreviating! It’s annoying.

  4. #4 Art Ford
    April 6, 2010

    Pleeeeazzz, get serious. You take a single 90 degree day and claim that as proof of global warming. Why don’t we look at temperatures in context, over the recent past?:

    http://tinyurl.com/yelxbau

    or, how about this empirical evidence:

    http://tinyurl.com/yhn26n5

  5. #5 Jason A.
    April 7, 2010

    ^^^ In the grand scheme of denial, those two links were really impressively out there on the stupid scale.

  6. #6 Nick Anthis
    April 7, 2010

    I feel like a lot of people are missing the point here: that you can’t take a single weather event and hold it up as damning evidence against or undeniable proof for global warming.

  7. #7 HP
    April 7, 2010

    Nick, you’re assuming that Global Warming Denier for Life and Art Ford are missing your point. They understand your point perfectly well; they just don’t care. These are people who consider loyalty and tribal identity to be greater virtues than honesty or integrity. They don’t mind spouting bullshit because they have no interest in engaging in honest debate or understanding the world. Their comments are not directed at you; they are directed at their conservative comrades in order to establish their bona fides as a member of the tribe in good standing.

    The deniers live in a tiny, tiny world where the most important thing they can imagine is how others see them.

  8. #8 Imajicka1
    April 7, 2010

    @GWDFL– that’s a pretty stupid argument you got there. Yeah, it’s always 80 degrees in April. We like are summers now in Maryland. Screw spring.

    NEWSFLASH! The average April high in MD is the mid-60′s! IN YOUR FACE GWDFL! Maybe you want that blizzard to come back again, so you can go on denying the obvious.

    Global whining king AL Gore? Thats’ the best you can do? It must be really smug in that tiny world of yours. And could you please tell me what a lemo is?

    Global warming is another Marxist scam… do you even know what Marxism is? Maybe its your climate change denial that’s a scam. Treehugger dictators? Is that like Islamofascists? Is it always a neo-cons prerogative to invent words on the fly? Okay enough with the dumb jokes…

    I want to point out how much of an empty room you are calling out to when you are trying to reach your fellow cons.

    In the most recent Gallup poll: 50% of all Americans believe that global warming is already happening. Add another 10%, who believe global warming will happen in their lifetime. How many people are in the denial camp? A paltry 19%. It must be lonely there in “ignorance-is-bliss” land Mr. Head Stuck in Sand for Life.

  9. #9 Enigma32
    April 7, 2010

    Of course, maybe they’d just prefer oceans with a high pH level. Maybe they’d just prefer oceans that can’t support life anymore, and laugh all the way to the back as the ecosystems utterly collapse because fish can’t feed on faster plankton that are replacing the older ones (they prefer warmer water). Maybe a mass extinction of fish is something they want – and the maybe they want the food chain to collapse completely, and destroy the entire ocean ecosystem. Maybe they’d prefer water wars, and food wars as drastic climate change brought about by the rapid change in the ocean composition and atmospheric composition shifts growing seasons erratically. May he likes to see plants close their stomata, and not absorb as much water, and not work as hard to absorb CO2. Maybe he enjoys watching rivers flood, because plants won’t be absorbing all the water. But hey – Al Gore flies a jet! And I’m not changing until he stops flying a jet! I’m not gonna read any of the above because Al Gore flies a jet, and I WANNA FLY A JET TOO!

    Basic science: Venus has a high level of CO2 in its atmosphere. What does Venus look like? It’s a pleasant place, let me tell you. And we’re putting what in our atmosphere? Shaddup and listen. We’re putting CO2 in our atmosphere. It doesn’t go away. All this CO2 caused something that’s coined “the Greenhouse effect.” That’s what’s causing Climate Change. You wanna disprove Climate Change? Disprove the Greenhouse effect. Tell me that CO2 doesn’t have properties that we KNOW it does. Tell I’m wrong, and I’m lying, and the Venus is actually a pleasant place to live. Tell me that I’m lying about this, and back it up – I challenge you. Prove that CO2 has done Venus good, because it’s basically doing the same thing here.

  10. #10 Global Warming Denier for Life
    April 7, 2010

    Many people are in the “denial camp” becuase we deny the left’s agenda to gain more money and power through this so called global warming thing. It is a scam. Nothing less. Global warming/environment worshippers (idoloatry) are scary. They want to control the world. Good luck controlling me.

    icecap.us

    Ever heard of it. Probabaly not since it denies man made global warming.

    I guess all that CO2 that martian SUVs and light bulbs are creating on mars is melting the polar ice caps of mars too?

    I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it is the SUN that is melting the ice and causing climate changes. It is a natural cycle. It happens now and then. It just amazes me how liberals refuse to beleive that a gigantic ball of fire can possibly make something warmer. Micheal Savage was right. Liberalism is a mental disorder. maybe they just had too much sodium flouride and now have to obey thier commanders.

    And who is GWDFL? I suppose some cannot say words. Reminds me of gitty little 13 year school girls getting their first cell phone : BFF, GGD, FFG, TYOY, KNUOIT, WTH?

    Does anyone says real words anymore?

  11. #11 mandas
    April 7, 2010

    Why is everyone attempting to argue with ‘Global Warming Denier for Life’? Doesn’t everyone realise that he is really a proponent of AGW, and is cleverly parodying the attitudes of the deniers.

    This is so obvious people! No-one REALLY says the things that he wrote at post #1 or #10. That would be too moronic for words!

  12. #12 watchingthedeniers
    April 8, 2010

    Indeed – the short term view of the deniers saying “well it’s cold, so there ain’t no warming” is going to bite them on the proverbial. Sweltering April? Records temperatures following records winter fall. Climate all over the place? Gosh, what could that mean?

    This might be the thing that snaps peoples cognitive bias.

    Of course, what does the denial movement do? Focus on Arctic ice…

  13. #13 Enigma32
    April 8, 2010

    “Many people are in the “denial camp” becuase we deny the left’s agenda to gain more money and power through this so called global warming thing. It is a scam. Nothing less. Global warming/environment worshippers (idoloatry) are scary. They want to control the world. Good luck controlling me. ”

    What is this agenda? Nobody informed me, damn it. I wanna know! And environmental worshipers? Hey, if you’re cool with all the stuff happening I outlined before happening then have it, son. But your pathetic little Jebus ain’t gonna save us. We either save ourselves or we die.

    As for the controlling you – well, it looks like AGW and the conservative party’s already got that down. You don’t have to worry about “liberal brainwashing” – the conservatives had already done that. Slavery is Freedom, War is Peace, and all that good stuff.

    “I guess all that CO2 that martian SUVs and light bulbs are creating on mars is melting the polar ice caps of mars too?”

    Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot? Put down the Kool-aide, boy, an clean out your dog damn ears. Mars-to-Earth is not an accurate comparison. Mars is tectonically dead. Mars does not have an atmosphere worth mentioning. Water freezes and evaporates on the surface at the same time because there’s no pressure.

    My example of Venus still stands. Venus has an atmosphere. Venus is still alive, Venus is roughly the same size as earth – we’re called “TWIN PLANETS” for a reason. Earth isn’t like Venus – yet.

    “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it is the SUN that is melting the ice and causing climate changes. It is a natural cycle.”

    You say this and expect me to just dismiss all the CO2 that we’ve put in the atmosphere? When the damage it’s done to the Ozone Layer is so prevalent? You’re full of it. Before I believe it’s occurring naturally, prove to me it’s not all the CO2 we put up there doing it.

    “It just amazes me how liberals refuse to beleive that a gigantic ball of fire can possibly make something warmer”

    First, it’s not a ball of fire. Fire can’t burn in space – it requires this thing called oxygen. How do you expect me to even take you seriously if you think fire can burn in space?

    “maybe they just had too much sodium flouride and now have to obey thier commanders”

    Hey, I have white teeth. My enamel is strong (considering how much pop I drink on a regular basis). Put down the McCarthy Propaganda, the business of NaF has been put to rest for at least 40 years now.

    I asked you earlier for chemistry evidence. It’s apparent to me know you don’t know jack squat about chemistry, or anything relating to it. It sounds to me like you’re just making stuff up.

    “Micheal Savage was right”

    And there it is. I knew you were just making stuff up. This proves it.

    “And who is GWDFL? I suppose some cannot say words.”

    Not my BFF, that’s for sure…

    “Reminds me of gitty little 13 year school girls getting their first cell phone”

    Someone’s mad. I guess this means we can’t use words like laser anymore. Or words like OSHA, or NASA, or the FBI, or the CIA… Globe Warning Denier For Life will get mad, because s/he doesn’t like acronyms.

    “Does anyone says real words anymore?”

    I’d rather see shorted txt spk that has a point rather than a block of words saying nothing.

  14. #14 Global warming denier for life
    April 8, 2010

    Enigma, don’t have a hissy fit. No Jebus will not save us becuase he only exists in the world of the Simpsons. However, Jesus will save some of us.

    Do you wish to know how the earth will die? IN WAR! Read Revelation.

    One day every single thing on this planet is going to burn. Global warming will be real then when the earth is literally on fire. What will the environuts do when God destroys your precious little environment and creates a
    brand new one just for us?

    Your econuttiness has you batshit crazy. Stop worshipping idols. Environmental radicalism is a form of idol worship which is the same as satan worship since he created it.

    My teeth are strong too. I take Vitamin D3 and Magnesium.
    I don’t need the nazi socilaist compliance formula (sodium flouride) for anything.

    The Sun is not on fire? Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty. I suppose it is just an illusion to trick us all. If it is not fire, then please inform me what it is. I have never seen water burn. Is it an unknown substance that just lights up all by itself and produces the illusion of HEAT? I suppose so according to liberalenigama.

  15. #15 EK
    April 8, 2010

    Global warming denier for life – great satire. No real person would be so delusional that they would come on SCIENCEblogs and display so much ignorance and subject themselves to so much ridicule.

    I mean c’mon, “The Sun is not on fire? Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty. I suppose it is just an illusion to trick us all. If it is not fire, then please inform me what it is.”
    That’s great satire. As you know of course, the sun is not burning, since is combustion where oxygen rapidly combines with a fuel. Instead the sun is a glowing ball of plasma, heated by nuclear fusion in it core.

    Oh yeah, and to try to refute scientific knowledge by using the language of the crazy perversion of Christianity that is fundamentalism. Just brilliant!

  16. #16 Dan Olner
    April 9, 2010

    I’m slightly sleep deprived currently, so maybe that’s why this thread makes me feel like my head might explode. I really, really can’t tell who’s being serious and who isn’t.

  17. #17 Enigma32
    April 9, 2010

    “The Sun is not on fire? Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty. I suppose it is just an illusion to trick us all.”

    Poe. :P

  18. #18 cervantes
    April 9, 2010

    Unfortunately, the confrontation no Colbert was a total waste of time. You just had one person spouting one set of “facts” (the body builder guy, whose facts were mostly false) and another person spouting another. The guy with the false facts was more telegenic and sounded more convincing. There was no way for an otherwise uninformed viewer to choose between them, and Colbert didn’t help. It was just about unwatchable.

    And unfortunately, that’s how this whole thing comes across to the general public as well.

  19. #19 MadScientist
    April 10, 2010

    That’s an interesting comment about “meteorologists”. I didn’t think the TV weather person was required to have a degree in meteorology. The dozens of meteorologists I know who actually work on the weather forecasts don’t dispute the global warming (but they get fired up about unsupportable claims of “bigger badder storms”).

    Hehehe; I like “Global warming denier for life” – maybe he/she should write some bits for Colbert.

  20. #20 Tacroy
    April 12, 2010

    A while ago in order to create some test data, I downloaded a copy of the engine behind the Pomo Paper Generator. It’s a fairly simple generator that creates text based on a specified set of rules, with a bit of randomness added in.

    I’m pretty sure that with a bit of tweaking, I could get output that’s identical to GWDFL’s posts. I mean, just look at them, the layout is so obvious!

    I’d imagine his overall grammar is something like:

    [body] -> [element]+ [end]
    [element] -> [consequences type?] | [unrelated_conspiracy] | [liberal_bashing] | [denialist_claim]
    [consequences type?] -> [consequences_opening type?] [consequences_body type?]

    And here’s how they map out:

    Enigma, don’t have a hissy fit. No Jebus will not save us becuase he only exists in the world of the Simpsons. However, Jesus will save some of us.

    A handcrafted reply header to muddy the waters.

    Do you wish to know how the earth will die? IN WAR! Read Revelation.

    [consequences_opening type="religious"]

    One day every single thing on this planet is going to burn. Global warming will be real then when the earth is literally on fire. What will the environuts do when God destroys your precious little environment and creates a
    brand new one just for us?

    [consequences_body type="religious"]

    Your econuttiness has you batshit crazy. Stop worshipping idols. Environmental radicalism is a form of idol worship which is the same as satan worship since he created it.

    [liberal_bashing]

    My teeth are strong too. I take Vitamin D3 and Magnesium.
    I don’t need the nazi socilaist compliance formula (sodium flouride) for anything.

    [unrelated_conspiracy]

    The Sun is not on fire? Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty. I suppose it is just an illusion to trick us all. If it is not fire, then please inform me what it is. I have never seen water burn. Is it an unknown substance that just lights up all by itself and produces the illusion of HEAT? I suppose so according to liberalenigama.

    [denialist_claim]

    It’s so simple! This is how they find the time to do so much trolling; the body of their posts is randomly generated.

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