The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Disappointment from e360 Egregiously Spun

I refer you to the disappointing e360 piece "Is Extreme Weather Linked to Global Warming?" and the revealing gloss on it by Michael Cote that is brazenly repackaged as "Is the Heat Wave Caused by Climate Change?"

Cote's title doesn't summarize the question and his calculation doesn't summarize the answers. But the fact that he found Curry the clearest and most reliable is a revelation to me. Those of us in the field tend to find Curry confusing and inconsistent. That is, she is giving answers that are easy for novices to understand in preference to answers that summarize the state of knowledge.

The question Cole asks is akin to "did the loaded dice cause me to roll a 12?" and the only serious answer is "they contributed to its likelihood".

Even if we encounter weather events that would have been impossible absent anthropogenic climate change ("rolling a 13" type events, a candidate at least being last year's Russian heat wave and Pakistani flood) there is still, generally, an element of chance involved. We have to go to phenomena not generally considered weather-like to be able to give a more coherent answer. (The Japanese earthquake has nothing to do with climate change; the melting ice cap is caused by it.)

But this is not the question raised in the article Cote pretends to summarize. That question is whether climate change is "linked" to recent extremes. To say "no" in this case is flatly absurd. Not even Curry, who has been dedicating the last few years to cultivating an audience among skeptical nonspecialists, nor Pielke, who is himself a nonspecialist, has been beating this drum forever, is willing to hazard a clear no.

All in all this is a disappointing performance from the normally reliable Yale e360 site. One commenter justly summarizes:
"E360 has 'balanced' the opinion of several experts with 'celebrity contrarians'.

Roger Pielke is not a climate scientist and is notoriously unreliable and frequently wrong. Curry has been excoriated for her anti-science ranting and is now more accurately described as a political blogger than climate scientist.

It's clearly not a coincidence these two were picked from thousands of possible experts - someone knew they could be relied on to 'spice up' the story with contrarian views.

This is just more of the never-ending false balance from a media that is more concerned with drawing traffic than informing the public with good science."
This is true enough and bad enough. But Cote adds some additional filtering and now has a false package of insouciance he can peddle to his customers.


17 comments:

manuel "moe" g said...

Please link to the most worthy commenter.

On the denialist/contrarian side, any motivated determined turd can rise to the top. Not so on the side of sanity. But on our side, at least we have clear writing and clear thinking. How the denialists/contrarians hesitate to give answer to novel facts and argument. How quickly the side of sanity can always respond. When you are fearless about where the facts will lead, you can give sensible analysis immediately. (On the political side, think about how prolific and quick Glenn Greenwald is.)

It is a tell: "I have to think about how I answer that... I will be away from my computer for a few days..." Only one side must habitually pow-wow before responding, if they give adequate response at all.

So comments like the one you pulled out are the reward and solace for those on the side of sanity.

Steve Bloom said...

It's hardly the first time for this at e360. After all, Curry and RP Jr. are right there in the center along with journalists. Just ask Revkin.

Tom said...

So now you've adopted Romm's trick of letting somebody else do your slime jobs for you.

You're learning, but you're learning the wrong lesson.

But it's still the same slime.

Steve Bloom said...

Kindly just delete the troll comment, Michael.

Tom said...

Don't flatter yourself, Bloom. You're not even worth trolling. And this site, with what--74 comments on all the posts on the front page?

I don't consider myself a troll, of course, but if I were, I'd at least go somewhere with traffic.

Michael Tobis said...

In general, I'll take ten of my comments over a hundred of Curry's or Watts's any day of the week.

There are exceptions, though. No more flames from either party, please.

Tom said...

Sad thing is, Doctor Tobis, I liked your recent posts--up to this one.

Pangolin said...

You have to wonder what inspires Yale to allow such a failure of scientific reporting to be published under it's .edu umbrella. At what is purported to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world this is an example of science journalism so bad that it looks like a deliberate fault.

Cui bono? Not the truth; but perhaps somebodies career ambitions.

Michael Tobis said...

A bit harsh, Pango. You can't win them all.

This is a question that a lot of journalists and activists on both sides are handling badly. We just have one more episode to add to the pile. I expect better from e360, but I've seen worse elsewhere too.

I'm far more disappointed by Cote's take on the recycling. Reading other things by him he generally seems reasonable, but he mangled this one beyond recognition.

Anna Haynes said...

+1 Steve Bloom. E360's an odd duck.

Anna Haynes said...

And +1 to Moe, with the proviso?caveat? that I too have resorted to "I have to think about how I answer that"... esp. for stuff I haven't thought out, & where my interests lie elsewhere.

EliRabett said...

E360 is unhappy with Eli's commenting on their iconography of Matt Nisbet.

Dan Satterfield said...

I think e-360 needs to read this about the BBC's own study (from here: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14218989)

"it found that, where there was consensus on scientific matters, providing an opposite view without consideration of "due weight" could lead to a "false balance".

This meant viewers "might perceive an issue to be more controversial than it actually is".

Prof Jones cited issues including global warming, MMR vaccines and GM foods.

He said the BBC "still gives space" to global warming sceptics "to make statements that are not supported by the facts".

He added that, for years, "the climate change deniers have been marginal to the scientific debate but somehow they continued to find a place on the airwaves".

susan said...

I like my experts expert. But then I'm a pointy-headed liberal.

Recent studies point out that the more facts you bombard an ideologue with, the more they dig in.

Sad and desperately so.

Northwest passage almost open (OT).

wv: What exactly is untecise? Could it be what Dr. Curry is? Is is possible to unearn a doctorate by stubbornly refusing to realize what one does not know? (I know, not, but more fun to think about that than the consequences of collective idiocy multiplied by money and corruption.)

More OT: There's a noise going about on the likely unprovable case that Murdoch org. is not unconnected with the CRU hack.

EliRabett said...

Eli prefers measuring Monckton for the hacking. It fits his personality and he has the money and connections for it. Of course, this is merely idle speculation at this point.

Alastair said...

On a side issue can I just point out that it is impossible to through a 13 even with a pair of loaded dice. This is important because it is also impossible to have a "13" type weather event. Climate change can only produce extreme versions of droughts, flooding, hurricanes, etc.

This means we will never have the evidence of global warming that will satisfy the sceptics. It's about time that scientists stopped saying that this or that event dose not prove that AGW is happening, and point out that these events are the best evidence we are going to get.

Michael Tobis said...

The point of "rolling a thirteen" is that "loading the dice" is not a precise analogy at all.

It is quite possible to have events that would be impossible without anthropogenic climate disruption. Greenhouse gases are not the only culprit (land use is part of it, as described here, but I think dew points of 31 C in Minnesota would be an example.

It is quite likely that until recently this has never happened since the drastically different climates of the Eocene, though it would be hard to prove.