[Paleopsych] Politics of global warming

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Fri Feb 18 13:32:29 UTC 2005

Interesting WSJ editorial today, apropos of recent discussion of the 
politics of science. By way of disclosure, I am highly skeptical of 
global warming but still open minded enough to dialog and learn.

Hockey Stick on Ice
Politicizing the science of global warming.

Friday, February 18, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

On Wednesday National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman canceled 
the season, and we guess that's a loss. But this week also brought news 
of something else that's been put on ice. We're talking about the 
"hockey stick."

Just so we're clear, this hockey stick isn't a sports implement; it's a 
scientific graph. Back in the late 1990s, American geoscientist Michael 
Mann published a chart that purported to show average surface 
temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1,000 years. The 
chart showed relatively minor fluctuations in temperature over the first 
900 years, then a sharp and continuous rise over the past century, 
giving it a hockey-stick shape.

Mr. Mann's chart was both a scientific and political sensation. It 
contradicted a body of scientific work suggesting a warm period early in 
the second millennium, followed by a "Little Ice Age" starting in the 
14th century. It also provided some visually arresting scientific 
support for the contention that fossil-fuel emissions were the cause of 
higher temperatures. Little wonder, then, that Mr. Mann's hockey stick 
appears five times in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 
landmark 2001 report on global warming, which paved the way to this 
week's global ratification--sans the U.S., Australia and China--of the 
Kyoto Protocol.

Yet there were doubts about Mr. Mann's methods and analysis from the 
start. In 1998, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the 
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics published a paper in the 
journal Climate Research, arguing that there really had been a Medieval 
warm period. The result: Messrs. Soon and Baliunas were treated as 
heretics and six editors at Climate Research were made to resign.

Still, questions persisted. In 2003, Stephen McIntyre, a Toronto 
minerals consultant and amateur mathematician, and Ross McKitrick, an 
economist at Canada's University of Guelph, jointly published a critique 
of the hockey stick analysis. Their conclusion: Mr. Mann's work was 
riddled with "collation errors, unjustifiable truncations of 
extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location 
errors, incorrect calculations of principal components, and other 
quality control defects." Once these were corrected, the Medieval warm 
period showed up again in the data.

This should have produced a healthy scientific debate. Instead, as the 
Journal's Antonio Regalado reported Monday, Mr. Mann tried to shut down 
debate by refusing to disclose the mathematical algorithm by which he 
arrived at his conclusions. All the same, Mr. Mann was forced to publish 
a retraction of some of his initial data, and doubts about his 
statistical methods have since grown. Statistician Francis Zwiers of 
Environment Canada (a government agency) notes that Mr. Mann's method 
"preferentially produces hockey sticks when there are none in the data." 
Other reputable scientists such as Berkeley's Richard Muller and Hans 
von Storch of Germany's GKSS Center essentially agree.

We realize this may all seem like so much academic nonsense. Yet if 
there really was a Medieval warm period (we draw no conclusions), it 
would cast some doubt on the contention that our SUVs and air 
conditioners, rather than natural causes, are to blame for apparent 
global warming.

There is also the not-so-small matter of the politicization of science: 
If climate scientists feel their careers might be put at risk by 
questioning some orthodoxy, the inevitable result will be bad science. 
It says something that it took two non-climate scientists to bring Mr. 
Mann's errors to light.

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a 
huge economic bet--as much as $150 billion a year--on the notion that 
man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at 
considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex 
carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn't everyone look very 
carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this 
particular cliff?

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