TCS Daily

Likely, But Implausible

By Duane D. Freese - July 18, 2006 12:00 AM

"That's likely, but implausible."

If that statement makes sense to you, then you might seek career summarizing science panel reports, or even working as a science writer for Nature or a major newspaper.

For you would be well versed in what my fellow TCS columnist Jim Pinkerton has dubbed "adjective creep."

Adjective creep amounts to increasing the strength of a finding as it is condensed, simplified and becomes more widely disseminated. It is much like what happens to rumors as they pass from person to person, with each person embellishing on what the previous gossip has told them. One minute Mary sniffles, the next her husband is getting condolences on her passing from pneumonia.

In scientific circles there is lot of that disease going around.

Back in February, an Institute of Medicine panel looking to marketing's possible influence on obesity found:

"[R]egarding the influence of televised food and beverage advertising on children's and teens' short term consumption, the committee concluded there was enough evidence for both younger and older children, but 'an absence of evidence' for teens. ... For younger and older children, on balance, the evidence supported the finding that advertising influenced intake, whereas for teens, on balance, the evidence supported the finding that advertising did not influence intake. ... [F]or the findings regarding advertising's influence on usual dietary intake, there was moderate evidence for such influence for younger children (ages 2-5 years), weak evidence for such influence for older children (ages 6-11 years), and weak evidence against such influence for teens (ages 12-18 years)."

If you looked through the actually studies, even that influence was debatable. Most of the studies dealt with brand preference. None of the studies found an actual connection between marketing and obesity or any health outcome.

Yet in releasing the study, J. Michael McGinnis, IOM senior scholar and chair of the committee, engaged in adjective creep, telling reporters, "There is strong evidence that television advertising of foods and beverages has a direct influence on what children choose to eat." He asserted: "Current food and beverage marketing practices put kids' long-term health at risk."

That led to Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa saying, "Food marketing is endangering the health of our children, pure and simple," and headlines such as "Junk Food Marketing Out of Control, Report Concludes."

McGinnis, though, had nothing on Richard Carmona, Surgeon General of the United States, with the release a study on the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke.

The study itself is thorough in its analysis and exhaustive in its review of studies. They find a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in risk of developing lung cancer, respiratory and heart disease, and 3,000 premature deaths from cancer and 46,000 from heart and respiratory diseases. That compares with a 100 percent to 900 percent increase for such diseases for smokers and 400,000 deaths a year, and 1.95 million deaths from other causes every year.

So, ETS is a serious health issue, especially for children and spouses who live with smokers and for workers in environments where there are smokers.

Yet, Carmona took these deadly findings of chronic exposure, and took increased risk up a notch. He proclaimed: "We know that secondhand smoke harms people's health, but many people assume that exposure to secondhand smoke in small doses does not do any significant damage to one's health. However, science has proven that there is NO risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Let me say that again: there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke."

He went on to say: "Breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack."

None of this appeared in the actual report, for which Michael Siegel, a physician and anti-smoking advocate, took exception, because it diminished legitimate tobacco control efforts and spurred specious ones -- such as police contemplating charging smoking parents with child abuse.

Which brings us back to plausible.

Last month, a National Academy of Sciences panel looking into temperature reconstructions over the last 2,000 years used the word in a conclusion about one such reconstruction by paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and others that "the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium."

That claim, coupled with what become known as the "hockey stick" graph, became controversial when it was prominently featured in the summary for policymakers in the United Nation's International Panel on Climate Change in 2001 as an indication that the 20th Century warming by an average of 1 degree Fahrenheit globally was abnormal and thus induced by humans.

Well, the controversy eventually reached Congress and through Congress the NAS. And the 12 member panel looked at the Mann study and concluded:

"... the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that 'the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium" because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstruction for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods, and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales."

Plausible has three definitions in Merriam-Webster: 1. "superficially fair, reasonable, or valuable but often specious." 2. "superficially pleasing or persuasive." 3. "appearing worthy of belief."

But it got a new one when reporters asked what it meant.

"It's likely," responded Ellen Druffel, an oceanographer and co-writer of the report. "Likely" was also the answer given by panel member John "Mike" Wallace, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.

Goddard Institute for Space Studies Climatologist and Mann supporter Gavin Schmidt said the same in his blog: "According to the statements in the press conference, they chose 'plausible' because they didn't want to quantify likelihood a la IPCC, but I would read it as equivalent to 'likely', which is of course what MBH said all along."

What does likely mean, according to Webster's? 1. "having a high probability of occurring or being true: very probable." 2. "apparently qualified, or suitable." 3. "reliable, credible."

And thus the Boston Globe told Northeasterners: "A signature piece of evidence for global warming -- a chart showing that a sharp rise in temperatures made the late 20th century the warmest period in at least 1,000 years -- is most likely correct, a national panel of scientific experts concluded today." And John Heilbron of the Associated Press wrote, "The Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400 years, probably even longer." And finally CNN broadcast to the nation: "Study: Earth 'likely' hottest in 2,000 years"

So an investigation that has less confidence in a study's findings about the 1990s likely being the warmest decade in 1,000 years, becomes a study showing the Earth is likely hotter than any time in 2,000 years -- or double the original study's claim.

What's plausible has become likely, and what is likely has become implausible!

Duane Freese is TCS Daily deputy editor.



Two Hundred thirty eight
Every day we have another implausible denial of global warming from this web site. Rather than arguing them one by one, since they are similar, let's just count them. I'm not sure how many have gone by, so I'll number this one #238. Maybe we can have categories

A. the rise is just a fraction of a degree

B. the NAS is a bunch of bush hating liberals

C. there is no scientific consensus, scientist are evenly divided

D. the scientific consensus is wrong.

E. GW is good for us, providing more farmland and cutting heating bills.

F. reducing GW would ruin our economy

G. . . . (please supply)

This is a D.

When you are finished with your attempt at silliness...
would you care to tell us why you think the bastardization of science should not be a concern? It is a great concern and the author provides examples of it.

>"Every day we have another implausible denial of global warming from this web site."

And everyday the proof of the fallacies and downright lies provided by you and the rest of the AGW alarmists grows and grows. This assault on science will lose its potentcy as the doomsday countdown comes and goes.

I have a better way to categorize your arguments: Number 2.

2 touche
Today the wit is with the wingers.

What's implausible
It matters not what the actual amount of current warming is, how much is man-made, if results will be good or bad overall, etc.

Anyone with a background in engineering can figure out that it's
1) Likely that Kyoto will have essentially no effect on temperature, and
2) Implausible that further reductions (Kyoto-squared) would have a snowball's chance in hell of being achieved.

Sadly, the same can be said for most of the proposed solutions to the multitude of woes promlugated by the doomsayrs.

Sounds a lot like what happens in GW studies
As they go from actual evidence, to analysis of evidence, to executive summary, to AP release.

>A. the rise is just a fraction of a degree

I don't know about you, but 0.6C is just a fraction of a degree. Perhaps you are talking about new math?

>B. the NAS is a bunch of bush hating liberals

Nobody has ever said this.

>C. there is no scientific consensus, scientist are evenly divided

This is also wrong, the majority of scientists have come out against the notion that mankind is causing catastrophic global warming.

>D. the scientific consensus is wrong.

The consensus is right. However the media aren't reporting the consensus.

>E. GW is good for us, providing more farmland and cutting heating bills.

This statement is absolutely correct. CO2 also makes plants grow bigger and require less water.

>F. reducing GW would ruin our economy

Another true statement.

I'm waiting for LG to actually prove any of his contentions
all he seems to be capable of is ridiculing those he disagrees with.

But then, he is a liberal, so who's surprised.

Batten Down the Hatches
Business On A Warmer Planet
Business Week Online, July 17, 2006

...The key, say Page and others, is recognizing that the future will not be like the past. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, "toppled what companies perceived as a worst-case scenario," says Cindy Gordon, refining-issues manager at the American Petroleum Institute. Drilling rigs were destroyed by the storms, so THE API HAS ISSUED TOUGHER STANDARDS, such as anchoring platforms more securely and requiring a certain height above the water. In San Francisco, planners are exploring beefing up the storm sewer system to deal with heavier rains. And the European Environment Agency warns of coming droughts and water shortages. In the past year, attention to the problem of adaptation "has taken a quantum leap," says consultant Smith, who has helped identify issues for cities like Denver and Aspen, Colo.

Some climate skeptics argue that the future is too uncertain to know what steps to take. One federal government official says his Bush Administration overseers won't allow any talk about climate "change." Instead, he can attribute unusual weather patterns only to "natural climate variability." True, uncertainty is a given. Forecasters can't tell if this year will bring more Katrinas or more heat waves like the 2003 blast in Europe that left thousands dead and nuclear power plants threatened with shutdowns for lack of cooling water. But when it comes to the big picture, the proverbial canary in the coal mine "is dead," says Peter H. Gleick, president of Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment & Security in Oakland, Calif. "You can look at any event in isolation and question it." BUT EXAMINED TOGETHER, THE ONLY CONCLUSION IS that "we are faced with UNAVOIDABLE, IRREVERSIBLE IMPACTS," he says.

For most companies, the issue is hardly on the radar screen. Forty surveyed by Andrew J. Hoffman, professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, say they are primarily concerned about meeting possible greenhouse gas emissions curbs, not adjusting to climate change. But they and others are beginning to grasp the probability of nasty weather surprises. That in itself is "a positive development," says Burr Stewart, strategic planning manager for the Port of Seattle. Creating more capable emergency management plans, as Seattle is doing, "is another form of adaptation," he says...

And the large, yellowish bear hanging over all this
still shines on brightly. Anyone attempted to study the variability of the Sun over time? I suspect that short of global thermonuclear warfare our impact on the global climate compared to the sun's doesn't even make it to trivial.

as a matter of fact, such studies have been done

The great designer will help us
I wonder if this guy is a ID believer too?
Now thats crap science and it's funny that many of the GWD's are also go in for ID too.

Care to prove your contention
or is insinuating that those who disagree with you are stupid the best your little brain can handle?

Science will help us if cretins like you allow it
As stated before, I am a atheist and believe in evolution since it has a far greater foundation in science than AGW modeling.

I demand good science and it is quite clear that a great many people who "believe" in AGW are doing so because of PR and not the actual science. Throw in some Bush-hate, some Hollywood celebs, and add to this a failed ex-Vice President and you have are no longer practising science.

So sorry to shatter another ignorant illusion of yours but you do highlight how the current theory of AGW works: believe it or be branded a religious freak, a shill for Big Oil(!), not one of the in-crowd, or a creature akin to a Holocaust denier. Throw names and personal attacks but by all means don't address the scientific holes in your religious environmentalism.

ID believers and Gaia believers
Strong believes in ID probably have a strong faith in their God.

Strong believers in protecting the environment from GW, pollution, bad business, also have a strong faith in their God, it's just a different God.

Climate Change (or as they prefer, Global Warming) hysterics
Climate Change (or as they prefer, Global Warming) hysterics, like LiberalGoodman, refuse to acknowledge that the earth's climate is a dynamic system, subject to continuous change and fluctuations caused by a variety of sources. One need only look at the full Naiver-Stokes representation of the complete mathematical representation of the climate, and its associated variables that we know are themselves are variable, to recognize this.

LiberalGoodman and his fellow hysterics base their hysteria on predictions from mathematical models that are very crude approximations to the full Naiver-Stokes representation of the complete mathematical representation of the climate and are inherently unreliable. Even the IPCC admitted the models were only approximate, incomplete representations of the full Naiver-Stokes representation of the climate in which they hoped a "fortuitous cancellation of errors" would allow accurate predictions of climate change.

LiberalGoodman and his fellow hysterics have two motivations for their "the sky is falling" pronouncements:

1) To increase government control (and by inference their own) over all aspects of production and society in order to "save the world from Global Warming"

2) To fatten their research budgets to further extract money from (and lower the standard of living of) the taxpayers to continue this exercise they call "research".

The climate changes. Anyone with half (or less) a brain knows this. We have to adapt to this natural variability, just like we adapt to the climate change associated with going from summer to autumn to winter to spring to summer.

When liars are cornered they...
Anyone who's ever cornered an inveterate liar has seen this reaction:
They desperately keep on lying, attacking even the most well-established facts which normal people use to guide their very lives.

That's the case with this TCS article - it' merely a desperate attempt to undermine the scientific facts which have been apparent from the very beginning. Only, in this case, the liars have either bought into the mythology put out by the power and oil companies - or- more plausibly, this article is paid for by those same companies.

A few years ago, some of the writers who've sold articles to TCS and other right-wing outlets went before a congressional committe and tried to peddle all of the categorical arguments ( i.e., propaganda ponts) you list - and they were discredited by the climatologists who also testified. I know because I read the proceedings and talked to one of the climatologists. (Who, by the way, notably lacked the ideological cant of either political extreme.)

As for confabulation by the news media: Hey, this a is America, where journalism has been sacrificed in the service of mindless ideology! Get used to it - Conservatives - you started that ball rolling. It's Conservatives who're so in love with the bombast and venom of the Limbaughs and Coulters. And it's they who must be held responsible for nearly obliterating the American tradition of reasoned discourse.

NoIsm should be quite familiar with the tactics of inveterate liars.
Since every word of his post is nothing more than a lie.

The real world proves roy wrong again
A while ago roy made a comment about Greenland having forests millions of years ago. I commented that Greenland has been moving north.

roy as usual, spouted some nonsense, insulting anyone who would dare disagree with his interpretation of reality.

Here's a sequence of maps that quite clearly show Greenland drifting northward over time.

What NASA has to say about the AGW scare campaign
David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,

I've been giving this quite a bit of thought and come to the conclusion that, if this has the side-effect of defunding some enhanced greenhouse = global warming projects, then it is probably a good thing. This might seem a strange conclusion for a site promoting science fact over science fiction, after all, how can we determine the physical facts of the matter with inadequate study? Regrettably, this is not about study and pure science. The funding pool for "climate research" is probably massively excessive, with the unfortunate side-effect of massive incentive for claims of crisis. Where once the field of climate study was almost an esoteric field the cries of crisis -- and associated political allocation of huge budgets -- have seen its transformation through bandwagon to current juggernaut. This has done nothing good for either science or society.

The science that is settled, that which can be demonstrated in the lab, is that doubling the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (compared with pre-Industrial Revolution levels) can only deliver a trivial near-surface warming, a fraction of a degree which cannot possibly be discerned amongst the noise of natural climatic variation. Everything else, all the claims bought by tens of billions of dollars of public money thrown at an alleged "problem", amount to the digital equivalent of readings of the entrails of chickens. For all the claims of unmitigated positive "feedbacks" used as multipliers for the provably trivial effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide even the IPCC (whose mission is to find scary warming) can only identify a possible 0.6 ± 0.2 °C warming from all causes from a time when it was uncomfortably cool (and half of the suspected change occurred prior to the bulk of emissions from fossil fuel use).

Even our recent planetary climate history is somewhat vague. We're all pretty well agreed that at least the North Atlantic region and probably the Northern Hemisphere, if not the world, suffered unfriendly cold around 400 years ago and that it has warmed somewhat since. We're all pretty well agreed that this warming began prior to the Industrial Revolution. We're all pretty well agreed that it is much easier to feed the global population and requires less infringement on wildlands and wildlife habitat when the world is warmer rather than cooler, as it was some four centuries past. We view this as a crisis solely because there now exists an entire industry whose existence and finance depends on creating and maintaining the impression this is so.

If we insist on using global mean temperature as our yardstick, and there remains no compelling argument this is a particularly useful metric, then the science is telling us that our carbon emissions have but trivial influence. If we look to the practical metrics of local cause and effect then global carbon emissions disappear as significant contributors. Why should we keep over-funding groups to create scary scenarios in the virtual worlds of computer models that bear no apparent relation to the behavior of the real world we inhabit?

yet another study on the problems with ground based temperature sensors
Runnalls, K.E. and Oke, T.R. 2006. A technique to detect microclimatic inhomogeneities in historical records of screen-level air temperature. Journal of Climate 19: 959-978.

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