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As a science communicator, I found this fascinating.
The following is an email that was sent in 2003 by a very senior
scientist, Stephen Schneider, to a long list of other senior
scientists about an article in a newspaper by an economist. Read it
and see what you think of the economist, Ross McKitrick at the
Hello all. Ah ha-the latest idiot-McKitrick-reenters the scene. He
and another incompetent had a book signing party at the US
Capitol-Mike MacCracken went and he can tell you about it-last
summer. McKitrick also had an article-oped, highly refereed of
course-in the Canadian National Post on June 4 this year. Here is
the URL that worked back then:
It was a scream. He argued there is no such thing as global
temperature change, just local-all natural variablity mostly. To
prove this he had a graph of temperature trends in Erie
Pennsylvania for the past 50 years (this is from memory) which
showed a cooling. THat alone proves nothing, but when reading the
caption I noticed the trend was for temperature in October and
November!! So one station for two months consitituted his
"refutation" of global warming-another even dumber than Lomborg
economist way out of depth and polemicizing. I showed it to a class
of Stanford freshman, and one of them said: "I wonder how many
records for various combinations of months they had to run through
to find one with a cooling trend?" THe freshman was smarter than
this bozo. It is improtant to get that op-ed to simply tell all
reporters how unbelievably incompetent he is, and should not even
be given the time of day over climate issues, for which his one
"contribution" is laughably incompetent. By the way, the
Henderson/Castles stuff he mentions is also mostly absurd, but that
is a longer discussion you all don't need to get into-check it out
in the UCS response to earlier Inhofe polemics with answers I gave
them on Henderson/Castles if you want to know more about their bad
economics on top of their bad climate science
Now what did you think? If you are like me, you probably had two
reactions. First that the senior scientist, Steven Schneider, is
surprisingly nasty in his tone. But second that the economist, Ross
McKitrick, sounds as if he really did make a fairly blatant
cherry-pick to suit his confirmation bias.
Now read the relevant section of the newspaper article that
...And that wasn't the only bit of global warming fiction on TV
recently. The same night as the fictional glacier melted, TVOntario
interviewed David Suzuki on their current affairs show "Studio 2."
Apparently some scientists sponsored in part by the David Suzuki
Foundation have put out a report arguing that global warming will
cause the Great Lakes to boil dry, or overflow, or do something or
other a few decades from now. Ho-hum yet another apocalyptic
enviro-scare: it's starting to drag on like a secular "Left Behind"
I didn't watch much of the interview, but what caught my attention
was the claim by Mr. Suzuki that when he was a boy growing up in
London Ontario, winter used to set in at the end of October, but
now it's warmed up so much winter arrives a lot later. Global
warming, you see. It's not the ups and downs but these rapid
warming trends we need to worry about.
So the next day I looked up the temperature records for the
weather station at London's airport. The data are spotty prior to
WWII, but there's a continuous record after 1940, ending at 1990.
I'm guessing at Dr. S's vintage but I figure this is early
I don't think much of running trend lines through averaged
temperature data as a way of measuring "climate," but this is how
the debate often gets framed. And it shows the October-November
average temperature in London fell from 1940 to 1990 at a rate of
-0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. "Fell," as in cooling. As in,
October and November are now colder, on average, than when Dr.
Suzuki was a lad awaiting winter in London. The annual average also
shows cooling, at about 0.1 degrees C per decade.
Unfortunately the temperature data are not posted after 1990, at
least not at the NASA collection where I was looking
across the lake at Erie, Pennsylvania, there is a weather station
that continues to post its data. The October-November temperature
average there fell by 0.26 degrees C per decade from 1940 to 2001
(see chart). The annual average fell by about 0.13 degrees C per
decade from 1940 to 2001. In other words the area has gotten
colder, not warmer.
Incidentally it is a real annoyance that Environment Canada no
longer gives its temperature data away. Almost all the Canadian
weather stations reporting into the NASA data base stopped
releasing the post- 1990 numbers for free use by the public. You
are expected to pay for it now. This is a government that brags
about spending billions of dollars on climate change initiatives,
including $350 million in the most recent budget for its so-called
"Sustainable Development Technology" slush fund, not to mention
tens of millions for the Climate Change Action Fund, and however
many hundreds of thousands to put those asinine commercials on TV
telling people that sealing their windows and turning down the heat
will stop global warming. Yet they won't spend the money to make
available the basic data that would allow people to see long term,
up-to-date records of local temperatures.
Makes you wonder what they don't want people to know.
Global warming and Kyoto have, mercifully, been out of the public
eye for a while. Some commentators who never grasped the issue in
the first place have triumphantly used this as evidence that the
anti-Kyoto concerns were all overblown.
In reality the story is quiet here in Canada because the feds
have all but abandoned any intention of implementing Kyoto. How
that came about is a story for another day. Stateside, the global
warmers are still sore about Bush's decision to reject Kyoto, and
are laying the groundwork for a new political push to bring it
back. Since the idea that Kyoto would somehow benefit the global
climate was always a fiction, it is only fitting that the
entertainment industry is taking the lead.
The story suddenly looks rather different, does it not? Far from
cherry-picking, McKitrick was explicitly testing the hypothesis
that Suzuki had advanced, namely that the local weather had warmed
in the autumn. Suddenly Schneider's nastiness seems a whole lot
nastier. He gave a wholly wrong impression of McKitrick's point to
his correspondents. His email being secret until last week, none of
us knew about this -- least of all McKitrick.
Notice, in passing, that the leaking of this email does not do
McKitrick a favour, so it gives the lie to the idea that the leaker
is picking emails that make sceptics look good. Only with
McKitrick's explanation of the background do we know just how
distorted was Schneider's attack.
This is a glimpse of the sort of thing that those who are
sceptical about dangerous climate change have had to put up with
over the years -- without even knowing it.