Googling “climate change” and “faster than expected” does not prove anything

If you want to get heard, just exaggerate (emphasis by the author):

“Humanity is NOW, TODAY in an abrupt climate change EMERGENCY. This is what science tells us. When the public, policy makers and politicians around the planet recognize this reality, the mood will flip from indifference and ignorance to utter TERROR. Just watch.

By now I have seen quite a lot Beckwith videos, so I recognized this type of hyperbole as his usual behavior. I don’t doubt that he is a nice guy, that he means well, that he has the best intentions and that he believes what he says. But when you read his posts or sees his videos, hyperbole is not far away.

This statement came from the second argument of the response to the Washington Post article (see previous post), but that is not what the post will be about. It is what follows that blew me away:

You disagree? Google “climate change” and “faster than expected”, “unprecedented”, etc. and you get gazillions of science articles. Google “climate change” and “slower than expected”, etc. and you get squat.”

As if a Google search would prove a scientific question…

While it is certainly true that one gets gazillions of hits when googling “climate change” plus “faster than expected” and far fewer hits when googling “climate change” plus “slower than expected”, I still have to disagree. It assumes that the number of Google hits linking to scientific articles somehow represents the case that climate change is happening faster than expected. Even if there is general agreement by scientists upon climate change happening faster than expected and a Google search being able to represent this, that does not make it true. It looks more like a non-sequitur to me. What (agreement) could be found via Google and whether climate change is going faster/slower as expected, are two different things to me.

A Google search is a very unreliable way of dealing with the question whether climate change is faster than expected and therefor it shouldn’t convince anybody who disagrees. There are many reasons why there are gazillions of hits when using these specific search terms, other than climate change actually being faster than expected.

By the way, “faster than expected” is very ambiguous. Faster against what? And according to whose expectations? If he want to use that argument, he needs to come with a clarification of what he means exactly and with quantifications to back it up. He gives neither. Therefor having the opportunity to make it up as he goes along.

That Google searches are unreliable to settle scientific questions was something Beckwith already experienced himself. Remember that he googled for cross-equatorial flows before he made his initial video and that he claimed there was little data on crossing of the equator. Yet according to atmospheric scientists these flows weren’t exceptional. Even with Google he could have found numerous hits (he probably would have got there using some slightly different search terms). So, he should know that such searches are not very reliable from his own experience.

Another bias is negativity bias: humans evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we are doing to avoid danger. We are in a society in which alarm dominates and even is rewarded. We are attracted to the alarm. That is how we humans tick. Alarm is not unusual. Things that get better/stay the same don’t get so much attention. In such a situation being biased to the alarm is no big deal.

He also should have some experience with that. He predicted there would be no Arctic ice anymore by September 30, 2012. When that didn’t happen, he then predicted that the ice would be gone by 2015 or 2016 (according to the PIOMAS data – the same data that Wadhams used to come to the same conclusion). Last year the Arctic ice was still there and this year there is no indication that it would be gone by the end of summer.

Although the melting of the the Arctic has a central place in his reasoning, that part is NOT going faster than HE expected. If it would go faster than he expected, then the ice would have been gone well before September 30, 2012, because that was the date that he expected it to be gone. Any date after that is SLOWER than expected.

If a Google search on “climate change” and “faster/slower than expected” would be a reliable tool, then he would have found at least this example of it being slower than expected. 😉

There are more reasons, like: how meaningful are overwhelming publications in a polarized science in which adhering to the skeptical side can have severe consequences? In such an environment being skeptical could be a bad career move and the appreciation from peers/the public could also be on the line. Sure, that most of the papers support the alarm can be because the scientists agree on the science, but in a situation where it is not a good idea to be a skeptic, it is not surprising either that most papers are supporting the alarm. How to tell the difference between publications that claim that it is faster because of the polarization and those that found it is actually getting faster?

Also: how meaningful are overwhelming publications in a politicized science in which the politicians prefer predominantly one side and have a preference to hear that it is going faster in order to be able to make arrangements to act? How to tell the difference between publications that claim it is getting faster because of political reasons and those that found it is actually getting faster?

Also: how meaningful are overwhelming publications when there is no conclusive evidence and the definition used is so broad that almost anything fits? How to tell the difference between publications that claim that things are getting faster because of this lack of conclusive evidence/lack of definition and those that found it is actually getting faster?

There are probably even more reasons why there are more publications that claim that climate change is getting faster than those that claim it is getting slower or that it is stayed the same. Update: as tumbleweedstumbling noted in the comments, there is also the possible bias of the search engine which could give a result that might be different from what is out there.

In conclusion: besides the missing definition and quantification, the number of publications (that could be found via a Google search) is a very bad indicator to whether climate change is going faster/slower than was thought.

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6 thoughts on “Googling “climate change” and “faster than expected” does not prove anything

  1. tumbleweedstumbling

    You forgot one. For a while if you googled “Presidential candidate” you got only Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. Trump did not exist in the Google world. Apparently neither did the republican party. Now after a bunch of people complained suddenly Trump reappeared but the Google bubble is real and they change what you see based on what they want you to see not what is out there. That’s why I use more than one search engine. I only go to Google for specific searche specialities like Google Map or Google Scholar and usually only after searching elsewhere. My favourite search engine is duckduckgo because if I do a search on “dc sump pump” I don’t suddenly find every piece of social media I use spouting ads for dc sump pump for the next six months even if I already bought the pump I want. Since Trump can vanish from Google, I am certainly not going take a Goggle search as a measure of anything to do with a loaded politically correct topic pushed by the left like climate change.

    Reply
    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I probably forgot more than one… 🙂

      What you mentioned is really interesting. Not only can there be bias in the search term, in the person who is searching and in the society, but there is also the possible bias in the search engine algorithms (or maybe even the organization behind it).

      One of the things I find annoying in Google is that it is giving more of the same. Which can be great if I want to find more of the same, but not so great if I want to find something different or if I already found what I was looking for. That is quite a bias. I will make note of it in the post.

      Thanks!

      Reply
      1. tumbleweedstumbling

        I noticed the bias while researching gene expression for my upcoming book Embryogenesis Explained. I knew there were other things out there but I could not find anything but the same subset. I finally tried with a different search engine and I was amazed by the difference.

        Reply
  2. manicbeancounter

    Beckwith appears to be a good example of the climate consensus. That is
    1. Dogmatically defends an untenable position when the empirical evidence contradicts it and/or there are better explanations of the observed phenomenon available.
    2. Values collective opinion far more highly than real world evidence.
    3. Fails to evaluate predictions against outcomes.

    This has led to the bizarre situation where if the real world contradicts the consensus beliefs then it is empirical really that is rejected. Wo betide anyone in academia who dares to highlight this obvious point.
    An example that I found last year was with temperature homogenisation. There is a core belief that average temperature changes are similar over quite large areas, any anomalous temperature data must be due to measurement biases. This is often clearly not the case. This results in the elimination of real differences due to local anomalies giving a misrepresentation of the robustness of the temperature anomaly data and possibly biasing upwards a rising temperature trend.
    For more details look at my last two posts of June 2015.

    Reply
    1. poitsplace

      Yeah, that’s one of the many side effects. In stringing the temperature record into a continuous one, it gives the appearance (not the reality) of a much more stable climate and much more certainty in both the input/output. It’s especially bad when it comes to station moves, where it gives the illusion that the issue has been dealt with …when in reality it is not only putting back the UHI adjustment from another step, but sometimes putting it back multiple times.

      They could just extrapolate the temperature for the earth from each individual day’s data…but then with that extra data and huge swings in temperature from station moves or other events, they’d be forced to view the real uncertainty. And of course, they’d still be left with UHI creeping into the signal and the reality that there is essentially no way to truly remove/adjust it.

      Reply
    2. trustyetverify Post author

      I think that are good observations.

      1. True, but probably not in his world. He seems to start from a larger framework and sees himself as a generalist who just looks at the big picture. Being wrong outside that big picture isn’t then considered a contradiction
      2. I also have that impression. For being a “scientist” he uses quite a lot anecdotal evidence
      3. Also here, it is not viewed as a failure because he focuses on something else
      Reply

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