Tag Archives: Cherry Picking

Sugar versus fat: why so many scientists got it so wrong for so long

Looking for more background when I was writing previous post, I came across a very lengthy, but nevertheless interesting story in The Guardian. This long read is titled The sugar conspiracy and the subject is the battle between the theory that sugar is the (main) reason for the obesity epidemic and the established theory that fat was the culprit.

This is not something recent, the controversy originated already in the middle of last century and, although the fats theory was found to be ultimately wrong, the sugar theory was ridiculed, discredited and careers were ruined. It took fifty years for the theory to resurface, leaving the question why the top nutrition scientists got is so wrong for so long.

We hear that objection often in climate change discussions: so many scientists can’t be wrong for so long. Well, it is possible and the sugar theory is only one of its manifestations.

The most interesting part of the Guardian story is the tension between the scientist who first proposed this theory (John Yudkin) and his scientific adversary (Ancel Keys). It reads like the current controversy on climate change. Replace Yudkin with your favorite skeptic, Keys with your favorite alarmist, fats with CO2, meat/dairy/sugar industry with Big Oil/Tobacco and the story sounds really modern. There are a lot of similarities between how the scientists in the two sciences treat those who are skeptical towards the consensus position.

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Arctic sea-ice melt reporting: the amazing flip-flops

Two posts ago, on the subject of another claim of an ice-free Arctic published in the Guardian, the discussion arose whether the journalist realized that he quoted someone with a poor track record in that matter. Commenter Chrism56 alerted me that the journalist (Robin McKie) already had written articles in the past on this subject, so he should have known that there were issues with the credibility of this claim.

The link that was provided went to an article from 2008 in which McKie reported about the claim of an ice-free Arctic that back then was expected five years further in the future.

McKie 2008-08-10

The claim was made by Serreze, Maslowski and Wadhams. Apparently he should know about the botched prediction in the meanwhile.

I became curious whether there were more articles written by McKie on this topic and also how he wrote about it in say 2013, when it became clear that the 2008 claim didn’t hold. I found three articles in the Guardian about an ice-free Arctic and the article in 2016 was the fourth. When reading them in the sequence as these were written, it developed in something rather funny.

Let’s start with the link found by Chrism56. It was an article from August 2008 with the title “Meltdown in the Arctic is speeding up”. This speeding up was explained as (my emphasis):

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What’s another year?

It was to be expected: Wadhams has renewed his claims of an ice-free Arctic. The Guardian published on August 21 an article with the catchy title ‘Next year or the year after, the Arctic will be free of ice’.

In a previous post, I already compiled quite a list of predictions of an ice free Arctic. At that time (June) it was rather unlikely that this year we would see an ice-free Arctic. But no problem, 2017 was already on the radar back then. When looking at the statements in the Guardian article, now it will be next year (summer 2017) or the year after that (summer 2018).

Another year to add to the list.

There was more in the article that caught my attention. Like the first paragraph of an interview with Wadhams:

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Reminder: things have (not) gotten much worse since An Inconvenient Truth

After writing previous post I bumped into the blog post titled: Reminder: Things Have Gotten Much Worse Since An Inconvenient Truth. As the title suggest, the post explains that things got worse after the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006. It starts with a fiery hot chart followed by a bold introduction (my emphasis):

global average temperature 2015 NOAA

In 2006, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth spread the idea of human-caused climate change far and wide in what is now considered a watershed moment for the science. But today, on the ten-year anniversary of the film’s release, we’ve made little progress toward addressing the grave planetary concerns Gore raised. In fact, by practically every metric, things have gotten much worse.

Much worse? By practically every metric? That is interesting. There are many things that have been invalidated after the movie came out, like for example the melting of Kilimanjaro snow (which had nothing to do with global warming anyway and reversed), a 20 foot sea level rise (which is way off anything projected and reality), low-lying Pacific atolls will drown (rather unlikely because these are atolls, not islands), polar bear dying, hurricanes getting stronger (on the contrary), droughts getting worse, shutting down the ocean conveyor and so on. So, by practically every metric, really?

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China’s “top” global threat: the power of the 19%

When reading the article behind the Climate Change Quiz page of previous post, I came across a link to another article from pew with the catching title: Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat. It seems to go back to the same survey that was used for the quiz (Spring 2015 Pew Global Attitudes Survey) and took place from March 25 to May 27, 2015. While the quiz was based on three questions from that survey on climate change, this “global threat” article was based on specifically those who said that they are “very concerned” about some threat, amongst which climate change is one.

My first thought when I saw what the other threats were: these are not all “global” threats. I don’t think that for example “Territorial disputes with China” qualifies as something “global”. But never mind, maybe it is used as something that is considered as a threat “globally”?

So I looked at their nice visualization of those “top” “global” threats:

That is not exactly “global” either!

First, there are quite some white, unsurveyed, areas on that map (about 1/4 of the population not taken into account). Second, none of those issues were “globally” considered as a threat. The only thing one could say is that there were more countries colored blue than any other color.

But then I spotted the giant elephant in the room and slowly started to understand what was exactly meant by “top” threat: among the countries that were “very concerned” about Climate Change was … China.

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Cherry picking, with a confidence level greater than 99%

We get to hear that there is a consensus. That 97% of the (climate) scientists believe humans cause global warming or something of the like. But this article Is global warming just a giant natural fluctuation? took it a step further. The claim is that the natural-warming hypothesis may be ruled out with confidence levels greater than 99% and, why stop there, most likely greater than 99.9%.

The article is about the recently published paper Scaling fluctuation analysis and statistical hypothesis testing of anthropogenic warming of Shaun Lovejoy (McGill University) in Climate Dynamics.

An analysis of temperature data since 1500 all but rules out the possibility that global warming in the industrial era is just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate, according to a new study by McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy.

Interesting. He didn’t want to rely on climate models and took a statistical approach with historical data:

The study, published online April 6 in the journal Climate Dynamics, represents a new approach to the question of whether global warming in the industrial era has been caused largely by man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Rather than using complex computer models to estimate the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions, Lovejoy examines historical data to assess the competing hypothesis: that warming over the past century is due to natural long-term variations in temperature.

This is the part where the rabbit came out of the hat:

“We’ve had a fluctuation in average temperature that’s just huge since 1880 – on the order of about 0.9 degrees Celsius,” Lovejoy says. “This study shows that the odds of that being caused by natural fluctuations are less than one in a hundred and are likely to be less than one in a thousand.

Let’s summarize what we have until now: going back until 1500 (with proxy data), he finds a huge fluctuation of the average temperature since 1880 (with temperature data from the instrumental record). Man is industrializing since that time, so man is responsible for this increase in temperature.

For those who didn’t noticed it yet, I repeat:

Going back until 1500, he finds a huge fluctuation of the average temperature since 1880.

He couldn’t cherry pick his start dates more than that! A period called “The Medieval Warm Period” came to an end at the beginning of the 1400s and a cold period called “The Little Ice Age” started. This cold period ended around 1850.

Notice anything?

The period that represents the natural influences stretches over a cold period and the recovery from this cold period is used as the period that represents human influences. No wonder they find human influence on climate with a confidence level of 99.9%.