Abusing Science

Number 4 of a series

I’m sure the source of the above cartoon will not mind my re-using it without permission. I am guessing Glenn McCoy came up with this to demonstrate to all who will pay attention that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a hoax. And that is what this post is all about. It’s about people who abuse science to make that claim.

For a major part of the 20th century the principal abusers of science were the creationists, some of whom sported phony college degrees and asserted that creationism is a fact and that evolution is an evil scheme to undermine religious faith. By the end of the century it became apparent that others were denying basic science for political and personal reasons. First came those who denied the problem with stratospheric ozone depletion, but that notion was dispelled decisively when the people who did the scientific studies came away with Nobel Prizes. Now denial of AGW has taken its place alongside creationism as a motivation for abuse of science.

If you have the idea that creationism and denial of AGW fit comfortably within political conservatism, you will be on solid ground. It you think conservatives have a lock on anti-science, then you are on quicksand. But more on that in future posts.

A powerful force against creationism has been Australian geologist Ian Plimer.

Plimer is an outspoken critic of creationism and is famous for a 1988 debate with creationist Duane Gish in which he asked his opponent to hold live electrical cables to prove that electromagnetism was ‘only a theory’. Gish accused him of being theatrical, abusive and slanderous.

In 1990 Plimer’s anti-creationist behaviour were criticised in Creation/Evolution journal, in an article titled “How Not to Argue with Creationists” by skeptic and anti-creationist Jim Lippard for (among other things) including false claims and errors, and “behaving poorly” in the 1988 Gish debate.

Once again, you should not conclude that supporters of science are of one mind. Plimer is noted for his rejection of AGW, to a degree. His objections to the scientific consensus incorporate a belief that the drive to obtain funding motivates researchers to cough up the preferred conclusions.

The theory of human-induced global warming is not science because research is based on a pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored, and the analytical procedures are treated as evidence. Furthermore, climate ‘science’ is sustained by government research grants. Funds are not available to investigate theories that are not in accord with government ideology.

Abbot, Dr John. Climate Change: The Facts . Stockade Books. Kindle Edition.

It is rational to question scientific conclusions when a motive for bias is apparent, but the possibility of bias is not sufficient. It is also necessary for the conclusions to be incorrect, and it is here Plimer’s arguments edge into abuse of science.

ii. The increased carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, will lead to ever increasing global warming

Point (ii) has shown to be invalid on all time scales. There is no doubt that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. However, the main greenhouse gas is water vapour. The first 100 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 have a significant effect on atmospheric temperature, whereas any increase from the current 400 ppm will have an insignificant effect. Furthermore, because CO2 has a short residence time in the atmosphere, it is naturally sequestered into the oceans, life, or rocks in less than a decade. In fact, only one molecule of every 85,000 in the atmosphere is CO2 of human origin, and yet we are asked to believe that this one molecule drives hugely complex climate change systems. We are also asked to believe that the 32 molecules of CO2 of natural origin in every 85,000 molecules play no part in driving climate change.

Abbot, Dr John. Climate Change: The Facts . Stockade Books. Kindle Edition.

At this point Plimer ignores the evidence, and he also dabbles in abuse of science. First of all the abuse. He states correctly that the prime greenhouse gas is water. To be sure, without water vapor in the air our planet would chill out quickly. But he follows this accurate statement with one that has no basis in fact. The additional 120+ ppm added by the use of fossil fuels contributes an addition to the existing greenhouse effect, and it is that addition that is causing the observed global warming.

Next, examine the statement, “In fact, only one molecule of every 85,000 in the atmosphere is CO2 of human origin,…” Some math: At 400 ppm, one molecule of CO2 is in every 2500 molecules of the atmosphere. Human activity is credited with adding about 1/3 of that 400 ppm. That is one molecule of anthropogenic CO2 for every 8300 molecule of air, not one for every 85,000. Since Plimer is a serious scientist, I am guessing this is an error in math and not deliberate on his part.

Next: “Furthermore, because CO2 has a short residence time in the atmosphere,…” Actually, it takes 200 years for an influx of CO2 to exit the atmosphere. Plimer may be thinking of the persistence of methane, which has a life in the order of 15 years. Readers need to keep in mind that CO2 introduced into the atmosphere never completely vanishes. The effects of an influx diminish with time, and eventually the effect is subsumed by other factors. I will contend that CO2 exits the atmosphere at an exponential rate. The rate of decrease is proportional to the concentration.

Now for Plimer’s disregard for the evidence, particularly:

The above is from Temperature Change and Carbon Dioxide Change on the NOAA site.

Temperature change (light blue) and carbon dioxide change (dark blue) measured from the EPICA Dome C ice core in Antarctica (Jouzel et al. 2007Lüthi et al. 2008).

I have no explanation why they did not use contrasting colors.

A final point on Plimer before I close. A major concern with AGW is the resulting rise is sea levels. As land ice melts and flows into the oceans, the sea level will rise. There is also a rise associated with warming and expansion of ocean water. The consequence is flooding of coastal areas. Plimer has this to say:

Land level changes

There can be no understanding of sea level rise and fall without an understanding of local land level rises and falls. Scandinavia, Scotland and Canada are rising because, during the last glaciation, ice sheets covered these areas and pushed down the land. Now that the ice has melted, there is rebound and the land is rising. If land rises, other areas of land may sink, such as Holland. Land rises in mountains as a result of compression (e.g. Himalayas) whereas, when there is extension or pulling apart, land sinks (e.g. Lake Eyre). The world’s oceans formed by extension and, because the oceans are still growing at the mid-ocean ridges, the land masses at the edges of oceans are uplifted into hills or mountain chains (e.g. Great Dividing Range).

Abbot, Dr John. Climate Change: The Facts . Stockade Books. Kindle Edition.

He is obfuscating the fact of sea level rise with this discussion of the rise and fall of land masses. While this process is real and observed, it does not change that coastal regions not affected by the sinking of land are now experiencing increased flooding due to sea level rise, and this sea level rise is due to global warming.

There is a lot more of abuse of science related to global warming, and future posts will touch on these cases.

2 thoughts on “Abusing Science

  1. Pingback: Abusing Science | Skeptical Analysis

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