Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Foolish Use of Anecdotes

Ann Althouse points out a rather foolish column on global warming wierding by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times. Althouse makes two good points about Friedman's foolishness.
Friedman is quite absurd. He begins his column by mocking people who are saying "because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax and, therefore, we need not bother with all this girly-man stuff like renewable energy, solar panels and carbon taxes."

But then he turns around and says "The fact that it has snowed like crazy in Washington — while it has rained at the Winter Olympics in Canada, while Australia is having a record 13-year drought — is right in line with what every major study on climate change predicts: The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever."

So weather is not climate — which, duh — but he still wants to use weather as climate. And he even gets to say that cold is evidence of heat, because we shouldn't be saying heat anymore, we should be talking about weirdness.
Yep. Friedman makes fun of using anecdotes and then uses anecdotes. But, they're the good anecdotes I suppose.

Now, think about the analogy. Think about how people support the policies that are supposed to deal with global warming — renewable energy, solar panels, carbon taxes, etc. — and what other reasons they have for wanting those policies. Think about why they would decide to rely on the global warming prediction rather than those other reasons, and how they will need to scramble if the global warming theory proves untrue or is no longer believed.

If global warming were the only reason for doing the things that are needed to deal with global warming, then no scrambling is required. We can simply be happy about it. But the scrambling... that's what shows that people wanted the policies anyway. And maybe they are right! Maybe going to war in Iraq was right even without WMD.

So why not stress the other arguments for renewable energy, solar panels, carbon taxes, etc.? Because it's not scary enough! Running low on traditional fossil fuel — the old energy crisis — just isn't crazy-making enough to get the public to accept great sacrifice and pain.
The global warming scare serves a purpose and, for its proponents, its truth is of little relevance. It's the right thing to do for the right reasons.

Interesting tidbit: one commenter linked to this physics paper on how global warming theory didn't adhere to the principles of thermo-dymanics. One of several conclusions:
There are no common physical laws between the warming phenomenon in glass houses
and the ctitious atmospheric greenhouse e etc, which explains the relevant physical
phenomena. The terms \greenhouse e etc" and \greenhouse gases" are deliberate misnomers.
One of the ironies of the anecdote argument is that all the data, correct or not, on the greenhouse effect causing global warming is a collection of anecdotal evidence. Statistically at some point the anecdotes begin to show a trend. But, like many other trends, the trend can change suddenly but statistics may not pick it up immediately, especially if you choose which anecdotal evidence to factor in and which to ignore.

It's like when my doctor told me I couldn't be having a side effect from my medicine, although it was listed as a potential side effect, because statistically the possibility wasn't clinically relevant. He'll never see a patient suffering from the side effect because he's ruled it out as impossible. And, I'm changing doctors.

I believe the laws of thermodynamics only apply to closed systems. The earth and our climate is not a closed system (i.e., the sun provides enormous energy input). So the simple laws of TD cannot be applied in the manner in which a layman might think they can be.

Also, I believe that it is true that weather, in one area, is not climate. So perhaps Friedman was not as eloquent as needed to make the point that one weather system in a remote spot is not indicative or counter to a *global long-term* trend in climate. Although he does seem to reference multiple, non-regional changes in climate as examples to make his point that global *warming* is the wrong term to use. The rise in temperature in only one of the indicators of climate change, but the repercussions of that warming aligns with other changes (such as shifts in the salinity of the oceans, from more-than-usual melting of ice during the warmer months, which alter currents which alters weather patterns which results in larger, more wide-spread storms, more humidity which might result in larger snow potential in different regions, etc.).
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