Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

Nothing Like Taking Your Info From…

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on April 25, 2008

When I have time, I enjoy taking a look at some of the links that people have clicked to access my blog. I am ever entertained by the internet. My posts have occasionally been picked up for presentation in certain little debates in bulletin boards or chat room, usually regarding the global warming issue. It is interesting to see how my information gets presented, and the response it gets. I decided to speak to this little phenomenon after reading one such example yesterday. This example is actually a fairly good example of the typical back-and-forth that I have seen regarding my information.

The first person originally linked to a post of mine and quoted this:

“With this additional data point, we can map the most recent non-warming/cooling trend from October 2001 – Current. Stated another way, applying a simple linear trend to the data, there has been no warming, and possible cooling, since October 2001. This encompasses 77 data points of anomalies. While this certainly could indicate a peak, or a downward trend, there have been similar periods in the past where we’ve seen this occur. The most recent 77 data-point period of cooling occurred from April 1990 – August 1996. We saw another spurt in the interim before we saw the more recent flattening. I do not point this out as an argument against cooling, but we also must be honest about the data we are looking at. In the event that there is, in fact, an overall warming trend underlying our climate, these cooling/flattening periods occur. Clearly, the longer it continues, the less likely it is that it is a blip, and the more likely it is that something has changed. It’s simply too soon to tell, and all we can do is look at the data. Right now, what we can say is that claims that warming is accelerating are flat-out false, and the most recent few years shows zero indication of warming. We cannot say that it indicates a definite reversal, nor that there may be a longer-term warming trend for which we are simply seeing an aberration.”

What a great insight! Whoever originally penned that must be a genius!

But alas… It was met with the following response:

Nothing like taking your info from “Digital Diatribes of a Random Idiot”. The guy is an actuary who is picking and choosing the anamolies and ignoring the rest of the data, poor science at best, if you can even call it science.

I would like to parse this person’s response – an all-too-common type of response – a little more carefully. Let’s start with the tactic of immediately undermining the analysis because of the name of the source. This is actually somewhat funny, because since I’m the one who determines the name, it should be fairly obvious that I chose this one so as to not take myself too seriously. It’s self-deprecating humor, people. I suppose I could have presented myself as some figure of authority and sounded all scientific-like. But that’s not my style. So, I guess I have to apologize to those of you who actually read my posts and find them reasonable and valuable, and perhaps wish to share them with others, only to have any point shot down because of my self-ascribed name, but it is what it is and you’ll just have to work harder at calling people out on that. What do I mean by “calling people out?” I mean, the name of my blog has zero to do with the facts presented. This is an attempt to misdirect and undermine the data presented because of the name of the blog. Now, don’t get me wrong… I don’t take it personally. I realize that my posts are not in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. And I don’t know this guy, and he doesn’t know me (At least I don’t think he does). However, with two minutes of verification he could have seen that the data is valid and properly demonstrated, rather than simply dismissed it altogether.

Moving on to the following: “The guy is an actuary…” This actually made me laugh. I think this was meant to undermine the analysis. Well, let me point out that the entire point of my post was a strict analysis of data – nothing more. I only drew historical conclusions based on the data. I am making no broad statements about the future (at least not with this presentation) the quote of mine that was provided clearly outlines the flaws of reading too much into the latest flat/cooling trend. I suppose his/her point here was supposed to suggest that since I’m not a climatologist I am unable to analyze data on temperature. Well, while it is true that I probably don’t have the background to fully explain why the data is what it is, or explain how all the factors interact to produce these anomalies, I am nevertheless trained to do exactly what I’ve been doing – take a look at the data and make a general conclusion about trends, cycles, and anomalies in the data points. So, go ahead and argue from a climatologist’s point of view why the data is flat in a way that supports Global Warming if you wish. But sheesh, don’t just dismiss the fact that the last few years are flat because I’m just an actuary. Ands one final note on making adjustments to the data. I come from the school of thought that the climate is so complex that it is nearly impossible to properly adjust anomalies for specific events or cycles, because I do not believe we understand how those events and cycles then integrate with positive and negative feedback effects that will exacerbate or mitigate the impact on temperature. My basic theory is that the data itself presents the best representation of the cumulative effect of all trends and cycles. At most, I would adjust for non-cyclical events such as a volcanic eruption. But I would not adjust for ENSO, Solar Cycles, etc. My eventual goal is to be able to incorporate a long enough period into the predictive model to capture these short-term cyclical events and see how that affects current trend lines.

Next, let me address the “…who is picking and choosing the anamolies (sic) and ignoring the rest of the data…”, which is really a silly point for anyone who has taken any time at all to look at my data presentation. I mean, I fully disclose any and all cherry-picking, what the purpose of the exercise is, and any pitfalls relating to it. One must select some starting point, and I have shown starting points and the trend values on this blog from 1880, 1890, 1900, and so on. I have shown the trend lines associated with the previous 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 years. Most of these show warming trends. I have shown how these trend values change over time. So this statement is clearly made out of ignorance to the totality of what I have shown. I suppose the argument was misdirected, and should have been towards the person who quoted me in the thread, for pulling out only this particular evidence. But I have found the term “cherry-picking” to be another convenient way of ignoring an argument – and it goes both ways. The entire point of my review of the data is to take a look at both long-term and short-term trends. I have no problems at all, as is evidenced by my posts, of showing either. It is a very relevant question to ask “OK, some say we are not warming in recent years. How long has that been going on?” The answer, as I showed at that point, was since October 2001 (according to the GISS data). It’s really just an answer to a valid question, and the paragraph above even takes pains to caution people about jumping to too many conclusions about what that means, because – and I quote myself – “it’s too soon to tell.” I also point out that this has happened during the warming cycle before, and actually fairly recently. Suggesting that I have “cherry-picked” here is actually an act of “cherry-picking” by the responder.

The last part is really pretty funny, as well: “…poor science at best, if you can even call it science.” Well, it is, in fact, called “Actuarial Science” for a reason. But beyond that obvious retort, I’m scratching my head at what was poor science. All I did was make a statement about a trend line, which can hardly be disputed as being factual. In fact, this wasn’t even presented as a scientific exercise, per se. This was an exercise in data analysis. I fitted a trend line. The trend line makes it clear that in recent years there is no warming. I simply disputed that claims that warming is accelerating and is worse than ever are not correct. That’s pretty much it. I welcome anyone to point to the data and show me the error of my ways.

You may be wondering why I spend this much time responding to some random bulletin board post. The reason I did was not because of this one post, nor because I took anything here personally. It’s to point out what seems to be a typical response to anyone who starts feeling threatened by data that doesn’t back up their preconceived conclusions. It would be a very fair response, for example, to explain that due to ENSO effects and Solar effects, we are in a lull, and if someone can explain from a climatological point of view how the data can be adjusted to show continued warming, then that is a worthy debate. Further, it would be a fine response to acknowledge the short-term trend but express doubt about any predictability with regard to a longer-term trend. I even pointed that out myself. But notice the argument presented, which is all too common in these debates: question the source and methodology with no specifics other than to attack the individual’s credibility with complete ignorance of my credentials, and apparently anything else that I’ve presented by way of analysis. And when you’re done responding, you simply do not address the original question, which was: Look at this trend. During the same period of time, Carbon Dioxide has continued to increase. Why haven’t temperatures continued to increase? You will notice how this was answered: (1) blog name undermines credibility; (2) profession undermines credibility; (3) cherry picking data; (4) not a good analysis. No explanation as to how it isn’t a good analysis, whether or not the data is correct, and why the blog name matters, and why being an actuary somehow undermines someone doing a strict data analysis.

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