Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is That a Fact?

Today Mike's Eyes fell on two science articles, one in the Detroit News, the other in the Detroit Free Press. But before I get into them I just want to say that science today has become so politicized that you can't believe most of the science articles in most newspapers. More on the why of that in a latter post.

In today's Detroit News there is an article titled "Fungus, climate change linked to frogs' deaths" by Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times. The first paragraph says:
"Scientists studying a fast-dwindling genus of colorful harlequin frogs on misty mountainsides in Central and South America report today that global warming is combining with a spreading fungus to kill off many species."

That a fungus is killing the frogs is not in dispute. Evidently, the range of the fungus has increased slightly. However, nowhere in the study does its author, a Mr. Alan Pounds, demonstrate that global warming is causing the range expansion. It is just asserted that GW is the cause. For a thorough debunking of this study go here.

The next article, from the Free Press, is titled "Arctic meltdown speeding up" by Robert S. Boyd for Knight Ridder Newspapers. It starts:

"The Arctic Ocean is losing ice at an alarming rate and scientists are striving to understand why and what it means for humankind.

If present trends continue,during a summer in the future of a child born today, the sea surrounding the North Pole will be free of ice. The loss could point the way to radical changes in the Earth's climate and weather systems.

Michigan's climate could become more like Tennessee's with milder winters and far less snow."

Since I live in Michigan, I wouldn't mind this last a single bit. But in the above quote it's the words "if" and "could" that I object to because they are pure speculation. Speculation is ok if you have at least a little bit of evidence to speculate upon. But the article, and therefore the study I presume, doesn't provide a shred of evidence to support the idea that "present trends" will continue. There is however, evidence that they won't continue. A study of Earth's climate history reveals that all climate forcings operate in cycles like a pendulum, back and forth.
Nothing stays steady endlessly. For a quick study on Earth's climate history go here.

The article also points out that satellite readings since 1980 show "the ice cover has been shrinking by an average of almost 8% a year." True, but the point I want to make is that is only 25 years. That's not long enough to tell us whether this melting is within natural variability or not. We need more study. Mr. Boyd does insert some caveats into the article like "Scientists don't know how the thaw will reshape the Earth's weather systems" which makes the article more honest than most.

Nevertheless, Mr. Boyd tells us there are 2 main causes of the loss of Arctic sea ice:1."External: Increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses trap the sun's heat and warm the Earth." And 2."Internal: Ice and snow reflect heat from the sun. As the ice shrinks, it leaves more open, darker water to absorb the sun's heat. More open water slows the formation of fresh ice in the fall and leads to a still earlier, more extensive melt the following summer."

While there is some truth to #2, it must be remembered that more sunlight falling on darker water also means higher water temps which mean more evaporation which means more snowfall which means more ice. But #1 is highly debatable. Man's contribution to CO2 in the air is only one third of one percent and many scientists think that is not significant. Also the causal relationship seems to be backwards. In many CO2 studies the timeline shows an increase in temperature followed by an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

We have had modern technology at our disposal for only about 35 years now. We need much more study before we can definitively say "Yeah, that's a fact."

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