Monday, January 26, 2015

The 'pounding jackboots of progressivism' and climate change

People who know me know that I periodically post on Twitter and Facebook on the topic of climate change. Some find this extremely irritating; most just ignore it.

I post on the topic because I am concerned about it, especially what it is doing to the lives of my children and my children's children, but also because I am especially fascinated with articles and blog posts that purport to show that climate change is a hoax, or is (almost) completely natural, or is nothing to worry about. I find that the techniques of writing and use of statistics in these articles provides a vivid window into how some people think about science, and how other people exploit the ways that people think about science to advance their own viewpoints.This fits into my professional interests in the quality of education, especially STEM education, and in how people think about systems and complexity.

So, on January 19, I posted a link on Facebook to an article on entitled "Global Warming: The Most Dishonest Year on Record." My comment was:
This is how it's done.

Obfuscation. Apparent objectivity. Denial.
Indeed, the article is an exemplar of the genre. It takes a scientific claim supportive of the view that are planet is warming due to human activities (primarily burning fossil fuels) and undermines it--not by arguing against the importance of the claim or whether it is in fact true, but by arguing against something else. Ideally, articles like this argue against several something elses, to give an overall impression that the original claim is suspect.  This particular article picks at the claim--made by some--that 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history. In truth, it's only the hottest year in the 135 years in which humans have kept track of global temperatures. The article goes on to cite "good evidence that the Earth has been warmer than it is today"--although, if you read carefully, you see that this isn't "good evidence" of that at all: it's anecdotal, or it's partial, or it's incomplete.

That is, if you read carefully. While the article claims that "scientists" have generated that "good evidence," the links that are provided are actually to other opinion pieces at pseudoscientific web sites like and The first of these cites "evidence" from a report published by the Science and Public Policy Institute and CO2 Science, both of which are linked to organizations such as ALEC and Frontiers for Freedom). The second interprets a Science article as suggesting that recent warming isn't particularly interesting from an historical perspective, when the article seems to say that "recent oceanic warming is happening at a historically unprecedented rate." The article also links to three posts on that are by the same author as the article, Robert Tracinski. Tracinski is at least consistent in denying that global warming is anything to worry about. (Linking to one's own work is certainly common, but that doesn't excuse it, especially when such links are characterized as providing further evidence.)

This, indeed, is how it's done.

But that's not actually what I want to write about. In response to my Facebook post, I got some comments. Several of those were supportive of my original intent, but some were dismissive. One of those was by my good friend, Harlan. On January 21, he posted a link to an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Climate Reporting's Hot Mess." (The article is now behind a paywall.)

Harlan's comment:
 The author raises valid points. 

The author, Holman Jenkins, Jr.--a member of the Journal's editorial board--extended the main point in The Federalist article cited above that news reports about 2014 being the hottest year overstated the case by failing to mention the limitations of the data. The author was especially vexed by the fact that the differences between 2014, 2010, and 2005 are smaller than the margin of error of the measurements.

I don't quite get why it matters much which of those three years was really the hottest. All three of these years are part of a pretty obvious warming trend since 1980:

The column also includes the truly distracting claim that any actual global warming will likely stop when new battery technologies are developed to allow energy sources like wind and the sun to be used more efficiently. (That's an interesting if somewhat speculative claim, but what does THAT have to do with whether human emissions of CO2 are warming the climate and whether global temperature data demonstrate that?)

So, after reading the piece, I commented back to Harlan:
Sigh...upon reading the article, nothing of any interest. "Valid points," Harlan? Only if you are looking for reasons to doubt the scientific consensus. Which readers of the WSJ Business World might.
 Then, after re-reading the article, I posted another comment:
Oh, I revise that. Jenkins correctly points out that "the climate problem, if there’s a problem, likely won’t be solved by some supreme effort of global bureaucratic will." I agree with that!
Harlan, however, clearly didn't like my take on the article. He shot back:
Oh Craig *sigh*. Please. So typical. The pounding jackboots of progressivism will tolerate nor consider any opposing viewpoints. *sigh*.
Knowing Harlan, I figured there was a bit of hyperbole in this comment. So I wrote:
Harlan! I've got to believe you are kidding (at least a bit). "Pounding Jackboots"?
To which he promptly replied:
^well, not you of course. You're more like clacking stilettos.

Honestly, this made me laugh out loud! 

I'm quite taken with this image: clacking stilletos. It certainly conjures up a different image than "pounding jackboots"! Perhaps something like this:

Or this: