Tag Archives: climate

Data say the Darndest Things

Apparently I’m late on the bandwagon for spotting this one, but twitter is atwitter with news that it’s cold in Washington D.C. right now. A propose of my last post, Chairman the Senate Environment and Social Works Committee and Amateur scientist, James Inhofe (R-OK), brought a snowball into the B-zSXewUIAATlKMSenate yesterday as data against the notion that Climate Change is occurring.  “We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record,” he said.

Apparently he meant to say that climate can change, but that humans have no ability to effect this kind of change directly. As he states on his webpage:

“The climate is changing, as it always has been changing, and always will, there’s archeological evidence of that, there’s biblical evidence of that, there’s historic evidence of that, it will always change,”Inhofe said.

But more interesting to me is his data gathering.

datapoint 1: Snowball in Washington D.C. February 27

datapoint 2: “It’s very, very cold out.”

conclusion: It is unseasonably warm.

Senator Inhofe should spend some time with Darrell Huff. Huff’s classic text, How to Lie with Statistics is one of my favorite books. It’s a bit out of date with its examples, but still a fun, easy read. And more importantly, a good look at how data can be manipulated to appear to represent a picture different from reality.

CongressIt all comes down to data collection and interpretation. As Senator Inhofe did, I could easily gather some quick data from my immediate surroundings, ‘ 100% of the people I had breakfast with live in my house’ and derive a quick conclusion: ‘everyone in the world lives in my house.’

Or, I could go more subtly and use data closer to Sen Inhofe. Right down the hall in the other house of congress sit enough data to clearly demonstrate that employment numbers are climbing steadily with no sign of this so called ‘great recession.’ In fact, no sitting member of Congress has ever been unemployed while serving in congress.

Actually, the important point to make is that science can be done well, but it can also be done poorly. When it’s done poorly, it can be due to a number of reasons, such as poorly designed experiments, lack of appropriate controls, inaccurate data collection or poor choice of samples. All of these can happen without any intent to deceive, however, any experiment done with a conclusion already in hand is inherently partisan and is bound to produce unrepresentative results. Science should not be politicized, doing so generates flawed data and erodes public confidence in both our lawmakers and our scientists.

I have no problem with science being presented in congress, but I do think that it needs to be done responsibly and in careful consultation with those who understand the entire scientific process.

Does your congress member have a scientific advisor?

I’ve just written to my Senators and Representative to ask that question directly and I hope to hear back from them soon. I’ll be sure to post their answer here.

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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Undisclosed Funding – or – How to Look Like You have Something to Hide

Apparently disclosure of funding sources does not seem to be a important to some researchers. In Paul Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets, Andrew Wakefield’s failure to disclose $800,000 given to him by Richard Barr’s law firm to link MMR vaccine to Autism is a major factor contributing to his decline and fall. In Wakefield’s case, he failed to disclose any conflicts of interest as required by the journal, The Lancet, where he published his work.

The Lancet’s Author Instructions state clearly what may constitute a conflict of interest and that anything giving the impression of a conflict should be reported to the editor.

A conflict of interest exists when professional judgement concerning a primary interest (such as patients’ welfare or validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such a financial gain). Financial relationships are easily identifiable … A conflict can be actual or potential, and full disclosure to the Editor is the safest course.

At the end of the text, under a subheading “Declaration of interests”, all authors must disclose any financial and personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately influence (bias) their work.

Wakefield’s failure to report the potential conflict of interest both to the journal and also to his collaborators. Unsurprisingly, both groups were upset when they learned about the money. Eventually, along with alleged ethical violations, Wakefield had his license to practice medicine revoked and his paper retracted.

524990main_FAQ10_fullOne would think that this would serve as a warning to those with similar perceived conflicts, suggesting the best course of action to be one of full disclosure. In the end, it is often easier to defend a potential conflict that the author puts forward him or herself, rather than having to retroactively explain why information was withheld and then try to demonstrate that any conflicts did not impact the quality or findings discovered.

Nevertheless, The New York Times has published an account of a very similar situation in climate science today. In their article, Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher, the case of Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming is being investigated for the influence of cash on his findings.

The crux of the times article is that Soon…

… accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The disclosure of Soon’s funding does not mean that his data were influenced by the money, however, keeping it hidden definitely leads to questions. Not the least of his problems comes from using terminology such as ‘deliverables’ to describe his papers and preparations for congressional testimony in communication with his supporters. The term ‘deliverable’ is defined by business as a “Report or item that must be completed and delivered under the terms of an agreement or contract.”

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Although these articles are not within the timeframe of the financial contributions alleged in the Times, these help to clarify Soon’s position on climate science. These publications include:

“Recent Warming is not Historically Unique”.  Callie Baliunas & Willie Soon (2001.04.17)Capitalism Magazine. In which he concludes “The facts are simple. The Little Optimum and Little Ice Age were real. They were also widespread over the globe. The twentieth century is not the least bit climatically unusual. So why the recent media hysteria that the twentieth century is the warmest of the last 1,000 years?”

“Variable solar irradiance as a plausible agent for multidecadal variations in the Arctic-wide surface air temperature record of the past 130 years” Volume 32, Issue 16. August 2005. Geophysical Research Letters. As the title suggests, this article attributes recent climate data to “features that are highly correlated with the Sun’s intrinsic magnetic variability especially on multidecadal time scales.”

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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Set your DVRs


Nice Tie, Nye

Tomorrow morning’s ‘Meet the Press’ puts Bill Nye the Science Guy in the spotlight again. This time Mr. Nye will be speaking with (debating?) Marsha Blackburn on the topic of Climate Change. Just about a week ago Mr. Nye debated with uber-creationist Ken Ham over the theory of knowledge (actually, the topic was supposed to be evolution that time, but that wasn’t what was actually argued).

Nye is becoming the public face of science, willing to take on anyone anywhere in defense of science as a means of uncovering the mysteries of the universe. This has been making waves in the science community where many academics are uncomfortable with these kind of debates. Their argument is that science is not decided by debate. Science is a way of interrogating nature directly; data comes first and conclusions are derived from these data. 

Bill will be debating Tennessee Congresswoman, Marsha Blackburn.


Marsha Marsha Marsha

The Washington Examiner describes Congresswoman Blackburn as “a conservative Tennessee Republican and vice chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been skeptical about scientific research showing that human activities have altered the world’s climate patterns at an alarming and unnatural rate.”

Just like the eve of the debate at the Creationist Museum, I will be eager to see the results at the same time I will be cowering and hoping that Nye has, again, does his homework.



Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


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