Friday, August 04, 2006

But How Do You Feel? Part 1: the Limitations of Looking at the Local

Yesterday, it was reported that Pat Robertson has accepted global warming. Why he and so many Christian fundies were opposed to global warming research results in the first place is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it gets crazier. Apparently, he was not convinced by any of the science, you know, the data showing anomalous rising temperatures for years. No, it’s been hot for a couple weeks where Robertson lives so he now has the proof he needs to say that the globe is warming.

This got me thinking: where is the critical faculty? Just consider what we hear every day on the TV weather report. Hottest day records are falling. It has been hot as hell in NYC this week. Could it be global warming? Here’s a little test: when were the previous records set? If it is so hot where you live because of global warming, then all the records of that heat that bothers you so much should be within the last few years. Maybe you’d hear the weatherman say something like, “this tops last year’s record of XYZ degrees!”

But that’s not what we hear. It was 102ºF at LaGuardia airport (close to Comstockville) on Wednesday. Record heat indeed, smashing the previous record of 100ºF set in… 1955! If the heat wave convinces someone of global warming, why weren’t they complaining about a hotter planet in the fifties?

What the scientifically illiterate folks like Robertson don’t realize is that global warming is detectable as an average of the whole globe. That’s where scientists can find a signal. All the heat waves and cold snaps and rainy weeks you experience at a local level are just noise. The real, long-term differences are only apparent when looking at lots of local data points together.

And what scientists see when they look at averages is what should have been convincing people last year, and the year before, and the year before, regardless of how it felt outside. The hottest six years ever recorded by humans were in the last eight years, with last year as the single hottest. But why let that convince people like Robertson when it feels cozy enough near the 700 Club studios?

I hate to say it, because really advocates of science should be happy that another voice of irrationality on the GW topic has been quieted, but the totally nonscientific basis of Robertson’s embrace of a scientific fact gets my blood boiling. It’s not too different than: I’ll never believe in evolution because I’ve never seen an ape give birth to a human (actual fundie logic).

Stay tuned for Part 2. It’s hot outside and Comstock is venting. I got a real pet-peeve post about the heat coming up.
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1 comment:

Mrs. C said...

It's interesting that the same people who prize and encourage that we take certain facts about our existence on faith (i.e., Jesus is the son of God, you will burn in hell if...) also demand overly concrete evidence to be swayed from their positions.