February 2011

Bad Journalism under the Microscope: Pearcegate

I have happily used Google Reader in recent years to collect RSS feeds from news sources and blogs around the web, to provide me with a pretty complete up-to-date view of what's going on in science, technology and general world news. The average day has two to three hundred news items, the bulk of them on topics or people I'm interested in. It's an investment of effort to keep up, but I do at least give a brief glance to most of the items that come through the reader.

One of my regular sources has been New Scientist, a UK-based news organization. I've found them a useful source of up-to-date science reporting, despite a tendency to over-hype things. But apparently they've started including non-fact-checked blogs in their news stream - either that, or their editorial process has developed some very lax standards. Because, a few days ago, I was startled to run across this piece by Fred Pearce, reporting on a so-called "reconciliation" conference on climate, held in Lisbon.

Temperature and Radiative Transfer - more things we know

Ray Pierrehumbert's recent brief but excellent exposition of radiative transfer theory in Physics Today and scienceofdoom's continuing effort to clearly explain atmospheric radiation and the "Greenhouse" effect inspired me to do a little playing around of my own with the underlying theory and equations, to get a better feel for some of the expected behavior, and perhaps illuminate another aspect of the problem to a public audience.

Synopsis of the CO2 problem

On what I believe is a private discussion site I was asked a number of questions about the climate problem. I'm copying my answers here (with some minor corrections of typos and for context) as they may be found helpful for others... or at least as a reminder to myself of what I know.

Q. 1 "I look forward to any insight you can provide into the real verifiable evidence of the human footprint."

A. 1
I'm not quite sure what you mean by "verifiable evidence". You acknowledge climate seems to be changing. There are two distinct pieces of knowledge that go into "blaming" it on us humans, each of which has been substantiated from multiple observations and physical understanding. These are:

(1) Humans have caused atmospheric CO2 levels to increase considerably over the past century. This youtube video shows the wide range of observations of that increase in considerable detail, also showing how it compares with past changes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2mZyCblxS4