Friday, June 29, 2007

Science Matters: Global Warming--Read These Two Essays

I am not a scientist by trade, but I believe most science is accessible to anyone with a high school education and a willingness to learn. For example, the vast majority of the articles in Scientific American are accessible to the layman/laywoman, as that is the intended audience. I say this as someone with only high school chemistry and physics in my formal-education science folder, and as a 25-year subscriber to Scientific American.

Science is like medicine: if you don't want to learn anything yourself and you just want to trust "the experts," prepare to make some very bad choices. Like agreeing to a needless or risky operation and promptly dying, if not on the operating table, then of an infection you picked up in the hospital. Or taking an ineffectual drug and erroneously thinking you're being "cured."

Frequent contributor U. Doran recommended a fascinating dismantling of Big Pharma's (the big drug makers) statistical legerdemaine (slight of hand) The crucial health stat you've never heard of.

The article describes how drug companies tout a "relative risk reduction" of 31%, which sounds impressive, but in reality the "absolute risk reduction" is only 2%--meaning, only 2 out of 100 people are going to see any results of the "wonder drug." Not as impressive sounding, right? If you look into the Phase 2 and 3 drug trial data which is used to approve drugs, you will find multiple layers of obfuscation and data-finagling.

In other words, flaky data is used to get a drug approved, and flaky statistics are used to sell an ignorant public on the supposed benefits of the (expensive, immensely profitable) drug.

Speaking of finagled data: here are two of the best, most clearly presented essays on Global Warming you'll ever find, and they are exclusively here at Of Two Minds.

We've all read about global warming, and here we have two articles which explain the basis (data) for the global warming thesis, and how it all stacks up. You really owe it to yourself to read these this weekend.

Global Warming: Our Story So Far
by Michael Goodfellow

The Hockey Stick Breaks (Global Warming Data refuted)
by Protagoras

I think we as a society have absorbed the negative view that science is "too hard to understand," which makes for a handy excuse to "trust the experts." Yes, at very high levels, say, senior-college level classes, then chemistry, biology and physics are technically challenging because you need a large foundation of knowledge to understand "state of the art." But as Scientific American and other science magazines show, even the highest-level science can always be explained in a way that virtually anyone can understand should they desire to do so.

As someone who is blessed to count working scientists as longtime friends, I have learned that data collection is the name of the game; if you don't have good data, i.e. data which hasn't been tainted, and which can be repeated in other labs or locales, then you have nothing.

Here is an excerpt from Protagoras's look at the validity of the data being used to support the "humans are causing Global Warming" thesis:

"A truly dramatic event in contemporary intellectual history occurred unnoticed in April. To understand it, you have to understand the history of the famous Hockey Stick climate chart, which has decorated IPCC documents since the late nineties, appeared in lots of Green publications all over the world, and has been used as vivid proof that human caused global warming (AGW) is real and an imminent threat to human life and civilization.

The Hockey Stick chart appeared to show that we live in extraordinary times. The researchers, Michael Mann and his coauthors, had assembled a reconstruction of temperatures going back about 1,000 years. There were two elements to this. First, there were temperature records from weather stations. These however only go back about 100 years, if that. So you need some other way of estimating temperatures from earlier periods."

And here is an excerpt from Michael Goodfellow's summary of the evidence pro and con for the "humans are causing Global Warming" thesis:

"Like it or not, real or not, global warming is a huge problem for the world. Serious debate is going on about what to do, government action on this is already affecting us all, and will continue to do so. The potential effects of legislation on the world economy, the politics of trade and on our lifestyles are all huge. So it makes sense to follow this debate as closely as you follow any other big issue, from the housing bubble to the Iraq war. The problem, as usual, is getting some context and separating the facts from the political bias.

Let's start with the big picture. This graph is a reconstruction of the Earth's temperature for the last 500 million years. As with the rest of these graphs, read them from right to left. The left edge, at zero, is the present. "

Both essays provide numerous links to other sources, so you can explore the topic further with just a few clicks.

I am deeply indebted to these writers for investing so much energy and time to bring a clear-eyed, well-reasoned perspective to the most important topic of our era. Please take advantage of this opportunity and read these two wonderfully written, well-researched essays.

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