One of the most commonly used tactics used by anti-science movements is to misrepresent a complex debate within a scientific discipline. By doing so they hope to invalidate the entire discipline by exploiting gaps in our knowledge or uncertainties.
Creationists have honed this tactic to a fine art, constantly sifting the scientific literature for uncertainties in an attempt to discredit the entire theory of evolution.
Of course the climate change “sceptics” rival the creationists in their attempts to exploit the same tactic.
It goes without saying that the majority of anti-science movements use the same set of basic tactics (see Six Aspects of Denial). Indeed, most of their “arguments” are essentially recycled versions of the same tactics: doubt the science, question the motives of scientists, exploit disagreements and promote the view of contrarians who are out of step with the scientific consensus.
Lacking any arguments with any substance, all they can do is “throw stones” at the science.
Jo Nova – Perth’s resident science mis-communicator – excels in these tactics as a recent post on global warming’s impact on hurricanes illustrates.
However before we go on to expose Nova’s latest error filled post, lets look at how creationists mischaracterize a debate within the scientific community.
Creationism and climate change denialism: two peas in pod
Within biology there has been some debate on the rate of evolution.
A small minority of scientists have advocated “punctuated equilibrium“: this hypothesis proposes that species will experience long periods of genetic stability and then make rapid evolutionary changes. The mainstream consensus is that evolutionary changes unfold over time in a more gradual process. However – and this is important to understand – the debate in no way invalidates the multiple lines of evidence supporting evolution. Fossils, DNA and other evidence overwhelmingly support the idea that all life has evolved form a common ancestor (or a few ancestors).
Scientists on both “sides” accept evolution. However, creationists continue to mischaracterize the debate in order to invalidate the entire discipline of evolutionary biology:
“It has been common practice for creationists to associate Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monsters” with the theory of punctuated equilibrium, as proposed by Eldredge and Gould.Punctuated equilibrium differs from hopeful monsters in that the former acts on populations rather than individuals, is theoretically more gradual (imagined to take 50,000 to 100,000 years), functions by the evolution of reproductive isolation (through mechanisms such as allopatric speciation), and the latter says nothing of stasis. Creationists such as Luther Sutherland claim that both theories inadvertently appeal to the absence of fossil evidence for evolution and thereby undermining the theory of Darwinian evolution. This predicament is used by creationists to argue that “there are no transitional fossils.”
A perfect example can be found on the pro-creationist “Creation Wiki”:
Despite the acceptance by some evolutionists that macroevolution is simply an extrapolation of the process of microevolution, many hold strong reservations, and assert that large-scale evolutionary phenomena cannot be explained by processes observed at the level of populations.Evolutionists continue to debate whether the Darwinian mechanisms of change, which rests on the tenets of gradualism and natural selection, can explain the discontinuous nature of evolution. Many eminent evolutionists such as Steven Gould, Ivan Schmalhausen, Steven M. Stanley, and C. H. Waddington, hold that microevolution and macroevolution represent fundamentally different processes
Climate change deniers rival creationists in their intellectual dishonesty as Nova’s recent post on hurricanes demonstrates.
What is true of the creationists is also true of the deniers.
Hurricane in a tea-cup: science admits uncertainty while deniers say they are “wrong”
Nova begins her post with a poor attempt at irony:
“Will a hotter world lead to more intense storms?
2010 might be on track to be the warmest ever (according to GISS), but right now, we may be about to set a new record of tropical storms — in inactivity. Ryan Maue tracks the global accumulated activity and reports that by the end of July we might break the record low we set last year.”
Hah! LOL Jo, you’re sooooo funny!
Apparently the IPCC and scientists have got things fundamentally wrong.
“They” said a hotter world would cause “more” hurricane and tropical cyclones while reality has proved otherwise. Silly scientists, they got it wrong again!
Of course the posters over at Nova’s blog join in the chorus of denouncing scientists as foolish “alarmists”.
But is this the case?
Scientists acknowledge the uncertainties in linking hurricanes to global warming
Those more familiar with the debate understand this question has not actually been resolved. The IPCC and scientists working on this question acknowledge the link between a hotter world and an increased frequency in the number of hurricanes is a difficult question to answer.
Let’s see what the IPCC has to say on the issue of hurricane intensity and frequency:
“Results from embedded high-resolution models and global models, ranging in grid spacing from 100 km to 9 km, project a likely increase of peak wind intensities and notably, where analysed, increased near-storm precipitation in future tropical cyclones. Most recent published modelling studies investigating tropical storm frequency simulate a decrease in the overall number of storms, though there is less confidence in these projections and in the projected decrease of relatively weak storms in most basins, with an increase in the numbers of the most intense tropical cyclones…”
This neatly summarises our current understanding of the issue. Note: some models predict less hurricanes.
Evidence suggests the frequency of hurricanes/cyclones will not increase dramatically – what may increase is their intensity. There is speculation that they will begin to “pack more power”. As Skeptical Science notes:
“It is unclear whether global warming is increasing hurricane frequency but there is increasing evidence that warming increases hurricane intensity…
…In July 2007, a survey of hurricanes in the North Atlantic over the past century noted an increase in the number of observed hurricanes, concluding “increasing cyclone numbers has lead to a distinct trend in the number of major hurricanes and one that is clearly associated with greenhouse warming” (Holland 2007). However, this was refuted by an analysis of monitoring systems stating “improved monitoring in recent years is responsible for most, if not all, of the observed trend in increasing frequency of tropical cyclones” (Landsea 2007). In other words, the reason more hurricanes are being observed may be due to an improved ability to observe them, thanks to aircraft, radar and satellites…”
Nearly everyone familiar with the science acknowledge their are enormous uncertainties around the science and has done for some time. The IPCC’s Third Assessment Report published in 2001 noted the following:
Climate models currently are unable to project accurately how hurricanes will change in the future. Today, an average of two hurricanes make landfall each year along the coastline of the continental United States (Hebert et al., 1993). There has been considerable interdecadal variability in the number of landfalling hurricanes in the United States (Pielke and Pielke, 1997). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared fewer than 20 natural disasters annually in the 1950s and 1960s but more than 40 yr-1 in the 1990s (Miller et al., 2000).
This understanding is replicated in the popular literature on climate change. My copy of “The rough guide to climate change” – a good popular introduction to the topic – notes the following:
At present, computers aren’t’ of much help in assessing whether we’ll see more tropical cyclones in a warmer world…” [page 134]
It also notes just how hard it is to determine whether or not the frequency of hurricanes and cyclones are increasing:
“The question of whether or not we’ll see more tropical cyclones is problematic for anther reason: most of those cyclones never reach land…” [page 135]
The IPCC, scientific community and popular literature are circumspect on the issue. They clearly articulate the challenges in trying to determine the links and acknowledge the uncertainty. But does that Nova from misrepresenting the actual science?
Six Aspects of denial: categorising Nova’s error
We can easily identify this tactic listed in our “Six Aspects of Denial“:
Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies – Again, one of the favourite tactics of the denial movement. The tiny percentage of actual scientists who express scepticism (Plimer, Lindzen) are dwarfed by the thousands of scientists who agree with the consensus that climate change is happening. But the denial movement exploits the media’s tendency to present “both sides” of the argument and thus help perpetrate the myth scientists are still debating climate change, when in fact their is near unanimous agreement.
Put simply, Nova engages in intellectual dishonesty in falsely misrepresents the science.
She knows this.
In fact some of Nova’s readers know this, as one of her regular poster noted:
“Both greater quantity and intensity of storms are predicted.”
I’m not sure that is the case. more intense, yes, but more frequent, I’m pretty sure the jury is still out.
In fact even Wikipedia says this – and since wikipedia is under the control of the warmist cult and lefties then it if anywhere would exaggerate.
Still, it does not stop Nova from posting an obvious falsehood and creating nothing more than a manufactured controversy.