Saturday, October 16, 2010

Americans Flunk Test on Climate Talking Points

The NY Times is exasperated over a recent Yale University study whose conclusion reflects poorly on Joe and Jane Sixpack's knowledge of climate science, or perhaps more accurately, their knowledge of climate science talking points:
But climate skeptics have made some specific inroads. As the report’s authors found, 42 percent of those surveyed “incorrectly believe that since scientists can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance, they can’t possibly predict the climate of the future.” More than a third (37 percent) think climate models are too unreliable to predict the climate of the future. And one-third believe, incorrectly, that most scientists in the 1970s were predicting an ice age.
They use "incorrectly" as if it might mean something. For instance on their first point, it's an entirely plausible conclusion for the average person to think scientists can't accurately predict the weather more than a few days in advance just by watching the forecast. Extending it out further, well, just look at the accuracy of the past several Atlantic hurricane forecasts.

Yes, weather is not climate (until it's convenient) but it seems logical to question the accuracy of long range climate forecast trends based on the uncertainty of short range weather models. To call it "incorrect" would be to say climate models are 100 percent accurate, a postulation that cannot be proven in the study.

As to the last assertion, some people may have keen memories of the Newsweek article predicting an ice age in the 70s, or they've heard about it in modern press reports. To say there was a consensus about an ice age back then is incorrect; to say there was a consensus on it going either direction back then would be entirely inaccurate. Finally:
But 55 percent believe, incorrectly, that the Earth’s climate is now hotter than it has ever been before, and about two-thirds believe, incorrectly, that the climate has always oscillated gradually between eras of warmth and eras of cold.
Hmm, no shock that people might think the Earth has never been warmer based on an almost weekly diet of media trickery for going on two decades now. The shock is that only 55 percent believe it, most likely understanding that our observations only go back about 120 years. As to oscillations, any kid knows the climate oscillates because, gee, we're no longer in an ice age. They seem to be focusing on "gradual" because if people believe climate moves along on a geologic scale then there's no reason to change the way we live.

But if people can be convinced that the next climate swing will be linear, a never-ending upward swing due to AGW that will result in a ball of hot gas or approximate the surface of Venus--in our kids' lifetimes--then there's certainly reason to buy curly light bulbs, trade in the Hummer, support cap and trade and vote for Democrats in the mid-terms. Then again, believing in such an apocalyptic future sounds a bit silly and superstitious right, sort of like something religious extremists like Christine O'Donnell might believe in--fireballs and brimstone and such. Right?

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