One of the things that continues to amaze me is how the climate denialist industry doesn't seem to notice how obvious it is when they are misrepresenting the science.Â A couple of days ago the denialist web site Icecap, which is an aggregator of anti-science "news," posted a brief article consisting only of the graphs I'll talk about below (see October 13, far right column, though the "news" tends to move as new "news" is added).Â That's all they posted because they simply pulled it from a blog called Popular Technology.net hosted by a handful of computer engineers with no science training.
You'll see on the linked site that they suggest that scientists are "distort[ing] the scale on temperature graphs to exaggerate the mild warming of less than a degree since the end of the little ice age." I have to laugh, because it is the denialist industry that is caught distorting time after time.Â And not surprisingly, they have this one backwards too.
So this computer jock web site shows the following graphs, which they label "Realist" (i.e., denialists) and "Alarmist" (i.e., actual NASA climate scientists):
The accusation is that the data really show what is in the top graph but the scientists show the bottom graph because it is somehow scarier (and alarmist....boo).Â In truth, scientists use the bottom graph because it is more accurate and honest to show the correct axes.Â The top graph is scientifically unsupportable.Â Let me explain.
In the top graph you can see the scale on the left hand side that shows numbers from 0 to 5 going up and 0 to -5 going down.Â But the temperature data are only within the -1 to 1 range.Â So why is all that empty space there?Â Well, because the denialists want to try to make the 1 degree change seem like it doesn't mean much.Â It is, in fact, pretty important.Â But since they are trying to minimize the data, why not have the scale go from 0 to 100?Â That way you could pretty much hide all the value in the data completely.Â But it also would have made their attempted sleight-of-hand a little more obvious.
In the bottom graph the scientists use the correct range in their scale on the left, from -0.4 to 0.6.Â Why is that the correct range?Â Well, because that is where all the data are found.Â By using a scale that shows all the intricacies of the data they can see not only the trend in the data, but the internal variability of the data.Â In this way they can better understand what the data are telling us.Â Seems pretty logical, eh.
So in an effort to accuse the scientists of being unduly alarmist, the denialists (I'm sorry, "realists") employ deception in an attempt to be unduly dismissive of the value of the data.Â In short, the denialists completely lose track of the science in their efforts to create an impression that fits their preferred narrative, though in their defense it's clear they don't really understand any of the science anyway.Â In fact, despite their rather obvious attempt to hide it, the first graph clearly shows that the temperature has been climbing during this period, exactly as the scientists say it did.Â The second graph also shows that the temperature has been climbing (since it shows exactly the same data), but unlike the denialist version, the scientists' graph provides much more information useful for understanding the variation and trends of the data.Â Which is why we do graphs in the first place. To understand what is going on with the data.
So here we have a blog picked up by an aggregator, neither of which seems to have anyone who actually understands the first thing about statistics or even such a simple thing as plotting data in a graph.Â To their faulty graph they add no analysis whatsoever, which fits with the usual denialist tactic of insinuation and innuendo without explanation (largely because they don't understand it enough to explain it, nor would it support their contention anyway).Â Oh, and the links they provide as supposed sources don't actually link to the graphs they show.Â Shocker!
The bottom line is that the denialist industry is incredibly transparent in its attempts to distort the science.Â They start with a predetermined conclusion - one degree change isn't important - and try to make the graph emphasize this conclusion.Â But doing so ignores not only basic scientific principles but all the important data that the proper graph allows to be seen.Â Of course, that lack of scientific understanding or logic doesn't seem to bother the denialist wannabes, who simply pass these bizarre attempts at mental sleight-of-hand around amongst themselves without any clue how it demonstrates their lack of critical thinking or veracity.
Â© David K, October 2010
Note that this article is archived in a group called "Exposing Climate Denialism - A Guide to Tactics and Tall Tales," located at climatelies.gather.com.Â