What Fresh Hell Is This?

September 28, 2014

Jack Kelly Sunday

Here's a few things we know already - a few things that this column in today's Post-Gazette utterly fail to convince us otherwise - about Jack Kelly:
  • He doesn't understand the science
  • No one at the P-G fact-checks him
Put those two things together and you've got yet another embarrassment for what the Trib calls "The Block Bugler."

Let's begin:
Climate change is as grave a threat as the Ebola virus or the terrorists of the Islamic State, Secretary of State John Kerry said in anticipation of the United Nations conference in New York last week.

All but a “tiny minority” of “extreme ideologues” in the “Flat Earth Society” think the planet is warming dangerously, he said in speeches in Indonesia and Hawaii.
This is going to be a teensy bit of a challenge for us as the speeches in Indonesia and Hawaii aren't actually the same speeches. Nor are they even very close chronologically.  The speech in Indonesia was in February, 2014 and the speech in Hawaii was 6 months later in August.  So how they both can be made in anticipation of the UN conference this week is beyond me.

In any event, Jack quickly pulls out his "expert" and we've met him before:
If Mr. Kerry were to attend a meeting of the Flat Earth Society, “his presence might lower the level of discourse,” said Myron Ebell, gobsmacked by two in particular of the many things the secretary of state said that aren’t true.
And a paragraph or two later, Jack characterizes Mr Ebell this way:
...an environmental expert for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Ok, then let's go see what sort of "expert" this Mr Ebell is.  His page at CEI says:
Ebell holds a B.A. from Colorado College and an M.S. from the London School of Economics. He also did graduate work at the University of California at San Diego and at Peterhouse, Cambridge University.
So no PhD in science. But this doesn't tell us much about what degrees he does have. For that we can turn to Vanity Fair:
Though he likes to bash scientists for working outside their degreed fields, Ebell, it turns out, isn't a scientist at all. He majored in philosophy at the University of California in San Diego, then studied political theory at the London School of Economics and history at Cambridge.
And then a few paragraphs down, Ebell is quoted as saying:
"I'm not claiming to be a climate authority—the way Jim Hansen is, or Robert Corell," says Ebell. "Every interview I do, when I'm asked about scientific issues, I say I'm not a climate scientist." [Emphases added.]
Which is completely different from Hansen, and Corell who actually do have Phd degrees and actually are authorities on climate science.  But hey, one man's ignorance is just as real to him as another man's science - if that first man's a science illiterate.

And yet, Jack refers to Ebell as "an environmental expert" even when Ebell himself says he's not a climate scientist.

Doesn't anyone at the P-G look into these things?

But let's take a look at some of the things Jack thinks of as "facts" and see whether they correspond with reality (ie "science").  Jack writes:
There’s been no warming for 18 years, according to weather satellite measurements. It’s about 0.4 degrees Celsius cooler in the United States now than in 2005, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year has been the chilliest since the federal government began keeping records in 1871.
Sentence 1 is simply untrue.  But this is, I think, what Jack is referencing:

See that brownish line in the upper right?  That's about the past 18 years.  See the rest of the line?  That's the trend since 1880 or so,  So even if the statement "There’s been no warming for 18 years" is true, it still doesn't deny the upward trend of the past century or so.

Climate.gov has some more info on this supposed "no warming for 18 years" thing:
Earth has warmed by 1.5°F (0.85°C) since 1880 and most of that warming has occurred since 1976.[1] Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the one prior—the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s and the 2000s were the warmest decade on record.[1, 2] Such a dramatic rise in temperature in three consecutive decades is a clear indicator that the globe is warming.

However, the most definitive warming has been happening in the ocean, which has absorbed more than 80% of the additional energy in the climate system.[2,3] Measurements show that while the rate of air temperature warming slowed in the early part of the 21st century, the ocean continued to warm at an unusually rapid rate. [Links and italics in original]
So how much are we talking here?  How much of the heat is stored in the ocean as opposed to being stored on land where it would show up as "surface" temperatures?  This much:

His next two statements confuse climate with weather (if, indeed, his numbers are accurate).  If it is the case that .4 degrees Celsius cooler now in that small portion of the Earths total surface called "The United States" than it was 9 years ago, so what?  It says nothing about the global temperatures over a span of more than a century.  Jack's insulting our intelligence if he thinks that that's even an adequate fact in this context.

Doesn't anyone even both to let Jack Kelly know how wrong he is?  If he wants to present his case (rather than tossing off unsubstantiated statements) let him do that.  Let him present us with the peer-reviewed articles.  Let him present us with the authors of those peer-reviewed articles (rather than non-scientists from CEI).  In the meantime, let's not think he's actually presenting science.  Let's not let him get away with thinking that he is.

But he's not done with his dishonesty.  Let's take a look at some of the things he said Secretary of State John Kerry said.  For example:
Warming “will make it much more difficult for farmers to be able to grow the regular things we grow,” Mr. Kerry said.
This came from the speech in Indonesia.  But take a look the rest of Kerry's sentence:
Scientists predict that, in some places, heat waves and water shortages will make it much more difficult for farmers to be able to grow the regular things we grow, like wheat or corn or rice. [Emphasis added.]
Note that Jack follows Kerry's phrase with this:
Carbon dioxide is to plants what oxygen is to us. Warmer temperatures at higher latitudes extend growing seasons. More CO2 and more warmth should mean more food production. The planet’s gotten greener since 1980, satellite measurements indicate.
So while John Kerry was talking about how climate change-caused heat waves and water shortages will make it more difficult for farmers in some places, Jack leaves that out to talk about CO2 and "warmer temperatures."  By leaving out what Kerry actually said and then responding to the incomplete utterance, Jack's committing a logical fallacy known as the "straw man argument."

Doesn't anyone at the P-G even bother with this stuff anymore?  If not, why the heck not, and if so, why the heck are they letting him get away with it?

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