Albert “making up stuff” Parker has lately been contributing prolifically to the WUWT blog. His most recent is an attempt to dispel any worry about sea level rise, simply because some researchers stated a sea level rise rate for south Florida which doesn’t represent a genuine long-term trend.
Albert is late to the party; I already mentioned that the given rate is based on too short a time span to represent a reliable long-term trend. But that does not mean sea level rise isn’t a serious problem for south Florida. It most certainly is, not in years to come, but already. The conclusion: “Despite my misgivings about some of the stated numerical results, the problem of flooding in Miami Beach is undeniable.”
It’s far too common for people, including scientists in published research, to quote trend estimates which are based on too little data to be meaningful. That’s why I expressed such doubt about the value of the recent high rate of increase in south Florida sea level — it’s more likely to be a fluctuation than a genuine trend. It might be, but there isn’t yet sufficient evidence to make such a claim. Sometimes, as with statements about recent dramatic increase in sea level rise, it makes for alarming headlines but ultimately hinders the cause of dealing with global warming. Other times, as with the so-called “pause” in temperature increase, it’s a tool for deniers to deny the reality, human cause, and/or danger of man-made climate change.
That’s one of the reasons I work so hard to raise the bar for data analysis, not just in climate science but generally. It’s my primary motivation for ultimately creating an online course in basic statistics (don’t worry, time series is first up, still likely to begin a week from today). I want tomorrow’s scientists to be better informed, not just how to compute results, but how to evaluate their validity and usefulness. It’s particularly important to know how and why we so often reach conclusions that are mistaken, even with the best of intentions. That’s something that is usually learned by experience, but some good old-fashioned education … a word to the wise … certainly helps.
Far more damage follows the mistaken conclusions promoted by those who do not have the best of intentions. It’s one of the recurring denier stories: find anything which creates doubt or discredits science, but instead of investigating to get at the deeper truth of things, instantly trumpet the doubt in order to sow the seeds of doubt in others. Newcomers to discussion of global warming may be surprised to learn this, but for those of you familiar with the ruckus I hardly need to “name names” of those who make a habit of this, most of you know who they are. Perhaps more noteworthy — and more disturbing — is the plethora of “I’m not a scientist” politicians who swallow it whole because it feeds their craving for obstructing action, an act motivated by the wealthy donors who feed their hunger for campaign contributions.
The tentative nature of new results is one of the reasons that consensus is so important. When a new paper makes a claim about trend rates or other statistical conclusions, especially those that seem extreme, I view it with a skeptical eye, and I want to see the data for myself. But if a claim has real consensus behind it, I know it’s already been vetted by the larger scientific community. I’m not the only one who looks at results with skepticism, in fact that’s one of the hallmarks of the profession. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, many people will run the numbers for themselves, and the ones qualified to do so will make their voices heard among scientists. That’s what creates consensus, and it’s why consensus is such strong evidence that we’re on the right track.
Ironic, isn’t it? That the same deniers who are so eager to seize upon a single exaggeration or error in a single paper — a result for which they have no need of anything like consensus — and claim that therefore all climate science is wrong, will turn right around and whine about how “science isn’t done by consensus”, then take some recent lone result, not vetted, no consensus, maybe not even peer-reviewed, and herald it as a “bombshell” that “proves” how wrong the worldwide scientific community is. The truly ironic part is that they’ll spend so much time arguing that there is no consensus among climate scientists — because they know that not only is consensus powerful scientific evidence, it’s also extraordinarily persuasive to people who are not scientists. When 99 out of 100 doctors agree on the diagnosis, people sit up and take notice.
Maybe “ironic” isn’t the most accurate term.
Another key point about doubt from deniers is that so many of them will “run the numbers” themselves but are not qualified to do so, they’re better described as a “sorry excuse for a data analyst.” In my opinion, Albert Parker is one, a poor source for information about trends, even linear trends. He bases his essay on monthly average sea level for Key West, for which he computes “SLR10”, his name for the linear trend rate over 10-year time spans. But he can’t seem to do that right. Setting aside that he says “This tide gauge has 104 recorded years over a time span of 104 years for a completeness of 100%” when it actually has 103 years with 10 of the monthly values missing, he doesn’t bother to remove the annual cycle before computing his “SLR10” trends. That can make quite a difference, altering the estimated rate by 3 mm/yr depending on which month you choose to start with. And yes, he tries every month for every 10-year trend so he can get the biggest differences between trend rates, while complaining about cherry-picking. Again, “ironic” may not be the best description.
But it’s not his failure to remove the annual cycle that makes his claim disingenuous. It’s his use of any flaw he can find — or thinks he finds — to discredit, not merely an entire paper, but an entire field. That trend doesn’t use enough data, so all of climate science is wrong! Here’s another paper with a trend based on too short a time span, so there’s no danger whatever from sea level rise! I couldn’t find acceleration of sea level rise in this one record, so there isn’t any anywhere and sea level rise is no problem!
Never mind that a single tide gauge record isn’t enough to draw grand conclusions about global sea level rise — it gave Albert Parker what he wanted. Never mind that there is acceleration in sea level (and deceleration too, it’s way more complicated than Parker understands) — he can find some places where it falls short. Never mind that Miami Beach (and other places) now regularly flood from high tide alone, without even the need for storm or wind or rain. And, pay no attention to the most egregious examples of trends based on too little time which come from the deniers themselves, are featured by those who really should or actually do know better, those who have been shown the error of their ways — time and time and time and time again — but persist in repeating what they themselves know to be misleading. Not the “best of intentions” by any means.
The deniers who rely on misleading statements to support false claims of “no problem!” are now being seen for what they are. The efforts of genuine scientists have done a lot to help that happen, but a far more powerful persuasion comes from nature herself. You can tell mayors of cities in south Florida that sea level rise isn’t a problem, you can make graphs and equations, you can write scores of articles for the WUWT blog about why they shouldn’t worry their little heads about it — but the problem isn’t just real, it’s gotten bad enough that these days, on a regular basis, all south Floridians have to do to see how wrong you are is try to walk down the street. It’s flooded.
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