Friday, May 17, 2013
Testing the Science of Global Warming
There was another thing that we did in our lab reports. We recorded areas where our experiments may have had errors. Some of these were routine. Things like test tubes might not have been sterile, variances in room temperature and so forth. Some were very specific to what we were doing. Not being able to reuse a sample for our tests was always frustrating. And if you looked hard enough on any experiment, you could find areas where measurements or results could have been influenced by an outside factor. If you couldn't find these, then you weren't looking hard enough. And we lost points if we didn't list these in our report.
Here is how this works. If we designed an experiment to study the average speed of marathon runners. And we decide to do this, starting two thirds of the way through the race. Can we get data to do this?
Lets see, we can pick a runner, and retrieve his check in time at the various check points along the course. This will give us the historical time and distance references. Then we can graph the results and show a nice flat line with little change in speed between the checkpoints.
Now the race isn't over yet. We have miles left to go. And the University has given us another tool other than a calculator and a stop watch. We have a radar gun so that we can get the exact speed of a runner at a given moment in time. This is great for us because we can get more samples of speed instead of having to rely on check point time records.
So we start to setup at a variety of places. They just happen to be next to water stations along the route. And we find an alarming trend. All of the runners are slowing down in all of our new reading. Even the fast runners are slowing and it looks like that if this trend continues all of the runners will be finishing the marathon at a walk.
We even graph our data and show it to people with a nice downward hockey stick shape. We have a slowing trend across the entire set of competitors.
But is there something wrong with this method? Aren't getting more samples of speed making our experiment more accurate?
Obviously two things are wrong. First, we have changed our method of reading speed. Changing this method makes our readings uncomparable and my professors would have thrown out my results and made be go back and do the test again. Second, there is a bit of lazyness in everyone, and setting up next to the water stations may have seemed like a smart move for the speed taker, but it adds an environmental factor that is negatively influencing runners speed. That is slowing down to get water, or being slowed by others that are getting water.
I was curious. So I looked about and found that to get an atmospheric C02 level for times in the past, we go to ice core samples. We then crush them and use gas chromatography to find the composition of the atmosphere. Okay, stay with me.
I then looked up how to get CO2 readings from the atmosphere today. Guess what. They don't involve getting ice cores. They are taking direct measurements. Yes, this gives us more samples, and can give us better results of the CO2 concentration, but the comparative measures should not be related. (stopwatch and radar gun comparison)
Why does this matter? Aren't we still talking about how much CO2 is in the atmosphere? Shouldn't testing the air trapped in the ice give you a good enough reading? Nope, remember the Marathon checkpoints and the radar gun measurements, where we put the guys with the radar right next to the water. Our ice core samples come from areas of the world with ice. (I know that sounds obvious.) So it stands to reason that the air trapped in them comes from those areas.
But where are we getting our current temperatures? Why from all over the world, replies NOAA, NASA, and other organizations. And this sounds good until you realize that "all over the world" includes the observatory on Mauna Loa, a volcano in Hawaii. (No ice, and volcanoes have a habit of emitting lots of CO2.)
This is why we examine our experiments and see what could skew our results. Changing the method of collecting measurements, and the locations of the measurements can skew the results. It makes the data hard to understand. And it gives us reasons to doubt the results and conclusions based on looking at this mixed method data.
When we are looking at something important like our climate change, it is necessary to stick to like data, and like methods and not mix and match apples and oranges. The failure to do this casts dirt on the claims of the scientists that present them. Its why I keep giving the global warming predictions a failing grade.
In fairness, climate is something that we should seriously study. And it matters if there is a warming trend. But before we start making claims that we can prove something, we need to get our science in order.