The empricist’s telescope

Galileo’s pre­cise obser­va­tions of the moons of Jupiter were sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly dis­rup­tive because he employed a new tech­nol­o­gy lit­er­al­ly to open new hori­zons for astron­o­my. But his pub­lic dis­sent from a geo­cen­tric view of the universe—a dis­sent that appears only once in his writ­ings, in terms that sug­gest he did not expect this fact espe­cial­ly to sur­prise his readers—made a still greater con­tri­bu­tion toour intel­lec­tu­al her­itage, in ret­ro­spect, because it led to the tri­umph of empir­i­cal enquiry over dog­ma in the advance­ment of knowl­edge.

We’re immense­ly lucky to have a kind of empiri­cists’ tele­scope of our own in the Inter­net. A lot of raw data on the cli­mate and a wealth of analy­sis is avail­able to any­one with a web brows­er. Antho­ny Watts main­tains an invalu­able list of web-acces­si­ble data sets. Among them, the HADCRUT tem­per­a­ture series from the UK Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Office, NASA’s GISS series derived from ground sens­ing sta­tions, and the satel­lite data series from NASA. Any­one can grab these tem­per­a­ture tables, toss them in a spread­sheet or import them into the mag­nif­i­cent (and free!) sta­tis­ti­cal pro­gram­ing envi­ron­ment of R to cre­ate their own record of obser­va­tions. As Galileo’s tiny aster­isks and scratchy cir­cles show, empiri­cism is not a method reserved for the ‘learned acad­e­mies’; it is the foun­da­tion of sci­ence and yet often well with­in the reach of an intel­li­gent ama­teur.

But if the data is not your pas­sion, it’s easy, too, to find high qual­i­ty analy­sis and vig­or­ous dis­cus­sion. David Stock­well at Niche Mod­el­ing has a nice round-up, today, of sev­er­al recent pieces of analy­sis includ­ing

  • A sta­tis­ti­cal­ly robust analy­sis of the NASA glob­al tem­per­a­ture time-series (by Lucia Lil­je­gren, who shows the trend is flat since 2001 and pro­vides a help­ful spread­sheet for down­load­ing so you can roll-your-own)
  • Some recent arti­cles on the recov­ery of Arc­tic sea ice
  • News that glob­al warm­ing may reduce the num­ber of Atlantic hur­ri­canes

Beyond, there are con­stel­la­tions of bal­anced, intel­li­gent analy­ses demon­strat­ing the extent and the seri­ous­ness of ‘dis­sent’ that gives cli­mate sci­ence its claim to be sci­ence. Some start­ing points:

  • The minis­cule (glacial?) rate of sea-lev­el rise
  • The real rea­son for the retreat­ing snows of Kil­i­man­jaro
  • The absence of any trend in the inci­dence of trop­i­cal cyclones due to glob­al warm­ing (accord­ing to Aus­tralian Bureau of Met sci­en­tists)
  • Rea­son­able doubts about the ‘CO2 sto­ry’ includ­ing a longish paper that sum­ma­rizes recent lit­er­a­ture crit­i­cal of the IPCC views (by sci­en­tists with an agricultural—i.e. CO2 ‘friendly’—background), and a much briefer but bal­anced cri­tique of the alarmism asso­ci­at­ed with actu­al increas­es in CO2 over the past cen­tu­ry by the Prof. of Atmos­pher­ic Sci­ence at MIT.
  • A sum­ma­ry of the case against cli­mate alarm by Dr Bob Carter, an envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist at James Cook and Ade­laide Uni­ver­si­ties and a crit­i­cal review (from a sci­ence per­spec­tive) of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the UK’s Stern Review by Bob Carter and oth­er atmos­pher­ic and envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists

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