Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Radical Environmentalism – Does National Geographic Magazine Teach Good Science? (Part 3)

Part of growing up was my fascination with the wonder that was National Geographic magazine. The subject matter was always exotic and I dreamed of going to the places that were shown in the photos. The pictures were beautiful and I tried to look at every single one each month. Finally, the science within the pages was attractive to me, since knowledge and scientific method was always my passion.

My wife and I have never really subscribed to magazines, so it has been years since I have been regularly exposed to National Geographic. Recently on a trip back to my parent’s home, the April 2009 issue was on the table and I picked it up to enjoy some time in the pages.

The places are still exotic; the pictures are beautiful. But the science is gone. National Geographic has become a huckster for bad science and the environmentalist movement.

When I was in junior high and high school, I thoroughly enjoyed the science classes which had a lab. We were taught to employ the art of hypothesis testing. We would dutifully read about the upcoming experiment and we were often asked to choose our hypothesis – what would happen as a result of the experiment? To get a good grade, it was not necessary to be right about this guess. But it was absolutely necessary that we used facts to prove or disprove our hypothesis. Is there more vitamin C in the skin of a potato than in the flesh? Does a wooden sphere have more rolling friction than a steel ball bearing? Take a guess – but draw no conclusions until you have performed the experiment.

It must be pointed out that global warming is still just a theory. A mere twenty years ago, most scientists believed that we were heading into another Ice Age. Many scientists today are suddenly being forced to conclude that parts of the earth are getting colder, much to the consternation of those who preach global warming as a fact. But open up the latest National Geographic and then count the number of times that global warming is mentioned not as theory, but as a foregone conclusion. Here are some examples from the April 2009 issue:

- “Australia’s Dry Run” – the continent is currently undergoing a seven-year drought. The reason given? “To many, the erratic precipitation patterns bear the ominous imprint of a human-induced climate shift. Global warming is widely believed to have increased the frequency and severity of natural disasters like this drought.” My high school science teacher would have circled this in red and asked me how I could tell the difference between a human-imprinted climate shift and a natural one.

- “Changing Rains – Outlook:Extreme” – The article opens by telling of an ancient culture called Akkad, which went through a sudden decline – “Akkad’s collapse was caused by a devastating drought”. So, how does this touch our situation today? “By contrast, climate change brought about by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is our own doing. It, too, will influence precipitation patterns, in ways that, though not always easy to predict, could prove equally damaging.” That’s quite a dramatic step, with no intervening logic given to jump from one conclusion to the other. It should not come as a surprise that this article was written by Elizabeth Kolbert, who also authored a book titled Field Notes From A Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

- “Polar Bear Paradise”“The days of outright slaughter are gone, but humans continue to pressure wildlife here in indirect ways. Toxins like PCBs and perfluorinated compounds…polar bears carry much higher levels of the pollutants…climate change, meanwhile, forces a retreat of the summer ice pack, imperiling the region’s polar bears…the wildlife that thrives up here has adapted to one of the toughest habitats on Earth. As temperatures rise, those birds, fish and mammals will be forced to adapt even further.” The author spends half the article talking about how polar bears live life on the edge because of the cold and lack of food, then jumps into the assumption that man is causing global warming. But I say, might global warming actually might make the region more habitable due to an increase in plant growth for food? The polar bears might actually be appreciative of the relief from the harsh cold, if it’s really happening. If they didn’t like it, why don’t they move fifty miles north? I’m not trying to be cheeky here – I’m just pointing out that there is a lot of science that needs to be explored before drawing the conclusions that the author makes.

- “The Vanishing – Race To Save The Frogs”“We are witnessing a mass extinction. An exotic fungus is delivering the fatal blow to many amphibians already hit by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.” The impact of these events is implied to be an environmental and ecosystem change brought on by man. The article concludes: “The story is much bigger than frogs. It’s about emerging disease and about predicting, coping with, and fighting things we don’t fully understand. It’s about all of us. Everyone should care.” Had I written a conclusion in my science lab book that says “we don’t know what causes the phenomenon but I’m going to draw a conclusion anyway”, I would have received a less-than-stellar grade. How does this same poor technique find its way into a national science magazine?

Let’s face it – there is big money in preaching a gospel of global warming. It provides a launching point for those who are anti-industry and anti-human-achievement. A reverse-course that sends us back to the Dark Ages would be welcome to many who value the earth above human life. Unfortunately, National Geographic magazine has fallen into this trap. My high-school science teacher would be forced to make them take the course over again. For creative use of photos, they get an “A” – but for scientific method, they get an “F”.

Next in this series.......
Back to Part 1 of this series...


Darren Duvall said...

The science is so far from settled on "global warming" that it's already undergone a PR-induced renaming, now it's "climate change" and the science is still rather unsettled. There's a good website ( that gives a lot of information that you don't hear elsewhere, like the fact that the most sensitive and reliable temperature measurement (satellite measurement) show "global" warming to be a Northern Hemispehere event, and that it hasn't occurred in any real form since 2000.

Naseem Nicholas Taleb in "The Black Swan" talks about the importance of what you don't know being much greater than the importance of what you do know, and that computer models only increase certainty, they don't provide additional data. All they do is calculate math very quickly based on the biases put into the system by the people who create the models. Even the ability to accurately back-cast events that have happened in the past doesn't guarantee that your forecasts are anywhere near accurate.

When I hear the acronym "IPCC" I put one hand on my wallet and reach for Rolaids with the other. Their consensus report is so far wildly inaccurate, yet a few scientists continue to create and the media breathlessly reports doomsday scenarios of increasing severity.

What I do like to hear is that Al Gore is going to make a major presentation to Congress or to some august body. This generally indicates unseasonably cold inclemenet weather is approaching. There's nothing better than seeing Washington, DC draped in white and the hearings on "global warming" cancelled due to ice and snow. The irony is so rich I have to take it in small, delicious bites.

PS: You'd think that NatGeo would devote an issue to why the sun is in its lowest period of magnetic activity in modern observation, or why Solar Cycle 24 is about two years late in starting up. They could discuss the Dalton Minimum and the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice Age, there's plenty of material there.

But that would be fearmongering, wouldn't it?

Darren Duvall said...

Funny enough, look what they posted the day after I made this comment:

Headline is "Sun Oddly Quiet -- Hints at Next 'Little Ice Age'?"

Can't make this stuff up. :)

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