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Is anything wrong with Forbes Climate Reporting?

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Sarah

Forbes has trotted out another entirely ignorant piece on climate change, "Is Anything Wrong With Natural, Non-Man-Made Climate Change?" this time by fake expert Mario Loyola, a lawyer with a background in European history. I guess Forbes considers those credentials give him the expertise to communicate the complexities of climate change. Presumably Forbes would hire a physicist as counsel for a lawsuit concerning corporate governance (Loyola's actual area of formal disciplinary expertise)

Loyola first invents a straw man in the form of a mythical ‘environmentalist’. This fantastical creature thinks climate change is bad only because it is caused by humans and would not object to catastrophic climate change if it was natural. Loyola goes on to claim that some people “flatly deny that temperatures and sea levels could be rising partly for natural reasons”. If such people exist, I have never met one. Most of us learn about natural climate change in elementary school when we first read that the climate of the dinosaurs was much different than our current one. 

And most of us are able to recognize that multiple drivers combine to give an observed outcome. A car moves from the combined effects of the engine, the slope of the road, and the wind. Climate change is not either human-caused or natural; it is both. We also know that one driver can be much more important than others. The fact that your cat adds heat to your house doesn’t mean your furnace is irrelevant. According to Loyola logic, because natural volcanoes have caused catastrophic devastation in the past we shouldn’t try to prevent humans from releasing a nuclear bomb.

Loyola diligently searched the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers to find a quote to bolster his claims that current climate change could be caused by something other than humans. He chose this one for his misinterpretation: ”It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together." If he had read and understood the report, he would know that his chosen quote about surface air temperatures doesn’t include heating of the oceans, which are absorbing 90% of the excess energy that is warming the planet.

Furthermore, in hunting for an IPCC statement to support his opinion Loyola skipped the statement just above it which is based on all the combined evidence, not just surface temperatures. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” For sheer brazenness in selective quoting, I nominate Loyola for a cherry-picking trophy.

This figure shows how natural causes (NAT) compare to human drivers  (GHG+ANT+OA) of recent climate change.

IPCC AR5  original caption: Figure 10.5. Assessed likely ranges (whiskers) and their mid-points (bars) for attributable warming trends over the 1951–2010 period due to well-mixed greenhouse gases, other anthropogenic forcings (OA), natural forcings (NAT), combined anthropogenic forcings (ANT) and internal variability. The Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit gridded surface temperature data set 4 (HadCRUT4) observations are shown in black with the 5 to 95% uncertainty range due to observational uncertainty in this record (Morice et al. 2012).

The notion that scientists don’t understand natural climate change or include it in their assessment of our current crisis is insulting to the thousands of researchers around the world who have spent decades studying the Earth system. These dedicated professionals have laboriously pieced together evidence from ice cores, ocean sediments, archeological and fossil records, and astronomy to build a coherent, consistent, and well-supported history of Earth’s climate.

Loyola is obviously unaware of Earth’s history, as he demonstrates when he laughably explains that because sea level rose by 300 feet at the end of the last ice age we shouldn’t worry about rising seas today. Undoubtably the few million humans on Earth 12,000 years ago were inconvenienced by sea level rise, while they were busy inventing agriculture. Following these absurd ideas, we learn that we shouldn’t worry that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has soared to levels never experienced in human history (or prehistory) because it was higher 254 million years ago, before dinosaurs even existed! 

Amazingly, I found one statement in this sea of ignorance that I agree with: “Policies designed to guard against risks have to take uncertainty into account.”  Given that we are uncertain whether human-caused climate change will be very bad, extremely bad, or catastrophic, I agree that it would be prudent to guard against those risks rather than throwing up smokescreens.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. Why is it that people with no qualifications and no experience - let alone no qualifications in any science - think they know enough to "debunk" the work of thousands of climate scientists?  There is a certain arrogance there I think. Most people that I know with any intellectual honesty would not even dream of questioning the methods or conclusionsof someone in another field.

    Ask questions and get answers - then ask more because you don't quite get it - well that's an entirely different matter that Layola and others clearly do not understand.

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  2. These logical fallacies described in the article are very important. It pays to know how to recognise these.  It would be great if this material was better taught in schools.

    The denialists claim of a so called pause involved a great deal of cherrypicking of start and end dates.

    Cosmic rays are a red herring, and usually involved missrepresenting what the research really says, or cherrypicking a few papers by denialists.

    However some things in the climate debate have simply become lies. People who claim natural causes have not been considered, are simply lying. This material on natural causes is in the peer reviewed research and IPCC reports, and the denialists must know this by now, so they are lying when they claim it's not been considered,  or has been found to be the main cause.

    The Trump Administration seems to embrace any convenient lie. I think people have forgotten the lessons of the serious lies of Nixon in the Watergate Scandal. Humanity tends to forget past issues, and the harshness of the issues becomes less present, and new generations are born that have no knowledge of them. We then repeat the mistakes of the past.

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  3. I found out that Mario Loyola (uncletimrob @1 please note the correct spelling) also works for National Review. NR is another conservative outlet famous for e.g. deceptive temperature scaling. Such lame and primitive information distortion techniques championed by NR give an indication about the integrity of one of thier ranks (Loyola). So no surprise Mario came up to champion another science denial technique: this time cherry picking. He wants to mtach the "achievements" of his colleagues.

    NR is also famous for their libels against scientists (well kniown case of Michael Mann).

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  4. So, to restate this logical fallacy, if tomorrow I should happen to crash my car into a brick wall at 80 MPH, I shouldn't worry about any resulting damage to the car because millions of years ago the metals that make up the car were buried deep in the ground and mixed up with all sorts of other minerals.

    Well, I don't find this convincing, but I suppose there may be people out there who do.

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  5. It's a simple rule, really...don't go to Forbes for actual science...any science.

    Hell, you can hardly count on Forbes for accurate economic information.

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  6. The climate science community communicates amongst themselves and non-scientist followers (like myself) in one circle. The denialists communicate to followers in their circle. But then there's the Forbes, Wall Street Journals, etc of the world read by millions of folks. Maybe it's been tried, but it would seem to be very beneficial to request these publications to publish a response or original article for the world to read,  with the kinds of points made in this post, geared to the average joes out there. 

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  7. Johnboy @6, the problem there is that The Wall Street Journal is owned by climate change denier, Rupert Murdoch.  Given the similar misinformation across his media empire, eg, The Australian, it is reasonable to believe that the anti-science approach of The Wall Street Journal and The Australian are as a result of a directive from Murdoch.  They are unlikely to be reversed.  Certainly the letters page of The Australian does not give equal time to supporters of the science, let alone the opinion pages.  I believe a similar dynamic applies at Forbes.

    The better approach is to vote with your feet.  Make support of climate denial a financial death knell for newspapers; at least as far as it is possible for you to do so.

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  8. Alpinist @5, yes you can't really count on Forbes for balance or accuracy on anything.

    I find the Economist pretty accurate, reliable, and balanced on both economics and climate issues. Thats not to say I subscribe to all their views of course. They were a bit sloppy on the climate sensitivity issue.

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  9. Loyola: "Some...[climate alarmists] think that rising temperatures and sea levels are alarming regardless of what's causing them to rise. Such voices are in a tiny minority, however."  Swap out 'climate alarmists' for 'human beings', and Loyola is still speaking nonsense.  You don't think everybody in Florida is going to be alarmed if sea level rises ten feet?   Climate alarmists are not alarmed at Climate Change, they are alarmed at the lack of Climate Action.  So, along with Loyola's cherry-picking trophy mentioned above, he should be awarded one for misdirection.  Imagine Loyola opinionating at the site of a protest at the Oroville Dam in California (which could possibly collapse due to climate change and neglect), and telling the media "Ya know, these protesters wouldn't be out here if this was a natural dam!"   Yes, and also if they were abducted by Space aliens...

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  10. to uncletimrob:


    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.[1]

    Perhaps FLICC should be changed to FLICCDK :-)  otherwise known as flick-dick :-)

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] No profanity or inflammatory toneAgain, constructive discussion is difficult when overheated rhetoric or profanity is flying around.

  11. Reading Forbes for science is about the same as visiting a plumber when suffering from a toothache.

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