Blog Action Day On Global Warming

By Bradley J Fikes

Today, blogs around the world are being urged to dramatize the dangers of global warming. For all the politicization of the subject, global warming is supposed to be grounded in science. So I’m going to highlight some interesting science on how the earth may warm.  It’s from a scientific team led by Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish Space Research Institute.

Svenskmark’s hypothesis is that cosmic rays play an important role in cloud formation, and that high levels of solar activity interfere with cosmic rays reaching Earth. Cosmic rays seed the formation of nuclei that collect water, forming clouds. When the sun is active, it emits radiation that blocks or deflects cosmic rays, reducing the cloud-forming nuclei.

So when the sun is active, there is less cloud cover, hence, more warming.

Svenskmark has published this hypothesis in scientific journals. But instead of being welcomed as the bringer of a novel concept, he has been met with scorn by scientists who think global warming by greenhouse gases is settled science.

This spring, scientists led by Peter Adams, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, tried to drive a stake through the cosmic ray hypothesis. In a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, “Can cosmic rays affect cloud condensation nuclei by altering new particle formation rates?” the team reported results of a computer model of cosmic ray interaction with clouds.

The computer model showed that the cosmic ray effect was 100 times too small to alter the climate, according to a Carnegie Mellon press release on the study. The release also called the effect a “troubling hypothesis,” now proven to be a “myth” that should be “laid to rest.”

Of course, one can prove anything with a computer model. And it’s really not surprising that a scientist who is also an activist supporting global warming theory, as is Adams, would find the cosmic ray hypothesis “troubling.” It threatens his scientific reputation. Scientists are idealized as just looking for the data, without letting their biases get in the way, but that stereotype is no more true than that of journalists being unbiased.

So just as journalism is helped when people of different views do the reporting, science is helped when people advance a variety of different ideas. If one side controls the discussion, groupthink and enforced conformity take over.

And Svensmark and colleagues have not backed down. They produced another paper giving more evidence for the cosmic ray hypothesis, also in Geophysical Research Letters: “Cosmic ray decreases affect atmospheric aerosols and clouds.”

Svenskmark’s team measured the level of cloud cover after especially large, sudden decreases in cosmic rays, called Forbush decreases. The team concentrated on low-level clouds, which previous research indicated would be most affected by cosmic ray levels.

For the five strongest Forbush decreases, from 2001 to 2005, the team found a 7 percent decrease in the liquid water content of clouds. The vanishing water remained in the air as water vapor, but unlike liquid water, it doesn’t block sunlight. And satellite measurements of the area of cloud cover found a 5 percent decrease.

Such a drop in cloud cover, Svensmark says, is equal to all the global warming on earth during the 20th century.

So who is right? I don’t pretend to know. We’ll need far more research and a healthy scientific debate to figure out what is really going on — warming through cosmic rays, greenhouse gases, both, or neither.

But I do know when people use political pressure to advance their viewpoint, it’s more like religion than science. A good scientist should be delighted to learn of contrary evidence to a generally accepted theory, because that’s an opportunity to correct an error. To call the evidence “troubling” is a political reaction, not a scientific one.

In short, just as you should be wary of agenda-driven journalism, beware of agenda-driven science. Keep your mind open to new evidence,  and value independence over peer pressure to intellectually conform.


As with all I write here, this is my viewpoint, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times.

11 Responses to “Blog Action Day On Global Warming”

  1. Eric Blair says:

    Nice article, Bradley. It’s so ironic to hear how “Obama Saves Science.” Especially because, as you know, the POTUS could no more differentiate a cosmic ray than an equation.

    Yeah, say the opponents, neither could Booosh.

    The difference is GWB never claimed to be a boffin. Guess who does?

  2. Thank you, Eric.

    You’ve pointed out how many journalists just jump on to the global warming bandwagon without actually looking into the facts. It’s part of a movement to declare opinion and bias part of good journalism.

    The link is to Steve Buttry of the American Press Institute, whose opinions are typical of the shallow thinking on the subject:

    Equating balance with fairness and objectivity too often results in a false balance that produces inaccurate stories. At some extremes we know that, understanding that there is nothing fair or accurate about balancing a story about the Holocaust with the opinions of anti-Semites who deny historic fact. But too often, we “balance” stories about the scientific facts of climate change with quotes from politicians who deny scientific fact. That’s not objective, it’s inaccurate.

    Note the parallel construction with anti-Semites and those who challenge global warming theory. And in Buttryland, there’s no credible scientists who question AGW. I guess that’s the good bias journalists are supposed to have.

  3. Bradley, they call it “false consciousness.” That means that non-Marxists are wrong when they think Marxism is bullshit. It doesn’t require evidence because, you know…

    Personally, I think we have had global warming since 1850 when the Little Ice Age ended. When we see farms in Greenland, I’ll start to be concerned. In fact, man-made global warming may have prevented the Little Ice Age from becoming a big one.

    Each year Government press releases declare the previous year to be the “hottest year on record.” The UN’s executive summary on climate change, issued in January 2001, insists that the 20th century was the warmest in the last millennium. The news media distribute these stories and people generally believed them to be true. However, as most climatologists know, these reports generally are founded on ground-based temperature readings, which are misleading. The more meaningful and precise orbiting satellite data for the same period (which are generally not cited by the press) have year after year showed little or no warming.

    Dr. Patrick Michaels has demonstrated this effect is a common problem with ground- based recording stations, many of which originally were located in predominantly rural areas, but over time have suffered background bias due to urban sprawl and the encroachment of concrete and asphalt ( the “urban heat island effect“). The result has been an upward distortion of increases in ground temperature over time(2). Satellite measurements are not limited in this way, and are accurate to within 0.1° C. They are widely recognized by scientists as the most accurate data available. Significantly, global temperature readings from orbiting satellites show no significant warming in the 18 years they have been continuously recording and returning data (1).

    The current drop in solar activity may finally discredit the hysterics but Al Gore will be the last to know.

  4. Brad,

    Obama, Pelosi, Reid, et al will destroy (ok… no hyperbole… let’s say “more gravely damage”) this nation than any global climate change trend can or will.

    Just FYI, I subscribe (it’s free) to Cooler Heads Digest, put out weekly by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. If you don’t already receive the weekly bulletin I suggest you sign up.

    Best regards,

    Bill Barker
    Harriman, NY

  5. […] Don’t miss Bradley J. Fike’s post on the science of global […]

  6. ropelight says:

    Nice job Bradley. Well written, logical, informative, and even-handed. You deserve an award for real journalism, if there is one.

  7. Ropelight, they call it a job. Bradley has one and lots of his less adept colleagues are now collecting unemployment. He needs more appreciation. And money.

  8. Applause and El Patron will do fine, Michael! And thank you for the sentiment, ropelight!

    The most precious commodity journalists can have is trust. And they’re pissing it away. Journalists earn trust by being independent, not by delivering a propaganda line.

    Here is a blog post by an ex-newsman, Alan Mutter, that exemplifies that trend. Mutter is upset that the Atlanta Journal Constitution has stopped endorsing political candidates.

    “The first job of a newspaper is to set the agenda for the community.

    That most inspiring thought, from Howard M. Ziff, one of my most inspiring journalism professors at the University of Illinois, came to mind when I read that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has decided to stop endorsing candidates for public office. “

    They. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

    People don’t need a newspaper to tell them who to vote for. I wish all unsigned editorials were done away with. If you write an opinion, put your name to it.

    And instead of attempting to set the agenda, papers should try to find out what’s going on in their community.

  9. I’m sure the LA Times would rather no one know that they endorsed Nixon in 1960. That was my first vote for president and my family was very upset with me when they learned of it. In later years, my mother claimed she had always been a Republican and I never argued with her but I knew better. I don’t mind newspapers endorsing candidates for lesser offices but I don’t trust them anymore and ignore their endorsements. That is too bad.

    Probably the most embarrassing moment for the Times was their editorial endorsing Citron for Orange County Treasurer in 1994, just before the county bankruptcy. They printed an editorial dismissing the warning by Moorlach who was running against Citron in June. I can think of no more obvious example of newspaper economic ignorance in history. There have been greater examples, no doubt, but none more obvious.

  10. Both the Times and Register blew the OC bankruptcy story. When the Watchdogs Don’t Bark describes the failures of judgment and knowledge at what were supposed to be two great newspapers.

    Moorlach said the LA Times at least tried, while OC’s Chris Knap appeared to be working for Citron. Today, Knap is the Reg’s editor for investigations. Apparently, he also used to write a good wine column.

  11. Well, since I like wine, maybe I should read his column. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d trust anything he said.

    My brother-in-law, who flew almost 500 combat missions in Vietnam, is going back for the first time since the war on business next week. That should be interesting.