Noisy Systems and Wandering Canines

By Sean Carroll | January 10, 2012 4:03 pm

There are three types of scientific explanations: those involving cats, those involving dogs, and those that aren’t very interesting. Via Andrew Revkin, here’s a well-done animation that uses a dog to explain the difference between a long-term trend and a short-term variation.

Show this to your local climate denialist when they get confused about the distinction between “climate” and “weather.” Not that it will change their minds, but the dog is cute.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Science and Society
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  • Gizelle Janine

    Long term trend, short term variation: When I recieved a Tron Legacy hat for Christmas, it glows in the dark, were you in on that one, too?

  • Debra Leddon

    So simple an explanation for those who think that data in spurts and small samplings somehow speaks volumes.

  • Pingback: From Cosmic Variance; Noisy systems and wandering canines « UnEntangleMe

  • Tony Mach

    Oh, thanks for dumbing down the science to the level of a child by pointing out that there is a difference between the long term trend and the variations around it. Sometimes we deniers are too stupid to recognized that. It puzzles my mind how somebody could now – after you pointed to that sophisticated explanation – still harbor doubts that there is a enormous feedback in our climate system, which would amplify any rise of temperatures fourfold, whether C02 induced or not. Your display of confirmation bias combined with your non-interest in the matter really helped us all along.

    And btw, your little cartoon cuts both ways: The next time someone panics about the weather being too cold or too warm, or the recent flood or bout of bad weather, storm, rain or drought, and goes to blame it on global warming – or on climate change – point them to this video.

    And if you prefer science to cartoons, go here:
    This most exhaustive collection of climate records should be a bit more substantial than that little one minute YouTube piece.

  • Chris

    The next time someone panics about the weather being too cold or too warm, or the recent flood or bout of bad weather, storm, rain or drought, and goes to blame it on global warming – or on climate change – point them to this video.

    Right, one instance of extreme weather is not necessarily caused by global warming. However when you see a bunch happening in a short span of time then some connection can be made.

    Look at these sites

  • Carl Brannen

    (1) The legitimate argument about climate is not over whether or not the current temperature is higher than that of the 1970s. Most people agree on this. The argument is over the contribution of mankind. And for that you need to do a lot more than just look at trends.

    (2) Regarding the “short term”, it’s the man-caused global warming types that are refusing to look at the long term. This is why their papers can’t get past peer review in the geological journals (and vice-versa, geological papers can’t be published in the climate journals). If you want to see how significant the current variation in the climate is you have to first learn what kind of a system our planet is in. It is there that you will learn that CO2 regularly zooms up and that temperatures fluctuate and have for millions of years. For example, it is Mann’s “hockey stick” graph that denies the medieval warm period, not the “denialists”.

  • Carl Brannen

    Since “denialists” are rejected by journals controlled by “warmists”, they publish in the geological journals (which, arguably, are better equipped for the problem of understanding very long term changes in climate). An example:

    Geophysical Research Letters is a highly respected peer reviewed journal with an impact factor of 3. Here’s an article just published on their website showing that CO2 in the 21st century is unlikely to increase temperatures more than 1.8 degrees C: “Improved constraints on 21st-century warming derived using 160 years of temperature observations”, N. P. Gillett, V. K. Arora, G. M. Flato, J. F. Scinocca, K. von Salzen all at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Environment Canada, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: By the way, it might be interesting to note that Canada is withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement.

    Read the paper. Note that the “denialists” do not deny that temperatures have increased lately. They do not deny that CO2 increases temperature. Instead, the argument is all about “how much?” The “alarmist” papers make ridiculous claims that get repeated in the press, the “denialists” papers are ignored. This is for the same reason that the press makes a big deal when one young lady disappears while on a vacation in the Caribbean while a hundred million do just fine. Bad news sells. Boring news doesn’t sell. Humans are fascinated by the concept that we are all about to die because of some calamity.

    The purpose of the press is to entertain you, not educate you. It’s very easy to not read the complete literature, and end up with the impression that the crap you read in the press is true.

    The “alarmists” have set themselves up in a situation where they get huge amounts of research dollars to continue doing their research. They have a huge financial incentive to continue reporting bad news. And realize that if we weren’t wasting money on climate research there would be that somewhat more money for real science (physics). Why would anyone give a penny to high energy particles if the world really were about to destroy itself? And you can expect most of the individual “alarmists” to continue with their alarms for about as long as Einstein denied quantum mechanics. This is because “academia means never having to admit you’re wrong.”

    People who have to make decisions based on this stuff, such as Presidential advisers, read the complete literature and a majority of them now understand what is going on. For this reason, support for global warming collapsed among politicians long before it will (eventually) collapse among journalists. Even Obama has not done much to support global warming causes (as compared to environmentalism in general, and the technology that will reduce US expenditures for foreign oil).

  • Gizelle Janine

    I think it’s worse that f***ing geese are still around Pelham Bay, if you want to point to something valid…

    …and yes, Sean, the dog IS cute. You’re never off. That’s why you’re the best. Consistancy!

  • andy

    You had a typo in the last paragraph, I fixed it – “Show this to your local climate alarmist when they get confused about the distinction between “climate” and “weather.” Not that it will change their minds, but the dog is cute.”

    And you forgot to show the owner/dog turning around to get home again. Same as they have always done in the past.

  • James

    Of course the problem with threads like these is that all too often, the denialists queue up to spew out their indignant fury, while many of those living closer to the real world leave without commenting, either because they’re in agreement with the original article or because they lack the energy to battle the denialists – years of having to listen to the same old paranoid conspiracy-theory and anti-scientific bollocks take their toll.
    The result is one short off-hand article followed by a comments section devoted to telling Sean what a terrible villain he is.

  • Carl Brannen

    James; Re: “many of those living closer to the real world leave without commenting”

    I didn’t learn about climate in academia. I was forced to my current views because of a job in the real world. I was employed as an engineer at a company involved in several green energy projects. Investors in these projects want projections of future profitability. I was asked to write a report predicting future US government support for these projects. This took several months in 2005.

    When I began, I had the same view on global warming as everyone else. I was very enthusiastic that the projects I was working on would receive carbon credits into the foreseeable future. But as I read more and more of the literature, I was forced to change my opinion. I ended up writing that US support for green fuels (in general) would continue indefinitely, but only in the context of reducing US oil imports.

    The relationship between CO2 and global temperatures has become highly politicized. To get a fair opinion on the subject requires a considerable amount of effort. On a scientific subject, those who do not deeply study the issue will be forced to follow the opinions of those they trust. I didn’t have that freedom. I had to read the literature.

    I was educated as a particle physicist. So to me, the most convincing “denialist” articles were the ones coming out of CERN. At the time I was writing, the CLOUD experiment was still just a proposal. Why is it that a particle physicist should have any kind of useful opinion on climate? Clouds are extremely important in cooling down the earth (during the day) and warming it up (at night). And particle physics used to be done in cloud chambers. So particle physicists, especially the older ones, know a lot more about the formation of clouds than you’d expect. Here, read the paper that was the decisive factor in convincing me on arXiv (2000):

    “A study of the link between cosmic rays and clouds with a cloud chamber at the CERN PS”
    CERN-SPSC-2000-021, by 56 authors from 17 institutions:

    I found the above 111 page article (and ones like it by other authors) quite convincing. The experiment it proposed was funded, and the predicted results have been verified:


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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