Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sarah Palin is Really Saying, I Got Mine As She Conflates Weather and Climate

Sarah Palin's recent Facebook post has been published in the Washington Post as an editorial. This is the newspaper that at one time employed two investigative reporters named Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Their reporting led to Watergate and ultimately, the resignation of Richard Nixon. More recently, the Post has been caught selling "face time" with its reporters, via elegant dinner parties, to political insiders and lobbyists, fired one of the finest political analysts on its staff (Dan Froomkin), and is happy to print whatever garbage Sarah Palin has written for her (come on, you heard her resignation speech not six months ago, you don't actually think she has actually learned spelling and grammar in that period of time, do you?) on its editorial page.

Staying true to form, Palin inserts herself into the issue of the day, and offers President Obama policy advise based, no doubt, on her depth of experience that as she said to Bill O'Reilly last week, is so much greater than Obama's and even Vice President Biden's. After all, she was a city council member, a mayor, served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (for a whole year), and Governor of Alaska for two years. She also claims business experience, although she claims that her qualifications for higher office (and the reason that she is better than Obama or Biden) are her executive experience, so her work fishing likely does not count as she has never included it herself.

Seriously, when did it become about executive experience anyway? Who cares? We need political experience, foreign affairs experience (Biden has decades), experience dealing with politics at the national level (Obama and Biden), experience with working hard for what they've got (Obama and Biden - both worked damn hard for what they've got - where on earth did she get this elite nonsense about them? So Obama went to Harvard. How does she think he got there? And Biden is as blue-collar as they come.) All Palin has is city council and mayor of a town of 7,000, one year on a commission (quit), two years as governor (quit), and a failed national campaign in which she couldn't even handle the media. After three interviews, she had to bring McCain with her, then after that, no more interviews. No press conferences. Her behavior since and her book only serve to demonstrate how thin her skin is and her inability to deal with the slings and arrows that are inevitable at the national political level. Rumors? Threaten a lawsuit. Innuendo? Threaten a lawsuit.

As a brief aside, O'Reilly actually asked her some of the more difficult questions of any I've seen, asking her if she thought she was smart enough, and she promptly equated intelligence with common sense (which she says she has) to elite ivy league educations that produce spineless weakness (implication being that is what Obama has) and a resume that is based on anything but hard work and free-market principles (?!?).

Back to the Post post.

In that post, Palin suggests that Obama cancel his trip to Copenhagen as the email "scandal" has revealed the

"...appalling actions by so-called climate change experts [that] allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue."

"Climate-gate," as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle -- the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse."

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. You don't get to conflate weather and climate. Conflate means to combine the two because you don't know any better. Weather is today. Weather is what happens now. Sunshine, rain, snow, sleet, what the weatherperson talks about on the five o'clock news. The day to day, immediate happenings around us that absolutely, we cannot change. Weather is whether or not it is going to be an early or late fall, or whether or not Punxsutawney Phil is going to see his shadow or not. Climate, however, is the cumulative effects of weather. Climate is usually looked at in increments of thirty years or more and is regional rather than local as weather is. Climate is important because it can take years before we see changes and patterns and if there is damage, can take years before we can correct it. The one positive aspect of climate, is that we know that man has an impact on it, and because we do, we can change it.

"The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts" deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to "hide the decline" in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals ...This scandal obviously calls into question the proposals being pushed in Copenhagen. I've always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics."

I note that Sarah Palin has not included in her diatribe that the emails were 1) hacked (stolen), and were between a few scientists, meaning that, 2) they were not even the complete record of the communications between the scientists involved. The emails have "proven" that all of the data regarding climate change must somehow be false because included in these emails is the use of the term "decline" in referencing data patterns, and instructions on use of a "trick" to manipulate data.

What has been explained, several times, and Sarah Palin and the talking heads at Fox News refuse to acknowledge, is that scientists use the term "decline" to refer to the fact that the tree-ring density patterns used to record temperature are no longer valid after 1960 and after that date, recorded temperatures are used instead. This is a "trick" or "trick of the trade." Palin and others have instead chosen to see the use of the word "trick" as trick to fool us, pull the wool over our eyes, cheat us, manipulate us for some reason.

Not being a scientist, I can't explain the specifics of their data, but I am trained in scientific methods of research as they are the same for any field. To be valid, results must be repeatable, and the data must be collected according to standards set forth within that field. For example, in sociology, we study people. Once we have a hypothesis (the question we want to prove false), we decide the sample needed to collect valid data to reflect that population. Obviously there will be variations, but over time and with enough replications, if your sample is truly random and properly drawn, and you have shown cause and effect, then eventually you or anyone can repeat the results. That is what the bell curve is all about. In the case of climate change, thousands and thousands of scientists from around the world contribute data that is collected according to the same standards, collated according to the same standards, and produces results according to the same standards. A few (relatively) emails taken out of context read by people who do not understand the jargon (language unique to a specific field) prove absolutely nothing.

This brings me to the point of Sarah's comment about trying to silence their critics by preventing their publication in peer-reviewed journals. I'm not sure Sarah understands what peer-reviewed means, but in the academic world, it means exactly that. Unlike the Washington Post, which has apparently lost all journalistic ethics and standards, academic journals publish academic papers. Academics do research. A lot of people outside the university world think universities are all about teaching, but they're not. They're all about research. The teaching is to produce more researchers and money to fund research, at least at the higher level universities. Research, to be valid, has to be repeatable (see above). To prove that your research is valid, you share it with your peers. To do this, you submit your research in the form of a paper at conferences, and to journals. There, your peers analyze your research methods and your data. They try to replicate your results. They make sure that you are using sound science. They make sure that you haven't cut any corners. They argue, they discuss. They review. Sometimes they make you go back and rework some of your conclusions and rewrite your paper. Sometimes, if you are really lucky, your work is accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Think about it. There are a lot of journals, but there a lot more academics out there doing research (this includes graduate students and even some undergraduates if they have a professor who thinks they have done good work). Academic journals are not like magazines; they do not publish every month. Typically, they publish at most, four times per year. But. Here is a big one. Not all journals are created equal. If a journal has a sloppy peer-review process, then other researchers will not value the work published in it or the researchers whose work is accepted for publication. Sort of like a degree from U of I vs. Harvard.

In the case that Sarah Palin cites, research was published in a journal that had sloppy peer-review and other scientists did not use the results cited in that journal and recommended that others do the same. Some scientists had built their own work on data published in a journal whose work had been found to be faulty, thus making the entirety of that work faulty whether it was or not. Sort of like building an excellent house on a cardboard foundation. First time it rains, there goes your house. Not political, just sound science.

"Our representatives in Copenhagen should remember that good environmental policymaking is about weighing real-world costs and benefits -- not pursuing a political agenda. That's not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate -- far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state ...But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs..." [emphasis added]

"...What Obama really hopes to bring home from Copenhagen is more pressure to pass the Democrats' cap-and-tax proposal. This is a political move. The last thing America needs is misguided legislation that will raise taxes and cost jobs -- particularly when the push for such legislation rests on agenda-driven science."

"Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen."

I think I have satisfactorily debunked Sarah Palin's Facebook post, reprinted in the Washington Post. Who has a political agenda? Of course President Obama has a polical agenda. He is a politician. He also listens to his advisors. Climate change has been supported as fact by 95% of the world's scientists for years. The fact that some years are colder than others means nothing (ever heard of El Nino or La Nina?). Climate is completely different.

As I read somewhere the other day, conservatives like to drive SUV's because it drives liberals crazy. Because they don't care. Even if there is climate change, the attitude of the Sarah Palin's of the world, the GOPhers and other bots, I got mine. And that is about as political as you can get.



  1. Kyra: Excellent work on describing the scientific method. The problem today is that there is so much information available that has not been processed or reviewed. Science by sound bite doesn't work. The value of conferences is the give and take that avoids the one liners the press enjoys. It is hard work and moves slowly.

  2. carol from MinnesotaDecember 14, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    Great post. Sarah displays her lack of understanding with every thing she says but the problem is she is mostly repeating the things that the people listening to her want to believe. The republicans and the "Chirsitians" who follow her are the ones who do say "I got mine." both in this world and in the next (they say you will not be saved) When I protested Sarah in Columbus many of the people in line yelled at me "You will be left behind when the rapture comes." For all they knew I was saved in the same way they were but I believe in looking at the truth. And the truth is that Sarah is a fraud and a grifter who is out to get more for herself. I hope the country wakes up to this cunning fraud before she takes the country off the deep end with her.

  3. I think people will get what they deserve. Unfortunately, so will the rest of us. That is why it is so important that we speak up and speak out, and continue to do the work that the mainstream media stopped doing a long time ago.