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Are you smarter than a 10th year?

Written By: - Date published: 4:57 am, September 3rd, 2009 - 50 comments
Categories: climate change, education - Tags:

225px-Robert_WadlowMeet Robert Wadlow. When he died in 1940, he was the tallest ever recorded person, standing 8 feet, 11 and a half inches tall (2.72m) . That record still stands. The tallest living person, Bao Xishun, is a comparatively puny 7 feet, 9 inches (2.36m). As we all know, the typical person is getting taller. Over the 90 years since Wadlow was born, the height of the average American man has increased 5 centimetres, yet, there has never been a taller person than Wadlow since he died.

Now, which is the more sensible statement?

– ‘Wadlow was an exceptional person, we know why he was so exceptionally tall (hypertrophy of his pituitary gland).  Even though no-one has been taller than him since, the average person is definitively getting taller.’ or

– ‘Since no-one has been taller than Wadlow, everyone after him has been shorter ipso facto people are getting shorter’

Pretty obvious, eh?

getting hotterWhy am I going on about tall fellas? Because of this graph, one I didn’t think I would need to add to my post on climate change yesterday. Sadly, I was wrong. A lot of people are still parroting this ‘the world’s being getting colder since 1998’ rubbish.

1998 was the hottest year on record, until 2005 and 2007. We know why these years broke the records and why 1998 was so much hotter than other years around it. The El Nino weather pattern results in the ocean and atmosphere being warmer than in non-El Nino years. There was an extreme El Nino in 1998 (you might remember the serious drought it caused).  But, just like the fact that no-one has been taller than Wadlow doesn’t mean we are getting shorter, the fact that the 1998 record stood for seven years didn’t mean that the average annual temperature wasn’t rising. There will be exceptionally hot years, there will be exceptionally cold years – but the trend is all up. (oh and another El Nino has just started, it looks like it’ll be a most severe on record).

1998 was an outlier. You learnt about outliers in 3rd form or 4th form (I think that’s years 9 and 10 now). You’re not dumber than a 10th year are you?*

*of course, the average adult will be dumber than an exceptionally smarter 10th year but that doesn’t mean people get dumber as they age into adulthood 😉

50 comments on “Are you smarter than a 10th year? ”

  1. outofbed 1

    And there was me thinking it was hoax

  2. RedLogix 2

    Good post Marty. I’ve spent much of my adult life staring at realtime trend plots (in an industrial setting) of all sorts of variables. Almost always there is some variability and noise on them, and after a while your brain learns how to interpret what is meaningful at different timescales.

    The essence of a trendplot (a graph with time as the x-axis) is that it tells you the history of what you are looking at. Different people can look at the same data trendplot for quite different purposes, and either mentally or formally apply different types of filter to extract the information they want. There is a whole truckload of really interesting maths around all this; one of the best starting points is Tamino’s blog at Open Mind some of whose posts are small lecture courses in applied maths. (The only good thing about the whole CC debate is that it forces you to go off and learn some really neat new stuff)

    Climate change is fundamentally all about long-term information, but in order to ‘see’ this, you have to be able to mentally ‘subtract out’ the short-term variability, or the information that is not directly relevant to what you are interested in. You have to mentally apply the right filter.

    That’s one of the problems the science struggles with, is that we can present a thousand bloody graphs, all showing what to us looks like incontrovertible evidence of climate change… but unless the person looking at the graph is able to apply the relevant filter… they will see what they want to see and remain frustratingly, obdurately in the the denier camp.

  3. lprent 3

    Good analogy. Arguing about data points and ignoring trends. Did the CCD’s learn anything when they did maths?

    Still it was different decades ago. You were allowed to leave school earlier. Explains a lot of the numerical illiteracy that keeps popping up in strafe places

    • Graeme 3.1

      But not a perfect analogy.

      No-one – except real idiots – is using the fact there was a single hot day that hasn’t been bested as evidence there isn’t global warming.

      If you can find a year in which the average height was greater than it has been for the last few years, then you’ve got an analogy. Though I’m not sure what it would show…

  4. Nick 4

    That Y axis is shocking.

    That’s not 0.6 of 1 degree is it?!?!

    If so, we’re all tomorrow’s breakfast.

    • NickS 4.1

      /facepalm

      It’s the global temperature anomaly, which equals average global temp for all years – average global temperature at year x. Which translates into much larger localised average temperature increases;
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Warming_Map.jpg

      Of which, this paper discusses the largely negative impacts on crop yields, on top off all the other issues these temperature increases cause.

      • Maynard J 4.1.1

        I am not sure that Nick’s comment was a sarcastic one, and if it was it is an exceedingly stupid one. .6 (more like .8) of a degree in 30 years does indeed equate to toast…

    • Sonny Blount 4.2

      Your argument is a strawman.

      The trend of recent flat temperatures does not rely on the 1998 data, in fact take it out and you’ve still got the same trend. Temperature has no up or down trend since 2000.

      Here is the hadcrut data since 2000:

      2001 +0.409
      2002 +0.464
      2003 +0.473
      2004 +0.447
      2005 +0.482
      2006 +0.422
      2007 +0.405
      2008 +0.327

      • Maynard J 4.2.1

        “Your argument is a strawman.”

        Tell that to the people who are arguing that 1998 was the warmest year so now everything is fine.

        But by the way – so is yours!

        Looking at the graph, there was a decline in the 1980s. Did that ‘trend’ continue? What defines a ‘trend’, Sonny? The few years that prove your argument?

        • Sonny Blount 4.2.1.1

          1980-1995 is no better a ‘trend’ than 1995-2010. 80-95 is the only period of warming on record since 1940.

          I have heard 30 years given as a statistically significant period of time for global climate. Temperature flattening since 2000 is very much a ‘watch this space’ phenomenon. But it has a big effect on the premise of ‘unprecedented warming’ that was concluded from the 1980-1995 data, which was also over a short period and when you take into account a more meaningful, longer data period, the rate of increase is nothing like what it looked like it might be at the end of the 90’s.

          I still expect a rise of up to another degree C before temps start to drop as we head into the next ice age.

          1940-1980 was a statistically significant period of time wherein, though a period of vastly increasing emmissions, global temperature dropped. This period should have bee more sensitive to CO2 than today because as you incease CO2 you get a decreasing warming effect per unit.

          Anthropogenic climate change as posited by James Hansen since 1988 was based on 3 observations:

          CO2 concentrations have increasing.
          Temperature has risen unprecedently rapidly.
          Throughout the temperature record CO2 and global temp correlate.

          Now in the early part of this decade, research has been able to provide us more fidelity from the historical records, and it has been shown that CO2 increase lags temp increases by 800-1000 years.

          Since 2000, the trend of unprecedented warming has abated.

          So the issues that gave reason to concern about anthropogenic climate catastrophe have been found to be misplaced, yet the hysteria continues because it appeals to our human natures. We will still have to contend with the quirks of human nature that gave rise to this irrational hysteria long after anthropogenic climate catastrophe fears have dissappated. I personally, will never let those who progpagated irrational fear and destruction to forget what they tried to do in the years to come, or else we will do it all again over something else.

          • Draco T Bastard 4.2.1.1.1

            There’s no point in arguing with you. You keep spouting the same BS that’s been thoroughly disproved. It’s not so much that you’re a climate change denier but that you’re a reality denier. You hold the position that if reality disagrees with you then reality must be wrong.

            • Sonny Blount 4.2.1.1.1.1

              “You keep spouting the same BS that’s been thoroughly disproved”

              Now you’re just making things up.

              “It’s not so much that you’re a climate change denier but that you’re a reality denier”

              Look out your window, that is reality.

            • bill brown 4.2.1.1.1.2

              Can you see Olympus Mons from your back garden?

  5. bob 5

    Hi Marty,

    What does the Y axis represent?

    It looks like we had about 50 yrs below ‘0’, then about 45 yrs bobbing around ‘0’ and now 35 yrs rising above ‘0’

    I’m really interested in how I should interpret this.

    Can you help!

    • Bright Red 5.1

      As you can see in the legend of the graph, the numbers are the difference from the average temperature between1951-1980. So, now the world temperature is 0.7 degrees above that average from 1951-1980, or about 1 degree above where is was a century ago.

      Taking 1951-1980 as the base is arbitrary, it’s just a way to show change.

  6. NickS 6

    Good post Marty, and excellent use of FOX news =P

    Though if memory serves me right, there’s a good post on Real Climate on the El Nino etc effects on global temperature that’s well worth reading;
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/07/warminginterrupted-much-ado-about-natural-variability/#more-686

    Also, here’s a useful post from RC on short time interval data sampling that GCC deniers are so enamoured of;
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/01/uncertainty-noise-and-the-art-of-model-data-comparison/

  7. lukas 7

    hang on a second… I will admit that I have done no math since leaving school for Uni at 16, but we were always taught in math to disregard the outliers when analyzing data.

    Open to correction on that though, it was a couple of years ago now!

    • NickS 7.1

      Well, removal of outliers depends on their influence on the data set (leverage) + whether or not they can be explained by experimental error. In this case, I’d hazard a guess that the leverage of 1998 is actually not all that significant,but more importantly, 1998 is explainable via El Nino, meaning we can’t rationally exclude it from the data set, without loosing valuable information about global climate behaviour.

    • Bright Red 7.2

      lukas. that’s what the post argues – don’t get hung up on the single outlier in 1998, look at the trend.

  8. Andrei 8

    ‘Since no-one has been taller than Wadlow, everyone after him has been shorter ipso facto people are getting shorter’

    Strawman

    Over the 90 years since Wadlow was born, the height of the average American man has increased 5 centimetres, yet, there has never been a taller person than Wadlow since he died.

    So would you except the reasoning that in 1600 years or so the average American will be as tall as Robert Wadlow based on the trend of the last 90 odd years?.

    I doubt it!

    • Bright Red 8.1

      the logic of the post isn’t dependent on the average person reaching Wadlow’s height, Andrei.

      You’re not still claiming that because 1998 was the record for a while the world is cooling, are you? It’s not even the record anymore for god’s sake.

      • Sonny Blount 8.1.1

        Again, Bright Red,

        Take 1998 out of the data set and the warming period from 1980-1995 has abated and 1995-2010 is pretty much flat.

        • Bright Red 8.1.1.1

          No it hasn’t. look at the link. 2005 and 2007 were hotter than 1998. The trend is up without 1998.

      • Andrei 8.1.2

        You’re not still claiming that because 1998 was the record for a while the world is cooling, are you? It’s not even the record anymore for god’s sake.

        Another straw man.

        Nobody is claiming “the world is cooling” because nobody knows or can know whether the trivial amount of warming that seems to have taken place since the end of the eighteenth century has peaked or not.

        And you know what it doesn’t really matter one whit if it has or hasn’t.

        All that matters is whether or not the crops grow or fail. And the climate will change over the next hundred years one way or another regardless of what we do or don’t do. Along the way there will be bountiful years and sparse years in different places – the way it always has been.

        And human beings being what they are will adapt to the changing conditions the way we have since the dawn of time and prosper or not.

        • Bright Red 8.1.2.1

          It’s not a strawman, Andrei, just yesterday your denier mates were arguing that 1998 disporves climate change.

          1 degree is not trivial. I know it sounds like a small number but it’s actually a huge amount of energy that manifest in more severe droughts, worse storms and the science shows that another degree or so and we’ll tip the climate into run-way warming.

          of course the climate naturally changes, no-one denies that. the problem is the rate of change we are causing. If we hit runaway warming, and we certainly will if we do nothing, the world that will be left if the permafrost melts, the icecaps melt, the sea levels rise, the ocean acidifies, and the deserts spread, and the rainforests burn will not be able to support our civilisation.

          • burt 8.1.2.1.1

            Bright Red

            What happens… probably the stuff that wasn’t factored into the IPCC models. Increased precipitation, increased Tectonic movement & increased volcanic activity as weight shifts from the polls to the oceans.

            Oh, excess CO2 makes trees grow faster as well, so drive to the shop and save a rain forest!

            • Bright Red 8.1.2.1.1.1

              burt. that’s just so ignorant.

            • burt 8.1.2.1.1.2

              Bright Red

              What is ignorant;

              That additional CO2 in the atmosphere encourages plant growth ?
              Extra weight from melting ice caps will flow to oceans?
              Moving weight mass on the planet surface of billions of tons causes tectonic plate instability/movement and associated volcanic activity?

            • Bright Red 8.1.2.1.1.3

              It’s ignorant to think climate change is good just because carbon dioxide makes plants grow faster and its ignorant to think that increased volcanism is going to save us from climate change – if melting ice and changes in the world’s mass distribution lead to more volcanism that’s just another disaster on top of the rising sea levels that caised it.

          • Andrei 8.1.2.1.2

            If we hit runaway warming, and we certainly will if we do nothing, the world that will be left if the permafrost melts, the icecaps melt, the sea levels rise, the ocean acidifies, and the deserts spread, and the rainforests burn will not be able to support our civilisation.

            Its not going to happen – that’s just hysterical nonsense.

            Why are you so pessimistic?

            Why do you believe that anyone can alter the climate?

            And if the climate could be altered who would you trust that power to?

            • Bright Red 8.1.2.1.2.1

              I believe that we are altering the climate because

              1) we clearly are (see the graph above)

              2) nearly everyone whose job it is to study this stuff says that if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll make it much worse, and I have seen no evidence that persuades me those experts are wrong.

              I don’t get what you’re saying about ‘trusting the power to change the climate’ to anyone, we’re doing it already as individuals and as societies.

              It’s the scientists that are forecasting those outcomes if we don’t change our behaviour. It’s not hysterical nonsense, it’s the scenario we can look forward to this century if we don’t change our behaviour.

              If you and I were standing on a railway track and I said ‘sh*t! there’s a train coming, let’s get out of the way’ Would you say ‘why are so pessimistic?’ becuase you’re comfortable where you’re standing?

  9. Sonny Blount 9

    “the science shows that another degree or so and we’ll tip the climate into run-way warming.”

    I’m sorry but thats not science, it’s conjecture.

    • Bright Red 9.1

      no, it’s science. It’s in the IPCC modelling. It’s where the 40% by 2020 requirement comes from.

  10. Clarke 10

    And I couldn’t help noticing that the UK Tories have signed up to 10% by 2010 – not much, but it’s something tangible. Our Tories, of course, have done no such thing, the useless gits.

  11. Sonny Blount 11

    Computer models are not empirical data. They only have validity once they have been run out against real life data.

    • Bright Red 11.1

      I knew you were going to say that.

      Science isn’t merely about understanding the past. A large part of it is developing models with predictive capability – ie. giving us an idea of what will happen if we do x.

      • Sonny Blount 11.1.1

        You develop a model by running it and then comparing the output with real life data. There is no climate model that has been verified against real life data. And this is because climate is a complex system, it would be arrogant to think that we can model it, all we can do is observe it closely, and respond.

    • Your theory of “gravity” is just a theory, not empirical data, you should should go and walk off a cliff, just to check that all the gravity up until now, is still there.

      • snoozer 11.2.1

        gold

      • Sonny Blount 11.2.2

        It is very easy to test and confirm. You can make a prediction and run a real life test to confirm your model very easily. It doesn’t matter whether anthropogenic climate catastrophe is a theory or 100% understood. Currently the historical data is the best model and until a computer model that makes a long term prediction different to the historical data that is verified with real life data, that historical data will remain the best predictor of climate.

        • Armchair Critic 11.2.2.1

          Normal modelling practice is to calibrate the model (adjust the variable parameters) to measured historic data, then validate it to a second set of measured historic data i.e. show that with the variable parameter values determined from the calibration, the model gives acceptably similar results, when used with the second and sometimes third and fourth sets of boundary data and initial conditions. Sometimes different words are used (the use of calibration and validation in the sense above comes from ANSI), but the process remains the same.
          My understanding is that this applies to climate models, just like any other model of a physical system, and I would be surprised to find that no climate model has been tested to prove it can hindcast properly before it is used to forecast. Is this what you were saying at 9:31 when you said “There is no climate model that has been verified against real life data”?
          Historical data are just a set of numbers, they don’t predict anything until they are used with a model. In this sense, even applying a fitted curve is a model. Even without models there are lots of data indicating climate change is occurring.

          • Sonny Blount 11.2.2.1.1

            “Is this what you were saying at 9:31 when you said “There is no climate model that has been verified against real life data’?

            What I am saying is a model needs to make a prediction for a statistically significant time period in the future (say 60 years) and if observed data stays within an acceptable margin throughout, then the model could be said to have some predictive validity.

            “Historical data are just a set of numbers, they don’t predict anything until they are used with a model. In this sense, even applying a fitted curve is a model.”

            Yes, it is our best model., we have observed the same warming and cooling cycle we are on now many times in the past. This is the same as planning crops or lambing based on the thousands of times in the past that the seasonal changes have been observed.

            “Even without models there are lots of data indicating climate change is occurring.”

            Yes, as you know observations of climate change do not confirm anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Even without man on the planet, warming would be expected in present day times.

            • Gareth 11.2.2.1.1.1

              Well Sonny, are you planning to rewrite the laws of physics? Not only do we observe warming, but we observe an increase in greenhouse gases, and the laws of physics (down to the quantum level) mean we should expect warming when that happens. In other words, theory matches observation.

              If increasing GHGs does not lead to warming of the atmosphere/ocean system, please explain how. A Nobel prize awaits.

            • Herman Poole 11.2.2.1.1.2

              “Not only do we observe warming, but we observe an increase in greenhouse gases”

              You mean water vapour? Please point me in the direction of any studies that show the change in concentration over the last 1000 years.

              “and the laws of physics (down to the quantum level) mean we should expect warming when that happens. In other words, theory matches observation.”

              I have a theory that windmills lead to global warming. There have been an increasing number of windmills and global temperature has risen. Theory matches observation. But this does not prove the theory.

              “If increasing GHGs does not lead to warming of the atmosphere, please explain how”

              Warming occurs today in same way that global temperature has varied in cycles between 5 and 15 degrees C over the last 100 million years. The reasons are not fully understood, but they have been observed to happen.

            • RedLogix 11.2.2.1.1.3

              You mean water vapour? Please point me in the direction of any studies that show the change in concentration over the last 1000 years.

              Yes water vapour is a greenhouse gas, and an important one… but you know perfectly well that Gareth is talking about the other gases CO2, CH4, NOx, etc, that human activity has increased.

              We also know from very precise measurements that these gases have increased in concentration because of human activity over the last 1000 years, most especially in the last 100. The evidence is incontrovertible. I could point you to a dozen different authoratitive studies, but you would not understand them, or would lie about them even if you did.

              There have been an increasing number of windmills and global temperature has risen.

              Yes that is a hypothesis, but it lacks an even faintly plausible mechanism to link the presence of windmills to an increase in global temperature. By contrast, atmospheric greenhouse gases and global temperature have a very well understood mechanism to link them. (I spent about seven years in the 1980’s very precisely calibrating infra-red spectroscopy instruments used in medical/technical applications. I’ve personally seen the absorption lines for many of these gases with my own eyes… so please, please don’t insult me by trying to tell me otherwise.)

              Warming occurs today in same way that global temperature has varied in cycles between 5 and 15 degrees C over the last 100 million years. The reasons are not fully understood, but they have been observed to happen.

              They are called Milankovitch cycles, are actually rather well understood and quite accurately explain the Ice Ages.

              I have no expectation, or hope even, that anything I can write will change your fixed thinking Herman, and that is simply that.

            • Gareth 11.2.2.1.1.4

              Warming occurs today in same way that global temperature has varied in cycles between 5 and 15 degrees C over the last 100 million years. The reasons are not fully understood, but they have been observed to happen.

              Furious handwaving: “I don’t know what it is, but it certainly has nothing to do with greenhouse gases”. Otherwise, what my spectroscopist friend said.

  12. Galeandra 12

    And the gold goes to…..armchair critic.

    And, Andrei, I’m so pesimistic because there are a serious number of individuals who don’t care in any way to attempt to ameliorate their impact on the planet. I’m angry at the greedy myopia I see demonstrated every day on threads like this.
    So run away and melt another ice shelf.

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