by Cheryl Rofer
One of the blogosphere's current dustups is George Will's citing of global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 as being "'near or slightly lower than' those of 1979." To Will, this is a disproof of global warming. I won't get into whether this particular claim is correct or what it means to the bigger picture. I'll stay with the bigger picture so that you can read this post in one sitting.
The evidence for global warming extends over the entire world and includes such things as rainfall frequency, nighttime temperatures, bird migrations, glacial ice and sea ice, soil temperatures, sea temperatures, first freeze dates, and many other things. The central way of analyzing this evidence is through complex computer models which take many of these variables as inputs to reproduce others. Some of the models describe limited parts of the system, like the movement of glaciers on land or the formation of clouds, and others are global. There are many models, coming at the problem with different approaches, and they are tested against each other.
All the results indicate that as the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase, some areas of the earth will warm up and some will cool; some will have more rainfall and some will have less.
Will (and others) approach global warming like a geometry proof: one counterexample undoes the proof. That is not the nature of global warming. Any one observation needs to be woven into the complex of evidence and models to see what it means.
So, under Will's criteria, I can cite my sister's observation that vultures have arrived in Oregon, two weeks earlier than usual, or the unusually warm winter in Santa Fe as evidence for global warming. Take that, George Will!
Will simply doesn't understand how the science of global warming is done. But there's worse out there.
The New Mexican yesterday featured a front-page article about a new miracle substance: electrolyzed water. Similar articles have shown up in other newspapers. That's water with salt in it, passed through some sort of miracle electrical process. Miraculously, it contains both base and acid and is useful as a cleaning fluid and destroyer of germs for a low price. Wikipedia repeats the mantra, and the much-linked Boing Boing, which claims something about an interest in science, passes it along too.
As I observed the other day, lots of people didn't like chemistry, and it shows. But surely some of this came up in general science? Oh, you didn't like that either. That shows too.
Acids and bases neutralize each other. Electrolyze salt water to a sodium hydroxide solution, and, if there's any hypochlorous acid produced as well, they will neutralize each other to sodium hypochlorite, also known (and hated by many of the people who find "electrolyzed water" environmentally benign) as bleach. But in what concentration is the bleach present? That would depend on the amount of salt and amount of electrolysis. Boing Boing gets around this problem with a nifty illustration of the little positive and negative ions going their own way, separate from each other, as never can happen.
Two elementary concepts: acid-base neutralization and concentration. Far beyond the capabilities of the people reporting on this and their editors. The snake-oil salesmen don't even have to be particularly inventive any more.
I'm glad that President Obama has said, several times, that he intends to bring science back. We've obviously got a long way to go.