Cooking the books
Sep 20, 2011
Bishop Hill in Climate: other

Skeptical Science and its host, John Cook, have been much commented upon recently, the site's grubby treatment of Roger Pielke Snr having caused considerable disquiet. I'm grateful to reader PaulM for pointing me to another example of the way things are done on John Cook's watch.

Take a look at this page on the site. It's an older article, dating back to 2008, and it covers the vexed question of whether Antarctica is gaining or losing ice.

Skeptic arguments that Antarctica is gaining ice frequently hinge on an error of omission, namely ignoring the difference between land ice and sea ice.

This is not a straightforward area of science. As the article goes on to explain,

One must also be careful how you interpret trends in Antarctic sea ice. Currently this ice is increasing and has been for years but is this the smoking gun against climate change? Not quite.

and then expands on this by pointing out that in Antarctica,

sea ice is not the most important thing to measure. In Antarctica, the most important ice mass is the land ice sitting on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

...which of course is shrinking, we are told.

So there you go, simple enough even for a sceptic to follow. Or perhaps not simple enough - take a look at comment #3 from AnthonySG1:

OK smarties. If Antarctica is overall losing ice, then how do you explain the data?

The Arctic doesn't seem to be doing so bad anymore, also:

This particular scurvy sceptic is sent packing with a rapier-like thrust:

Response: It's somewhat discouraging that the first point I make is that people often fail to distinguish between sea ice and land ice. They are two separate phenomena. And yet you repeat the error. To clarify, Antarctica is losing land ice at an accelerating rate. Sea ice around Antarctica is increasing. The reasons for sea ice increasing in a warming Southern Ocean are complex and described in detail above.

And then there's comment #5 from PaulM himself:

The misinformation on this site is astonishing. Antarctic ice is increasing.
In addition to the cryosphere link provided Anthony,
This is confirmed by NSIDC,
by NCDC,
and by numerous scientific papers, including
Cavalieri and Parkinson, J. Geophys. Res. 113, C07004 (2008),
Comiso and Nishio, J. Geophys. Res. 113, CO2S07 (2008).

You have managed to find one paper that finds a decrease - but that only covers a 3 year period! Obviously you cannot get a significant trend from 3 years data.

These sceptics! How do you get through to them? Send 'em packing again:

Response: Please, people, pay attention! Sea ice is increasing. Land ice is decreasing. Read and reread the post above  until you realise they are two separate phenomena.

The exchange is, apparently at least, a damning indictment of the behaviour of what are sometimes referred to as "so-called sceptics".

Well, damning of the sceptics, that is, until you examine the same page on the Wayback Machine. The archive version is dated 3 February 2009, nearly six months after the comments were posted.

And its completely different!

While East Antartica is gaining ice due to increased precipitation, Antartica is overall losing ice. This is mostly due to melting in West Antarctica which recently featured the largest melting observed by satellites in the last 30 years. As well as melting, Antartic glaciers are accelerating further adding to sea level rise.

Astonishingly, more than six months after having their errors pointed out to them, the denizens of Skeptical Science rewrote the article and then inserted comments suggesting that their commenters hadn't read the article properly.

I'm simply flabbergasted.

And it's even more amazing when one recalls that Skeptical Science was recently the recipient of an award from the Australian Museum for services to climate science.

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