This is embarrassing. All I can do is shake my head. Although I tend to sympathize and agree with opinions generated and expressed from the right side of the spectrum, sometimes I want to put my head in my hands and hide my face when people express views with which I am inclined to agree because of way in which they are expressed. I don’t want to get people too angry with me about this, and I definitely regret the fact that this article is going to lend some support and energy to Other Side of the debate. But it cannot be helped, and as I see it, the damage is, for the most part, already done. This is just my small way to stop the hemorrhaging.
As regular readers of this blog know, I am by far the less frequent poster of its two founders. My wife has more time than I do for blogging and tweeting and binging and whatever else people are doing across social media universe, and more motivation. But this morning I found an article up in an open tab on our web browser that caught my interest. It said that Al Gore had predicted that all the ice at the North Pole would be gone by this year. It would be “ice-free by 2013”, and the quotes are in the original, as if those were the ipsissima verba of the former Vice President. I thought, “That’s not likely, but after all, Al Gore is an outrageous huckster. It’s not totally out of the question that he may have said this.” So I checked links and searched Google, and found the source of the alleged claim.
CNS News reported the “Ice-Free by 2013” prediction on September 13. The next day it was carried by Junk Science. Paul Mushine of the Star Ledger cited the CNS News article in his piece published at NJ.com. Again, the year that it is claimed Al Gore predicted for “the disappearance of Arctic ice” is 2013. Gore is alleged to have made this prediction on the occasion of his acceptance of his 2007 Nobel Prize. I knew that would be easy to check out, so I did.
He didn’t say it. He never made any claim that all the ice at the North Pole would be gone by now or any time this year.
As I said, this is embarrassing, because it shows how seldom even minimal critical thinking is being applied by anyone on either side of an important issue. Whether someone is on the left or the right, they may do some thinking about an issue initially, or they may defer to a trusted authority, but when they reach a conclusion, the thinking process stops, and from then on, when the issue comes up, the knee jerks, and a pre-programmed opinion is expressed. When it comes to Al Gore or climate change, the left has its pre-programmed knee jerks about the evils of industrial capitalism and how it is destroying the planet, and the right has its knee jerk about how Al Gore is a clown and a fraud, and that he is liable to say anything, no matter how outrageous, so long as it is dead wrong.
Readers of this blog may think I am not being fair but I insist that if minimal critical thinking was being applied on the right, people would know how to add 7+7 to get 14, not 13, and they would realize that adding seven years to 2007 gets you 2014, not 2013. This is not a trivial math error, it is an embarrassment, because it shows how little clear, rational thought is being applied to issues. It seems to me that the more important the issue is, the less likely people are to give them the thought they require, because importance gives way to emotion, which overwhelms rationality.
On NCIS Los Angeles last night, L.L. Cool J’s character Sam Hanna was giving Eric Christian Olsen’s character Marty Deeks a hard time, and it turned out to be because of Deek’s hair. Hanna is “Navy straight up”, so he doesn’t cotton to Deek’s grunge style. When Deeks suggests that a problem with hairstyle is too trivial to justify the kind of attitude on display, Hanna says, “It’s not your hair, It’s what you hair says about you as a person.” And Deeks catches on that Hanna is using the hair as a window to his character.
Similarly, it is not the math mistake that makes my jaw drop and my head shake, it’s what the math mistake says about the writers of these articles as thinkers.
The arithmetical brain fart is not the entirety of the problem, either, it is just the most embarrassing part of it. Just as sad is the way it shows how little people on the right are inclined to be fair to the left in evaluating their arguments. I expect unfairness from the left. That does not faze me. But when I see it on the right, I become disappointed if not disillusioned.
What Al Gore said was that, on the 21st day of the September prior to his December 2007 speech at Oslo, “scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is ‘falling off a cliff.’ One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years.”
Twenty-two years. So the prediction about seven years was not the substance of the prediction, and the prediction was one made by scientists and quoted by Al Gore, not one he made up whole cloth. He adds that “Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.”
Get that: it was not the “one study, it was “another” one, and at the time he gave his speech, it was not even published yet. Gore was giving a range, not a year, and the range begins in 2014, not 2013. The range is 2014-2029. Note also the use of the phrase “as little as”. Even if he had not already given the “22 year” prediction that no one on the right is mentioning when they talk about this speech as another example of Al Gore as being Wrong Again, that phrase, “as little as” would make it improper to declare the Navy’s prediction falsified even when the summer of 2015 arrives and there is still ice at the North Pole.
To be fair, this “2013” prediction was not simply the result of an arithmetical error. It was perpetuated by one and kept alive by a lack of critical thinking, but there was an original prediction, and yes, 2013 was mentioned. Just not by Al Gore. The Navy study he was citing used the model proposed by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski. Back in 2003 Maslowski was predicting an ice free arctic summer in ten years, that is, by now. Furthermore, back in 2007 he even said that the 2013 prediction might have been “too conservative”! The link to the 2007 BBC article is still live for now. If you want to hear him say something similar, there is a podcast and a transcript of an interview at Beyond Zero Emissions. If you listen to the podcast, the following comment starts at 17 minutes and 54 seconds in and goes on for 32 seconds:
I think the media is definitely getting much more interested and the society is trying to understand what is happening out there, not only in the Arctic but also the ice shelf around Antarctica and so forth. So, definitely the interest and demand for information is much higher than couple years ago. My statement you quoted and was printed in The New York Times of 2013, my first presentation where I actually had this projection stated exclusively was about 4 or 5 years ago in San Francisco, at American Geophysical Union poll meeting. So, I’m not actually upgrading my projection, I’m just saying that it may happen sooner but we were one of the early people who were saying that it might happen within the next decade, instead of by the end of this century.
I suppose it is more fun to make Al Gore Wrong Again to than it is to debunk a far less well known climate scientist. But if someone is going to attribute an opinion to Gore, one should be certain that he actually said it. At the very least, if someone else’s opinion is going to be attributed to Gore, that person should be cited by name and the prediction credited to him as well. Otherwise, one runs the risk of looking like a fool, and worse, making the side with which one is aligned look foolish.
I am sorry, but I hold the side with which I am generally allied to a higher standard. I think we all should. We’re right. We can afford to be self-critical. It provides greater contrast with the hysterical idiots on the left. When our side fails at this, it is worse than when the other side fails at it, because for the left, that is par for the course. We’re better than that. Our ideas are better. Our arguments are better. Therefore there is no excuse for instances where the quality of our argumentation drops to the point where the best that can be said about it is that it is no worse than that of the left.
Incidentally, there may be data that falsifies Maslowski’s model. According to it, there is now more summer ice at the Northern cap, not less. Until I see compelling evidence to the contrary, all the anthropogenic climate change “evidence” appears to me to be the inexcusable and intentional poltically-motivated mischaracterization of cyclical changes as sudden, catastrophic and unprecedented. But I remain open to correction on this point.