The “APS Meme”
As I’ve noted on other blogs, the debate surrounding AGW is highly predictable: proponents tend to use the same arguments ad infinitum, while skeptics tend to use the “latest and greatest” story – or meme – for a week before discarding it and moving on to another one. These memes are usually cutesy stories either in the mainstream or online media which a) distort the facts, b) ignore the facts, or c) involve someone of little influence decrying AGW.
The latest meme hitting the debate is an an amalgam of all three. In this month’s newsletter of the American Physical Society, an editor has made a call for papers discussing some of the science behind AGW:
With this issue of Physics & Society, we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body which, together with Al Gore, recently won the Nobel Prize for its work concerning climate change research. There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.
Although I take some exception to that final sentence, the point here is something different. The “APS meme,” has skeptics are using it, claims that there is no longer a consensus among the scientific community over the conclusions of the IPCC. Coming from the APS, this could be troublesome – many upper-level atmospheric scientists began as physicists, and physicists make up a large component of the out-of-discipline contributors to the IPCC. But has the APS really become an institution skeptical of climate change? Nowhere in this quote does it sugges – they are merely calling for a high-level debate (i.e. math and all of that other fun stuff) over the IPCC conclusions.
This is bad for skeptics in two ways. First, skeptic arguments almost always revolve around the sun; no doubt will a paper or two submitted to the APS focus on this, but more likely the basic physical principles underlying the IPCC will be scrutinized, and as any undergrad meteorology student will tell you, “we learned this stuff in the first week of class!” However, skeptic arguments also revolve around politics. It’s very rare to find a skeptic argument that doesn’t invoke Al Gore or the UN. In my opinion, this undermines the credibility of the argument as it exposes an intrinsic bias in the debater. John Coleman of The Weather Channel comes to mind as a skeptic who I simply can’t take seriously due to his nonstop political banter during his so-called scientific refutations of AGW.
The second reason this is bad for skeptics is because the APS hasn’t actually adopted a skeptical stance on the IPCC conclusions. The front page of the APS website declares, front and center, that:
The American Physical Society reaffirms the following position on climate change, adopted by its governing body, the APS Council, on November 18, 2007
That conclusion, linked above, states (with emphasis added)
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
The front page further states that the article in question does not represent the views of the APS, and that the newsletter is not a peer-reviewed publication (which makes sense, since they are using a long-since refuted Monckton piece as their skeptical argument).
I’ll let the curious reader search for “Monckton” on Atmoz, DeSmogBlog, or RealClimate to learn a bit about this pariah within the skeptic blogosphere. Suffice it is to say that the man is no climate scientist and has not exactly been honest with his academic and political background in the past.
I hope to make a series out of analysing the latest memes in the skeptic blogosphere, as I’ve decided to commit this blog to discussing the disconnect between the blogosphere, the public, the scientific community, and the mainstream media over atmospheric science in general.