Monday, March 05, 2007

Convenient Half-Truths

I finally saw Al Gore's movie last night. He definitely deserved that Oscar. I haven't seen a propaganda film that good since Leni Riefenstahl's Triump des Willens of 1934. I watched the movie with a notebook computer in my lap and Googled every bit of data Gore presented, but unfortunately, I couldn't actually find any of the "truths" that the movie promised.

We should now come up with the Inconvenient Truth Drinking Game. You drink every time he distorts scientific data. Specifically, drink whenever he:

...distorts the X axis of data by choosing a convenient start time, such as hurricanes getting more intense in the last 30 years, instead of showing that they were just as intense 40 years ago, and that they've been going in intense/quiet cycles for centuries.
...distorts the Y axis of a graph by changing the baseline, such as showing fuel economy standards between 20mpg and 50mpg, instead of 0mpg and 50mpg.
...distorts data by showing the part of a study that agrees with him, rather than the parts that don't, such as one ice core of six in a study showing the past millennium being colder than today, rather than four other cores in that study showing periods warmer than today (such as the Medieval Warming Period that he mocks for not being visible in his cherry-picked ice core).
...shows a smokestack belching water vapor that he implies is pollution.
...confuses "computer modeling" with "scientific experiment".
...shows a glacier that has been steadily disappearing since long before CO2 built up in the atmosphere, and implies that it only started melting recently (or melting faster recently).
...shows a picture of the earth from space that has been photoshopped to make the planet prettier.
...says that the relationship of temperature and CO2 over the last million years is "complicated", thus hiding the inconvenient truth that temperature rises BEFORE CO2 does, and not the way that he implies.
...presents a scenario that even pro-global-warming scientists think is wack, such as Greenland melting and flooding major cities.
...tells us to disbelieve the scientific consensus. Drink the entire glass when he shows Katrina, which pro-warming scientists overwhelmingly believe had nothing to do with global warming (and everything to do with building a city below sea level in a hurricane zone). it's a moral issue not a political issue, then distorts it with politics. Drink the whole glass when he bravely stops trying to recount the election until he gets the results he wants.
...when a room of fawning sycophants break into applause.
...when a red shirt bites it.

Seriously, though, every piece of scientific data I googled didn't stand up to scrutiny (other than the fact that humans are indeed dumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, and that CO2 has at least some greenhouse effect). I might have missed something though, so if anybody knows of a piece of scientific data that wasn't a distorted half-truth, I'd like to know about it.

Before seeing the movie, I assumed that global warming was likely, although distorted by leftists. The lack of truths in Gore's movie now makes me question this. Did Gore distort the truth because the actual facts are too complicated for a mainstream movie? Or did he distort it because global warming, like space aliens, doesn't exactly exist?

(And what does this have to do with hacking? I think we need a yearly award for Best Social Engineering Attack. He wins for 2006).


Hunter said...

(quote)...shows a smokestack belching water vapor that he implies is pollution.(/quote)

Technically water vapor is a MUCH greater contributor to the greenhouse effect than CO2 so in this case water vapor could be considered a form of pollution.

Robert David Graham said...

Oh, yea, it's also a major component of acid rain. More on this topic.

trishmcneill said...

"Before seeing the movie, I assumed that global warming was likely, although distorted by leftists. The lack of truths in Gore's movie now makes me question this."

I can agree with that feeling. I hear a lot of screaming and moaning about global warming, but the evidence I see presented generally doesn't hold up under scrutiny. And the more often that happens, the more manipulated I begin to feel. Sadly, too many people believe the hype without bothering to to double-check the facts for themselves.

Raffi said...

Consensus of science is an oxymoron. Its either a consensus or its science.

esteban said...

Well said Raffi.

Robert: You've captured the intent of the medium pretty well. But it's important to keep in mind that propoganda is the nature of medium (pop movie) itself. In this sense it's a great movie. I wonder if Gore has an actual paper version of his talk that has some rigor and is complete with citations that would provide more of the data you seek.

David said...

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decius said...

"If anybody knows of a piece of scientific data that wasn't a distorted half-truth, I'd like to know about it."

These guys are uncritical of the spin/drama of the movie but they provide some commentary on the science which is informed if not objective.

Timo said...

Have you checked out IPCC (intergovermental panel on climate change) and their latest report? Over 1000 scientists were involved in creating that report: 600+ authors and 600+ reviewers. If that is not double-checking, I don't know what is. How am I to check scientific claims on domain I am not familiar with? Randomly googling for keywords and ending up to pages whose authors have put a little extra effort to be ranked high in Google search?

I fail to see why the IPCC would be biased to see climate change when there really was none. The opposite might very well happen as it would be in the interests of industry, and therefore in the interests of many goverments.

The latest report states clearly that the climate change is reality: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal".

Robert David Graham said...

Drink whenever...
...somebody claims that people who agree with them (government bureaucrats and environmentalists) are unbiases, whereas those who disagree with them (other government bureaucrats and Evil Corporations) are inherently biased.

Pro-warming sites like the IPCC and where the primary ones I went to do to check up on Gore's information. specifically addresses much of Gore's data with the attitude that while Gore lies, it's ok because it's for the Moral Good.

utenzi said...

I haven't seen the movie yet though I'll get around to it eventually. I've been putting it off because I know it'll piss me off.

Now don't get me wrong--I have no doubt that the global climate is warming, but I suspect the film is like you say, a political manifesto that just isn't backed up by real data. Worst of all is using singular events like Katrina as a hammer to drive home the message. Pretty slimy.

Paul said...

While I'm sure that there are many conflations and confusions in any movie that popularises science -- (I have never seen on that isn't guilty of this) -- your Google test seems nonsensical.

When did Google become a truth-meter?

Does this mean that most of the people I know don't exist, because they don't show up on Google?

Robert David Graham said...

I used Google to find the original data that Gore cites in his film. Google isn't a truth-meter, but the original data is. By comparing the original data vs. the way that Gore presented it, I found that Gore lied about it.

My point is that everybody has the power to check up on Gore and see for themselves the Truth of the matter.

No, science films "simplify", they don't "lie". They usually show electrons orbiting atoms, but they explain that it's a simplification of what really occurs. No science film claim that the simplification is true. Gore doesn't simplify the data, he distorts the data, trying to make the audience believe something that the scientists themselves don't believe.