Here is a guest posting from CIRES Education & Outreach Director Susan Buhr about a DVD being sent to teachers entitled “Unstoppable Solar Cycles“. Her posting originally appeared on the ICEE Community Forum.
I was reading some evaluation data recently and found that a couple of teachers were confused after receiving Unstoppable Solar Cycles in their mailboxes. This is a set of video clips featuring a set of misleading statements made with no evidence or data whatsoever.
The clips employ some rhetorical devices meant to mislead-questions are raised and then not answered, along the lines of “are you still beating your wife?”
Some of the review criteria we use in the CLEAN project to ascertain scientific credibility are:
- Is the resource from a credible scientific source such as a science agency or a university?
- Is the science up-to-date? Some elements of climate science are rapidly evolving as scientists learn more.
- Are links to original data source included?
- Does the resource contain references to source material?
- Does the resource support an understanding of the scientific process?
- Are the concepts valid/accurate?
- Is the resource supported by references, bibliographies and other supporting materials?
This Unstoppable Solar Cycles resource fails on many points. Others have pointed out the political origins of Unstoppable Solar Cycles and the spokespeople within it. But, the resource fails on other points also, and employs shady rhetorical devices to imply points that are not actually made. There is no evidence- watch it if you aren’t sure. There are only allusions, true statements that are then used to imply a wrong conclusion, and false or misleading statements.
Among the true statements:
- Earth’s climate has varied and cycled naturally in the past and will continue to change in the future.
- The Sun is the main energy source for the Earth.
- Data shows that during past warming periods (when warming was due to changing solar cycles before humans started emitting greenhouse gases), temperatures rose first, and CO2 increased later.
- Warm water holds less dissolved gas (such as dissolved CO2) than cold water.
- An opened soda releases dissolved CO2 when left on a picnic table.
- The polar ice cap on Mars is shrinking, and humans don’t emit CO2 on Mars
- The climate system is very complicated.
- Scientists are skeptical.
- No one in the world would insist that all recent climate change has to do with the sun. (This one might not be true. Someone in the world will insist on anything)
So far, so good. But then the video uses rhetorical tricks to imply the true statements mean something they don’t, and throws in some half-truths and falsehoods. Here are the main insinuations:
- Since Earth’s climate has varied in the past because of solar variability and because the polar ice cap on Mars is disappearing, the video implies that recent climate change is due to solar variability. But the data does not support that claim. Science requires evidence, not implication.
- While one of the spokesmen admits that humans have emitted CO2 and changed the constituents of the atmosphere, the source of atmospheric CO2 is said to be the warming ocean. But the data does not support that claim. The evidence provided is that an open can of soda emits CO2 when placed on a park bench.
- And then, in case the soda didn’t convince you, the characters lament that scientists are being controlled and corrupted, the IPCC is a political rather than scientific body, and the deluded or perhaps dim scientists have failed to study the Sun “Why shouldn’t we study the sun?” or consider other explanations. Again, not true. The Sun is more studied than ever -see the Solar Dynamics Observatory or NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center for more, and see the discussion on the ICEE forum under Climate Science.
Watch for questions that are raised but not answered, false choices, and red herrings. Here are some examples:
Soon (scientist in the video) says “It would be really, really useful to learn from the Vikings’ example how to cope with big natural changes in the Sun and the Earth’s climate system.”. And then Beth says “How can we cope with natural changes in the climate system? Scientists study the past to help them understand what’s causing similar changes today and they’re finding natural cycles that move between periods of warm and cold.”
It isn’t clear what Soon thinks we can learn from the Vikings, since they apparently froze, starved, died and disappeared. It’s really meant to introduce the idea that today’s change is like the change the Vikings experienced, natural. Then Beth reinforces the idea that we are coping with a “similar change”. This is a bait and switch, or false comparison. It’s like saying we can study ancient apples to understand similar fruit today, such as oranges.
Beth (student figure in the video) says “we are urged to accept just one theory”. Here Beth is confusing a hypothesis, or a claim that is being tested, with a theory which is the sum body of knowledge on a topic. In fact many different potential causes have been examined, including solar variability, and all have over time been discarded as they did not explain the evidence.
The video says “The journal Physics and Society, which is a publication of the American Physical Society with a membership of over 50K physicists, now welcomes debate of the question.”. In fact, here is a description of Physics and Society from the American Physical Society.
Physics and Society is the non-peer-reviewed quarterly newsletter of the Forum on Physics and Society, a division of the American Physical Society. It presents letters, commentary, book reviews and articles on the relations of physics and the physics community to government and society. It also carries news of the Forum and provides a medium for Forum members to exchange ideas. Opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum.
It’s not a peer-reviewed journal, and the APS published a position paper supporting the evidence for human activities leading to recent warming in 2007. http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm . In Physics and Society commentaries against human causation APS noted specifically that the article was not peer reviewed and reaffirmed their position statement. Furthermore, journals do solicit papers on particular topics sometimes, but they are not debating societies. Journals solicit presentations of scientific evidence, not debates.
There’s more with which the discerning observer could take issue, but this is a start. I would not use this video in class on purpose, because it is hard to dispel misconceptions after they have been introduced. People remember what they heard or saw, not how credible it was. However, if a student brings this video to class, it would make for a teachable moment, an opportunity to help students identify strong and weak scientific dialogue. Maybe have the student compare and contrast with Earth The Operators Manual http://earththeoperatorsmanual.com/ where you can also get free clips.
Here’s a link to the ICEE Community Forum that this posting was originally from.