Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Peering Into the Puddle of Gore’s Melted Scientific Claims (Part 2)

In his Chicago Sun-Times article, James Taylor makes the case against Gore's claims in An Inconvenient Truth by drawing upon some credible sources, but also by drawing on outright fabrications (see last post).

There are, however, some interesting points worth taking seriously. Taylor makes the point that Gore's implied linkage between tornadoes and global warming is faulty. Whether or not these is indeed any research which shows a link between tornado activity and global warming, Gore's point on this matter was intrinsically weak: he showed no evidence for his argument anyway.

Actually, the lack of supporting argument was one of my main problems with the film: it showed a lot of scientific conclusions, but never showed why things work the way they do, or why certain data counts as evidence for this and nor for that, and so on. When I first viewed the film, I remarked that while the message was delivered powerfully, the film's influence as a simple summary of the main issues was never properly clarified. In any summary, the references are left for later, the digging left as an addendum. In my opinion, some people aren't smart enough to realize that a documentary cannot hope to convey all of the information and nuance of its issue of choice; however, the movie's promotion tended to give to viewer the impression that it was the last word, and that it is time to act - not to do more research on your own. While this does not, in principle, invalidate the main conclusions of the film, it does speak to weakness of the film as a presentation and summary. Or, maybe, it speaks to the idea of a science-based documentary filmmaking in general.

Deserts Retreating?

Taylor notes that, contrary to what Gore claims (and I can't remember what Gore claimed) about drying regions of Africa, certain regions of the southern Sahara and the Sahel have seen a retreat in the extent of the desert, and that the area has been wetter than previous years, according to research reported on in NewScientist. Setting aside the fact that the article is not up to date (it's from 2002), and setting aside the fact that the article did not attribute African desert retreat to, say, a global cooling, NewScientist recently published a piece claiming just the opposite of what Taylor cites: African semi-arid regions are becoming much drier. It is clear that there is too much nuance in this issue to relegate discussion to generalizations about what the climate is doing or will do, although pure and unfiltered research can give us a glimpse of what trends are clear and what this means in regards to global warming.


This is yet another aspect of Gore's film that probably could have been better explained, and the dynamics between glacial trends and climate trends elucidated. (Then again, consider the difficulty in keeping the film nuanced.) The melting of Kilimanjaro and its attribution to global warming is indeed controversial - the paper that Taylor cites is valid, but there is other research and argument in favour for the global warming-Mt. Kilimanjaro link. I wonder, however, if Taylor sees this as evidence that the globe is not warming, which is most certainly is, assuming the data is correct.

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