Climate change stupid questions

An interesting article in the NYTimes today discusses the polls over climate change and how they don’t show the truth, which is that a vast majority of people in America really do understand climate change and agree that man is causing it.

Polls, of course, are dicey things — how the question is asked is critical. I was struck by one CNN poll question used as an illustration in the article:

Imagine being asked this, from a poll by CNN: “Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming: Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities like power plants and factories; global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by natural changes that have nothing to do with emissions from cars and industrial facilities; or, global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven.”

Now, I have several issues with this, not all agreeing with the authors of the article. My biggest problem is the use of the word “believe” in terms of climate change, and the third question in this list, which asks if the respondent believes (that word again) that “global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven.”

Interestingly, that third question is the most accurate of the three, and yet someone looking at the results of the poll would say it is the least supportive of the idea that climate change is going on.

Of course it is a theory. And of course it has not been proven. If it were proven, it would not be a theory, it would be a fact. But scientists don’t use the word “theory” the way the popular culture does, which is as a synonym for “wild guess.” They use “Theory” as “explanation for observed phenomenon that we can’t prove the reason for but this covers all the observed data and works until a better theory comes along.”

The observed data is factual — earth temperatures are rising, correleating with the rise of human exuded CO2 and other stuff — but the mechanisms are not yet completely understood, hence the word “theory.”

But believe in? You don’t believe in a theory.  A theory is not a matter of faith. A theory is an explanation. Come up with a better explanation if you don’t accept this one, but don’t play it up as something you believe in.

The earths temps are rising, the observed data says man is causing the rise (and I think the mess in the Gulf of Mexico pretty much shoots down all those folk who say the world is too big for man to cause changes to) and unless you can come up with a better theory that covers all the observed data, you have to work with the theory we have.

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5 Responses to Climate change stupid questions

  1. Doug Gibson says:

    That’s an excellent example of a misleading poll question, Charlie. The irony is that most choosing three, might also choose one if it asked, if is “proven” that global warning does not exist … instead of the other way.

  2. Jeremy Trentelman says:

    I think it is very sad but Doug may be right about the people who are selecting option #3.

  3. Special K (NJ) says:

    If NASA had published global means such as those shown in the table, below, along with corresponding means for major climate regions, the general public might have been easier to convince that there has been a slight elevation in the absolute mean temperature as between the 1880s and the past decade. That the mean temperature is slightly higher today, by slightly more than one degree Fahrenheit, appears to be the case (within error of measurement). What it will turn out to have been during the present decade, quien sabe.

    And as to who or what is responsible for changes in the global temperature, quien sabe as well. It does appear to be the case that when many humans occupy a hall, the temperature rises. With the several billions, and increasing, population of the globe, perhaps the increasing world population contributes to warming.

    Table 1. Secondary analysis of raw data reported at

    Summaries of MEAN Annual (F) (January to December, JTOD)
    By levels of DECADE

    Variable Value Label Mean F Std Dev Cases
    For Entire Population 57.1594 .4385 129
    DECADE 1885 56.7482 .1020 10
    DECADE 1895 56.7356 .1467 10
    DECADE 1905 56.7158 .1711 10
    DECADE 1915 56.6996 .1759 10
    DECADE 1925 56.9066 .1290 10

    DECADE 1935 57.1496 .1525 10
    DECADE 1945 57.2756 .1481 10
    DECADE 1955 57.1622 .1864 10
    DECADE 1965 57.1784 .1677 10
    DECADE 1975 57.2018 .1801 10

    DECADE 1985 57.5186 .1714 10
    DECADE 1995 57.7688 .2338 10
    DECADE 2005 58.1060 .1509 9

    Note. MEANF = ((jtod/100)* (1.8)) + 57.1.

  4. Blue Sky says:

    Thanks for explaining “theory” so well. My geology professor, when discussing the “theory” of evolution, pointed out that the laws of gravity are also a “theory”, but no one questions it just because they can’t see it.

  5. G Renfroe says:

    Climate change is real.

    It is the differing opinions on the causes of climate change that are theories.

    This planet has gone through many documented changes in climate over its history (what we interpret as its history). The theories of what caused one particular layer of rock or sediment or ice are formed from hypotheses using whatever method the theorist employs.

    Those methods range from using pure scientific method to sensationalism and self-promotion for the up coming book / lecture tour.

    The best we as individuals of our species can do is prepare for the changes and deal with them.

    We are a prolific and adaptable species and will survive most any change though maybe not in the dense numbers we now enjoy.

    Reducing energy consumption is good for the whole community. Energy independence is better. It doesn’t happen overnight.

    The highway construction around 12th Street seemed to take forever but now Ogden is connected to the rest of the “Front”. The point is plan ahead for the needs of tomorrow because those needs will be yours.

    Gregory Renfroe

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