Is Ed Wallace’s Business Week column a “Crock of S*%t”?

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"Is Ed Wallace’s Business Week column a “Crock of S*%t”?"

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/51/Mauna_Loa_Carbon_Dioxide-en.svg/500px-Mauna_Loa_Carbon_Dioxide-en.svg.png

The status quo media has a new anti-science columnist, Ed Wallace.  He had a column yesterday in Business Week, “Is Global Warming a ‘Crock of S*%t?’ ”  Here is a typical pearl of disinformation:

Then, on the last day of 2009, Wolfgang Knorr of the Earth Sciences Dept. at the University of Bristol released new research showing the possibility that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not risen in the past 160 years. Maybe he’s wrong, but at least he published his views for peer review in the Geophysical Research Letters.

Not even close.  As anyone with access to Google knows, that is not what Knorr said at all (see “Yes, the atmospheric CO2 fraction has risen at a dangerously fast rate in the past 160 years, reaching levels not seen in millions of years“).  See also the single most famous chart of observational data in the entire climate arena (above), the Keeling Curve of “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2).”

Knorr’s study merely suggested the fraction of human-emitted CO2 that stays in the atmosphere may have stayed flat for 160 years.  It had a bad headline and confused many folks for a few days, but it was pretty quickly straightened out for anyone paying attention.

To write this piece and not even bother using Google for 30 seconds to fact-check it is a sign of utter disdain for the truth.

That Business Week doesn’t bother to fact check their columns puts them dangerously close to the non-existent standards of the Washington Post op-ed page, which has become a laughingstock (see “Will the Washington Post ever fact check a George Will column? and WashPost goes tabloid, publishes second falsehood-filled op-ed by Sarah Palin in five months).

I was going to ignore Wallace’s Palin-esque piece — such pieces are spreading like bark beetles in the dying forests of print journalism — but for this line at the end:

(This is the first of a multipart series of columns on global warming.)

Yes, there’s more apparently more disinformation to be pushed, which is pretty impressive because Wallace runs through enough of the long-debunked talking points of the disinformers to get a clinical diagnosis of anti-science syndrome:

Lest we forget, only 36 years ago it was widely believed we were on the verge of the next Ice Age. As Gary Sutton reported in Forbes on Dec. 3 last year, “In 1974, the National Science Board announced: ‘During the last 20 to 30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but more sharply over the last decade. Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end “¦ leading into the next ice age.’”

Lest we forget, that is just another anti-science myth (see Killing the myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus and The NYT‘s climate coverage in 1970s was a megaphone for science, not ‘global cooling’ alarmism).  The National Research Council concluded in its 1979 review of the science that “the potential damage from greenhouse gases was real and should not be ignored. The potential for cooling, the threat of aerosols, or the possibility of an ice age shows up nowhere in the report. Warming from doubled CO2 of 1.5°-4.5°C was possible.”

The chairman of the NRC’s Climate Research Board wrote in the report’s foreword that he believed there was enough evidence to support action: “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.”

Again it is human emission of GHGs that are over-riding the natural cycle that would have other be putting us into another Ice Age — see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds.

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Thirty-six years later there is still strong disagreement on what climate change really means for our planet. Some have postulated that warming temperatures will cause mass extinctions or uncontrollable migrations to better climates. Not least of the problems, they worry, might be that temperatures rising as much as 11 degrees over the coming century would cause crop failures, resulting in mass global outbreaks of starvation.

Other scientists, however, claim that this period of warming will melt the freshwater glaciers of the north, flooding the Atlantic conveyor belt that brings warmer water up from southern regions and disrupting that current. Their scenario gives us, you guessed it, a new Ice Age.

If you get your science from movies, I suppose you might believe that last paragraph.

But in fact just before the mistake-riddled, global-warming-will-cause-an-ice-age, movie The Day after Tomorrow came out, the journal Science (subs. req’d) published an article by two environmental scientists that concluded:

In light of the paleoclimate record and our understanding of the contemporary climate system, it is safe to say that global warming will not lead to the onset of a new ice age.

They add, “These same records suggest that it is highly unlikely that global warming will lead to a widespread collapse of the AMO” or Atlantic Meridional Overturning, “the North Atlantic component of global ocean overturning circulation.”

It boggles the mind that a serious journalist could argue that scientists don’t know what the future impacts of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are based not on what scientists actually say, but on a Hollywood movie.

Oh and Wallace is serious:

Ed Wallace is a recipient of the the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the G. and R. Loeb Foundation, and is a member of the American Historical Society. His column leads the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s “Sunday Drive” section. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four’s Good Day, contributes articles to BusinessWeek Online, and hosts the top-rated talk show Wheels Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 570 KLIF.

Actually, there isn’t much disagreement on what happens if we listen to Wallace and stay on our business as usual emissions path, which takes us to 800 to 1000 ppm or higher.  Either it is likely to be a incomprehensible series of disasters by the end of the century (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“) or it could in the worst-case be an unmitigated catastrophe by mid-century (see UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon”).

Business journalist Wallace ends with a classic piece of anti-science:

In the end, maybe the climate change evangelists are right and mankind is the reason the planet is warming. But if you read enough articles on the subject over a long enough period, you find that the factual weather data do not always line up with the scientific pronouncements that are being sold to us. For one thing, computer modeling is not all that accurate, nor do those machines have any more logic than what is programmed into them. In simplest terms, anyone who can program a relational database knows you can alter the code to where 2 + 2 = 4.25. The computer spits it out, but it’s not true. Now extrapolate that out to where one is programming all of the factors known for weather, present, past, and future, and you understand the complexity is so great that no output from those programs can mean anything. It’s called GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

Well, it may be true in business — just look at mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps and Bernie Madoff.  But in science, if you alter the code to where 2 + 2 = 4.25 and other scientists find out really fast and you are discredited.

It’s only the anti-science crowd that can repeat 2 + 2 = 4.25 again and again and call it wisdom.

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30 Responses to Is Ed Wallace’s Business Week column a “Crock of S*%t”?

  1. Tina Garza says:

    CO2 rose from 1929 until 1942 when it reached 400PPM. I wonder what caused that. The big war didn’t start in 1929

    [JR: Not.]

  2. JasonW says:

    Tina where on Earth did you get that figure from? Wait, don’t tell me – his name starts with “B” and end with “eck”. Am I right?

    Possibly, this graph? http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/upload/2006/10/beckco2.png

  3. WAG says:

    Off subject, but Inhofe is going to have a field day with this:

    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20100129/D9DHDH582.html

    “Bin Laden blasts US for climate change”

    [JR: I doubt he'll touch it.]

  4. mike roddy says:

    Wallace goes way beyond being anti science. He may be able to tell us all about the latest V-8 engines and even the business cycle, but the man is obviously an idiot.

  5. DrD says:

    As an historian I was curious about the “American Historical Society” to which Wallace is said to belong. I can’t find anything related to an American Historical Society. There is the American Historical Association, one of two primary organizations for academic historians in the United States. And there is the American Historic Society which produces and sells coins. But no American Historical Society.

    [JR: Maybe it's history!]

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    When Business Week stoops to this level, I think it’s a sure sign that the media has crossed a line from “train wreck” to “flaming train wreck, visible from space”.

    Once again, the most useful way to view this incredible mess is through economics. Many traditional media outlets were already in serious trouble before the Great Recession, and they were already willingly assuming the position of arms merchant in this war of words. Since the GR started the situation has only been magnified.

    Many media outlets have found a situation they like (or at least provides them with a life preserver in the short term): They foster a he said/he said “debate” that fires up the troops on both sides and draws a lot of eyeballs (and therefore paying advertisers). And in some cases it also feeds their warped ideology and voracious greed. (I have no idea where BW is on the ideology front, just to be clear.)

    This is why I keep stressing that we should forget issues of what’s “right or wrong” in moral terms or what’s best for the environment or our kids. I won’t resort to all caps for what follows, since I know how annoying that is, but please imagine me pounding the table and yelling when I say: All that matters is the perceptions of voters and decision makers! Period. Reality doesn’t mean jack. As long as voters, consumers, politicians, businesses, NGOs, etc. are narrowly focused on the very short term and they define good vs. bad in terms of immediate cash flow, they will all continue to make stupendously bad decisions.

    You couldn’t ask for a clearer or more serious example of a too-short planning horizon yielding decisions, behavior, and ultimately results that are counter to the best interests of the overwhelming majority of people on the planet.

    We either find a way to counteract the kind of BS that BW and many other outlets and deniers are pushing, and then educate and activate mainstreamers, or we and future generations are screwed beyond all former meaning of “screwed”.

  7. Lee says:

    The American Historical Society exists.
    http://www.historians.org/index.cfm

    But there is an associate membership for “For persons whose primary identification is in fields other than history.”

    I was interested in this note:
    “Note: Ed Wallace has never been involved with or accepted any compensation from any industry involved in energy.”
    However he writes a column and has a radio program about cars so his desire that global warming is not real is not surprising.

  8. pointer says:

    Actually, Wallace is absolutely right about this: Garbage In Garbage Out. Hid article reads as if he’s spent all his time reading WUWT — and then fact checked his blog science research against Morano.

  9. Doug Bostrom says:

    WAG says:

    “Bin Laden blasts US for climate change”

    He’s getting awfully specific. What’ll it be next, “Bin Laden Blast US for Underfunded No Child Left Behind Legislation”?

    No cave is deep enough.

  10. PSU Grad says:

    “We either find a way to counteract the kind of BS that BW and many other outlets and deniers are pushing, and then educate and activate mainstreamers, or we and future generations are screwed beyond all former meaning of “screwed”.”

    I agree, but I haven’t the first clue what that might be. The reason is that the deniers send a far more “comforting” message. It goes something like this….”There, there, absolutely nothing to worry about. Yes, there are some chicken little types screaming that we’re causing all this warming, but is it affecting you? No. And where’s their ‘science’? They’re using bad thermometers, bad hypotheses, bad methodology, all to get fat grants from the government. These (socialists/marxists/communists/atheists) are asking you to sacrifice and downsize the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed and, frankly, deserve. The temperatures got down to the teens (F) today, does that feel like global warming to you? So pay them no mind, let them yell themselves silly while you enjoy life. No need to change a thing”.

    And the climate scientists? “Here’s some medicine you need to take for an ailment you don’t think you have now or will ever have.” OK, I’m grossly simplifying things, but you get the idea.

    Which message is more attractive?

  11. GFW says:

    Lou, you’re right about the media. Ironically, BW can be surprisingly realist on economic issues. I saw many articles critical of GWB economic policy before it was fashionable. Enough that I would jokingly refer to it as “that left wing rag, Business Week” when trying to explain to someone that criticism of the Bush economy was not restricted to Noam Chomsky :-)

    But yeesh, this just shows how deep the anti-science crazy/stupid goes.

  12. #7, Lee, the link you give is to the American Historical Association, which is the main disciplinary umbrella group for academic historians. But a very casual web search did not pull up an America Historical “Society” per se.

  13. Stephen Watson says:

    “… anyone who can program a relational database knows you can alter the code to where 2 + 2 = 4.25″ – as a programmer of 23 years standing and a lot of that spent in development of applications using relational databases, that is a clearly a comment from someone who is saying nothing worth saying.

    Just for starters, if I write in ‘C’ code:

    float a;

    a = 2 + 2;

    printf(“2 + 2 = %f\n”, a);

    the value I’m going to see printed on the standard output is 4, not 4.25, given that a computer knows how to add 2 and 2. Of course I could write:

    printf(“2 + 2 = %f\n”, a + 0.25);

    … and get 4.25, but that’s just plain cheating and would be blindingly obviously to anyone who ‘peer-reviewed’ my code.

    I’m not clear where the relational database enters the picture …

  14. Chris Winter says:

    I’d bet a small amount that the organization meant is the American Truck Historical Society.

    http://www.aths.org/

  15. Jim Eager says:

    Just in case it might do some good I emailed Mr. Wallace suggesting that he might want to look up the meaning of the term “airborne fraction.”

    He replied:

    “[Knorr's] paper suggests that the airborne faction of carbon dioxide has not changed with increasing emissions, suggesting the earth has a greater capacity to absorb Co [sic] than previously thought.”

    So far so good, and then this:

    “Hence, no net gain.”

    I emailed back pointing out that “airborne fraction” does not mean what he thinks it means, spelling it out for him.

    We’ll see if I get a second reply.

  16. Doug Bostrom says:

    Well, the regular column series is titled “Wallace’s World”, after all. Truth in advertising?

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    > “…the possibility that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not risen in the past 160 years.”
    Oops.

    So, Wallace fell into the same trap as Kenneth P. Green, as seen roughly here at Tobis’s. Perhaps we should call it Knorr’s Pitfall? it does trap the rookies…

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    The real question, is what will he do when the error is brought to his attention. That’s what separates the sheep from the goats.

  19. Peter Houlihan says:

    Here is Mr. Wallace’s email adress: wheels570@sbcglobal.net

    Here is the email I sent him:

    Dear Mr. Wallace,

    I recently read two different articles. The first was your article on climate change and the second was a scientific article by Wolfgang Knorr entitled “Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing? ”

    The later paper dealt with the question of how has the fraction of anthropogenic CO2 remaining in the atmosphere versus the amount being sequestered by the oceans and plants changed over time.

    The fraction of anthropogenic CO2 absorbed by the oceans and plants has been around 60%. Some believed that this fraction would decrease. This paper found the fraction has remained relatively constant.

    What this paper did not show was that the CO2 level in the atmosphere has remained constant. It has continued to rise to this very day and has increased by about 30% in the last 150 years from about 280 ppm to 387 ppm today.

    Many in the media have misreported Knorr’s research findings and reported that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has not changed. I am afraid you repeated the same mistake.

    Knowing your reputation for high journalistic standards, I hope you will make a correction in your next piece.

  20. Perhaps “Wallace’s World” doesn’t include the entire magazine.

    In reviewing Wallace’s piece in BW, I came upon another column which deals with AGW as a given and challenges the readers to think of it as an opportunity for innovation.

    http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jun2009/id20090617_400202.htm

  21. Aaron Litwak says:

    You left out what for me was the best part: “This label is intended to shame and discredit doubters, much like 500 years ago when church officials prosecuted anyone who preached the earth was not the center of the universe.”

    True, but at least the media doesn’t have the power of ‘house arrest’ for the Galileo equivalent of doubters, nor an Inquisition to torture unto death all anti-Climate-Change heretics.

  22. A Siegel says:

    This is truly abysmal. I end my discussion (http://getenergysmartnow.com/2010/01/31/business-week-careless-about-facts-in-misrepresentation-of-climate-science/) with this:

    It is sad that Business Week is so willing to publish a commentary that is so systematically distorting of openly published and such easily available material. This leads to a basic question that any and all of the magazine’s readers consider:

    How can any of Business Week’s analysis of business and statistics and finances be trusted if such false and misleading material is published without, evidently, the slightest effort to actually do fact checking?

  23. Anna Haynes says:

    BusinessWeek was the first mainstream business/econ magazine to take climate change seriously (that I noticed, at least.)

    Peter H., did you get a response from Wallace?

  24. PurpleOzone says:

    Wallace wrote a comment on HuffPost complaining about Siegal’s article, and acknowledging his mistake about the carbon fraction:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/a-siegel/business-week-deceiving-r_b_443850.html

  25. Jim Eager says:

    Anna, I can’t speak for Peter, but I got a direct reply from Wallace to my second email, conceding that his understanding of Knorr’s “airborne fraction” paper was wrong. He has issued a retraction of sorts:

    “(This column has been corrected. A previous version cited findings by the author that misstated conclusions of a scientific report by Wolfgang Knorr of the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol. The paragraph in question has been removed. The author, while admitting the mistake, stands behind the thesis of the column.)”

  26. Jim Eager says:

    Geeze, I just got a third email from Wallace. Seems he’s pretty embarrassed about his airborne fraction gaffe. I wonder if there any other points we can get him to reconsider?

  27. Peter Houlihan says:

    He also replied to me, said it was the worst weekend he ever had. Admitted he screwed up. He promised a correction in next column.

    It is becoming clear that one of the disturbing trends in science journalism is that the journalists do not go to primary sources or seek the advice or scientists to fact check their articles.

    If they keep quoting one another it just becomes a circular cluster-muck.

    [JR: Retraction is needed for the whole piece.]

  28. Jim Eager says:

    [JR: Retraction is needed for the whole piece.]

    For sure, Joe. Now that he is paying attention, a little more open, and a little more humble, maybe we can get him to rethink the validity of some of his other points.

  29. A Siegel says:

    Wallace took the Knorr part out.

    He also commented on the HuffPost version of my post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/a-siegel/business-week-deceiving-r_b_443850.html He asserts that I have more need of a fact checker than he while proudly pasting Tom Harris’ praise of his column as a vindication of the (lack of) quality of his work.

    I can see that he has not had the courage to come comment here.