Thursday, January 31, 2013

The math behind climate change: Part 1

For the past few months since the election, I've been looking for a math project to work on until election prediction becomes a useful thing again. I've decided to take a shot at looking at climate data.

Does this make me a climate skeptic? Why don't I just accept the consensus of professionals?

Politically, I have more in common with the people who accept climate change than I do with those who doubt it or flat-out deny it. What I really want to do is make a set of rules I want both sides to follow. My system is still evolving, but I think I have it defined well enough to start explaining my methods and publishing my results.

To begin with, I'd like to thank the folks at Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature for creating the most complete database of temperature readings available to the public. Richard Muller founded the project with money supplied by the Koch Brothers, who have funded a lot of projects whose goal is to downplay climate change or deny it outright. Muller is a physicist at Cal and was considered a skeptic when he took their money. In point of fact, his skepticism was based on the fact that he is a physicist and the people doing climate science aren't. Physicists think they understand math better than people in other fields do, and they often are right.

When Muller finally published, he was no long skeptical about the numbers. Many people in the denialist community promised they would abide by whatever Muller found, but few have changed their minds.

Okay, why am I making this my new hobby?

I saw Muller speak last year and what interested me most was the database. I wanted to see if I could come up with a simple way to look at the patterns of change over time in regions. Everyone agrees that not all parts of the globe are changing at the same rate. My not very modest goal is to get rid of cherry picking in every case possible. The examples of cherry picking on the denialist side are legion, but both climate scientists and the press who accept global warming are also guilty of presenting the data in the best possible light, sometimes arriving at completely unsupportable conclusions. I want to make a set of rules for what defines a reasonable time period, most especially years that can start and end such periods, and a reasonable way to look at trends.

My software lets me look at any region that can be defined by a high and low longitude and a high and low latitude. (This means circles or arcs of circles if the North or South Pole are included, and rectangles on Mercator projections, which look more like slices of rings when mapped in any area preserving projection system.)

I will be explaining the system over the next several posts and will present my findings once I have defined the rules.

I will end each post on this topic with my motto.

Death to cherry picking and woe to cherry pickers.

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