Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/10

28

No More New Moore

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Here’s how a contributor to the Skeptic’s Dictionary defines confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.

This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established on solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.

 

And that’s a definition that brings me to the curious case of New Moore Island:

A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say. The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says there has never been a permanent settlement on the now-vanished island, which even in its heyday was never more than two metres (about six feet) above sea level. In the past, however, the territorial dispute led to visits by Indian naval vessels and the temporary deployment of a contingent from the country’s Border Security Force. “What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

 

And so the story goes – and is spread by the faithful. But, as always, adding a dose of the skepticism that ought to be an essential element of an environmentalism of doubt is called for.

 Turning to Watts Up With That (to be sure, a skeptic site) we read that such “temporary estuary islands and sandbars appear and disappear all the time worldwide. Sometimes it can take a few years, sometimes a few centuries. Note that most of the area near South Talpatti Island is only 1-3 meters above sea level anyway, which means that such low lying islands made of mud and sand are prone to the whims of tide and currents and weather.”

 Fair point, I reckon. And its importance is not that it disproves the idea that this lump of mud and sand was a victim of AGW. It doesn’t. What it does show, however, is that claims that the disappearance of New Moore can definitely be put down to climate change have to be treated with a fair degree of skepticism. And for some people that skepticism seems to have gone missing.

Well, religions are like that.

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11 comments

  • John · March 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    The fact that islands can erode to the point where they go below sea level is a well-known geological occurance. For instance, the Hawaiian islands go from younger to older as you head northwest. If you go further northwest, there are old “islands” that are below sea level, but are at much higher elevation than the nearby oceanic crust.

    It’s not all global warming.

  • outeast · March 29, 2010 at 6:48 am

    No need to go to WUWT and suchlike for a mocking refutation – try reading James Annan’s take (you know, the climate-change betting guy – so I guess a Pastor in our Church at least?).

    Chalk the media take on this up to lazy journalism in the face of a quoteable quote. And that goes for Nature, too – I’m a bit stunned that even they didn’t run the story past a working brain… though I’d expect nothing else from the Beeb et al. (As to Hazra… well, as James notes, he’s got form on this kind of laxness. I hope his oceanography is better.)

    SLR is happening, it’s an important issue, and it is likely to significantly worsen the impacts of bad land-use choices etc. over the next few decades and centuries – but the really big skyscrapers-sticking-out-of-the-sea changes will only happen over a much, much longer timeframe. And that’s canon.

    Here endeth the lesson. Amen.

  • Don · March 29, 2010 at 7:20 am

    How’s Father Watt doing with his confirmation bias that many of the U.S. weather stations have an artificial warm bias? It is his pastoral message, his Eucharist, that the observed increase in U.S. temperatures of 1.1°F over the past century is an artifact. In an outpouring of faith that would humble the witnesses at Fatima, his sheep tirelessly posted photos on his website of surface weather stations inferred to be artificially heated, stations near parking lots, window air conditioning units, building heater ducts, et cet. Each photograph was a small miracle. Together they added up, feeding belief that atmospheric temperature is doing anything—really anything— but increasing. The faithful, almost700 Wattsafarians and their apostolate, remain so resolute in their Fideism to the window air conditioner and parking lot miracles (indeed reason and their faith are hostile to each other, their faith is superior ). These photos remain religious icons to the pilgrims of denial of global warming, and Watt is their high priest. How soon until we see a poorly sited surface weather station shedding tears or reforming itself into image of Christ?
    It isn’t so strange that Watt would not analyze data suggested by this so rich subset of stations (or that he would compare their temperature records to other stations that were not poorly sited, or that he would beseech his minions to examine the temperature records of the seas, which have no air conditioner or parking lot miracles; no religious significance in phenomena that don’t imply miracles). Objectivity is for the heathen and the antichrist, take that IPCC devils! Watt simply confirmed and reconfirmed his bias on his website. His history is a Fox News celebration of faith, an endless series of narrative homilies reveling in cherry picked icons, artifacts, and cold days in the news. But evil exists! Recently, a Dr. Matthew Menne with co-authors presented a talk at the recent Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society reporting results of how Watt’s poorly sited stations, so carefully chosen as they were, actually have a cold bias! (Oh shield my ears Mother of God from this apostasy— The first commandment forbiddeth contrary evidence to our faith. The Menne et al paper is in the press at the Journal of Geophysical Research. The title is “On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record.” You can read it, http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ushcn/v2/monthly/menne-etal2010.pdf. Apparently Watt was invited to join in authorship on the paper, given that his pastoral efforts had led his sheep to find these weather stations of greatest religious significance. Not to worry, no way would he blaspheme or go in legion with the Devil and join efforts to analyze data. While the faithful will avert their eyes, do their Inhofe beads, and denounce the heresy of AGW, apostates might care to read Joe Romm on the phenomenon. Search “Menne” on his site http://climateprogress.org/

  • Tom · March 29, 2010 at 7:56 am

    There’s also the curious question of how, according to AGW, sea levels could have risen locally.

  • Clark · March 29, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Global warming tends to just have bad reporting in the press period. The stuff on the opposite side is just as bad, if not worse. (Judging from what gets put up on Drudge anyway) Let’s be honest. The Press just does a horrible job with anything scientific or technical. The current collapse of the media model means that real honest to goodness science reporters are going to become even rarer and the horrible reporting on anything science related will become worse.

  • Outeast · March 29, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Tom,

    local variarions in slr are well documented and to a large extent understood. Some variation is clear weather effects (wind etc). Some is due to changes in salinity etc (which could include indirect warming effects like glacier runoff but which would likely be dominated by weather effects). Some is illusory – due to land movement. a quick look at research suggests that the bay of bengal has seen higher-than-average slr recently but that this is likely due to factors unrelated to gw; at least, that’s my takeout from this paper

    I’m increasingly inclined to dismiss hazra as a media whore, incompetent, or crank – though it’s not my field so i could well be missing out on part of the picture.

  • Tom · March 29, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Outeast,

    I’ll have to take a look at that.

    Tom

  • Bob · March 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Local sea level variations are the object of lots of current science. Water is dense fluid that responds to gravity. The sea surface warps to follow gravitational contours of the iron earth below the sea. The gravitation of seamounts attract water and make a lump on the surface. Very deep regions in the sea have a relative deficit of gravity, and a slight trough in sea level forms above these abyssal troughs. Thus, as sea level rises owing to global warming in coming decades, the increase in level will vary by region. http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2255

  • Le Mur · March 30, 2010 at 7:31 am

    FWIW, New Moore Island (basically a sandbar) didn’t exist before 1970.

    Here’s some good (de)confirmation bias:
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/03/john-cook-skeptical-science.html

    Similar: http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/03/black-body-limits-climate-sensitivity.html

  • Le Mur · March 30, 2010 at 7:37 am

    (‘No Cookies’ + browser update = Double-post?)

    FWIW, New Moore Island didn’t exist before 1970.

    Here’s some good (de)confirmation bias:
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/03/john-cook-skeptical-science.html

    Similar: http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/03/black-body-limits-climate-sensitivity.html

  • Pangloss · March 31, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Outside the north entrance to the Atlantic Highlands Marina in Raritan Bay are the pilings that once supported a grand hotel around the time of the Civil War.

    One night, it burned down to the waterline and as that coincided with low tide, the pilings burned down to that level.

    Here is the punchline – to this day, they still make their appearance, twice a day, and in line of sight of the fanatics of Manhattan that spout the new religion of tree and animal worshipping.

    BTW, these hundreds of pilings support some of the best fluke fishing in the east – white bucktail with a killie/squid strip.

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