One of the hot-button environmental issues is Global Warming. While some people argue we must be more specific and refer to “anthropogenic Global Warming,” I do not do so. Not because I think humans are not affecting the environment in any way, but because I think it is scientifically impossible to accurately measure the temperature and compare it to historical trends in the first place. And if it is scientifically impossible to do so, then all Global Warming (anthropogenic or natural) is unscientific.
In order to demonstrate the scientific problems with Global Warming, we must first understand a bit of how scientific experiments work. The two key concepts will be our understanding of precision and accuracy. Without these two ideas firmly in place, we cannot even begin to weigh the evidence presented for Global Warming.
While precision and accuracy are often thought of as being identical concepts, in science there is a specific difference between the two. Precision refers to the level of certainty an instrument gives us. For example, if we measure time using an analogue clock with no second-hand, the clock is precise to the minute. That is, we can tell that it is 10:58. But we do not know if it is 10:58:03 or 10:58:57. On the other hand, we could have a clock with a second hand that would be more precise because it would illustrate the seconds. Furthermore, we could have a digital clock that would be able to give us fractions of a second as well.
However, at some point the precision ends. We might be able to use a stopwatch to calculate that something took 10.874 seconds, but we wouldn’t know if it was 10.8744 or 10.8740 or (possibly, depending on the specs of the stopwatch) if it was 10.8739 and rounded.
To tell how precise an instrument is we need to know how many decimal points the measurement goes to. The more numbers after a decimal point, the more precise the measurement is. As a result, 10 seconds is not as precise as 10.0 seconds (since 10 seconds could be rounded from 10.3 or 9.7, etc. while 10.0 could only be rounded from, say 10.03) and 10.000 would be even more precise.
In addition to precision, however, we must take into account the accuracy of the instrument. A stopwatch might give us a precise measurement down to the eighth decimal point (for example), but if the stopwatch is inaccurate then that precision is illusionary. For example, if two stopwatches measure the same amount of time and one says 10.000 seconds passed while another says 9.989 seconds passed, we would know that one (or both) are inaccurate instruments. There is, however, basic general agreement between the two instruments. We would be safe to say they were approximately similar, but we would need to give an error range in order to remain scientific. (And it should be noted that any scientific experiment that does not give you its error range is worthless.)
In addition to instrument accuracy we have to deal with human error. Sometimes, people misread instruments or write down the wrong number. Further, as we again use the stopwatch illustration, we have to deal with the lag between when the event being measured starts and when the experiment observer presses the button to begin the clock. This reaction delay must be figured into the experiments as well.
All that is fine and well, but what does it have to do with Global Warming? Well, first of all we know that Global Warming claims a specific temperature change over the course of the last century. For example, global temperatures are said to have risen about 0.6 degree Celsius since 1900. The problem with this is that our thermometers are far more precise today than they were in 1900 as the advancement of technology continues. Beyond that, we do not know how accurate the experimenters in 1900 were per say, or where exactly their thermometers were placed, or a host of other possible important factors to the experiment.
This is important for the simple fact that 0.6 degrees Celsius is a very small number. In fact, when you consider that most historical weather reports give temperatures in whole numbers (i.e., “On April 4, 1907, the high temperature was 68 degrees F”) this means the recorded temperature is not very precise at all.
This immediately brings us back to an important rule of precision. An experiment is only as precise as the least precise measurement used. For example, suppose you were trying to determine the volume of a cube. We know that volume is length x width x height. If we measure the length as 10.0 meters, the width as 5 meters, and the height as 14.973 meters, we multiply those numbers together to get 748.65 meters cubed. However, since the width is a whole number variable, the precision of the experiment can only be a whole number! We cannot have any decimal portion at all, so the true, scientific volume of the cube is 749 cubic meters. Due to this, the extra precision that we got measuring the height is irrelevant to the final answer. It can only be as precise as the least precise measurement.
Which means that if temperatures at any point in the data are in only whole number increments, we cannot have a temperature change of 0.6 degrees. The precision of the answer is more precise than the data given; it is invalid.
Now someone could argue that it doesn’t matter because the 0.6 degrees is in Celsius rather than in Fahrenheit, which is what virtually all of at least the earliest American data was measured in. However, this brings up another matter. The Fahrenheit scale is inherently more precise than the Celsius scale because the degrees are finer. That is, between freezing and boiling there are only 100 degrees on the Celsius scale, but there are 180 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. This means that measuring in degrees F is 1.8x more precise than measuring in C. To show why this is a problem, both 87 and 88 degrees F round to 31 C. In fact, assuming infinite precision, 87F = 30.555…C and 88F = 31.111…C, a difference of 0.555…. Or, to put it another way, about 0.6 degrees C.
This means that virtually all of the touted Global Warming temperature difference could possibly be nothing more than just the imprecision of conversion between C and F.
But there is another problem with the methodology used to calculate Global Warming. It’s based on average data. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a report that indicates how the averages are determined. I’ve even emailed specific people who have written on the topic and gotten no response. Granted, I am pretty much unknown; still, this information is necessary for us to be able to make an informed decision as to the veracity of Global Warming.
Let me give an example of what that is the case. If the average is simply the average between the highest temperature of the day and the lowest temperature of the day, two radically different days can give the same average result. For instance, if the high was 80 degrees and the low was 40 degrees, the average would be 60. But the average would also be 60 degrees if the high was 120 and the low was 0. Granted, that is a rather extreme (and unlikely) example; but more realistically, 82H and 38L also average out to 60.
But beyond that, there are even more problems. Two days with identical highs and lows can themselves be radically different once you factor in the temperatures throughout the day. For example, suppose the high and the low occur within a 6 hour range and the two days look like this.
Day 1: hour temperatures from 6 – noon = 40, 50, 55, 60, 70, 80
Day 2: hour temperatures from 6 – noon = 40, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80
(The second day had cloud cover that kept the cooler temperatures in the morning, but once the clouds burned off the heat increased.)
The average (keeping the precision of the “experiment” above) of all the numbers for Day 1 = 59 degrees. The average for Day 2 = 57 degrees. That’s 2 degrees F different, more than 1 whole degree C too…and neither of those matches the 60 degree average between the high and the low alone.
While those numbers are arbitrary, they are not unlikely numbers at all. Indeed, it is very probable that the cloud cover effect could happen in the morning while the afternoon temperatures remain similar.
It is therefore critically important that we know how the averages are calculated. Indeed, another possible way that averages are collected is by simply taking the high temperature for the date and averaging it out for every other year for that same date. I.e., saying “The average high temperature on June 7 is 87 degrees.” In addition to not accurately representing how hot a day actually is (given the above, since two days with the same high can have radically different average temperatures when you break the day down hour-by-hour), we are also left with the fact that averaging on a daily basis ignores an important calendar phenomenon.
Yup, that pesky leap year thing throws off our precision because comparing June 7 of this year to June 7 of last year is not a precise comparison. The Earth is not in exactly the same place as it was that time last year (of course this also ignores the rotation of the solar system, etc. which probably would affect temperature well below the precision our instruments can detect anyway). In fact, it is possible that June 7 of this year is more likely correlated to June 6 of three years ago than June 7 of last year. As a result, “record highs for this date” are also pretty much pointless. They’re okay for giving a general idea of the weather, but they play havoc with trying to maintain any kind of precision on temperatures.
Unfortunately, I do not know which method scientists actually use to try to determine the average temperatures and to come up with their number of 0.6 degrees C. As I stated earlier, no one that I’ve e-mailed about this topic has ever bothered to answer my question. In order to make an informed decision, we must know this.
But even not knowing the actual method used, the methods I’ve shown above would be unable to provide any precise data for the past 100 years. And I do not see how any other method of determining this number could work. As a result, I have no reason to believe in Global Warming at all, let alone anthropogenic Global Warming. Scientists must provide the details of their experiments, the details of how they determined these averages, the error bars for the temperatures collected at the beginning of the 20th Century, etc. before we can even hope to accept it as a theory. Anything less than this disclosure renders Global Warming as unscientific.