Monday, January 14, 2013

Key the extremes to their context

(via Climate Central.)

I'm not sure yet what I think of Mark Kleiman's post about how people always accept their side's arguments on a position and assume a contrary argument means the arguer is on the other team.  I'm no fan of centrism-worship, or of contrarianism-for-its-own-sake.  OTOH, a critical eye on the arguments used for our own side has some moral value.

In that sense, the 2012 record warmth in the lower 48 states, a record for 1.58% of the planet's surface for a single year, is getting overplayed.  At least, the key front and center should be context, that year after year, record highs generally exceed record lows, and that generally consistent result is significant additional support to the mountain of evidence for climate change.  What's important about 2012 in the lower 48, outside of bringing the American public mainstream a little a closer to the scientific mainstream, is how it reminds us of that context.*

Lose the context and you get big pronouncements like this from Watts Up:  "Low temperature records overwhelm highs in the USA this past week" (emphasis added).  Context may not cure foolishness, but it might help a little bit.

*One exception is if the 2012 record highs are so unprecedentedly big that natural variability couldn't ever explain them, equivalent to rolling two dice and having them come up 13.  That would be important, but I've missed any in-depth discussion of that possibility.