Models by their very nature, however, have limits and uncertainties, but they are improving over time. With more sources of real-world data, including satellite observations, the output of climate models is being continually refined to enhance their usefulness and power. Many of the incidents for which empirical evidence now exists were predicted by climate modelling – for example, Atlantic hurricanes (Chen & Lin 2011) and oscillations (Casado & Pastor 2012). Thus, models can be a reliable predictor of climate change.
It hasn’t warmed since 1988. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC – and not to be confused with the IPCC) would have the world believe that global warming ceased in 1988 (unpublished data). The NICPP’s (2009) publication, ‘Climate Change Reconsidered’, reported temperature data that indicated a dramatic incline in the warming trend in the first ten years of the 21st century, and that this had been preceded by a comparably more moderate warming trend in the preceding two decades. To assert global warming ceased in 1998, however, ignores a basic physical truth – the atmosphere and land make up only a tiny fraction of the planet’s climate. To see the wider picture of climate change, the Earth's entire heat content must be considered, and when it is it plainly demonstrates that the planet is still accumulating heat – warming has continued since 1998 (Hunt 2011; Murphy et al. 2009; Lean & Rind 2009). Based on surface temperature records, 1988 the hottest year on record but, according to Fawcett (2007), this ‘record’ needs to take into account that in the same year an unusually strong El Niño triggered heat transfer to the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean. As a result, the planet experienced higher than average surface temperatures and, since then, moderate La Niña conditions have had a cooling effect on temperatures globally (Fawcett 2007).
The Skeptical Science website was the initial source for most of the information presented in this section, ‘Wake up and smell the methane’ – both the myths and the countering scientific arguments – with peer-reviewed literature subsequently added. The Internet is awash with material about climate change and global warming. On the social media platform, much of this information can be found in blogs – both reliable and unreliable. They may take the form of accurate reporting of peer-reviewed scientific research, such as Skeptical Science, or they could be the various soapboxes of unapologetic denialists (e.g. Andrew Bolt’s Herald Sun blog). Thanks to the era of social media, almost anyone has the opportunity to express their opinion online – whether they are scientifically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In the realm of global warming and climate change, social media has become the virtual battleground between good and evil – between proper science and outright denial. Both sides appear just as convincing, but here is where the peer-review process comes to the forefront. The distinction between a ‘good blog’ and a ‘bad blog’ is quite easily determined by the calibre of evidence being presented. Social media forums may attempt to simplify the data on climate change so ordinary people can understand it, but a high quality science blog, for example, will still cite the peer-reviewed studies the author is basing his or her views on. Unreliable blogs may appear to do the same, but it only takes a little curiosity and some resourcefulness to check the references and separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
With each day that passes, science is becoming less and less of a monologue delivered to a very specific audience. According to Small (2011), ‘the days of scientists communicating only with each other, in the languages of our individual disciplines, and relying on science journalists to translate for the public, are rapidly coming to an end’. Scientists pride themselves on ‘doing meaningful, cutting-edge research and publishing it in the top-tier journals of [their] field’ (Wilcox 2012). Such publications, however, generally communication science to other scientists and most articles are only available to paying subscribers. Even those that are ‘open access’ are full of jargon, which acts as a language barrier, preventing those who wish to become more scientifically literate from understanding. Correspondingly, science has to find its place online and be actively engaged in social media forums – whether it’s critiquing research and discussing findings as per the #arseniclife example or, in the case of climate change, synthesising information and correcting falsehoods. The digital age means that scientists need to be connected with new opportunities to communicate with a wider audience. Sturgis and Allum (2004) suggested that, even though science is generally trusted and accepted, confidence can be lost when it comes to issues such as climate change; additionally, religious beliefs, personal values and the opinions of trusted people all interact with a person’s scientific understanding. ‘By connecting scientists with the rest of the world, social media is the most powerful tool available for us to shift this paradigm [and] it is an integral part of conducting and disseminating science in today’s world’ (Wilcox 2012).
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