Arctic Ice Statistics — Al Gore Style

Memory is a funny thing.  I’m glad I watched Mr. Gore’s film again before I  published a recent post.  I had remembered the film incorrectly and I was about to put up a post that would have been wrong…but I checked…and pulled the post. I was trusting my memory…and it was almost right.

I wish Al Gore was more careful.   His cavalier approach  is ever present is his discussion of the Arctic in An Inconvenient Truth. He shows slides and makes statements that are unsupported and sometimes factually wrong. Arctic engineering blunders are blamed on warming.  The Alaska Pipeline is being damaged by warming (news to me), which would be page one news in Alaska were it true.

He really shines when he talks about the Arctic ice pack.

He begins this section of his film by talking about Nuclear subs that patrol the Arctic.  We find out that Mr. Gore got to ride in the Arctic on one of these subs (its good to be VP).  We find out that these subs can surface in the Arctic but only where the ice is less than three and a half feet thick.  Because of this, they keep meticulous records of the ice. We learn that Mr. Gore went to the Arctic to get these records released, and after some serious arm twisting by Mr. Gore, the records were released.

We get to see data and the strangeness begins.

The data presented starts in 1900 and goes to 2005.  Nuclear subs, meticulous data in 1900?  The first Nuclear sub built in the world, the Nautilus, was completed in 1953 and made it’s first trip under the Arctic ice in 1958.  Any data before 1958 was not submarine data.

Let’s think about this a bit more.  The Arctic is one and a half times the size of the USA…and he is predicting ice by using sonar records from subs.   That record has to be spotty and intermittent.  The subs didn’t map the Arctic, they patrolled it.  This would be like driving I-70 across America and then predicting rain totals in San Diego using the I-70 data.

The shape of the record shown began dropping off in the 1970’s which also happens to be the time when Satellite mapping of the area began.  Call me crazy, but I suspect the data before the 1970’s was crap and I suspect submarines had very little to do with it.

The submarine story was interesting and entertaining…and he had good pictures too…but it had very little to do with the data being presented.  Mr. Gore is all about personalizing the story, setting an emotional hook, getting you to connect on an emotional level, and he likes to talk about himself.

And then things get really strange.

The title of the chart shown by Mr. Gore: Sea-ice extent has dropped by 1.5 million square km since 1970.  The chart shows the ice pack spent much of the 20th century between 13 and 14 million square kilometers.  And then Al Gore says the following….with the chart right behind him on the screen.

Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40% in 40 years.

40% in 40 years.  Come on Al.  1.5/13.5 = 11%, not 40.   And it took 35 years not 40.  Data Al Gore chose to present says 11% in 35 years.  He prepared the slide…and probably titled it too.   My last post was about Arctic Ice, and showed a 2.6% decline per decade, which is consistent with the 11% number. And my data is easy to get, no trip to the Arctic on a sub needed.  What’s going on?

I have a theory.  Mr. Gore is a politician, not a scientist.  As a politician, he is tuned into sound bites and connecting with his audience.  40 percent in 40 years is catchy and sounds good too. And it’s easy to remember.  He used it because he liked the way is sounded.

All throughout the film Mr. Gore personalizes the story.  He did this, visited that, we get to see his slides. He clearly is emotionally attached to the subject and he’s trying to get you attached too.  He is a skilled and experienced politician, but he is not a scientist. Perhaps that is why he does and says things that don’t match his documentation…perhaps he simply isn’t paying attention.  I suspect he is more focused on engaging the audience than presenting factual information.

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2 responses to “Arctic Ice Statistics — Al Gore Style

  1. This writing has inspired me to start working on my own blog

  2. I like your useful post. awesome contribution. I hope you write others. I will carry on watching

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