Summer of the Shark, Global Warming Edition

My new column is up, comparing coverage of this summer's heat wave to "Summer of the Shark"

Before I discuss the 2012 global warming version of this process, let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark."  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

This summer we have been absolutely bombarded with stories about the summer heat wave in the United States.  The constant drumbeat of this coverage is being jumped on by many as evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming....

What the Summer of the Shark needed, and what this summer’s US heatwave needs, is a little context.  Specifically, if we are going to talk about supposed “trends”, then we should look at the data series in question over time.  So let’s do so.

I go on to present a number of data series on temperatures, temperature maximums, droughts, and fires.   Enjoy.


  1. Reformed Republican:

    The best part is how the same people who cite the heat as evidence of a trend were quick to disregard the abnormally cold winter as being an outlier.

  2. Jerome A.:

    In light of all the news about the Penn State cover up of Sandusky and what he did, I wonder how long it will be before people demand another review of Michael Mann's ClimateGate activities. Probably another coverup?

  3. MingoV:

    I just commented at EconLog where the blog post blithely assumes that we're experiencing anthropogenic global warming. Their debate is about whether the net economic impacts of global warming will be positive or negative.

    This shows that global warming skeptics have gained very little ground despite the revelations of fraud, misrepresentations and misuse of climate data, deliberately biased climate models, etc.

  4. me:

    @Reformed Republican:

    Using the abnormally cold winter as a datapoint favoring "global warming" is actually legitimate (never mind that there is the entirely separate question of wether or not there is such a thing and wether or not changes are beneficial or detrimental if there are any).

    The term global warming describes the impact of human caused climate change. Warming in this sense is a general uptick in world average temperature, leading to changes in local climate patterns (ie hotter summers, but also colder winters, changes in preciptation etc.)

    Note that such changes might well be beneficial (I recall large scale fearmongering about an imminent ice age from my youth - if there was such a thing, warming would be very desirable). Alternatively, runaway greenhouse effects would be catastropic. Given that (just like in economics), there is really little science in global climate science (how would you run a double blind experiment with the one planet we've got?), you've got a lot of folks who point out that there is not enough evidence and a lot who are mortally afraid that doom is nigh.

  5. Russ R.:

    Worse than asserting a worsening trend from a single data point, alarmists argue that it shows "more extreme weather".

    I want to know how many observations it takes to develop a reliable measure of variance in weather patterns, and how one additional event could be taken as evidence that the variability of the system has permanently changed.

  6. a_random_guy:

    As I've also posted in numerous places: if you look at the rest of the world, lots of places are having cool, rainy summers. Assuming that what *we* see in *our* backyards represents the whole world is pretty idiotic. Plus, of course, it's only one summer.

    Since you single out New Mexico: I grew up there, and I remember some absolutely blistering summers. When you're in the middle of one, yes, it is pretty attention getting. But they happen now and again. Also, when you have annual precipitation under 10 inches that tends to arrive in deluges, you can be way behind - OMG drought - and a month later way ahead. Being behind by 40% at this point in the year is not unusual.

    You analogy to the summer of the shark is particularly good: what is it with the media, that practically all of the major news organizations choose the same theme to harp on? Is there no original thought? Are they all dumb robots following some central direction? If you think about it, it is really pretty frightening that essentially all of the news organizations of an entire country regularly go off the rails together.

  7. marco73:

    Our local Florida TV weather broadcasters were all worked up about how there were 4 named Atlantic tropical systems so far this hurricane season; the most names storms in June since NOAA started naming storms in 1950! Why, 2012 could be the year of the hurricane!

    Yeah, satellites picked up some low pressure systems that spun up enough to get a name, but really didn't affect anyone. Only TS Debby dropped some serious rain on Central Florida, and we've had some localized flooding, power outages, and trees down. Yawn.

    Back in 1992, there were no named storms until September, when Andrew came in and smacked Miami around and flattened Homestead. Twenty years later, there are still places in South Florida that have not been rebuilt and have returned to swamp.

  8. One Greeeen Duuude, Expert AGW Proponents-R-Us:

    >>>> Is this really how we conduct science — something is unprecedented if people don’t have a memory of when it happened before?

    Hey, hey, hey, We got an AGENDA, man!!

    Don't harsh our mellow with your lousy, steeenkin' hatin' hater facts!!

  9. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>> Twenty years later, there are still places in South Florida that have not been rebuilt and have returned to swamp.

    True, marco, but in Florida, that IS the natural order of things :-D

  10. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>>> This shows that global warming skeptics have gained very little ground despite the revelations of fraud, misrepresentations and misuse of climate data, deliberately biased climate models, etc.

    The amount of general public doubt is much, much higher than 5-10 years ago. The people can see for themselves. It's one of the reasons they try and hype the ever-loving f**k out of any single event or disaster -- it puts a much more visible thing up against "vaguer" things like evidence of wrongdoing, things that happened over the last 2-3 years, and so forth.

    They can't win on facts, they have to win by appeal to emotion.

    And they damned well know it.

  11. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>> (how would you run a double blind experiment with the one planet we’ve got?)

    I will happily blind a couple people like Mann and Hansen, if that had any chance of shutting their lying two-bit charlatan asses the f*** up.

    I think that would be a great double-blind experiment. :^D

  12. Hasdrubal:

    a_random_guy: I had a great example for pointing out the rest of the world this winter. Minnesota had an unusually warm winter and an acquaintance brought up global warming. It was perfect timing, since a friend in Israel had just posted a picture of Tel Aviv with snow accumulating to Facebook. Local weather != global climate.

  13. Mark2:

    @ME I can't believe how many scares I had to put up with in my life, many which have been proven to be wrong, most of which have been overblown.

    In 5th grade ~1978 my teacher was telling us all we probably would not make it though high school because we would all die in a nuke war, and if we didn't actually die from the bombs Carl Sagan assured us the Nuclear Winter would kill us afterwards. Which was OK because we would run out of oil in 1991 if the nuke war didn't happen anyway. We had the global cooling scare, as well as the Ozone layer scare, Dioxin scare, the Alar scare, the Breast implant scare, Mercury filling scare the global warming scare of course, Asbestos scare (There was no need to take it out of our school walls) And of course Just 5 years ago we were still hearing about the running out of Natural Gas, right about now in fact - Better get a few bottles. Now we have the BPA scare and scares about "estrogens" entering the water.

    There are many more this is just off the top of my head - the sad part is in most cases lots of productivity, and lots of money was wasted. And none of the doomier ones seems to have stood up.

  14. Mark2:

    Ooh ooh, thimerosal scare, H1N1 pandemic scare, The H1N1 flu shot scare,

    It would be fun if we devoted some space here to all the scares we can think of.

  15. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and CRIS Diagnostic Expert:

    And, strangely enough, all too few appear to be scared of the one thing they really really REALLY **should** be very scared of: a second term Obama.

  16. IGotBupkis -- "Faecies Evenio", Mr. Holder?:

    Yah, Mark, and the funny thing is how many people are old enough to recall all those things but don't seem to have any capacity to process the endless nature of them.

    I (repeat my) claim: The defining hallmark of the Liberal mind is its almost absolute lack of any capacity to learn from experience. Liberals can be IQ-smart as hell -- look at Noam Chomsky -- but when it comes to wisdom -- "learning from life" -- they are almost uniformly congenital idiots.

  17. IGotBupkis -- "Faecies Evenio", Mr. Holder?:

    BTW, being too young, per se, this actually all started more than 15 years earlier than your teacher.

    The DDT scare ("Silent Spring"), The Club of Rome (overpopulation and resource depletion), Ralph Nader ("Unsafe at any speed" -- detailing a set of problems in a car that had already been addressed and had caused harm to people numbering in the double digits at that point, despite hundreds of thousands of cars sold), and, shortly thereafter, Paul Ehrlich again pushing the Club of Rome schtick even harder (you want some REAL HOWLERS, try looking into his utterly ludicrous assertions -- "England will not exist in 1990" or something like that... "Cannibalism will occur in a US city" yeesh...)

    "Either the world is a better place for your having been in it, or it is not".
    For the Boomers, unfortunately, the answer is, mostly, "Not!!"
    The degradation of Science, Art, Political Discourse, and a whole host of other things that can be laid directly at their feet is undeniable. Even their record on Race relations, Gender relations, and Ecology, which started out not badly, have all segued into extremism, irrationality, and an almost total negative effect on society and the world around us.

  18. Mark2:

    @Igotbukbis. I can not believe I forgot about the overpopulation scare and how the good folk at the UN were paying to sterilize women in Africa, and how the China Policy was good and what we would need to do.

    What I can not believe is how these teachers could teach such left wing tripe as facts and get away with it. I guess growing up near San Francisco, there was no hope.

  19. Sam L.:

    And Alar. Oh Good Lord in Heaven, ALAR!!!!!111!!!11!

    And the media wonder why their readership/viewership is diminishing, and why people don't seem to trust them much now.

  20. mysterian:

    > It’s simply amazing to me how many otherwise
    > smart people attempt to prove a trend with
    > one data point.
    Doctors are especially good at this as anyone who has their blood lipids checked every six months or so knows. I wish there were a blood lipid equivalent for the A1c measurement.

  21. Rocky:

    You hit the nail on the head. This is why I am extremely skeptical of the man made global warming scam. The longer one lives the more crap one can recall the "experts" harping on about the next disaster that is certain to do us all in. The willing accomplices in media regurgitate this tripe without checking the facts because the "experts" said so. The general public is stupid with very short memories, so they suck this junk right up because it was on TV and "experts" said it would happen. I would love to see these "experts" go to jail for getting it wrong and just maybe they would think twice before spewing their theories to the media.

  22. Ted Rado:

    One can easily derive an equation (Fourier series, for example) that fits the old data perfectly. That says nothing about how well future data will fit that old equation. This seems to be happening repeatedly with the AGW models. They modify the old model to fit the new data. Then additional data again does not fit, so modify the model once again. Oh well. It keeps people busy.

  23. Zachriel:

    Warren Meyer: Is this really how we conduct science — something is unprecedented if people don’t have a memory of when it happened before?

    No, that's how public discussion may occur, but scientists use statistical analysis. A simple measure is the ratio of hot vs. cold record temperatures.

  24. me:

    Yeah, the advantage of fearmongering, of course, is that it keeps the populace occupied and allows our august leaders to convert more tax dollars into donations to friends and family... always has been, always will be.