Monday, February 26, 2007

A Convenient Review

An Oscar bump for this one. Originally published on 1-23-07:

Oscar nominations were announced this morning. As expected Al Gore's slide show movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is nominated in the Best Documentary category. Expect much caterwauling from the usual suspects about another "Michael Moore" moment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I finally watched the movie yesterday. Given my predilection for science subjects, particularly weather related, my reticence to watch the year's global warming "blockbuster" may surprise you. However, my gut refused to bypass the feeling that science and politics, although at times a necessary evil partnership, do not mix well. A description of a non-scientist spending 90 minutes using a slide show in an attempt to distill a complex idea to palatability brought visions of creationist abomination Ken Hovind.

Also, the clips I viewed seemed overwrought. My impression being Gore had gone for the easy sell; conflating individual disasters into evidence of a global problem. Science is not easy. Understanding weather is like plowing the ocean. I begin to claw my eyes when people use Katrina as evidence of global warming. They are both right and wrong, but miss the point.

As anyone who follows Creation/Evolution battles knows, a warrior for the right and good has to be a paladin not a politician. There can be no gray. There can be no vagaries. There can be no right and wrong. You must be pure and true in your quest. Since your enemies will use every stumble as a new flank for attack, you must give them no room for maneuver.

Following 2005's collossal hurricane season those with just enough knowledge to be dangerous screamed that the record number of hurricanes resulted from global warming. Many including myself cringed. What would happen we thought if 2006 was a fizzle? Hurricanes are the epitome of vagary in action. What little we do know about the formation of hurricanes is they are a delicate combination of multiple factors which must be stirred into a near-perfect witches brew. As is now known, the witches brew never bubbled the following year and the global warming doubters exploited the cries of the chicken littles to seed more doubt.

Predicting hurricane frequency is akin to reading the bones. Predicting strength not so much. It's a fairly simple formula. Hot water combined with little wind shear creates monsters. While the media obsessed with the ever increasing numbers of hurricanes in 2005, hard core weather observers noted the Gulf of Mexico reaching its hottest surface temperatures in decades. It was apparent that any storm reaching this boiling pot of water would explode. The frequency only made it more likely it would occur. Thus Rita, Wilma and of course Katrina.

Gore does slip into the mistake of exploiting Katrina but more about that later.

"I see obstacles to understanding and I want to find ways to overcome those obstacles." ~Al Gore

If "An Inconvenient Truth" were merely the story of a charisma-challenged politician driven into the wilderness by circumstance then returning with near messianic power of persuasion it would be compelling. But without the science it would be hollow; a confection, tasty with no sustain. The penultimate compliment I can pay the film is the science is there. The ultimate compliment is Gore changed my mind.

Science is about evidence. Sometimes evidence leads you in a certain direction. Sometimes it skews you off the road like ice in winter. But if you can amass enough compelling evidence in a particular direction you will at least know you are on the right road. Gore presents a mountain of evidence. Evidence that despite certain criticisms has been verified by a consensus of scientists. My fear that Gore would cobble together a patchwork of anecdotal evidence that could easily be attacked has been allayed. Instead, he presented wave after wave of compelling anecdotal and empirical evidence; never leaving a flank unprotected.

It was a Gore most had never seen. A Gore his supporters wish they had seen in 2000.

And about Katrina. Gore is no scientist but like any good scientist he understands the importance of an addendum. In the special features of the DVD Gore notes that new data reported after filming leaves the correlation of frequency of hurricanes and global warming still unknown. However, he quickly points out the correlation between water temperature, hurricane intensity and global warming has little question.

Gore understands that science is not dogma. Science is about admitting you do not know everything. Most importantly, science is processing all evidence. Not just evidence that is convenient.

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