It's not enough to bash in heads, you have to bash in minds

Global warming proved false by a 4th grader

It’s over. Global warming has been torn to shreds. Utterly disproven. But by who?

It has to be someone who hasn’t yet been corrupted by the overwhelming evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming, so that excludes most people outside the denialism community. But having global warming disproven by a denialist isn’t that exciting. It happens at least once a week.

So why are deniers so exited this time around?  Simple because this time around global warming was shown to be a crock by someone who cannot be ignored.

A 4th grader, named Julisa Raquel Castillo!

That’s right deniers are jumping over themselves because global warming was questioned by a 4th grader. Throw out the decades of research done by thousands of brilliant scientists because a 4th grader says it is all wrong.

Take that Science!

These are her conclusions:

  • temperatures rose and fell from 1900 to 1950.
  • temperatures in Beeville cooled down over a 20-year period beginning in 1955 and ending in 1975.
  • Since 2001, temperatures in Beeville have grown cooler year after year.

I have to admit, that is impressive for a 4th grader, and maybe she did deserved to win the science fair. But to think that an entire discipline of science can be overturned by a 4th grader’s science experiment betrays the irrationality of the denier movement.

Look at her conclusions. They don’t tell us anything new. We know with a good deal of certainty what happened to global temperatures between 1900 and 1950 (there existed a warming trend). I am not sure what happened locally in Beeville from 1955 and 1975, but that period broadly coincides with the mid-century cooling, thought to be caused mostly by aerosols, and well replicated in computer models. Again since 2001 I don’t know what happened to local temperatures in Beeville, but even if there has been cooling it doesn’t do anything to disprove global warming.

First of all trying to disprove global warming by using local trends is nonsensical. And any trend since 2001 (especially a local trend, but even a global trend) is too short a period of time to determine anything about climate change. And keep in mind that the 2000s was the warmest decade on record. The global record does not agree with the local record in Beeville, as presented Castillo, which highlights the foolishness of using it to draw conclusions about the global trend.

The bottom line is that a 4th grader’s science fair project is not a challenge to the established science of global warming. Climatology is a complex science, and a 4th grader simply doesn’t yet have the capacity to truly understand it. That deniers are promoting this shows how desperate they have become.

Nothing but grasping at straws.

UPDATE: And it looks like this story is fake:

there are no links back to the “National Science Fair” to verify the results. When I Google “National Science Fair,” I get the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2010. And when I check the finalist list, there is no one with the name of Julisa Castillo, or anything close…

The original source appears to be a newspaper in South Texas, which published a preliminary article on the project a few months ago. But as for the claim of winning the junior division, where are all the other newspapers in Texas, which would presumably jump on a story like this? All that I can see is we have a few blogs copying the same information. And the article about Castillo winning the junior division carried no byline. That’s very unusual for news articles. Who wrote this?

When you see a story making a startling claim, with few sources or only one, and no links or means to verify the claim, be extremely skeptical.

The project looks real enough, but the story of her winning the National Science fair looks to be bogus.

UPDATE 2: Michael Tobis has received word from the Reporter who first published the story:

I did speak with a representative from NSF who confirmed that they do not have a National Science Fair, no one there had ever seen the letter, and I also called space camp, who told me that they did not receive anything from NSF either.

And the NSF that the letter sent to Castillo declaring her the junior grand champion was fraudulent:

Dear Michael,

Linda Slakey forwarded your message to me. We became aware of this
yesterday through an article in the Beeville, TX newspaper, and have
referred this matter to our Office of Inspector General.

The letter is not authentic, Linda had no knowledge of it, and it
amounts to fraudulent use of our name and logo.

We appreciate your concern about it.

Regards, Maria

Maria Zacharias
Acting Head of Media and Public Information
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230
Fax: 703-292-9087

Which of course begs the question “What sort of person would manipulate the emotions and expectations of a ten-year-old girl in this vile and crass way for a small political point?”

UPDATE 3: The answer to the question is unfortunately the girls father. He has admitted to being behind the hoax.

More interesting is the chart produced by Zeke Hausfather‘ that demonstrates how this lie spread around the internet:

Click to embiggen

I do have to mention that in some versions of the chart, my site is not labelled as being sceptical of the story. I am not sure which version is the most recent.  But I think it is fair to label my post not initialy sceptical. Despite that fact that I was aware of some initial suspicions from people who know more about American science fairs than I do, I went ahead and wrote about this regardless.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know.

But the focus of my post was different than most. I didn’t really care whether or not this story was true, I was more interested in the fact that even if it was true, it still made no sense for people who claim to be interested in promoting sound science (as deniers claim to be) to promote this. What does a 4tth grade science fair project have to do with the scientific case for global warming?

Nothing of course. Those who were promoting this were doing so for political, not scientific reasons.

13 Responses to Global warming proved false by a 4th grader

  1. “I don’t know what happened to local temperatures in Beeville, but even if there has been cooling it doesn’t do anything to disprove global warming.”

    Wrong – it proves the warming isn’t “global”.

  2. not to bog her parents, but she’s not old enogh to have personal experience on climate, this takes at least 15 years (50% of the standard climate reference period). No doubt she’s a good fact checker.

  3. @ 4TimesAYear

    No it does not. What is meant by global warming, is that the global average temperature is increasing (actually it means more than that, but lets keep things simple). The fact that Beeville hasn’t warmed since 2001 doesn’t speak to the global trend.

    Also Since 2001 is too short a time period to determine climate trends. The signal of global warming is small compared with the noise of weather. It takes time, more than a decade, for the signal to emerge from the noise. Click on the links in the post, to see this explained further.

    @ anonymous

    One doesn’t have personal experience with climate change in order to speak about whether or not it is happening. In fact global warming was predicted well before it was experienced by anyone.

    Of course that doesn’t change the fact that a 4th grader (who presumably has never taken calculus, statistics, or fluid mechanics) is completely unable to mount a serious challenge to the established science.

  4. There were a number of “skeptical” websites — a couple of major ones — that bought into this hoax — including: ClimateDepot, ClimateRealists, TomNelson, Co2insanity, ClimateChangeFraud, GlobalWarmingHoax, NewsFromPlanetEarth. In particular — given a somewhat longer list of blogs that were involved — Tom Nelson seems to have done more than his share giving this story legs.

    Reminds me of an earlier hoax:

    Bacteria to blame for global warming?
    Nifty little hoax doing the rounds
    By Lucy Sherriff, 9th November 2007 11:55 GMT

    It was about a “paper” entitled “Carbon dioxide production by benthic bacteria: the death of manmade global warming theory?” that appeared as the only article available online in a journal that never existed. You can read a little more about it here:

    “The death of global warming” – spoof puts the fun back into lying about science
    7 November 07

    That one had Benny Peiser fooled. In fact it was his AGW “skeptic” email list that really got it going — with a post by him. Rush Limbaugh was briefly involved, too. And Reason Magazine had up an article about it.

    But this hoax showed up on Climate Depot. That’s Marc Morano.

  5. “Grasping at straws” doesn’t begin to cover the desperation of the antiscience crowd, does it?
    Anyway, just read this. Balbulican asks a very pertinent question and the comments are pretty cool too.

  6. Another oddity is that 2009 was the hottest year on record in south Texas, so the claim of cooling “year after year” would be obviously false to Beeville residents.

    Beeville is just north of this map

    and just south of this one:

    This may go some way to explaining why the project did not place in the top five in 4th grade at a small elementary school.

  7. > The father

    What a piece of work. Look at the credentials he made up, and his reply: “… for the record, I am resuming my studies with my master’s program at Berklee this summer …” Castillo said in that e-mail. “I apologize to anyone who feels that they have been misled.”

    So, there’s a mail-order-degree company named “Berklee” out there?

  8. the article should be titled ‘global warming proved false by a fourth grader proved false by a journalist’.

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