How to Pick a Cherry

February 7, 2011

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt is a former Apollo astronaut, a far right wingnut, and a Tea Party darling. This makes him a perfect tool for the climate denial industry.

Skeptical Science explains:

In 2009, former astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt submitted a white paper to NASA, Observations Necessary for Useful Global Climate Models. In this paper, Schmitt crams in an impressive number of skeptic arguments – including the argument that we’re currently experiencing cooling:

“How long this cooling trend will persist remains to be seen; however, Greenland glaciers have been advancing since 2006, Artic [sic] sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage, and snowy, cold winters and cool summers have dominated northern North America and Europe”

I’m having trouble getting past the brazenness of using Greenland as evidence of cooling, considering over the last few years, Greenland has been losing over 200 billion tonnes of ice per year. But for now, let’s look at Schmitt’s argument that Arctic (we’ll spell it correctly) sea ice had recovered in 2009. Over 1989, the average sea ice extent was 12.14 million square kilometres. In 2009, the average sea ice extent had fallen to 11.18 million square kilometres. Sea ice coverage was nearly 1 million square kilometres greater in 1989 compared to 2009. How can Schmitt claim sea ice returned to 1989 levels? The Heartland Institute leapt to his defence:

“In fact, National Snow and Ice Data Center records show conclusively that in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels.”

So they’re comparing one month in 1989 to another month in 2009. Of all the measurements and data available, what they’re looking at is this:

Figure 1: Arctic sea ice extent in April 1989 and April 2009 (NSIDC).

Is this giving you the full picture? There’s a lot more to the story than two cherry-picked months. Over the last few decades, Arctic sea ice has shown a steady decline, particularly in summer months when sea ice extent is at a minimum.

Figure 2: Arctic sea ice extent (light blue is monthly and dark blue is the yearly average) from 1978 to 2010 (NSIDC).

Of course sea ice extent only tells you what’s happening on the surface. More importantly, Arctic sea ice has been steadily thinning over the last few decades so the total amount of sea ice is declining. Satellites find that Arctic sea ice was thinning, even in 2008 and 2009 when sea ice extent showed a slight recovery from the 2007 minimum (Giles 2008Kwok 2009). The total volume of Arctic Sea ice through 2008 and 2009 were the lowest on record (Maslowski 2010,Tschudi 2010).

Figure 3: Continuously updated Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly (Polar Ice Center).

To claim Arctic sea ice has recovered in recent years is false. It fails to take into account the overall declining trend in Arctic sea ice extent and more importantly, the fact that the total amount of Arctic sea ice in recent years have been the lowest on record.

Dr. Peter Gleick expanded on the blatant cherry pick with his recent HuffingtonPost piece, which includes this clarifying graph:

Schmitt’s recent appointment by an anti-science Republican to a high post in the New Mexico state government has added a twist to the story. For more, see here:

Desmog Blog

Prof Mandia

NOAA Arctic Report Card

The Carbon Brief

I posted 2 videos on sea ice extent this past fall – here they are:

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11 Responses to “How to Pick a Cherry”


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by pcnenvironment, Darla White. Darla White said: How to Pick a Cherry: http://t.co/aiwpYk8 [...]

  2. rpauli Says:

    “Cherry Pick” is such an innocent term.

    The cherry picker just gets the best fruit. The stakes here a somewhat higher.

    This seems more like deliberate deception. Lying. Fraud.


  3. [...] Former astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt has expressed numerous “concerns” about scientific claims (based on comprehensive science) regarding global warming. Climate Denial de-crocker Peter Sinclair debunked Schmitt’s claim that “Artic [sic] sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage” in text (plenty of graphs, too, of course) and in a short video on “how to pick a cherry,” reposted here: [...]

  4. neilrieck Says:

    Many people today do not know that Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt is on the board of directors of libertarian (far right wing) think-tank, The Heartland Institute.

    http://www.heartland.org/full/27006/Harrison_Schmitt_Joins_Heartland_Institute_Board_of_Directors.html

    Like the Marshal Institute (where scientist Roy Spencer is on the board of directors), the Heartland Institute has published papers on all kinds of weird stuff like “smoking tobacco is not involved in lung cancer”, etc.)

    ###

    Now everyone is welcome to their own political ideologies, but I should point out that the manned space program has never been a favorite of the political right (correction: it WAS one of their favorites as long as the objective was “to beat the Russians” but most think 1) the ROI will be too long 2) the maned space program should NOT be funded by tax dollars.

    Translation: Apollo 17 would not have flown if all these right-wing think-tanks had the internet back in the 1970s. It is doubtful if their would have been any moon landings after the second one (Apollo 12)


  5. [...] was the topic of this week’s Climate Crock video, and of course, the climate denial chorus, including the tobacco and petroleum fueled Heartland [...]


  6. [...] This week’s Crock Video discussed climate denier Harrison Schmitt, who was recently appointed as  head of Natural Resources in New Mexico. Mr. Schmitt’s allies in the legislature have recently moved to extend the tea party anti-science agenda with a bill aimed at science teaching in public schools. [...]


  7. [...] The climate science blogosphere has had a field day with Bast’s explanation, with commentary in the Huffington Post, Skeptical Science, and one of Peter Sinclair’s masterful videos “How to Pick a Cherry (Twist like that)“. [...]


  8. [...] Resources Department, has turned down the position. Schmitt had recently come under scrutiny for his statements denying the reality of man-caused climate change, and his claim that environmentalists are a part [...]


  9. [...] where Schmitt is a board member, rushed to defend his extreme views. Schmitt was the topic of this week’s Climate Crock video, for his dishonest use of cherry picked statistics to claim that Arctic Sea ice extent had [...]


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