Bad News: Walter Matthau and BearModeling can’t exist as an urgent, necessary, and successful activity without some agreement about the data that is used to verify the model. Monitoring the loss of Arctic sea ice is a relatively unambiguous measurement: take some pictures and measure what you see over a stretch of time, looking for a trend.
For anyone not themselves lost in the Arctic for the past year or so, the sight of polar bears hopelessly afloat on shrinking bergs is an iconic image that is a powerful image of the immediate consequences of global warming.
A natural question needs to be asked - if the arctic ice is shrinking, does that mean that each polar bear has less ice as the arctic approaches the population density of New Jersey, or does the number of polar bears decrease to match the decrease in ice?
Counting bears is much more ambiguous - and dangerous - than measuring photos of ice. What’s needed is a protocol that doesn’t miss any old bears, and new bears, and especially the lack of bears that brings bad news.
A really interesting approach is provided by Wildtrack - an environmentally conscious group that puts its methodology where its mouth is, having developed a patented technique of non-invasive wildlife monitoring. The technique uses business intelligence software (basically enterprise software such as SAS) and "ancient tracking techniques of the Inuit people to study polar bear footprints." Click here for more on this story.
Now the question is whether the data provided by the Wildtrack system will be considered valid by those who automatically assume any environmental group will always overstate the effects of humankind on animals and the environment.
No one needs a sophisticated software approach to count these skeptics/cynics. Election results and make-up of the bodies of Congress are usually a good predictor of who will agree that the data is valid, and who won’t. Actually, the congressional make-up is also a good predictor of the percentage of the population that won’t accept any science-based conclusions at all.
Just count the footprints of those fighting global warming solutions and stem-cell research…