Maybe you’ve seen the headlines:
- Hacked emails show scientists suppressed evidence that contradicts claims of global warming.
- Scientist admits there has been no global warming since 1995.
- Scientist retracts paper on rising sea levels due to error.
- Satellite measurements show the Greenland ice pack thickening.
Is it true? Have the 95% of climate scientists who believe the Earth is warming due to human activity been lying to the public, or are they simply incompetent and untrustworthy?
It was Mark Twain who noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Actually, it’s the global warming deniers that have been lying and deliberately deceiving the public. Science is a messy process, and it’s complicated. There are disagreements, errors, and personality conflicts. But science has self correcting methods to work through our human imperfections and arrive at the only accurate descriptions we have of the real world. Let’s look at the truth behind the headlines.
The hacked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit clearly show an attempt to prevent the publication of some papers the email author believed were wrong. Questioning each other’s work is an inherent part of the scientific system. Scientists expect, and encourage, critical, but dispassionate, analysis of their work from other scientists. Sometimes it becomes personal, however. The stolen emails reveal an ugly personality clash and unscientific animosity between researchers. The emails show that scientists are subject to human failings, but they do not show the suppression of scientific results. Not only were the two papers discussed in the emails published in scientific journals, they were also included in the IPCC’s report.
When scientists answer questions they are often very careful and use exact meanings to their words. This tendency can be exploited by global warming deniers to distort scientists’ meanings by carefully wording questions to them. That’s what happened when Phil Jones appeared to deny there has been evidence of warming since 1995. Climate data such as average annual temperature is highly variable. Statistical techniques, such as least squares fits, have to be used to show the real trends in the data (scientists even have techniques for measuring how “reliable” an apparent trend is). Global warming deniers know that, even though there has been measurable warming since 1995 (0.12 degree Celsius per decade) the “reliability” of the trend is low. That’s why they specifically ask about warming since 1995, not 1994 or any other year from which the “reliability” is much higher. The global warming deniers are being dishonest because in the same interview in which Phil Jones admitted the warming trend since 1995 does not meet the 95% confidence test, he repeatedly said he believes the evidence for human caused global warming is real and overwhelming. But all the global warming deniers reported was the one statement about uncertainty in the limited interval from 1995.
When Mark Siddall et al published a paper in Nature Geosicience estimating much lower sea level rising (7 - 82 cm) from global warming than other estimates, the global warming deniers praised it (links now missing or broken) and claimed it showed that the other scientists were being alarmists (despite the fact that its publication disproved their claim that alternative view points are never published). As is often the case in science, however, some scientists found a flaw in Siddall’s analysis. When they communicated their findings to Siddall, he acknowledged his error. When he corrected his analysis and recalculated he found that his estimates were far too low, so he retracted his paper. Note that he voluntarily retracted his paper because his new calculations showed much greater sea level rising than his original paper. Yet the paper’s withdrawal was touted by global warming deniers as proof of their denial of warming, exactly the opposite of the reason the paper was withdrawn.
Does satellite data show that the Greenland ice sheet has not shrunk in area? Yes. But the mass of the ice sheet is a function of both area and thickness. The satellite data in this report cannot measure thickness along the coast, as the report authors clearly stated in the original paper. For some reason these facts are missing from this report. Multiple other methods have clearly shown that the ice sheet is thinning at the edges and is losing mass. So once again the Global warming deniers misrepresent what a scientific report actually says and completely ignore all contrary evidence.
Global climate change is a complex subject which is being actively investigated by experts using tried and true methods to tease out the truth. Time and again we have seen that those who are not scientific experts, and who are committed to defending predefined conclusions, have misled the public by misrepresenting the science. Global warming is a great challenge. The Global warming deniers are pessimists who see only the negative consequences and have no faith in the ability of the US to rise to the challenge. Global warming is actually a huge opportunity. Those who rise to it will develop new resources, processes, and techniques. The Global warming deniers, by creating confusion and doubt, are delaying that progress and making it more likely that we’ll be buying technological solutions from other countries rather than selling them to the world.
The difference between climate skeptics and climate deniers