No, new data does not "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism"

No, new data does not "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism"

No, new data does not "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism"

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 29 2011 10:45 AM

No, new data does not "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism"

I received a few emails, tweets, and comments on the blog yesterday asking about an Op/Ed article in Forbes magazine that claims that new NASA data will "blow [a] gaping hole in global warming alarmism".

Except, as it turns out, not so much. The article is just so much hot air (see what I did there?) and climate scientists say the paper on which it's based is fundamentally flawed and flat-out wrong.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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It's clear after reading just a few words that this article is hugely biased. The use of the word "alarmist" and its variants appeared no fewer than 14 times, 16 if you include the picture caption and the headline. The word "alarmist" is pretty clearly slanted against the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that the Earth is warming up, and that humans are the reason*.

Still, what is the article actually saying?

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

That seems pretty clear: if true, it means we may not be heating up as much as scientists predict.

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Of course, there's that pesky "if true" caveat. The Forbes article is based on a paper published in the journal Remote Sensing (PDF). The first author of this work is Roy Spencer -- one of the extremely few climate scientists who denies human-caused climate change, so more on him in a moment -- and his work has been shown to be thoroughly wrong by mainstream climate scientists.

Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience contacted several climate scientists about Spencer's paper, and their conclusions were quite harsh. They say Spencer's model is "unrealistic", "flawed", and "incorrect". As ThinkProgress points out, a geochemist has shown that Spencer's models are irretrievably flawed, "don't make any physical sense", and that Spencer has a track record in using such flawed analysis to draw any conclusion he wants.

[UPDATE: RealClimate now has a post tearing apart the science and methodology of Spencer's paper as well.]

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And about the paper itself:

"I cannot believe it got published," said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

That doesn't sound like it blows a gaping hole in global warming theories to me. And this makes the breathless rhetoric used in the Forbes article appear to be far more about stirring up controversy rather than actually tackling the science of the issue.

I did some poking around on the web, and sure enough a lot of far-right blogs are diving on this red meat, simply repeating the claims of the Forbes article. I wonder how many of them actually read the paper or sought outside opinions?

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And in this case, those outside opinions are very important. Why? Because of Dr. Spencer's background: you may find this discussion of him interesting. He is an author for the über-conservative Heartland Institute (as is James Taylor, the author of the Forbes article), which receives substantial funding from -- can you guess? -- ExxonMobil. He is also affiliated with two other think tanks funded by ExxonMobil. Seriously, read that link to get quite a bit of background on Dr. Spencer.

I was also surprised to find Spencer is a big supporter of Intelligent Design. I was initially reticent to mention that, since it seems like an ad hominem. But I think it's relevant: Intelligent Design has been shown repeatedly to be wrong, and is really just warmed-over creationism. Heck, even a conservative judge ruled it to be so in the now-famous Dover lawsuit. Anyone who dumps all of biological science in favor of provably wrong antiscience should raise alarm bells in your head, and their claims should be examined with an even more skeptical eye.

It's too bad, really. I'm not a fan of ad hominems, but the recent attacks on the science of climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang by the far right -- and on medicine by the far left -- make it necessary to know more about the authors when reading articles. If you simply accept what they say without doing due diligence, you may be led down a road that leads well away from reality.

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* Mind you, of course, I use the word "denier" quite a bit when discussing this topic, but in this case the shoe fits. When you deny overwhelming evidence, you're a denier. Scientists trying to tell people what the science is telling them aren't alarmists. They're scientists. And as you can see from what other climate scientists are saying, what the Forbes article is based on apparently isn't good science.


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