While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower

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Jan. 30 2012 12:20 PM

While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower

Over the weekend, two amazingly bad articles were published about climate change. Both were loaded with mistakes, misinterpretations, and outright misinformation, and are simply so factually wrong that they almost read like parodies.

Just so we're clear here.

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!  


The first was in the Wall Street Journal. The article, called No Need to Panic About Global Warming, is a textbook example of misleading prose. It's laden to bursting with factual errors, but the one that stood out to me most was this whopper: "Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now."

What the what?

That statement, to put it bluntly, is dead wrong. It relies on blatantly misinterpreting long term trends, instead wearing blinders and only looking at year-to-year variations in temperature. The Skeptical Science website destroyed this argument in November 2011, in fact. The OpEd also ignores the fact that nine of the ten hottest years on record all occurred since the year 2000.

The WSJ OpEd makes a lot of hay from having 16 scientists sign it, but of those only 4 are actually climate scientists. And that bragging right is crushed to dust when you find out that the WSJ turned down an article about the reality of global warming that was signed by 255 actual climate scientists. In fact, as Media Matters reports, more of the signers of the WSJ OpEd have ties to oil interests than actually publish peer-reviewed climate research.

Shame on the WSJ for publishing that nonsense.

When I read it, I thought that OpEd was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. But then the Daily Mail chimed in and I discovered that barrel gets a lot deeper. They printed an article by David Rose called Forget global warming -- it's Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again).

By "Cycle 25" he's referring to the solar activity cycle -- which I'll get to in a moment. But first, the most egregiously awful thing about the Mail article is the angle it takes on new results released by The Met Office, the National Weather Service for the UK. The subheadline for the Mail article is "Met Office releases new figures which show no warming in 15 years", which is a bit odd given that the very first two paragraphs of the Met's press release say:

2012 is expected to be around 0.48 °C warmer than the long-term (1961-1990) global average of 14.0 °C, with a predicted likely range of between 0.34 °C and 0.62 °C, according to the Met Office annual global temperature forecast.

The middle of this range would place 2012 within the top 10 warmest years in a series which goes back to 1850.

[Emphasis mine, but done for obvious reasons.]

If you can square that with "new figures... show no warming" then congrats! You can write for the Mail.

The article is so fallacious that the Met offices decided to publish another release stating clearly that the Mail article "includes numerous errors", is "misleading", and that the author chose "... to not fully include the answers we gave him".

And we're not done. A big part of Rose's Mail article talks about the Sun's influence on climate. However, the solar activity cycle is something which has been shown over and again to have very little to do with climate, and is certainly not anywhere near the main driver of climate change.

The Mail article bases its argument on some research that may indicate the Sun will enter a quiet period after this next peak, and that will cool the Earth. First, the research is by no means anywhere near verified, and in fact at least one well-respected solar physicist doesn't agree with the findings (I think he's right; the work is interesting but very, very preliminary). Second, even if it's true, there's no reason to think it will cause an ice age as the Mail article attests; that takes many factors occurring all at once. Also, the Little Ice Age -- a cold period during the 17th and 18th centuries -- was not a global effect; it only affected Europe. It also coincided with several large volcanic events that helped drive it. I explain all that in the link above.

So where does Rose get this idea that the Sun will cool us down? From another Met Office release. And guess what? Again, that release states in the first paragraph the exact opposite of what Rose claims:

New research has found that solar output is likely to reduce over the next 90 years but that will not substantially delay expected increases in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.

Amazing, isn't it?

Happily, the cavalry has ridden in; the reality-based community has come out swinging against these two articles:

- Climate scientist Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously about it, too.

[Update: more for you:

- Scholars and Rogues (specifically taking on Burt Rutan, one of the 16 signers of the WSJ OpEd; Rutan replies in the comments)]

In the head-asplodey irony department, how do you think the editors at the WSJ feel that their OpEd was reprinted in The Tehran Times?

It's rare to be 100% certain of something in science, but I have no doubt at all that the comments to this post will be filled with noise from denialists. It happens every single time I post about this, and they almost always use long-debunked arguments. But as these attacks on reality get more brazen, we have to be ever more alert.

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