11 February 2017

Climate warming unabated, despite media spin

Global average temperature 1880-2016 (NASA)
Climate Nexus

As a result of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, the planet is warming. Those who deny this fact have pointed to a supposed “pause” in warming to justify opposition to climate action.

In 2015, a study led by NOAA’s Tom Karl was published in Science that flatly refuted the idea of a “pause.” It is one of many. But its high profile made it a target for attack.

On Saturday 4 February, a feature in the UK’s Mail on Sunday by David Rose makes outrageous claims that were already disproven as the paper version hit stands, and that he has already had to in part correct. Rose, who has a history of inaccurate reporting, spins a scandal out of a letter by a former NOAA employee published on a climate change denial blog. The letter makes accusations of wrongdoing in the methodology and data archiving procedures used in the study. These accusations have already been shown to be faulty. Even if they were true, the implications have been blown out of proportion by Rose.

Rebuttals were published in record time, as within minutes there was a tweet describing the story as “so wrong its hard to know where to start”:
  • John Abraham provides context in the Guardian, and points out the many factors Rose fails to address that, when considered, completely undercut his allegations of misconduct.
  • Zeke Hausfather, in a fact check, discusses the various lines of evidence that support Karl’s findings. Hausfather published a study in 2016 that confirmed Karl’s findings that the planet has continued to warm, confirming there was never any real “pause.”
  • Scott Johnson at Ars Technica spoke with NOAA insiders, and explains how tensions between the science and engineering side of things caused conflict between Karl, who wanted the handling of data to reflect the many sources of the data, and Bates, who advocated for using just one approach that could handle data from many different sources, but sometimes added years to the process.
  • Peter Thorne at the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, who unlike the letter’s author actually worked on the Karl paper, identifies several key aspects of the allegations that are a “mis-representation of the processes that actually occurred. In some cases these mis-representations are publically verifiable.”
  • Victor Venema of the WMO discusses both the specifics of the data sets as well as some lighthearted context to help understand the “reporting” done by the Mail’s David Rose.
  • Ten climate envoys and ministers involved with the Paris Agreement said there was no truth to Rose’s claim that this study influenced their decisions.
  • In an interview, Bates pushed back on the allegations made by Rose, and “specified that he did not believe that they manipulated the data upon which the research relied in any way.” And said that "The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was," he said.
These false allegations were quickly echoed in various blogs and conservative media outlets, and quickly praised in a Sunday press release by Lamar Smith, Texas Republican whose career has been funded by fossil fuels, and whose chairmanship of the House Science, Space and Technology committee has become what a colleague described as an “ideological crusade” and “witch hunt” against the NOAA paper and its lead author Tom Karl.

David Rose, who has a history of scientifically inaccurate reporting, portrayed this flawed procedural complaint as proof of scandal and dubbed it “Climategate 2”. Just like Climategate was a manufactured scandal that was debunked by eight multiple independent agencies, this attempt at Climategate 2 is “fake news” which will serve as cover for attacking the multiple lines of evidence and overwhelming consensus of the reality of human influence on the climate.

If there were substance to the claims, they would have been published in the peer-reviewed literature. The original study which was published in Science, perhaps the most highly regarded academic journal in the world. That these claims are found on a blog and a tabloid should be an indication of their veracity.

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