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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mark Boslough: Climate-change deniers ignore science

Climate-change deniers ignore science

by Mark Boslough, The New Mexican, Santa Fe, January 24, 2011 

At the conclusion of the hottest decade since records have been kept, deniers of human-caused climate change have abandoned all pretense of honest science. A few retired scientists, with no training in climate science or any record of peer-reviewed research in that field, are embracing a different approach. Because they can't win an actual scientific debate based on facts, they have resorted to making stuff up and smearing honest scientists. William E. Keller used these diversionary tactics in his December 26, 2010, My View, "At end of 2010, man-made climate change questioned." 

In it, he refers to mainstream scientists as "activists," a classic example of projection from an individual whose writings demonstrate that his own opinions are based, not on objective scientific evidence, but on his ideology and fear of possible science-informed policy responses. 

He brings up the so-called "Climategate" scandal, the publication of out-of-context quotes from stolen e-mails. Multiple independent investigations have completely exonerated the individuals who were victims of this "cybercrime." They did nothing wrong except to use politically incorrect language in their private messages, and their scientific integrity remains intact. 

By contrast, New Mexico's most prominent self-described "denier," Harrison Schmitt, is now involved with the Heartland Institute, a right-wing organization that actively engages in attacks on objective scientific findings that might be used to support government regulations of his favored industry. It also censures, criticizes, and demonizes scientists whose research supports those findings. Many of its supporters have resorted to smear tactics and defamation campaigns against scientists. 

The authors of Heartland Institute publications, including Schmitt, refuse to play by the rules of science, which include integrity, honesty, and peer review. Heartland does no research, but generates reports containing, among other things, fabricated temperature data and doctored graphs that are intended to undermine evidence-based science. 

In 2009, Schmitt submitted a white paper to NASA. He stated, "Artic (sic) sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage." I wrote to him, politely pointing out that this was not true, and directing him to the data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (the ice extent in 2009 had not recovered, and as of this writing is at an all-time winter low). He responded, but never made the necessary correction. Anyone can make a mistake, but scientific integrity requires that authors own up to mistakes and fix them. 

Among the victims of the ongoing denialist slander crusade are Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth, both prominent and highly respected. I asked Mann about Keller's claim regarding his supposed concession that Medieval temperatures might have been higher than now. 

According to Mann, "There is no scientific evidence whatsoever for the claim made by Keller in either my work, or any other peer-reviewed scientific work in this area." In short, Keller made this up. Keller also misrepresented a quote in e-mail stolen from Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can't." Full context reveals that Trenberth was actually complaining about the lack of sufficient observational resources to show how the ocean sometimes absorbs more heat from the warming atmosphere, storing it in a way that isn't being measured, and then, inevitably, giving it back. The travesty is that scientists don't have resources to make the necessary measurements. 

During the height of "Climategate" histrionics, the denialist rhetoric got out of hand. In late 2009, I convened a climate session at a scientific conference, and one of my invited speakers almost canceled because he was getting violent threats. He gave his presentation accompanied by plainclothes guards. Misrepresentations and personal attacks have very real and chilling consequences. Perhaps that's the intent. 

Mark Boslough is a physicist and computational modeler at Sandia National Laboratories, and an adjunct professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UNM. 


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