Skip Navigation

Media Bias Evident in Climate Coverage

April 7, 2017

Climate Change Weekly #245

Perhaps it’s a sign I still possess a little bit of naïveté despite my generally cynical, pessimistic outlook, but I found myself shocked, indeed outraged, by the media’s grossly biased coverage of one recent event and one undertaking related to climate change.

The event was a March 29 hearing by the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.” The undertaking is The Heartland Institute’s outreach project to science teachers around the country, in which Heartland is mailing copies of Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, written by three distinguished climate scientists to more than 200,000 middle school and high school science teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not surprised at all that avowed left-wing apologist publications like the Huffington Post – “GOP Congressman Turns Science Committee Into Platform for His Own Science Views” (March 28, 2017) – and Mother Jones – “A scientist just spent 2 hours debating the biggest global warming deniers in Congress” (March 29, 2017) – skew their reporting against climate realism.

But when so-called bastions of quality, factual, balanced journalism like The Washington Post and The Scientific American play fast and loose with the facts, for some reason I’m disappointed and my ire rises – even though I know they’ve done this for years.

To take just one instance of the kind of supposed “reporting” that riled me up, The Washington Post, citing a report by PBS’s Frontline, ran a story covering both Heartland’s educational efforts and the House hearing. Frontline did Heartland the courtesy of quoting Lennie Jarratt, project manager of Heartland’s Center for Transforming Education. As Frontline wrote: “He asks teachers to ‘consider the possibility’ that the science is not settled. ‘If that’s the case, then students would be better served by letting them know a vibrant debate is taking place among scientists.’”

Sounds reasonable, right? After all, the scientific method involves the exchange of ideas concerning testable hypothesis, data and data collection methods, and assumptions, right? The Post’s response to Heartland’s effort was to label it a “propaganda campaign.”

Later in the story, the Post describes the witnesses at the House committee hearing thusly: “They invited three people who reject the overwhelmingly accepted science of climate change and one active climate science researcher.” That description is patently misleading.

First, each person testifying is, or has been until recently in the case of Roger Pielke, an active climate science researcher. (Pielke withdrew from climate research under political pressure in 2015.) They have each published hundreds of peer-reviewed climate-related articles and participated in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In other words, all those who testified have been at the heart of mainstream climate research bodies.

In addition, all of them believe in climate change – who doesn’t? They don’t “reject the overwhelmingly accepted science of climate change” – they reject the idea that such an overwhelmingly accepted science exists. Their research, and the research of thousands of other scientists around the globe, shows the science is not settled. Rather, there is an active, lively debate concerning the extent of human influence on climate and the possible impacts of climate change on human society and the environment.

President Donald Trump’s ascendance and the rise of alternative media outlets have broken a near-stranglehold the radical environmental left, and their allies in the media, have had on the climate narrative. They are turning red, gasping for air, and finding no respite. They simply don’t know what to do other than stamp their feet and call those they disagree with names like “deniers,” “charlatans,” and “paid shills.”

– H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Mother Jones; EOS; Washington Post; and Judith Curry


IN THIS ISSUE …

Politics has undermined climate science … Science = method not factsHow Congress can improve science integritySolar variations affect temperature, climate


POLITICS HAS UNDERMINED CLIMATE SCIENCE

In March 29 testimony before the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s hearing on “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method,” climate scientist Judith Curry said in the field of climate research, science – the “process for understanding how nature works … [consisting of] ask[ing] a question or pose[ing] a hypothesis, set[ting] up an objective test or experiment, and mak[ing] a scientific argument, and then repeat[ing]” – has been undermined by political pressure from within and outside of the scientific community.

From the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), politicians set expectations for and applied pressure on climate researchers to find human factors driving, and expected harms from, climate change. Those expectations, combined with the government funding available for climate research meeting those expectations, “prematurely elevated a scientific hypothesis on human-caused climate change to a ruling theory through claims of a consensus.”

Curry says climate research has been plagued by:

  • Unreasonable expectations from policymakers
  • Scientists who are playing power politics with their expertise and trying to silence scientific disagreement by denigrating scientists who do not agree with them, and
  • Professional societies that oversee peer review in professional journals, who are writing policy statements endorsing the consensus and advocating for specific policies

Consequently, critical questions don’t get asked and vital avenues of research aren’t undertaken, with the result “we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate variability and societal vulnerabilities.”

SOURCE: Judith Curry Testimony


SCIENCE = METHOD NOT FACTS

In his testimony before the U.S. House Science Committee, John Christy says “science” is not a set of facts but a process or method establishing a way for humans to discover information in the pursuit of understanding and knowledge. He explained, “In the method, a ‘claim’ or ‘hypothesis’ is stated such that rigorous tests might be employed to test the claim to determine its credibility. If the claim fails a test, the claim is rejected or modified then tested again.”

When climate model projections are tested against actual observations and measurements, the model’s outputs fail to match observed phenomena and data, and they should not be used to shape climate policies.

Christy observed the average outputs of the models grossly misrepresent climate variations and changes of recent decades. From 1979 through 2016, climate models project significant warming should have occurred due to ever-increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. The average warming estimated by 102 model runs from 32 groups of modelers over the period is 1°C. By contrast, the actual observed warming experienced during the period, as recorded by three independent sources – weather balloons, satellites, and weather center reanalyses – is less than 0.5°C, less than half the amount predicted by climate models.

The most likely reason for the failure, Christy testified, is “the models are simply too sensitive to the extra [greenhouse gases] that are being added to both the model and the real world.”

Christy said “applying the traditional scientific method, one would accept this failure and not promote the model trends as something truthful about the recent past or the future.”

SOURCE: John Christy Testimony


HOW CONGRESS CAN IMPROVE SCIENCE INTEGRITY

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. has analyzed climate change – in particular, its effects on weather – for decades. He agrees human greenhouse gas emissions affect temperature but thinks the estimated impact is overstated.

In his March 29 testimony before the House Science Committee, Pielke said there is little scientific basis for claiming extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods, drought, and tornadoes) or the economic damage they cause have been exacerbated or worsened in recent decades due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. He pointed out that he had testified before Congress on the topic of climate change and extreme weather events in 2013 – and since then, according to IPCC’s own research, the evidence has only grown stronger that climate change isn’t causing an increase in extreme weather events.

Although Pielke’s conclusions are entirely in the mainstream, some members of Congress, the Obama administration, and their environmental lobbyist allies pursued an organized effort to delegitimize his research. Shortly after Pielke testified concerning climate and weather in 2013, in December of that year:

the White House posted on its website a 6-page essay by the President’s Science Advisor, John Holdren, which claimed falsely that my testimony before this committee was ‘not representative of mainstream views on this topic in the climate-science community’ and was ‘seriously misleading.’

One year later, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) opened a formal investigation of me and six other professors … justified [on the basis of] the science advisor’s false claims: ‘John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has highlighted what he believes were serious misstatements by Prof. Pielke of the scientific consensus on climate change,’ and cited Dr. Holdren’s essay on the White House website. … Mr. Grijalva [also] introduced another false implication – that I, and the other academics, had ‘potential conflicts of interest and failure to disclose corporate funding sources.’

Although Pielke was ultimately vindicated by his university, which demonstrated the claims made by Holdren and Grijalva were false, Pielke decided to withdraw from the field of climate research.

SOURCE: Roger Pielke, Jr. Testimony


SOLAR VARIATIONS AFFECT TEMPERATURE, CLIMATE

Three studies from researchers from France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland reinforce the fact solar activity has a significant effect on climate changes. Research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation quantified the contribution solar fluctuations make to temperature changes on Earth. While the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes solar activity has an insignificant effect on Earth’s temperature, historical data show that is not true. Using robust computer models, the Swiss scientists say as solar activity reaches its next minimum, the weaker sun should result in temperature falling by a half a degree during this century.

Temperature reconstructions of data for the Iberian Peninsula for the past 400 years published in Climate of the Past find temperature changes in the region track solar activity well. Using tree- ring data for the period 1602 through 2012, the Spanish-led research team shows warm phases coincide with periods of high solar activity. The region as a whole has warmed almost 3°C over the past 400 years, reflecting the recent recovery from the Little Ice Age, but even during the Little Ice Age, there were phases around 1625 and 1800 when temperatures were as high as the present for short periods of time corresponding to increased solar activity.

Reinforcing the Climate of the Past study, research in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, using data from three Portuguese meteorological stations from 1888 to 2001, finds a statistically significant association between temperatures and changes in solar and geomagnetic activity. Temperature changes consistently track the 11-year solar cycle and the 22-year solar magnetic cycle, lagging by approximately one to two years, showing solar forcing significantly affects temperature.

SOURCES: Swedish National Science Foundation and No Tricks Zone

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org

Related News & Opinion View All News