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Posts Tagged ‘Roy Spencer’

Global Warming: The Role of Water Vapor

Sun ,20/01/2013

The Earth’s Temperature: Certainly, the average temperature of the Earth has varied greatly over the last million years, from about 2°C (36°F) during the ice ages to about 15°C (59°F) during the warmer interglacial periods. We are now in an interglacial periodic and the Earth’s average temperature for the last century averages 13.9°C (57°F). Much of the research on the Earth’s temperature has been an attempt to understand the coming and going of the ice ages. We now know that the Earth’s temperature is correlated with the Milankovitch cycles , which affect how much sunlight the Earth receives, but that is not the whole story. That greenhouse gases play a role in warming the Earth was shown by Joseph Fourier in the 1820s. Using the differential equations he developed for heat transfer, Fourier calculated that the Earth, considering its size and its distance from the Sun, should be considerably colder than it actually is. He proposed the Earth must be kept warmer by its atmosphere, which acts much as the glass in a greenhouse. The actual amount of warming that could be attributed to the greenhouse effect was later found from the Stephen Boltzmann law, developed in the early 1900s. If the Earth had no atmosphere, its average temperature would be 33°C  lower, at -19.0°C (-2.2°F). Without greenhouse gases, the Earth would be a frozen block of ice.

Greenhouse Gases: Heat energy leaves the Earth as infrared radiation, which makes up a part of the spectrum that is absorbed by many molecules as they vibrate. As infrared radiation leaves the Earth, it is absorbed then reemitted in all directions, some of it going back toward the Earth where it further warms the Earth. In the 1850’s, John Tyndall’s infrared research found that nitrogen and oxygen, the major components of the atmosphere, do not absorb infrared radiation. He discovered that the molecules responsible for the greenhouse effect were water vapor and carbon dioxide. Water varies from a trace up to about 4% depending on the humidity; carbon dioxide’s concentration was about 0.0028% in Tyndall’s time. In spite of their low concentration, CO2 and H2O both absorb strongly in the infrared region of the spectrum. Also, radiation leaving the Earth must traverse several kilometers of atmosphere, greatly increasing the probability of the radiation being absorbed and readmitted. Carbon dioxide plays a large role for its concentration, as it absorbs strongly in regions of the infrared spectrum where water does not.

Recent research by Kiehl and Tenebreth on the Earth’s energy budget identified five naturally occurring gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect. The gases, along with their contribution in both clear sky and cloudy conditions, are listed in the table.The infrared spectra of the major greenhouse gases can be found at http://chemlinks.beloit.edu/Warming/pdf/greenIR.pdf .

GasesEach of the greenhouse gases has several absorption bands, and there are some regions of the spectrum where the bands overlap, as noted in the table. Once clouds form, the liquid droplets absorbed broadly across most of the infrared region, so cloud formation reduces the contributions of the other gases. Overall, clouds and H2O account for about 75% of the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases for about 25%. Some of the coldest nights on Earth are when the humidity is low and the night is still and clear, as the contribution of H20 is reduced far below the 60% given in the table.

The average residence time of a water molecule in the atmosphere is only about nine days. Because precipitation removes water from the air in such a short time, the concentration of water in the air varies from a trace in cold arid region up to about 4% in warm humid regions. The average residence time in the atmosphere of CH4 is 12 years, while the residence times of NO2 and CO2 are more than a century. Gases with long half-lives reside in the atmosphere long enough to become evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere.  Ozone (O3), which has a residence time of a few months, is constantly beingformed in the atmosphere from photochemical processes, many of which are initiated by methane and hydrocarbons.

The Limit of Humidity:  The pressure of the atmosphere is made up of contributions from all the molecules in the atmosphere and the share that each gas contributes is called its partial pressure. The amount of water in the air can be measured by its partial  pressure. There is a limit on the amount of water the air can hold as the humidity becomes 100% when the partial pressure equals the saturated vapor pressure, and the air can hold no more water.


The Saturated Vapor Pressure of Water

The saturated vapor pressure depends only on the temperature and is listed in the table at the right.That limit of water in an air mass can be reached by water evaporating from the surface until the partial pressure reaches the saturated vapor pressure given in the table. Alternatively, the limit can be reached when a mass of air is cooled until its saturated vapor pressure is lowered to the air’s partial pressure. Any further decrease in temperature will cause air to be oversaturated and cloud formation and precipitation is likely to occur. For example, at the equator, where the temperature averages 26°, water will evaporate until it reaches the  saturated vapor pressure of 25.2 mmHg. However, over the Arctic Ocean where the temperature averages 1°C, the air is saturated at 4.9 mmHg. Not surprisingly, the air can hold almost 5.1 times as much water at the equator. Or, on a clear night, when the temperature drops until the saturated vapor pressure is less than the air’s partial pressure, dew will form. The weatherman usually reports the temperature when that will happen as the “dew point”.

 CO2 Controls the Temperature: One of the great mysteries confronting science in the 1800’s was the cause of the ice ages. The role that greenhouse gases had in keeping the Earth warm provided a clue for Arrhenius, who thought that changes in their concentration might be the cause of the coming and going of the ice ages. He set out to find the climate sensitivity, the temperature change expected if the concentration is doubled, for the individual greenhouse gases. Arrhenius understood that the concentration of water vapor in the air was limited by its saturated vapor pressure, which is dependent on the temperature. How then, could an increase in H2O increase the temperature when it was itself limited by the temperature? Carbon dioxide has no such limitation, so Arrhenius turned his attention to finding the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide. Though Arrhenius’s model was simple and the calculations were laborious, he found that doubling the carbon concentration would increase the temperature of the earth by about 5°C. However, the increase in temperature would allow a greater concentration of water vapor in the air which would amplify the warming. Thus, the concentration of CO2 acts as a regulator of water vapor, and ultimately determines the planet’s long-term equilibrium temperature. Recent work using better data and models have found that the climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is in the range of 3 to 4°C, and carbon dioxide has been proposed as the “control knob” for the Earth’s temperature. Still, water vapor and clouds contribute the most to greenhouse warming, and their contribution is considered to be a positive feedback to the increasing carbon dioxide concentration.

No one in Arrhenius’s day could imagine how the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration could possibly double, and some of Arrhenius’ contemporaries proposed setting some poor quality coal seams on fire to ward off another Ice Age. That proved not to be unnecessary as in 1900 Arvid Hgbom, a volcanologist, calculated that industrial sources were adding CO2 to the atmosphere at roughly the same rate as volcanoes. No one thought much of it as, at that rate, it would take centuries for the amount of CO2 to increase significantly. However, no one imagined that we would burn fossil fuels at today’s rate, putting 30 billion tons of CO2 into the air each year. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has increased by 40% since Arrhenius’s day, and the temperature of the Earth has increased by about 0.85°C, well in line with Arrhenius’s predictions.

Alternate Theories: There are a number of alternate theories as to why the Earth is warming, and most of the recent ones center around water and clouds, as that is still an active area of research. The most easily dismissed one is that water vapor is responsible for global warming rather than carbon dioxide. Arrhenius showed that was false over 100 years ago, yet some Skeptics are still saying it. Another theory, credited to Svensmark, is that cosmic rays from the stars produce charged particles that promote cloud formation. There is little evidence that the cosmic rays reaching Earth have increased and there are plenty of particulates in the air to seed clouds besides the charged particles.  Another theory is Iris Effect which has been promoted by Richard Lindzen, mostly in op-ed pieces that are not peer-reviewed. His theory is that the earth’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low as the increasing  surface temperature at the equator will cause the rising columns of moist air to  rain out more moisture, leaving less to form high ice clouds, known to be a positive forcing. Aside from the fact that it seemed a little unreasonable to claim that more moisture in the air will lead to fewer high clouds, other climate scientists have found significant errors in Lindzen’s published works.

 A recent paper in Remote Sensing by Roy Spencer attributes global warming to cloud formation and it was claimed to “blow a gaping hole in global warming theory.” Its main theory was that clouds were driving global warming, rather than being a feedback mechanism. The paper was quickly refuted by climate scientists by pointing out that Spencer’s model of the Earth’s atmosphere was terribly inadequate. There is also evidence that Spencer’s paper gained publication by gaming the peer review system. Another theory comes from Roger Pielke Jr., who claims that hurricanes and tornadoes are becoming less frequent and destructive, based on an economic analysis of storm damage. Global warming is likely to increase the probability of severe storms, so his work has been used to discount global warming. However, his theories stand in sharp contrast to the number of events and the amounts paid out in storm damage  by Munich Re (the fourth and fifth graphs) , a large secondary insurance company, that analyzed the issue without the benefit of some of Pielke’s assumptions.

The final theory, which would be laughable if it weren’t repeated by many Skeptics to discredit climate science, is that climate scientists have created the CO2 global warming theory purely for their own economic benefit. The greenhouse gas theory was developed, and the main points understood by the end of the 19th century, long before any of today’s climate scientists were even born. Fourier, Tyndall, and Arrhenius established that H2O and CO2 were main factors in warming the earth, with changes in CO2 concentrations being the primary driving force and H2O being a feedback to changes in the CO2 levels. Research since then has confirmed their findings, and their theories have been borne out by the global warming we have experienced since their day. It is hard to believe that any credible scientist would reject such well-established theories.

Note: Much of the historical data in this article came from http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm

(C) 2013 J.C. Moore

Charlie Brown and the Climate Skeptics

Mon ,19/11/2012


 An article has recently been circulating around the Skeptics’ websites called  “ Four recent scientific blows to the global warming theory”. They are hardly blows and they certainly cannot be called scientific, as they contradict scientific research. They do make you wonder where Skeptics get their misinformation. Lucy spilled the beans on that in one of the Peanut’s cartoons.

 Lucy: Charlie Brown, do you want to hear some little known facts of science?

 Charlie Brown, looking puzzled: Wait a minute, if they are so little known, how do you  know them?     

  Lucy: Because I’m the one who made them up.

Being a good scientist, Charlie Brown has a healthy skepticism toward Skeptics. And, no matter who made them up, he has found a little skepticism of the Skeptics is a good idea.

The Article starts: “The science behind the anthropogenic global warming theory appears to be falling apart with each new scientific study.”  “In fact, since the Climategate scandal broke, where top climate scientists were caught manipulating data to fit the theory, polls have shown the number of global warming believers has plummeted to new lows.”

Charlie Brown:  It’s strange that there are no references to those “new scientific studies”. Op ed pieces by skeptics, maybe, but no recent scientific studies or polls say that . Also, isn’t it time to give up on Climategate? Nine independent investigations into Climategate have found no scientific misconduct?

Article: It goes on, “Czech President Vaclav Klaus, an economist who lived through the rise and fall of communism, recently said that the climate change movement is a threat to democracy.” “I consider (the global warming doctrine) a new dangerous attempt to control and mastermind my life and our lives, in the name of controlling the climate or temperature.” And environmentalists “ don’t care about resources or poverty or pollution. They hate us, the humans. They consider us dangerous and sinful creatures who must be controlled by them.”

Charlie Brown: Wow! Dangerous and sinful? Few Skeptic’s articles are complete without quoting an obscure figure with bizarre views. Environmentalists do not want to control the climate or temperature; they would just like to keep it at a level comfortable for human civilization. And, aren’t they also “humans”?

Article: Blow 1., finally. “A biologist who claimed that polar bears were drowning because of melting ice has been suspended and is being investigated for scientific misconduct following his “veracity” in emotionalizing a debunked topic.  Get ready for Polarbeargate. “

Charlie Brown:  Polarbeargate? The Polar bear has become a symbol of all we may lose by failing to address our carbon emissions problem adequately. Skeptics can’t disprove the theory so they  to attack the symbol.  The scientist’s account of the polar bears drowning was a credible account of what he observed. The extent of the Arctic sea ice has declined about 30% since 1980. Polar bears now have to swim many miles to reach the sea ice to hunt. Those who don’t want to swim that far rummage around in the garbage dumps, leading Skeptics to believe that the bears are now more numerous.

 Dr. Monnett, a biologist studying Polar bear populations, counted four bears who had drowned trying to swim to the receding sea ice to hunt. Though that happened five years ago, the Interior Department was just recently put under pressure to investigate the matter by  Sen. James Inhofe who was unhappy that the bears were put on the threatened species list.   That was done, not because of Dr. Monnett’s work, but because the bear’s habitat is declining. As their habitat disappears, so will the Polar bear. There just aren’t enough garbage dumps to feed them all.

Article: Blow 2. “Today, new NASA data blows a gaping hole in global warming alarmism: 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.”(sic?)

Charlie Brown: This is about an article by Roy Spencer, “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“, which claimed that climate scientists have the role of clouds wrong . It did not have enough scientific evidence to blow a hole in anything, but the article had a remarkable ability to “ shapeshift” as it sped around. It went from a paper published in a little-known journal where was not likely to be reviewed by climate scientists, to Roger Pielke’s website, where it was given a Skeptic’s A-OK. Then it went to the Heartland Institute, where senior fellow James Taylor fixed it up a little, classified it as a news article, renamed it “New NASA data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism” and sent it on to Forbes. Apparently Forbes did not realize that describing scientists as “alarmist” 15 times was suspicious, perhaps because James Taylor is also on staff at Forbes as, get this, a “contributor on energy and environment issues”. From there it went on to Yahoo! News, most other major media sources, and dozens of Skeptics blog sites.

It was amazing that it became so distorted and widely circulated just three days after publication, before legitimate climate scientists had a chance to respond. When they did, they had some rather unkind things to say about the research. Trenberth and Fasullo soon summed it up: ”The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave.The bottom line is that this paper has NO scientific merit” Later, A.E. Dessler analyzed Spencer’s paper in detail and published a rebuttal destroying Spencer’s arguments. The editor of Remote Sensing was so ashamed of the bad publicity that he resigned, saying” the paper should never have been published”.

Article: Blow 3. “The CERN physicists conducted a cosmic ray climate experiment that is said to directly contradict the climate change debate in the political arena.  Apparently, so much so that the scientists have been gagged from discussing their findings reportedly proving that cosmic (space-based) energy has a far greater effect on the climate than previously believed.”

Charlie Brown: Who said that? A book by perennial Skeptic Nigel Calder and Henrik Svensmark, The Chilling Stars,  claimed  the number of cosmic rays from the stars that strike the Earth is increasing. And, lead to more clouds since cosmic rays produce charged particles in the atmosphere that seed clouds. It’s an interesting theory, but the  data does not show that cosmic rays are actually increasing cloud cover. Also, there are plenty of particulates in the air to seed clouds and any effect from cosmic rays would be small in comparison.  ( See Blow 4., below.)

 The CERN scientists were not “gagged”, but they were asked not to report the results to the media before the formal paper was published. Perhaps they wish to avoid the type of outrageous publicity experienced by Spencer’s article.  Climate scientists are interested in the role that charged particles play so the scientists At CERN agreed to investigate the effect of cosmic rays on nitrate and sulfate aerosols.  After the experiment, the CERN cloud chamber was found to contain contaminates, so the experiment could not have proved or disproved anything. Except perhaps, considering Spencer’s paper, that climate Skeptics really don’t know clouds at all.

 Article: Blow 4. “A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found evidence that coal burning plants may actually be cooling the planet. The findings have been accepted to the point of suggesting using sulfur to combat global warming; ‘Sulfur’s ability to cool things down has led some to suggest using it in a geo-engineering feat to cool the planet.’  If anything, this study proves that the science behind the anthropogenic global warming theory is unproven.”

Charlie Brown:  The particulates from power plants cause cooling, as well as cancer and lung diseases. Particles soon settle out of the airwhile the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere keeps building up, warming the Earth much more than the cooling by the particles. We are now emitting 135 times as much CO2 as all the world’s volcanoes, but only about 7 times the particulates. The effect of particulates from volcanoes on the Earth’s temperature is well understood, so it is hard to see how this shows the “theory is unproven”.

The article concludes by noting that “the stakes are incredibly high” and then wanders off into some conspiracy theory. However, the stakes are high, and if we are not more skeptical of  the  Skeptics’ “little-known facts of science”, we are likely to find out just how high they are. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Earth stayed about the same for children in the future?

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Gaming the Peer Review System: Part 2. Exploiting Loopholes

Fri ,03/02/2012

There is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the peer review system to publish a biased climate science paper.

The Review Process: When a paper is submitted to a journal for publication, the editor removes the name of the author and sends the manuscript to several experts in the area, usually three, for review. The editor keeps the names of the reviewers confidential. If an error is found, the reviewer’s comments are returned to the author with suggestions for corrections. It is a good system for ensuring the quality of research publications, but even then papers are sometimes published that contains errors. The reviewers may miss an error, a biased editor may publish the paper in spite of flaws, or authors may exploit loopholes in a journal’s rules to get a paper published. Some journals allow the author to suggest names of reviewers and the editor often picks reviewers from the list. Most scientists submit names of reliable reviewers as it is an embarrassment to have errors found in their paper after publication. However, even if the papers are properly reviewed, the practice can bring accusations of “pal” review. Since reviewer’s names are kept confidential by the editor, it is difficult to know for sure whether that may have happened. However, there is evidence that the authors of a recent paper may have gamed the system by suggesting a set of reviewers that shared their bias. See what you think.

The paper: Last July 25th, Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell authored a paper in the rather specialized technical journal, Remote Sensing, titled “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“.  The paper claimed “The sensitivity of the climate system to an imposed radiative imbalance remains the largest source of uncertainty in projections of future anthropogenic climate change. Here we present further evidence that this uncertainty from an observational perspective is largely due to the masking of the radiative feedback signal by internal radiative forcing, probably due to natural cloud variations.”  It seems that only an expert in climatology would know what that means or what its implications were, but in three days a sensationalized version of the paper appeared on internet sites, in major business magazines, and in news articles in major newspapers. Millions of people likely read about the paper.

The Publicity: The renewed public interest in science should have made climate scientists pleased; however, they were not. Beneath the technical language is a claim that the climate sensitivity to CO2 has been misinterpreted by climate scientists because of natural cloud variations. Were it true, it would mean that natural forces, not man, were responsible for much of the observed global warming. That idea had been examined before and found to be inconsistent with the evidence, but the idea is one that some climate skeptics have been promoting. And, they are part of a well-funded pipeline that carries misinformation about climate science to major news outlets before all the facts can be known.

Forbes: One main branch of the misinformation pipeline runs through the Heartland Institute, where James Taylor is listed as a senior fellow. James Taylor once wrote articles for the tobacco industry suggesting that secondhand smoke was not harmful, and he has now turned his talents to denying the ties between rising CO2 levels and global warming. Inexplicably, James Taylor has been hired by Forbes magazine to write on energy and environmental topics. James Taylor picked up on Spencer’s paper and wrote an article for Forbes titled, New NASA Data Blows Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism. Not only was the title inaccurate and misleading, but the article was clearly an opinion article, miscategorized as news.  The editors of Forbes might not have known that Spencer’s “NASA Data” was the same data that climate scientists use to reach a very different conclusion, but perhaps they should have noticed that no reasonable news story would describe climate scientists as “alarmists” 15 times. The business community considers legislation that would reduce our carbon emissions to be anti-business, and business newspapers such as Investors Business Daily, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes often are biased toward the skeptic’s position. The bias shows up in story selection, opinions miscategorized as news, a disproportionate number of skeptics articles on opinion pages, and  in sensationalized headlines. From Forbes, the article was picked up as a news story by other business magazines, Yahoo! News, MSNBC, and skeptic’s blog sites, which had a field day with the article. It is sad that millions will have read the distorted article, but few will ever read the climate scientist’s rebuttal. The article will soon sink into obscurity,  but it will have accomplished it’s purpose, which was to spread doubt about climate change.

Reproducibility: Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is not the only requirement for a paper to become accepted as part of the science literature. The research must stand up to the scrutiny of other experts in the field and it must be reproducible by other scientists with comparable knowledge and skill. Spencer’s paper reached the news media before climate scientists had a chance to respond, but they soon found a number of obvious errors in the paper. Trenberth and Fasullo summed it up:”The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave. The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper.”  Given time, A.E. Dessler analyzed Spencer’s paper in detail and published a rebuttal. The abstract in Geophysical Review Letters reports the key points of his paper:

  • Clouds are not causing climate change;
  • Observations are not in disagreement with models on this point;
  • Previous work on this is flawed;  ( referring specifically to Spencer’s paper in Remote Sensing).

Clearly, Spencer’s paper had serious methodological flaws and was not reproducible. How did the paper get through Remote Sensing’s peer review process? The answer would likely not have been found, except for the publicity.

The Catastrophe: The editor of Remote Sensing, who had been trying to build the reputation of the Journal, considered the publicity a catastrophe. The instructions in Remote Sensing asks authors to suggest five reviewers, and it is possible that Spencer could choose five skeptics.  The editor would not have to pick from those, but apparently in this case he did.  In the next issue of Remote Sensing, the editor, Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, resigned and issued a public apology for this article saying, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate skeptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements.” “The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. “ And he concluded, “But, as the case presents itself now, the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate sceptic notions of the authors.”

© 2012 J.C. Moore


Global Warming: Media Bias and the Misinformation Pipeline

Thu ,18/08/2011


The Scientific Consensus: All the major scientific organizations in the world have endorsed a  statement similar to that of the American Chemical Society:

”Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles. There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.” 

  This urgent message continues to be mainly ignored by the public and our politicians. This seems strange as scientist’s trustworthiness is  highly rated  by the public, with 84% having a favorable view of scientists .  In spite of the scientist’s warning, a  Gallup poll found American’ s concern about global warming has fallen from just three years ago, when 66%  said they were worried about the problem, to only 51% today   A recent CNN  poll  found that 97% of scientists who are actively engaged in research in climate science agree that global warming is occurring and the primary cause is man’s activities. There is clearly a scientific consensus on the matter, but the public seems confused on the issue. That is because the 3% of the climate scientists who do not agree with the scientific consensus receive an inordinately large amount of publicity.

The Misinformation Pipeline: While skepticism based upon reason makes science stronger, many of the skeptics do not have that as a goal.  Many skeptics publish their articles in rather obscure journals where they are not peer-reviewed by competent climate scientists.  Occasionally, one of the skeptics has a paper published in a major journal, and though some of these make major contributions, many of them are later found to contain incorrect assumptions and errors. The errors are usually pointed out in letters and articles in the journals, and should require retraction or correction, but some of the skeptics have refused to do so, and instead launch attacks upon their critics. While other climate scientists are well aware of the errors, the general public is not, and they often remember the controversy  as evidence that ” the science is not settled”. These controversies, and erroneous results, are often delivered to the public through a well-funded misinformation pipeline. The pipeline carries the misinformation from the uncorrected or obscure journals articles to blog sites, through biased institutes and think tanks, and often into respectable newspapers and magazines. Spin is added along the way and the headlines are made more and more sensational as the information moves along the pipeline. What comes out of the pipeline often bears little resemblance even to the original article, but that matters little as the purpose of the pipeline is to spread doubt.

Speed is of the essence as it is important to get the message “out there” before it can be debunked. Because, once “out there”, it is  difficult to correct it in the minds of the public. One good example of this is the controversy that arose over an article by Steig, et. al. which had been featured on the cover of Nature. Steig found that over the last fifty years, the Antarctic had been getting warmer by 0.1 C per decade. A year later, an article with the headline “O’Donnell et al 2010 Refutes Steig et al 2009″ appeared on many news and blog sites. However, O’Donnell’s paper was nowhere to be found. The source of the headline was traced to skeptic Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit website. It turned out that McIntyre was one of the authors of the paper, and he had circulated the phony headline over two weeks before O’Donnell’s paper was published. Now, that is fast. And O’Donnell’s article hardly refuted Steig’s, as he also found that Antartica was warming, but a slightly different geographical pattern.  

Tracing a Path: A more recent example was an article that appeared on MSNBC’s Newsvine blog site. The headline read:  New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism – Yahoo! News and it had the summary :

 The underlying physics does not support the James Hansen CO2 model and nor does the data. End of Story.”

That is certainly not accurate, as Hansen, the director of NASA, has published many peer-reviewed articles  based upon NASA’s data that show that CO2 is primarily responsible for global warming. It was unlikely that a single article published by climate skeptic Roy Spencer in the rather obscure journal, Remote Sensing, would blow a hole in anything. Nor was it the end of the story.  Tracing the story backwards shows how misinformation about global warming is rapidly spread through the news media. I reported this story to Newsvine as inaccurate and mis-categorized. The headline is sensationalized, and no reasonable news story would describe climate scientists as “alarmists” 15 times. However, Newsvine did not act as it was categorized as “news” by Yahoo!News. I contacted Yahoo!News and explained that it was a violation of journalistic ethics to categorize an opinion article as news. I received a reply quickly, but it mainly passed the buck to Forbes, saying:

“We are not responsible for the content contained within news articles or headlines from outside source providers. If you would like to report incorrect information provided in a news article from one of these outside source providers, please contact the publisher at www.forbes.com. “ I replied to Yahoo! News, suggesting that if someone there couldn’t make a decision about the matter, they might wish to change their name to Yahoo! News and Opinion so they would be covered in the future. I also sent a complaint to Forbes, but apparently Forbes is not very concerned as they have yet to reply. (1)

Forbes. The article in Forbes was written by James Taylor, who is listed as a fellow at the Heartland Institute. You may remember James Taylor, as he wrote a number of articles for the tobacco industry suggesting that secondhand smoke was not harmful. His article in Forbes was categorized as a news article since he claimed the information came from a “press release”. But when I clicked on the link to the “press release”, I ended up at a blog site run by Roger Pielke, a proverbial climate skeptic. There the supposed “news release” was titled: “Comments On The Paper ‘On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance’ By Spencer and Braswell 2011” . I suppose James Taylor considers Roger Pielke’s  comments as news, but not everyone feels that way. And, in case the reader missed the significance of  Pielke’s comments, underneath them he recommended a post on Roy Spencer’s blog site titled: ” Is Gore’s Missing Heat Really Hiding in the Deep Ocean?” Wait a minute! It was Spencer who wrote the original journal article and his blog article would indicate that Spencer might have a bias.

Spencer’s Paper: Spencer’s paper was published in a normally reputable but little-known journal, Remote Sensing . The article was listed as being peer-reviewed, but is unlikely that the article was peer-reviewed by anyone with an expertise in climate science. As soon as climate scientists had time to analyze the article, they found a number of errors. According to Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University: “He’s taken an incorrect model, he’s tweaked it to match observations, but the conclusions you get from that are not correct.” And, an analysis by climate scientists Trenberth and  Fasullo says in part:  “The model has no realistic ocean, no El Niño, and no hydrological cycle, and it was tuned to give the result it gave. The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper.” That about sums it up. *

Timeline: The article may have had little scientific merit,  but the misinformation pipeline that delivered it was certainly efficient.  In this case, a paper titled “On the Misdiagnosis Of Surface Temperature Feedbacks From Variations In Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance“, with significant errors, was published in Remote Sensing on July 25. It appeared as a “Comments on …”  article on Roger Pielke’s blog site on July 26, then passed through the Heartland Institute where it somehow became a “press release”. Along the way, it morphed into James Taylor’s article, New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism,  which appeared July 27 in Forbes, where it was now categorized as a news article. It then appeared on  July 28 on Yahoo!News and MSNBC’s Newsvine, again mis-categorized as news, with the title New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism – Yahoo! News.  Three days after publication, an erroneous and sensationalized version was on the major news network. Since then, a number of other blog sites and news sources have picked up the sensationalized version of the article and possibly millions of people have read it. Very few of those will read the climate scientist’s opinion of the article.The article will soon sink into obscurity,  but it will have accomplished it’s purpose, which was to spread doubt about climate change. And that’s why the public is confused.

Correcting the problem: The solution is for the news media to follow journalism’s ethics and to avoid biasMedia Bias  refers to censorship or propagandism on the part of particular news sources, where content is framed in the light of a preconceived agenda, such as favoring a station’s corporate economic interests, having a political slant, or sensationalism that tends to distort news to make it a better commercial “product.” The business community considers legislation that would reduce our carbon emissions to be antibusiness(2). Many business newspapers, magazines, and journals reflect that bias and even the leaders such as Investors Business Daily, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes are often biased toward the skeptic’s position. The bias shows up in the news stories selected, opinions mis-categorized as news, selecting a disproportionate number of skeptics articles for opinion pages, and writing or allowing sensational headlines on the opinion articles. Yes, the editors have complete control over what op-ed pieces and letters are published and they often write the headlines for opinion articles. An egregious example of this is a Wall street Journal article titled “Science Has Spoken, Global Warming Is a Myth”. The article turned out to be a hoax , but it came right before the Senate was to consider the Kyoto Treaty and may have influenced the Senate to reject ratification. While the editors might not have known that the article was based on flawed science, they certainly should have realized that two biochemists, who had little experience in climate science, could not speak for all science on such an important matter. 

Journalism’s Ethics: Unethical practices by new sources is a great disservice to its readers and, in this case, to the entire world. It should certainly be expected that  journalists and news media follow the Ethical code of The Society of Professional Journalists, who believe that it is the ethical duty of the journalist to:

Seek the Truth and Report it: Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Act Independently: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

Be Accountable: Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

It is a principle of professional ethics that anyone who practices the profession, whether a member of the professional organization or not, is bound by the code of ethics of the profession. In this case, the ethical code would apply to anyone who claims to reports the news, even bloggers.

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore

* Note added 9/3/2011:  In the latest issue of Remote Sensing, the editor, Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, resigned and issued a public apology for this article saying, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements.” “The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers.“

(1) It is a serious violation of journalism ethics to represent an opinion article such as this as a news story. Please let Yahoo know how you feel about this by reporting it as abuse at this  link >>  

 It may also be reported as an ethical violation to Forbes at readers@forbes.com .

(2) That is not really the case. The LA Times reported that a group of International investors, responsible for more than $15 trillion in assets, issued a global warming warning. (2) They called for the world’s nations, particularly the United States, to move decisively to combat climate change or face the possibility of economic disruptions even worse than the global recession of the last two years. They also pointed out that “The economic opportunities are enormous for nations with the foresight to seize them while the risks of inaction are potentially catastrophic.”

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore