CommunityMy FDL

Scientific integrity: a comparison

"Topography of Greenland" by NASA Goddard Photo & Video

"Topography of Greenland" by NASA Goddard Photo & Video

The climate denial crowd would have us believe that the world’s climate scientists are deliberately misleading the public about climate change. These alarmists are in cahoots with government funders and are locking out their opponents. There is no global warming; it is all a lie.

The Times’ Greenland Maps – Off by a Factor of 300
Anyone who believes that would have to be stunned at the recent flap over the Greenland ice maps. Last week saw the publication of the thirteenth edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (“The world’s most prestigious and authoritative atlas…a benchmark of cartographic excellence”). Its maps of Greenland incorrectly showed large areas as ice-free. The ice loss it depicted, if it were true, would amount to about 15% of Greenland’s ice cover.

This was seriously misleading information. But it did promote the “myth” of global warming, and it certainly suited the alleged agenda of those lying scientists. So naturally they would have let the error stand, right?

And an error it was indeed. Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 7 meters (24 feet); if it had lost 15% of its ice over the last 12 years (since the last edition of the atlas), sea levels would have risen by one meter. In fact, sea level has risen by 3 millimeters over that period, or three tenths of one percent of the atlas’ claim.

And the first people to jump on the error were scientists at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Although the Times has tried to defend its error, they are pretty lame. The NSIDC denies being contacted. Presumably – we don’t know yet – someone at the Times extrapolated from the NSIDC’s data without consulting the scientists who could have helped them understand it.

But – and here’s where the scientists could have been tempted to let the falsehood stand – Greenland is actually losing ice, lots of it. RealClimate has the summary, including maps and graphs. And the rate of loss is accelerating; as ice melts, the land and water absorb sunlight that the ice would have reflected, and get warmer over time. The resulting warming causes more ice to melt, and leads to a positive feedback loop; the more ice is lost, the faster the remaining ice melts.

So if the scientists had wanted to highlight the problem, they could have let the Times’ error stand, or at least soft-pedaled their criticism. But that’s not what they did. They jumped on it early and hard, they criticized and clarified, they connected directly with the media and they provided access to the actual data.

Kind of what we would expect rational, honest, objective scientists to do.

Heartland’s Arctic Ice claim – Eat Your Heart Out, Pravda!
On the other side of the fence, we have the Heartland Institute, an outfit funded by Exxon, Heritage, the Kochs, and all the usual suspects. No surprise; they deny climate change, argue that radiation exposure from Fukushima’s disaster is “slight”, defend fracking, and so on. One of their allies is a former astronaut named Harrison Schmitt, who is New Mexico’s energy secretary. In 2009 he submitted a paper (PDF) to NASA claiming that “Arctic sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage”.

Since that’s not true, Schmitt duly came in for some criticism. Heartland rose to his defense, charging the critic, Mark Boslough of UNM and Sandia Labs, of false accusations and outright lies, and proudly proclaiming that “In fact, National Snow and Ice Data Center records show conclusively that in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels.”

If you want to see the data Heartland used for this claim, you can go here, here or here.

You can’t even call this cherrypicking – if cherrypicking is a tricycle, this is a Ferrari. Arctic ice coverage has been declining by about 4% per decade, since 1978, and faster – 8% – since 2000. If Heartland wanted people to have accurate information, they would have acknowledged the basic facts and put Schmitt’s claim in context. But no – that wouldn’t have suited their funders in the fossil fuel industry. It wouldn’t have suited their agenda and their purpose for existing. So they just lied. I mean, really, why not?

Me or Your Lying Eyes?
Yet it is Heartland and their allies who have the brass to call out climate scientists as liars and frauds. And that’s not all – it’s working. The American public is falling for it. Gallup finds that fewer people now think climate change is even happening at all. By a two-to-one margin, Americans think it will not be a serious threat in their lifetimes.

Besieged by the armies of ignorance, facing millions of dollars devoted to lying propaganda, and in some cases having their professional careers threatened, scientists continue to do their work to the best of their ability, and to stick to the principles of honest inquiry and respect for the facts. Let’s do what we can to wake up our fellow citizens to what’s actually happening.

Previous post

Early Morning Swim

Next post

Can We Get Rick Perry Not to Pray the Satellite Away?