An Example of Junk Science and Media Bias
This year's cold winter remined me of an article the local paper ran a few years ago stating that record cold temperatures were a symptom of global warming. I dug through my files and located this gem that appeared in The Minneapolis Star Tribune on April 1, 1996. While it appeared in a section called "News with a View," it was presented as news in a non-editorial section of the paper.
The author of this article presents a very lopsided view of the issue, including citing Stephen Schneider. For those unfamiliar with Schneider, he is the cheif proponent of the global warming theory. Ironically enough Schneider was also one of the chief proponents of the global cooling theory that was in vogue in the 1970s. It is intellectually irresponsible to attempt to pass off the chief proponent of a politicized theory as a disinterested scientific researcher. The following quote gives an insight into Schneider's scientific objectivity:
On the one hand, as scientists, we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but . . . On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place . . . To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have . . . Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.-- Quoted by Jonathan Schell, "Our Fragile Earth," Discover, October 1989, p. 47.
Dawson is quick to blast the vested interests of the coal industry (which ironically provides the fuel to the power the Xcel electrical generators that power the Star Tribune's printing presses), but fails to point out the possible conflicted interests of NASA Climate Specialist James Hansen and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spokesman Robert Watson. Anyone even passingly familiar with the Public Choice Theory of economics understands that government employees have a self-interest in which policies they promote. In other words, it is possible that no global warming = no job for these two government employees.
Finally, given that this was printed on April 1, 1996, I harbor a suspicion that this may be somebody's idea of an April Fool's Day joke.
Scientist don't have an agenda, just evidence
By Jim Dawson
Star Tribune Staff Writer
In the midst of the long, stifling summer of 1988, NASA climate specialist Jim Hansen sat before a congressional committee and delivered a wake-up call. He said the months-long drought that was cooking the Midwest might well be caused by global warming and be indicative of what could happen with increasing frequency in the future.
Hansen then went one bold step further, saying, "The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now."
Many of Hansen's scientific colleagues winced at his assertion. Although most knew that what he said was probably true, a public declaration seemed premature, even dangerous. Most scientists, especially those who specialized in climate studies wanted a lot more evidence before declaring to the world that pollution was warming, and endangering, the planet.
'A nontrivial problem'
Such a declaration from the scientific community, they knew, would be problematic because global warming promises not only droughts and searing hot spells, but also floods, loss of species, deaths of forests, rising sea levels, shifts in agricultural belts and the spread of infectious disease. Global warming is, in the understated parlance of science, a "nontrivial problem."
One fear was that Hansen's premature declaration would provide fuel to the industry skeptics anxious to debunk anything that might cost them money.
Sure enough, after Hansen's testimony, the howl from the coal industry was loud and long. The reason? The greenhouse effect is caused primarily by dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning coal and other fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide allows the sun's heat to reach the surface of the Earth and then traps it there by preventing the planet from radiating the heat back into space.
It's not rocket science to decide that the best solution to slow global warming is to burn less coal and other fossil fuels. That, of course, requires a more efficient use of energy, much stricter pollution regulations and potentially lower profits for the power industry.
Attacking the messengers
Industry's reaction to the scientific warnings of global warming was not to admit the problem and dedicate themselves to finding solutions.
Instead, they launched a mocking attack on the messengers, the scientists. This is what one industry newsletter printed recently after scientists suggested a connection between global warming and unusually frigid weather this winter:
"With logic apparently in the deep-freeze, several global warming apocalysts have stated that the outbreak- of record breaking low temperatures ... is exactly what we should expect as global warming kicks in. That's right, global warming causes record cold."
At this point, we're all supposed to laugh at.those silly scientists and throw a few more chunks of coal on the fire. But, consider this:
In the eight years since Hansen told Congress global warming was underway, scientists have piled up a mountain of evidence showing that we are indeed heating up the planet, and in December the scientific community declared in a U. N.-, sponsored report that "the balance of evidence suggests that there has been a discernible human influence on global climate."
In other words, the planet is warming and we've probably caused it.
The link between a very cold winter and global warm isn't silly at all, despite what the coal industry would have you believe. Scientists have long believed that one of the first signs of global warming would be an increase in the frequency and intensity of the extremes in the climate - hot or cold weather and floods or drought. Storms, too, would be more frequent and severe. That is exactly what has happened across the globe for the past several years.
What really drives this pseudo-debate is that industries that might suffer economically don't want global warming to be real, so they try to sell us, the consumers, a warped view both of nature and of science.
They count on the fact that most of the public continues to see science as a mysterious activity conducted by a bunch of weird people who wear white coats and play with rats.
To keep business going as usual, the coal and related industries, want us to believe that the hundreds, indeed, thousands, of scientists who are warning about, global warming are extremists or apocalysts" who embrace a kind of planetary death wish.
The scientific process
These arguments are absurd and depend on an audience ignorant of scientific process to be successful. Unfortunately, scientific ignorance abounds.
When the coal industry tells us that global warming is a "myth" or, worse yet, a "hoax," and then points to the many unanswered questions in the thousands of scientific studies on the subject, we lay people need to be aware that these problems have often been raised by the very scientists who are being attacked. That's the scientific process.
"The scientific community never sits on a prediction and says 'there is the answer,' " said Stephen Schneider, a climate researcher with Stanford University. "It is constantly testing and retesting, and that (for those not, familiar with the scientific process) leads to some of the cacophony and confusion."
One scientist develops a theory as to how carbon dioxide is trapping heat in the atmosphere, then another scientist challenges the theory with a string of objections. More scientists join in the fray and test and retest the idea, then decide if it is a good one or should be discarded.
This process has gone on countless times during the years of research into and will continue for years to come. But the research has reached a point where the scientists have enough solid evidence to say, in the words of Robert Watson, of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, that "there is absolutely no doubt that human activities are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, which tend to warm the atmosphere.
To suggest that scientists, many of whom have children who must grow up on this planet, wish for something as potentially catatrophic as global warming is insulting to their humanity. The scientists are simply telling us what the evidence is, for good o ill. Thas is what good scientists do.
Reality for the coal industry, it seems, is based in money, not nature or science. Because the industry wishes global warming to be a myth, it spends a lot of time and money trying to convince us that it is, even as the glaciers melt, sea levels rise and the climate gets more and more extreme.
Science is far from perfect, but as astronomer Carl Sagan noted in his latest book, "The Demon-Haunted World," it is an attempt, largely successful, to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get a hold of ourselves, to steer a safe course."
The scientists warning us about global warming are trying to do just, that, help us get a grip on the problem and steer a safe course.