Climate skeptic science does not compute

RealClimate.org: Where junk science gets shredded into tiny pieces.


Andrew Leonard
May 1, 2006 9:49PM (UTC)

I knew I was completely smitten by the blog RealClimate, when, while digging around in its archives this morning, I discovered a post titled "The False Objectivity of 'Balance.'"

The post begins: "We here at RealClimate continue to be disappointed with the tendency for some journalistic outlets to favor so-called 'balance' over accuracy in their treatment of politically-controversial scientific issues such as global climate change. While giving equal coverage to two opposing sides may seem appropriate in political discourse, it is manifestly inappropriate in discussions of science, where objective truths exist."

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(This has long been a major gripe of mine about mainstream journalism. And actually, I'd go even further. Good reporters generally know when a source is handing them a line of bull, even in political discourse, and it is their responsibility to communicate that to readers. But I digress.)

RealClimate is a Web site/blog devoted to climate science, created by actual climate scientists. I encountered it for the first time today, courtesy of a link from WorldChanging. The info nugget at issue was compelling, if seriously geeky: RealClimate was calling attention to the news that on April 28, Science magazine published a "technical comment" arguing that an influential climate-science paper published in Science two years ago "was based on an incorrect implementation" of a particular procedure for interpreting data.

The original paper, "Reconstructing Past Climate From Noisy Data," is noteworthy because climate skeptics seized upon it as evidence bolstering their claim that global warming is nothing to worry about. The data presented seemed to undermine the hypothesis that the rise in global temperatures follows a "hockey stick curve" -- that, after hundreds of years of basically flat growth, temperatures are suddenly surging upward.

A technical comment is not the same as a correction or a retraction, and Science also presented a rebuttal from the original paper's authors. It's also worth noting that one of the scientists authoring the technical comment is a contributor to RealClimate, and another contributor is Michael Mann, the scientist originally responsible for popularizing the "hockey stick curve" interpretation of temperature data. So it would be easy, if one were so inclined, to attack RealClimate for touting news that supported its particular version of scientific "objective truth."

But I'm not so inclined, and not just because I happen to believe the vast consensus of climate scientists who agree that human activity has played a signficant role in contributing to potentially catastrophic global warming. I appreciate RealClimate because it has the unmistakable feel of a place populated by actual scientists who are passionate about the value of what they do, and are prepared to defend their theories with real data and hard science. The numerous comments posted after each blog post are extraordinarily rich and detailed -- it is an amazing, rich hub of expertise and insight. I was exposed to more cutting-edge climate change science in two hours this morning than in the last two years. I can't say I understood it all, but I know where I'm going to look from now on for truly informed commentary on one of the most important issues facing the world.

That is, of course, if I'm looking for something close to "objective truth." If, on the other hand, I want a a disingenuous, ideologically biased line of bull, I can always head over to JunkScience.com where, strangely, there seems to be no discussion of the new developments in Science.

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Environment Global Warming Globalization How The World Works Science

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