Wash. Post lets Palin mislead readers on climate change

››› ››› TOM ALLISON & JOCELYN FONG

On December 9, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Sarah Palin calling on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen conference, which advanced several debunked claims about what recently stolen emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia "reveal" about the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, including the claims that climate scientists "manipulated data to 'hide the decline' in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals." Palin also claimed that "we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes."

From Palin's December 9 Washington Post op-ed:

"Climate-gate," as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle -- the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts" deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to "hide the decline" in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. What's more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.

[...]

That's not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate -- far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska's communities and infrastructure.

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs.

CLAIM: Scientists "manipulated data to 'hide the decline' in global temperatures"

REALITY: "Decline" refers to unreliable tree-ring data, not actual temperatures. A November 26 article in The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, reported that Penn State scientist Michael Mann "said his trick, or 'trick of the trade,' for the Nature chart was to combine data from tree-ring measurements, which record world temperatures from 1,000 years ago until 1960, with actual temperature readings for 1961 through 1998" because "scientists have discovered that, for temperatures since 1960, tree rings have not been a reliable indicator." In a November 20 post, RealClimate.org's staff, which is comprised of several working climate scientists, including Mann, similarly stated:

As for the 'decline', it is well known that Keith Briffa's maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the "divergence problem"-see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while 'hiding' is probably a poor choice of words (since it is 'hidden' in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

CLAIM: Scientists "tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals"

REALITY: Mann's email cited specific paper that Climate Research editors and publisher conceded should not have been published. Although Palin does not cite specific emails to support her claim, critics have frequently pointed to a March 11, 2003, email in which Mann wrote that a paper by astrophysicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas "couldn't have cleared a 'legitimate' peer review process anywhere. That leaves only one possibility -- that the peer-review process at Climate Research has been hijacked by a few skeptics on the editorial board." Mann further stated, "I think we have to stop considering 'Climate Research' as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board..." Contrary to Palin's suggestion that Mann targeted the journal because it published work of his "critics," The Washington Post itself previously reported that the email suggested a boycott of Climate Research "because it had agreed to publish a paper they viewed as flawed." Indeed, The New York Times reported on August 5, 2003, that the Soon-Baliunas paper "has been heavily criticized by many scientists, including several of the journal editors. The editors said last week that whether or not the conclusions were correct, the analysis was deeply flawed." The Times further noted that the "publisher of the journal, Dr. Otto Kinne, and an editor who recently became editor in chief, Dr. Hans von Storch, both said that in retrospect the paper should not have been published as written" and that von Storch resigned, "saying he disagreed with the peer-review policies":

Advocates for cuts in emissions and scientists who hold the prevailing view on warming said the hearing backfired. It proved more convincingly, they said, that the skeptical scientists were a fringe element that had to rely increasingly on industry money and peripheral scientific journals to promote their work.

The hearing featured Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a co-author of a study, with Dr. Sallie Baliunas, also an astrophysicist at the center, that said the 20th-century warming trend was unremarkable compared with other climate shifts over the last 1,000 years.

But the Soon-Baliunas paper, published in the journal Climate Research this year, has been heavily criticized by many scientists, including several of the journal editors. The editors said last week that whether or not the conclusions were correct, the analysis was deeply flawed.

The publisher of the journal, Dr. Otto Kinne, and an editor who recently became editor in chief, Dr. Hans von Storch, both said that in retrospect the paper should not have been published as written. Dr. Kinne defended the journal and its process of peer review, but distanced himself from the paper.

"I have not stood behind the paper by Soon and Baliunas," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Indeed: the reviewers failed to detect methodological flaws."

Dr. von Storch, who was not involved in overseeing the paper, resigned last week, saying he disagreed with the peer-review policies.

The Senate hearing also focused new scrutiny on Dr. Soon and Dr. Baliunas's and ties to advocacy groups. The scientists also receive income as senior scientists for the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington group that has long fought limits on gas emissions. The study in Climate Research was in part underwritten by $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, the voice of the oil industry.

Mann: "I support the publication of 'skeptical' papers that meet the basic standards of scientific quality and merit." In response to the controversy surrounding the emails, Mann said that his email "[w]as in response to a very specific incident regarding a paper by Soon and Baliunas published in the journal 'Climate Research.' " Mann further stated: "I support the publication of 'skeptical' papers that meet the basic standards of scientific quality and merit. I myself have published scientific work that has been considered by some as representing a skeptical point of view on matters relating to climate change."

CLAIM: "[W]e can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes"

REALITY: IPCC found greater than 90 percent chance that most of temperature increase over 50 years is due to human-caused greenhouse gas concentrations. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder noted Palin's "conflation here of 'weather' and climate; it's ridiculous to try and change the weather, of course -- weather is so variable and unpredictable. What the Copenhagen negotiators want to change is humanity's contribution to global climate change." As Joseph Romm stated on ClimateProgress.org in reponse to Palin's assertion, "In fact, we can say with assurance that man's activities cause the very climate change she points to -- thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice. That is precisely what the IPCC's [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] 2007 review of the scientific literature concluded, that there is a better than 90% chance humans are the cause of most of the recent warming." Indeed, the IPCC's 2007 "Synthesis Report" concluded that "[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level" and that "[m]ost of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [defined in the report as a ">90%" chance] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-caused] GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations." Indeed, the Post itself reported that the panel, "made up of hundreds of scientists from 113 countries, said that based on new research over the last six years, it is 90 percent certain that human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperatures over the past half-century." The IPCC report also specifically rebuts the suggestion that natural causes are primarily responsible for global warming in the last 50 years:

The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely [less than 5 percent chance] that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone. During this period, the sum of solar and volcanic forcings would likely [greater than 66 percent chance] have produced cooling, not warming.

IPCC: "Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC." The IPCC, which is a scientific body established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization, has established that "[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal." The IPCC "reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide," and its reports are the product of contributions from "[t]housands of scientists from all over the world."

IPCC chair: "[T]horoughness and the duration of the process" eliminates "any possibility of omissions or distortions." In a statement on the reported theft of the CRU emails, IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri stated that "the I.P.C.C. as a body follows impartial, open and objective assessment of every aspect of climate change carried out with complete transparency" and that "[t]he entire report writing process of the I.P.C.C. is subjected to extensive and repeated review by experts as well as governments." From Pachauri's statement:

It is unfortunate that an illegal act of accessing private email communications between scientists who have been involved as authors in I.P.C.C. assessments in the past has led to several questions and concerns. It is important for me to clarify that the I.P.C.C. as a body follows impartial, open and objective assessment of every aspect of climate change carried out with complete transparency. IPCC relies entirely on peer reviewed literature in carrying out its assessment and follows a process that renders it unlikely that any peer reviewed piece of literature, however contrary to the views of any individual author, would be left out. The entire report writing process of the I.P.C.C. is subjected to extensive and repeated review by experts as well as governments. Consequently, there is at every stage full opportunity for experts in the field to draw attention to any piece of literature and its basic findings that would ensure inclusion of a wide range of views. There is, therefore, no possibility of exclusion of any contrarian views, if they have been published in established journals or other publications which are peer reviewed.

[...]

In summary, no individual or small group of scientists is in a position to exclude a peer-reviewed paper from an I.P.C.C. assessment. Likewise, individuals and small groups have no ability to emphasize a result that is not consistent with a range of studies, investigations, and approaches. Every layer in the process (including large author teams, extensive review, independent monitoring of review compliance, and plenary approval by governments) plays a major role in keeping I.P.C.C. assessments comprehensive, unbiased, open to the identification of new literature, and policy relevant but not policy prescriptive.

The unfortunate incident that has taken place through illegal hacking of the private communications of individual scientists only highlights the importance of I.P.C.C. procedures and practices and the thoroughness by which the Panel carries out its assessment. This thoroughness and the duration of the process followed in every assessment ensure the elimination of any possibility of omissions or distortions, intentional or accidental.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Sarah Palin
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