Right-wing media frequently distort climate science in order to dispute the overwhelming consensus that human activities are responsible for climate change. But sometimes scientists fight back and stand up for their work. Here are nine times scientific researchers stood up to deniers who misrepresented their climate studies.
The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli criticized Breitbart News and multiple UK-based outlets for mischaracterizing a recent scientific study to promote climate denial and seeming "more interested in promoting a specific political cause ... than in getting the facts right," which Nuccitelli called "the very definition of propaganda."
In an October 15 article, Nuccitelli highlighted false claims by the conservative media outlets about a recent study on isoprene -- a gas that helps clouds form and can impact temperatures. The study found that oceans are emitting more of this gas than previously observed, which, as Nuccitelli wrote, could "reconcile" a previous "discrepancy between measurements and models." Several conservative news outlets used the study to cast doubt on human-caused global warming, with the Daily Express reporting that the study "throws previous estimates of rising temperatures into doubt," The Register claiming that the study shows "there isn't as much urgency" about global warming "as had been thought," and Breitbart News claiming that its findings "may pose a serious threat to man-made global warming theory."
The mischaracterizations led one of the study's authors to publicly argue that the study does not support such conclusions and dispute the notion that it provides evidence against global warming. Nuccitelli reported that Christian George told Carbon Brief: "Our study is a new brick that should help understanding our complex world, by providing new knowledge on air-sea exchanges, but it definitively does not question climate change, it just helps us understand its impact. There is no question that the global climate will become warmer. The question is just how much, how fast and how the effects will change our lives." Nuccitelli concluded that the conservative media outlets "seemed more interested in promoting a specific political cause -- undermining efforts to implement climate policies -- than in getting the facts right," adding that their misuse of science to suit a political agenda was "the very definition of propaganda."
Conservative media outlets have a long history of twisting scientific studies on climate change to dispute the overwhelming consensus that humans are responsible for climate change.
From The Guardian:
Marine isoprene releases could only cause global warming or cooling if the level of the emissions were to change. However, this paper merely suggests that the overall level of isoprene emissions is higher than previously thought, not that the levels are changing. And in fact the study indicates that climate model simulations might be more accurate on ocean isoprene emissions than previously believed.
Conservative media outlets choose propaganda over journalism
However, several conservative media outlets falsely claimed that the study had uncovered a "global cooling process." Writing for Breitbart, James Delingpole claimed that the paper "may pose a serious threat to man-made global warming theory." The Register and Express both claimed that temperatures have been stable for 15 years (they've actually risen by about 0.2°Cduring that time), and that this paper could explain that fictional temperature stability.
The problem lies in the fact that unlike Carbon Brief, whose reporters discussed the study and its implications with two climate scientists including one of the study authors, these conservative media outlets tried to interpret its meaning on their own. This led to mischaracterizations of the paper that Professor Forster described as "quite crazy."
All of these conservative media pieces misrepresenting the paper shared another characteristic. Each revealed its bias by wishfully suggesting the international climate negotiations that will soon be held in Paris could be undermined by the study's findings.
Rather than contact the study's authors or any other climate scientists, the Express and Breitbart quoted Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist, climate fake expert, and director of the anti-climate policy Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The UK government's Charity Commission ruled last year that the GWPF was blurring fact and comment on climate change, lacked neutrality, and promoted a contrarian position on the subject.
In essence, The Register, Express, and Breitbart seemed more interested in promoting a specific political cause - undermining efforts to implement climate policies - than in getting the facts right. And presenting misleading information to promote a political agenda is the very definition of propaganda.
Conservative media have long alleged that progressives are waging a "war on Christianity" in the United States. Now many of these same media figures are waging their own war on the man who leads the world's largest Christian denomination, the Catholic Church's Pope Francis, for addressing the urgent issue of climate change.
Conservative media have been quick to rush to the defense of climate science denier Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has recently come under fire for accepting over $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry without disclosing this conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. Among the most impassioned defenses of Soon was an article penned by a writer at the Daily Caller with connections to some of the organizations that funded Soon's research.
Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center detail the extensive and problematic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and Soon, one of the contrarian scientists often cited by prominent climate science deniers like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). The documents reveal that Soon described many of his scientific papers, which largely focus on the claim that the sun is primarily responsible for recent global warming, as "deliverables" produced in exchange for money from fossil fuel interests. The revelations, which were recently covered by several media outlets, reveal a potentially serious breach of scientific ethics in at least eight of the papers Soon has published since 2008, and the Smithsonian Institution has directed the organization's Inspector General to investigate Soon's ethical conduct.
Several right-wing media outlets are already aggressively defending Soon. Shortly after the initial reports, the Daily Caller published an article criticizing the "attack campaign" against Soon by "firm believers in global warming." The article's author, PG Veer, dismissed the criticisms of Soon, claiming that opponents "are looking for conflicts of interest" rather than challenging Soon on "the facts."
Yet Veer himself is a former fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, which was created from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- one of the organizations that provided money for Soon's research. Veer currently works for the Franklin Center, which has received significant funding from Donors Trust, another organization that bankrolled Soon.
Breitbart has also carried Soon's water, defending him in at least five different articles so far. Columnist James Delingpole defended Soon for "telling the truth" about climate change, writing that the latest news is a "continuation of a vendetta which has been waged for years against an honest, decent, hardworking -- and incredibly brave -- scientist who refuses to toe the official (and increasingly discredited) line on man-made global warming."
Taking their cues from the Drudge Report, right-wing media are echoing a London Telegraph columnist's false claim that scientific agencies intentionally adjusted years of weather station data to show a global warming trend that isn't really there, which the author dubbed the "biggest science scandal ever." But far from being a scandal, historical temperature records are routinely subject to peer-reviewed adjustments to account for changes to measuring instruments, the time of day measurements are taken, and other factors -- and they do not negate a global warming trend.
Fox News is reviving accusations that NASA's peer-reviewed adjustments to temperature data are an attempt to "fak[e]" global warming, a claim that even a climate "skeptic" threw cold water on.
Tony Heller, a birther who criticizes climate science under the pseudonym "Steven Goddard," wrote a blog post that claimed "NASA cooled 1934 and warmed 1998, to make 1998 the hottest year in US history instead of 1934." After the Drudge Report promoted a report of this allegation by the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph, conservative media from Breitbart to The Washington Times claimed the data was "fabricated" or "faked." On June 24, Fox & Friends picked it up, claiming that "the U.S. has actually been cooling since the 1930s" but scientists had "faked the numbers":
However, the libertarian magazine Reason noted that even climate "skeptic" blogger Anthony Watts said that Goddard made "major errors in his analysis" and criticized the implication that "numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way."
In fact, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and NASA, which both maintain temperature records that use slightly different methods but show close agreement, have publicly documented the peer-reviewed adjustments they make to raw data. NCDC states that the "most important bias in the U.S. temperature record occurred with the systematic change in observing times from the afternoon, when it is warm, to morning, when it is cooler," and so it must correct this cool bias as well as other biases that, for example, result from moving temperature stations.
NASA's data shows that the nation has not been "cooling" since the 1930s, with several years, including 2012, ranking hotter than 1934 in the continental United States, along with a long-term warming trend. And while The Sean Hannity Show claimed that this shows the "Earth has been cooling," the continental United States makes up less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface -- global surface temperatures have increased significantly.
Anonymous hackers recently released another batch of emails taken from a climate research group at the University of East Anglia in 2009, along with a document containing numbered excerpts of purportedly incriminating material. Many of these selections have been cropped in a way that completely distorts their meaning, but they were nonetheless repeated by conservative media outlets who believe climate change is a "hoax" and a "conspiracy."
In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, who authored a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have claimed that the case exposes "the global warming fraud" and that polar bears are not threatened by climate change. In fact, extensive research establishes that polar bears are vulnerable to extinction due to decreasing sea ice, and human-induced global warming is supported by a robust body of evidence independent of any polar bear studies.