In new global warming special, Fox News interviews scientists with industry ties, records of misinformation

On May 21, Fox News will air a one-hour special, Global Warming: The Debate Continues, in which host David Asman will “speak with scientists who are skeptical of what they view as alarmist fears about climate change.” Among the roster of contributors are several global warming skeptics with ties to the energy industry and records of misinformation on the issue.

On May 21, Fox News will air a one-hour special, Global Warming: The Debate Continues, in which host David Asman will “speak with scientists who are skeptical of what they view as alarmist fears about climate change.” Among the roster of contributors are several global warming skeptics with ties to the energy industry and records of misinformation on the issue. In each case, their statements or studies questioning global warming theory have been debunked or proven misleading by the scientific community. It remains to be seen whether Asman will inform viewers of these records or of their associations with institutions funded by companies that have a financial stake in opposing policies that seek to combat climate change.

Global Warming: The Debate Continues follows Fox News' The Heat is On: The Case of Global Warming, a November 13 special that was heavily criticized by conservatives. It drew attention from two divisions of the conservative Media Research Center -- (here and here) and the Business & Media Institute -- and Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid wrote a column blasting Fox News for running the special.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank heavily funded by corporate interests, asked Fox News to revise The Heat is On before it aired. As a March 19 Washington Post article reported, “The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which widely publicizes its belief that the earth is not warming cataclysmically because of the burning of coal and oil,” says Exxon Mobil Corp. is a “major donor” largely as a result of its effort to push that position.

In recent months, Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances in which misinformation about climate-change issues has surfaced on Fox News (here, here, here, and here).

Asman will feature the following in his program:

Patrick J. Michaels

Patrick J. Michaels, a University of Virginia professor and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is a vocal critic of global warming theory with strong ties to the energy industry. Michaels is chief editor of the World Climate Report, a biweekly newsletter on climate studies funded in large part by energy interests. According to an October 11, 2005, Seattle Times article, “Michaels has received more than $165,000 in fuel-industry funding, including money from the coal industry to publish his own climate journal.” Michaels previously founded and edited the now-defunct quarterly World Climate Review. A December 1995 Harper's Magazine article reported that the publication was funded by the coal producer and electricity co-op Western Fuels and “routinely debunk[ed] climate concerns.”

Michaels also has ties to the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI), described by Congressional Quarterly as “a Washington-based think tank supported by industry and conservative foundations that focuses primarily on trying to debunk global warming as a threat.” Formerly a visiting scientist at GMI, Michaels recently participated in a February 24 roundtable discussion there. He is also the editor of Shattered Consensus: The True State of Global Warming (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), a collection of essays advertised on the Institute's website as raising “serious doubts about whether policies to 'fight' climate change are warranted at all.” The Exxon Mobil Foundation donated $80,000 to GMI's Climate Change program in 2002.

Moreover, Michaels's employer, the Cato Institute, has received substantial financial support from energy companies such as Chevron Companies, Exxon Corp., Royal Dutch/Shell, and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Foundation, and the Atlantic Richfield Foundation. Cato also published his three books critical of global warming theory -- Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media (November 2004), The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming (May 2000), and Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming (January 1992).

As a guest on the May 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Michaels falsely suggested that former Vice President Al Gore endorsed exaggerating the threat of global warming, as Media Matters documented. Further, in March 2005, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume apparently relied on a misleading article by Michaels that attacked the credibility of a World Bank scientist in order to discredit a recent United Nations report on world ecosystems written by a panel the scientist co-chaired.

Bjørn Lomborg

Bjørn Lomborg is the associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. In his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Lomborg purported to conduct a “non-partisan analysis” of environmental data in the hope of offering the public and policymakers a guide for “clear-headed prioritization of resources to tackle real, not imagined, problems.” His conclusion was that the concerns of scientists regarding the world's environmental problems -- including global warming -- were universally overblown. But in January 2002, Scientific American ran a series of articles from four well-known environmental specialists that lambasted Lomborg's book for “egregious distortions,” “elementary blunders of quantitative manipulation and presentation that no self-respecting statistician ought to commit,” and sections “poorly researched and ... rife with careless mistakes.”

A backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists similarly reported that Lomborg's findings and methodology “fails to meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis”:

[S]eparately written expert reviews unequivocally demonstrate that on closer inspection, Lomborg's book is seriously flawed and fails to meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis. The authors note how Lomborg consistently misuses, misrepresents or misinterprets data to greatly underestimate rates of species extinction, ignore evidence that billions of people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and minimize the extent and impacts of global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases. Time and again, these experts find that Lomborg's assertions and analyses are marred by flawed logic, inappropriate use of statistics and hidden value judgments. He uncritically and selectively cites literature -- often not peer-reviewed -- that supports his assertions, while ignoring or misinterpreting scientific evidence that does not. His consistently flawed use of scientific data is, in Peter Gleick's words “unexpected and disturbing in a statistician”.

Indeed, in his analysis of the book, Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, took particular issue with Lomborg's handling of facts regarding temperature record:

Lomborg makes many errors, both important and trivial. He should have taken more care in checking basic information. For example, his assessment of the temperature record over the past century is just wrong (Ibid., p. 263) -- there is strong agreement among atmospheric scientists that warming is now occurring due to anthropogenic influences.

Nonetheless, Lomborg's book was embraced by global warming skeptics and their supporting institutions. For instance, in 2001, the "Cooler Heads Coalition" -- a group formed by the CEI and other industry-friendly organizations to “dispel the myths of global warming” -- invited him to brief members of Congress regarding his findings on global warming.

John Christy

John Christy is the director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Christy and fellow University of Alabama professor Roy Spencer co-authored a 2003 global warming study based on extensive data from weather satellites. Their report, which concluded that the troposphere had not warmed in recent decades, was ultimately found to have significant errors. As The New York Times reported, when their miscalculations were taken into account, the data used in their study actually showed warming in the troposphere.

Christy also contributed an essay skeptical of climate change to Global Warming and Other Eco Myths: How the Environmental Movement Uses False Science to Scare Us to Death (Crown Publishing Group, 2002). The book was released by the CEI.

Roy Spencer

Roy Spencer is the chief research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. As noted above, he and Christy released a study in 2003 that, using faulty calculations, purported to show that temperatures in the troposphere had remained constant over the previous two decades.

Like Michaels, Spencer also has ties to the George C. Marshall Institute. Beyond his criticism of global warming theory, Spencer has also taken up another cause that places him well outside the scientific mainstream -- his view that “intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism.”