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.
1: Scientist Knocks Breitbart News And Others For “Misinterpret[ing]” Study “To An Alarming Extent”
The Deniers' Distortion: A Breitbart News writer claimed that scientists “have discovered a hitherto unknown cooling process which may pose a serious threat to man-made global warming theory.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: One of the study's co-authors responded that the team of researchers “completely disagree” with how their study was portrayed by right-wing media outlets, and called out Breitbart and others for “misinterpret[ing]” the study “to an alarming extent.”
The Context: Ocean surfaces naturally emit a gas called isoprene, which can form particles that allow clouds to form and impact temperatures and precipitation. The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on September 30, found that oceans produce more isoprene than recently thought.
Breitbart News' James Delingpole wrote that this recent discovery provides “further proof that the skeptics are right: the reason that all that predicted 'global warming' has failed to materialize is that it has been countered by the planet's natural cooling effects.”
But study co-author Christian George told Carbon Brief that scientists “didn't make any statement about cooling effect,” but rather showed “a new small detail that might have an impact on the forming processes of clouds.”
2: Duke Author Hammers Rush Limbaugh's “Ridiculous” Distortion Of Study On Global Warming Projections
The Deniers' Distortion: Radio host Rush Limbaugh said that a study from Duke University researchers showed that “there isn't any [global] warming going on” and “there's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that long-term warming over the next 100 years is going to be anything even noticeable, abnormal.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The Duke study actually confirms humans' role in driving global warming, and one of its authors responded to Limbaugh by saying, “The idea that there 'isn't any warming' is ridiculous.”
The Context: The Duke study, published in Scientific Reports on April 21, found that out of the range of warming projections outlined by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperature records suggested the “middle-of-the-road warming scenario” is more likely than the most severe warming projections.
Limbaugh took that to mean that “the computer models are not correct.” He even went so far as to suggest that the researchers were on his side, saying they were part of a “consensus” of scientists who think that “there isn't any warming going on.” Study co-author Patrick Brown wrote in an email to Media Matters that Limbaugh's assertion was “ridiculous” and that the study “confirms that the warming of the past century could not have happened without human-caused increases in greenhouse gasses.”
3: Climate Scientist Crushes Right-Wing Claim That Study Is “Death Blow To Global Warming Hysteria”
The Deniers' Distortion: Rush Limbaugh and several conservative news websites claimed that a study about aerosols' climate impact dealt a “death blow to global warming hysteria.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The study's author himself said, “Contrary to some reports that have appeared in the media, anthropogenic climate change is not called into question by my study.”
The Context: The study by Bjorn Stevens of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which was published in the Journal of Climate, provided new estimates for the rate at which aerosols -- tiny particles of matter suspended in the atmosphere -- deflect the sun's rays. The study found that aerosols have a smaller cooling effect than previously thought.
Conservative media seized on a Cato Institute blog post about the study to call it a “death blow” to global warming science. And the Daily Caller claimed that the new findings contradict those of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), writing: “Basically, the IPCC says aerosols deflect a lot of warming -- the opposite of the Max Planck study's finding.”
In response, Stevens stated that his findings were “within the range of previous estimates” from the IPCC, and that his work does not support suggestions that anthropogenic climate change is called into question. He added: “I continue to believe that warming of Earth's surface temperatures from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases carries risks that society must take seriously.”
4: Study Author Wallops Daily Caller For “Misleading” Claim About Siberian Ice Study
The Deniers' Distortion: The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch claimed a research paper showed that global warming is “nothing new” and was happening “long before human greenhouse gas emissions began to build up in the atmosphere.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: One of the study's authors said that the Daily Caller made “subtle changes” to the study's press release to make it seem like “the climate always warmed and therefore the human impact would not be important,” which “is certainly not reflected in our published work.”
The Context: The study, published in Nature Geoscience, examined Siberian permafrost to find that the region has gradually warmed over the past 7,000 years. The Daily Caller's Bastasch wrote that the findings “could provide a major breakthrough in climate science” and would also “support arguments that the sun plays a large role in the Earth's climate history.” The article's opening line was, “Turns out global warming is nothing new.”
Study co-author Thomas Laepple said in an interview with ThinkProgress that the Daily Caller's take was “misleading.” From ThinkProgress:
Laepple said the Caller's claim that “global warming is nothing new” was “misleading,” as it attempts to equate a global phenomenon with a seasonal, regional, long-term trend. In reality, he said, man-made greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming “in all seasons at a pace that is faster than anything we experienced during the last millennia.”
5: Researcher Calls Out Daily Caller And Others For “Cherry Picking” Study About Penguins And Global Warming
The Deniers' Distortion: A Daily Caller article touted an increase in the populations of two penguin species as victory against “global warming alarmists, like Al Gore, [who] have claimed that penguin populations are in deep trouble due to global warming.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The lead author of the study noted that many penguin species have declined and accused media of were "cherry picking" the study's findings “for and against a climate-change story here.”
The Context: A team of scientists that carried out a census of penguin populations found that the populations of penguin species appeared to have increased. The Daily Caller reported the news as “good news for penguin fans,” claiming that the global penguin population has “boomed in the last 20 years, despite warnings from environmentalists that penguin numbers would dwindle as global warming melted the polar ice caps.”
But Heather Lynch, lead author of the study, explained to Media Matters that increased accuracy of census data played a role in the findings. Lynch added that while some species of penguin appear to be increasing, “many” others have been declining, “particularly temperate species” and chinstrap penguins, which she said are “declining across most if not all of their range.”
6: Lead Author: Daily Caller Article Is “Complete Distortion” Of Biodiversity Study
The Deniers' Distortion: The Daily Caller reported that a new study showed that “global warming is increasing biodiversity around the world.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The lead author of the study called the Daily Caller article a “complete distortion” of the study, which found that ecosystems around the world are experiencing massive turnover, while the planet faces a period of mass species extinction.
The Context: The study, published in the journal Science on April 18, 2014, found that invasive species are changing local species compositions at an alarming rate in many parts of the globe. Lead author Maria Dornelas explained to Media Matters that “part of this is caused by species migrating towards the poles in response to climate change, and part to invasive species replacing local species.”
But because the study did not find “systematic loss” of biodiversity, the Daily Caller announced that “global warming is not harming biodiversity, but instead is increasing the range and diversity of species in various ecosystems.”
7: Authors Blast Conservatives' Claim That Study Proves “Wind Farms Cause Global Warming”
The Deniers' Distortion: Rush Limbaugh, Jim Hoft, and Fox Nation claimed a study proved that wind farms “cause global warming.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The study's lead author, the University of Albany's Liming Zhou, said in an email to Media Matters this coverage was “misleading.”
The Context: A study of satellite data published in Nature Climate Change on March 28, 2012, found that nighttime land temperatures in the immediate vicinity of wind turbines in Texas had increased compared to nearby areas without turbines. This led Fox Nation to declare: “New research finds wind farms cause global warming.”
But the study authors explained that the wind turbines themselves likely “do not create a net warming of the air” but instead “only re-distribute the air's heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.”
Co-author Somnath Roy told The Guardian that the paper is on “local-scale processes,” whereas climate change “is a longer-term phenomenon involving process that operate at larger spatial scales ... My expertise is in small-scale (what we call atmospheric boundary layer and/or mesoscale) processes, not climate.”
8: Researcher Slams Daily Mail For Knowingly “Misrepresent[ing]” Carbon Record Study
The Deniers' Distortion: Fox Nation published a Newsmax summary of a Daily Mail article under the headline, “Study Refutes Manmade Warming.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The study's lead author said media outlets “completely misrepresent[ed]” the study, which “does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend.”
The Context: A study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in 2012 examined carbon records from a mineral called ikaite and found that “both the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age extended to the Antarctic Peninsula.”
The study was first reported in British tabloid The Daily Mail, which ran a story headlined, “Is this finally proof we're NOT causing global warming? The whole of the Earth heated up in medieval times without human CO2 emissions, says new study.” The story was then repeated in a Newsmax article, which was promoted on Fox News' Fox Nation and claimed: “Skeptics of manmade global warming claims can bolster their position with a new study showing that the Earth went through a previous warming period not caused by human CO2 emissions.”
But just because the climate has changed in the past doesn't mean that current global warming is not driven by fossil fuels. The study's lead author, Zunli Lu, lamented to Peter Sinclair of Climate Crocks that “it is unfortunate that my research ... has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets.” Lu added, “Our study does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend.” Lu also told Sinclair, “The reporter of that Daily Mail article published it anyway, after we told him the angle that he chose misrepresents our work.”
9: Researcher Destroys “PATENTLY FALSE” Fox News Global Warming Headline
The Deniers' Distortion: Fox Nation claimed that a study shows “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduce Global Warming.”
The Study Author's Rebuttal: The study's lead author said this claim is "PATENTLY FALSE" (all caps original!).
The Context: A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 found that sulfur pollution, largely from Chinese coal plants, had a cooling effect in Asia that partially offset the rate of global warming in the region. Fox Nation posted a Reuters article about the study with the headline, “Reuters Bombshell: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduce Global Warming.”
Robert Kaufmann, the study's lead author, criticized Fox's coverage of his study in an email to Media Matters:
Sulfur emissions ARE NOT GREENHOUSE GASES and the article carefully separates the two. Sulfur emissions are known as radiatively active gases because they reflect incoming solar radiation back to space. But they are not greenhouse gases, which affect Earth's energy balance by absorbing out-going long wave radiation. So the headline is PATENTLY FALSE.