Limbaugh's Latest Dose Of Tabloid Science

Seeking to cast doubt on a major climate change report due later this month, Rush Limbaugh cited a widely-pilloried British tabloid for the second time in as many weeks.

On the September 17 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh attacked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is set to release a study affirming that scientists are more confident than ever that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. Declaring that climate models “have all been wrong,” he read the first seven paragraphs of a recent The Mail on Sunday article purportedly to that effect, pausing to identify the IPCC as “the holding company, if you will, for all the hoax data”:

In fact, the claims Limbaugh cited have already been called “completely incorrect” and “a huge misinterpretation of reality.”

Based on a leaked draft of the IPCC's forthcoming report, The Mail on Sunday claimed that climate change has proceeded far more slowly than was asserted in the previous assessment. Here's what reporter David Rose wrote (emphasis added): 

Yet the leaked [2013] report makes the extraordinary concession that the world has been warming at only just over half the rate claimed by the IPCC in its last assessment, published in 2007.

Back then, it said that the planet was warming at a rate of 0.2C every decade - a figure it claimed was in line with the forecasts made by computer climate models.  

But the new report says the true figure since 1951 has been only 0.12C per decade - a rate far below even the lowest computer prediction.

But Rose irreparably botched the comparison, which was repurposed by other outlets before experts had time to call him out on it.

What the IPCC said in 2007 was that warming between 1990 and 2005 had been measured at 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. In a different section, it reported that warming over a longer period -- the last 50 years -- was about 0.13°C (0.23°F) per decade. This makes sense since, as Slate pointed out, we know climate change is ramping up more quickly of late. If the new assessment really says we've been warming at 0.12°C (0.22°F) per decade since 1951, it will mean the IPCC was almost exactly right. As a scientist misquoted in the article noted, an accurate headline would have been “Global warming is just 92 percent of what we said it was” (rather than “Global warming is just HALF what we said,” as the story was titled before a recent edit). Other scientists deemed Rose's claims "incorrect" and emphasized that the report's findings have not been finalized. 

One week prior, Limbaugh cited a report from the same writer, in the same publication, to claim that a single year's Arctic sea ice contradicts the long-term decline. That article also drew heavy criticism

Time to re-set the “Days Since Rush Cited Tabloid Science” counter to zero.

UPDATE (9/17/13): On September 17, The Mail on Sunday significantly changed portions of the article as well as its headline. It now states “Global warming is just QUARTER what [scientists] thought” and focuses on short-term trends. Limbaugh's on-air remarks excerpted the original version. The updated version includes this “clarification”:

An original version of this article sought to make the fairest updated comparison with the 0.2C warming rate stated by the IPCC in 2007.

It drew on the following sentence in the draft 2013 summary: 'The rate of warming over the past 15 years... of 0.05C per decade is smaller than the trend since 1951, 0.12C per decade.' This would represent a reduction in the rate of warming by a little under one half.

But critics argued that the 0.2C warming rate in the 2007 report relates only to the previous 15 years whereas the 0.12C figure in the forthcoming report relates to the half-century since 1951. They pointed out that the equivalent figure in the 2007 report was 0.13C.

This amended article compares the 0.05C per decade observed in the past 15 years with the 0.2C per decade observed in the period 1990-2005 and with the prediction that this rate per decade would continue for a further 20 years.