Watts Up With That?

Tags ››› Watts Up With That?
  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • Experts Criticize Associated Press For Disavowing Term "Climate Change Denier"

    Scientists And Journalists Say AP's Stylebook Change Legitimizes Those Who Reject Scientific Fact

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The Associated Press recently updated its Stylebook by instructing AP writers to avoid using the term "denier" to describe those who reject the firmly-held scientific consensus on climate change. The AP's Stylebook change was celebrated by several well-known climate science deniers, but criticized by prominent scientists and journalists who say the new AP-approved term "climate change doubters" grants undeserved legitimacy to those who refuse to acknowledge the consensus.

  • The Flip Side Of The Polar Vortex

    Or, How The Right-Wing Forgets Alaska Exists

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Melting Ice In Alaska Has Lead To Coastal Erosion

    Right-wing media are laughing about President Barack Obama mentioning climate change in his fifth State of the Union address because it is cold in D.C. But the wobbly polar vortex bringing cold air to much of the contiguous United States is simultaneously causing record warmth in Alaska, a state often seen as the nation's "ground zero" for climate change.

    On January 28, Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, ran this remarkable headline: "Record warmth, confused plants: An Alaska January to remember." The article noted that it was 62 degrees Fahrenheit in one town, tying the January state record, but did not allude to the long-term warming trend. In November, the newspaper did briefly invoke the possibility of climate change while expressing disbelief that strawberries were growing "In Anchorage. In November."

    Yet just a year ago, right-wing media claimed the state was headed toward "an ice age." The Alaska Dispatch, a prominent online news site, ran the misleading headline, "Forget global warming, Alaska is headed for an ice age." The report was promoted by the conservative British tabloid, the Daily Mail, and the climate denial site, WattsUpWithThat, which highlighted the state's relatively lower average temperature in 2012.

    Alaska Temperatures Rising In Long-Term

    As the chart above also shows though, cherry-picking a short-time period is misleading -- natural variation can mask the long-term trend. Contrary to claims of an "ice age," studies project that average annual temperatures in Alaska will increase "an additional 3.5 to 7°F by the middle of this century," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    Warming in Alaska already has caused highways to buckle and homes in areas such as Shismaref, pictured above, to sink, as the EPA explained:

    Many of Alaska's highways are built on permafrost. When permafrost thaws, roads buckle. Vehicles are only allowed to drive across certain roads in the tundra when the ground is frozen solid. In the past 30 years, the number of days when travel is allowed on the tundra has decreased from 200 days to 100 days per year.

    [...]

    Along Alaska's northwestern coast, increased coastal erosion is causing some shorelines to retreat at rates averaging tens of feet per year. Here, melting sea ice has reduced natural coastal protection. In Shishmaref, Kivalina, and other Alaska Native Villages, erosion has caused homes to collapse into the sea. Severe erosion has forced some Alaska Native Villages' populations to relocate in order to protect lives and property.

     Image at top via Alaska's Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development

  • The Physical Impossibility Of The Washington Times' Universe

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    The Washington Times is claiming that carbon emissions could be causing "global cooling" in contradiction of basic physics.

    In an editorial Monday designed to ridicule Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for convening a summit on clean energy in Las Vegas, the Times repeatedly referred to climate change as a "scam" and cited several "facts" that allegedly discredit it -- including that "there's new evidence that carbon-dioxide emissions, which first set off global-warming hysteria, are actually triggering global cooling."

    But there isn't "new evidence" of that. Or any kind of evidence, really.

    As Duke University scientist William Chameides explained to Media Matters when Fox News tried to advance this "utter nonsense" claim, scientists established the greenhouse effect "more than a century ago":

    What CO2 does is trap a larger amount of the heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping and thus driving up temperatures. To argue otherwise is to argue that the greenhouse effect does not exist. In fact the existence of the greenhouse effect was established by scientists more than a century ago. It would be impossible to explain the temperatures of Mars and Venus, as well as the Earth, without invoking this effect.

    The "greenhouse effect" is part of a complex process -- a "balancing act" -- that makes life on earth possible. However, mankind's use of fossil fuels has led to a surplus of these gases, which prevents more radiation than usual from escaping back into space, thus making the planet hotter. This is not the slightest bit controversial in the scientific community, and the reverse is a vanishingly remote belief even among the climate deniosphere. For instance, the chairman of the industry-funded George C. Marshall Institute, a physicist who has conducted no climate research but suggests we should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide, has said that "most people like me believe that industrial emissions will cause warming, but just much less than has been predicted by many computer models." Indeed, industrial emissions have already caused substantial warming, as seen in this chart from NASA:

  • Fox Promotes Debunked Claim That Scientists Exaggerated Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Fox News seized on a leaked draft of a U.N. climate report to suggest that climate change has been "overstated for the last 20 years." But the draft itself clarifies that observed temperatures over the last 20 years have fallen within the range of past projections despite natural short-term variation.

    Fox & Friends First claimed "scientists say" that "global warming been overstated for the last 20 years," based on a draft of the fifth assessment report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report, which was leaked in December 2012 to a blog called "stopgreensuicide," contains a graph that conservative blogs claimed showed observed temperatures were lower than the projections of IPCC's first assessment report in 1990.

    But scientists debunked this claim when the IPCC draft was first leaked in December. The draft itself notes that "Even though the 16 projections from the [previous temperature] models were never intended to be predictions over such a short time scale [1999-2010], the 17 observations through 2010 generally fall well within the projections made in all of the past assessments." Indeed, as climatologist James Annan told Media Matters in December, "The grey bounds [...] indicate the range of uncertainty including natural variability, and the observations are well within that range":

    Source: IPCC

  • Scientists Debunk Conservative Media's Spin On Leaked UN Climate Report

    Blog ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

    Conservative media outlets are claiming that a leaked draft of the UN climate panel's upcoming report undermines previous predictions of rapid warming driven by rising CO2 emissions. But scientists say these claims are "nonsense" and that the draft report only adds to the existing body of evidence that manmade climate change is a serious problem.

    A draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, due to be published in fall 2013, was leaked by Alec Rawls, a blogger who volunteered to review the report despite having no scientific expertise. In a blog post on Watts Up With That, Rawls claimed that the draft report contains a "game-changing admission" that galactic cosmic rays have significantly contributed to global warming, undermining the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity. But experts say Rawls "completely misrepresented the IPCC report," noting that he ignored a paragraph that explicitly states there is "high agreement" among scientists that cosmic rays do not have a meaningful impact on global temperatures. Dr. Steve Sherwood -- a lead author of the chapter in question -- told Australia's ABC News that Rawls' claim is "ridiculous," adding: "we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible."

    Furthermore, as Skeptical Science pointed out, even if cosmic rays did influence global temperatures, "they would currently be having a cooling effect." Dr. John Abraham of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team told Media Matters:

    The IPCC report certainly was not saying the changes in the sun were causing the earth to warm. In fact, if the leaker was correct in his interpretation, the earth should be cooling right now!

    Other climate experts called Rawls' report "nonsense" and "quite simply wrong."

    But that didn't stop Investor's Business Daily from echoing his misinformation, claiming that the leaked draft "indicates the IPCC is actually admitting that a factor outside man's activities is playing a significant role in our climate." IBD quoted Rawls' claim that the section on cosmic rays "completely undercuts" the IPCC's conclusion that manmade climate change poses a significant threat, without noting that Rawls is not a scientist and has been thoroughly discredited.

    Meanwhile, climate contrarian blogger Anthony Watts claimed to have discovered the real "bombshell" in the draft report: a chart comparing observed changes in global average surface temperatures with projections from the four previous IPCC reports. The chart indicates that early UN projections may have slightly overestimated warming because they did not take into account natural factors like solar forcing or aerosols, which tend to have a cooling effect. But the draft notes that "observations through 2010 generally fall well within the projections made in all of the past assessments."

  • Meet The Climate Denial Machine

    Blog ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

    Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.

    Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.

    Heartland Institute And James Taylor

    The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."

    Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.

    Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.

  • Fox Falls For Tabloid "Science"

    ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Fox News is promoting a report from a British tabloid to claim that new data shows "Global Warming [Is] Over." But the agency that released the data explained that the tabloid report is "misleading" because it is based on a short-term period that obscures the long-term upward trend in global temperatures.

  • "Climategate" Redux: Conservative Media Distort Hacked Emails ... Again

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG, JILL FITZSIMMONS & EMILEE PIERCE

    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."

  • Right-Wing Media Find Another Poor Excuse To Ignore Climate Change: Polar Bear Edition

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    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.