Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Bill Broad to Al Gore: "cool the hype"
The blogosphere has been afire with criticism of William Broad’s story in Tuesday’s New York Times. ("From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype.") The story tried (and failed) to make the point that many scientists believe Al Gore not only exaggerated impacts of global warming but also got many aspects of the science wrong.
The blogofire started Monday with an item in the Drudge Report on a planned New York Times “hit on Gore.” After publication of the Times story, David Roberts at Grist weighed in, saying, “This may be the worst, sloppiest, most dishonest piece of reporting I’ve ever seen in the NYT. It’s got all the hallmarks of a vintage Gore hit piece: half-truths, outright falsehoods, unsubstantiated quotes, and a heaping dose of innuendo.”
At Deltoid, Tim Lambert wrote wrote that Broad’s article “gives global warming skeptics (who are ‘centrist’ according to Broad) free rein to say anything they want, without checking the accuracy of their claims. Worse he adds his own statement on the science that seriously misrepresent scientific reports.”
And over at Realclimate, Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt eviscerated the scientific criticism leveled at Gore in Broad’s article. “The first rule when criticizing popular science presentations for inaccuracies should be to double check any 'facts' you use,” they wrote. “It is rather ironic then that William Broad's latest piece on Al Gore plays just as loose with them as he accuses Gore of doing.”
Not surprisingly, some bloggers are reaching exactly the opposite conclusions. Andrew Bolt, for example, writes this in his blog at the Herald Sun (an Australian newspaper):
“Far, far too late, but some journalists of the corporate left may at last be asking Al Gore some questions about his astonishing scaremongering . . . Yes, the New York Times piece airs many criticisms of Gore, but without painstakingly fact-checking each of his mendacious claims, as he deserves. But bottom line: even alarmists think he’s an alarmist.”
Don’t you just love that line! The trouble is that the people Broad quoted to suggest that Al Gore has misrepresented the science are anything but “climate alarmists.” Some actually don’t agree that human emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the planet. And at least one says there is no evidence that humans are causing climate change.
Broad writes that “geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.” Then he quotes Robert Carter, a marine geologist at Australia’s James Cook University, as saying this:
“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet. Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”
Well, nowhere does Broad tell his readers that Carter is a prominent skeptic of the role of carbon dioxide in global warming. He does not believe that atmospheric CO2 is a primary forcing agent of climate change. Nor does he believe that any signal of human impact on the climate has emerged from the noise of natural variability. Who knows? Maybe Carter is right and the vast majority of other climate scientists are wrong. But Broad’s readers certainly deserved to know that Carter is by no means a centrist on global warming.
Because other blogs have done a thorough job dissecting the scientific claims made in Broad’s article, I’ll say only one more thing about that — because I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere and it is so ridiculous that it can’t be passed over. Broad quotes this from a blog posting by Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama: the IPCC report shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”
Oh really? That’s the only solid conclusion to be drawn from all 8,488 words and 21 pages of the IPCC report? Not that “paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years,” as stated in the IPCC? Or that “the last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise”?
Both of these findings, two of many described in the IPCC report, support points made by Gore — points that Broad’s sources say have no scientific backing.
What possible justification could there be for printing something so patently untrue and profoundly absurd? I can only conclude that Broad has a mission when writing about climate change: To correct what he perceives to be errors in the record and restore a sense of balance to journalistic coverage that he thinks has tilted too far in the direction of climate alarmism. Nothing wrong with trying to correct the record, maintaining journalistic skepticism, etc. But as Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt point out in their Realclimate posting, if you’re going to do it, you’d better get your facts straight.
In the end, none of this is really about science per se. As Roger Pielke, Jr., my colleague here at the University of Colorado, told me today, “The debates about the science in the movie are yet another way to scientize political debates.”
It’s really all about politics, not science. And if some scientists are indeed uneasy about Al Gore — and I have no doubt that this is true, although not nearly to the degree that Broad claims — it’s not really because he has exaggerated the science and gotten some of it wrong. What uneasiness exists probably stems from a sense that they’ve lost control of their own science to a politician, that in the process much of the nuance and hedginess of what they do has been lost, and lastly, that Gore has cherry picked the data to make a strong case for action.
The HORROR! A political advocate is ADVOCATING!
-- Tom Yulsman