Science Revives “The Hiatus”

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

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Just five weeks after Science magazine prominently featured a paper proclaiming that the multidecadal slowdown in the rate of the earth’s average temperature rise—aka, the “pause” or “hiatus”—was but a figment of bad data, comes a new paper in Science magazine explaining the physical mechanisms that have led to the slowdown.

Wait, what?

You read it right. What Science laid to rest but a month ago, Science has now resurrected. Science (with a capital “S”), and those dedicated to it, should not be amused.

But such is the nature of the game. Science the magazine is more interested in generating publicity for itself than in best serving Science the field—a point being increasingly raised by prominent scientific figures.

The new paper, whose title even contains the dreaded H-word (“Recent hiatus caused by decadal shift in Indo-Pacific heating”), is authored by Veronica Nieves and colleagues from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). The paper itself is rather technical look at how the hiatus has manifested itself in various compilations of measurements (and models) of the ocean’s temperatures at depth.

Never once do the authors act as if the hiatus didn’t exist, but rather present data showing how the pause in the rise of the oceans near-surface temperatures came to be. Basically, they identify a broad and shallow patch of the Pacific Ocean as being primarily responsible for slowing the rise in global near-surface temperature, but find that the cooling of that patch during the past decade has been offset by a warming in an adjacent and deeper patch of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They write:

[T]he decade long hiatus that began in 2003 is the result of a redistribution of heat within the ocean, rather than a change in the net warming rate.”

The authors do not describe how this behavior, either spatially, temporally, or in magnitude, compares with climate model expectations of the behavior, although they do reject a recent prominent finding that claimed there was not a “systematic overestimation of the temperature response to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the [climate model] ensemble” after correcting for the recent downturn in solar activity coupled with uptick in low-scale volcanic activity (Huber and Knutti, 2014).

But, the main story here is not the new findings  (which will require further analysis to unpack their significance), but that Science magazine is publishing a paper describing physical mechanisms behind the hiatus that was accepted in its final form on June 24th, three weeks after Science’s paper announcing the hiatus to be a non-event.

The new paper contains a lot of science while the earlier paper rehashed some old findings (published elsewhere) and then spun them to make it seem as if the hiatus didn’t exist.

Which one do you think was published to grab headlines and generate attention?

But, really, what should you expect from a journal whose editor-in-chief, Marcia McNutt, last week wrote in an editorial about climate change titled “The two-degree inferno,” things like “time for debate has ended,” that “action is urgently needed” and this gem directly aimed at those who stand in the way (like trying to publish research findings to the contrary?):

In Dante’s Inferno, he describes the nine circles of Hell, each dedicated to different sorts of sinners, with the outermost being occupied by those who didn’t know any better, and the innermost reserved for the most treacherous offenders. I wonder where in the nine circles Dante would place all of us who are borrowing against this Earth in the name of economic growth, accumulating an environmental debt by burning fossil fuels, the consequences of which will be left for our children and grandchildren to bear? Let’s act now, to save the next generations from the consequences of the beyond-two-degree inferno.

It is high time for everyone to realize that Science magazine can no longer be considered a science journal, but instead has joined the ranks of advocacy publications, for better or for worse.

References:

Huber, M., and R. Knutti, 2014. Natural variability, radiative forcing and climate response in the recent hiatus reconciled. Nature Geosciences, 7, 651–656, doi:10.1038/ngeo2228

Karl, T.R., et al., 2015. Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. Science Express, published on-line, June 4, doi:10.1126/science.aaa5632

Nieves, V., J.K. Willis, and W.C. Patzert, 2015. Recent hiatus caused by decadal shift in Indo-Pacific heating. Science Express, published on-line, July 9, doi: 10.1126/science.aaa4521