Commentary

What Is Happening to Science?

Some things are sacred to scientists: Facts, data, quantitative analysis, and Nature magazine, long recognized as the world’s most prestigious science periodical.

Lately, many have begun to wonder if Jayson Blair has a new job as their science editor. On page 616 of the April 8 issue, Nature published an article using a technique that they said, on page 593 of the same issue, was “oversold”, was inappropriately influencing policymakers, and was “misunderstood by those in search of immediate results.”

The technique is called “regional climate modeling,” which attempts to simulate the effects of global warming over areas the size of, say, the United States.

As reported by Quirin Schiermeier, scientists at a Lund, Sweden climate conference, “admitted privately that the immediate benefits of regional climate modeling have been oversold in exercises such as the Clinton administration’s US regional climate assessment, which sought to evaluate the impact of climate change on each part of the country.”

Then, 23 pages later, Nature published an alarming and completely misleading article predicting the melting of the entire Greenland ice cap in 1,000 years, thanks to pernicious human economic activity, i.e., global warming, using a regional climate projection.

The lower 48 states comprise 2 percent of the globe. Schiermeier reported that the consensus of scientists is that climate models on such a small scale are inappropriate for policy purposes. Greenland covers 0.4 percent of the planet. If the models are no good over the U.S., they’re worse over Greenland. Yet the authors “conclude that the Greenland ice-sheet is likely to be eliminated by anthropogenic climate change unless much more substantial emission reductions are made than those envisaged by the IPCC [a United Nations Panel].”

The Greenland paper, by Jonathan Gregory and two others, was profoundly misleading, offering any climate alarmist an incredible sound bite attributable to our most prestigious science publication.

The first paragraph states: “The Greenland ice-sheet would melt…if the annual average temperature in Greenland increases by more than 3°C [5.4°F]. This could raise global average sea-level by 7 meters [23 feet] over a period of 1,000 years or more.”

Guaranteed, that quote will be on Hardball on May 28, the day that the non-science fiction global warming flick, The Day After Tomorrow comes out. It’s ironclad. After all, it’s from Nature.

And it’s also deceptive. It’s not a warming of 5.4°F that causes the massive meltdown. Instead, it’s an annual warming of an impossible 14°F. Given the way greenhouse warming splits between summer and winter, this implies an outlandish 30°F change in the winter, fueled by a world that would have to be producing carbon dioxide at a rate far beyond anything remotely possible. It is the most extreme scenario in a pack of outlandish future emission scenarios that the U.N. cooked up a few years ago. They actually call them “storylines,” which is appropriate, since they make little sense.

For example, one of the major storylines assumes that people increasingly favor personal wealth over environmental protection, which is absurd. The richer a nation is, the richer a city is, or the more affluent a neighborhood is, the more it protects its environment.

How did the first paragraph get by the editors at Nature? Either they weren’t looking or they thought it was OK. Take your pick.

It’s not the first time, either. Just as scientists “admitted privately” that the models don’t work, so have prestigious environmental journalists told me privately that they are concerned about Nature’s handling of global warming stories, both in terms of increasingly shoddy reviews and timing clearly designed to influence policy. No one has forgotten that in 1996 Nature featured a paper, right before the most important U.N. conference leading to the Kyoto protocol, “proving” that models forecasting disastrous warming were right. The paper was subsequently found to have used data selectively to generate its dire result.

Note to Nature: Even journalists, normally your friends on global warming, are getting suspicious.

The Greenland paper is truly an exercise in virtual reality. The threshold for melting is based upon a uniform annual temperature rise. But, every scientist knows that greenhouse effect warming is much greater in winter, when the authors say “no melting takes place.” When they account for this (not reporting how they did so), fully one-third of their scenarios fall below the melt threshold. Only when they assume what is patently untrue do almost all the scenarios result in a net melting, and only the most extreme, illogical ones completely melt things.

This is nothing but tragic, junk science, published by what is (formerly?) the most prestigious science periodical in the world. There’s been a lot of hype-much of it from scientists themselves-over global warming, but nothing as sacrilegious as this, in such a sacred place.

Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of the upcoming book Meltdown: the Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media.