June 17, 2004

AAAS “all-stars” lead biased discussion

On June 15, 2004, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) convened what they described as an “all-star” panel of U.S. climate scientists to discuss climate change. Never before has such a biased look at the issue been put together by a group that supposedly represents the purest ideals of science.

According to the group’s website, “The American Association for the Advancement of Science, ‘Triple A-S’ (AAAS), is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.”

You would think we could count on AAAS for a fair and balanced science-based viewpoint of today’s most important scientific issues. Not so, as evidenced by the information presented at their June 15 conference—at least when it comes to the issue of global climate change.

The AAAS “all-star” panel comprised about a dozen scientists, including two, Daniel Schrag and Michael Oppenheimer, who had appeared less than three weeks earlier on-stage with Al Gore during the ultra-leftist MoveOn.org’s kick-off for the climate fiction movie The Day After Tomorrow. Though Schrag and Oppenheimer didn’t embrace the non-science of the movie, they did embrace its sentimentality and message—a clear indication that they would go to any measure, including gross exaggeration and scientifically impossible scenarios, to bring attention to the issue of global climate change.

The other panelists, including, among others, Sherwood Rowland, Richard Alley, Gerald Meehl, Joyce Penner, and Lonnie Thompson, are also characterized by similarly strong views that humans are altering the earth’s climate in a large and negative manner.

Indeed, according to Reuters’ health and science correspondent Maggie Fox, the panel expressed frustration that the U.S. government and public are not more concerned over what the panelists see as the risks associated with global warming.

It seems probable that the reason lies in the government’s and the public’s ability to see through the mistruths and exaggerations concerning observed and potential climate change as put forth by the panelists and those who share their agenda.

A recent poll, conducted by Gallup and published in April 2004, revealed that a plurality of Americans now believe that news reports exaggerate the seriousness of global warming. The poll asked this question: “Thinking about what is said in the news, in your view is the seriousness of global warming—generally exaggerated, generally correct or is it generally underestimated?”

The result? Gallup learned that 38% of us think it is “generally exaggerated,” and 25% think it is “generally correct” (Figure 1). And the spread is up from the year before, when only four points separated those who thought the threat of global warming is exaggerated from those who think the media get it right. Now the spread is 13 points. Apparently, the more the exaggerations continue, the more adept Americans are at seeing through them.

Gallop Poll Results

Figure 1. Results from the Gallup poll released April 20, 2004. The question was, “Thinking about what is said in the news, in your view is the seriousness of global warming—generally exaggerated, generally correct, or is it generally underestimated?”

As it turns out, members of the plurality have good reason for their beliefs.

Recall that two leading climate scientists, Stanford’s Steve Schneider and NASA’s James Hansen, have both suggested that exaggerations have been used in an attempt to sway the public’s perception of the seriousness of the issue. Schneider told Discover magazine, back in 1989:

On the one hand we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but… which means that we must include all the doubts, caveats, ifs and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we have to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” which we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Fourteen years later, in summer 2003, Hansen called for this practice to stop, writing in the on-line journal Natural Science:

Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue, and energy sources such as ‘synfuels,’ shale oil and tar sands were receiving strong consideration. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions. Scenarios that accurately fit recent and near-future observations have the best chance of bringing all of the important players into the discussion, and they also are what is needed for the purpose of providing policy-makers the most effective and efficient options to stop global warming.

Apparently, despite Hansen’s call for the exaggerations to end, the practice is still in full swing.

For example, Maggie Fox reported that, “[The AAAS panelists] said even as sea levels rise and crop yields fall, officials argue over whether climate change is real and Americans continue to drive fuel-guzzling SUVs.”

Figure 2 (below) is the history of yields from two important U.S. crops, corn and wheat. There has been a dramatic rise in yields since the late 1940s. The year 2003 saw record high yields in both of these food crops. In fact of the USDA’s 20 principle crops, 14 of them set record high yields within the past 10 years. To state that crop yields are falling is at best misleading, and at worse an outright falsehood.

Crop Yields

Figure 2. U.S. yields of corn and wheat from 1866 to 2003. Record high yields per acre were set in 2003 for both crops.

Another example of gross distortion can be found in what Michael Oppenheimer told the audience: “The sea-level rise over the past century appears greater than what the model says it should be. The [Greenland and Antarctic] ice sheets may be contributing more than the models predict.”

Such a statement shows no regard for the latest scientific evidence. For example, published just days before in the journal Geophysical Research Letters were the results of a sea-level rise study conducted by Cambridge University’s Peter Wadhams, along with Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Walter Munk. These researchers carefully calculated the known contributions to sea-level rise (ocean warming, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and midlatitude glaciers) over the 20th century and concluded, “we do obtain a total rise which is at the lower end of the range estimated by the IPCC.”

And furthermore, they found that “One interesting consequence is that the continental run-off which is ‘allowed’ after subtracting the effect of sea ice melt is considerably lower than current estimates of sub-polar glacier retreat, suggesting a negative contribution from polar ice sheets (Antarctica plus Greenland) or from other non-glacial processes.”

That is exactly the opposite of what Oppenheimer told the AAAS audience!

These types of biased and misleading presentations from invited speakers at a specially convened AAAS conference are precisely the reason why the Bush Administration and the American public are not nearly so impassioned about the issue of anthropogenic climate change as certain interest groups would like them to be. A healthy dose of skepticism is certainly in order to keep the global warming hysteria at bay.

References:

Hansen, J.E., 2003. The global warming time bomb? Natural Science, http://naturalscience.com/ns/articles/01-16/ns_jeh.html

Schneider, S., 1989. Discover, October, 1989, p47.

Wadhams, P., Munk, W., 2004. Ocean freshening, sea level rising, sea ice melting. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, doi:10.1029/2004GL020039, June 2004.




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