One of the traps the media regularly falls into in the climate debate is privileging minority, or non-consensus, views in science and presenting them as a genuine alternative ‘in the debate”.
A recent article in the English language version of De Spiegal is a very good example of this (titled “A superstorm for global research warming research):
Plagued by reports of sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations, climate research is facing a crisis of confidence. How reliable are the predictions about global warming and its consequences? And would it really be the end of the world if temperatures rose by more than the much-quoted limit of two degrees Celsius?
The author strives to present climate science as being in a “state of crisis”. However, the recent inquires and investigations in the UK have easily dismissed those claims. What is now clear is just how much of an ersatz “scandal” Climategate really was.
What is interesting is how the article tries to create further controversies by interviewing well known sceptics and scientists with minority opinions on climate change. These are the “outliers”, the individuals outside the “norm”. By doing so they confuse the public, presenting a “false balance” in their reporting.
Where there is no controversy, one is created.
Privileging outlier views
The article is almost a roll call of minority opinion. No mainstream climatologists or scientists are interviewed.
Steve McIntyre, the noted critic of climate science, is presented as a “rebel”. The article goes so far as to claim he “broke” the hockey stick:
McIntyre put the Mann curve to the arithmetic test. He accuses Mann of having filtered out the hockey stick graph more or less arbitrarily from the fluctuation noise of his tree-ring data. To prove his contention, McIntyre programmed his computer using Mann’s methodology and entered completely random data into the program. The results, says McIntyre, “was a hockey stick curve.”
The “broken hockey stick” is one of the myths of the denial movement. Originally created by Michael Mann, this now famous graph clearly shows rising temperatures over the past 100 years. Sceptical Science provides a good dissection of this myth:
A critique of the hockey stick was published in 2004 (McIntyre 2004), claiming the hockey stick shape was the inevitable result of the statistical method used (principal components analysis). They also claimed temperatures over the 15th Century were derived from one bristlecone pine proxy record. They concluded that the hockey stick shape was not statistically significant.
An independent assessment of Mann’s hockey stick was conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Wahl 2007). They reconstructed temperatures employing a variety of statistical techniques (with and without principal components analysis). Their results found slightly different temperatures in the early 15th Century. However, they confirmed the principal results of the original hockey stick – that the warming trend and temperatures over the last few decades are unprecedented over at least the last 600 years.
McIntyre’s entire fame within the denial movement rests upon finding one tiny error. It did not “break the hockey stick”. And yet the De Spiegal article allows McIntyre to repeat outright falsehoods.
Indeed, the review of Mann’s work by the National Center for Atmospheric Research reconfirmed his conclusions. In addition there are multiple lines of evidence that support the “hockey stick” (again see Sceptical Science).
It is important to note that McIntyre is not a scientist.
McIntyre is the owner of “Climate Audit“, one of the premier “denialist” blogs on the Internet. He spent most of his career in the mining industry.
The are many other errors and misrepresentations in this article, in fact too many to have to go through and correct.
However this single example shows how sloppy research on the behalf of the journalist and a lazy approach to “fair and balanced” reporting can mislead.