Criticism yes, nonsense no

October 4, 2007

Climate change sceptics are clutching at straws, and that’s bad for everyoneWe need climate change sceptics. Not because they are right – at least not on the big issue of human culpability in recent warming – but because they ask hard questions that lead to deeper knowledge. What we do not need from them is misrepresentation and cynical trashing of scientists’ work.

Take the latest claims attributed to Fred Singer, arch-exponent of the idea that solar cycles explain everything about climate change, and economist Dennis Avery from the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington DC. They made headlines with their list of 500 scientists who they say have refuted “at least one element of current man-made global warming scares”. The list, says Avery, “makes a mockery of recent claims that a scientific consensus blames humans as the primary cause of global temperature increases since 1850”.

There is sleight of hand in here, and the words “at least one element” and “since 1850” leave plenty of wriggle room. Sadly, some members of the press have chosen to interpret the release as saying that 500 scientists are “doubtful” that present global warming is down to human activity.

Now some of the 500 are demanding that their names be removed from the list. Leading the field is Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London, an investigator of possible solar influences on climate via cosmic rays. She says: “I believe that changes in the sun influence climate, but I have never claimed that solar forcing is responsible for recent warming. It is mendacious of them to include me in a list of those refuting human activity as the major cause.” Another on the list, climatologist Michael Mann of Penn State University, adds: “This is dishonest and cynical misrepresentation of my findings and views, and those of many of my colleagues.”

Singer responded with a note saying: “I was not involved in this exercise – or consulted.” Avery explained his interpretations, helpfully telling Haigh: “I carefully avoided saying that you agree with our interpretations.”

Once research findings are published they, of course, become public property, available to be contested and reinterpreted by all. But researchers do have a right not to be blatantly misrepresented. Sadly, the spin doctors of climate scepticism have a history of mangling research and traducing the integrity of climate scientists.

Another absurd recent claim attributed to Singer is that “the widely touted ‘consensus’ of 2500 scientists on the UN intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an illusion: most of the panelists have no scientific qualifications”. This stuff is bad not only for science, but also for the sceptical cause. No one wants to silence sceptics: we need scepticism. We just wish they were better at it.


We do need the challenges to aspects of climate change. It challenges us to delve deeper and forces to uncover more brute facts and figures that can’t be challenged any further. The thing is, as this article points out, is that when the facts can’t be disproved the neigh Sayers then resort to underhand tactics and blatant lies. These are the tactics of people who are so desperate to be believed that there is no limit to what they will do to get a headline.

Luckily as sensible debaters we can present solid indisputable facts rather than ‘nonsense’.