Climate Denial Food Chain: Conservative Media Run With Baseless Climate Science Conspiracy Theory

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

Taking their cues from the Drudge Report, right-wing media are echoing a London Telegraph columnist's false claim that scientific agencies intentionally adjusted years of weather station data to show a global warming trend that isn't really there, which the author dubbed the "biggest science scandal ever." But far from being a scandal, historical temperature records are routinely subject to peer-reviewed adjustments to account for changes to measuring instruments, the time of day measurements are taken, and other factors -- and they do not negate a global warming trend.

FoxNation Polar Bears

Column From The Telegraph, Promoted On Drudge, Cries "Scandal" On Temperature Records 

The Telegraph's Booker: "The Fiddling With Temperature Data Is The Biggest Science Scandal Ever." On February 7, The Telegraph published an op-ed from columnist Christopher Booker claiming that official temperature records have been "systematically 'adjusted'" by scientific agencies managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA in order to promote "the global-warming scare." Citing a blogger named Paul Homewood, Booker asserted that the "wholesale manipulation of the official temperature record," which these federal scientific agencies have "never plausibly explained," appears to be "one of the greatest scientific scandals of all time":

Two weeks ago, under the headline "How we are being tricked by flawed data on global warming", I wrote about Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, had checked the published temperature graphs for three weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming.

[...]

Following my last article, Homewood checked a swathe of other South American weather stations around the original three. In each case he found the same suspicious one-way "adjustments". First these were made by the US government's Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN). They were then amplified by two of the main official surface records, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) and the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), which use the warming trends to estimate temperatures across the vast regions of the Earth where no measurements are taken. Yet these are the very records on which scientists and politicians rely for their belief in "global warming".

[...]

[T]his wholesale manipulation of the official temperature record - for reasons GHCN and Giss have never plausibly explained - has become the real elephant in the room of the greatest and most costly scare the world has known. This really does begin to look like one of the greatest scientific scandals of all time. [The Telegraph, 2/7/15]

Telegraph Column Was Promoted By The Drudge Report -- The Gateway To Conservative Media. On February 9, Booker's Telegraph column was promoted at the top of the Drudge Report, a highly-read news aggregator website that frequently serves as an agenda-setter for conservative media like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. According to a study from Outbrain, as of 2011 the Drudge Report drove "more than double the traffic to content sites than Facebook and Twitter combined." 

Drudge

[The Drudge Report, accessed 2/9/15; Mashable, 8/10/11]

But There Is No "Scandal": Temperature Adjustments Are Justified, Peer-Reviewed, And Don't Negate The Warming Trend

NOAA's Temperature Adjustments Are Necessary, Peer-Reviewed, And Well-Documented. In a statement to Media Matters, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that adjustments to the temperature record are necessary to "account for a variety of non-climate related" factors and are validated by "numerous peer-reviewed studies":

[N]umerous peer-reviewed studies continue to find that NOAA's temperature record is reliable. To ensure accuracy of the record, scientists use peer-reviewed methods called homogenization, to adjust temperature readings to account for a variety of non-climate related affects such as changes in station location, changes in observation methods, changes in instrumentation such as thermometers, and the growth of urban heat islands that occur through time. Such changes in observing systems cause false shifts in temperature readings. Paraguay is one example of where these false shifts artificially lower the true station temperature trend.  However, around the world, the opposite is true a little less than half of the time (see Lawrimore, et al, 2011).  Homogenization methods take out these false shifts. [Email to Media Matters, 2/10/15]

NOAA: Largest Adjustment "Actually Lowers Global Temperature Trends." Contrary to Booker's claim that NOAA and NASA make temperature adjustments to exaggerate the amount of warming, in their statement to Media Matters, NOAA noted that the largest temperature adjustment is made "over the oceans," which "actually lowers global temperature trends":

It is important to keep in mind that the largest adjustment in the global surface temperature record occurs over the oceans. Adjustments to account for the transition in sea surface temperature observing methods actually lowers global temperature trends (see Huang, et al, 2015). [Email to Media Matters, 2/10/15]

NOAA Adjusts Temperature Data For Variety Of Important Reasons. NOAA's website details all of the "quality control and homogeneity testing and adjustment procedures" for the data at each station in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network. This data is part of the Global Historical Climatology Network, which is "an integrated database of climate summaries from land surface stations across the globe that have been subjected to a common suite of quality assurance reviews." The reasons for adjusting the data listed on the NOAA website include (paraphrased):

  • Quality control "to identify suspects... and outliers."
  • Time-of-observation changes.
  • Adjustments "for the bias introduced when the liquid-in-glass thermometers were replaced with the [Maximum/Minimum Temperature System]."
  • Homogeneity adjustment "to account for time series discontinuities due to random station moves and other station changes."
  • Estimates for missing data when needed "based on a 'network' of the best correlated nearby stations."
  • Urban warming bias. [NOAA.gov, accessed 2/9/15; accessed 2/10/15]

Climate Scientist Cowtan: Temperature Records Are Adjusted To Account For Changes In Measuring Instruments. In a YouTube video response published on Skeptical Science, University of York climate scientist Kevin Cowtan further explained the need for temperature adjustments to account for "changes to the instruments" that weather stations use to record the temperatures:

The temperature records are based on weather station data. But people didn't expect the data to be used for monitoring long-term climate change when they started collecting it. It was for recording the weather, hence the name weather station. As a result they weren't always very careful about changes to the instruments for their usage. When we change an instrument we have to recalibrate to ensure the new instrument gives the same readings as the old one. The original weather station operators didn't always do this. So NOAA have to do a retrospective calibration by comparing nearby weather stations. [Skeptical Science, 1/27/15]

Ars Technica: Booker's Claims Based On Cherry-Picked Data. Ars Technica's science editor John Timmer similarly affirmed the baselessness of Booker's claims in a February 9 article, explaining that temperature records "have to be processed" to account for a variety of legitimate factors, but that "[t]o the more conspiracy minded, you can replace 'processed' with 'fraudulently manipulated to make it look warmer.'" Timmer added that Booker's claims are "based on a few posts by a blogger who has gone around cherry picking a handful of temperature stations":

We knew this already; we knew it two years ago when Fox published its misguided piece. But our knowledge hasn't stopped Booker from writing two columns using hyped terms like "scandal" and claiming the public's being "tricked by flawed data on global warming." All of this based on a few posts by a blogger who has gone around cherry picking a handful of temperature stations and claiming the adjustments have led to a warming bias. [Ars Technica, 2/9/15]

Climategate Author: "Skeptics" Believe There Should Be Temperature Adjustments, Too. Steven Mosher, who is listed as a scientist at Berkeley Earth, stated that self-proclaimed "skeptics" are, in fact, often the most vocal about the need for temperature adjustments. Mosher co-authored the book "Climategate: The Crutape Letters" which claimed to document "the Climategate scandal... from beginning to end." From Mosher's blog post:

[Booker's] complaint overlooks the clear historical fact that skeptics, above all others, have made the loudest case for the need to adjust the temperature series. Over the years, it's been skeptics, who have made a vocal case for adjustments. [Amazon.com, accessed 2/9/15; Berkeley Earth, accessed 2/9/15; AndThenThere'sPhysics, 2/9/15

Yet Conservative Media Baselessly Promoted Telegraph Story As A "Scandal" And "Crime"

Fox's Perino: "More Of The Temperature Readings Have Been Fabricated." On the February 9 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino asserted that "yesterday it was reported that more of the temperature readings have been fabricated, and that's all blowing up in their faces." Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle agreed, declaring: "Fraud science." [Fox News, The Five, 2/10/15]

Fox News' Brit Hume Asks: "The Biggest Science Scandal In History?" In a February 8 tweet, Fox News host Brit Hume linked to The Telegraph column, tweeting: "The biggest science scandal in history? That's the claim about global warming here." [Twitter.com, 2/8/15]

Limbaugh: Telegraph Op-Ed "Exposes" That Global Warming "May Be The Biggest Hoax In All Of Science Ever." On the February 9 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that the Telegraph column "expose[d]" that global warming "may be the biggest hoax in all of science ever":

We have documented that so much of what they say is untrue, one of the biggest is the hoax of global warming which the UK Telegraph, as a story yesterday exposes it, may be the biggest hoax in all of science ever-- the global warming hysteria. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/9/15]

Breitbart Columnist Asserts Temperature Adjustment Is A "Crime Against The Scientific Method Unparalleled In History." Breitbart columnist James Delingpole promoted Booker's article in a February 9 column, writing that the adjustment of temperature data is "a crime against the scientific method unparalleled in history." Delingpole suggested that this supposed "scandal" is comparable to "Hitler's war to discredit 'Jewish science,'" asserting: "Sure you could make a case that Lysenkoism or Hitler's war to discredit 'Jewish science' were more evil but these were confined to discrete geographical regions under specific totalitarian regimes. What's so extraordinary about the manipulations to the global land-based temperature sets is that they affect every one of us, wherever we live." [Breitbart, 2/9/15]

FoxNation Promotes Telegraph Column. On February 9, the Telegraph column was promoted on the Fox Nation, the news website operated by Fox News, with the headline: "Claim: Fiddling With Temperature Data Is The Biggest Science Scandal Ever." [FoxNation.com, 2/9/15]

NewsMax: Temperature Data "Being Faked To Show Global Warming." A February 8 article on the right-wing site NewsMax stated: "A British journalist is questioning the method used to by [sic] scientists to calculate the earth's climate change, calling it 'one of the greatest scientific scandals of all time.'" [NewsMax, 2/8/15]

WND: Column Shows "Increasing Evidence" Of "A Hoax Of Global Proportions." Conservative website WorldNetDaily touted The Telegraph's "shocking" column as "increasing evidence that a hoax of global proportions has been perpetrated" on "the media, the academic world, the scientific establishment and governments." [WND, 2/8/15]

Powerline: "Scandal" Shows That Scientific Agencies Are "Under The Control Of Warmists."  In a February 8 blog post on Powerline, John Hinderaker wrote: "[S]cientific agencies which are keepers of the world's historical temperature data are all, or nearly all, under the control of warmists," citing data from Paul Homewood, whose claims are featured in Booker's Telegraph column. [Powerline, 2/8/15]

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