Breitbart Claim: ‘Global Warming’ Is a Myth, Say 58 Scientific Papers in 2017


On 6th June Breitbart ran an article that claimed “‘Global Warming’ Is a Myth, Say 58 Scientific Papers in 2017” that has been written by well-known climate change denier, James Delingpole.

There are two immediate red flags here …

These are both familiar red flags that warrant instant dismissal because of their well-established track record (Hint: both blew their credibility rather a long time ago). To illustrate why the inevitable outcome that most will have already jumped to is reasonable, we can ignore both source plus author, and instead examine the specific claim itself and let it stand or fall on its own merit.

The specific Claim

Mr Delingpole writes …

“Global warming” is a myth — so say 80 graphs from 58 peer-reviewed scientific papers published in 2017.

In other words, the so-called “Consensus” on global warming is a massive lie. And Donald Trump was quite right to quit the Paris agreement which pretended that the massive lie was true.

Mr Delingpole then proceeds to argue against Global Warming that he defines as “the scary, historically unprecedented, primarily man-made phenomenon which we must address urgently” and does not reject the observation that the climate is indeed warming.

In other words, the essence of his claim is this …

What all these papers argue in their different ways is that the alarmist version of global warming — aka Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) — is a fake artefact.

He then lists out various cherry picked graphs, and also can’t resist sticking the knife into Sir Paul Nurse specifically. To explain that quip by him, the backstory is that they have a bit of a history here. Back in 2011 Sir Paul Nurse interviewed Dellingpole as part of a BBC Horizon documentary, “Science under Attack”. Delingpole made himself rather famous by responding to Paul Nurse‘s discussion of the scientific consensus on global warming by saying that the idea of a consensus is unscientific; and in response to Nurse’s question as to whether he had read any peer-reviewed papers, he maintained that as a journalist “it is not my job” to read peer reviewed papers.

This latest article is a repeat of that pattern. Mr Delingpole’s source is not a direct reference to any scientific papers, that he happily confesses to never reading anyway, but instead is a link to a somebody’s personal blog entitled rather ironically “No Tricks Zone”. That consists of a set of cherry picked graphs. If you check the actual papers referenced within that, then you will find that none of these papers take the stance being claimed.

Alex Kasprak Reaches out

We could proceed to now read each of the 58 papers, but there is no need to do so because somebody reached out to the authors and asked them about this.

Alex Kasprak, a science writer and journalist whose work has been featured in The Atlantic, Motherboard, New Scientist, and other venues, reached out and asked then for their thoughts on being featured in “No Tricks Zone” and  “Breitbart”. The response he got was universally one of complete horror that their work was being misrepresented in this manner …

We reached out to many of the authors of the studies included on this list via email to see if they agreed with Breitbart and No Tricks Zone’s analysis. While not everyone we reached out to responded, not a single researcher that we spoke to agreed with Breitbart’s assessment, and most were shocked when we told them that their work was presented as evidence for that claim.

A representative response came from Paul Mayewski, author of one of the studies included on the No Tricks Zone list and director of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute:

They are absolutely incorrect!!!!  Quite the opposite, the paper deals with the impacts of greenhouse gas warming and Antarctic ozone depletion — both human caused — and describes future scenarios.  Yet another example of downright lies.

Outside of the fact that all of these papers have squiggly lines that represent climatological change through time, they cover a diverse range of highly technical topics and have little in common with each other. In many cases, listed studies are applicable only to a very specific region and were created not to investigate the influence of humans on climate, but to understand how the climate system works in general.

This was the case for University of Washington PhD candidate Bradley Markle, whose paper (“Global Atmospheric Teleconnections During Dansgaard-Oeschger Events”) was also included in the No Tricks Zone:

My study, and almost all I saw mentioned on the blog post, are studies of climate change in the past. My study investigates connections between different parts of the climate system during climate events that happened over 10,000 years ago. Studying climate change in the past can provide context for recent climate change. However, my study in no way investigates or tries to attribute the causes of recent climate change. It does not deal with human influences on climate at all.

This echoes the response of USGS research scientist Julie Richey, whose paper (“Multi-Species Coral Sr/Ca-based Sea-Surface Temperature Reconstruction Using Orbicella Faveolata and Siderastrea Siderea from the Florida Straits”) really resonated with the Breitbart science desk:

Our paper presents a 280-year sea surface temperature record based on the ratio of strontium to calcium in corals we sampled in the Dry Tortugas National Park. It shows that sea surface temperatures measured over many decades in the Florida Straits are variable, and that variation has been dominated for nearly the past three centuries by a natural oscillation called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. […] Neither of these findings refutes the role of anthropogenic activity in global climate change.

Many researchers told us that, even by the crude metrics of the No Tricks Zone post, and even without intending to address anthropogenic climate change in their research, their papers’ data actually support anthropogenically driven recent warming. This was the case for Claremont McKenna professor Branwen Williams, whose paper (“North Pacific 20th Century Decadal-Scale Variability Is Unique for the Past 342 Years”) was featured:

I do not agree with this assessment of my work. The seawater temperature data clearly show a warming.

In other cases it appears that the analysis provided by the author of the No Tricks Zone post was so superficial that the graphs pulled from some studies were not actually part of any new dataset, but comparison datasets from earlier studies. Geologist Fatima Abrantes’ paper “Historical Climate off the Atlantic Iberian Peninsula” fell victim to this oversight:

The article on Breitbart.com is so bad that the author did not even realize that the figure extracted from my paper is not my new data record but the record of the northern Spain atmospheric temperature anomaly, produced by [another group in 2011] that I have used for comparison. […] [Our] results agree with both the global and regional projections that indicate this region of Europe with highest potential vulnerability in regard to current global warming.

These charts, when accurately cited, provide ammunition against two clearly false straw man arguments invented by No Tricks Zone: 1) That climatic change happens in concert and in the same way uniformly around the globe, and that 2) evidence of any natural force influencing climate is — at the same time — also evidence against the notion that humans are playing a role in current climatic change. The fact that the 1257 Samalas eruption altered grape harvests, as one study in the post demonstrated, does not mean humans cannot also alter climate, as the No Trick Zone post implied.

We rank the claims made by both Breitbart and No Tricks Zone as false, because they dramatically misrepresent the findings of the scientists who conducted the research and utilize poorly-articulated straw man arguments to further misrepresent the significance of the work of those scientists. These studies were local in nature, narrow in scope, meant to address how the climate system functioned in the past, and pose no threat to the tenets of anthropogenic climate change.

Bottom Line

The guy who has publicly stated that he never reads scientific papers, attempts to assert a scientific claim by indirectly referencing scientific papers he has not actually read, and so ends up grossly misrepresenting what those papers are actually all about.

What can I say expect to perhaps welcome you to Breitbart’s world where sandcastles in the air are not simply a fantasy, but instead consist of actual real estate where both their authors and readership have moved into and taken up residence.

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