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EDITORIAL: Global warming’s unscientific method
Question of the Day
The prophets of global warming continue to lament as their carefully crafted yarn unravels before their eyes. Ross McKitrick, an intrepid economics professor from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has tugged apart the thin mathematical threads that once held together the story of climate change.
Recent attempts to silence Mr. McKitrick illuminate the extent to which the alarmists have abandoned proper scientific method in their pursuit of political goals.
Mr. McKitrick has spent the past two years attempting to publish a scientific paper that documents a fundamental error in the 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This U.N. document serves as the sole authority upon which the Environmental Protection Agency based its December “endangerment finding” that will allow unelected bureaucrats to impose cap-and-trade-style regulations without a vote of Congress. The cost to the public in higher gas and energy prices will run in the billions.
One might think that the scientific community would be extra diligent in double-checking the conclusions of a report carrying such weighty real-world consequences. In fact, the opposite happened. Seven scientific journals circled the wagons to block publication of Mr. McKitrick’s explosive findings.
The IPCC report argued that temperatures rose one degree Celsius over the course of a century as a direct result of man-made carbon-dioxide emissions. This tiny change in temperature was calculated through the use of an “adjusted” set of global surface-temperature readings. Mr. McKitrick found that factors unrelated to global climate contaminated this data set, resulting in a higher temperature reading. He showed a statistically significant correlation between the change in temperature readings and socioeconomic indicators. It makes sense, for example, that replacing trees and forests with concrete and glass skyscrapers might contribute to the .01 degree annual increase in local temperature readings. This “urban heat island” effect would not be present in readings taken outside the asphalt jungle.
Scientific journals evaluate arguments of this sort using a peer-review process by which purportedly impartial experts in the relevant field verify the paper’s accuracy and suitability for publication. By addressing issues raised by reviewers, researchers are able to present an improved and refined final product. In Mr. McKitrick’s case, the process appears to have been abused to stifle dissent.
The leading journals Science and Nature both rejected the paper as too specialized and lacking in novelty. The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society did not respond. Reasons given for refusing the paper in other outlets frequently contradicted one another.
One of the famous leaked e-mails from the former head of the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia sheds light on what really happens behind the scenes. “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” professor Phil Jones wrote in reference to a 2004 journal article by Mr. McKitrick. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”
Mr. McKitrick’s views were indeed excluded from the IPCC report, but his paper will now be published in a forthcoming edition of Statistics, Politics and Policy. One of that journal’s editors told The Washington Times that the submission was treated as “fairly routine.” That is to say, they treated it as scientists should.
The soundness of a statistical analysis does not change simply because the numbers point to a truth inconvenient for those seeking to manipulate science to advance political policy. Thanks to the exposure of East Anglia’s unscientific method, the public can peer behind the curtains and see that the emperors of warming have no clothes.
About the Author
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