- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2009


The change from pure science to political science has invaded college atmospheric science classes.

A few months ago one of us and another co-author lamented the intrusion of politics into the science debate concerning climate change (see “Global-warming politics,” The Washington Times, April 22). Now, much of the same politically motivated “science” is appearing in the newest editions of university textbooks.

Hopefully, the students exposed to these instances of revisionist history will have knowledgeable professors and the personal critical evaluation skills to see through the deception. Sadly, though, many in academia accept textbook information as gospel truth, and future generations of students will be indoctrinated through exposure to “fancy,” rather than fact.

A specific example from a popular climatology textbook is most egregious. The example involves the infamous “hockey-stick” graph, supposedly portraying global temperature fluctuations over the past 1,000 years, with the long, relatively flat handle for the first 900 years and the sharply upward-angled head of the stick for the last 100 years. This temperature graph became the showcase of the Summary for Policymakers, Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2001. The diagram was instrumental in convincing many in government to buy into the idea that human-related emissions of carbon dioxide were causing an unprecedented increase in global temperature.

But there was a problem. The “hockey stick” contradicted the time-tested, nonpolitical temperature trend graphs generated by climatology professionals dating back to the science’s beginning.

In the early days of climatology, it was anybody’s guess how global temperatures fluctuated in the distant past. So, the pioneers of the field coupled recent temperature measurements with “proxy” data (such as historic written records, tree ring growth patterns, polar ice core analysis and river bed sediment studies) to estimate temperatures back more than 1,000 years.

Data gleaned by numerous atmospheric scientists revealed a distinct medieval warm period from roughly 950 to 1250 A.D., which they labeled the Little Climatic Optimum. The scientists also documented a significant cooling period between 1645 and 1715, called the Maunder Minimum because of the apparent lack of sunspots. Climatologists believed these temperature extremes in the historic record, and climatology textbooks displayed a temperature trend chart showing such extremes.

Alas, these dramatic events were missing from the hockey-stick graph. How could that be? The investigative work of a couple of dedicated scientists demonstrated how the raw proxy data was analyzed and subjected to questionable statistical manipulation to create the hockey stick.

By 2005, the graph had been exposed as invalid, and it is now disavowed by climate scientists. Even the IPCC stripped the graph from subsequent publications of its organizational reports.

Despite the rejection of this particular piece of tenuous science, the new editorial team tasked with producing the 2010 edition of the particular textbook in question has resurrected the hockey-stick graph. In this newest edition, the hockey-stick graph replaces the original temperature trend graph that remains the field’s accepted and verified representation of temperature changes over the past 1,000 years.

Scientific theory should not be discarded because it conflicts with a popular political agenda, or because it is desirable for someone in a position of power to advance their personal agenda. And it is unconscionable for educators to present refuted data and theories to students as the prevailing state of the science. You may be entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Working with reality produces better results than relying on fantasy.

The truth can be hard to see when a lie is hidden in plain sight. The hockey-stick graph and the rewriting of climate history may be honest misrepresentation. However, the cumulative effect of invalid theories and manipulated data is damaging to the science of climatology in particular and the practice of science in general.

Moreover, the damage goes beyond science. Classroom science eventually makes its way into the community as educated citizens are asked to consider and vote on consequential programs such as carbon emission “cap-and-trade” legislation.

The entire rationale for restricting carbon dioxide emissions is a concern that carbon dioxide emissions will impact global temperatures. But, if temperature trends and other data are manipulated to influence voters and the decision-makers to a particular outcome, our planet is indeed in trouble.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist who teaches college-level atmospheric science courses and is co-author of “Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry” (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 2000). Stanley J. Penkala, Ph.D., is a chemical engineer and president of Air Science Consultants in Bridgeville, Pa.

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