by Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt
As highlighted in the introduction to the site, we seek to clarify the findings of scientists who study the earth’s climate, and have an informed view on the science of climate change. Additionally we will speak out where we feel that the public discourse surrounding the science is being detrimentally impacted by the shrill voices and disinformation campaigns of the “partisan think-tanks or other interested parties”.
In yesterday’s Washington Post, senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey echoed this theme, in a letter referring to a news article in last week’s Post by noted journalist Juliet Eilperin, “Humans May Double the Risk of Heat Waves”, describing a climate modeling study by climate scientist Peter Stott and collaborators that appeared in last week’s Nature.
While we don’t necessarily share the Senator’s view of the article on the whole (we felt it provided a relatively balanced discussion of the details and conclusions of the study in question), we do find some concern in the fact that the views of Myron Ebell (who actually works for the “Competitive Enterprise Institute”, and not the more venerable “American Enterprise Institute” referred to by the Senator), were offered as a rebuttal to the conclusions of a team of respected scientists.
Mr Ebell’s comment, “Modeling is not science”, would be considered peculiar in any gathering of physical scientists, but is perhaps not surprising coming from, in the words of Senator Lautenberg, an “oil industry-funded economist”. Ebell also pointed out that this year was cooler in Europe. The nature of extreme year-by-year variations (such as the summer of 2003) is such that it is very unlikely that two summers in a row would be so warm (more than 3 standard deviations above the mean). That the temperatures this year happened to be cooler should thus comes as no surprise, and is irrelevant to the issue at hand. The important issue is whether, as the mean temperature increases over the long term, the probability of reaching such an extreme increases. In the modelling study described here it does. Unfortunately, assessing whether irregular extreme events are occuring more or less often requires long data series to evaluate, and long periods to verify the changes.
We therefore echo Senator Lautenberg’s concern, and hope that efforts such as this site, will increasingly help the public, journalists, and policy makers appreciate the distinction between the informed views of dedicated scientists committed to investigating the factors governing variability and change in earth’s climate, and the opinions coming out of think-tanks and special interests.