Climate scientist bashing

A new popular sport in some media these days is “climate scientist bashing”. Instead of dealing soberly with the climate problem they prefer to attack climate scientists, i.e. the bearers of bad news. The German magazine DER SPIEGEL has played this game last week under the suggestive heading “Die Wolkenschieber” – which literally translated can mean both “the cloud movers” and “the cloud traffickers” (available in English here ). The article continues on this level, alleging “sloppy work, falsifications and exaggerations”. By doing so DER SPIEGEL digs deeply into the old relic box of “climate skeptics” and freely helps itself on their websites instead of critically researching the issues at hand.

As a scientist I do not have the time to dedicate a whole day to one article and to do much research on it, which is why I here discuss only a few of the most obvious flaws and distortions of facts in this story.

Temperature data

Cynically and inhumanely the article sets off with remarks on our British colleague Phil Jones. The authors extensively revel in sentences like this:

He feels a constant tightness in his chest. He takes beta-blockers to help him get through the day. He is gaunt and his skin is pallid.

Jones is finished: emotionally, physically and professionally. He has contemplated suicide several times recently.

And this is the result of a media campaign consisting of precisely such poorly researched and fact-twisting articles as this one, for which Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and Gerald Traufetter are responsible.

What is first greatly hyped is then gleefully destroyed. According to DER SPIEGEL “the entire profession” of climate science “based much of its work on his [Jones’] research” and “almost every internal debate among the climate popes passed through his computer”. Now it happens that I, most likely not an untypical example, have never worked with Jones’ data and have only exchanged a handful of emails (out of tens of thousands every year) with him, although I do probably count as part of the “profession”. There is a whole set of other data of global temperature, e.g. the data from NASA which is based on weather stations (and which I prefer for various reasons) or data from NOAA or the satellite data from RSS or the UAH. As is always scientifically useful, important conclusions are based not on one single set of data but on the fact that a whole range of competing scientific groups find consistent results, using different methods (see Figure).

Global mean temperature (annual means) according to the 5 most often used data sets. The graph shows the deviation from the mean of the last 30 years, as well as the linear trend over the last 30 years. The data from the Hadley Center, NASA and NOAA use measurements from surface weather stations, each with its specific method of quality control (e.g. correction for heat island effects) and interpolation and spatial integration. Independently, the satellite data from RSS and UAH (available from 1979 onwards) provide two different analyses based on the same microwave raw data. These measure the temperature of the middle troposphere, the variations of which can differ from those of the surface temperatures on short time scales. The record El Niño year of 1998 is an example. It has caused a greater temperature anomaly in the troposphere, presumably as warm air rising in the tropics spread in middle altitudes. The climatic trends, however, do not differ significantly since on longer time scales the surface and tropospheric temperatures are closely coupled due to turbulent mixing processes.

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