A sea level Golden Horseshoe nominee*

I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:

‘Only genuine pre-war British and American whiskeys served here’

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more …”

Dashiell Hammett, “The Golden Horseshoe”

Google News occasionally throws up some obscure postings that I would never otherwise come across. A recent example was a letter to an editor of a Scottish newspaper (not my usual reading material) declaring that “Climate change is not man-made”. The letter itself is uninteresting – a basic confusion between weather and climate seguing into a NIMBY-ish rant about windmills. Ho hum.

However, in one of the comments from a “Dr John Cameron, St Andrews” (posted 9/Oct/2012), there was this unrelated pseudo-factoid:

As regards the catastrophic sea level rise in the Pacific, it became obvious some 20 years ago that results from island tide gauges did not support computer predictions. Scientists from Flinders University in Adelaide set up new, modern, tide-gauges in 12 Pacific islands to test whether there was in fact any evidence of sinking. Recently the whole project was abandoned as there had been no sign whatsoever of a change in sea level at any of the 12 islands for the past 16 years.

Now this is specific enough to probably actually refer to something real, but doesn’t pass the sniff test for something that might actually be true. Scientists don’t set up monitoring stations only to get the answer they want and then stop monitoring if it doesn’t happen. This only happens in the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists. So I was intrigued enough to investigate what this actually referred to…

The easiest way to look for this is to search for the exact string – specifically the second sentence. Google comes up with 1000 or so very close antecedents – particularly with the “new, modern, tide-gauges in 12 Pacific islands” section. The links are to comment threads on partisan websites, the standard climate ‘skeptic’ blogs, and even a mention on SkepticalScience. The comments stretch back around 5 years. Some of the examples give an actual source for the remarks (unlike Dr. Cameron’s version) – one Dr. Vincent Gray – a well known pseudo-skeptic. Some even cite the newspaper article they appeared in – a error-ridden puff piece by Lawrence Solomon at the Canadian Financial Post. Curiously, that online version of the article doesn’t have a publishing date – though secondary sources suggest it was published on Oct 26th 2007. The lack of a date means that people quoting it often claim that this is a ‘recent’ claim.

Going back a little further, Gray made similar claims in a July 2007 article:

A claim that Pacific Islands were sinking led to an investigation by Flinders University, Adelaide, which replaced all the tide gauges in 12 Pacific islands to attempt to find out whether it was true. The attempt has now been abandoned as a failure, as none of the 12 islands showed any significant change since 1991. The team tried to save face by claiming that all showed an upwards “trend” because the 1998 hurricane caused a temporary depression in the ocean. Since 1998 all have remained flat, and the main island of contention, Tuvalu, actually rose last year.

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