The Weekly Standard's Lindzen puff piece exemplifies the conservative media's climate failures

The conservative media may currently be the single biggest roadblock to addressing the threat posed by human-caused climate change. There is virtually no support for any sort of climate policy among Republicans in US Congress, because even acknowledging the reality of global warming guarantees a wave of attacks by the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party and a probable primary election challenge. This politicization of science has been caused in large part by the conservative media like Fox News, who treat climate change like a punch line.

Another conservative media outlet, The Weekly Standard has occasionally run articles encouraging the Republican Party to stop denying science and start engaging in constructive debate about the best climate solutions. Unfortunately, those types of constructive articles are the exception rather than the norm. Last week, The Weekly Standard instead ran a puff piece about contrarian climate scientist Richard Lindzen that embodied the fundamental problems in most conservative media coverage of climate change.

Richard Lindzen is one of the approximately 3 percent of climate scientists who believe the human influence on global warming is relatively small (though Lindzen is now retired, no longer doing scientific research). More importantly, he's been wrong about nearly every major climate argument he's made over the past two decades. Lindzen is arguably the climate scientist who's been the wrongest, longest.

The Weekly Standard devotes the first page of its piece to establishing how smart Lindzen is – and he certainly is a smart man, but as climate scientist Ray Pierrehumbert put it,

"It's okay to be wrong, and [Lindzen] is a smart person, but most people don't really understand that one way of using your intelligence is to spin ever more clever ways of deceiving yourself, ever more clever ways of being wrong. And that's okay because if you are wrong in an interesting way that advances the science, I think it's great to be wrong, and he has made a career of being wrong in interesting ways about climate science."

Make no mistake about it; Lindzen has made a career of being wrong about climate science. Unfortunately, while the Weekly Standard piece goes through Lindzen's many contrarian climate arguments, it misses the key point that they haven't withstood scientific scrutiny or the test of time:

• Changes in water vapor will dampen global warming (also known as Lindzen's "Iris hypothesis")? Refuted by four peer-reviewed studies within a year of the publication of Lindzen's hypothesis. Measurements show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is increasing as mainstream climate scientists expect, and as a greenhouse gas, is amplifying global warming.

• Climate change over the past century has been "minimal"? In reality, the current rate of global warming is unprecedented over the past 11,000 years.

The 15-year 'pause' myth? Completely debunked – global surface warming over the past decade turns out to be more than double previous estimates, and the climate continues to accumulate heat at a rate equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second.

The accuracy of climate models during that timeframe? Much better than Lindzen claims.

In my extensive research into Richard Lindzen's climate papers and talks, I've never been able to find an instance where he predicted how global temperatures would change in the future, other than to say in 1989,

"I personally feel that the likelihood over the next century of greenhouse warming reaching magnitudes comparable to natural variability seems small,"

The natural variability of the Earth's climate rarely causes more than 0.2°C global surface warming over the span of a few decades to a century, yet we've already seen 0.8°C warming over the past century and 0.5°C over the past 3 decades, with much more to come over the next century. Based on his comments in that 1989 talk, I pieced together what Lindzen's global temperature prediction might have looked like, had he made one, and compared it to the prediction made by prominent NASA climate scientist James Hansen in a 1988 paper (like Lindzen, Hansen is now retired).

lindzen v hansen

Comparison of the observed GISTEMP temperature record (black) with temperature predictions from James Hansen's 1988 modeling study (red), and with our reconstructed temperature prediction by Richard Lindzen based on statements from his talk at MIT in 1989 (blue).  Hansen's Scenario B has been adjusted to reflect the actual observed greenhouse gas concentrations since 1988.

Between mainstream climate scientists like Hansen and contrarian climate scientists like Lindzen, it's clear who has the better track record in making accurate climate predictions. Lindzen has made a career of being wrong about climate science, and he's who The Weekly Standard is relying on to evaluate the risks posed by climate change.

How do Lindzen and The Weekly Standard justify dismissing the 97 percent expert climate consensus? With conspiracy theories, of course.

"[Lindzen] says it mostly comes down to the money—to the incentive structure of academic research funded by government grants. Almost all funding for climate research comes from the government, which, he says, makes scientists essentially vassals of the state. And generating fear, Lindzen contends, is now the best way to ensure that policymakers keep the spigot open."

Lindzen would have us believe that tens of thousands of climate scientists around the world are all tossing their ethics aside and falsifying data in order to keep the research money flowing, even though contrarian climate scientists like Lindzen have had no trouble obtaining government research grants. Is this more plausible than the alternative explanation that 97 percent of climate research is correct, and Lindzen, whose claims have consistently been disproved by observational data, is wrong?

In the end, the Weekly Standard piece revisits comparisons between Lindzen and Galileo. There's one major difference between the two: Galileo was right. His positions were based on and supported by scientific evidence, and they withstood scientific scrutiny and the test of time. Other scientists at the time also recognized that Galileo was right. On the contrary, Lindzen is an outlier whose arguments have been disproved time and time again, including about the link between smoking and lung cancer.

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Posted by dana1981 on Monday, 6 January, 2014

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