Sunday, December 17, 2017
Opinion

Column: No evidence behind climate denialism

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with).

In 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change, and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot of sound and fury from the denial machine, they have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus. The same is true for a somewhat different study that showed a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists supporting both the reality of global warming and the fact that human emissions are behind it.

Powell recently finished another such investigation, this time looking at peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December 2013. Out of 2,258 articles (with 9,136 authors), how many do you think explicitly rejected human-driven global warming? Go on, guess!

One. Yes, one.

Huh. Here's the thing: If you listen to Fox news, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you'd have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it. Mind you, scientists are a contrary lot. If there were solid evidence that global warming didn't exist, or that CO2 emissions weren't the culprit, there would be papers in the journals about it. Lots of them.

I base this on my own experience with contrary data in astronomy. In 1998, two teams of researchers found evidence that the expansion of the universe was not slowing down, as expected, but actually speeding up. This idea is as crazy as holding a ball in your hand, letting go, and having it fall up, accelerating wildly into the sky. Yet those papers got published.

They inspired lively discussion (to say the least), and motivated further observations. Careful, meticulous work was done to eliminate errors and confounding factors, until it became very clear that we were seeing an overturning of the previous paradigm. It took years, but now astronomers accept that the universal expansion is accelerating, and that dark energy is the culprit.

Mind you, dark energy is far, far weirder than anything climate change deniers have come up with, yet it became mainstream science in a decade or so. Deniers have been bloviating for longer than that, yet their claims are rejected overwhelmingly by climate scientists. Why? Because they're wrong.

When I write on the politics of this issue I get accused of being biased, which is ironic indeed. I didn't start this fight, nor did I draw the partisan lines. I'm just shining a light on them. I know some pro-science Republicans, but the ones in elected office are few and far between.

The basic science of global warming is independent of party line. It doesn't care if you're left, right, black, white, straight, gay, pro-gun, pro-choice, pro-GMO or pro-vaccine. It's real, and it affects all of us. Mission number one is to get people to understand this, and then to get them to elect politicians who do as well.

Phil Plait is an astronomer, lecturer and author. He worked for 10 years on Hubble Space Telescope data and has written two books, "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing 'Hoax' " and "Death from the Skies! These Are the Ways the universe Will End."

© 2014 Slate

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