The Week That Was
November 9-15, 1997

We've delayed this report a day in order to assemble more of Dr. S. Fred Singer's media coverage from his recent sweep through Austria and Germany. Singer returned November 14th, pleased at the large audiences (200 plus) that turned out for his global warming presentations, and very pleased at having churned up the European "debate." Here's a sampling of just the Austrian headlines:

"Hot Debate about Greenhouse Effect: Presentation by U.S. Climate Expert Singer Creates Uproar in Parliament," Wiener Zeitung, Nov. 4
"Climate Treaty Would Lead to Economic Suicide," Die Presse, Nov. 4.
"Fight over Theses of Climate Change" Salzburger Nachrichten, Nov. 4
"A Warming Doesn't Exist, and If It Did, It Would Be Good," Der Standard, Nov. 4
"Sunspots, Man: Hypotheses about the Greenhouse," Die Presse, Nov. 9
"Environment: Parliamentarian Climate Catastrophe--An Attack on Conventional Horror Cliches," Wirtschafts Blatt, Nov. 12.

As a guest of Professor Reimar Lust, Singer spoke at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg on the possible effects of commercial airline traffic on regional climate. He then responded to points raised by Institute Director Klaus Hasselmann, a vocal proponent of global warming. Singer was interviewed by three journalists from the German weekly Die Zeit, and also interviewed for television in Hamburg and Bonn.

The biggest confrontation, however, came at Singer's appearance before an Austrian Parliamentary group on November 3rd in Vienna. Some 250 people were assembled, along with a horde of newspaper reporters and photographers. Following his global warming presentation, Singer was faced with a panel of politicians, representatives from five of the largest political parties, who had been asked to comment. Instead, however, they launched into an ad hominem round of name-calling, indicating that they didn't so much want to discuss science as to drown it out. They didn't. Not only did Singer respond to the barrage of attacks, with applause from the audience, but he ended up doing a large number of interviews with European journalists, some of whom revealed they were frequent visitors to the SEPP web site.

Are Europeans so sold on global warming? Interestingly, two letters from people who attended Singer's presentation in Vienna appeared in the Austrian newspaper Die Presse shortly after he left Europe. We quote from them here because they express a good deal of skepticism about the motives of politicians.

Alexander Hartmann of Wiesbaden: "It is revealing that the politicians more or less declare, we have our politics and counter-arguments are of no interest. Instead of addressing the arguments [about global warming]--which shouldn't be too difficult if their politics are actually well-based--the opponent is simply defamed." Dr. Siegfried Schwarzl, a university professor and climate scientist, added: "I wasn't the only one upset by our politicians...In no way are [Singer's] theses regarded by experts as a minority opinion."

That's an eyebrow-raising response--even more so in the full text.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., on November 6th, members and staff of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment got an inkling of why government global warming "experts" are so anxious to dodge a debate with other climate scientists. Called to testify that day was new UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairman Dr. Robert Watson, who has a reputation around town for misleading presentations on global warming. Opposing him--and Watson rarely allows any scientific opposition, if he can help it--was University of Virginia climatologist Dr. Patrick Michaels, who has a reputation around town for no-holds-barred counter-arguments.

According to a number of witnesses, it was brutal. Michaels repeatedly and pointedly corrected Watson's gross misstatements, on one occasion referring Watson to a graph in the latest IPCC report, which Watson had brought to the hearing. This was Watson's first testimony as IPCC chairman, and he got his head handed to him. Among other things, Watson had to admit that his contention that global warming is bringing on heavier, more intense rainstorms isn't true. Some of the congressman present were reported to have applauded.

Unfortunately, Washington Post staff reporters apparently don't attend subcommittee hearings on Capitol Hill. As many of you know, last week the Post news staff ran a multi-part series on global warming that was dismayingly off the mark, full of vague appeals to authority (i.e., "2000 scientists predict," "120 nations endorse," "broad scientific consensus"), much wrong information and other information omitted altogether. Possible solar effects--the subject of a lengthy piece in the New York Times recently--were simply dismissed as "nutty science." An exhaustive written critique is impossible before Fred Singer leaves for Kyoto, but we are hoping to arrange a meeting between Singer and the Post staff before Kyoto to present a broader point of view. A request has been made. He would very much like to talk with them.

A far better two-part article on global warming appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week, and the Nov. 7th issue of the journal Science ran another one of those how-did-they-sneak-this-past-Jane-Lubchenco articles. This time its "Apocalypse Not" by Gary Taubes, which takes the claim of "malaria epidemics from greenhouse warming" and subjects it to the scrutiny of REAL tropical disease experts. Bravo! We recommend it.

Finally, a research paper has just been published in the Nov. 14 issue of Science that provides one of those glaring illustrations of what's wrong with much science reporting today--and it's not entirely the reporters.

Several journalists on our TW2 distribution list drew our attention to this paper--"Arctic Environmental Change of the Last Four Centuries." One reporter, Michael Woods of the Toledo Blade--who's not on our list--even did a nice write-up on it that was reprinted in the Washington Times under the headline: "Global warming is nothing new, detailed study of arctic finds" (WTimes, Nov. 14)

According to the research paper, a warming in the Arctic climate, widely blamed on industrial pollution, actually began in 1840 as a result of natural factors. The two lead authors, NOAA's Jonathan Overpeck and University of Massachusetts Professor Raymond Bradley, who appeared at a Science magazine press conference to announce the study, said Arctic warming after 1920 may be related to greenhouse warming. They also said, however, that their research confirms that there is a tremendous amount of natural variability in the Arctic climate and that this variability makes it more difficult to forecast what changes lie ahead for the Arctic as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

Fair enough. But now listen to these same two authors, at the same Science magazine press conference, as reported by EnviroNews Service, Nov. 14, in a wire article headlined "Arctic Climate Changing Rapidly":

(Quote) Two scientists who have measured glaciers, examined ice samples and sampled sediments at lake bottoms in the Arctic over the past 10 years say they have proof that the Earth's temperature is rising, and that "scares" them.
"I'm worried. I fear what the consequences of that (global warming) will be," Raymond Bradley, chair of geosciences department at the University of Massachusetts, said at a news conference Thursday.
Jonathan Overpeck, another of the paper's authors, said, "What we're talking about is...climate changing rapidly. That can't help but scare everyone."
Overpeck and Bradley believe that their study not only indicates an "unprecedented" warming of the North Pole region, but also that the glacier retreats and melting of frozen land show the first clear signs that man-made greenhouse gases have begun to affect the planet's climate.
"Our study is the best one to date that...says it probably already is happening," Overpeck said.

The scientific evidence in this research paper is straightforward, and this information will no doubt prove valuable in studying world climate. But two factors are at play in how it's presented to the public: One is the tendency of some environmental reporters to elicit inflammatory quotes ("Does this make you scared, Dr. Bradley?") and to deliberately overstate. The other is the tendency for some normally dispassionate scientists to get carried away at press conferences, faced with the "fear" that their research findings--in this case, of natural climate variability--might not generate headlines.

And we wonder why the public is getting cynical.

More next week.

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