The Week That Was
December 14-20, 1998

Focussing on the federal regulation follies gets more and more difficult, given the turmoil now going on in Washington, D.C. While Americans may complain that they are tired of hearing about the President and his various moral and legal peccadillos, the truth is that their attention is riveted on this historic impeachment and little else is being read about or discussed or acted upon.

That may be true in Britain as well, where the public can't seem to get enough of the Clinton scandals. Last week in London, a jailed activist who threatened to starve himself to death in the cause of animal rights (his third try), and his cronies who threatened to assassinate 10 medical researchers if he was successful, called off both when it became apparent that it wasn't exactly grabbing "end of the world" headlines. Although the London tabloids were giving him some play, the BBC reported that his impending demise had been somewhat overstated by his supporters, the Daily Telegraph called his various antics "farce," and the U.S. press relegated him to the back pages, or ignored him altogether. As the saying goes, if your death isn't going to be reported on page one, why bother?

Before we move on, next week, to our year-end wrap-up, a couple of items--one published, one private--are worth mentioning, if only because they show that American politics isn't the only thing that's "surreal" these days.

Up in the far north, where socialism doesn't develop quite as rank an odor as it does in the United States, Canada's Minister of the Environment, Christine Stewart, tipped her hand on the global warming issue and revealed her true agenda. Speaking to editors and reporters with the Calgary Herald newspaper, Stewart said: "No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits....Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world."

The problem with that line of reasoning, of course, is that it DOES matter if the science is "all phony." In fact, that's why The Science & Environmental Policy Project was founded 6 years ago, because phony science is a poor basis for public policy.

But you have to admire the sheer inventiveness of Green activists and their ability to tap into the seemingly endless gullibility of the news media. Over the years, we have seen a litany of frightening claims and "what if" scenarios, based on the flimsiest research, paraded across our televisions screens and taking up endless column-inches in print. Stock footage of weather disasters, packaged for broadcasters by activists promoting global warming, show up on television without attribution and with few in the press questioning whether links between extreme weather events and global warming had credible scientific support.

One after another, the scares are examined and fall to pieces. Sheep in Chile, claimed to have been blinded by the disappearance of stratospheric ozone, were found instead to have a bacterial eye infection. A study claiming that just a 40 percent increase in solar ultraviolet radiation would kill plants was found to have eliminated the day/night cycle; in short, positing that the Earth would stand still.

Ten years ago, videos promoting global warming and distributed to the news media showed melting ice caps sending sea levels halfway up the Washington Monument. A little over a year ago, a global warming exhibit put together for the National Museum of Natural History by the Environmental Defense Fund (this is what passes for scholarship these days) could only manage a puddling of sea water in the streets AROUND the Washington Monument, and this was achieved only by factoring in a storm surge that occurs, on average, once every 50 years.

No sooner does one scary scenario fall apart under scientific scrutiny than another is put forth to take its place, and reporters take the bait again. When the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had to admit that a warmer climate would NOT increase the frequency of dangerous Force 4 and 5 hurricanes, Mike MacCracken of the U.S. Global Climate Research Program, a federal employee, told the news media that, well, the real worry was flooding from the weak Force 1 and 2 hurricanes. (Last week, University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels, writing in the Washington Times, effectively put that claim to rest as well.)

In the last year, the public has been told that global warming would cause malaria, dengue fever, and other dread tropical diseases to spread throughout the United States and Europe, cause bugs to breed and mutate into insecticide-resistant strains that would overrun the Earth, cause icebergs as big as Delaware to break off in the Antarctic, cause glaciers to melt and ruin tourism at Glacier National Park. Warmer temperatures, said the Associated Press, will kill all the flowers and leave just the weeds. CNN said scientists predicted "megadroughts" in the Midwest that would make the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl look like a picnic. USA Today reported a "relentless rise" in heatwaves that endangered the nation's elderly (apparently the slogan "do it for our children" is running out of steam).

A great deal of this is simply the kind of junk you get when Green activists take control of our institutions and the federal government decides to pour $2 billion a year into one area of research. But it's encouraging to finally see what is driving this--apart from a druidic religion combined with cold, hard cash. Thank you, Environment Minister Stewart, for admitting it openly.

The second item we would like to mention was frankly a bit of a surprise. It seems that climate scientist Dr. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, a faithful reader of The Week That Was, was somewhat taken aback by Dr. S. Fred Singer's critique on these pages (November 16th) of a research paper he coauthored.

Dr. Wigley, as readers may remember, earlier this year announced his withdrawal from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying he intended to devote himself to proving that man-made global warming was real. Indeed, the promotional material accompanying his coauthored article published in the November 27 issue of the journal Science, says his research supports the global warming hypothesis--"supports" rather than "confirms," an interesting choice of words.

Singer's assessment of Wigley et al's work is that it demonstrates only that climate models cannot simulate the natural variability of the atmosphere. Nothing new there. Numerous scientists have said the same thing, most recently James Hansen of NASA.

In any case, as part of his rebuttal, Dr. Wigley informs us that those of his peers who reviewed his research paper for Science thought it was just fine, thank you. In fact, he quoted from their reviews, and we reprint those quotes here, exactly as he conveyed them to us:

Referee #1: "Overall evaluation: Excellent and exciting...presents an insightful and deceptively simple analysis..."

Referee #2: "Overall evaluation: excellent and exciting paper using an underutilized technique...deserves rapid publication...

Referee #3: "This is an excellent and exciting paper...has some very interesting and important results...a novel, yet simple approach..."

Wigley goes on to say "I hope you will note the uniformity of the referees opinions."

We certainly did. In fact, we are still trying to calculate the statistical probability that three reviewers, wholly unknown to each other and examining the paper independently--as they should--would each come up with the rather unusual phrase "excellent and exciting."

As we said, American politics isn't the only thing that's surreal these days

Until next week...

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

Update on Dr. Wigley's reviews [from the January 4, 1999 TW2]: The mystery has now been solved. Science, as it turns out, is one of several journals that includes a multiple-choice questionnaire at the end of its review form. "Excellent and exciting" is one of the boxes reviewers can check off, and apparently at least two of Wigley's reviewers picked up on the phrase and repeated it in their written comments. Wigley's third reviewer's "comment" is actually from the questionnaire itself.

Journals have been including such questionnaires in recent years so that editors won't have to read through all of the written comments. But this is unfortunate; any shortcut encourages a less than thorough reading of the paper and could result in research being rushed into print that lacks merit or is seriously flawed.

We don't know that that's what happened in this case, of course. With Dr. Wigley's paper, although Dr. Singer found it less than "excellent and exciting," we are satisfied that Wigley's three reviewers legitimately and anonymously did.

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