when climate change contrarians actually have a point

A recent paper with a grim notice about the planet’s warming oceans was wrong according to a climate change contrarian. Its authors agree.

pacific ocean currents
Illustration by NASA ECCO

Generally, global warming and climate change contrarians do one thing and one thing only: deny that pollution is causing a rise in average global temperatures, disrupting climates and ecosystems in the process. They do it by cherry-picking, outright lies, dismissing scientific evidence as irrelevant, coming up with bizarre hypotheses of their own, and when all that fails, they retreat to now almost comical conspiracy theories. But sometimes, they can point out a real weakness in a study and their adversarial approach to climate change papers can spot a key mistake.

This is what just happened to a recent paper claiming that oceans are actually as much as 60% warmer than estimated by the UN’s scientific committee on climate change.The dire paper landed with a very loud thud in the media on the heels of another study which warned us that the Earth was running out of places to store the extra greenhouse gases we’re emitting, and encourages us to take action promptly. It was, of course, ignored by the current administration because while they’re fine with studying climate change, they refuse to let self-preservation get in the way of making a quick buck.

After seeing years of worsening data, reporters and reviewers were certainly primed to give another grim paper the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, they missed problems with the error margins used in the paper’s data which mean that its conclusions are not as solid as they seemed at first glance. Enter climate change contrarian Nic Lewis, who, as virtually all such contrarians, is not a climate scientist but a mathematician. After a look at the study, he detailed the problem on a denialist blog, which the co-author of the study happened to notice.

Going back over their math, the researchers found merit in the criticism and agreed they didn’t provide sufficiently robust data to make their conclusions, thanking Lewis for pointing out their mistake. Their revised numbers still show oceans warming above IPCC estimates, but they’re no longer sure by exactly how much. Currently, a correction is being submitted to Nature while the denialist-sphere hyperventilates about how this error is a perfect example of the science of climate change being based on flawed studies by incompetent researchers because that’s what they’re handsomely paid to do.

But if anything, this study debunks the denialist talking point that climate researchers don’t listen to contrarian views, barreling ahead with flawed studies as the exact opposite happened. Plus, this is one out of countless papers interrogated by denialists and contrarians and standing up to even the most hostile scrutiny. The science behind our understanding of global warming and climate change is not based on a handful of analyses, but on a vast and growing library of data going back to the 19th century. A single paper with statistical errors is hardly an indictment of the entire field, especially when its authors proved their commitment to intellectual honesty and are busy redoing their work.

# science // climate change / global warming / scientific research


  Show Comments