The climate-denial camp has new ammunition: A widely refuted Daily Mail article that claims top U.S. climate scientists exaggerated their data for a 2015 study to “dupe” world leaders into adopting the Paris Climate Agreement.
That agreement, which went into force in November 2016, for the first time committed the world to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For his incendiary story, British journalist David Rose, who has reported inaccurately on climate science and Iraqi weaponry in the past, spoke to a “high-level whistleblower” in a top U.S. climate agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The whistleblower-scientist, John Bates, claimed that NOAA broke its own rules for scientific integrity when it published a noteworthy scientific study debunking the so-called “hiatus” in global warming.
U.S. and European scientists swiftly denounced the Daily Mail story this weekend, pointing to multiple independent analyses supporting NOAA’s findings.
In fact, subsequent studies have shown the world may be experiencing even more warming than the 2015 paper showed. Last year was the warmest year on record, surpassing previous milestones set in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth, said Rose’s story is “so wrong, it’s hard to know where to start.”
Meanwhile, right-wing websites like Breitbart News and Daily Caller shared the U.K. article to cast further doubt on the mainstream scientific consensus that global warming is happening, and that human activity is largely to blame.
Despite its thin evidence, the Daily Mail story may find a friendly audience in the Trump administration, which views mainstream climate science with suspicion, if not outright denial. President Donald Trump, for example, has claimed global warming is a “hoax,” and he has named well-known climate deniers to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, among other posts.
At the heart of Rose’s controversial story is the June 2015 study disproving the warming pause that scientists had observed from 1998 to 2012.
The NOAA study, published in the prestigious journal Science, found that the slowdown in global warming never actually happened. Instead, improperly adjusted data on surface temperatures made for an artificial lull in the warming trend.
When NOAA researchers corrected their temperature datasets, they found that Earth’s climate had warmed by a larger amount than previously thought.
People who reject mainstream climate science are suspicious of this study. For skeptics, the so-called pause was proof that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels have less of an influence on global temperatures than most studies have shown.
Shortly after its release, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, launched a dogged campaign to determine whether NOAA scientists had manipulated data for political purposes.
The Texas Republican took the unprecedented step of issuing a subpoena for the NOAA administrator, marking the first time his House committee mainly an oversight body had taken such a legal step.
Kathryn Sullivan, then the NOAA administrator, refused to comply with the subpoena, although she did make NOAA scientists, including the lead author of the 2015 study, available to speak with committee members on multiple occasions.
The investigation turned up next to nothing. For Smith, however, the Daily Mail story seemed to only confirm his long-lingering suspicions.
Separately, the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch has filed suit against NOAA seeking internal communications related to that study.
NOAA scientists aren’t the only group to dispel the notion of a global warming pause. Nor is NOAA the only agency whose data shows that the pause may not have happened, and that warming has sped up in recent years.
In January, an independent group of U.S. and British scientists concluded that NOAA’s temperature adjustments were accurate.
Berkeley Earth scientist Hausfather led the study with colleagues from NASA, the U.K.’s York University, George Mason University in Virginia, plus one other independent researcher.
Their 2017 paper in Science Advances compared the old NOAA temperature record and the new NOAA record to datasets collected from buoys, satellite radiometers and Argo floats that measure temperature and salinity in the oceans.
On Sunday, in response to Rose’s article, Hausfather wrote, “The fact that the new NOAA record is effectively identical with records constructed only from higher quality instruments…strongly suggests that NOAA got it right.”
Victor Venema, a German scientist with the World Meteorological Organization, explained in his own blog post how Rose apparently misconstrued the climate data to support evidence of a pause.
Irish climate scientist Peter Thorne, who worked on the landmark 2015 study, also penned a rebuttal to the newspaper article, noting that at least seven key aspects of the story are a “misrepresentation of the processes that actually occurred.”
He added that the accusations “do not square one iota with the robust integrity I see in the work and discussions that I have been involved in with them [NOAA] for over a decade.”