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Debunking the Antarctica myths

17 February 2011

9:04 AM

17 February 2011

9:04 AM

In January 2009, Nature magazine ran the a cover story (pictured) conveying dramatic news about Antarctica: that most of it had warmed significantly over the last
half-century. For years, the data from this frozen continent – with 90 percent of the world’s ice mass – had stubbornly refused to corroborate the global warming narrative. So the study, led
by Eric Steig of the University of Washington, was treated as a bit of a scoop. It reverberated around the world. Gavin Schmidt, from the
RealClimate blog, declared that Antarctica had silenced the sceptics. Mission, it
seemed, was accomplished: Antarctica was no longer an embarrassment to the global warming narrative.

He spoke too soon. The indefatigable Steve McIntyre started to scrutinise his followings along with Nicholas Lewis. They found several flaws: Steig et al had used too few data sequences to
speak for an entire continent, and had processed the data in a very questionable way. But when they wanted to correct him, in another journal, they quickly ran into an inconvenient truth about
global warming: the high priests do not like refutation. To have their critique (initial submission here,
final version here) of Steig’s work published, they needed to assuage the many demands of an anonymous ‘Reviewer A’ – whom they later found out to be Steig himself.

Lewis and Matt Ridley have joined forces to tell the story in the cover issue of this week’s Spectator. It’s another powerful, and depressing tale of the woeful state of climate
science. Real science welcomes refutation: with global warming, it is treated as a religion. As they say in their cover story:

“Nature’s original peer-review process had let through an obviously flawed paper, and no professional climate scientist then disputed  it – perhaps because of fear that doing
so might harm their careers. As the title of Richard Bean’s new play – The Heretic – at the Royal Court hints, young scientists going into climate studies these days are a bit like young
theologians in Elizabethan England. They quickly learn that funding and promotion dries up if you express heterodox views, or doubt the scripture. The scripture, in this case, being the assembled
reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

They went through 88 pages of correspondence in their battle to have their critique published. “So has Antarctica been warming? Mostly not – at least not measurably. Retreat of
the floating Antarctic ice shelves is a favourite story for the media. But, except in a very few peripheral parts, Antarctica is far too cold to lose ice by surface melting.”

As Lewis & Ridley say in their closing paragraphs:

“Papers that come to lukewarm or sceptical conclusions are published, if at all, only after the insertion of catechistic sentences to assert their adherence to orthodoxy. Last year, a
paper in Nature Geosciences concluded heretically that `it is at present impossible to accurately determine climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide’ (high sensitivity  underpins the
entire IPCC argument), yet presaged this with the (absurd) remark: `Earth’s climate can only be stabilized by bringing carbon dioxide emissions under control in the twenty-first

Likewise, a paper In Science last month linking periods of migration in European history with cooler weather stated: `Such historical data may provide a basis for counteracting the recent
political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.’ Sceptical climatologist Pat Michaels pointed out that the sentence would make more sense with `counteracting’

Science as a philosophy is a powerful, but fragile thing. In the case of climate, it is now in conflict with science as an institution.”

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