Dec
07
2009

Forbes Publishes Fiction on Climate Change Debate

Forbes.com has an article up called "The Fiction of Climate Science" (12/4/09). Thanks no doubt to a link from Drudge, it's currently one of the website's "top rated," "most popular" and "most emailed" items. "Fiction" is a polite word for what the author, Gary Sutton, does with evidence.

Sutton grinds the already well-worn denialist ax about "global cooling"–scientists were predicting an imminent ice age in the 1970s, the argument goes, so why listen to those eggheads now about global warming? See FAIR's Action Alert from last February 18 for a debunking of this myth.

But wait! Sutton provides a quote:

In 1974, the National Science Board announced: "During the last 20 to 30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but more sharply over the last decade. Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an endâ┚¬Ã‚¦leading into the next ice age."

First of all, this isn't one quote–this is two quotes from two separate National Science Board documents stapled together. The first comes from a 1974 report titled Science and the Challenges Ahead, and it was accurate at the time. The report goes on to talk about potential human impacts on the global climate–both in adding dust to the atmosphere for a potential cooling effect, and by "activities of the expanding human population–especially those involved with the burning of fossil fuels–[that] raised the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, which acts as a 'greenhouse' for retaining the heat radiated from the Earth's surface." The report notes that "the state of knowledge regarding climate and its changes is too limited to predict reliably whether the present, unanticipated cooling trend will continue."

The second half of the quote comes from another report, from 1972, called Patterns and Perspectives in Environmental Science. Reader David McManus pointed out the games Forbes played with this quote; here's the sentence in full, with emphasis added:

Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end, to be followed by a long period of considerably colder temperatures leading into the next glacial age some 20,000 years from now.

The report immediately adds: "However, it is possible, or even likely that human interference has already altered the climate so much that the climatic pattern of the near future will follow a different path." It goes on to discuss "increased atmospheric opacity" as a possible cooling factor, counterbalanced by the fact that "increasing concentration of industrial carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should lead to a temperature increase by absorption of infrared radiation from the Earth's surface."

Needless to say, someone who is unable to correctly report what a book says is unlikely to be able to perform the much more complicated task of independently analyzing climate data and pointing out where all those scientists went wrong.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.