In January 2002 Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago published a four-page article in Nature. A contribution to Antarctic climatology, after almost five years it’s still newsworthy enough that he wrote about it in the July 27 New York Times. (A fuller free version is available here .)
“My research colleagues and I found that from 1986 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled. Our report . . . found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent [58 percent] had cooled than had warmed. Our summary statement pointed out how the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change.”
That’s how science works: a theory (or model) makes predictions, researchers check them out and report the results. When they don’t fit, it’s time to check the research findings, and if they seem valid, to revise the model.
This patient iterative process is too slow for the mainstream media, and too impartial to suit climate-change denialists. Writes Doran, “Our results have been misused as ‘evidence’ against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel ‘State of Fear’ and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, ‘Godless: The Church of Liberalism.'”
Chicago’s Heartland Institute, which purports to champion “sound science,” joined this company with an article in 2002 that overgeneralized Doran’s findings and linked them to unrelated studies, in order to create the impression (well known to be false) that the globe as a whole isn’t warming. Much as creationists take any revision in evolutionary theory (no matter how slight) as proof that the whole theory of evolution by natural selection is worthless, these special pleaders misread the very process of science in order to deny its results.
The media echo chamber continues to resound with these misrepresentations. A newspaper in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, fabricated a Doran quote to suit its purposes on June 25. In the on-line comments section June 29, Doran denied ever saying or thinking it, and asked that it be removed. It’s still up.
(Which reminds me — has any denialist outfit ever explained Doran’s actual findings and apologized for misrepresenting them?)
Of course, science has been plodding on meantime. Writes Doran, “Climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals — thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals — all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet.”
Doran includes a fuller version of his Times op-ed and additional materials at his UIC web site. One of his side comments pretty much summarizes the whole sorry business:
“It has always amazed me that skeptics of climate warming are quite ready to distrust 99% of the scientific community, but they immediately trust me only because I wrote a paper they ‘thought’ supported their argument.”