Environment

In Asheville, a scientific squabble ignites a flurry of fake news over climate change

Greenland’s ice melt is a direct consequence of rising global temperatures. (Photo: NASA)

The headlines in the Daily Mail range from “Is Is applying makeup with a CONDOM the secret to flawless skin?” to “Human Ken Doll Rodrigo Alves reveals despair after giant cyst appears behind his ear as a result of 50th cosmetic procedure.”

So of course, congressional leaders would look to the British tabloid for credible science news.

On Sunday, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology posted a sensationalized story on its website from the Daily Mail. The article purported that a NOAA scientist at the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is based in Asheville, exaggerated the severity of global warming. The scientist behind the peer-reviewed paper, Thomas Karl, concluded that there had been no slowdown in the pace of global warming. He based this conclusion on a re-analyses of NOAA sea and land temperature data. The paper appeared in the respected journal, Science.

Fellow NOAA scientist John Bates disagreed with the conclusion because of he didn’t believe the data was sufficiently vetted. Nonetheless, the paper held up under peer-review scrutiny. Other unrelated scientific studies have come to the same conclusions. And Bates’s dissent — scientific dissent is common — still doesn’t contradict the findings.

The London School of Economics and Political Science dissected the Daily Mail article, noting its many fallacies, including a fake graph misrepresenting the data. The tabloid has a history of publishing inaccurate stories about climate change, which feeds the fake news fires. Breitbart News, the Daily Caller and their ilk all picked up the false article. (For laypeople, Popular Science also gutted the tabloid piece.)

2016 was the hottest year globally since temperatures were recorded, beginning in 1880, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It was the third consecutive year that global temperatures broke previous records. NASA measurements also show that the extent of Arctic sea ice, at its annual seasonal low point (summer), has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade.

The House Science Committee is led by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas and an avowed climate change skeptic. The punchline: Today at 11 a.m. Smith will lead a committee hearing entitled “Making EPA Great Again.”

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