James McCarthy, a senior IPCC official between 1997 and 2001, made a statement about Arctic ice melt in 2000 so erroneous that the New York Times needed to write a major retraction about its mention of it. Later in 2004, McCarthy was part of an ‘expert’ press briefing about “Global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity”. In Donna Laframboise’s 2011 blog, she tells how that press briefing is tied straight to the infamous resignation of Chris Landsea from the IPCC. As many know, the predictions for hurricanes haven’t worked out so well lately. More recently, we are told McCarthy was involved in the origins of the idea that skeptic climate scientists are ‘paid shills working for the fossil fuel industry’.
To recap the old NY Times incident: In an August 19, 2000 article with the title “Ages-Old Polar Icecap Is Melting, Scientists Find“, the paper said the following:
…for the time being, an ice-free patch of ocean about a mile wide has opened at the very top of the world, something that has presumably never before been seen by humans and is more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate. The last time scientists can be certain the pole was awash in water was more than 50 million years ago.
“It was totally unexpected,” said Dr. James J. McCarthy….
This strange statement prompted skeptic climate scientist Dr S. Fred Singer to submit a take-down to the Wall Street Journal, which was published nine days later. In his letter, Dr Singer succinctly pointed out how the kind of open ice McCarthy saw was nothing unusual, that after “a long summer of 24-hour days it is not unusual to find open leads all over the place, especially after strong winds break up the winter ice“. His letter was influential enough to cause the NY Times to append their article just one day later, with this note at the bottom:
Correction: August 29, 2000, Tuesday A front-page article on Aug. 19 and a brief report on Aug. 20 in The Week in Review about the sighting of open water at the North Pole misstated the normal conditions of the sea ice there. A clear spot has probably opened at the pole before, scientists say, because about 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean is clear of ice in a typical summer. The reports also referred incompletely to the link between the open water and global warming. The lack of ice at the pole is not necessarily related to global warming.
Anti-skeptic book author Ross Gelbspan reproduced the article at his web site with what may have been the article’s sub-headline at the top, “North Pole Melts after 50 million-year Freeze“, with no mention of the correction. And, Gelbspan’s ties with McCarthy and one other ‘science expert’ in the 2004 ‘outbreaks of intense hurricane activity’ press briefing, the late Paul Epstein, is significant.
For those unfamiliar with him, retired Boston Globe reporter/editor Ross Gelbspan began a second career with the 1997 publication of his “The Heat is On” book, which is widely credited as being a definitive exposé of how skeptic climate scientists are corrupted by fossil fuel industry money. Gelbspan’s oft-repeated story of how he became involved in the global warming issue concerns a backlash he received after co-authoring a March 19,1995 Washington Post article with Epstein. As I point out in my own blog, Gelbspan’s particular narrative about becoming a temporary skeptic as a result of those backlash letters has its problems.
McCarthy’s association with Gelbspan raises far more questions. In his 2010 “Climate Cover-up” book, James Hoggan says the following about McCarthy and Gelbspan on page 3:
….he told me that when he had started looking into climate change, he actually thought the “science skeptics” had it right. He thought the science was truly stuck in uncertainty. Then Harvard oceanographer Dr. James McCarthy showed Ross how the deniers were twisting the data to mislead people, and he posed what for Ross became an important question: where were these purported skeptics getting their money? The answer to that question formed the backbone of The Heat Is On…
In that story, that’s all we see about McCarthy. But in a late 2011 interview Hoggan had with The Green Interview site, the story is more specific about Gelbspan’s situation back in the spring of 1995:
He had been running into climate scientists who thought it was a problem and other scientists who thought it wasn’t, and he was actually leaning in the direction of thinking that climate change maybe wasn’t as serious a problem as these climate scientists were saying it was. And one of his friends said, “I think you should check out this Fred Singer guy who’s telling you that climate change isn’t such a big problem and see who’s funding him.”
It is unlikely that Hoggan made a wild guess there, since he doesn’t just have a superficial association with Gelbspan. His web site was founded by Gelbspan (who says that only eight seconds into this audio interview), Hoggan credits Gelbspan as “a big part of the inspiration for starting the DeSmogBlog” (4th paragraph here), and Gelbspan frequently wrote there from January 2006 to November 2010.
Consider the whole picture: as a scientist having heavyweight Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change credentials, James McCarthy made very public pronouncements about Arctic ice conditions and hurricane intensity predictions that both fell apart, and now a prominent individual’s two separate recent descriptions apparently places McCarthy at the heart of the accusation that skeptic climate scientists are paid by the fossil fuel industry to lie to the public – a nearly two decade-old accusation that has yet to be proven true.
Was Dr Singer’s WSJ letter revenge against McCarthy? Hardly. Hoggan’s details about McCarthy’s association with Gelbspan are seen a decade after that event, and unless someone can find what I haven’t found, Gelbspan never referred to McCarthy as as someone who tipped him to look into the funding of skeptic scientists back in 1997-2000 (or anytime afterward, for that matter).
There is a far larger question to ask: why would a trained scientist like McCarthy give credibility to the notion of corrupt funding, if there was no proof at the outset that it leads directly to false climate science assessments from Fred Singer or any other skeptic scientist?
Is it because he feared the IPCC’s core science conclusions could not stand on their own merits against skeptic criticism, thus there was an immediate need to marginalize skeptics in the eyes of the public by any means possible?