Four Pinocchios for the WashPost Fact Checker

The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Rick Perry four Pinocchios for his August 17 denunciation of alarmist science. Here’s what we think.

Below is the WashPost Fact Checker’s article — our comments are in bold brackets.

Few scientists would back up Rick Perry’s global warming claims

By Glenn Kessler, Published: December 11

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

— Rick Perry, Aug. 17

Perry has firm conservative opinions, but he tends to espouse “facts” that have bounced around in the conservative echo chamber without being vetted for accuracy. Take the question of global warming.

The notion that humans have contributed to climate change has generated increasing skepticism among the American public, especially as proposals to deal with the problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, have come with high costs. But Perry is wrong to say that such skepticism has gained strength among scientists.

To the contrary, various surveys of climate researchers suggest growing acceptance, with as many as 98 percent believing in the concept of man-made climate change. [This “98 percent” claim is not the product of a survey of scientists’ views. It was the result of a dubious analysis that we labeled the Nonsensus.] After all, it was first established in 1896 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help create a “greenhouse effect.” [Wrong. John Tyndall proved the greenhouse effect in 1859.]

Similar studies have been done by the United States Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among others. Although there are a few skeptics in the field, even they generally do not question that human activity is warming the climate. [No one argues that greenhouse gas emissions don’t contribute to some sort of warming — but the question is to what degree and effect.]

In response to queries, Perry spokesman Mark Miner sent a link to something called the Petition Project, which says it has collected the signatures of 31,487 “American scientists” who agree that there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that human release of greenhouse gases will “cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

But only 9,000 of the signers have a PhD. [How many PhDs would make the list acceptable to Fact Checker?] And few have expertise in climate research. [Not doing climate research doesn’t necessarily disqualify anyone from holding valid views. Most “climate researchers” aren’t atmospheric physicists. And Michael Mann may be a “climate researcher” but he doesn’t seem to have much credibility even with his own side. Check out this and this from the Climategate 2.0 e-mails] Judging from news reports, the number of signers has barely budged from 2008, further undercutting Perry’s claim of a groundswell of opposition. [There are more signatories but the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine hasn’t had the time or resources to update the Petition Project.]

Perry’s spokesmen did not provide any evidence to back up his claim that “a substantial number of scientists . . . have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” But Perry appears to be referring to hundreds of e-mails that were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain and then disseminated on the Internet in 2009. One e-mail referred to adding a “trick” to the data, leading climate-change skeptics to say that the information was manipulated. [Fact Checker apparently has yet to familiarize itself with the Climategate 2.0 e-mails. Click here for a start Fact Checker.]

Although Perry said the scientists were manipulating data, five investigations have exonerated the half a dozen or so scientists involved. [These were all whitewashes that did not delve into the substance of the e-mails. See e.g., our coverage of the Penn State investigation.]

So, in contrast to Perry’s statement, there have not been a “substantial number” of scientists who manipulated data. Instead, a handful of them were falsely accused. [There were no accusations proven false. The hockey stick was the result of manipulated data. A substantial number of scientists participated in covering it up — including the National Research Council.]

The Fact Checker awards four Pinocchios for this statement. [Back at ya.]

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