Accuracy in Media

With heavy snows and ice storms blanketing much of the eastern half of the country, you might have forgotten about global warming. But its back in the news with the publication by the National Research Council (NRC) of its review of the government’s draft strategic plan to guide future climate change research. Since the government plans to spend about $1.7 billion on such research next year, this is not an insignificant document.

The NRC assembled a group of scientists, who then assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the plan and made recommendations for improvement. The scientists were especially pleased by the plan’s “articulation of a much needed new direction for applied climate control modeling.” Existing models have proven so unreliable as to be of little utility, especially in formulating recommendations for national level policy makers. All in all, the scientists termed the draft plan “a good start.” One participant even said the administration deserves an “A for effort.”

The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin had another take, however. He wrote that the review committee had “strongly criticized” the draft plan and “faulted Bush’s plan.” Revkin was particularly critical of the funding the administration has devoted to climate change research, even though next year’s budget is up by nearly two million dollars. He cited the administration’s Capitol Hill opponents as charging the whole exercise of drafting a strategic plan is nothing more than an excuse for delay. Democratic presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry told him this should be a “wake up call for the administration.”

Revkin was particularly critical of the plan’s emphasis on “reducing uncertainties” in climate change research. In their review, the NRC scientists wrote that “widespread acceptance that the human-induced increase in greenhouse gases is responsible for a significant portion of the observed climate changes.” He cited experts declaring that many climate change questions have already been settled. Revkin accepts that as gospel.

Except that acceptance may not be so widespread after all. Dr. S. Fred Singer and other critics have demonstrated clearly that the global climate has changed naturally, and sometimes dramatically, in the past. And that we really don’t understand much about how and why this change has occurred over the centuries. So the premise of most of the current research ? that human activity is largely responsible for recent trends ? is as yet unprovable. To acknowledge that, however, would be to admit that climate change experts are not ready to influence national policy. But it was the acceptance of such a role that most excited the NRC scientists about the draft strategic plan.

Dr. Singer has observed that climate change science has become so “politicized,” that even “formerly respectable scientific and academic journals must be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism.” Revkin was one of several journalists who declined to debate Singer last fall at an AIM conference. We think they all know that they would be badly beaten.