This post is by James Wang, Ph.D., a climate scientist at Environmental Defense.
Climate change denier and U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) published a report just before Christmas with the headline: "Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007." Does that leave you surprised and wondering? It shouldn't. It's a shocker of a headline, but the report itself doesn't back up the claim.
The Inhofe report is 156 pages long. The eight-page introduction – all that most people will read – describes the report and its goals, and gives selected highlights. The body of the report is a series of profiles starting with a sentence or two of biography followed by quotes questioning the validity of climate science.
The aim of the report is to refute that only a handful of scientists – mostly in the pocket of oil companies – still dispute that global warming is happening, and that it's caused by human activities. To this end, Inhofe's aides scoured the internet for quotes from skeptical "scientists".
I put this word in quotes because not all the "over 400 prominent scientists" are truly scientists. As the report itself states, the list includes economists and engineers. These may be smart people, but a smart person without expertise in climate science is still a person without expertise in climate science.
Some of these "over 400 scientists" have not published any climate science-related research. I did a search on the terms "climate," "weather," and "carbon dioxide" in the extensive ISI Web of Science database, and did not find, for example, James Hammond, a chemist; statistician Bjorn Lomborg (author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, not a peer-reviewed scientific publication); and physicist Antonio Zichichi.
Others are published, but while their results are consistent with the consensus view, their interpretations are not. For example, Duncan Wingham observed that the Antarctic ice sheet is growing rather than shrinking (true), but then said this is not "favorable to the notion we are seeing the results of global warming."
In fact, although the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to melt and contribute to sea-level rise over the next century, the Antarctic is projected to gain ice in the near term due to heavier snowfall induced by global warming. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report states:
Current global model studies project that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.
Then there are the many others making statements that are simply incorrect. The highlights of the report – presumably its best shots – contain one factual error after another. Here is a sampling, with responses from Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and science advisor to Environmental Defense:
Even if the concentration of 'greenhouse gases' double man would not perceive the temperature impact. –Oleg Sorochtin
MO: Wrong. Earth is well short of a doubling of CO2, yet changes are apparent not only to scientists, but to the "man in the street" – warmer winters, a melting Arctic. These are closely tied to the buildup of greenhouse gases.
The effect of solar winds on cosmic radiation has just recently been established and, furthermore, there seems to be a good correlation between cloudiness and variations in the intensity of cosmic radiation. Here we have a mechanism which is a far better explanation to variations in global climate than the attempts by IPCC to blame it all on anthropogenic input of greenhouse gases. –Boris Winterhalter
MO: This theory is decades old and has been examined closely. The underlying correlations have been shown to be spurious, and there is no physical mechanism shown to connect cosmic rays to climate.
To my dismay, IPCC authors ignored all my comments and suggestions for major changes in the FOD (First Order Draft) and sent me the SOD (Second Order Draft) with essentially the same text as the FOD. None of the authors of the chapter bothered to directly communicate with me (or with other expert reviewers with whom I communicate on a regular basis) on many issues that were raised in my review. This is not an acceptable scientific review process. –Madhav Khandekar
MO: All comments are reviewed closely – an independent review editor stands guard to assure this is the case – and almost all comments are taken into account. Incorrect comments are not incorporated into the text, and shouldn’t be.
We appear to be overplaying this global warming issue as global warming is nothing new. It has happened in the past, not once but several times, giving rise to glacial-interglacial cycles." –B.P. Radhakrishna
MO: Yes, warming has happened, but this is the first driven by humans, and it threatens to cause global changes within decades on a scope of natural changes that occur within millions of years.
We thus find ourselves in the situation that the entire theory of man-made global warming—with its repercussions in science, and its important consequences for politics and the global economy—is based on ice core studies that provided a false picture of the atmospheric CO2 levels. –Zbigniew Jaworowski
MO: Ice core studies are highly reliable, but are far from the only evidence. Computer simulations of the past are consistent with the models, and current changes in climate support the conclusions from both.
CO2 is not the big bogeyman of climate change and global warming. Not CO2, but water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas. It is responsible for at least 75% of the greenhouse effect. This is a simple scientific fact, but Al Gore's movie has hyped CO2 so much that nobody seems to take note of it. –Luc Debontridder
MO: Water vapor is indeed an important greenhouse gas. And one of the key things about the CO2-related warming is that it causes more water to evaporate from the ocean, amplifying the initial man-made warming.
Sadly, these errors may not be accidental. Many of the scientists on the list – and Senator Inhofe, himself – are associated with institutions funded by Exxon. These include the usual suspects – the Richard Lindzens and Fred Singers – that get quoted over and over again. For a list of names and connections, see this map. Gristmill also is looking into the background of the "Inhofe 400" in its "Skeptic of the Day" posts (here, here, and here).
As for the complaint that the IPCC and other scientific fora don't give a loud enough voice to the skeptical view point, we suggest that the proper channel for skeptics to voice their scientific concerns is through peer-reviewed publications and sanctioned assessments such as the IPCC and National Academy of Sciences reports. If their views are not fully reflected in those channels, it's because they don't stand up to rigorous scientific review.