Thank goodness for the Mail on Sunday and journalist David Rose. Without the endeavours of these serial climate science deniers, the world may never have known that the landmark Paris Agreement was informed by robust scientific evidence.
That’s not exactly how they put it, obviously.
Instead, they claimed to have found “astonishing evidence” that a scientific paper based on “flawed” evidence that was never shared was “rushed” in order to influence the landmark Paris climate change negotiations.
That somewhat ignores the fact the data in the paper has been independently verified, the data was immediately archived, and the authors never discussed the Paris meeting.
The Mail on Sunday this weekend did a three-page spread intended to debunk research that showed a supposed ‘global warming pause’, much beloved by climate science deniers, might not actually have occurred at all.
Published by the world’s leading academic journal Science in June 2015, the paper said an apparent slowdown in temperature increases between 1998 and 2013 was largely down to how the data was pieced together.
Mail on Sunday columnist David Rose – who is known for being mistaken on a wide range of subjects – claimed to have “learnt” that the paper was based on flawed data, and that it didn’t follow a proper review process.
Rose’s column was described by Berkeley climate scientist Zeke Hausfather as “so wrong it’s hard to know where to start”.
Fortunately, Hausfather quickly found somewhere to start, and has now detailed all of Rose’s errors in an article for Carbon Brief.
Among the embarrassing gaffes is a graph that showed two temperature datasets directly on top of each other, despite the fact that they use different periods of years as the starting point for the analysis.
As NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt pointed out on Twitter, placing the graphs like this had the convenient effect of making it look like there’s a big difference between the two, when there really is not.
Most of Rose’s ‘findings’ are based on comments from US government scientist John Bates.
Just before Christmas, Bates also set up a new consultancy “dedicated to applied data science in the geosciences and beyond”, according to his LinkedIn profile. So, not a bad time to hit the headlines.
As Hausfather shows, the Mail on Sunday article makes some absolute clangers.
Despite its assertions, the scientific paper’s findings have been replicated elsewhere and shown to be robust. The data behind the paper was also immediately put online for scrutiny, despite claims to the contrary.
And, as the lead author of the paper told Rose himself, “there was no discussion about Paris” before the paper was released. The Editor in Chief of Science has also now revealed that the paper underwent review for “almost six months”, a full eight weeks longer than the journal's average turnaround time.
So, the paper is not flawed, very much verified, and was not rushed.
Rose’s article was quickly picked up by other outlets known for their disregard for climate science and, well, facts.
In the UK, Matt Ridley wrote a column on the 'revelations' for The Times. In it, Ridley claims to “have championed science” all his life.This is despite the fact that he has spent decades casting doubt on the reliability of mainstream climate science, while being closely associated with organisations such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation that sit at the core of the UK's climate science denier network.
The GWPF's David Whitehouse, another journalist that has a long history of misreporting climate science, has also written a commentary in support of the Mail on Sunday article, calling it “the most important piece of climate science journalism in a decade”.
And in an astonishing coincidence, the UK’s Daily Star also ran an article apparently debunking decades of climate science thanks to a “mathematical problem solved before Christ” or, more specifically, Christopher Monckton.
Apparently, the Daily Star considers Monckton to be a “leading academic”. The same Monckton who has no academic credentials and was once kicked out of the international negotiations for imitating a delegate.
Even for media outlets not known for their scientific understanding, that’s a low bar for an expert.
This isn’t the first time the Mail on Sunday and Rose have got climate science horribly wrong, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
With Donald Trump in the White House, a newly empowered network of UK-US climate science deniers has become emboldened.
Their efforts are simultaneously calculated and clumsy. Built on a foundation of misinformation but treated as fact. And repeatedly echoed by far-right media outlets.
It’s faintly ridiculous to suggest the Paris Agreement was based on a single scientific paper.
And, once all the errors are factored in, what Rose and the Mail on Sunday have really ‘revealed’ is that research that largely fits with decades of climate science may have in some small way influenced the political debate.
In other words, just 13 months ago, politicians listened to scientists. In the current political climate, that is some scoop.
Updated 06/02/2017: A line on Matt Ridley's column in The Times was added. The headline was changed. A line on David Whitehouse was added. A line about the length of the peer-review process was added with an embedded tweet from Roz Pidcock.