Magazine article Newsweek International

Uncertain Science

Magazine article Newsweek International

Uncertain Science

Article excerpt

Byline: Stefan Theil

Bickering and defensive, climate researchers have lost the public's trust.

Blame economic worries, another freezing winter, or the cascade of scandals emerging from the world's leading climate-research body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But concern over global warming has cooled down dramatically. In uber-green Germany, only 42 percent of citizens worry about global warming now, down from 62 percent in 2006. In Britain, just 26 percent believe climate change is man-made, down from 41 percent as recently as November 2009. And Americans rank global warming dead last in a list of 21 problems that concern them, according to a January Pew poll.

The shift has left many once celebrated climate researchers feeling like the used-car salesmen of the science world. In Britain, one leading scientist told an interviewer he is taking anti-anxiety pills and considered suicide following the leak of thousands of IPCC-related e-mails and documents suggesting that researchers cherry-picked data and suppressed rival studies to play up global warming. In the U.S., another researcher is under investigation for allegedly using exaggerated climate data to obtain public funds. In an open letter published in the May issue of Science magazine, 255 American climate researchers decry "political assaults" on their work by "deniers" and followers of "dogma" and "special interests."

This is no dispute between objective scientists and crazed flat-earthers. The lines cut through the profession itself. Very few scientists dispute a link between man-made CO2 and global warming. Where it gets fuzzy is the extent and time frame of the effect. One crucial point of contention is climate "sensitivity"--the mathematical formula that translates changes in CO2 production to changes in temperature. In addition, scientists are not sure how to explain a slowdown in the rise of global temperatures that began about a decade ago. …

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