Advocates of the Climate “Consensus” Ignore It When It Becomes an Inconvenient Truth

A web site called “Information is Beautiful” has an infographic it claims demonstrates the damage being done by carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. The graphic, however, shows how disingenuous the environmental left can be when it comes to climate science. Rather than using the “consensus” science, the graphic goes out of its way to cherry pick data from a range of sources. Ironically, some of the sources used contradict other sources.

For example, look at this estimate of sea level rise from the graphic.

Climate Change Graphic

The graphic claims sea levels will rise more than 33 inches by the end of the century, calling it “inevitable.” The source for this claim, however, is not the “consensus” science of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The source they list is a study from Vermeer and Rahmsdorf. SeaLevelStudyIronically, that study specifically admits it is out of the mainstream when it comes to sea level projections. They include this graphic (right) showing how different their projections are from the IPCC’s projections. Along the right hand side of the chart, the study’s authors list the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (listed as “AR4″ in the graphic). Note that the projections in the study, repeated in the graphic, are much higher than the IPCC’s assessment.

The irony is that the “Information is Beautiful” web page with the graphic specifically cites the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007″ as a source. Given the chance, however, the graphic designer ditches that source in favor of a more alarmist study. The creators of this graphic have chosen their source not because it is consensus science but because it is alarmist. Politics trump science.

Of course the creators of the graphic would respond that the study on sea level is more recent than the IPCC report. They would claim it is “newer” science and therefore more accurate. That, however, is a phony excuse because elsewhere in the graphic they use sources that are older than the latest IPCC report.

For example, the authors claim certain cities would be “drowned” by 2100. The source is not the IPCC but the “Stern Review,” a report from the U.K. government published in 2006 prior to the most recent IPCC report. The Stern Review has been widely criticized for doing much of what the “Information is Beautiful” graphic does — using cherry-picked and outlying science rather than the consensus science.

Perhaps the best example of choosing old and politicized claims over the scientific consensus is the claim about increased rainfall. The graphic claims an increase of “heavy rain over land” of 7% is inevitable. The source? A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2011. They didn’t use the consensus science, but instead selected a highly biased and politicized source. They also claimed that hurricanes will become more destructive, saying a 7.5% increase in “hurricane destructiveness.” They cite the Natural Resource Council Report as the source. But before we even look at the actual consensus science, the number “7.5%” should raise a red flag. Using decimal points in an area where there is a great deal of uncertainty shows false precision.

Contrast that with a more recent, 2012, report by the IPCC itself on extreme weather and climate change. In contrast to the Information is Beautiful claim, the IPCC reports there is “low confidence in projections of changes in large-scale patterns of climate variability. Confidence is low in projections of changes in monsoons (rainfall, circulation) because there is little consensus in climate models regarding the sign of future change in the monsoons.” (Italics in the original) In other words, the IPCC says it is hard to know what the impact will be on the impact of hurricanes. In contrast with the false precision of the graphic, the IPCC admits it doesn’t even know whether the number and intensity of hurricanes will increase or decrease.

The most common source cited by Information is Beautiful, in fact, is not a scientific source at all but Mark Lynas’ book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.” Interestingly, Lynas is most known recently for his abrupt reversal on the issue of biotechnology crops, now arguing that opponents of such foods are anti-science.

The environmental left loves to lecture about their adherence to the consensus science, but graphics like this show their commitment to honesty is pretty thin. Given the chance to distort the science, they hide behind infographics like this one that ignore the consensus and cherry-pick the most political and alarmist claims.

Such manipulation isn’t an error. It is dishonest and is fundamentally disrespectful of the scientific process.

Comments (16)

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  1. CRS says:

    “Such manipulation isn’t an error. It is dishonest and is fundamentally disrespectful of the scientific process.”
    I agree completely.

  2. Cindy says:

    I wonder how many people just attribute any environmental data they see to the IPCC. It’s not like people read footnotes.

  3. Anthony Sombers says:

    Sad that even science can be manipulated when it is supposed to be one of the more objective practices out there.

  4. Jack says:

    I don’t know about you guys but I’m excited.. By his measure I’ll own Beachfront property in Dallas here before long.

  5. Ryan Hall says:

    “The most common source cited by Information is Beautiful, in fact, is not a scientific source at all but Mark Lynas’ book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.” Interestingly, Lynas is most known recently for his abrupt reversal on the issue of biotechnology crops, now arguing that opponents of such foods are anti-science.”

    Let’s stick to objective science or else we’ll have more problems in the future if we start manipulating and corrupting the scientific process.

  6. Jordan says:

    Scaremongering — I think they offer a graduate certificate in that at UT Dallas.

  7. Jackson says:

    Scientists with political motivations will always disgard honest scientific methods to push their own personal agenda.

  8. H. James Prince says:

    People, it’s a website. I can find multiple websites “proving” that the Holocaust is a fraud, or that a missile struck the Pentagon on September 11, or that vaccines cause autism, or that aliens built the pyramids, or that Michael Jackson is an inter-dimensional shapeshifter.

    Are we seriously devoting energy rebuffing a liberal website?

    • Todd Myers says:

      This “study” has been shared by members of the media. That’s how I came across it. Silence tends not to be a good way to rebut bad science.

  9. Corey says:

    H. James makes an interesting point, though I disagree with the conclusions he seems to draw.

    One website is anecdotal evidence, it is a logical fallacy to extrapolate from this one site and make the claim you have made in your title.

    Also, your argument essentially boils down to “they cited more than author.” Of course they cited more than one author, and yes of course not all of the authors they cite enjoy the overwhelming support of the scientific community the IPCC does. So what. Disprove the arguments made by the other authors they cite if you would like to criticize.

    You are also asserting that the site wants readers to infer all the information presented is from the IPCC. They obviously do not, that is why the cited the other authors.

    The website in question has overwhelming consensus behind the vast majority of its data. The same cannot be said, at all, for climate change skeptics. You have demonstrated your own ideological bias by misrepresenting the claims of a site you disagree with, then comitting a logical fallacy by arguing it is indicative of all who cite “consensus.” Where is the Todd Meyers post attacking the far more prevalent denials of scientific data on the right?

    • Todd Myers says:

      You take a strange position, dismissing the web page both as “anecdotal” and then claiming it has the “overwhelming consensus” behind it. Either it is an outlier or it isn’t. You argue both in your comment.

      As for disproving the claims of the other authors, the purpose of having a “consensus” organization is to prevent the very type of cherry picking the “Information is Beautiful” folks engage in. One cannot claim to abide by the consensus science and then ignore it, which they do. The burden is on you to explain why I should throw the consensus out in favor of an individual, outlying study. The web page doesn’t even attempt to do that.

      Your last sentence encourages me to attack the “far more prevalent” denials on the right. At least you admit this is a denial on the left. I am happy to correct any science errors, but in my experience this graphic is not an aberration but part of a consistent trend of science denial on the left. For a good description of the depth of the left’s problem with science denial, read “Science Left Behind,” by Alex Berezow.

  10. Corey says:

    *Myers (amonst other typoes)

  11. Corey says:

    My argument was that even you can concede that the majority of the science behind the info on the site or at the very least the most basic arguments they make (that global warming is happening, is anthropogenic, and will be very bad) have the support of scientific consensus. The degree to which it will be bad is a matter of scientific debate. Some qualified scientists argue it will be very very bad, others worse.

    I do not dismiss the site as anecdotal, I dismiss the argument you are attempting to make based on the site. You use the website as an anecdote to support your argument that “Advocates of the Climate “Consensus” Ignore It When It Becomes an Inconvenient Truth.” That is a logical fallacy. You may even be right that this one site uses bad science (even though you refuse to make an argument about why this is the case) but that still would not support the claim you have made in the title of this post.

    My last sentence does not admit this is a deviation from consensus science. My last sentence posits that even if there are slight deviations in some of the details the site provides (even if you are correct about the site) your post does not demonstrate good-faith criticism because the site is still on the side of overwhelming consensus, whereas skeptics have virtually no qualified scientists who will support their views. Going after people who, by your own admission, get the vast majority of their scientific claims correct and are attempting to avoid devastating consequences while giving a pass to people who essentially support a denialist conspiracy theory with virtually zero scientific evidence does a great disservice to the advancement of knowledge and preservation of life on earth.

    • Todd Myers says:

      You say the site is “still on the side of overwhelming consensus.” You provide (in your own words) “zero scientific evidence” to show this is true. In fact, I show they are far afield of the consensus in two key areas. You are free to be more alarmist than the consensus, but your embrace of that approach is further evidence that alarmists ignore the consensus when it gets in the way.

      So much of the climate debate is about cultivating a self-image as an environmental crusader. That desire to look good and feel good leads too many to attack the motives of others (i.e. “denialist conspiracy theory” or accusing people of a lack of “good faith”) and cherry-picking the science to claim they are on the side of science even as they violate the very commitment to the “consensus” they claim to support.

    • Robert says:

      My word. Corey is eloquent, logical and to the point and you still respond in an unbecoming “I know you are but what am I?” style?
      You, Mr Myers should be as ashamed of your behaviour as well as this blog-post.

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