PORTLAND – Inspired, perhaps, by the dazzling acrobatics of Olympic snowboarders, columnist M.D. Harmon stunningly twisted the facts in his Feb. 19 portrayal of a BBC interview of climate scientist Dr. Phil Jones.

The interview, the BBC admits on its Web site, included questions gathered from climate sceptics, so we know from the outset that there was an intent to discredit him.

Harmon warms up by spinning into gold the widely reported theft of researchers’ private e-mails. With sleight of pen, he transforms the thieving hacker into a heroic “whistle-blower” who reveals “an agency much more concerned with silencing its critics and defending its perks than displaying true curiosity about a matter of scientific inquiry.”

Harmon’s version is based on a true story, but the facts have been changed to condemn the innocent. After five Associated Press reporters sat down and read all the stolen e-mails, they concluded that the conspiracy accusations had no basis. In fact, the documents reveal on the whole a community taking great pains to be accurate.

Harmon opens his attack on Dr. Jones with an anti-scientific logical 180. He twists the climate scientist’s “astounding admission” that questions remain to suggest that there’s no consensus on the basics of global warming.

By that logic, since questions remain about the effects of tobacco, we can’t say smoking causes cancer either. There are uncertainties, but since the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change based its projections on safe-to-say findings, its report erred on the side of caution.

For his next swing at climate science, Harmon trots out the well-worn “Medieval Warm Period” fallacy. Here’s the pitch: During medieval times, “temperatures were said to be higher than they are now — even though atmospheric CO2 levels were lower. That would indicate that natural forces have a greater effect on temperatures than human actions, and would be a substantial blow to warmist theories.”

True, studies show warm temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, but they don’t show that global temperatures were higher then. Strike one. Logically, to buy the argument, you would have to believe that burning coal and oil can’t cause global warming because global warming can occur without burning coal and oil.

OK, would you believe Harmon if he told you cheeseburgers can’t make you fat because you can get fat without eating cheeseburgers? Strike two.

He then tells readers the IPCC report denied the Medieval Warm Period existed. It must be easier to make stuff up than go to the trouble of checking: The report’s glossary defines Medieval Warm Period as, “an interval between A.D. 1000 and 1300 in which some Northern Hemisphere regions were warmer ” Strike three. Dr. Jones wasn’t terribly media savvy, but he was intellectually honest as he described the limits of what can be inferred from the records.

With another fantastic twist of truth and leap of logic, Harmon fabricates a quote and bends statistics to make global warming disappear! Dr. Jones didn’t say, as Harmon reports, that there has been “no statistically significant global warming since 1995.”

But when asked a loaded question (Would he agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically significant global warming?) Jones said, “Yes, but only just Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

In polling, the more people you ask, the smaller the margin of error. Similarly, the more years you look at, the clearer the temperature trend. Dr. Jones isn’t suggesting there’s no warming, he’s explaining that it takes more than 15 years to reduce the statistical margin of error to 5 percent.

Mr. Harmon winds up his assault on climate scientists by suggesting that the IPCC report overstates global warming, but nothing could be further from the truth. Since the IPCC released its report, study after study have come to the same conclusion: the IPCC underestimated the scale and speed of climate change.

Because the IPCC report didn’t include the feedbacks we’re beginning to see, it didn’t take into account the rapid growth in China’s emissions, and it ignored sea level rise due to melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Our track is actually beyond the report’s worst-case scenario!

That Harmon must resort to such tricks is hardly surprising, writing, as he does, a week after Portland’s WinteRush festival was canceled due to lack of snow (turnabout is fair play) and two months after the warmest decade in modern times.

The nature of this and other attacks on climate science reveals far more about the attackers — and their lack of solid evidence — than it does about the threat of global warming.


– Special to the Press Herald