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The Straw Men of Climatology

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The contrarian critique of climatology in the media, popular books and blogs is based on a “straw man” version of science. Image: iStockphoto

By James Risbey

The straw man arguments of climate contrarians portray a brittle image of climatology that ignores how science produces robust knowledge by embracing and correcting errors.

James Risbey is a senior research scientist in the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The climate contrarian voice has been prominent in media discussions of climate change in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, North America and elsewhere. For example, Australian geologist Ian Plimer and Danish author Bjorn Lomborg have made numerous appearances in the media to argue that anthropogenic climate change is not an issue. Recent tours of Australia by international contrarians such as Christopher Monckton and Anthony Watts have also received broad, largely uncritical coverage in the media.

All science thrives on critique, and climate change is no different in this regard. However, it is important to distinguish between legitimate critique of the content of scientific argument and a critique based on a false view of the process of science itself. The contrarian critique of climatology in the media, popular books and blogs is based on a “straw man” version of science.

Since the United Nations climate meeting in Copenhagen last year, the contrarian critique has focused on discrediting the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with a persistent obfuscation of distinctions between weather and climate. Examples of this critique include the notion that the IPCC is unreliable because one reference (among thousands) misattributed the time at which Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear, and that climate change is somehow...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.