Climate Change News

House Science Committee's Climate Tweets Rile Scientists

Twice in just over a month, a government body tweeted material that claims to refute the human causes of climate change.

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On the third day of the new year, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology tweeted a link to a controversial climate change–related blog post. The tweet read “Sat data tells a story climate alarmists don’t want to hear. It doesn’t fit their climate narrative!”

The post, written by meteorologist Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, suggests that because a particular set of temperature data for 2016 shows a smaller increase in temperature compared with 1998’s temperature record, that means that the Earth is not warming as scientists have predicted.

Data Disinformation

However, this particular data set has been “used by deniers to try to cast doubt on the fact that other measurements show that Earth’s surface has been warming at a rate about what climate models have been predicting,” Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who serves as director of meteorology for Weather Underground and manages the Weather Underground blog, told Eos.

The data are taken from satellites that measure temperatures in Earth’s lower atmosphere, which alone don’t provide an accurate measurement, Masters continued. He explained that the newly tweeted blog post clings to the notion that 2016’s record temperature high isn’t significantly higher than the last record high, in 1998.

“Last year[’s record] wasn’t bigger than 1998, but so what?” he said. “Extreme values are not the story, the trend is the story, and that was obscured in the headline” of the blog post.

Pattern of Denial

It’s not uncommon for the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to peddle “denial and misinformation on climate science,” said Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of the Concerned Scientists. “They’re disparaging the very scientific enterprise they’re supposed to be supporting.”

The committee did not respond to request for comment. However, some representatives on the committee have expressed frustration with its tweeting of misinformation. Representative Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon, told Gizmodo that she’s frustrated that the committee “is spending time questioning climate researchers and ignoring the broad scientific consensus.”

Just last month, the committee’s Twitter page came under fire for tweeting an article by Breitbart News, which proclaimed incorrectly that Earth’s temperatures were “plunging.” The article, which quoted heavily from an earlier article in the Daily Mail, referenced the same land temperature data set and claimed that temperatures had “plummeted” more than 1°C since summer 2016.

In response, scores of scientists and science journalists responded, weeding through Breitbart News’s disinformation. A notable example came from Weather.com, where meteorologist Kait Parker explains that the Breitbart and Daily Mail articles give an incomplete picture of Earth’s overall temperature. She specifically pointed out that there’s always a dip in temperature following an El Niño year, which doesn’t conflict with the overall trend of temperature rise. Watch the video here:

Masters and fellow meteorologist Bob Henson explained on Weather Underground that over the scale of a few months, temperature fluctuates more over land than over the sea. Oceans cover 70% of Earth’s surface, so unless land data are combined with ocean temperature data, the Daily Mail’s temperature narrative is likely to be misleading.

“It was excellent to see the world call [the committee] on that and to not let that stand,” Goldman said. Now, more than ever, it’s important to “push back and watch and hold them accountable.”

—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer

Citation: Wendel, J. (2017), House science committee’s climate tweets rile scientists, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO066521. Published on 18 January 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0