NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Press Misrepresented Global Warming Report

June 11, 2001

One of the 11 scientists who prepared the National Academy of Sciences' recently-released report on climate change charges that the media focused on the summary of the report instead of the body of the study. By doing so, the press presented a misleading story, says Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

How, exactly, did the press err?

  • Although the full text noted that 20 years was too short a period for estimating long-term trends, the media seized on a portion of the summary to conclude that greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activity, causing surface air and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise -- without noting the qualifications in the body of the report.
  • Lindzen says the primary conclusion of the NAS report was that despite some knowledge and agreement, the science is by no means settled.
  • One reason for this uncertainty, the report states, is that the climate is always changing -- so distinguishing small recent changes in global mean temperature from the natural variability, which is unknown, means we do not know the relationship between global climate changes and water vapor, clouds, storms, hurricanes and other factors.
  • The panel is confident that a doubling of carbon dioxide by itself would produce only a modest temperature increase of one degree Celsius.

Lindzen thinks there was similar misinterpretation in reporting the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study. The main report was prepared by scientists. But the Summary for Policymakers -- the only part ever read or quoted -- was prepared by government representatives, not scientists, and does not provide suitable guidance for U.S. policymakers.

Source: Richard S. Lindzen (MIT), "Scientists' Report Doesn't Support Kyoto," Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2001.

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