I’m all for a website that distills climate science papers into something easily understood by the general public, especially if it avoids the hype and hysteria all too often employed by headline news.
Such is the claim of CO2 Science, a weekly newsletter published by the not for profit Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, with issues that include editorials, book and media reviews, and mini-reviews of the recent peer-reviewed literature.
But rather than its promise of “separating reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change”, on the contrary CO2 Science twists the most recent science, ever so subtly, to suggest that there is no link between carbon dioxide levels and climate change.
For a case in point, check out the feature entitled “Medieval Warm Period Record of the Week”. This showcases records of temperature or environmental changes during the Medieval Warm Period (aka the Medieval Climate Anomaly). The conclusion is that if the MWP was warmer than present – still debated – obviously CO2 isn’t driving current warming. There is even a list of 576 scientists who have found evidence for the MWP – the thinly veiled conclusion being that they agree that an increase in CO2 isn’t behind the recent climate change.
FYI scientists – if you’ve ever compiled a climate record for the past 2,000 years, your name is probably there. These folks are thorough.
However, the most insidious feature of the website are the mini-reviews, where the editors (presumably the board) kindly reinterpret your results for you (beware of this in the MWP tracker as well). Here is their recent description of a 2007 Science paper by Stott et al:
Stott et al. conclude that the cause of the deglacial deep-water warming ‘does not lie within the tropics, nor can its early onset between 19 and 17 thousand years before the present be attributed to CO2 forcing.’ And since the rate of deep-water warming after the start of the increase in the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration did not increase (if anything, it declined), there is no compelling reason to believe that the deglacial increase in the air’s CO2 content had anything at all to do with any of the warming that led to the ultimate development of the current interglacial.
Hmmm…I don’t seem to recall Stott et al. reaching any such conclusion (beyond that directly quoted) in their paper. And technically the above paragraph doesn’t say that they do. But the casual reader would definitely come away with that conclusion. I’m usually willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there is no way that I can possibly conclude that the writer wasn’t trying to imply that a well respected scientist said that atmospheric CO2 has nothing to do with interglacial warmth.
Although the mini-reviews do tend to highlight papers that show that plants like CO2, and can thrive under elevated CO2 conditions, I can’t imagine that an interpretive review of a palaeoclimate like the one above is an isolated incident. This goes way beyond any healthy skepticism and into the realm of active disinformation.
What’s especially frustrating is the way they veil their agenda in peer-reviewed science, liberally using the names of well respected scientists who probably have no idea this site even exists. The site – which, according to the information page is run by three PhD-level scientists and an additional eight board members –preys upon the casual reader, and exploits the scientific illiteracy of the general public all under the guise of a registered charity that accepts completely confidential donations.
Alicia Newton is an Associate Editor of Nature Geoscience