Claims that 2016 was “the hottest year on record” are drawing sharp criticism from scientists who say it reflects how global warming has become more social crusade than evidence-based science.
“The Obama administration relentlessly politicized science and it aggressively pushed a campaign about that politicized science,” said Steven E. Koonin, who served as under secretary for science in Obama’s Department of Energy from 2009 to 2011.
Koonin, a theoretical physicist at New York University who once worked for energy giant BP, also blamed a “happily complicit” media for trumpeting the now-departed Obama administration’s dubious claim.
The controversy began in mid-January when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report declaring that “the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2016 was the highest among all years since record-keeping began in 1880.”
The report buried the fact that the temperature increase detected by NOAA was 0.01 degrees Celsius. In other words, one-hundredth of a degree – a figure well within the scientific method’s margin of error and one many scientists thus dismissed as meaningless.
This tiny fraction, however, set the global warming bell towers ringing. Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was quoted at Climate Central referring to the past temperature record and saying “2016 has really blown that out of the water.”
Following the lead of the Schmidt and government press releases, USA Today wrote that “the planet sizzled to its third straight record warm year in 2016.” The New York Times’ front-page headline said, “Earth Sets Temperature Record for Third Straight Year.” The article declared that the latest readings were “trouncing” earlier numbers and the planet had thus “blown past” the previous records.
Such characterizations are absurd, according to Richard Lindzen, a meteorology professor at MIT and one of the world’s foremost skeptics that global warming represents an existential threat.
“It’s typical misleading nonsense,” Lindzen said in an e-mail. “We’re talking about less than a tenth of degree with an uncertainty of about a quarter of a degree. Moreover, such small fluctuations – even if real – don’t change the fact that the trend for the past 20 years has been much less than models have predicted.”...