A Legacy of Lies

James Inhoffe, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from 2003 to 2006 and a long-time denier of Global Warming, has written The Greatest Hoax, a self-aggrandizing defense of his role as a Climate Change critic. He claims that those who warn about Anthropogenic Global Warming are perpetrating a “hoax” as a front for the United Nations to bring the United States under its control. He writes, “. . . this debate was never about saving the world from manmade global warming . . . It is about whether we wanted the United Nations to ‘level the playing field worldwide’ . . . divide the wealth . . . [and] about government deciding what forms of energy we use” (p. 171). In this story, he, Inhoffe, is the hero, standing virtually alone against a vast global conspiracy.

Also, he gets virtually all of his facts wrong. For example, Inhoffe writes that, “[l]ike most bad things that come to America, the primary science behind catastrophic global warming came from the United Nations, specifically from the International Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC, p. 26). Actually, climate science goes back long before the United Nations existed, starting with scientists from the early 19th to the early 20th century. In fact, the IPCC came about not out of the United Nations but out of the work of, principally, American climate scientists and their international collaborators who realized the need for an authoritative international body after many efforts at international communication and collaboration by professionals going back to the late 19th century.

Unfortunately, this view sets the tone for the entire book with respect to accuracy. Indeed, Inhoffe again and again raises questions that have long been answered. For example, he reports that one of the reasons for his suspicions of global warming is the cooling from 1945-1970 (p. 28). However, this “cooling” is significantly less when problems with sea-based temperature measurement errors in the 40’s and 50’s are corrected, the El Nino event in 1940 that inflated temperatures in some parts of the world is taken into account, as discussed in the popular press  in 2008 here and in RealClimate, and when issues of sulfate aerosols are taken into account.  So, there is no excuse – unless his research assistants are incredibly stupid – for including this mischaracterization in his book.

He makes a similar mischaracterization when he attacks the “hockey stick.” The hockey stick referThe Hockey Sticks to this graphic presentation of climate, by Michael Mann and associates, originally back to 1600 but now going back before 1000 CE. It shows a sharp, unprecedented temperature rise since the 1950?s (the blade of the stick) after a millenia of lower temperatures (the handle). Inhoffe characterizes the hockey stick  as “crudely grafting the surface temperature record to the twentieth century tree ring record” (p. 32) in the third IPCC assessment. Apart from the gratuitous use of the word “crudely,” Inhoffe cites the work of two non-scientists, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick to argue for the invalidity of the hockey stick. Actually, McIntyre and McKitrick have never published in a peer reviewed journal and their work has been shown to have errors that invalidate their results. And, now, the fourth assessment is out and there are many more well-supported “hockey sticks,” using multiple historical records, in the peer-reviewed, published literature.

Not to be deterred, Inhoffe claims that his biggest “vindication” came during “Climategate,” the theft and release of internal emails from the (British) East Anglia University Climate Research Unit.  He argues that these letters (carefully selected and set out in non-chronological order in an appendix) vindicate his view that extensive dishonesty and fixing of results occurred. Perhaps the most famous of these claims of dishonesty concerns the phrase “trick to hide the decline,” which has been debunked numerous times. What Inhoffe does not tell the reader – and what was public knowledge long before the book was published—is that every government investigating body, university review board, and professional organizations completely vindicated the honesty and integrity of the science and the scientists whose emails were exposed. Inhoffe clearly doesn’t want his readers to know this because it totally discredits his own case.

And, this is the truth behind this book: For every case where Inhoffe finds fault with climate science, the “evidence” he presents has already been publicly discredited over and over. Those who develop these anti-Global Warming critiques are primarily not climate scientists and, in many cases, not scientists at all and they almost never publish in peer reviewed journals. The problem is that this legacy of lies keeps being repeated and as a genius about propaganda once said, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth for many people. We must speak for the truth and make sure such lies do not go unanswered.

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