Founder of the Weather Channel discredits himself on global heating

Posted on November 9, 2007

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John Coleman is the meteorologist for San Diego’s KUSI, but he’s also the man who founded – The Weather Channel. And today he posted a commentary about global heating that reads more like an irrational screed than a reasonable critique of the science and politics of global heating.

Over the course of his commentary, Mr. Coleman repeatedly claims that scientists manipulated climate data to “scam” us and the government into believing that global heating was rapid and largely human-caused:

  • “Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data back in the late 1990’s to create an allusion (sic) of rapid global warming”
  • “[PhD research scientists] all look askance at the rest of us, certain of their superiority…. They are environmentalists above all else.”
  • “So when these researchers did climate change studies in the late 90’s they were eager to produce findings that would be important and be widely noticed and trigger more research funding. It was easy for them to manipulate the data to come up with the results they wanted to make headlines and at the same time drive their environmental agendas.”
  • “There were a few [scientists] who didn’t fit the mold…. The environmental elitists berated them [and] brushed their studies aside”

In fact, throughout the entire commentary, Mr. Coleman makes only a single scientifically verifiable claim, specifically that “natural cycles and drifts in climate are as much if not more responsible for any climate changes underway.” Nearly every other claim Mr. Coleman makes is essentially based on the premise of “trust me, I’m a professional meteorologist and I’ve read the papers” and “trust me, I understand the university culture that makes researchers patronize us mehums.”

It’s just not that simple. I’ve read dozens of climatology, geology, and astronomy papers in my ongoing research on debunking global heating denier myths, but that doesn’t make me a respected climatologist, geologist, or astronomer, just a well-read amateur. Similarly, being a meteorologist doesn’t make one a climatologist either, or vice versa for that matter. Climatology is the science that studies both the average condition of the weather at a location usually over the period of years and the prevailing influences that create the conditions and phenomena of that location’s weather (adopted from Merriam-Webster Online’s definitions of climatology and climate – see also Wikipedia’s climatology entry). Meteorology is the science that studies the atmosphere and its phenomena, specifically weather and weather forecasting (also from Mirriam-Webster online, see also Wikipedia’s meteorology entry). Even if you prefer to call all atmospheric scientists meteorologists (as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics does), there is still a great deal of difference between climatologists and “operational” meteorologists like Mr. Coleman who forecast the weather.

And while meteorology and climatology are both atmospheric sciences generally and impact each other, the differences between the two sciences are significant enough that experts in one field cannot be expected to be experts in the other. In fact, given that climatology is fundamentally defined as the average weather, predicting exact weather is definitionally outside the purview of climatology.

One final point – Mr. Coleman may be right that the current furor over global heating will be shown to be nothing more than a phase of irrationality. It’s happened before, and it will happen again – some amount of irrational behavior is human nature, unfortunately. But climatologists put that likelihood at 10% or less, and that’s after most of the few studies that have contradicted global heating have been addressed using the scientific method by the very scientists Mr. Coleman denigrates.

I’m afraid that the tone of Mr. Coleman’s commentary, and his denigration of the vast majority of climatologists as liars, thieves, and cheats, says a great deal more about Mr. Coleman than it does about the science, and scientists, of global heating.

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