Heartland distorts AMS climate survey results, paper

Posted on January 20, 2010


The Heartland Institute, an organization known to have pushed a pro-tobacco, “smoking is safe” agenda in the 1990s on behalf of Phillip Morris and that now pushes climate disruption denial, released a short “news” article on February 1 titled “Meteorologists Reject U.N.’s Global Warming Claims.” The article distorts the survey it purports to be reporting on and ignores the associated Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) paper’s conclusions in favor of Heartland’s political position.

The worst distortion is that Heartland says that the survey is more widely applicable than it actually is. In different parts of the article, Heartland claims that the survey applies a) to all American Meteorological Society (AMS) broadcast meteorologists, b) to all AMS members, and c) to all scientists. Here are the three applicable quotes:

Only one in four American Meteorological Society broadcast meteorologists agrees with United Nations’ claims that humans are primarily responsible for recent global warming….

The survey of AMS meteorologists shows only a small minority of AMS members agree with the AMS bureaucracy’s position statement….

The survey results contradict the oft-repeated assertion that a consensus of scientists believes humans are causing a global warming crisis. (emphasis added)

These three claims are not only incompatible with each other, but they’re also in opposition to what the paper reporting the 2008 survey results actually says.

According to the BAMS paper, “Opportunities and Obstacles for Television Weathercasters to Report on Climate Change”, the 2008 survey actually applies only to the 121 meteorologists who responded to the online survey. As such, the survey is self-selected and isn’t statistically valid for all AMS broadcast meteorologists as Heartland claims. In addition, the survey was only sent to AMS weather forecasters who have a college degree in meteorology, and the AMS membership is over “14,000 professionals, professors, students, and weather enthusiasts”. For that reason, the survey can’t say anything about the larger AMS membership’s views on climate even though Heartland makes that claim too. Finally, 60 self-selected respondents rejecting the science behind anthropogenic climate disruption says precisely nothing about scientists – physicists, chemists, geologists, climatologists, et al – in general. The claims in the Heartland article are clearly incorrect.

In another distortion of the BAMS paper, the Heartland article fails to provide critical context for a claim it makes. Heartland points out that “a prior survey of all television weather forecasters – including ones without meteorological training – produced a heavy percentage of skeptics,” but neglects to mention that the 2002 survey in question found

widespread ignorance of and misinformation about basic climate change science is evident, and as the data describe, much of that can be connected to the values and beliefs that weathercasters hold about the topic….

The results of this survey indicate that many television weathercasters have created dissent in areas in which scientific consensus exists. Their misunderstandings of the basic principles of meteorology, which also apply to climate change, are baffling and ultimately can be explained in this sample by their own politicizing of the science.

In other words, the weather forecasters are guilty of making climate change a political issue because they ignore the actual climate science. Yet Heartland neglects to mention this context.

Heartland also interviewed one of the weather forecasters responsible for politicizing the science of climate disruption, ICECAP’s Joe D’Aleo. D’Aleo guessed incorrectly about the purpose of the recent survey and BAMS paper, saying

This survey likely was conducted in an attempt to isolate a “more scientifically trained” subset of broadcast meteorologists that could be touted as more scientifically knowledgeable than television weathercasters as a whole. The survey shows, however, that such an attempt has backfired.

If D’Aleo had actually read the BAMS paper, he’d know that his guess was not the purpose of the survey. Instead, the BAMS paper points out that these individuals were surveyed specifically because

they are the primary targets of the new online instructional course that will count toward AMS professional development credits.

And the purpose of that course is to educate weather forecasters about how climatologists have attributed climate disruption to human influences and how climate models work and differ from weather models, as well as to provide a reference list of recent information for forecasters to use on a day-to-day basis.

The BAMS paper’s conclusions are that meteorologists need more education into the differences between climatology and meteorology, between climate and weather. From the paper;

In his blog, John Coleman makes many reasonable assertions, but one in particular relates to the distinction between climate and weather (or climatology and meteorology). “Global warming is not a religion, it’s not something you believe in, it is science, the science of meteorology,” he says. While he’s absolutely correct that it’s not something to “believe” in, he’s incorrect that climate change is just the science of meteorology. It is the science of climatology, and while the two share many common foundations, the scale and scope of the two are quite different and reflect the need for further education to build on the commonalities while elucidating the distinctions.

And Heartland? They ignore this critical distinction entirely, instead quoting the meteorologist D’Aleo as saying “from my observation, the opinion of broadcast meteorologists on this is issue (sic) is similar to the opinions of all fields of practicing meteorologists.” As far as Heartland is concerned, there is no difference between climatology and meteorology, just as they maintain that there is no difference in expertise between 32,000 people with bachelor of science degrees and thousands of actual, practicing scientists.

The Heartland Institute has a long history of distorting facts to serve the economic interest of their donors, and they continue their campaign of misinformation with their ongoing denial of human-caused climate disruption.

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