Image by xkcd under creative commons licence.

You'll be hard pressed to get better climate scientists than at Real Climate. By "climate scientists," I mean actual experts, who read the full IPCC reports (all 3000 pages of them); not random people who after reading two hacked emails and a blog entry by a climate sceptic think they spotted the one reason for climate change that climatologists missed all these years.

Real Climate scientists, therefore, went on the offensive a couple days ago, and again today, against the disinformation campaign orchestrated against science.

I'll put a few excerpts here, but it is worth it to go to their website and read the full story yourselves.

The IPCC is not, as many people seem to think, a large organization. In fact, it has only 10 full-time staff in its secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers – thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of the IPCC reports. A large fraction of the relevant scientific community is thus involved in the effort.

There are no strings being pulled here, and no puppets but journalists who seem to be interested in reporting a global conspiracy to raise taxes through a make believe theory - a conspiracy which goes back all the way to the beginning of the 20th century when the greenhouse gas properties of carbon dioxide were first discovered.

This giant conspiracy has apparently been uncovered by sleuths who managed to find three emails in a ten year stolen record - which are damning if you misquote them properly - and two errors in 3000 pages of IPCC reports - neither of these two errors saying about whether or not climate change is happening (it is), but rather on how bad the situation is.

It should be, by all means, a tempest in a teapot. Obviously, it's not - if you were to believe newspaper headlines these days, you could be forgiven to believe that Climate Change is not happening and you're free to go on about your CO2 emitting business without worrying anymore.

Where in the world did this come from? There are two problems at hand here. Climate science isn't really sexy, and it's really hard to understand. A headline stating "GW hoax, don't worry about anything" certainly is sexy, and easy to understand. According to Real Climate, this is the main problem: newspaper editors seem top have stopped searching for the truth and are now looking for the headline that will sell. No matter how often the myths they are trumpeting have been shown to be absolutely, completely, utterly false, no matter how often it's been proved that climate change is happening right now. The truth is often only putting on its shoes when a lie is halfway across the planet.

Perhaps this is driven by editors demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming.

(From Real Climate)

That's where the second problem comes in: the real reason why the truth seems to be chasing the lies and not preceding them. There is the scientific method, and there is the method used by climate change sceptics. The latter seem happy to cherry-pick sentences out of reports and emails, claim them as damning evidence against a well-established theory and claim headlines for a few days. Scientists will then look at the evidence using proper scientific method, compile data, research properly, find it wrong and present that in a science paper. Which headline do you think will be remembered by the general public?

If you don't believe me, here is an example: a few years back, a well-known climate change denying blogger claimed that the entire temperature record in the US was false because some stations weren't properly placed - and that in itself was enough to prove that climate change was a hoax designed by the evil UN to raise our taxes, bla bla bla. "Fair enough", said some scientists, "let's look at that temperature record". The results came in a few weeks ago, with none of the trumpets that the original headlines had. Their findings? The "bad stations" had a cooling bias for the highest temperatures, and had reported less warming than the good ones. Conclusion? Leaving out those stations, the warming trend is even stronger.

There are plenty of myths like this one which have been amply disproven, over and over, but keep popping back. You can find excellent round ups of myths and real science at skeptical science, or at Grist, or at Real Climate.

Climate scientists are playing the same game as climate change deniers, but with different rules. The first ones have to stick to the scientific method, the others can just flaunt a random false fact, and move on to another one when they're shown to be wrong, and so on until they come back to the first one.

Since these fake scandals started appearing, evidence of shoddy journalism and reporting has been overwhelming. But I suppose that's no a sexy headline either.

There is one way to fight back the climate change deniers - write letters to the editor and demand better reporting from the newspapers you buy. Ask for the truth to be reported, and not just the flashy headlines. From time to time, take an hour to fight back the false rumors by answering point by point the false claims in blogs and comments. Because when lies are out there, we simply can't ignore them. We need to fight them back because they are one of the things impeding urgent action on Climate Change.

There are plenty of resources out there - there's even an iPhone app. Two can play this game. Save the climate - fight the lies.

Image by xkcd under creative commons licence.

Footnote: I use the term "sceptics" to describe people who claim Climate change isn't happening because that is what they are called regularly and it makes things clearer. However, scepticism in science is a good thing, and those climate change sceptics should not be confused with real sceptics, which try to advance science rather than fight it.