255 scientists: 'deeply disturbed' by 'political assaults on scientists'

Jeremy Hance
May 06, 2010

Science behind climate change remains robust, according to researchers.

Signed by 255 members of the National Academy of Science, a new letter in the journal Science expresses that researchers are "deeply disturbed" by the rancor toward them from some in media and politics. Furthermore the letter outlines, once again, that the science of climate change is based on "compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend."

The scientists add that "recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence."

In addition, the over two-hundred scientists signing the letter called for an immediate end to the "McCarthylike threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them."

Except for a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s, Earth's surface temperatures have increased since 1880. The last decade has brought the temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded. The graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980 mean temperatures. As shown by the red line, long-term trends are more apparent when temperatures are averaged over a five year period. Image credit: NASA/GISS.
Comparing the science of climate change to other "well-established theories", such as evolution, the big bang theory, and the age of the Earth, the researchers—including 11 Nobel Prize laureates—explain that "there is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action."

The letter is in reaction to a particularly difficult year for climate researchers including impolitic but private emails stolen from a climate research center, the revelation of a mistake on melting glaciers in the Himalayas in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and a controversy about the Amazon and climate change that proved to be much ado about nothing.

"Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes," the letter writers admit, "but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial—scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation."

To date no scientist has provided a better explanation for changes occurring worldwide—from earlier spring to migrating species to melting glacier—than anthropogenic climate change. After recording decades of rising temperatures, the letter stresses that "there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change."

According to the researchers the decision on how to proceed remains ours: "we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively."

This map shows the 10-year average (2000-2009) temperature anomaly relative to the 1951-1980 mean. The largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record. Image credit: NASA/GISS.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (May 06, 2010).

255 scientists: 'deeply disturbed' by 'political assaults on scientists'.