Another Global Goof

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The theory of anthropogenic global warming hasn’t had a great year. First came the “hacking” of emails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University — one of the major centers for AGW research — and the posting of those embarrassing messages on a publicly accessible site. This act of whistle- blowing hurt the theory’s credibility. The emails showed, at a minimum, collusion among researchers to make it hard for skeptics to question the AGW theory.

Next came the explosion of the Himalayan glacier story — the frightening prediction that the Himalayan glaciers (a crucial source of water for many millions of people) would be gone by the year 2035. This forecast had been a prominent part of the 2007 report that helped to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The glacier prediction collapsed when it was revealed that it was based on a misquotation of a lone Indian researcher during an interview in 1999.

Yet another shoe has dropped. Last year, a scientific team headed by Mark Siddall published an influential study in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience that appeared to confirm the 2007 IPCC report. That report had predicted that the ocean level would likely rise 18–59 cm. by the year 2100. Siddall and his collaborators used a large data set (stretching over 22,000 years) to come up with an estimate of a probable rise in sea levels between 7 cm. and 82 cm. But Siddall has now formally retracted his paper, after other scientists pointed out two major flaws. One was a mathematical miscalculation; the other was a failure to take full account of temperature changes over the past 2,000 years.

Siddall has pooh-poohed the significance of the retraction, cheekily saying, “Retraction is a regular part of the publication process. Science is a complicated game and there are set procedures in place that act as checks and balances.” But this is just silly — retractions of scientific articles are rare. Indeed, Siddall’s retraction is the only one in the three-year history of Nature Geoscience.

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