pants on fireSomeone at Heritage is walking around with flaming pants.Image: Brad GilletteIt’s hardly news that most anti-science climate deniers play fast and loose with the facts, including grossly selectively editing the work of climate scientists. But the fine folks at the Heritage Foundation have just turned in quite an editing whopper.   

The irony here is that Heritage claims that, “We should welcome an objective scientific debate on global warming, but when you mix politics into the equation, having an uninfluenced transparent debate is wishful thinking.” Well then, let’s see how Heritage measures up to its purported own standard. 

In a recent post, Heritage’s Nicolas Loris trumpeted what he erroneously claims is a “UK Global Warming Reversal” when commenting on a report from the Royal Society entitled, “Climate Change:  A Summary of the Science.” Heritage quotes the report as saying this:

There is very strong evidence to indicate that climate change has occurred on a wide range of different timescales from decades to many millions of years; human activity is a relatively recent addition to the list of potential causes of climate change. It is not possible to determine exactly how much the Earth will warm or exactly how the climate will change in the future, but careful estimates of potential changes and associated uncertainties have been made. Scientists continue to work to narrow these areas of uncertainty. Uncertainty can work both ways, since the changes and their impacts may be either smaller or larger than those projected.

Heritage presents this quote as if it was one uninterrupted paragraph.  But that’s not so. An accurate representation is this:

There is very strong evidence to indicate that climate change has occurred on a wide range of different timescales from decades to many millions of years; human activity is a relatively recent addition to the list of potential causes of climate change. [Heritage now edits out 10 pages and 48 paragraphs before it gets to the sentence that follows.] It is not possible to determine exactly how much the Earth will warm or exactly how the climate will change in the future, but careful estimates of potential changes and associated uncertainties have been made. Scientists continue to work to narrow these areas of uncertainty. Uncertainty can work both ways, since the changes and their impacts may be either smaller or larger than those projected.

Obviously, Heritage made this mammoth edit to try to convey far more uncertainty and doubt — as Heritage puts it, “a dramatic reversal,” — than the report actually presents. 

The fact is that when scientists try to be prudent, exacting, objective, and transparent, unscrupulous ideologues like Heritage quickly manipulate scientists’ words to fit the conclusions of anti-science deniers, as is shown above. 

As opposed to Heritage’s cobbled together, cherry-picked Big-Lie editing, here — from the report’s introduction — is a far more accurate picture of the report’s assessment of where the science and the uncertainty is: 

There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, including agriculture and deforestation. The size of future temperature increases and other aspects of climate change, especially at the regional scale, are still subject to uncertainty. Nevertheless, the risks associated with some of these changes are substantial. It is important that decision makers have access to climate science of the highest quality, and can take account of its findings in formulating appropriate responses.

The second part of Heritage’s cherry-picked paragraph tries to make the case for much broader uncertainty. In assembling the misrepresenting paragraph, Heritage conveniently ignores the paragraph in the report that actually precedes the discussion of uncertainty. Here it is in its entirety:

There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last half century. This warming trend is expected to continue as are changes in precipitation over the long term in many regions. Further and more rapid increases in sea level are likely which will have profound implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.

In other words, scientists are telling us what they do know while at the same time expressing the uncertainty and curiosity that is the hallmark of a healthy scientific process. Scientists are being utterly straightforward. Unfortunately, that’s a characteristic that Heritage sees as something to exploit.    

Heritage is as Heritage does, and in this case, Heritage chooses to deliberately misrepresent the science to advance its own ideological agenda. Who’s not being transparent? It’s lamentable that organizations like Heritage aren’t held to the same standards to which they claim to hold scientists. 

Heritage-gate anyone?