We've all heard it whenever climate change skeptics lay out their arguments – one of their rhetorical pillars is to snort that just a few short decades ago the world's climate scientists were warning of a coming ice age. Actually, declaring scientists a fickle lot is a weak move. A central strength of science is to continuously seek flaws and errors in what the text books favor and adjust or abandon as needed. But as any climate reporter who has tried to run the global cooling consensus assertion to ground has already found, the consensus did not even happen.
One of the contrarians' linchpin pieces of evidence, a one-page article in 1975 in Newsweek that reviewed suspicions of global cooling from some scientists, is now getting a do-over from an unimpeachable source: the man who wrote it.
- Inside Science News Service – Peter Gwynne: My 1975 'Cooling World' Story Doesn't Make Today's Climate Scientists Wrong.
Gwynne, the magazine's science editor for many years (and a member of the Nat'l Assoc. of Science Writers), obviously wishes that this one piece he wrote were not the most cited Newsweek story, ever. He says that was then and this is now. The hypothesis at the time made sense, now it does not. One supposes he wishes his story could have died in the normal life span for such things, a few weeks. That old story was a wee exaggerated. Gwynne is an upstanding man, respected in the trade, but clearly did overdo things. That includes his un-bolstered assertion 39 years ago that the meteorologists were near-unanimous in fear that cooler weather would shrink farmers' crops for the rest of the 20th century. However, it is just a news story, not far off the mark given the times. Its fame today is ridiculous. One cannot help but think it is willful deception for climate change pooh-poohers to genuinely regard this item on page 64 of a weekly news mag as powerful evidence of what scientists thought, as a whole, about global climate in 1975.
Anyway, climate skeptics are a hard-shelled race of people. In a twinkling they may conclude that if he is indeed now as worried as the IPCC is about global warming, it just means that Gwynne is a pinko, or has been bought out by all those wealthy windfarm and solar energy tycoons, or is merely as fickle and therefore as opportunistic as those slippery scientists who won't stand on principle like any good right-thinking person should do no matter the evidence.
It is a dramatic move by Gwynne to put some finesse with a skin-back splash on his old yarn. He, one must add, is still in the business, writing for UK-based Physics World from his home in Massachusetts. Even without his personal effort to put his story into context it has already been cited in many well-argued debunkings of the contrarian tenet that global warming is [take your choice: not happening, happening but good for us, bad for us but not our fault, or happening and our fault but has already or soon will stop before much-worse stuff happens].
Gwynne, while he does a lot of first-rate reporting on how things stand today, does not in this week's piece quite take his old story back – implying that there was a plurality if not consensus back then on global cooling. But he makes well the deeper point that today's science is plain better than what researchers were able to say four decades ago. Most others who have looked recently into the global warming consensus assertion have concluded there was, as reflected in technical literature of the era, no appreciable agreement at all on which way temperatures were going.
Here are a few pertinent other stories found during a short trip down search-engine lane:
- Scientific American/Daily Climate (Jan 2014) Doug Struck: How the "Global Cooling" Story Came to Be ; with explicit reference to Gwynne's story and to Gwynne, including his chagrin at how his old story has lived on far beyond any expected life time.
- Newton Blog (Jan 2014) Ross Pomeroy: The Myth of the Global Cooling Consensus ; Another recent, more general report.
- Examiner (March 2, 2009) Dylan Otto Krider: Peter Gwynne, author of "The Cooling World," Newsweek 1975. I have never understood how the "Examiner" string of on line news operations works, but this sample is a decent profile of Gwynne with a focus on his unhappiness with the face of his 1975 story.
- RealClimate (Jan 14, 2005) : The global cooling myth ; Merely mentions Gwynne's story (as 'regrettable') while focussing on the scientific literature in the 1970s, which was mostly all over the place but had no consensus. It says that by decade's end the refereed journal stuff was leaning toward warming as the most likely trend to expect.
- Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (Sept 2008) Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, John Fleck: The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus ; Very detailed and, while this is a journal article of the sort not usually listed here at the tracker alongside newsish stories, it gains entry due to co-author Fleck. He is a science journalist in New Mexico who has toiled long and nobly for the Albuquerque Journal.
Grist for the Mill: Gwynne's 1975 The Cooling World ;