A widely publicized climate study shoots down key skeptic argument. Some climate ‘skeptics’ now try shooting down that narrative. 

News cycles come and go, but dominant narratives tend to form when a clutch of stories have a similar theme.

So it was several weeks ago, when the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project received extensive media coverage. The catchy hook was this: A respected climate skeptic (Richard Muller) establishes evidence for global warming.

The headlines tell the story that emerged. From the Guardian: “Global warming study finds no grounds for climate skeptics’ concerns”; From New Scientist: “Skeptical climate scientists concede earth has warmed”; From Nature: “Different method, same result: global warming is real.”

Even Richard Muller’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal was titled: “The case against global-warming skepticism.”


Unsurprisingly, none of this sat well with many climate skeptics, particularly Anthony Watts. But other climate scientists known for their blunt criticisms of the field have also been perturbed. In numerous posts at his blog and elsewhere, Roger Pielke Sr. has been critical of the BEST study. He also recently seized on this long article by Paul Voosen in Greenwire, asserting that it highlights “a large degree of uncertainty with respect to the climate system, and the human role in it …” Pielke excerpted quotes from many of the scientists in the Greenwire piece, but without any of the article’s context. At the end of his post, Pielke made his point clear:

“These extracts from the Greenwire article illustrate why the climate system is not yet well understood. The science is NOT solved.”

Pielke’s post was re-posted at Watts’ site and at Judith Curry’s blog.

A concerted effort to push back on the dominant BEST narrative in the media (global warming is real and any continuing doubts about it are unwarranted) seemed under way.

Then, over the weekend, in the UK’s Daily Mail, David Rose reported in this story that Curry, a co-author on the BEST papers, “has accused” Richard Muller “of trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.” Rose also wrote that Curry was “horrified” by Muller’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, and that “this affair [the BEST study] had to be compared to the notorious ‘climategate’ scandal two years ago.”

As the predictable uproar ensued, Curry, in her blog, denied making any “climategate” comparison to Rose. She also said she was “feeling manipulated by both Rose and BEST.”

But if Curry’s intent was to recast a media narrative that has developed since Muller first released the reports, she can take some satisfaction that the Daily Mail story was picked up in the usual places, such as Fox News. No context necessary, of course.

Note: An upcoming commentary in this series will look at the peer review angle of this story.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.