About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Misreading Climate Change on Scientific American

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

We appreciate the attention that the November feature article "Climate Heretic," by Michael Lemonick, is receiving. But some have misread Scientific American‘s intent.

For instance, two sites, Climate Progress and FAIR, accuse Scientific American of having "jumped the shark" on climate.

In actuality, Scientific American reports on climate-related science in depth in nearly every issue and frequently online. You can see a sample list of past print and online-only articles at "Want to Learn More about Climate Change?," including coverage of carbon and climate back to 1959. Climate is the issue of our time. We covered the debate surrounding Judith Curry as a news event in this topic area—and as a way to foster discussion of climate issues in general. As is clear in the article, the vast majority of the scientific community—and Curry herself—believe the evidence supports the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

(For further background, Michael Lemonick has also posted "Why I Wrote about Judith Curry" at Climate Central.)

Climate Progress and FAIR also have criticized a related reader poll about climate change: Consumer media outlets frequently conduct reader polls about content, and Scientific American is no exception. The October issue, for instance, included a poll on the public’s attitudes about science. We learned that respondents were "more convinced" about the reality of climate change today than they were a year ago. Such polls are surely not "scientific," and nobody claims they are, but their interactive nature promotes audience engagement. It’s unfortunate—although in hindsight not surprising—that certain people would take the opportunity to manipulate the results by repeat voting.

Last, both sites have noted a Shell poll with advertisement, and speculated about its significance. Advertisements are handled by the ad-sales department without the editorial board’s input or consent.


Rights & Permissions

Comments 30 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. PabstyLoudmouth 11:54 am 10/28/2010

    So for all intents and purposes you are saying once again anyone you is skeptical of AGW is wrong and basically stupid. "including coverage of carbon and climate back to 1959."<—How in the world can this be of any use, our climate history is 4.6 Billion years and we have a 50 year snippet of information. That is .000000001% of the information and that information is not without flaw. How can such assumtions be made about a science with so many variables with such little data. I guess it is time for me to stop reading this magazine all together, it is biased towards an agenda and has been for the past few years. I will find a more objective site to get my information from.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Sisko 12:03 pm 10/28/2010

    Ms DiChristina– Scientific American in my opinion clearly does have a bias regarding the subject of climate change and it seems rather silly to suggest otherwise. The magazine clearly supports the position that:
    1. human caused atmospheric CO2 is the root and predominant cause of a warmer planet,
    2. that a warmer planet will be a disaster for humanity, and
    3. that if America does not rapidly and substantially reduce its CO2 emissions (and implement some type of Carbon Capture program) then America will be the cause of the warmer planet and be responsible for destroying humanity.

    The science simply does not yet support these conclusions. Regarding point number 1- there is clearly evidence that humans have increased atmospheric CO2, and it is highly probably that this has contributed to a warmer planet. There are also secondary effects and other factors that have impacted the climate that are seemingly intentionally not emphasized by Scientific American.

    Regarding point #2- Scientific American almost solely points out any possible negative consequences of a warmer planet, but never mentions any possible benefits. Anyone who has studied the issue understands that the modelling of climate is not nearly accurate enough at this time to draw reliable conclusions that a warmer planet is actually bad for humanity overall in the long term. Scientific American simply works to point out the sensational negative consequences to promote hysteria on the subject and to try to encourage political action.

    Regarding point #3- There is almost no reporting by Scientific American regarding what positive effect on climate there would be if the United States were to reduce CO2 emissions by (you pick the amount). The truth is that there will be almost no impact after a huge economic cost.

    So in conclusion- Scientific American is prejudiced…….just accept the current condition and seek to reduce the condition.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Tractorthoughts 12:18 pm 10/28/2010

    I am amazed to see all of the commenters claiming that they are going to give up their subscription to Scientific American but continue to be readers so that they can present Exon Mobile’s agenda. Thank you Scientific American for sticking to reporting science.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Elio Campitelli 12:21 pm 10/28/2010

    Yeah, Scientific American has a apparent bias. It’s called "reality bias".

    I really liked the article about Curry. It was very informative and, for the most part, fair. I didn’t like the poll, thought, as it had heavily leading questions and answers. But, as you say, no one is claiming it’s a scientific survey.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Sisko 12:58 pm 10/28/2010

    @ Tractor–lol….does 1 = all to you?

    Link to this
  6. 6. wvman75 1:11 pm 10/28/2010

    Climate change is real, just not man-made. The climate has changed many times throughout the Earth’s history. Some of those changes occurring before the footprint of man was on the Earth. This is a money making scheme for the "sky is falling" nuts out there. Are there steps that should be taken to gather credible information? Sure. Do I believe that this is not a lucrative position for some people, including some scientists? Not that naive.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Postman1 4:01 pm 10/28/2010

    I completely agree with you. I would also like to state that whether I agree with anything J Curry says or not, She, at least, is behaving as a true scientist. Rare today, but true scientists are always skeptical and willing to look at every side of agiven theory. AGW is a theory, and just because those who disagree are in the minority (if they are), that alone does not make them wrong. Witness, Copernicus.

    Link to this
  8. 8. BoolySpark 4:50 pm 10/28/2010

    Thanks Sisko, my thoughts exactly.
    Also thanks to wvman75

    Link to this
  9. 9. BoolySpark 5:08 pm 10/28/2010

    Tractorthoughts: Corporations are a fact of life. They have facilities, R&D and expertise not available elsewhere. They are major science contributors.

    As a recent request by our government to have Chevron analyze the cement used by BP & Co. is proof. I wish we currently had as much transparency in our government as exists in public corporations.

    Link to this
  10. 10. laursaurus 5:16 pm 10/28/2010

    Why do you assume that people voted multiple times? The multiple choice answers were very condescending to both Dr. Curry and the readers. Isn’t a nuanced view the most reasonable answer to most of these issues?
    I think that the votes were an authentic reflection of how disgruntled the readers were made by the back-handed insults contained in this poll.
    Why do you equate climate science with religion? Not scientific, after all.

    Link to this
  11. 11. laursaurus 5:16 pm 10/28/2010

    Why do you assume that people voted multiple times? The multiple choice answers were very condescending to both Dr. Curry and the readers. Isn’t a nuanced view the most reasonable answer to most of these issues?
    I think that the votes were an authentic reflection of how disgruntled the readers were made by the back-handed insults contained in this poll.
    Why do you equate climate science with religion? Not scientific, after all.

    Link to this
  12. 12. laursaurus 5:17 pm 10/28/2010

    Why do you assume that people voted multiple times? The multiple choice answers were very condescending to both Dr. Curry and the readers. Isn’t a nuanced view the most reasonable answer to most of these issues?
    I think that the votes were an authentic reflection of how disgruntled the readers were made by the back-handed insults contained in this poll.
    Why do you equate climate science with religion? Not scientific, after all.

    Link to this
  13. 13. laursaurus 5:21 pm 10/28/2010

    sorry about the multiple posts. Clicking the submit button kept redirecting me to sign up for email notifications.

    Link to this
  14. 14. electric38 7:39 pm 10/28/2010

    You may want to screen your advertisers more carefully. In a poll question with no right answer or options given, what difference does multiple votes mean?

    Link to this
  15. 15. ZebulonJoe 10:45 pm 10/28/2010

    About 15 years ago, you published an article on weather patterns that were about to change. The article analysed core samples from Ayre’s Lake, Australia. It pointed out that the period 1830 to 1970 had no "normal" weather extremes, but they were now about to return. Nothing in current weather events seems to be outside that prediction.

    A far more logical explanation lies in the fact that EVERYTHING in the solar system revolves about its centre of gravity. With three gas giants now on the same side of the sun, the sun is now distant from that centre of gravity, and the distance from the earth to the sun is varying by something like 2 million miles. This translates to a change or variability of solar heat on the earth by about 4.5%, more than enough to account the weather extremes occurring in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere, because of the earth’s axial tilt, and the opposite seasons, is getting much smaller, but still significant changes.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Dr. Strangelove 9:54 pm 10/29/2010

    Dear Editor,

    No need to apologize that majority of your readers are skeptics (at least that’s what the survey shows). Right or wrong, it represents the opinion of the science-minded public.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Jarmo 10:53 pm 10/29/2010

    At least there is something interesting in multiple responds in polls: They show how easy we manipulate ourselves. Many people prefere to think that it is not "us" but "them" who manipulate. The truth is that this is impossible to know – we can´t tell WHO manipulates polls just by guessing, the only way to know i using the voters unique IP-numers to find out which part is the one who cheats. Every accusion is ridiculous until this is done.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Jarmo 11:16 pm 10/29/2010

    I have data from England. And from Stockholm. And historical papers clearly showing at least more extreme happenings in whether / climate. These numbers shows that temp. goes up 30-31 years and then down or is stabel as many years. And that the long term trend since 1650 is slightly upward. And that the entrance of human CO2 did not accelerate the trend.
    I did this research originally just because I wanted to know before I took a stand. What I then discovered was that Santer, Jones, Trenberth and Mann MUST HAVE KNOWN about this clear evidence of non-existing CO2 treath. The only true "evidence" of AGW seems to be that people want to be good and do good for the sake of humanity. In such a noble mission facts and truths cannot be allowed to rule – not when the mission is such a sacred thing.
    Yes, my experience is that AGW-people are relgious rather than scientific. The mission to save humanity "at any cost" is significant – what kind of fool raises his weapons against humanity?
    (the numbers from EA I got after the email "theft").

    Link to this
  19. 19. Chris G 6:38 pm 10/30/2010

    No, it just means that the majority of the people who responded were ‘skeptics’. There is some debate about how that term should be used.

    I don’t think you’ve looked. Here, have some.

    There, was that so hard? Let us know what your analysis concludes.

    Link to this
  20. 20. bungay lad 7:14 pm 10/30/2010

    Cimate change is one aspect of a much larger problem. The Human Race is consuming resources at a rate that cannot be sustained. As a consequence we are fouling our environment. We take things to the brink before we finally react. If we continue to spew excessive amounts of anything into our atmosphere there will be negative consequnces. We are on a course of activity which may soon tip the balance and corrective action that is too little, too late will be of little consequence. I truely find it amazing that most of the European settlers considered many of the Native Americans as savages even though some but not all practiced a sustainable way of life. It used to be that the term "Conservative" implied the wise and prudent use of resources not consumption with abandon. Those that wish to deny the consequences of global warming need to formally organize as a political party (maybe they have already) so they can attact like minded individuals. They should adopt the Passenger Pigeon as their party emblem. It would say it all.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Jarmo 9:53 pm 10/30/2010

    When Brundtland (UN 1987)mixed up the moral issues about the use of resources and Agenda 21 (Rio 1992) added fight against poverty to this, things got a bit un-intelligible. IPCC (since 1988) adding science and economic issues moved the complexity beyond everything that the human brain can handle. Partly because there was too much money at the stakes.
    Copenhagen 2009 let everyone witness a breakdown of just another UN project – when an UN Utopia collided with the real world. We are back in 1986: stopping pollution and exessive use of resources are still both related to the rate of the population growth. There is undoubtable proof for this problem being a real probem:
    UN does not recognize it as THE threath to environment and climate. And everyting else at this planet.

    Link to this
  22. 22. Iconoclast 5:19 pm 10/31/2010

    Here comes yet another coverup. You cannot measure average global surface temperature, so you cannot detect whether it is changing. The "anomalies" have horrendous uncertinties. Also the earth is not in energy equilibrium so you cannot tell whether it is changing.

    I suppose the truth will out eventually but it is taking a heck of a long time

    Link to this
  23. 23. Jarmo 7:57 am 11/1/2010

    Of course yuo cannot MEASURE but you can still have better or less good methods to CALCULATE average temperature chagese from data.
    And as you told, your timeline has to be rather long. The problem facing climate research is that 1)a 60-year timeline zeroes every change in temperature showing up a sinus-shaped curve = temperature changes within a range. 2)an underlying long-term TREND since app. 1650 shows up a temperature that goes up at linear shape. Which contradicts every theory that says that the temperature is NOT going up, that says that sunspots OR CO2 is the reason to that warming. The problem is how to adapt to this rather than trying to waste resources in trying to stop it. At least as long as we don´t know HOW to stop it and are CAPALBE to do so!

    Whebn S.A. showed up Judith Curry it went from a supporter of the cannonical truth (AGW consensus)to the Galileans (critisism). That makes S.A. more scientific!
    As Galilei did not tell "God does not exsist, S.A. did not tell AGW does not exist. In the contrary, there is no proof that Galilei gave up christianity and no claim that S.A. gave up science, in my mind both just proofed their positions. Whatever your reasons ara S.A. – I like this method!

    Link to this
  24. 24. Spellbound2 1:39 pm 11/1/2010

    I think it’s telling that the editorial staff of SciAm decided to respond not to the comments on thier article and poll at SciAm, but instead to the rantings of Joe Romm at Climate Progress. It would seem that SciAm is much more concerned with maintaining the good will of climate bloggers than engaging with its readership.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Sisko 3:56 pm 11/1/2010

    @Spellbound– very insightful point about SciAm’s editorial staff.

    Link to this
  26. 26. fthoma 9:34 pm 11/4/2010

    The total heat content of the atmosphere is equal to that of the top eight feet of the ocean. To think that the atmosphere is the heat trapping function is to believe that the way to warm up a bathtub full of water is to heat the air in the bathroom. It’s hard for me to believe in AGW. Review "Limitations on Anthropogenic Global Warming", If you are going to be a real-life concerned individual instead of a politically correct "greenie" then perhaps you ought to start learning about the science.

    Link to this
  27. 27. fthoma 3:41 pm 01/2/2011

    New paper – “absence of correlation between temperature changes … and CO2 available for your viewing pleasure at
    Peer reviewed, nice graphs, full pdf available. The article leads off with a quote from some commenter about Scientific American jumping the shark on gloval warming. I think it is getting more and more evident that that is true.

    Link to this
  28. 28. jctyler 4:37 pm 01/23/2014

    Misreading climate change on SciAm?

    One must be exceptionally illwilled to do so.

    And to accuse SciAM of AGW bias? In the same way as I am biased towards Earth not being flat?

    Come on, SciAm, do not let yourself be pushed against the ropes by some tricky dicky polluter agents.

    The one thing I would suggest is that SciAm lets too many climate flat-earth comments stand. Safely delete the “US North-East winter anti-AGW proof” or the “CO2 is good for you” comments. These comments are blocking constructive dialogue amongst the thinking readers.

    Naw, you keep up the good work. A little barking from any side from time to time is normal. You’re doing fine.

    Link to this
  29. 29. jctyler 9:52 am 01/24/2014

    posted the previous to test new login – it works

    (this article is still as current as it was back then; it was quite interesting to read it again)

    Link to this
  30. 30. Adolphe FABER 3:15 pm 12/25/2014

    At last the most plausible reason for the huge problems mankind is facing has been named: “economic and population growth skyrocketing to record levels”. Reducing pollution levels overall is certainely good, but so long as this problem has not been addressed, any other efforts are to no avail.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article