The Mild-Mannered Climate Study That's Got Everyone Upset

Al Gore, the Koch brothers, slight variations in thermal data--this story has it all

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There's a new climate study whose preliminary results are out today, authored by a team of Berkeley scientists. On the face of it, this study is not really a big deal: it says that the world is getting warmer, and that the preponderance of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere play a role in that process. These are conclusions with which virtually every scientist on the topic agrees.

The study is controversial because of who conducted it: a team of Berkeley scientists, led by a guy named Richard Muller. And it's controversial because of who funded it: the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. That's Koch, as in those Kochs.

Back to Muller for a second: He's a physics professor at Berkeley, and he's known for butting heads with passionate members of the world-is-warming crowd. (For the sake of clarity, and because it bears repeating: virtually every scientist on Earth is a member of the world-is-warming crowd.) Muller believes the world is warming, too--but not as much as some people say it is. He's called Al Gore an "extremist" and an "alarmist," and he thinks the climate data that the U.N. works from has some major holes in it.

That's how this latest study came about--it's Muller's attempt to patch up those holes. "There are all kinds of things that can bias temperature readings, making them cooler or warmer than they should be," explains Ian Sample at The Guardian. "An oft-cited example is that a temperature station that was in a rural environment fifty years ago might today be on the fringes of a city, and feel more heat as a result."

Muller's team collected a bunch of data with the aim of correcting for those biases. Today, the team released a preliminary verson of their findings, and Muller himself testified before the House Science Committee. He told them that according to the Berkeley team's research, they found "a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups."

Yup! So far, Muller's numbers hew pretty closely to those of the other groups he'd set out to improve upon. You can see a chart of Muller's data at The New York Times, where Andrew Revkin notes, with a hint of an air of victory, that "if the lawmakers, and/or Charles Koch... hoped it would undercut the credibility of climate science, they must be disappointed."

Still, the left probably won't be letting Muller off the hook so easily. Joseph Romm at Climate Progress calls him "a serial disinformer," and Revkin notes that he still considers Muller's past criticisms of Gore and fellow scientists to have been "oversimplified and grossly overstated." At any rate, the data that Muller presented today is still very much initial-stage--it has yet to go through peer review and publication--so it'll probably be a while yet before we see how this all shakes out.

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