Climate Change

Retreating from Reality

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 17, 2005

A wonderful piece of investigative journalism by British science writer George Monbiot gets to the bottom of a recent controversy around botanist David Bellamy's claim in the April 16 issue of New Scientist that "555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980. [emphasis added]"

The climate change deniers have had a field day with this, amplifiying it to logic-shattering volumes in their media echo chamber, but Monbiot chased Bellamy's claim back to its source - only to find there isn't one.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service called Bellamy's claim "complete bullshit" in a phone call, following up with an email that excoriates him for citing false data, providing no sources, and ignoring the overwhelming evidence.

Monbiot pursued Bellamy to cite a source, ant the botanist eventually pointed to http://www.iceagenow.com, a personal website run by one Rober. W. Felix, a "former architect", to promote his self-published book Not by Fire but by Ice.

Felix cites 21st Century Science and Technology, a magazine published by convicted fraud artist and conspiracy theorist Lyndon Larouche, claiming that "Since 1980, there has been an advance of more than 55 percent of the 625 mountain glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring group in Zurich."

Larouche's magazine doesn't cite its source either, but it seems to be from Professor Fred Singer, who posted the claim on his website, http://www.sepp.org, citing a 1989 issue of Science. Monbiot went through every 1989 issue manually and electronically, and found no such claim anywhere.

Finally, Monbiot suggests that Larouche's "55 percent of 625 glaciers" was transformed into Bellamy's "555 of 625 glaciers" - or 89 percent - through a typo. The percent symbol % is above the number 5; typing it without holding the shift key seems the likeliest culprit. When challenged, Bellamy admitted to "a glitch of the electronics."

Monbiot concludes:

It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world's most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy, embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former architect, which are based on what appears to be a non-existent data set. And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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