Rick Perry’s made-up ‘facts’ about climate change

at 06:00 AM ET, 08/18/2011


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“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed. But I do not buy into, that a group of scientists, who in some cases were found to be manipulating this data.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 17, 2011

This is a pretty sweeping statement about global warming by the newly announced GOP candidate for president. Perry has long been a skeptic of the science behind global warming, having highlighted that stance in his book, “Fed Up!”

But these remarks, made in New Hampshire on Wednesday, seem to take his skepticism to a new level, with significant and specific allegations:

1. A substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so they will have dollars rolling into their projects.

2. Almost weekly or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.

How true is this?

 

The Facts

 The question of whether humans have contributed to climate change in recent years has generated increasing skepticism among the American public, especially as proposals to deal with the problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, have come with high price tags. But Perry is wrong to suggest that that skepticism has gained strength among scientists.

To the contrary, various surveys of climate researchers suggest growing acceptance, with as many as 98 percent believing in the concept of man-made climate change. A 2010 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which surveyed 1,372 climate researchers, is an example of this consensus. After all, it was first established in 1896 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help create a “greenhouse effect.”

 There have been similar studies by, among others, the United States Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yes, there are a few skeptics in the field, but even they generally do not question that human activity is warming the climate. A collection of statements by various scientific societies that support the consensus on climate change can be found here.

 In response to our queries, Perry spokesman Mark Miner sent us a link to something called the Petition Project, which claims to have collected the signatures of 31,487 “American scientists” on a petition that says there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that human release of greenhouse gasses will “cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate.” The petition is a bit old, having been started in opposition to the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming.

 But this petition doesn’t back up Perry’s claim of a growing army of scientists opposed to the climate change theory.

 Only 9,000 of the signers actually have PhDs, and the list of signers’qualifications shows only a relatively small percentage with expertise on climate research. (One study estimated that under the petition’s rather expansive definition of a “scientist,” more than 10 million Americans would be qualified to sign it.) Judging from news reports, the number of signers has barely budged from 2008, further undercutting Perry’s claim of a groundswell of opposition.

Another Perry spokesman, Ray Sullivan, provided links to a number of recent articles that he said demonstrated skepticism in the scientific community. We reviewed the articles, and they are anecdotal in nature, not evidence of the groundswell of opposition suggested by Perry.

 Despite our repeated requests, neither spokesman provided any evidence to back up Perry’s claim that “a substantial number of scientists … have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects” — perhaps because that particular scandal appears to be a figment of Perry’s imagination.

 Perry appears to be referring to hundreds of e-mails that were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain and then disseminated on the Internet in 2009. One e-mail made references to adding a “trick” in the data, leading climate change skeptics to claim the data was manipulated.

But, although Perry claimed the scientists “were found to be manipulating this data,” five investigations have since been conducted into the allegations — and each one exonerated the half-dozen or so scientists involved.

So, in contrast to Perry’s statement, there have not been a “substantial number” of scientists who manipulated data. Instead, there were a handful — who were falsely accused.

 

The Pinocchio Test

 Perry’s statement suggests that, on the climate change issue, the governor is willfully ignoring the facts and making false accusations based on little evidence. He has every right to be a skeptic — all scientific theories should be carefully scrutinized — but that does not give him carte blanche to simply make things up.

 Four Pinocchios

 

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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