Climate Skeptics and the OJ Simpson Defense

Predictably, the NOAA announcement that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US (a full degree higher than the previous record high average, and three degrees higher than the 20th century average) has brought out the climate skeptics in force. Fox News (surprise!) ran this story: Hottest year ever? Skeptics question revisions to climate data. The details are not especially important: the NOAA re-ran some of its models and updated its historical data series from version 2.0 to 2.5, this apparently caused some slight increase in measured warming in the late 20th century. These changes are pretty small in comparison to the massively hot 2012, however. The defenders of the NOAA – and, let’s say, people trying to keep humanity from frying itself to death – tried to make this argument but in so doing offer an interesting if pessimistic analogy:

Aaron Huertas, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that the debate over the adjustments misses the bigger picture.

“Since we broke the [temperature] record by a full degree Fahrenheit this year, the adjustments are relatively minor in comparison,”

“I think climate contrarians are doing what Johnny Cochran did for O.J. Simpson — finding anything to object to, even if it obscures the big picture. It’s like they keep finding new ways to say the ‘glove doesn’t fit’ while ignoring the DNA evidence.”

I think this analogy is pessimistic – if incredibly accurate – because Cochrane managed to convince the relevant decision-makers (the jury) that there was reasonable doubt about OJ’s guilt, even as people still routinely assume OJ was guilty (as Huerta implicitly does in the quote). Let’s hope the analogy fails as a prediction. So far though, it seems spot on.

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