The Sciences

Fumento Swings...And Misses

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyDec 3, 2009 6:30 PM


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Apparently I am one of those alarmists who, following the 2005 hurricane season in the Atlantic, hyped the connection between hurricanes and global warming. Only...I didn't. In my book on this subject, Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, I actually criticized those who had oversold this connection. That's probably why the American Meteorological Society called Storm World "an accurate and comprehensive overview of the evolving debate on the impacts of global warming on hurricanes that illustrates the complexities of this significant scientific problem.” So how then can rightwing science pundit Michael Fumento write the following?

...[in] 2005 [the] the coincidence of two major hurricanes striking the U.S. and causing lots of damage, Katrina and Rita, led to a storm of allegations that global warming was causing cyclones to rise up in revenge against man. Most notable was far-left science writer Chris Mooney’s Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, which informs us is “bargain-priced” and probably for good reason. Mooney not coincidentally is also author of “The Republican War on Science” and “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future.” Perhaps it threatens our future, but in the meantime it’s very good for his wallet.

Actually, I'm sure I would have sold more books by hyping the hurricane-climate connection in Storm World, rather than painting it in a nuanced way. But I found that I couldn't. Because the science was complex and uncertain, as a nonscientist I felt I was best equipped to tell the real story of hurricane scientists at work and in conflict in a high stakes environment--rather than taking a polemical stand on a live scientific issue that I might not be able to defend later. The irony here is huge, because even as he incorrectly criticizes me for overhyping science, Fumento himself engages in seriously flawed scientific reasoning

. In order to lampoon the view that hurricanes are worsening, he relies on this year's weather in just one hurricane basin of the world--it was a quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic (although busy in the Pacific

). The problem is that weather is not climate, and if global warming's impact on Atlantic hurricanes is to be detected, it will be through the manifestation of multi-decadal trends in a noisy record--rather than in the evidence presented by any one particular year. That's especially so for an El Nino year

like 2009; these tend to suppress Atlantic hurricanes (and rile up Pacific ones). The importance of El Nino is one of the many complexities of hurricane-climate research, and one of many factors that makes it difficult to detect climate driven trends in hurricanes--as carefully explained in Storm World.

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