Fumento Swings…And Misses

By Chris Mooney | December 3, 2009 7:30 am

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 Amazon.com 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.

Comments (7)

  1. bilbo

    It sucks being levelheaded, Mooney, because you get shat upon from both sides. Write a nuanced book about climate change that doesn’t specifically endorse a position on its effects on hurricanes? You get labeled an “alarmist” by the right-wing weirdos. Write a nuanced book about scientific illiteracy that doesn’t specifically indict any one group over another? You get labeled an idiot and told you should be fired by the left-wing weirdos. Maybe you could get criticized consistently by just one of those sides if you’d stoop to their level and latch onto a position like an unthinking pit bull without being a good journalist.

    I don’t envy you.

  2. Jon

    The main thing that matters to Fumento’s sponsors and patrons is that he gets to brand you “the Left” (such an expansive term. It appears to apply to just about everyone, especially the R.B.C.). The other priorities (traditional priorities in journalistic institutions, such as accuracy) are secondary, it would appear.

    In another context, David Frum hit the nail on the head with regard to professional journalistic priorities versus movement priorities:

    Any conservative qualms about the untruth of Beck’s defamation of Sunstein amounts to “appeasement” – an appeasement that will end with the left decapitating the right. This is the language and logic of Leninism. There is no truth or falsehood comrades, there is only service to the revolution or betrayal of the revolution.

    Of course, if Frum’s been reading Sam Tanenhaus (and he has), the Lenin analogy here isn’t a coincidence.

  3. Mooney writes: “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).”

    From my article, paragraph three:

    “This year ended quietly with the fewest storms since 1997, and for the first time since 2006 no hurricanes even made landfall in the United States according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Indeed, hurricane activity is near a 30-year low.”

    Chris, you’re just plain dishonest.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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