The Wall Street Journal and Climate Change: Where Are the Facts?

01/30/2012 03:15 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2012

Last week the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a half-page letter entitled "No Need To Panic About Global Warming" above the center fold of its Opinion page. The letter was signed by 16 prominent scientists and claimed, among other things, "Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now." Such a stark assertion would be devastating to the consensus on climate change if it were true. But it is not true. Data published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that global warming is real and well-documented:

This year tied 1997 as the 11th warmest year since records began in 1880...This marks the 35th consecutive year, since 1976, that the yearly global temperature was above average. The warmest years on record were 2010 and 2005, which were 0.64°C (1.15°F) above average.

While the NOAA report used selected official data sets, the well-known global warming skeptic Richard Muller initiated the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project to re-examine all available data from around the world. The analysis changed his mind. On October 21, 2011, he summarized his conclusions about the reality of climate change, also in the WSJ, in an article entitled "The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism":

We discovered that about one-third of the world's temperature stations have recorded cooling temperatures, and about two-thirds have recorded warming. The two-to-one ratio reflects global warming. The changes at the locations that showed warming were typically between 1-2ºC, much greater than the [official] average of 0.64ºC.

The press needs to be open to all streams of opinion. But we learned from the Iraq War, which was based on faulty arguments about weapons of mass destruction, how important it is for the press to note and contradict statements that are demonstrably false. Is it too much to expect the WSJ to have referred to its own October 21st article? A simple note at the end could have alerted its readers to the questionable nature of the statements in the opinion piece it just published so prominently. Instead, the WSJ appeared to endorse the misleading arguments in the "anti-panic" letter by that very prominence. Is some unhealthy editorial agenda at work here? The future of climate change reporting in the WSJ should allow us to answer that question.