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Global warming, archaeology, and skeptical scientists

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | July 27, 2010

The headline in USA Today read World Sizzles to Record for the Year.

In fact, as the story explained, it is more than that: so far, this is the hottest year since records of temperature began to be recorded in 1880.

As Discovery News reported earlier this month, this unprecedented warming is exposing “ancient relics in recently melted ice patches”– notably, a wooden weapon that was lost and frozen about 10,000 years ago near Yellowstone.

Nor is this find unique. Citing as an example researchers in Canada who have found objects buried in snow of the last 2400 to 850 years, the story notes that there are

many research groups around the world that are capitalizing on widespread melting of previously stable ice and snow patches.

Still, browsing the article in USA Today, a reader initially concerned about 2010 being the warmest year since record-keeping began might find reassurance in the opinions of “global warming skeptic” Marc Morano. That is, if they aren’t put off by Morano’s background as a conservative political activist, working for a group partly funded by oil money.

But USA Today offers a second skeptical voice, this one not so easily dismissed as politically motivated: weather forecaster Joe D’Aleo, co-founder of The Weather Channel.

Nor is D’Aleo alone. A large number of meteoreologists are on record as global warming skeptics. According to a survey by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin, only about 50% of meteorologists accepted the science of global warming, and a full 25% reportedly agreed with the statement that “Global warming is a scam.”

And as the New York Times noted, more people listen to weathermen and trust them as sources of information about global warming than they do politicians– or, it would seem, scientists.

Global warming is a paradox: one of the clearest empirical phenomena on record, but something that a substantial number of otherwise well-informed people reject. News media like Frontline have documented the credentials of scientists who are visible global warming skeptics, and they include distinguished figures.

But thanks to a study by Stanford University’s Professor Steven Schneider, who explored both the causes of climate change and the challenges scientists face in representing their findings to the press, we now are in a position to compare the credentials of scientists who reject global warming and those who are convinced of its validity.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 21, assessed publications of doubters and supporters and found that “97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field” accept that global warming is real. Looking at citation of research, the study found that scientists who accepted global warming were cited 64% more than doubters.

Steven Schneider died just one week ago.

A few days after his death, the US Senate ended efforts to pass a bill addressing climate change.

And while ice that has preserved otherwise fleeting evidence of human existence for 10,000 years melts under the onslaught of annual temperatures unprecedented in all that long time, yielding finds for some archaeologists, other archaeologists rush urgently to find or record sites before they are destroyed by rising waters, thawing soil, and other effects of climate change.