Junk science on ozone
Reader Robert Parson, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, has kindly supplied a scanned PDF file of the hard-to-obtain Baliunas paper “Ozone and Global Warming: Are the Problems Real?”, which I’ve posted here (2.6MB download). It’s a fascinating illustration of the contrarian technique at work. In particular, it’s noteworthy that Baliunas uses almost exactly the same kinds of arguments on the two issues and, if anything, her case on CFC and ozone seems stronger. Of course, CFC regulation was a live political issue at the time, whereas action on global warming, such as Kyoto, was a relatively distant prospect.
A highlight is Baliunas’ confident assertion that “the ozone hole cannot occur in the Arctic” – a claim that stood up for about three years.
Only a few weeks after Baliunas testified before Congress that the science on all this was unsettled, the Chemistry Nobel was awarded to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina for their work on stratospheric ozone. Rowland and Molina were explicitly cited for proposing the CFC-ozone depletion theory. This killed Republican attempts (by the aptly named Reps DeLay and Doolittle) to stop the phaseout of CFCs, and Baliunas has been very quiet on the ozone issue ever since.
I’ve appended a more detailed version of the story kindly supplied by Robert Parson.
In October of 1994, Rep. Tom Delay introduced a bill that would have
essentially repealed the entire section of the Clean Air Act that
deals with ozone depleting substances. Some time later,
Rep. John Doolittle (Republican from California) introduced a
somewhat less extreme measure that would have pushed back the
phase-out date from CFCs from 1996 to the year 2000. (A friend of
mine remarked that “Doolittle and Delay” sounded like a pair of
characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan production.) Either measure
would have amounted to a US withdrawal from the Montreal Protocol
and its successors. After the Republicans took control of Congress
in the 1994 elections, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment,
now led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, decided to hold a hearing related to
these proposals. At the first panel, dealinf with the scientific issues,
Singer and Baliunas represented the skeptics, while
Robert T. Watson (then at the Office of Science and Technology Policy)
and Dan Albritton, director of the NOAA Aeronomy Lab, represented the
conventional scientific wisdom. (A fifth scientist, Richard Setlow
from Brookhaven, also spoke, but he dealt only with the biological
effects of UV radiation, not with whether ozone depletion was actually
taking place or not. I’m not sure why the Republicans brought him in.
A subsequent panel dealt with economic and policy issues.)
The hearings were held on September 20, 1995.
In the course of the hearings, Doolittle and Delay conceded that they
were not aware of the canonical WMO/UNEP reports summarizing
the state of scientific knowledge. (These biannual reports are similar
to the IPCC reports on Climate Change, although considerably shorter
since they cover a much narrower range of topics.) It came out that
Baliunas had never published any refereed papers on stratospheric ozone,
and that while Singer had made substantial contributions some 20+ years
before, he had done very little recent work in the area. (After he
complained that his work was being ignored, Albritton pointed out that
his single recent refereed paper, a brief technical comment in Science,
had, in fact, been cited in the 1994 WMO report.) Under questioning,
Baliunas appeared to concede that there was, in fact, evidence for a
significant downward trend in global ozone. Even Dana Rohrabacher
conceded that Watson and Albritton had made a good case.
A few weeks later – October 12, to be precise – the Chemistry Nobel was
awarded to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina for their
work on stratospheric ozone. Rowland and Molina were explicitly cited
for proposing the CFC-ozone depletion theory. The timing was surely
a coincidence (Nobels get decided long before they are awarded, and
Rowland and Molina had been nominated long before) but it was none the
less amusing to those of us who had been following the controversy.
Delay made some comment to the effect that Sweden was a country of
environmental extremists. In any event, the “Ozone Backlash”, as it has
been called, pretty much died that day. According to a widely believed
rumor (widely-enough believed that it was reported in the pages of
_Science_ magazine) Newt Gingrich, who was then at the height of his
power, told Delay to knock it off.