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essentially repealed the entire section of the Clean Air Act that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.

10 thoughts on “Junk science on ozone

  1. I prefer my ozone sites to be non-ideological or non-advocacy.

    That’s why the non Google-sated mendacious read primary sources. At the library. Journals.


  2. Few scientific hypotheses have been confirmed more rapidly and completely than the CFC-ozone hypothesis. Not only did the ozone hole grow exactly as predicted, but the phaseout of CFCs has already produced a reduction in the size of the hole.

    Compared to this instance of the standard scientific model, the SEPP site reads like the case of a lawyer defending a client facing overwhelming evidence. Notably, it’s very hard to pin down an actual hypothesis – instead there are a lot of quibbles and a series of alternative defences for the do-nothing stance. The hope is that, even if none of them stand up separately, their presentation in sequence will produce some sort of doubt.

    To put the debate on a firmer stance, perhaps Aaron would say whether he thinks the hypothesis that CFC’s are the major cause of observed ozone depletion is correct or not.

  3. Aaron writes:
    “Care to tell us where Prof. S. Fred Singer, head of the SEPP, erred, Ken?”

    I’m not Ken but I’m happy to point out a couple of instances in which Singer has erred.

    1. In his 1989 _National Review_ article, Singer asserted that there was evidence for an ozone hole in the antarctic back in the 1950’s. His basis was a letter to _EOS_ by Marcel Nicolet which contained a quote from G.M.B. Dobson concerning measurement in that region in 1956-57. Even the most cursory inspection of Dobson’s original paper (google my name on sci.environment on 20 January 1993, under the subject heading “Myth of the 1956 Ozone Hole”)demonstrates that Singer _completely_ misunderstood it. This didn’t stop other people, such as Ronald Bailey at _Reason_ magazine, from replicating the claim. (To be fair, Singer has since conceded the mistake, although very much in sotto voce as a note to the webbed version of the _National Review_ article. AFAIK neither he nor Bailey ever published a correction of this particular claim in the dead-tree media.)

    2. Singer has repeatedly claimed that back in the mid 1980’s, the weight of the evidence implied that most of the chlorine in the stratosphere came from natural sources. He concedes that subsequent measurements contradict this, but insists that back in 1988 his conclusion was the right one to draw. In fact, his conclusion is based on asserting that one particular type of
    measurement (long-term trends in stratospheric HCl) is the only relevant one, and ignoring a
    cartload of other measurements going back to 1975 that lead to a different conclusion. His reasoning here has always struck me as peculiar – he concedes that he was wrong in 1988, but argues that everybody else should have made the same mistake that he did. To me, it would seem more natural to conclude that the other guys interpreted the balance of the evidence more
    accurately than Singer, since it was their conclusions that ended up being confirmed even by
    Singer’s preferred choide of measurements.

  4. I might point out that since the “ban” on CFC’s several countries produce and trade in “illicit” CFC’s. I wonder if these are taken into account in the modelling…

  5. It’s so easy to be a skeptic: bah! Humbug! Naysay! Aaargh!

    There are plenty of journal articles that have studied the phenomenon. Put in the work, Aaron.


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