A Glitch of the Electronics?

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In today’s Guardian, George Monbiot does a little investigative journalism to uncover the truth behind some remarkable claims published in New Scientist by David Bellamy, a renowned British Botanist, refuting the existence of climate change. Bellamy claims that contrary to widely held beliefs, “555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980.”

Could Bellamy, president of the Conservation Foundation, and former senior lecturer at the University of Durham be right? He is a reputable scientist. Monbiot decided to run the results by the World Glacier Monitoring Service, whom one might assume would know a thing or two on the subject:

I don’t think the response would have been published in Nature, but it had the scientific virtue of clarity: “This is complete bullshit.”

Okay, so where then did Bellamy get his data? After prompting the botanist a few times, Monbiot had his answer:

The data, he said, came from a website called www.iceagenow.com … constructed by a man called Robert W Felix to promote his self-published book about “the coming ice age”. It claims that sea levels are falling, not rising; that the Asian tsunami was caused by the “ice age cycle”; and that “underwater volcanic activity – not human activity – is heating the seas”.

Felix, a former architect, had written:

“Since 1980, there has been an advance of more than 55% of the 625 mountain glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring group in Zurich.”

Did Bellamy simply mistype? To this question Monbiot applied his powers of deduction:

On the standard English keyboard, 5 and % occupy the same key. If you try to hit %, but fail to press shift, you get 555, instead of 55%. … When I challenged [Bellamy], he admitted that there had been “a glitch of the electronics”

To make a long story short, the statement in question – which Felix had found in the latest edition of 21st Century Science and Technology – was first printed by Fred S. Singer, the grandfather of climate misinformation, who cites a 16 year old issue of Science as his source. After scouring all editions of Science from 1989, not only did Monbiot fail to find the figure, but he concluded that Science hadn’t published anything regarding glacier advance or retreat that year.

So there you have it – a 16 year old article that was never written, fraudulently cited by a climate skeptic, re-printed in a publication owned by Lyndon Larouche which was cited by a former architect, and finally misrepresented by a credible scientist. One can only wonder what Bellamy was thinking.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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