Sunblock Applied: Zharkova’s 2019 study claiming sun’s wobble causing warming finally retracted

  • Published on March 6th, 2020

Russian scientist Valentina Zharkova is one of the few remaining deniers who still tries, and occasionally succeeds in getting published in real peer-reviewed journals. Her general schtick is that one way or another, it’s the Sun causing warming, and that it will soon trigger cooling. Last summer, Zharkova published a study blaming little wobbles in the Sun’s movement for warming. As everyone quickly noticed, the study was fundamentally flawed.

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(And even if it weren’t, that would just mean we would have to reduce emissions even more quickly to account for the warming from the Sun!)

Though it took a while, the editors at Nature’s Scientific Reports have finally retracted the paper, acknowledging the interpretation of the data and assumptions in the analyses “are incorrect” and that they “no longer have confidence in the conclusions presented.”

As the University of Edinburgh’s Ken Rice told NewScientist, the retraction was warranted (he called for the retraction when it was published) because the issue at hand is “extremely well understood,” so “it wouldn’t have taken much for the authors to have checked if their claims… were indeed correct.” Left unsaid is the implication that their failure to do so suggests they were more interested in advancing climate denial than science.

NASA’s Gavin Schmidt explains further in a RealClimate post about the retraction, there has been a lot of good science about the Sun’s little wiggles – they’ve been an important part of climate science. But Schmidt is baffled about why these sorts of studies that blame the Sun and predict an Ice Age are so popular, particularly among UK tabloids.

Because we’re not ones to play coy, we’ll state the obvious: Deniers love the “it’s the Sun!” argument because it is so simple and obvious. It pits an invisible trace gas people can’t in any way sense against the giant ball of nuclear explosions we see in the sky every day. We all feel the warmth of the sun when we step out of the shadow on a hot day or it peeks out from the clouds on a cold one. We all see the temperature rise with the sun in the morning, and fall after it sets.

It makes perfect, intuitive sense, and it requires none of the computer models or other complicated science to make its point. It’s a perfect, snarky response to any climate concern: “Oh, yeah, carbon dioxide huh? Haven’t you ever heard of the SUN!?”

The idea of an impending Ice Age is attractive to tabloids because it’s the opposite of what is normally reported, making it an ideal “man bites dog” story that challenges conventional wisdom, and therefore drives clicks.

So, as Schmidt correctly notes, Zharkova’s retraction here almost certainly “won’t be the last” time we have to hear about how the Sun’s the real climate changer.

Regardless, let’s enjoy the night before we see the next scientific charade blaming the Sun rise.

(Crossposted with DailyKos. Photo from NMInDepth)

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