Scientists debate the accuracy of Al Gore's documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth'

Apr 14, 2008

There is no question that Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth is a powerful example of how scientific knowledge can be communicated to a lay audience. What is up for debate is whether it accurately presents the scientific argument that global warming is caused by human activities. Climate change experts express their opinions on the scientific validity of the film’s claims in articles just published online in Springer’s journal, GeoJournal.

An Inconvenient Truth is about Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about global warming and inspire them to take action. The papers in GeoJournal agree that it does an excellent job of raising public awareness of man-made global warming and explains why increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases lead to warming. They also agree that its main weakness is that it tries to use individual extreme events, such as Hurricane Katrina, to prove the existence of global warming.

In the first opinion piece (1), Eric Steig from Washington University states that the film gets the fundamental science right. The minor factual errors do not undermine the main message of the film, which explains the theory that increasing carbon dioxide causes a warming tendency in the lower atmosphere.

John Nielsen-Gammon from Texas A&M University also agrees that the main scientific argument presented in the movie is for the most part consistent with the weight of scientific evidence (2). He comments that unfortunately, it neglects all information that can be gained from computer models, and instead relies entirely on past and current observational evidence. This increases the film’s emotional impact but weakens the scientific argument.

David Legates from the University of Delaware addresses assertions about trends in precipitation, floods, droughts and storms in particular (3). He concludes that there are significant errors in the film, owing to alarmism and exaggeration, which give a false impression of both the current state of climate change and that the science is settled.

In another paper (4), Roy Spencer from the University of Alabama in Huntsville also discredits the scientific validity of the documentary. In his view, the film’s main omission is that while humans are almost certainly responsible for global warming, there are other natural causes of climate variability which the film does not address. In his opinion, the “real inconvenient truth is that science has no idea how much of recent warming is natural versus the result of human activities”.

After providing a succinct summary of the state of climate change science (5), Gerald North from Texas A&M University concludes the debate by stating that although there are some inaccuracies and exaggerations in the film, on the whole it represents mainstream scientific views on global warming.

Steven Quiring, also from Texas A&M University and author of the issue’s introduction (6), comes to the conclusion that whether scientists like it or not, An Inconvenient Truth has had a much greater impact on public opinion and public awareness of global climate change than any scientific paper or report.

References

1. Steig EJ (2008). Another look at An Inconvenient Truth. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9130-3)
2. Nielsen-Gammon JW (2008). An Inconvenient Truth: the scientific argument. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9126-z)
3. Legates DR (2008). An Inconvenient Truth: a focus on its portrayal of the hydrologic cycle. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9125-0)
4. Spencer RW (2008). An Inconvenient Truth: blurring the lines between science and science fiction. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9129-9)
5. North GR (2008). An Inconvenient Truth and the scientists. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-9127-y
6. Quiring SM (2008). Science and Hollywood: a discussion of the scientific accuracy of An Inconvenient Truth. GeoJournal (DOI 10.1007/s10708-008-9128-x)

Source: Springer

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User comments : 11

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zevkirsh
3.3 / 5 (15) Apr 14, 2008
too little late..he already won an oscar or someother nonsense. the world will forget this nonsense when sea levels havent risen by 100 feet in 20 years. but al gore will still be rich because of this silliness.
HeRoze
3.8 / 5 (13) Apr 14, 2008
Anyone who asserts that An Inconvenient Truth is a scientific work has problems understanding science. I think the most amazing thing is that Al Gore actually got people to listen to his monotone ramblings for more than an hour. AIT was a great piece of propaganda (whether you agree with its premise or not).
jburchel
3.1 / 5 (14) Apr 14, 2008
An example of how "scientific truth can be communicated to a lay audience"? HAHAHA, more like an example of how BS propaganda disguised as "scientific truth" can be foisted upon a population of mind-numbed robots by a fat dork preaching Marxism, but that's just me...
RAL
3.5 / 5 (11) Apr 15, 2008
The latest data shows global temperatures have not increased since 1998, and subsurface ocean temperatures have actually decreased slightly. The spate of hurricanes predicted have not materialized. In spite of the emotional appeal of vast floods and maelstroms, punctuated by sad looking polar bears on ice flows, the data contradicts the predictions that have been bandied about with "certainty" by Mr. Gore and his phoneys. The increasingly frantic effort to suppress dissent speaks for itself.

Gore has perpetrated the Piltdown Man of the new millenium. Science in general will pay a heavy price when people realize it has been used to take them for a ride. By then Gore will be retired and very very wealthy.
mikiwud
2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 15, 2008
Although I agree with all above,you seem to have missed the point of the article.It only criticizes AIT because actual data shows it to be nearly 100% wrong.It does it such a way as to say "the sciece is correct,but Big AL got carried away and exagerated".This way they can sideline the bullsh of AIT and still continue the lie.
An UK court has already criticized AIT more than this with proof being shown in court or law.
If anyone wants a religious point of view, the POPE thinks AGW is crap also,but it is not shown in the mainstream press.(He made a statement in his New Year address.Link can be found on www.abd.org news link.
p1ll
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2008
Physorg members make me proud :)
CWFlink
3.5 / 5 (10) Apr 15, 2008
The primary result of Gore's movie is to lower trust in scientists to the level of politicians, i.e. one step below used-car salesmen.

The primary crisis we face in society today is our near total loss of faith/trust in all institutions. This stems from the lack of humility that we, as scientists, SHOULD have learned from our long history of discovery after discovery where "concensus opinion" has been proven wrong. Experimental evidence, at EVERY step, is necessary for progress. History, time and again, proves that "truth" has little to do with how well public opinion is swayed.
x646d63
1.7 / 5 (7) Apr 15, 2008
AIT is the culmination of the killing of the true environmental movement started in the 60s and 70s. The environmental movement was focussed on pollution--toxic dumping in rivers, lakes, the ocean and landfills.

Knowing that having a population violently opposed to big business polluting our food and water the movement had to be hijacked to prevent success.

The "global warming" movement was created to subvert the anti-pollution movement and now everybody's worried about co2 instead of mercury and lead.

You've been tricked, and Al Gore is one of the tricksters.

I live at the mouth of the Columbia River where billions and billions of gallons of completely undrinkable water flows by every day into the Pacific Ocean.

Isn't there something dreadful about that?

Water treatment engineers used to have a saying: "Dilution is the solution to pollution." That's all great until you recognize that we no longer have a supply of clean water to use for dilution.
Damon
2.9 / 5 (8) Apr 15, 2008
I can't believe some of the comments above. Al Gore just did this to get rich? come on, get real! Did anyone actually read the article? All but one of the scientists agreed that the underlying science is true, but that the movie used hurricane footage, etc. to make the point. The one dissenting scientist is a tool of the coal industry, by the way.
Damon
3 / 5 (9) Apr 15, 2008
Spencer is a favorite guest of Rush Limp Balls, by the way. Is this the audience of Physorg? With the July 2007 release of the revised statement by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate.
bfreewithrp
1.3 / 5 (4) Apr 18, 2008
Let us hope that the world soon begins to open its eyes to reality...
In the News.Global Warming, truth or consequences.
http://www.quazen...is.51904
Al Gore's Decree on Global Warming is Not Our Only Crisis