Rest assured that the Opinion piece on solar contributions to climate change will find its way hastily into the policy—or should I say political—community and will be misused to stall efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And on what scientific grounds? The work by Nicola Scafetta and Bruce West ignores decades of fundamental physical research and is roundly criticized on technical grounds. 1,2 More important, their basic approach to the question of how the Sun influences climate defies sound scientific logic.
Despite their sophisticated statistical treatments, the authors commit a fallacy by ignoring an established physical forcing (greenhouse gases) while trying to assess the contribution of a separate forcing (solar irradiance); both push the climate in the same direction, if one assumes that the questionable ACRIM satellite time series on solar irradiance is accurate. With IR-trapping gases omitted, the analysis by Scafetta and West must overestimate the contribution of total solar irradiance variations to surface warming. Is the contribution overestimated slightly or dramatically? The authors’ work offers no insights.
Even if Scafetta and West take issue with the statistical treatments done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they should nonetheless appreciate the indispensable requirement to account for all relevant forcings, as the IPCC does in its analyses. If they hope to make an authentic contribution to our understanding of the Sun’s role in climate change, they must build on an existing body of knowledge; ignoring more than a century of physical science will not help.
The policy community relies on professional scientific publications to provide sound information on relevant topics. When Physics Today publishes opinions that are physically unsound and defy basic scientific logic, the policy community is misled. In my experience, once fundamental misconceptions about science are introduced to the policy community, they are difficult to correct. Moreover, confusion and embarrassment produced by the process of rooting out misconceptions can tarnish a policymaker’s image of science.