“Piltdown Man Hoax Is Exposed,” announced the New York Times on
November 21, 1953. “Part of the skull of the Piltdown man, one of the
most famous fossil skulls in the world, has been declared a hoax by
authorities at the British Natural History Museum,” the article said.
The Piltdown fossils, including a portion of the skull, a jawbone,
and a few teeth, were found in 1911 and 1912. This “Piltdown Man” was
believed by many to be “the earliest Englishman,” and in fact, the
missing link between apes and humans. But in 1953, the jawbone was
found to be that of a modern ape — orangutan, most likely — that had
been treated with chemicals to make it look as though it had been lying
in the ground for hundreds of centuries. The cap of the skull was still
thought to be a genuine fossil, but far more recent than originally
When the Piltdown man was discovered to be a hoax, fundamentalist Christians were quick to claim that evolution itself must be a scam. The fraud did enormous damage to the scientific field, and reinforced the idea that evolution was ‘just a theory’. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that a couple of career hungry paleontologists and scientists threw such a giant wrench into the science that everyone (well almost everyone) now takes for granted. Yes, the hoax was enormously stupid, but the antidote to the theory of evolution? Not quite.
The climate science email scandal that saw scientist attempt to hide data that did not support their theory is having a similar effect on climate science six decades later. Right wing media outlets and lobbying groups have been besides themselves with joy claiming that the entire science is a myth, and that man made climate change simply is not happening.
Of course, the truth is anything but. Climate change is real. Very real, and happening very quickly. The scientific data regardless of that coming out of East Anglia University is conclusive: CO2 emissions are responsible for a rapidly warming climate, and the consequences will be catastrophic if not quickly reversed (for hard data on global warming, check here). Yes, the email scandal in Britain and the more recent IPPC quote scandal have done much to damage the image of climate science, but in reality, it has done absolutely nothing to the actual science.
Nevertheless, the perception has been damaged, and as a consequence it will be harder to convince the public that dramatic action is needed to prevent serious disaster.
From a personal point of view, I’d like climate science to be a myth. I drive regularly and fly to the UK a couple of times a year, and would love to do so guilt free.
However, I recognize that I would be fitting the facts to support my own lifestyle. The overwhelming evidence says we cannot go on pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, and despite a series of setbacks, the science is pretty damn solid.
I’d vote for pretty much anything that would curb my carbon consumption (or make it a lot more expensive) because at the end of the day, as much as I like traveling, I like my planet and plan a lot more, and plan to live on it for a good while longer.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.