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Heat Rising at the Washington Post

Filed under: — group @ 4 April 2006

The Washington Post has published a second op-ed in as many days about global warming (“Spinning Global Warming”, By Robert D. Novak, Page A19, April 03, 2006–story is no longer available on the website, but the Chicago Sun Times version is available here). In this one, Novak claims that Hansen in 1988 over-predicted global warming by 400% (a story originated by Pat Michaels and subsequently propagated by Michael Crichton). This story is a fabrication that has already been set right by us in 2004.

Smearing Hansen, a leading climate scientist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to have become sport among contrarian commentators (see our earlier discussions here and here). As ad hominem attacks and “shoot the messenger” strategies are often the last refuge for those losing the substantive debate, this might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become.

We are Earth scientists. We are not part of a vast conspiracy to perpetrate a hoax, nor are we crowd-following herd animals. We are concerned about the world we are leaving to our children. We have not asked James Hansen, but we would venture a guess that his motives are similar. As scientists we have a duty to speak out when our findings strongly suggest that a dangerous and harmful development is underway – just like someone who sees smoke billowing out of a house has a duty to call the fire brigade.

As scientists we are of course not above criticism. The public, or the fire brigade, is very welcome to ask critical questions. What exactly do you see – is it just smoke, or do you see flames? How much smoke? Are you sure you’re not exaggerating this? Could there be some other explanation? Readers of this site know that we are very happy to discuss every piece of evidence publically, critically and in great detail – that’s what this site is for.

We’ve become used to a crowd of by-standers hanging around the phone booth while we’re making the call. “Hey, you’re making it all up to be in the media and get rich!” they shout. Or “Hey, you actually care about the fire being put out, so you’re politically motivated!” Or they shout: “How dare you call the fire brigade when you’re only 90% sure there is a fire! Talk more about uncertainty!” We do care, of course. And we are professionally trained to not let this distort our judgement, to take a step back and critically examine all the evidence.

What is happening at the Washington Post, unfortunately, has nothing to do with a critical examination of the evidence for an imminent danger. It has nothing to do with a quest to come to a real understanding of the issue. The editorials mentioned above show no respect for the truth; they shamelessly use distortion and deception to discredit climate science and climate scientists. It is hardly new that us humans can go to great lengths when it comes to denying unwelcome truths – what is surprising and disturbing, however, is that the Washington Post does not seem to have a quality control in place that ensures minimal journalistic standards, such as intellectual honesty and basic fact-checking.


141 Responses to “Heat Rising at the Washington Post”

  1. 1

    Please stay calm, guys, and write a patient letter with a point by point refutation for the Post. If they don’t publish it, then there really is something to worry about

  2. 2
    Mark A. York says:

    It’s all about journalistic opinion credentials, and the false balance angle so common in newsrooms, especially in editorial, but they’ll take your op-ed. Write it now and send it to Movak’s home paper too. Perhaps separately from two writers?

  3. 3
    Deech56 says:

    RE #1: Casper Henderson has the right idea, but I would take it a step further. I don’t think the Post exercises editorial control over their columnists; they just published every piece that their columnists submit, and the Recent Time article apparently has caught the attention of Messers Will and Novak. People in the Climate Science community (and scientists everywhere) are righfully alarmed about the misrepresentation of the science, and I think it would be well within the rights of the authors of RealClimate, or anyone else in the Climate SCience community, to ask for column space (more than just a letter) to debunk the two columns.

  4. 4
    Lewis Cleverdon says:

    In the UK, Hansen could sue the WP, the printer, and the author for defamation, and have the pleasure of the scientific record being assessed in open and well reported court.
    Is this option open to him in the US, or would he need to bring the case over here ?

    [Response: Hansen (and some of us as well) are considered "limited public figures". This makes it extremely difficult to win a libel or slander lawsuit, even thought it might be a slam dunk for any ordinary citizen. The perpetrators of these sorts of attacks know that, and they exploit it as we can see in this example. ]

  5. 5
    Jim Norton says:

    #1

    The Post op-eds will be widly reprinted. Any letter to the editor would only appear in the Post. To be effective, they would have to write to the many papers that have printed the op-eds, and hope the papers print the letters. Not a very effective way to deal with the problem.

  6. 6
    Mark A. York says:

    As a biologist with a journalism degree and currently studying law the response is true. They are limited public figures and open to criticism from the unqualified, as shameful and cowardly as that is. Is it intentional? Sure but these jokers really don’t understand the science only the polictical hackery.

  7. 7
    Scott Nance says:

    I am not a scientist, but I am a (mostly behind the scenes) lobbyist in Washington. I have seen how industries work to get favorable articles and op-eds published (in fact, I’ve done it myself a couple of times). No one should be under any misapprehension that the back-to-back columns by George Will and Robert Novak somehow represent a random confluence of two commentators deciding independently to write about the same subject. This is very clearly the result of a concerted effort by someone to try to turn public debate.

    Under the circumstances, I don’t think it’s the usual suspects, such as the oil industry. For one thing, while Will and Novak are certainly more than willing to shill for Corporate America, the industry itself has split over this. I suspect that this is rather coming from the “highest levels” — i.e., Dick Cheney or Karl Rove. We need to remember that the global warming issue is not just a matter of economics for these skeptics — it goes to the core of their version of reality. That the earth might actually be warming because of human acts means that God is not taking care of them, that the American way of life is not the most perfect ever conceived, and that things are going to have to change, in ways that they find uncomfortable. Ultimately, I think, we are talking about psychological inability to accept the conclusions of empirical data.

    The skeptics are losing the debate. The Bush Administration has been publicly embarrassed by the outcry over its attempts to muffle Hansen and other scientists, and chunks of the government are in open revolt. Witness the recent announcement by NASA that its scientists do not have to get clearance to speak to the public. I read the Will and Novak columns more as a pathetic attempt to reassure themselves than a genuine effort to influence the debate.

    As far as the Washington Post goes, it has indeed become “Pravda on the Potomac.” The news staff is separate from the editorial staff, and the Post carries Will and Novak as regular columns, so they just publish pretty much whatever those fellows write. There can be no doubt, though; the Post does increasingly parrot the official Bush Administration line.

  8. 8
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Thanks for this useful posting, and by no means am I defending the op-eds by George F. Will or Robert Novak — whose 14 July 2005 Washington Post column referred to “global warming hysteria” — but please consider a criticism: Your posting’s final paragraph blasting “what is happening at the Washington Post” seems to me to tend just a bit toward a counterproductive misunderstanding of what an op-ed page is at an enlightened newspaper like the Post.

    It is one thing for blog commenters, hiding behind anonymity-conferring nicknames to avoid public responsibility for their contributions, to attack Will or Novak in an ad hominem way. But it is quite another for the RealClimate scientists themselves to impugn the Post’s entire op-ed operation for its failure to censor columnists whose climate-related opinions are irresponsible. The op-ed biz doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way. It shouldn’t work that way.

    If the Post did try to censor those men and justify the censorship as editorial oversight — which is the strong-arm tactic that you are advocating — there would be loud cries of Orwellianism. And it does not take a rocket engineer or a climate physicist to see that without free and unfettered open discussion — including the irritations and sometimes the outright offensiveness that can come with open debate — RC itself couldn’t exist.

    It seems to me that it’s worth adding that the Post also prints op-ed columns by, for example, Anne Applebaum and David Ignatius, whose Jan. 18 column “Is It Warm in Here? We Could Be Ignoring the Biggest Story in Our History” included this line about Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker: “Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth’s surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations.”

    The Washington Post op-ed page and its policies are not the problem. The problem is the errors of the likes of Will and Novak and, at the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto.

    It’s also worth noting that the columns or op-eds by Will and Novak are not “editorials.” You got that term right at the top of your posting, but wrong in the ending paragraph. And it matters. Editorials are unsigned essays over in the left-hand column representing the views of the paper’s editors. A good example for today’s discussion might be the Post’s Feb. 9 editorial called “The Politics of Science,” which ended with this paragraph during the time when Dr. Hansen and that young NASA political appointee George C. Deutsch were in the news: “In every administration there will be spokesmen and public affairs officers who try to spin the news to make the president look good. But this administration is trying to spin scientific data and muzzle scientists toward that end. NASA’s Mr. Hansen was right when he told the Times that Mr. Deutsch was only a bit player. ‘The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies,’ he said. We agree.”

    Editors who write things like that are not your opponents, and it seems to me that the last thing you should want for them to do is to start trying to dictate content to columnists — even if the scientific judgments in what Will and Novak are saying are so irresponsible as to seem preposterous.

    Thanks for the chance to comment.

    [Response: This is not a call for censorship. This is a call for the Post and other newspapers to consistently apply normal rules of journalistic ethics. When Jason Blair was caught fabricating material for his NYT articles, he was out on his ear, and a major scandal ensued. Linda Chavez lost her column at the Chicago Tribune because she failed to reveal her ties to Republican activist organizations. Heck, John Green was just suspended from his position as a producer of ABC news for a mildly immoderate comment about the President in a PRIVATE EMAIL -- a comment that was far less inflammatory and far less inaccurate than any of Novak's statements about Hansen. It is not acceptable journalistic practice to argue your case by repetition of things that are known to be false. --raypierre]

    [Response: Thanks to you (and other commenters below) for some very thoughtful comments. I am learning something about the US newspaper system. And I fully agree that there should be a forum for opinion columns, expressing diverse opinions not censored by the editors, and we have that in European papers as well. Our concern is with quality: I would expect that the "quality newspapers" don't just print any nonsense, but that they select columnists that stand for a certain journalistic quality - including getting their basic facts right. Or are these old-fashioned values? -stefan]

  9. 9
    Walter Pearce says:

    It’s not all bad at the Post. David Ignatius has a couple of recent op eds:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/17/AR2006011700895.html
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/07/AR2006030701199.html

    An op ed from a Real Climate author is a terrific idea.

  10. 10
    Dano says:

    I agree with Jim Norton.

    This is what happens when people are losing. It’s a natural human reaction, and a clue.

    When a dog is backing away and barking ferociously, you don’t stick your hand in there to close its mouth and stop the barking. You step back and say ‘nice doggie’ and go about your business, while keeping an eye on the dog.

    And you don’t crow about how the dog was afraid of you and backed off. And you don’t add to the noise by barking either, and 5 dogs barking is just a cacophony and people tune the dogs out after awhile.

    Patience and sunlight is what’s needed here.

    Best,

    D

  11. 11
    sam says:

    A point by point would be nice, about the worst I can say is the graph at the State of Fear link shows three black lines, and one red line.

    What strikes me as odd is that the worst case scenario is given a bold black line suggesting it is the most significant prediction. Since the Red line shows a bolded secction for what was actually observed, this is not necessariIy what was actually shown in 1988. Just that original graph would be a good thing. If that original graph also shows a bold black line for the worst-case-scenario, then I would be partly suspicious as I would have made the most-likely-case prediction a bold black one. The usage of the bold and black may have contributed to the porblem.

    Also, is 0.8 oF a reasonable number for a worst case scenario prediction??? That this number was so very far from the most-likely-case, and the best-case was so close also lends to possible suspicion.

  12. 12
    Tim Jones says:

    It would be interesting to know why Novak’s ad hominem op-ed was removed from the Washington Post website the very next day. I guess the quality of the commentary doesn’t measure up to the Post’s standards. It must be embarrassing for him. It does make clear the reason to stash an article you’re posting the url for.

  13. 13
    Chris Mooney says:

    You guys raise important issues about whether “opinion” writers should be allowed to print outright misinformation. But I agree with other commenters that there is perhaps too much singling out of the poor Washington Post. What’s rotten is the cavalier way that scientific information in general gets treated by these conservative pundits:
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2006/04/science_opinion_writing_and_jo.php

  14. 14
    Steve Latham says:

    Ah, Bob Novak. Didn’t he claim that the clean water act would ruin the US economy? My quick google didn’t find it, but there’s an interesting transcript some might find interesting (warning: partisan politics in this CNN thing between Nader and Novak; some crossover with the Bush thread):

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0103/27/cf.00.html

    an exerpt:
    BOND: They’re natural. Arsenic occurs in natural occurrences.

    NOVAK: Exactly. Now, the 10 parts is…

    (CROSSTALK)

    NADER: The 10 parts per billion is European standard.

    NOVAK: Well, the Europeans do everything wrong.

    (CROSSTALK)

    NOVAK: But let me just tell you, Mr. Nader, the American Water Works Association, I think they know what to do, they’ve been frantic until they were saved by President Bush. It was going to cost them 1.4 billion, 1.4 billion, to convert their — to take care of this Clinton standard and 600 million a year. Is the whole green, Nader plan just to put American business out of work so the people are on the bread lines.

    NADER: Where do you get those figures, Bob?

    NOVAK: The American Water Works Association.

    NADER: Did you examine them or do you think they’re a little exaggerated?

    NOVAK: I think they’re totally accurate.

    NADER: How much do think thousands of cancer victims and bladder victims and all kinds of other consequence of arsenic for 15 million Americans who are exposed and that standard is supposed to protect…

    NOVAK: What’s your evidence of that?

    NADER: That’s the studies that were made on it, National Academy of Sciences, as Bill mentioned. Here’s the point: Don’t get on the side, Bob, of defending arsenic. It’s a loser. Believe me.

    NOVAK: Let me defend CO2, which is carbon dioxide which something we breathe out every day, and the president was asked March 14th in New Jersey if he was responding to pressure when he reversed a very foolish campaign statement he made.

  15. 15
    Mark A. York says:

    There is also a trend of opinion columnists on the conservative side not to have graduated from college. Like Mr. Deutsch, who without a degree even in journalism felt qualified to edit scientific conclusions of teams of Ph.D’s. They are really that smug. In that group are John Fund and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. Both failed to graduate from my alma mater Cal State.

  16. 16
    Coby says:

    Thanks for so many good comments here, I feel much better than 10 minutes ago! Dano is right, we need to breathe deep and let the sunshine in ;)

    An oped signed by Real Climate is a great idea. Roger Pielke might shake his finger at you again, but even he acknowledges that political communications from the climate scientists is unavoidable and necessary. If you stick to the facts and clearly support everything you say, as usual, it could be “good politicization” and a *very* effective contrast to the screaming talking heads.

    I also agree that this represents a descent into the next phase and therefore progress, but I am not yet sure if I am optimistic about how this phase will play out.

  17. 17
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    Few comments-

    1. Novak’s column was absurd. Welcome to the political rough and tumble.

    2. It was a column, not an op-ed. Novak is a syndicated columnist. The WP probably did not exercise any decision about running it other than to check the word count.

    3. Expressing outrage, writing letters to newspapers will ensure his job security. Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, and Paul Krugman et al. earn their keep t some degree by being outragous. If you want to do something, listen to the suggestions above about a point-by-point response. Novak has been in far more controversial situations, I doubt that complaints will get anyone’s serious attention.

    4. You write that some have criticized RC allow the following lines — “Hey, you actually care about the fire being put out, so you’re politically motivated!” On the off chance the you might be obliquely referencing your friendly colleague in Boulder, let me be very clear. I have criticized RC, but not for being politically motivated. My criticism is based on being politically motivated AND at the same time stating: “we will not get involved in political or economic issues that arise when discussing climate change.” We are all politically motivated and tehre is nothing wrong with that.

    5. Data point: Bjorn Lomborg’s book’s sales quadrupled when the Scientific American criticisms came out. The best way to gain an upper hand in the political/public debate is to define the agenda yourself and make him come to you, rather than vice versa. On the science, you won’t be threatened until Novak appears in the peer-reviewed literature!

    Two cents from a political scientist … ;-)

  18. 18
    Lewis Cleverdon says:

    WRT Dano’s comment in 10,

    I don’t see that this particular ferociously barking dog is backing away, nor that we can afford to “be patient and go about our business”, given just the current casualties through drought & famine, let alone those projected if we fail to agree the global constraint of GHG outputs in timely manner.

    For over 3 decades I’ve seen scientists being patient and going about their business, which someone has convinced them is of informing the governments, and not the populace, of threats and opportunities.
    This conduct has been to no noticeable avail, as on practically all counts of resource destruction humanity is now substantially worse off now than it was 3 decades ago.

    Therefore I reject the ‘received wisdom’ of science remaining aloof from the politics of the issues it seeks to address.

    Hence, with respect, I would ask again whether Hansen would do well to bring a case for defamation against Novac, the WP and the printer in a British court, where shills have no immunity from being held to account for libel,
    and the case would attract worldwide attention to the cogency of scientists’ concerns ?

  19. 19
    Leonard Evens says:

    I started to compose a letter to the Chicago Sun Times criticizing Novak’s column. But I thought it would be better coming from Ray, who after all, is a distinguished faculty member at the University of Chicago, and speaks with much greater authority than I can muster. I hope he writes one, and I hope the Sun Times will feel obligated to publish it.

    [Response: And don't forget Dave Archer either -- though I think we ought to let him off the hook for any more writing on this, since he's done more than his share recently. All that notwithstanding, I think you ought to go ahead and write your own letter anyway. Newspapers like to see opinion from a wide spectrum of the public, and even if they don't publish everything, I know that the Editors get some sense of feedback from the volume on various topics. Besides, who's to say that they'll like my letter more than yours? The more the merrier, and the more chance they'll publish at least one letter on the subject. --raypierre]

  20. 20
    Tapasananda says:

    His main claim to fame
    was dear Valerie Plaime
    but now hes after hansen, james
    more curiouser than strange!

  21. 21

    Although I know I am stepping into a minefield, I have a few comments to make about Dr. Hansen’s 1988 testimony. I went over to the government documents section of the University of Virginia library (an approach that some readers find novel) and copied the pages from June 23rd, 1988 hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the United States Senate of the One Hundredth Congress, First Session on the Greenhouse Effect and Global Climate Change, Part 2. In is at this hearing that Dr. Hansen gave his testimony around which all of this swirls.

    It is made up of three parts: 1) a transcript of his oral remarks before the committee, 2) a copy of his written statement, and 3) Attachment A which is a preprint of his 1988 paper which was to appear in JGR.

    In his oral statement, he refers to viewgraphs that are not reproduced in the Congressional Record, but that, as best as I can determine, are the same Figures that are contained in his written statement (sans one on the frequency of heat waves in Washington DC and Omaha, NE which was probably derived from his JGR paper).

    RealClimate is incorrect when they state that they “set” things “right” back in 2004 writing that “In fact in his testimony, Hansen ONLY showed results from scenario B, and stated clearly that it was the most probable scenario.”

    In fact, Hansen showed a viewgraph that was probably the same as his Figure 3 in his written statement (which was the same as his Figure 3a in his JGR preprint and similar to the one presented by RealClimate here (without the updated observed record)). In his oral testimony concerning this graphic, Dr. Hansen stated:

    The other curves in this figure [besides the observations] are the results of global climate model calculations for three scenarios of atmospheric trace gas growth. We have considered several scenarios because there are uncertainties in the exact trace gas growth in the past and especially in the future. We have considered cases ranging from business as usual, which is scenario A, to draconian emission cuts, scenario C, which would totally eliminate net trace gas growth by year 2000.

    The main point to be made here is that the expected global warming is of the same magnitude as the observed warming…

    Dr. Hansen continues but makes no more reference to the model scenarios as they pertain to global average temperature.

    Later in his oral testimony, he shows another viewgraph of the spatial patterns of temperature in the future that are based upon scenario B, but he makes no comment about the choice of scenario B (other than describing it as the “intermediate trace gas scenario”).

    In his written testimony, Dr. Hansen, includes the Figure of global annual average temperature projections described above (including all three trace gas scenarios) and writes:

    Causal association of current global warming with the greenhouse effect requires determination that (1) the warming is larger than natural climate variability, and (2) the magnitude and nature of the warming is consistent with the greenhouse warming mechanism. Both of these issues are addressed quantitatively in Fig. 3, which compares recent observed temperature change with climate model simulation of temperature changes expected to result from the greenhouse effect….

    We have made computer simulations of the greenhouse effect for the period since 1958, when atmospheric CO2 began to be measured accurately. A range of trace gas scenarios is considered so as to account for moderate uncertainties in trace gas histories and larger uncertainties in future trace gas growth rates. The nature of the numerical climate model used for these simulations is described in attachment A [the JGR preprint].

    There is no other statement concerning the scenarios or any statement at all about the preference of one over the others. Later in his written testimony, Dr. Hansen shows a figure of the spatial patterns of temperature change that results from the use of scenario B (without commenting why he chose scenario B).

    So, the Congressional Record shows that Hansen did in fact show the global temperature projections from all three scenarios (despite what RealClimate contends) and also, that he made no statement as to which one he thought was more likely. He did, however, refer to Scenario A as “business as usual.”

    This said however, in the JGR preprint attached to his written statement, is it stated (after describing the three scenarios) that “Scenario B is perhaps the most plausible of the three cases.”

    What I take from all of this is that while Dr. Hansen may have preferred his Scenario B, he made no strong indication to this preference while he presented the results from all three scenarios before Congress. And that oversight is what has left the door open for later interpretations of what his intentions were in his testimony.

    In light of the actual testimony, and in an effort to portray the true facts to their blog readership, I hope that RealClimate will mollify its statement that “In fact in his testimony, Hansen ONLY showed results from scenario B, and stated clearly that it was the most probable scenario.” For it is an inaccurate representation of what occurred during the actual oral and written testimony Dr. Hansen presented before Congress on June 23rd, 1988, at least as it was recorded in the Congressional Record.

    [Response: Hansen's statement on the subject is available here: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/hansen_re-crichton.pdf . In it he makes clear that other than the figure with three scenarios, all results shown in the testimony were from scenario B, which was described as the 'most plausible'. Thus our statement was not incorrect. With respect to how realistic the projections were, we can look at the actual numbers. Over the period 1988 to 2005, the different scenarios showed trends of 0.35, 0.19 and 0.24 deg C/decade for A, B, and C respectively. This can be compared to the GISS analyses of global temperature changes of 0.18 and 0.21 deg C/decade (for the met station index and the land-ocean index). Up to 2000 the forcings scenarios for B and C are identical, and so the difference between then is more a measure of the internal variability rather than a forced response. To some extent this match was fortuitous - the climate sensitivity of the model at that time was around 4.2deg C (a little on the high side of the best estimate) though 17 years is too short for this to be a big effect. Additionally, the forcing scenario was only for CO2 - the fact that the additional real world forcings (which include the other greenhouse gases, aerosols, solar, ozone etc.) basically cancel out over this period is lucky. However, given the primitiveness of the experiment and the elements of chance, the scenario B projection was actually a good prediction. There can be no way that any of the projections can be described as being in 'error by 300%'. Michael's characterisation of the Hansen testimony and his exclusive focusing on scenario A (including deleting scenarios B and C from the graph) is unsustainable on any reading of the evidence. Maybe you'd like to make a comment on that? -gavin]

  22. 22
    da silva says:

    Someone who has worked in a newsroom please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that there is no fact-checking to speak of at newspapers. Magazines employ fact-checkers, but newspaper reporters are responsible for themselves.

    But there’s another point of confusion here; namely, the op-ed pages work by a completely different set of rules than the rest of the paper. You’re reading opinion, plain and simple, and it’s not governed by the same journalistic standards that apply to reporters. Reporters cannot express an opinion but columnists have the liberty to say what they want and cherry-pick the facts and figures all they like. You can wish it were otherwise, but that’s the convention. And people who read papers need to understand that distinction. As a result there’s a gulf between what you see reported in, say, the Wall Street Journal, which does some very good environmental reporting, and what you read in its editorial section, which tends toward rabid partisanship.

    In any case, good luck in setting the record straight.

  23. 23

    Welcome to AMERICA!

  24. 24
    Anonymous says:

    Get over it. Your side of the debate is far more abusive and denigrating towards the skeptics than anything they throw your way. You even have your own “oh-so-clever” nicknames for us.

    Plenty of skeptics have legitimate concerns with the science, and are in fact more qualified than most climate scientists in the areas that prompt concern. In my case, I am an expert on dynamical systems and modelling, and have found that nearly all climate experts really don’t know what they are talking about in this area – se eg this thread: http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/03/models-are-unproven.html

    But instead of admitting your ignorance, or admitting any problems, you give a blanket endorsement to skeptic-denigrating sites like the above, even though it is clear that the author of that site is way out of his depth.

    If your side of the debate would grow up, stop blanket ad-hominem attacks on skeptics, and start admitting knowledge gaps, maybe we skeptics would accord you more respect. As things stand, you don’t deserve it.

  25. 25
    Mark J. Fiore says:

    A new geologic era, caused by mankind, is already upon us. If the world does not immediately reduce all greenhouse gas emmissions by at least 80% right now, we will lose the battle.The thermohaline North Atlantic current has begun its shutdown. The coral reefs are dying.Permafrost and glaciers are melting. The tipping point has past, say many scientists already.US must institute CO2 credit markets, target $30 -50 per ton,right now.Soon CO2 taxes will issue to go jogging, never mind driving a car.
    Mark J. Fiore, self taught follower of all stories global warming related, environmental activist, lawyer, and substitute teacher, SFUSD.

    [Response: I sympathize with some of your sentiments, but I do think your statement exaggerates how close we are to disaster, and the nature of the response needed to head of major problems. It is certainly not necessary to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions "right now," (and it would be terrible if that were necessary, since the chances of doing so are just about nil). If we manage to prevent too many pulverized coal power plants from being built and keep world emissions more or less flat or gently decreasing for the next two decades, there's room to head off some of the worst consequences by sharper reductions in the rest of the century. Agreed it would have been better if we had started doing all this ten years ago, but it's a lot like smoking. Even if you stop late, you still do better than if you continue. Finally, it has not been established that there is a "tipping point" anywhere between 1xCO2 and 4XCO2. Towards the higher end, you start to worry about melting Greenland, and so forth, but there's no one point where everything goes wrong all at once. Certainly, it is worth not being complacent, given that a lot of the CO2 we put in the atmosphere today will still be altering climate in a thousand years, and maybe longer. --raypierre]

  26. 26
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #17, “3. Expressing outrage, writing letters to newspapers will ensure his job security. Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, and Paul Krugman et al. earn their keep t some degree by being outragous.”

    It is unfair to lump Krugman in with those other three blowhards. Krugman is more qualified to speak about the economy than 99.999% of Americans. In fact, he is probably just short of John Kenneth Galbraith’s stature in terms of experience and scholarly achievements (though much shorter physically, Galbraith being 6’8”). Any reference to Krugman being outrageous throws your entire post into question.

  27. 27
    Coby says:

    Let’s see… the thrust of #23 is that the people convinced of the reality and danger of AGW are abusive and denigrating. And in making this point you say “get over it”, “nearly all climate experts really don’t know what they are talking about in this area”, climate scientists don’t “admit their ignorance”, don’t “admit any problems”, they shoud “grow up”, “stop ad hominem attacks [!?!]” and they don’t deserve respect.

    Do you not have any sense of irony?

    I urge anyone who has any doubts about the patience and time someone like Gavin has for self proclaimed “experts” who are climate sceptics, even when they hide behind anonimity, to visit the comments in the above link and draw their own conclusion.

  28. 28
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #23, “Plenty of skeptics have legitimate concerns with the science, and are in fact more qualified than most climate scientists in the areas that prompt concern.”

    Heck no! Most of these “skeptics” cannot understand the climate system to the same degree as climatologists. It is the climate system that prompts the most concern and not anything else. Like what will a change in the climate system do to the hydrologic cycle:

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/science/national/2006/04/04/alberta-drought-20060404.html

    McIntyre, McKitrick, Essex, Lomborg, etc., are some examples of those who cannot measure up to a Drs. Mann, Schmidt, Bradley, Hansen, et al. in regards to issues relating to the climate system.

    Anonymous, you are completely off-base in your comment in #23. Everything you say is wrong, with the exception of “In my case, I am an expert on dynamical systems and modelling”, though since you sign your name as “Anonymous”, even that is unverifiable.

    Why don’t you actually use your real name? At least you can use something that will identify you to the moderators so at least they can know who you are.

  29. 29
    S Molnar says:

    I hate to disagree with Chris Mooney, whom I very much admire, but scientific information is just a special case – it’s true information they don’t like that these guys attack (along with the bearers of that information), and they have no scruples about how they do it.

    And to Stephen Berg: Given the current state of public discourse in this country, Paul Krugman is indeed outrageous, precisely because he is a scholar and is careful to get his facts right. Needless to say, the New York Times had no idea what they were getting when they hired him.

  30. 30
    Anonymous says:

    RE #25. Coby, they give you a free-rein here because you suit their propaganda purposes. But that doesn’t make it any less propaganda. When the environmentalists/climatologists stop denigrating skeptics I’ll have more respect for them. But as a skeptic (on certain issues) who understands what he is talking about, the ad-hominem attacks from the other side simply serve to reduce my respect for them as scientists.

    Rather than forcing everyone to read that thread, perhaps you could summarize it for us here? After all, you are the one claiming that skeptics like me don’t know what we’re talking about when we claim there are fundamental modelling issues. Presumably you understand well-enough what was discussed to present a reasonable precis?

    [Response: Folks, please stick to presenting factual arguments that are interesting to our readers - general accusations are not. Thanks, stefan]

  31. 31
    snavecire says:

    I may not be qualified in climatology but I am Qualified in health and safety and take issue with sceptics on one fact, risk assesment, if there is a low risk of catastrophic consequences then an action plan should be implemented, just the same as a high risk with lesser consequences.
    Therefore please take issue with the sceptic community in everyway you can and write your rebutal, for the sake of those without a voice, the risk no matter how great or small is not worth taking, it is better we do what we can even if proved wrong in the future than do nothing and our future generations have no future.

  32. 32
    Stephen Berg says:

    Re: #27, “Coby, they give you a free-rein here because you suit their propaganda purposes. But that doesn’t make it any less propaganda.”

    “Anonymous”, there is no such thing as propaganda in science. It is a matter of being either RIGHT or WRONG.

    The skeptics with whom you empathise are WRONG. They have been WRONG in the past and they continue to be WRONG at the present. Judging by this, it is safely assumed that they will continue to be WRONG in the future.

    Your denegrations (sp?) of Dr. Hansen are completely unfounded. Dr. Hansen brought the climate change issue to the attention of policymakers in 1988 with the hypothesis that the planet would warm greatly as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. You know what? He was RIGHT!

    People like Pat Michaels, Fred Singer, Sherwood Idso, et al., disagreed and tried to argue against Dr. Hansen’s pronouncements. You know what? They were WRONG!

    And “Anonymous”, since you claim to be a modelling expert, do you know the difference between a weather and a climate model, or are you trying to be like Richard Lindzen and confuse people by saying such tripe as “If they can’t predict the weather in a five-day forecast, how can we expect them to be right in 25 years?”

  33. 33
    jae says:

    It does seem odd to me that Hansen keeps complaining about being censored by the current Administration, but he “gets” to appear at, of all places, 60 minutes. Now, don’t you think Novak has a point on this?

    [Response: Remember, this appearance is AFTER NASA got caught out trying to filter all of Hansen's comments through a minder. The Times broke the story January 29. According to the 60 Minutes transcript, Hansen was only allowed to participate with a NASA official present recording the interview. The transcript also states that other interviews were cancelled. As far as I can tell, NASA is now doing an earnest job of allowing their scientists to speak openly. You don't get to know about the CNN appearances and so forth that NASA may have cancelled or intercepted before the change of policy. As for Hansen's earlier public appearances, it was evidently the traction he was gaining that lead NASA to try to rein him in. He is prominent enough that he was able to resist successfully, but I wonder how many helpless young researchers fearful for their jobs self-censored themselves. The blow-up over NASA's attempts to muzzle Hansen seems to have had a salutary effect. Let's just hope it outlives the spotlight. -raypierre]

  34. 34
    Dano says:

    RE 18:

    Lewis, I respectfully disagree and I address your concerns in a slightly different context here (and with a slightly different version of Dano, BTW).

    Best,

    D

  35. 35
    da silva says:

    I have to say I pretty much agree with everything Roger Pielke says in #17. (And to the subsequent poster, just because you agree with Krugman — and I usually do — doesn’t mean he isn’t outrageous).

    I’m especially intrigued by his last point about Lomborg’s sales. My question is: How did Bjorn Lomborg manage to get so many level-headed folks all in a froth, and why didn’t they realize they were only increasing his exposure? It seemed clear that Lomborg’s arguments were too easily dismantled to be so threatening to so many people and yet the rebuttals quickly became overheated and, yes, disrespectful. The scientists who took umbrage to the mere fact that an associate professor in statistics would dare question their findings … well, they missed the point. If Lomborg isn’t entitled to question you, does that mean that journalists, politicians and taxpayers aren’t entitled to either? While I find “Anonymous” in #23 to be totally out of line (and off-balance) his remarks did make me mindful of the arrogance some of Lomborg’s critics displayed.

    In any event, the passion the Lomborg attacks generated only seemed to lend credence to his arguments. (Consider the old Shakespeare line about protesting too much.) If anyone has more insight or would care to reflect on the whole Lomborg brouhaha, I’d be interested to hear it.

    As for Novak and Will, I’d say the tide is turning against their brand of willful ignorance. Of course, that takes a frustratingly long time to overcome and time isn’t something we have an overabundance of. What’s interesting to me about this debate is that the level of complexity/uncertainty is enough that I fear most of us (and perhaps Will and Novak are in this camp) simply believe what we want to believe based on their views of how the world and the universe are wired. For some folks, it is simply unthinkable that we may have upset the climate system, unwittingly or otherwise.

    How do you change their minds? Beats me. Somehow, they need to see the burning building with their own eyes.

  36. 36
    Mark A. York says:

    Here’s a good methodology of of sceptics article.

    http://www.wunderground.com/education/ozone_skeptics.asp

    Dr. Masters did a number on Crichton too.

  37. 37
    Coby says:

    Re #29,

    I don’t think my “rein” here is any more free than yours, you are being published just the same as I am. I actually thought about swearing at you just so I could be censored! LOL! But then I would have to swallow the rest of your bait too…

    Anyway, this is not constructive in any way whatsoever, so don’t look forward to any more comments from me unless you offer some substance of some sort.

    Cheers.

  38. 38
    pat neuman says:

    re 8. Response

    What constitutes “to consistently apply normal rules of journalistic ethics”?

    Should the rules of journalistic ethics be more inclusive than normal when dealing with global warming? Is it unethical for journalists to ignore important material related to global warming?

    For example …

    A Jan. 16, 2001 letter stated:
    “You alleged a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety and gross mismanagement by officials at the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service (NWS), North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC), Chanhassen, Minnesota”. … “Specifically, you allege that NWS is not handling the issue of global warming in a way that best serves the interest of the public”. … â??Should you wish to pursue this matter further, you may contact the Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General.” â?¦ (Letter to me from Attorney T. Biggs, U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) while I was a NOAA NWS employee).

    A Jan. 31, 2006 letter stated:
    “In knowing that*, I believe that my concerns about hydrologic climate change in the Upper Midwest and about global warming, which were identified in OSC File No. DI-00-2100, need to be discussed with scientists in NASA in order to gain a full understanding of the state of the science in Dec 2000, Jan 2001; and currently. For that reason, I request that the matters described at the beginning of this letter be pursued further.” …
    (Letter from me to the Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General)

    * That NASA’s mission includes “to understand and protect our home planet”.

    As of today, I have not received a response from the DOC Office of Inspector General. If the material above was sent to a journalist with a request to do something with it, would the journalist have a ethical responsibility to do something with it?

  39. 39
    isaac held says:

    Dear Anonymous (#23): i would be happy to discuss your critique of the consensus on global warming off line. Perhaps I am old-fashioned but I suspect that we can have a calmer and more productive conversation without every word becoming part of a public record. Based on 25 years of climate dynamics research, I am convinced that the consensus position is indeed correct. I am not interested in categorizing people as skeptics or anything else. Google me to check on my credentials and get the ball rolling if serious.

  40. 40
    Stephen Berg says:

    [Mods, my comment in #31 should now read #29, not #27. I guess this has been a very busy thread, since some comments have been inserted in between others.

    Good work on this one, by the way! Please delete this post when the edits are finished. Thanks.]

  41. 41
    Ike Solem says:

    Information and opinion are different things; so is information and propaganda. Propaganda is defined as selectively choosing information in order to get a desired response. Disinformation is outright fabrication of false information. Take a look at this John Hopkins University site on evaluating Internet ‘info’: Information counterfeits.

    Are Novak and Will guilty of propaganda or disinformation? Perhaps a little of both. Certainly they should be challenged on this issue by whatever means you feel comfortable with – write a letter, or even call up the Post and request that they invite a rebuttal from Dr. Hansen, which certainly seems fair.

    What is curious here is that we don’t see op-ed pieces claiming that there is no ozone hole over the Antarctic, or op-ed pieces claiming that all the photos coming back from Mars have been faked by the Jet Propulsion Lab, or anything ridiculous like that. Consider what the Exxonmobil funded think tank Competetive Enterprise Insitute has been up to – feeding stories to Fox News that were written by its ‘fellows’. This is a pretty standard PR technique of using inside contacts with journalists to plant stories. Here is a random selection of a company that can do this for you: typical PR press business

    Of course, regulations that limit CO2 emissions as well as a shift in government subsidies away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy systems would result in a kind of economic upheaval. Something like 60% of Wall Street underwriting is in energy and fossil fuels. Change is therefore a difficult proposition, and thus we see these op-ed pieces, which rely heavily on personal attacks rather then any kind of rational scientific argument.

  42. 42
    Paul says:

    Re # 17, Roger you’ve finally written something worth considering. Making bombastic statements clearly creates a response, which then builds up drama and interest. Thus your blog, Prometheus, which functions as little more than a droll advertorial for all things Pielke. Time to move on.

    On a more interesting note. Rick Piltz just won the Ron Ridenhour award for his work on global warming. See here: http://www.ridenhour.org/award_truth.html

    It was an okay ceremony. Got to see Gloria Steinemn, for whatever that’s worth. I like Piltz. Good guy. One of the smartest I’ve met when it comes to climate change policy. He has been wired into the inner workings for well over a decade and is well respected by insiders and scientists.

    But it was nice to see that Jim Hansen declined the award. He’s far to busy getting back to science.

  43. 43
    Claire Kenyon says:

    One of my friends recently had a student give her his opinion of global warming: “I’m in favor”, he said.
    Now, what kind of a reaction is that? Are you for or against Pythagoras theorem? What happened to the notion that science is about uncovering truth, and that facts exist independently of people’s opinions? Do people consider
    that these “hot” topics are all a matter of opinion?

    I am for abortion rights, against Daylight Saving Time, and for Global Warming…

  44. 44

    I sympathize with some of your sentiments, but I do think your statement exaggerates how close we are to disaster

    A hydrocarbon combustion driven global mass extinction is not an imminent disaster?

    You global warming guys sure are out of touch with reality.

  45. 45
    Anonymous says:

    RE #35: I certainly am being censored – many of my comments don’t appear. Their only distinguishing characteristic is that they point out the bias on your side of the debate. No doubt this post will be censored too, but we can always hope (actually, I have given up hope on this forum – through lack of objectivity it has clearly demonstrated itself to be yet another environmentalist propaganda shill. A shame really).

    And how is it not constructive for me to ask you to summarize a thread from your blog? Given your reluctance to do so, one would be forgiven for concluding that maybe, just maybe, you really don’t know what you are talking about.

    [Response: No, their only distinguishing characteristic is that they are pointless and uninformative flame-bait. Anybody who wants to pursue that offline can do so at the email address you report to us: a@b.com. Good luck. --raypierre]

  46. 46
    cwmagee says:

    Re: 31.
    RIGHT is not a scientific principle. As an analytical scientist, I can vouch that scientific measurements are never “right”. All measurements contain some error. And part of what makes good analysts worth their keep is their ability to quantify that error and propagate it correctly when comparing their results to those from other experiments or predictions.

    One common and flimsy logical attack against natural science in general, and climate in particular, it this: Detail X is wrong, therefore all related conclusions must be completely thrown out. There is no attempt to show what sensitivity the conclusions have to wrongness of that detail, or to quantify exactly how wrong it is. It is important to remember that, even though all measurements are wrong, some are more wrong than others.

  47. 47
    Hank Roberts says:

    People often try to stir up argument by pretending to favor the side they oppose, then writing outrageously exaggerated or offensive comments; if they get published and people believe who they pretend to be, they blacken their opponents’ reputation; if they aren’t published, then claiming censorship is a workable fallback.
    This isn’t peculiar to this subject, this forum, this medium, or this millenium for that matter. It’s an old tactic, and one to remember.
    Posting anonymously calls for posting very politely and thoughtfully and including enough info to establish that “anonymous” in one post is the same as the author of another, to build any credibility.
    Personal opinon, nothing more.

  48. 48
    Jamie Swartz says:

    I have to give a speech in my debate class that argues that global warming is normal. Where on earth can I find credible sources that state that? I really need help. Thanks!

    [Response: It depends what you mean by "global warming" and what you mean by "normal." The Earth warms going from a glacial to an interglacial. I guess that's normal. The typical interglacial temperature is far lower than the temperature we'll reach if we double CO2. Heck, the globe warms every July, because there's more land in the Northern than the Summer Hemisphere. That's normal, too I guess. The globe was a lot warmer during the Cretaceous, due to millions of years of buildup of CO2 from volcanoes. That's normal. What's not normal is anthropogenic global warming, where you turn the clock back about 10 million years in a century. That's not normal. --raypierre]

  49. 49
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good thing they didn’t ask you to argue whether it was “natural” or “unnatural” — normal (versus what, paranormal?) is easier.

    Start with Arrhenius, he’s credible, no one has argued with him for over a hundred years.

    This might help: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/

    Once you can explain all the different natural causes we know for climate change, and the physics of the atmosphere that capture heat, you can take people through upwards of 650,000 years, maybe a million years, in which global warming and cooling have happened. All of them are natural events.

    You can also prove for example that thermal warming is natural. You could show a solar oven, use a magnifying glass to heat something, use a fire drill for fire by friction, mix alcohol and water and show the increase in temperature, break a hunters’ heatpack and show chemical heating from oxidation of iron filings, maybe get a spark coil and show heating by electrical sparking. All those prove thermal heating is natural.

    Or, if your teacher has no sense of humor, you could start at exxonsecrets.com for example — you can borrow arguments there that Exxon and other companies paid many tens of thousands of dollars to have written and published.

    For tactics, see anything written by Stanton Glantz describing how the tobacco companies argued that lung cancer is normal — you’ll find some familiar names, if you look through the footnotes.

    The latter may be closer to what your teacher expects.

  50. 50
    Jim Lutz says:

    Re #47. You state that the speech is for debate class. Now, having a history of debating (that noble art), let me assure you that actual scientific correctness is not really as important as how you present it. You mearly need “arguments” supported by “sources” and a wee bit o rhetoric. I would suggest that the contents of this thread alone (plus the two op ed pieces) would give you enough to baffle the “other side.” You see, a classic debate format is just three people vs. three over a period of 30 minutes or so. It’s all about the “sound bite” and not about what’s really going on. If you are interested in the real dynamics of the climate system, I suggest a few years of study at least. I know I’ve been studying from some of the main contributors to this forum for three years, and can only just follow the postings. But a debate? No problem! I think I could argue either side as long as the total debate was limited to 30 minutes and no one was able to follow up. I hope you “win” your debate, and thereby show the difference between the court of public opinion (in the short term) and the court of scientific knowledge. Good luck!


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