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.