Forbes’ rich list of nonsense

Guest commentary from Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia with input from Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth

While it is no longer surprising, it remains disheartening to see a blistering attack on climate science in the business press where thoughtful reviews of climate policy ought to be appearing. Of course, the underlying strategy is to pretend that no evidence that the climate is changing exists, so any effort to address climate change is a waste of resources.

A recent piece by Larry Bell in Forbes, entitled “Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts”, is a classic example.

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop”, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

The approach also works somewhat in print, if the references are sufficiently obscure and numerous. Ideally, someone will take the time to answer such an attack, but there is a fundamental asymmetry of forces at work. It is, in fact, easier to form an allegation than to track down a reasonable explanation of what it means and how it really fits in to the balance of evidence. Also, the skills required to reflect the science are deeper than the ones required to attack it; hence the defenders are outnumbered and outgunned. Still, sometimes an article is prominent enough that it merits a detailed response.

The slightly out of the ordinary thing about Bell’s piece is that he casts his attack not as an attack on science (his usual method) but on the media:

As 2010 draws to a close, do you remember hearing any good news from the mainstream media about climate? Like maybe a headline proclaiming ‘Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported: Global Warming Theorists Perplexed’? Or ‘NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase: Alarmists Fear Climate Science Budgets in Peril’?” he begins.

But the remainder of the article is true to the form. Bell gallops through all the purported “good news” that the media ignored. The implication is that the media is complicit in overstating the climate change story.

But these aren’t the sorts of observations that most people generally receive from the media. Instead, they present sensational statements and dramatic images that leave lasting impressions of calving glaciers, drowning polar bears and all manner of other man-caused climate calamities.

Many intentionally target impressionable young minds and sensitive big hearts with messages of fear and guilt. Take, for example, a children’s book called The North Pole Was Here, authored by New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. It warns kids that some day it may be “easier to sail than stand on the North Pole in summer.” Imagine such images through their visualization: How warm it must be to melt that pole way up north. Poor Santa! And Rudolph! Of course it’s mostly their parents’ fault because of the nasty CO2 they produce driving them to school in SUVs.

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