Climate cynicism at the Santa Fe conference

Guest commentary by Mark Boslough*

The Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change was held during Halloween week. It was most notable for the breadth of opinion — and the span of credibility — of its speakers. I have long complained about the lack of willingness of most contrarians to attend and present their arguments at mainstream scientific conferences. After three years of convening climate-related sessions at AGU, I have yet to receive an abstract that argues against anthropogenic global warming. Such presentations can usually only be seen at conferences held by the Heartland Institute. There isn’t much chance of a mainstream scientist attending a meeting organized by a political think tank known for its anti-science activism, so opportunities for interaction between the groups are rare.

The conference was the third in a series (the first was held in Halifax ten years ago) that actively solicits participation from conventional scientists as well as those on the fringes. Organized by the Center for Nonlinear Studies of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, with co-sponsorship from the International Arctic Research Center, Brookhaven, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the meeting has sufficient credibility to attract speakers like Richard Peltier and Gerald North, while also providing the podium to Christopher Monckton and Don Easterbrook. Travel grants from LANL were provided to assist some of the speakers.

It quickly became apparent that the meeting would be run with a firm, no-nonsense approach to confrontation. In my original abstract, I used the term “contrarian,” which I have always considered to be a polite, non-judgmental descriptive term. Petr Chylek, LANL Laboratory Fellow and chair of the conference program committee responded by telling me, “I would like to ask you for some revision. The designations like ‘contrarians, skeptics, deniers, etc.’ may be offensive to some scientists present. Perhaps you can re-write your abstract and your presentation without using such words.” Fair enough, given the potential for contentiousness. Later, a generalized request went to all speakers: “Please, do not use any demeaning labels like deniers, contrarians, warmers, alarmists, … Please, stick to science. Stay away from personal attacks on other scientists present or not.”

I was disappointed, however, that the poster abstract I submitted with Lloyd Keigwin (WHOI), “Misrepresentations of Sargasso Sea Temperatures by Global Warming Doubters,” was rejected. This abstract was essentially the same material we presented at last year’s GSA meeting in Denver, and revealed the fact that a graph in Lloyd’s 1996 Science paper had been redrawn for the paper “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” by Arthur Robinson and coauthors. Some of the original data on Lloyd’s graph had been removed and replaced by fabricated data, apparently in an attempt to argue that temperatures are lower now than the 3000-year average. The doctored version of the graph has been used repeatedly in opinion pieces and was reprinted by Fred Singer in the NIPCC report. It is arguably one of the most widely reproduced graphs in contrarian literature, and in one form was sent out to tens of thousands of scientists to solicit signatures for the so-called “Oregon petition”.

Petr Chylek, explaining his reason for rejection, said, “This Conference is not a suitable forum for type of presentations described in submitted abstract. We would accept a paper that spoke to the science, the measurements, the interpretation, but not simply an attempted refutation of someone else’s assertions (especially when made in unpublished reports and blog site).” Of course, I’m not sure that a correction by the author of a graph that has been improperly reproduced in the primary contrarian literature is not the same thing as an “attempted refutation”.

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