Debunking climate debunkers

By | March 9, 2010

Some have attributed the continued outspokenness of climate-change skeptics to the financial backing of energy corporations, the zealotry of right-wing media figures and the failure of many to understand science.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, offered another theory in a lecture last week at the University of Rhode Island.

Oreskes said much of the skepticism originated years ago with a group of non-climate scientists who exploited scientific uncertainty — not for money or for true intellectual reasons, but for ideological reasons. Many skeptics, Oreskes said, simply oppose more government regulation and intrusion in the free market system.

Oreskes said the skeptics similarly attacked the science around acid rain, the ozone hole, secondhand cigarette smoke, global warming and the pesticide DDT.

“In every case, they denied the severity of the problem and said the science was uncertain,” Oreskes said. “It was always the same argument. They always used the tobacco strategy and said it would be wrong for the government to interfere with the marketplace. It was all about using this play from the tobacco playbook.”

Oreskes, who spoke on Tuesday, was the second of four speakers scheduled to take part in the spring 2010 Vetlesen Lecture Series called “People and Planet 2010 — Global Environmental Change.”

She attracted a great deal of criticism from climate change deniers in 2004 when she wrote an essay published in the journal Science that examined nearly 1,000 scientific papers on climate change and found none dissented with the theories that it was occurring and it was caused by human activities.

This spring, she said, she plans to publish “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” with coauthor Erik Conway, a science historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. …

Oreskes’ book traces organized skepticism back to three renowned physicists, Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow and William Nierenberg, all now deceased.

They were founders of the conservative George C. Marshall Institute and all were defenders of Ronald Reagan’s strategic defense (or Star Wars) initiative. When the Cold War ended, Oreskes said they turned their attention to what they considered environmental extremism over such issues as acid rain and secondhand smoke.

Seitz was a consultant to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Even today, a page on the Marshall Web site concerning climate-change science says: “There remains considerable uncertainty as to how much the climate has varied regionally and globally on the decades-to-centuries timescale, or what caused those changes. Yet we need to know how natural climate fluctuations are caused in order to determine to what extent human activities have affected the climate system.”

People fall for such arguments, Oreskes said, because when some raise questions about science, that raises doubts. Uncertainties favor the status quo.

“In global warming, the views of a handful of non-climate experts get juxtaposed with those of thousands of climate scientists,” Oreskes said. And all too often, she said, their claims fail to pass the test of peer review by other scientists.

Many journalists make matters worse by trying to give equal time to both sides, she said. “Journalists have been fooled by thinking smart people are smart about everything. We need to pay attention to who these experts are, what their credentials are and where their financing comes from.”

Oreskes said modern science has sent men to the moon, cured diseases and predicted tsunamis after the earthquake in Chile. Why do people believe science can’t get it right when it comes to climate change? …

via Environmental Journal: Debunking climate debunkers | Environmental Journal | projo.com | The Providence Journal.

My take on “climategate” is that it seems to be a manufactured false scandal, a hacking attack which was part of an attack on  reality.   The Marshall Institute (denier central???) has strong MI ties: link, link.

The “contrarians” or “deniers” do not have a scientific leg to stand on.  Their aim is to win a public relations battle, or at least get a draw, which may be enough to stymie the actions that are needed to stabilize climate. – “NASA’s James Hansen”

16 thoughts on “Debunking climate debunkers

  1. klem

    “in 2004 when she wrote an essay published in the journal Science that examined nearly 1,000 scientific papers on climate change and found none dissented with the theories”

    This is exactly right. I have asked many AGW believers about what convinced them that AGW is true. I asked them what was the big hammer, what was the big evidence which slammed the door shut on skepticism. And to a fault, they all said ‘the preponderance of evidence’. I hear that same doltish statement repeatedly. None of them can mention a big proof, the big nail in the skeptic coffin, none knew of one study which was incontrovertible. Because there isn’t one. That’s why Naomi Oreskes had to examine 1000 studies. She found none dissented with the theories. 1000 papers and none dissented? That’s it? Out of 1000 papers all she found was that none disagreed. Not disagreeing is hardly a ringing endorsement. This is what the skeptics have been saying for years, that the science is weak, and a preponderance of evidence is insufficient to support the claims of future calamity and the ridiculous solutions proposed to solve it. Thank you for this article

    1. Xeno Post author

      Ha! Are you serous? I’d find the diagnosis of over 1000 experts in any field convincing.

      If 1000 different doctors give you the same medical diagnosis and you say it prooves nothing then the odds are over 1000 to one that you are wrong.

      Sent from my iPhone

      1. Danny

        Yes but wasn’t there some 30,000+ experts who spoke up against al gore’s global warming? Ill have to find that reference if you haven’t heard of that. By the way the truth doesn’t take a large group of any experts to make it true. It only takes one person to make the discovery. The truth is the truth. Galileo, et al.

        1. Xeno Post author

          No, I think you are passing on some wrong information. Gore became a whipping boy in this public relations war. Look at the data, not the cult of personality. Paradigm shifts in science do happen, but only based on evidence.

          Sent from my iPhone

        2. Danny

          Well, I’m not passing on wrong information. Here’s a link: http://www.petitionproject.org/

          I was only responding to your claim that 1000 experts is notable in proving a point. If it is notable then you should consider the 30,000+. Which is significantly higher than your 1000. That’s all I’m saying.

        3. Xeno Post author

          Thanks I’ll take a look. So far I see 227 veterinarians, 1195 medical doctors, and 116 people with the designation “MD*”. I’m not sure what a MD star is.

          I’m very curious to see if any of these people have background in climatology. Has anyone checked that out?

          I’m not saying it would change the published work. But I am curious. Meanwhile, the ice is still melting.

        4. Danny

          I will admit my feelings towards this issue are not as intimate towards this as yours.

          I agree that energy technology should and will move forward. But I don’t think a false crisis should be drummed up to make that happen. I know that the atmosphere on mars is 95% CO2. The average temperature there is -83F. On earth the CO2 accounts for a tiny fraction of a percent. The main difference my ignorant mind can think of is the distance from the sun. Well then common sense says that the sun is what’s causing the temperature changes not the CO2. Doesn’t sound like a tax will change what the sun is going to do to us.

          Besides, every major industry is already moving towards greener solutions. It takes time, but its happening, everywhere. In 15 years we’ll be there.

        5. Xeno Post author

          I don’t know about intimate, but my feelings about not going extinct are strong. 😉

          If there is a real threat, as the experts say, then we are endangering our future by believing the merchants of doubt.

          It sounds like you, me, other readers of this site, and people everywhere want the same thing: we want the truth and if the truth is dark, we want to see the light.

          The concern I have is that if the tiny fraction of CO2 you mention heats up the planet enough, then the methane ice at the bottom of the ocean melts, huge amounts of trapped methane are released, the planet really starts to heat up at a newly accelerated rate, and things get much worse much faster.

        6. Danny

          I agree with you on every point of your last post. Except, I find it hard to swallow that CO2 is a suspect at all. When considering that mars is a freezing when it should be baking. If, as you say, 0.03% is enough to trap heating on earth. Then why wouldn’t 95% CO2 trap every last bit of cosmic heat on mars? It doesn’t stand to good reasoning at all. Despite the distance from the sun, it should be an intense greenhouse but it isn’t.

          It still sounds to me like the sun is it. We’ll just have to go with the flow there’s nothing we can do about it. Evolve technology, yes, but that’s going to happen anyway. Be conservative with energy consumption, yes, that’s just common sense as well.

          I just find it hard to believe that nature outputs a gas that is detrimental to its survival. Mammals, Volcanoes.

          Now, how about this term Merchant of Doubt. That implies that people stand to make money off denying global warming. But what about the immense carbon credit market that serves to profit the same class of people if legislation were to go through? There’s plenty of money to be made off the global warming scare.

        7. Xeno Post author

          Great question about Mars and CO2, Danny.

          I think Mars is a lot warmer due to the greenhouse effect than it would be otherwise, but it is still colder than us due to the greater distance from the sun. I think the Earth is 60 degrees warmer than it would be without the greenhouse effect.

          The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, and 1.6% argon, and contains traces of oxygen, water, and methane, for a mean molecular weight of 43.34 g/mole. – wiki

          By comparison, on Earth, “Dry air contains roughly (by volume) 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1%.” This gives Earth a mean molecular weight of 28.97 g/mole. (ref)

          I’ll have to do some more checking to understand this.

        8. Danny

          I will be interested if your checking on this will uncover something important.

          I think part of this whole problem is also the most connected people like ourselves live in big cities. Which means they catch wind of all the media and everyone’s web 2.0 opinion on the subject. What all these people see is expansive human development of the land. Many of these people don’t travel very often to see just how empty the rest of the planet is. (yourself not included). I read some stats somewhere that if we were to give every person on the planet 1.2 acres of land it wouldn’t even fill australia. That is telling. We are no where near reaching critical mass on this planet. There is also over 9 trillion tons of natural resources below the earth’s crust for each individual above the crust. Just some staggering stats about our impact. People need to get out more.

  2. Cole

    If that picture is a map of temperature, then how come the area above Alaska shows super-hot (assuming red is hot because it gets redder in the 2006 image) in both images? The poles are going to always be cooler than the rest of the world.

  3. Ann

    Klem referred to 1,000 scientific papers reviewed by Naomi Oreskes. Most of those “papers” are original scientific studies confirming climate change. They aren’t just opinion type of essays like in Time magazine.

    In Science (the foremost journal in the scientific community), 2004 (p. 1686) Naomi Oreskes begins her article entitled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” in this way:

    “Policy-makers and the media, particularly in the United States, frequently assert that climate science is highly uncertain. Some have used this as an argument against adopting strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example … EPA … some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science. Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case. …”

    Why, when people talk about climate change and the science behind it, do not bring up the issue that corporations are PAYING scientists to report information in their favor? What? Scientist can’t be bought? Are we talking human or alien, here?

    1. Xeno Post author

      Good, yes, good point, because if scientists were totally for sale, you’d see more diversity of views in peer reviewed journal articles on warming. There is obviously profit in both moving to a green economy and in denial so pollution and oil use can continue. I think this supports the fact that scientists will catch eachother if lies are told, and that money does not change reality. Meanwhile as we debate this, the methane ice is still melting. :-/

  4. Ann

    Danny have you been doing your homework?

    Your opinion about Mars is nearly echoing Abdussamatov’s. His work (or opinion) about Mars has not been well received by other climatologists. In fact, “His views are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion,” according to Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at England’s Oxford University.

    [You can read about here: “Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist” by Kate Ravilious National Geographic News – which is not scientific journal – just feel i should say that.]

    You see, Xeno, Abdussamatov would be a “scientist” who we may suspect is “on take,” as it were.

    But, one thing industry (whether alcohol, pharmaceutical, or whatever) has found out. It is that once they pay off a few initial scientists to go at odds at the scientific consensus to muddle what otherwise be solid support, they do not have to continue. It is, as if, they just initiate the process, then it follows its own momentum. This would take Abdussamatov off the hook, but still make him guilty of only following his own tangential, absurd notions.

    (Xeno, when I talk about industry and how it interferes with scientific research. It is not my opinion or ideas. It is what I read in the scientific literature, in British Medical Journal, for instance, about the pharmaceutical industry, in the alcohol research literature about the alcohol industry etc. etc. As a matter of fact industry officials themselves are quit candid about all this at times.)

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