Archive for the ‘Climate Skepticism’ Category


Fox Boss

December 15, 2010

Media Matters has the scoop on an issue that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the environmental discourse. The head honcho at Fox ordered his people to question climate change.

From: Sammon, Bill
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…

…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

Best part about this memo? The ambiguity in the final sentence. So they finally agree that their view is that journalists are to play the role of asserting such notions as facts.

Almost done with the book, which means that I’ll soon be blogging a little more frequently.



The Cynical Environmentalist

August 30, 2010

Rajendra Pachauri just gave Bjørn Lomborg’s book an endorsement. Surprising news, I suppose, from the man who once compared Lomborg to Hitler. Evidently,

“Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. “Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century,” the book concludes.”

A philosophy graduate student writes privately with the following insight:

Of course, that’s $100 billion per year to solve the problem “by the end of the century,” i.e. in the next 90 years, which means $90 trillion dollars [sic]. Could it possibly cost that much? And take that long? You know, call me a cynic, but it sounds like he’s high-balling the cost and the time-span to make it seem even more daunting, demanding, and fiscally impossible, thereby lending credence to the skeptics. But that’s just the cynic in me.

Even if it’s just $9 trillion dollars, that’s still a lot of dough. Good magazine has a slightly different cynical take.

Has Pachauri been had?


The “CO2 is Plant Food” Crock

August 25, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The “CO2 is Plant Food” Crock, posted with vodpod

Hapi, God of the Nile

May 22, 2010

New Scientist has a somewhat silly article on the origins of denialism. It is probably worth agreeing, at least, with this completely realistic hypothesis:

Here’s a hypothesis: denial is largely a product of the way normal people think. Most denialists are simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right.

Okay, sure. Denial is largely a product of the way normal people think. Among many problems with this “hypothesis,” however, is the tacit implication is that there are non-normal people who somehow see the light, or who somehow have more acute powers of perception and inference.

Another problem with this hypothesis is its fixation on a psychological explanation. It’s fine to offer up a psychological diagnoses, of course, but it trivializes the problem to suggest, somehow, that denial is a manifestation of “how we think psychologically.”

But yes, denial is largely a product of how all people think. My own view of denial, I’d like to believe, a little less facile: denial is largely a result of vagueness in reasoning.

Disclaimer: I don’t generally traffic in the explanatory, but I do dabble.

It seems to me that denial, whatever it is, is not properly understood in psychological terms, but rather should be understood in coherentist terms. And it seems to me, at least, that denial, insofar as it can be identified as a phenomenon, often amounts to divergence in inferential standards. It’s not simply that I may refuse to validate some observation that conflicts with a deeply held belief of mine, it’s that I have to make inferential leaps from that observation to the point at which these observations hang together with the rest of the often tightly woven observations and inferences that otherwise make-up my body of beliefs. Moreover, sometimes it’s the case that there is a direct conflict not in observations themselves, but in what counts as an acceptable inference.

Here, for instance, is an incredibly widespread manifestation of denial: religion.

There can be no greater community of deniers than those who insist on believing in some supernatural God. Much as the evidence might lead the rational among us to believe that there is nothing supernatural going on, the evidence is not — and can never be — enough to overcome the powerful tug of the appeal to ignorance and the slicing-dicing of Occam’s razor. If an interlocutor just flat-out rejects that either of these count as fallacies, then almost no amount of fact presentation will bring them to see the light. Just think about how hard it is to try to persuade the true believer that God doesn’t exist.

Now then, the above are but two, among many, fantastic and important principles of reasoning, but (a) they’re not uncontroversial, (b) it isn’t always clear when they are to apply, and (c) they can be undermined by other principles of inference. Hashing out problems in these areas is most of what philosophers do all day long.

I’m not at all suggesting that one throw up one’s hands and abandon the principles of reason. I’m only saying that the so-called problem of “denialism” runs deep, and it’s not a psychological problem. It’s a problem associated with what counts as an acceptable inference, given the huge range of other acceptable inferences that more-or-less make up our body of background knowledge. That’s where we are with most of our political discussions; and it’s also where we are with regard to most of the rest of our so-called “denialism” discussions as well.



May 6, 2010

In a move that should perplex all but the most cynical climate skeptics, the GOP has tapped Lord Monckton (?) as their sole witness in tomorrow’s hearing in front of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Seriously, Lord Monckton is a parody. There are far less goofy representatives of the contrarian climate position. Why not go with those folks, or at least, find another academic somewhere?

Check out the line-up. It’s actually kind of funny:

WHAT: Select Committee hearing, “The Foundation of Climate Science”

WHEN: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 9:30 AM

WHERE: 2237 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, and on the web at

Dr. Lisa Graumlich, Director, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, and member of the “Oxburgh Inquiry” panel
Dr. Chris Field, Director, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, and co-chair of “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” portion of new IPCC report due in 2014
Dr. James McCarthy, Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University, past President and Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, co-chair of “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” portion of IPCC report published in 2001
Dr. James Hurrell, Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, contributor to IPCC reports
Lord Christopher Monckton, Chief Policy Adviser, Science and Public Policy Institute


Climate and Closure

May 3, 2010

John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber offers this fascinating connection of the “Oregon Petition,” which allegedly offers 31,000 scientists who reject global warming, with the discussion that has been all the rage among (primarily) the right-wing intelliblogigentsia on “epistemic closure.”

Here’s the Wikipedia article, a further debunking from DeSmogBlog and here’s my own investigation from 2002. Some basic points

  • “Scientist’ In this petition means anyone who claims to have gone to university (initially, they had to claim some study of science subjects). The number of actual (PhD with published research) scientists who reject any part of the mainstream consensus on climate change is far smaller (Wikipedia provides a list of such scientists who have at least one published article). The number of such scientists with relevant expertise, who are not obvious cranks, ideologues or hired guns, is small enough to be counted on the fingers of one hand.
  • The petition and its reporting are dishonest in obvious ways (fake PNAS style, misreporting of the content) etc
  • The promoters, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine are obvious fruitcakes

I particularly appreciate the following observation, as I think it’s true. The standard defense is a sort of tu quoque, which makes it all the more refreshing that the discussion about epistemic closure is happening primarily among the right.

To avoid thread derailment, I’d like to defer to a separate thread (coming soon, I promise) the main rightwing response, which is a tu quoque, that is, that the left (here meaning Democrats and everyone to their left) is just as bad. I don’t believe there is anything comparable to the Oregon petition, but I want to leave this for a separate debate.

Instead, I’d like to end with the rhetorical question of whether, given the extent to which the US rightwing movement relies on the deliberate promotion of ignorance, anyone, regardless of their philosophical views on conservatism, libertarianism and so on, can associate with this movement and maintain any intellectual integrity. The converse question for the left, is whether there is any benefit in engaging intellectually with anyone who is, in the end, promoting ignorance and dishonesty by virtue of their affiliations.

For non-regular readers of Crooked Timber, but for climate scientist readers familiar with the Oregon Petition, you may be interested in heading there to participate in the discussion.

Finally, William Saletan offers what I take to be sage advice on how to avoid bubble think. Essentially, he offers the same tips that I propose all of my students should follow, but it should help to bear them in mind. My favorite? “5. Seek wisdom, not victory.”


Ole Virginny

May 1, 2010

I was born and raised in Virginia. Most of my immediate family still lives there. That’s why, I suppose, it doesn’t surprise me that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is pushing the ridiculous CRU e-mail controversy by once again singling out Michael Mann for investigation. The Charlottesville Hook reports that:

In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

And who might Cuccinelli be interested in? Taking his lead from Coby Beck, Deltoid has the scoop:

Cuccinelli isn’t just asking for documents relating to his research grants but all correspondence Mann had with Caspar Ammann, Raymond Bradley, Keith Briffa, John Christy, Edward Cook, Thomas Crowley, Roseanne D’Arrigo, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, David Douglass, Jan Esper, Melissa Free, Chris de Freitas, Vincent Grey [sic], James Hack, Malcolm Hughes, Eystein Jansen, Phil Jones, Thomas Karl, Otto Kinne, A.T.J de Laat, Murari Lal, Stephen Mackwell, Glenn McGregor, Stephen McIntyre, Ross McKitrick, Patrick Michaels, Jonathan Overpeck, Tim Osborn, Roger Pielke Jr, Benjamin Santer, Gavin Schmidt, Stephen Schneider, Olga Solomina, Susan Solomon, Kevin Trenberth, Eugene Wahl, Edward Wegman, Thomas Wigley, Vincent Gray [again!] and all RAs, secretaries, and administrative staff at the University of Virginia. As well as all correspondence that references anyone in the list above.

Wowzers. That’s a lot of co-conspirators. The reliable rabbit picks up the thread, pinning the tail on Professor Curry.

I did get a little kick out of Prof. Singer’s e-mail, reposted by Eli:

There is a good chance that Virginia’s Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli will come up with the “smoking gun” — where other socalled investigations have only produced one whitewash after another.

We know from the leaked e-mails of Climategate that Prof.Michael Mann was involved in the international conspiracy to “hide the decline” [in global temperatures], using what chief conspirator Dr.Phil Jones refers to as “Mike [Mann]’s trick.” Now at last we may find out just how this was done.

There’s a substantial amount of cognitive dissonance in those two paragraphs. Let’s see: so in the first paragraph, there’s a tacit admission that we have no smoking gun, and that the investigations haven’t really turned up much other than whitewash; but lo, in the second paragraph, there’s a relatively bold assertion that the very same Climategate e-mails mentioned in the paragraph immediately above have given us all the knowledge we need to connect the dots and conclude that Michael Mann was involved in an “international conspiracy” with “chief conspirator” Dr. Phil Jones. Of course, the controversy will go on. Roger notes that there is zero chance of Mann being found guilty of violating the Fraud Against Taxpayers Statute. This should be fun.



April 29, 2010

As our semester winds to a close here, I’m hanging low and not doing as much posting as usual. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already been to Keith Kloor’s interview with Judith Curry, you should head over there and read the interview, as well as the comments. There are sparks. It’s fun.


FOIA Eyes Only

April 20, 2010

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the broader environmental science and law community.

A leading British university has been told it must release data on tree rings dating back more than 7000 years to an amateur climate analyst and climate sceptic.

The ruling, which could have important repercussions for environmental research in the UK, comes from the government’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith. In January he caused consternation at the height of the “climategate” affair by criticising the way that the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, handled sceptics’ requests for data from its Climatic Research Unit.

On one hand, it obviously makes sense to make one’s data as widely available as possible. Sunlight is a great disinfectant. On the other hand, this potentially creates substantial problems for researchers the world over if data and findings are to be made available to any who ask. Plainly, if this rule is universalized, there will be hell to pay from free enterprise. I’m no law scholar, but it seems to me that depending on how this is phrased, and depending on its reach — if it is like the Hyde Amendment, say — it could potentially open the door for  no private business to partner with University employed or publicly funded scientific researchers at all, ever. That would, possibly, be a terrible outcome, for many reasons, not the least of which is that Universities may cease to be engines of technological expansion. From this article, at least, it does indeed appear that the ruling has far broader reach than simply into the climate community:

The ruling sends a strong signal that scientists at public institutions such as universities cannot claim their data is their or their university’s private property.


American Patriot Lord Monckton

April 16, 2010

Hey, check this out. Lord Monckton was one of the heralded speakers at a DC Tea Party rally yesterday. Wonkette provides us with the photo… and then there’s this terribly scratchy audio below. Dave Wiegel as the scoop and the Huffington Post has more. Also covered at The Way Things Break and DeSmog Blog. The audio is nearly unbearable, but if you go to minute 2:50, you can hear Monckton’s apologia about why a British Lord would be at an American Tea Party rally. (I mean, seriously, is there no appreciation for history here? It’s not even like a simple irony, as might be the case if Monckton were any other foreign national. He’s a stuffy British Lord, for chrissakes. The Tea Party movement is predicated on the 1773 rejection of the Crown.) At any rate, he loves freedom. I guess that makes him an American.

Vodpod videos no longer available.