Tom Harris – hypocritical peddler of deceitful climate change editorials (corrected)

Eight related commentaries written by Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition since mid-December are packed them with distortions, errors, hypocrisy, and more.

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

For the other posts in this series, click here.

[Update 2/21/2014: A word in one of Tom’s commentaries was confused by the author – “censure” was confused for “censor.” Since the entire section was based on this error, it has been struck from the post]

Starting in the middle of December, 2014 and continuing through February, 2015, Tom Harris, Executive Director of the industrial climate disruptionA denying International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), wrote at least eight nearly identical commentaries. They were published mostly in small local newspapers and websites around the United States, Canada, and South Africa. The stated purpose of the commentaries was to call for scholars and philosophers to engage in the public argument over climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change), and Harris wrote that “philosophers and other intellectuals have an ethical obligation to speak out loudly when they see fundamental errors in thinking6.” As S&R hosts an occasional feature called “Climate Illogic,” we accepted Harris’ invitation and looked through his own commentaries for illogical arguments as well as other issues of concern.
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Taylor attacks his critics instead of correcting his distortions of a peer-reviewed study

CATEGORY: ClimateOn February 13, James M. Taylor of The Heartland Institute published a deceptive and dishonest blog post at Forbes in which he falsely claimed that a new study rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus about the human causes of climate disruption. On February 20, Taylor dedicated a second Forbes blog to the same study, and instead of admitting his factual errors and correcting his original post, he chose to attack both his critics and the study’s authors. However, his second post was filled with yet more false claims that demonstrate yet again Taylor’s habit of deception and dishonesty.

Taylor attacks a straw man

According to Taylor, climate disruption realists (those who accept the reality that human activity is the dominant driver of climate disruption) supposedly feel that “only atmospheric scientists are qualified” to comment on climate disruption and that geoscientists and engineers are not qualified. While having an understanding of atmospheric science certainly helps understand certain aspects of climate disruption, it is not true that only atmospheric scientists can be climate experts. Scientists who study glaciers and ice caps provide understanding of how the Earth’s glaciers will respond to climate disruption and how that may affect sea level rise. Chemists who are experts in geochemistry provide valuable information on how fast carbon dioxide is sequestered by chemical reactions with rocks. Biologists provide information on how plant and animals will respond to ocean acidification and higher temperatures. Some climate experts such as Ray Pierrehumbert were even engineers before they changed their focus and became climate researchers.

The problem with Taylor’s assertion (his “Argument #2″) and his related claims of hypocrisy by climate disruption realists is that they’re straw man logical fallacies. In this case, Taylor has falsely asserted that his critics are making a claim that they haven’t actually made, and he’s attacking the assertion instead of the real one because it’s easier and because it distracts his readers. In the process of creating his straw man, Taylor attacks both James Hansen and the head of the IPCC, Raj Pachauri

As Taylor says, Hansen is an astronomer by education. But Hansen’s original expertise, namely the atmosphere of Venus and how it’s resulted in Venus’ surface temperature being hot enough to melt lead, is directly relevant to climate disruption. Furthermore, Hansen has been publishing peer-reviewed studies about the greenhouse effect and the Earth’s climate since 1974. His publishing record and decades of work are what make Hansen an expert, not his original astronomy background.

And while Pachauri is a railroad engineer, he’s also an administrator, not a scientific expert. It doesn’t take a scientific expert to be a good administrator and manage scientists effectively. If it did, corporations run by MBAs without engineering backgrounds would fail because the managers and executives didn’t understand how to design a telephony circuit or an Ethernet switch. Whether or not Pachauri is a climate expert is immaterial – Taylor’s claim is a distraction either way.

S&R examined the nature of expertise in April 2012 when 49 former NASA employees wrote a letter insisting that NASA prevent its scientists from publishing their scientific conclusions about industrial climate disruption:

Expertise in the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide on astronauts doesn’t make one an expert on CO2‘s effect on ecosystems. Expertise in lunar geology doesn’t make one an expert in geochemical sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Expertise in heat transfer through space shuttle heat tiles doesn’t make one an expert in heat transfer between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Even expertise in weather forecasting doesn’t make the forecaster an expert on climate.

No amount of expertise on one subject can magically bestow expertise on any other subject. Expertise must be earned through dedicated effort day in and day out, over the course of years.

Taylor’s attacks are against a straw man argument that his critics have not actually made, and he fails to tar his critics as hypocrites in the process.

Taylor falsely claims government scientists are guilty by association

Taylor continues his deceptions by resorting to yet another logical fallacy, specifically guilt by association, when he falsely claims that the scientists surveyed for the Doran and Zimmerman 2010 study (D&Z2010) are biased simply because they work for or are funded by government grants. As S&R wrote in response to another of Taylor’s failed attempts to discredit scientists using guilt by association,

Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. (emphasis original, links removed)

Furthermore, even if Taylor is correct that the source of money is corrupting, then by his own logic, scientists in the employ of fossil fuel-related industries are far more likely to have been corrupted than those scientists employed by the government. In 2010, S&R found that fossil-fuel related industries (those involved in the production, transportation, consumption, and refining of fossil fuels) were responsible for approximately $9 trillion, or 15%, of the entire global economy in 2008. In contrast, the entire global budget for climate research globally in 2008 is estimated to be about $3.8 billion, or 0.04% of the revenues of the fossil fuel-related industries.

Taylor can’t have it both ways. If Taylor wants to claim that scientists are automatically tainted by government money, then scientists are automatically tainted by industry money too. And there’s over 2,500 times more industry money than government money.

Taylor dishonestly distorts yet another survey

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Taylor’s last deceptive claim borders on being dishonest. He falsely claims that “an often misrepresented survey claiming 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing a global warming crisis… (emphasis added),” a reference to the previously mentioned D&Z2010 survey. The problem is that D&Z2010 doesn’t say that 97% of scientists agree, it says that 97.4% of “climatologists who are active publishers on the subject of climate change” agree. The survey says that only 82% of all respondents (all scientists from various academic institutions and government research labs) agree that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

A related claim of Taylor’s, however, is dishonest. Taylor writes that D&Z2010 “asked merely whether some warming has occurred and whether humans are playing at least a partial role (emphasis added).” The actual question posed in D&Z2010 was “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? (emphasis added)” Note the difference in significance between Taylor’s “at least a partial role” and D&Z2010’s “a significant contributing factor.” This is a dishonest attempt by Taylor to downplay the results of the D&Z2010 study.

Taylor repeats his dishonest allegations about the Lefsrud and Meyer study

But most of Taylor’s dishonest claims are made in reference to the survey of professional engineers and geoscientists by Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer. Taylor writes that Lefsrud and Meyer “claim their survey is not strong evidence against the mythical global warming consensus, therefore skeptics cannot cite the survey while debating the mythical consensus.” However, what Lefsrud and Meyer actually claim – three times just in their response to Taylor at his original Forbes blog – is that their results are not representative of all scientists.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …”

We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such! (emphasis added)

As S&R found last week, the authors correctly state that the study is not representative.

There is no mention [in Taylor’s original Forbes blog] that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA.

Furthermore, Taylor repeats the false claim he that he originally made with respect to Lefsrud and Meyer’s “[frequent] use terms such as “denier” to describe scientists who are skeptical of an asserted global warming crisis.” S&R identified this lie of Taylor’s previously, writing that

the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

Taylor writes that climate disruption realists are “attacking the integrity of scientists” in an attempt to “minimize the damage” supposedly caused by Lefsrud and Meyer’s study. As demonstrated above and by Taylor’s critics previously, this claim is false for a couple of reasons. Since the study isn’t representative, there is no damage to be minimized. Similarly, Taylor’s critics aren’t questioning the integrity of the individuals who responded to the survey, only whether the respondents are a representative sample of all scientists like Taylor claims.

Ultimately, Taylor’s critics are not questioning scientists’ integrity, they’re questioning Taylor’s integrity.

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Media Trackers writer ignorant of academia and climate issues, hypocritical regarding ethics

MT-FL_imgOn January 16, Alyssa Carducci published a story at Media Trackers-Florida in which she claimed that Michael Mann charges “$10,000 plus expenses for speaking fees.” Carducci went on to imply that greed was Mann’s reason for performing climate research and for speaking publicly about the reality of industrial climate disruption. However, Carducci’s reporting demonstrated that she lacks understanding of how much speaking engagements cost, how research grants actually operate, and of Steve Milloy’s well-documented history of being a “science denier for hire.” In addition, Carducci obtained her information by misrepresenting her affiliation when she contacted Mann’s agent to ask about Mann’s speaking fee, something that raises a number of questions about both Carducci and both Media Trackers – Florida and The Heartland Institute, where Carducci is an author for Environment & Climate News.

Scientists who are experts in their field often get paid for speaking to the public, whether that’s businesses or universities or general audiences. The more famous the scientist is, the more he or she gets paid. According to an article from 1996 in The Scientist, a “typical” speaking fee was about $2,000, although that varied widely from industry to industry and audience to audience. The same article reported that clinical researchers presenting to pharmaceutical companies could command between $5,000 and $15,000. And “famous authorities on science and medicine” could demand fees of $25,000 per lecture.

That was in 1996. If we adjust those values for inflation, that range changes to a typical fee of $3,000 to a maximum fee for “famous authorities” of about $37,000 per lecture.

According to this article in Outside Magazine online from 2007, MIT scientist and National Academy of Sciences member Richard Lindzen (who is also someone who denies that human industry is predominantly responsible for climate disruption) asks between $1,000 and $2,000 from non-corporate groups and between $5,000 and $10,000 from corporate groups. Presumably this is because corporate groups have deeper pockets than universities or community groups.

Mann is a famous scientist and a public figure. His name is arguably better known to the general public than Lindzen’s is, and as such he can command high speaking fees. And not incidentally, Carducci was claiming to be a representative of an industry group, not a university or community group. So the $10,000 she was quoted by Mann’s agent is not unreasonable given Mann’s fame and the expected audience.

Carducci also implied that Mann’s research grants were making him rich, writing that he brought about $7 million between 2006 and 2010 into Penn State’s research coffers. The problem is that no research grant, however large, makes scientists rich. There are rules in place at universities and imposed by the federal government (usually the National Science Foundation) that are designed specifically to prevent scientists from becoming rich with grant money (aka defrauding the grantor). Physical science professor Scott Mandia wrote two posts at his blog describing exactly how this works. Essentially, principal investigators have their salary reduced by some amount to account for the additional income from research grants.

Furthermore, as two S&R investigations found, Mann’s contributions to the overall Penn State research budget was essentially negligible and that scientists who were primarily motivated by greed would fare better working for fossil fuel-related industries.

Carducci also refers to science denier Steve Milloy as a “scientist” and implicitly rejects Mann’s claim that Milloy has been paid to manufacture doubt about the dangers of pesticides, second-hand smoke, etc. According to Sourcewatch, Milloy has a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences and Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from from Johns Hopkins University. However, simply having a general science degree does not confer upon anyone the “scientist” moniker – only working scientists or one-time working scientists get to make that claim. A search of Google Scholar turned up no peer-reviewed papers written by Steven J. Milloy, and there is no evidence that Milloy has ever worked as a scientist.

There is a great deal of evidence that Milloy has been paid by the tobacco industry specifically to deny the dangers of second-hand smoke. According to Philip Morris documents stored by the Tobacco Legacy Project, Milloy’s group The Association for Sound Science Coalation (TASSC) was paid $480,000 in 1994 through Philip Morris PR company APCO International. TASSC was founded by Milloy in 1993 at the behest of APCO and Philip Morris. Before Milloy disbanded it, TASSC had a long history of denying the dangers of second-hand smoke.

And Milloy continues being paid to cast doubt upon scientific studies that identify risky products, most recently by pesticide maker Syngenta. In this case, the Center for Media and Democracy obtained court documents that showed Milloy had been paid $25,000 by Syngenta in 2008 to deny the risks of atrazine and that he’d asked for $15,000 in 2004. And one email clearly shows Milloy asking for Syngenta talking points that he can repeat in his weekly column.

After Mann posted his Facebook responses to her article, Carducci wrote that Mann was connected to Climategate along with several statements that implied he was guilty of misconduct. While everything she wrote was fastidiously factual, Carducci failed to mention that Mann was exonerated by two different Pennsylvania State University investigations and a subsequent National Science Foundation (NSF) investigation. So far as S&R was able to tell, Carducci has never before written about the details of Climategate or Michael Mann’s multiple exonerations, so it’s entirely possible that she is simply ignorant of the facts. However, writing about topics on which you know little is generally considered unwise in journalism.

As serious as her factual errors are, Carducci’s breach of journalistic ethics was much more serious. In order to obtain the $10,000 figure she quoted in her Media Trackers – Florida article, Carducci misrepresented her affiliation to Mann’s agent, Jodi Solomon of Jodi Solomon Speakers. According to Mann’s account of what happened on his Facebook page, Jodi Solomon Speakers logs every call and email they receive and “there is no record that Media Trackers was ever in touch with us. If they claim otherwise, they did so by misrepresenting themselves to us.” An update by Mann reported that Jodi Solomon had found Carducci’s phone call and that Carducci had “said she was from the Association of Air Conditioning Distributors in the state of Florida and she was helping to plan their upcoming event for 300-500 people (emphasis added).”

S&R contacted Jodi Solomon in order to confirm that what Mann wrote on his Facebook page was correct. Solomon confirmed that Mann’s quotes were accurate of statements she had made with regard to Carducci and Media Trackers.

S&R also tried to ask Media Trackers-Florida for comment via their website, but there is no list of who is associated with the organization and no contact information. S&R asked for comment via the Media Trackers – Florida Facebook page but had received no response by publication time. However, given the behavior of the original Media Trackers organization as documented by PR Watch and Sourcewatch, it is not likely that S&R’s request for comment will be answered.

Image (1) heartland-tweaked-300x173.jpg for post 41844Carducci’s unethical misrepresentation of her affiliation with Media Trackers – Florida raises a number of other questions given that she is also associated with The Heartland Institute. While Carducci has been writing for Media Trackers – Florida since October, 2012, she’s been writing for Heartland’s Environment & Climate News (E&CN) periodical and the Heartlander zine since at least March 2009. Furthermore, she works with James M. Taylor, editor of E&CN, who has been with Heartland since 2002 and who has been one of Media Trackers – Florida’s most prolific posters since they started up in March 2012. In fact, since June 2012 there have essentially been only three authors responsible for all of Media Trackers – Florida’s content, and two of them are also associated with The Heartland Institute.

Heartland faced a similar situation last year when Peter Gleick misrepresented himself as a board member to gain access to confidential documents and then revealed that information. Carducci certainly knew about “Fakegate,” yet she still chose to misrepresent herself to Solomon and to publish what she acquired through unethical means. This indicates that Carducci represents another example of hypocrisy at The Heartland Institute, an organization that makes a habit of being hypocritical about a great many things. Just on the issue of misrepresenting one’s associations, someone from Heartland called Greenpeace activist Cindy Baxter during the 2007 Bali climate conference, and three days later Heartland later press release that contained the recorded audio of the phone call.

S&R contacted The Heartland Institute for comment but they had not responded by publication time.

While Carducci’s behavior is an example of The Heartland Institute’s habit of hypocrisy, misrepresenting herself is unethical regardless of her affiliations. But nearly as bad as her breach of ethics was the fact that she reported on topics that she clearly knew little or nothing about, such as speaking fees, research grants, and Climategate. Carducci would do well to apply the journalism adage “write what you know” to her own reporting.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Climate disruption denial: a natural by-product of libertarian values

Decrease in amount of carbon 13 isotope due to the burning of fossil fuels.  Credit: CDIAC

Decrease in amount of carbon 13 isotope due to the burning of fossil fuels. Credit: CDIAC

Part Three of a series

Industrial climate disruption – the disruption of the global climate as a result of human activity, especially our industrial consumption of fossil fuels – is more or less settled scientific fact. In order for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect, over a century of well-established science would have to be overturned. Some of the established science that would need to be significantly wrong include the Stefan-Boltzmann Law (thermal radiation from a body in space), quantum mechanics, significant portions of chemistry, radioisotope dating and profiling, several laws relating to the behavior of gases, and innumerable measurements of the fundamental physical properties of materials. As an example, if quantum mechanics were significantly wrong, that would mean that microwave ovens, carbon dioxide industrial cutting lasers, and most of modern electronics and electronic imaging would all work differently from how quantum mechanics predicts.

The problem for libertarians is that accepting human responsibility for climate disruption creates a threat to their values. The Iyer et al paper detailed in Part One of this series found that libertarians are fundamentally driven by a single moral good, specifically the liberty to be left alone to do as they pleased. Industrial climate disruption challenges both the primacy of personal liberty and, as a result, libertarians are highly motivated to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning

There’s always a reason when a person denies something. That reason may be based on fact and verifiable reality, such as someone rejecting a claim that the sky is a beautiful shade of paisley. But sometimes denial is based not on facts, but rather on belief, values, or personality. For example, there is no question that the earth is older than 6,000 years old, yet fundamentalist Christians known as “young-Earth creationists” deny that fact because it conflicts with their literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. When beliefs or values conflict with fact and verifiable reality, certain psychological effects either force us to change our beliefs or to deny both fact and reality.

When people learn new things, they can suffer from a psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance. Simply put, cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are trying to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. What happens is the person feeling cognitive dissonance wants to eliminate their discomfort and quickly and as thoroughly as possible. In the example above, a young-Earth creationist who was also a paleontologist would have to either change his views about the age of the Earth or rationalize a reason for why God would want to deceive humanity into thinking the earth was 4.5 billion years old.

One way to alleviate cognitive dissonance is with another psychological effect known as confirmation bias. This is the process by which a person only seeks out or remembers only that information which confirms his or her existing beliefs while ignoring or forgetting information in conflict with those beliefs. Confirmation bias can also relate to the way in which a person interprets new information such that it supports his or her existing beliefs, whether the new information actually supports those beliefs or not.

Interpreting new information in a way that supports your own beliefs can reduce cognitive dissonance, but sometimes it’s more than that. Confirmation bias can also be part of what’s known as motivated reasoning. The modern concept of motivated reasoning began with a 1990 paper by Ziva Kunda, and he found that people let their personal motivations affect their reasoning. For example, if a person discovered that a coworker was behaving unethically at work, the person might be motivated to reject the information because he or she didn’t want to report the coworker to a superior for disciplinary action. Motivated reasoning is the process by which the facts are mentally adjusted in order to conform to a desired outcome instead of adjusting the outcome to conform with the facts.

A classic example of motivated of motivated reasoning goes something like this: it’s difficult to convince someone to accept something when their job depends on not accepting it. In this case, the outcome motivating the denial is the desire to stay employed. Many libertarians use motivated reasoning to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption because it is more than a mere threat to their jobs – industridal climate disruption is a threat to their most deeply held libertarian values.

Industrial climate disruption threatens libertarian values

According to Iyer et al, libertarians essentially have a single moral good – liberty. Specifically, they value the idea of “negative” liberty, which is defined as the right to do with your life and possessions whatever you please so long as you don’t infringe upon the right of others to do the same. Iyer et al also found that libertarians very strongly valued self-direction (the right of individuals to make their own choices in life) and achievement, more so than either conservatives or liberals.

The problem is that these values conflict with the strategies that have been proposed to adapt to and mitigate the effects of industrial climate disruption. As a result, libertarians have strong motivations to deny that industrial climate disruption is a problem.

By its very nature, industrial climate disruption is a global problem, and so the most effective responses to it will also be global in nature. Strategies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the dominant cause of industrial climate disruption) will necessarily require cooperation among nations, communities, and individuals. Similarly, strategies to adapt to those effects that cannot be mitigated, such as increased incidence of river flooding and higher coastal storm surges, will greatly affect individuals as well as communities.

From a libertarian’s perspective, if industrial climate disruption is real, then his property rights are likely to be limited “for the greater good.” But there is no such thing as a “greater good” to a libertarian than individual rights, so right away this entire approach would be unacceptable to a libertarians. Furthermore, reducing greenhouse gas emissions could very well mean that more land needs to be cleared and easements across private property purchased for power lines to carry renewable energy from wherever it’s generated to the communities and industries that consume it. Or maybe some land would need to be seized by the government via eminent domain to build a wind turbine to generate electricity for someone else. Or maybe the property is located near sea level where models project the ocean will make the land unsuitable for habitation in 50 years. In these cases the libertarian would be motivated to reject any science that results in outcomes that are so contrary to his values.

But it goes beyond just property rights. According to Iyer et al, libertarians generally value altruism much lower than either conservatives or liberals, and they value egalitarianism lowest of all. Multiple analyses have demonstrated that the effects of industrial climate disruption will disproportionately affect the poor, and so one of the adaptation strategies planned is to provide additional aid to the poor. One example is the government helping to pay any increase in energy bills due to pricing greenhouse gases. But libertarians reject these kinds of aid (along with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) because they interfere with the right of the wealthy to spend their wealth however they see fit. If industrial climate disruption means limiting economic liberty, then that provides yet another motivation for libertarians to deny industrial climate disruption.

In addition, both of the prior examples would require a strong national government in order to push through the kinds of changes needed to effectively address industrial climate disruption. A strong national government means a government that has the power to restrict individual liberties, and libertarians simply cannot accept that.

An example: values-motivated arguments regarding climate sensitivity

As shown above, industrial climate disruption is clearly a threat to the liberties that libertarians value the most. This means that there is tremendous motivation for libertarians to rationalize away the threat. Iyer et al found that libertarians are more systemizing than empathizing, meaning that they are more interested in systems with equations and variables to be fiddled with than they are interested in people’s emotions. This focus on rational systems makes libertarians particularly good at motivated reasoning – they’ll go hunting for data, process that data in a way that is subject to their confirmation biases against industrial climate disruption, and then create a superficially reasonable rationale for why the science is wrong.

We can illustrate this process in one of the many arguments that libertarians make against various aspects of climate science, specifically the argument that climate scientists have miscalculated how much the global temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, aka the “climate sensitivity.” Deniers of industrial climate disruption often refer to the work of Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, both of whom claim that climate sensitivity is well below the generally accepted range of 3.6 to 8.1 °F (2.0 to 4.5 °C). Lindzen proposed a hypothesis in 2001 that climate sensitivity was much lower because there was an “iris” in the tropics that would result in more efficient radiation of heat from the tropics into space. But that hypothesis was rapidly challenged, and other scientists have repeatedly shown errors in Lindzen’s work that cast significant doubt on the “iris effect.”

Roy Spencer has an alternate, but also cloud-related, hypothesis that not only suggests that climate sensitivity is low, but that nearly every other climate scientist on the planet is wrong about the feedback mechanism between tropical clouds and the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. Spencer’s latest version of the hypothesis was thoroughly refuted by at two independent scientific papers and the problems found with the paper were so severe that the editor of the journal that published the paper resigned as a way to restore the journal’s credibility.

There are dozens of papers that are based on multiple different lines of evidence (bottom-up climate models, directly measured temperatures, ice cores, even the measured response of the Earth’s climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo) that contradict both Lindzen and Spencer and that calculate climate sensitivity to be approximately in the accepted range – some are somewhat higher or lower, depending on the exact calculation methodology and data used. Yet libertarians regularly refer to one or the other of the two men as having the best estimates of climate sensitivity that is strictly based on observations instead of models. That both men use simplified models of their own devising (and that those models have been regularly found to be too simple for the purpose of estimating climate sensitivity) seems to be forgotten or justified in the service of reasoning away the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Another factor that is probably in play in libertarian arguments against high climate sensitivity is how libertarians process arguments. According to Iyer et al, libertarians focus on data and logic over “intangibles” like appearance or perceived credibility. This generally a good thing, but it can be taken too far, especially with respect to perceived credibility.

Lindzen and Spencer are both reasonably well-respected scientists. Lindzen is a professor at MIT and a member of the National Academy of Sciences because of his contributions to atmospheric physics. Spencer, along with his University of Alabama-Huntsville colleague John Christy, developed a methodology by which satellites could measure the Earth’s temperature at multiple altitudes using microwaves. But Lindzen and Spencer also have some credibility problems that should raise red flags about their objectivity on the issue of industrial climate disruption for anyone who’s reasoning is motivated by accuracy instead of ideology.

First, Lindzen has a decades-long history of proposing hypotheses about how the Earth’s climate works that have mostly turned out to be wrong. For a rundown of this by climate scientist Ray Pierrehumbert during his American Geophysical Union Tyndall lecture, skip ahead to about 33 minutes in the following video:

While Lindzen is often wrong, his questions and alternate hypotheses have largely improved the state of climate science and he’s mostly backed down from his ideas when they were thoroughly refuted. The same cannot necessarily be said for Spencer. Spencer and Christy have had to make at multiple significant corrections to their satellite temperature dataset, nearly all of which they had to make after others found problems with the satellites (annual variation in calibration targets, satellite orbital drift and decay, et al).

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

In addition, in 2012, Spencer manipulated the editor of the journal Remote Sensing into publishing a paper that purported to demonstrate that climate sensitivity was low. However, Spencer had provided a list of friendly reviewers to the editor and so the fundamentally flawed paper sailed through palpeer review with little to no oversight. Once the editor discovered he’d been used, he offered Spencer’s critics the opportunity to respond to Spencer in the journal and resigned as editor to restore the journal’s scientific credibility.

Finally, Spencer is a member of industrial climate disruption-denying, dominionist evangelical group the Cornwall Alliance. He wrote the science section of the Alliance’s white paper titled “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor,” a document that is filled with misinformation and denial. This is perhaps not a surprise given Spencer’s history and his evangelical faith. But the same document’s “Theology” section justifies denying predictions of sea level rise by saying that God swore he’d never send another flood (p15), and elsewhere on the same page the document says that the last ice age was a direct result of Noah’s Flood. These claims are in direct conflict with scientific theories and data about ice ages and ice sheet formation. While Spencer himself did not write the theology section, his association with a group that is more interested in making data fit their theology than looking clearly at what the data raises serious questions about Spencer’s scientific credibility on the subject of industrial climate disruption.

Iyer et al found that libertarians need to examine things, to feel rational, before they make decisions. This strong need to be and feel rational does nothing to protect a libertarian from cognitive dissonance or to insulate them from confirmation bias. And it does nothing to immunize libertarians from rationalizing away inconvenient data or conclusions that threaten their values. If anything, the libertarian need to feel rational makes libertarians more prone to motivated reasoning, not less – the more you know about a subject, the more susceptible to motivated reasoning you become.

No-one, of any ideology, is fundamentally immune to motivated reasoning. But libertarians tend to be highly motivated by industrial climate disruption because it threatens their core values. High motivation plus easily available misinformation equals lots of opportunity for confirmation bias to manipulate reasoning.

Given all these facts it’s no wonder that there are so many libertarians among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers.

In Part Four we’ll look closer at why engineers deny climate disruption.

Marc Morano abets emailed threats of violence

Marc Morano, former environmental communications director to Senator Jim Inhofe and the Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, recently published on his Climate Depot website the email address of conservative MIT climate scientist and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel. As a result, Emanuel was deluged with hate mail that not only threatened his life but also threatened his wife. (MotherJones has the full story.) Other climate scientists and their family members have been threatened with torture, rape, and murder in the past, so it’s likely that similar threats were involved here. Continue reading

Mann's critics not appeased by NSF investigation, extend unfounded "whitewash" accusations to NSF itself

Third in a series.

When the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) cleared Michael Mann of multiple “Climategate”-related allegations made against him, Mann’s critics cried foul. Since a National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General (OIG) report cleared Mann of research misconduct and concluded that PSU had adequately investigated Mann itself, however, many of those critics have been publicly silent about how their attacks were misplaced. In other cases, critics have instead directed new criticisms at the NSF instead of accepting Mann’s innocence or retracting their misplaced condemnations of PSU’s investigation.

In an “exclusive” for Fox News back in April, 2010, Ed Barnes wrote that the illegally published CRU emails “cast fresh doubt on Mann’s methodology and integrity” and that the PSU inquiry which exonerated Mann of those doubts was criticized for failing to inquire. Continue reading

Latest hearing shows GOP is the Ministry of Magic to climate disruption's Death Eaters

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry, Dumbledore, and the Order of the Phoenix have to work against Voldmort’s Death Eaters in secret while the Ministry of Magic blinds itself to the needs of the wizarding world. Worse than simply doing nothing, however, the Ministry spreads anti-Potter propaganda in the newspapers, manipulates the law to target Potter and Dumbledore (who know Voldmort has returned), and in their refusal to acknowledge the problem, makes it just that much easier for Voldmort to secretly gain strength.

On March 31, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing on the topic of climate change. It’s clear from the hearing charter, the list of witnesses, and the large number of climate myths uttered that the GOP has become the Ministry of Magic to the Death Eaters of human-caused climate disruption. Continue reading

Climate scientists still besieged

S&R interviewed Martin Vermeer, first author of a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper on sea level rise, about how much context the published CRU emails contained. In addition to answering questions about the emails’ context, Vermeer pointed out that some of the context “bears the mark of a scientific community under a politically-motivated siege.” Gavin Schmidt, climate researcher at the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, agreed with Vermeer when asked. As a result, S&R examined interviews conducted with climate scientists and critics for evidence that climate scientists and climate research were besieged at present. Not surprisingly, there was a great deal of evidence that climate scientists remain besieged today. Evidence includes false claims made against scientists for work done on the IPCC Third Assessment Report, erroneous and/or unsupported claims made against several scientists involved in the writing of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and unreasonable claims of bias against the CRU email inquiries performed to date. Continue reading

Nota Bene #107: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Who said it? Continue reading

Gingrich lies to Congress about climate legislation

newtS&R has been following Newt Gingrich’s lies about energy and climate since last year when he pushed the “Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less.” lie in response to last summer’s oil price woes. On Friday, Gingrich appeared as a minority witness, on a panel all by himself, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee – Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment hearings on the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). S&R has reviewed Gingrich’s prepared remarks for today’s hearing and has determined that Gingrich is still up to his old tricks of lying to Congress and the American people. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: California report recommends changes to adapt to rising sea level



Limit development in low-lying coastal areas. Consider abandoning existing development in coastal areas likely to be affected by sea level rise. Require structures built along the coast to be able to adapt to higher sea levels. Discontinue federally subsidized flood insurance for existing property in low-lying coastal areas. Those are some of the recommendations made last week in the first report by California’s Climate Action Team and reported by the LA Times. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: new data reveals human-caused warming at both poles


According to a new paper published in Nature Geoscience and available online here, scientists from the UK, US, and Australia have detected anthropogenic influence on the climate of both the Arctic and Antarctica. Ana according to a Scientific American article on the paper, one of the paper’s reviewers, Andrew Monaghan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, believes that the paper may be understating the effect of anthropogenic carbon emissions on Antarctica. Monaghan’s reason? The new paper gives equal weight to cooling in the interior of Antarctica as to heating on the periphery, while interior cooling is suspected to be a result of the CFC-caused ozone hole. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: David Evans' climate facts hardly factual


I’ve started to read a number of commentators around editorial pages, blogs, and letters to the editor that are quoting an Australian by the name of David Evans. In case you’re unfamiliar, Evans wrote an op-ed in The Australian titled “No smoking hot spot” where he raises a number of issues with the science of global heating. Evans used to work toward mitigating global heating but has since become a skeptic based on perceived weaknesses in the data and modeling of the effects of global heating. Because of his background as a former global heating analyst for the Australian government, he’s become something of a rock star in the denier movement, and his quoting of Lord Keynes (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”) in his op-ed has become almost a mantra for the global heating deniers and skeptics.

Unfortunately for Evans’ global heating skepticism, but fortunately for the advancement of understanding of the Earth’s climate and anthropogenic global heating, it appears that the facts have changed on him yet again. Continue reading

Google and MIT tackle global heating

What do you do when your government does nothing to incentivize clean energy and is attached at the hip to coal and oil companies? You go your own way and start developing your own clean energy. And what do you do if you’re a NYTimes commentator who has been frustrated over the lack of government action on global heating? You give the aforementioned groups much needed free press in your Sunday commentary.

Tom Friedman wrote about Google’s recent “RE<C” clean energy initiative and MIT’s open-source plug-in hybrid project in his commentary on this past Sunday. And while I felt Mr. Friedman spent a little too much time quoting some of The Onion’s recent satire, his basic premise is nonetheless a good one – when the government fails to lead, its up to the people to do so, and on global heating, the people are doing so.

Fortunately, the two initiatives that Mr. Friedman talked about are not the only ones out there – they’re but a small sampling of the actual initiatives. Continue reading