CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Heartland’s Taylor fails to discredit authors of National Climate Assessment

On January 11, 2013, the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) published its draft National Climate Assessment for public comment. The first paragraph of the Executive Summary found that

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that individuals and organizations who deny that global climate change is “primarily driven by human activity” would attack the report.

Yesterday James Taylor of The Heartland Institute wrote a blog at Forbes attacking the Assessment by questioning the objectivity of seven of the scientists involved in writing the report. However, Taylor’s entire argument is based on the false assertion that being associated with an environmental organization automatically biases the scientists’ judgement. This is known as the “guilt by association” logical fallacy and it’s an attempt by Taylor to defame the character of the scientists.

Taylor asserts, without proof, that scientists James Buizer, Jerry Melillo, Suzanne Moser, Richard Moss, Andrew Rosenberg, Donald J. Wubbles, and Gary Yohe are all supposedly “crooked” because they have current or former associations with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Second Nature. This assertion is absurd. Is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, inherently biased simply because he works at Princeton? 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? Are all registered Democrats inherently biased against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because most environmentalists are Democrats? 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.

When we look at the professional experience and scientific expertise of the seven scientists that Taylor names, the fact that Taylor is attempting to smear their reputations becomes clear.

And most of these seven scientists have also been asked to work on climate reports by the National Academy of Sciences and other expert panels just like the USGCRP itself. These seven scientists have nearly two centuries of cumulative experience in climate-related science and public policy. As such they can legitimately claim to be authorities in their climate-related fields.

Taylor, on the other hand, has a background in law and government, not science. There is no evidence that Taylor has written any peer-reviewed scientific papers or been intimately involved in crafting regulations relating to climate policy in the way that Moss and Rosenberg have. Taylor’s Forbes bio indicates that he “studied” atmospheric science while getting his government degree from Dartmouth, but he certainly hasn’t worked as a scientist or maintained any scientific expertise since.

More damning, however, is that Taylor has a habit of distorting scientific studies and taking other peoples’ words out of context. S&R found in early 2010 that Taylor had incorrectly applied the results of a small small self-selected poll of broadcast meteorologists to all scientists. In February 2011, S&R found that Taylor had incorrectly accused scientist Mark Boslough of lying and criticizing former astronaut Harrison Schmitt when Boslough did neither. S&R found in late 2011 that Taylor had dishonestly claimed that so-called “skeptics” merely question the source of industrial climate disruption – to not know that many of his fellow so-called “skeptics’ would require that Taylor be incompetent. In addition, S&R found in mid-2012 that Taylor deceptively took quotes out of context in ways that dramatically changed their meaning and implications.

Taylor_Heartland_NCA

Percentage of authors of the Assessment affected by Taylor’s fallacious criticism (Climate Nexus)

And Taylor continues his habit of distorting facts in this Forbes blog. While Taylor mentions that there are 13 senior scientists engaged in guiding the report (one chairman, two vice-chairmen, and 10 members of a “secretariat”), he fails to mention that the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee led by these 13 scientists was actually composed of 60 scientists and policy experts. And he fails to mention that the Committee “engaged more than 240 authors in the creation of the report.” As the graph shows, Taylor’s illogical and deceptive criticisms apply to only a small percentage of the report’s authors. Even if they had merit, Taylor’s criticisms would have insignificant impact on the Assessment’s science and data-based conclusions.

Taylor’s Forbes blog is a failed attempt to distract readers from the overwhelming data and objective facts documented in the Assessment. And those facts demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, namely that it is “primarily driven by human activity” and that it is “already affecting the American people.”

WordsDay: Merchants of Doubt

What do the following things all have in common: tobacco safety and the dangers of secondhand smoke, the Strategic Defense Initiative, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming, and the recent attacks on Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring)? According to the new book by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt, they were all manipulated by a very small group of once well respected scientists whose radical free-market and anti-communist ideologies corrupted them to the point of attacking scientists, scientific organizations, and ultimately the process of science itself.

Merchants of Doubt focuses on seven different areas that are presented roughly how they’ve occurred chronologically, starting with the safety of tobacco in the 1950s, proceeding through nuclear war and the misguided defense of SDI, the opposition to regulation of both acid rain and CFCs, and finishing up with the recent attacks on global warming and attempts at historical revisionism with respect to Rachel Carson and the regulation of DDT. But through all of these areas, the main cast of characters barely changes, the methods used to attack scientific conclusions remain remarkably consistent, and the goals of the attacks become clearer and clearer. Continue reading

Three of four misconduct allegations against Michael Mann found to be without merit (updated)

Update: I’ve added a few more examples of spin and accusations of bias against PSU as well as some good reporting examples that were not posted as of last night.

After the CRU emails were released in November, 2009, there was widespread accusations of misconduct against most of the scientists mentioned in the emails. Today, the Penn State University (PSU) inquiry committee investigating accusations made against Dr. Michael Mann publicly released its findings. The committee found that, with respect to the most serious three accusations out of four, “there exists no credible evidence” that Mann had committed research misconduct. The inquiry committee empaneled an investigation committee to look into the last accusation – that Mann had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community” – because they could make a determination about this and because

Only with such a review will the academic community and other interested parties likely feel that Penn State has discharged its responsibility on this matter.

Continue reading

Planes, trains, or automobiles? Green transportation choices are not clear cut

carsbusWhen studies look at the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by transportation, the focus is nearly always on the emissions created in fuel combustion – gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks, bunker fuels for maritime vessels, jet fuel for aircraft, and so on. One excellent example of this kind of study is the Getting There Greener study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS study shows that travel by bus emits the least carbon at all distances traveled and for one, two, or four travelers. Similarly, the study found that flying first class was almost always the worst option, with driving a typical SUV any appreciable distance coming in a close second.

But what most studies lack is a detailed analysis of the overall cradle-to-grave lifecycle of the transportation modes being compared. A new study by two University of California-Berkeley researchers has attempted to analyze the bulk of the lifecycle of multiple types of passenger vehicles, including fuel production, manufacturing and maintenance of the vehicles themselves, infrastructure construction and repair costs, all in addition to the basic fuel consumption. And the study also looks at three commonly regulated pollutants in addition to energy consumption and greenhouse gas (mostly carbon dioxide) emissions.

And the results are quite a bit different from purely fuel consumption-based analyses. Continue reading