On 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
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.
Categories: Environment/Nature, Politics/Law/Government, Science/Technology
Great work. Just one editorial comment: In the section headed, “Taylor falsely claims government scientists are guilty by association”, you repeat the phrase, “were responsible” in your second paragraph (not counting the quote).
As to your article overall, Taylor appears to be of the Glen Beck/Rush Limbaugh vein; never admit a mistake, EVER. Besides, if his audience could follow an actual chain of logic, they would not be reading his stuff in the first place.
Thanks for catching that. Fixed it.
Well written. Taylor’s cherry picking methods are surprisingly blatant
Reblogged this on Facts & Other Fairy Tales and commented:
Coming back to our conversation in January about the lack of respect and consideration afforded to academic types — this very thoughtful analysis of a problematic Forbes published blog post demonstrates exactly why we have to change our attitudes about the “knowledge creators” in our society.
Yes, I know that’s a silly sounding play on the popular term “job creators”, but we place so much emphasis on corporations, making money, and supporting anti-intellectual values in the US that in the face of strong evidence people resort to logical fallacies to sway the masses. Unfortunately, logical fallacies are persuasive and compelling to people who don’t know any better. And a double dose of unfortunate circumstances is that the ‘knowledge creators’ (i.e., academics, researchers, and scientists) are viewed suspiciously in modern American society — like we’re trying to pull one over on the people with our wacky liberal agendas and complex analyses.
Welcome to Idiocracy — American style!