Home > Uncategorized > More PR-novice scientists bring BB guns to the war over climate policy; fossil-fuel interests and "skeptics" tremble

More PR-novice scientists bring BB guns to the war over climate policy; fossil-fuel interests and "skeptics" tremble

[Update: added a link  to Roger Pielke, Jr. at the end.]

My pal Stephan Kinsella has pestered me about the recent letter in Science by a bunch of the world’s leading scientists, so I suppose I ought to mention it.  (I won’t make another “Climate Confession”, but some of my earlier remarks about the Great Climate Email Kerfluffle may be worth repeating, particularly as various investigations concluded that no scientific dishonesty occurred)

Those who have more than a passing interest in science, the role of science in policy and in climate-related rent-seeking ought to read the letter, signed by 255 members of the the National Academy of Science, including 11 Nobel Prize winners (in hard sciences); I won’t post any extensive quotes here.  I simply note this conclusion:

“Compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.”

The letter is a reaction, chiefly by scientists not active in the IPCC process, to recent harsh attacks on their “climate science” colleagues (including threats of legal action by Sen. Inhofe and initiation of legal action by the Virginia Attorney General), and an effort to support such scientists by expressing a strong concerns about the possible consequences of continued inaction. The letter urges policy action and blames much of the attacks on efforts by rent-seeking fossil fuel interests to protect their advantaged position. The letter itself – as well as the fact Science put it behind a paywall along with a Photo-shopped photo of a polar bear on an ice floe! – showcases the political naivete and amateurishness of the scientific establishment.

Obviously scientists have no particular expertise in making public policy, but it IS striking that so many of them are willing to venture out onto thin ice by raising their voices in alarm.

Readers may find the following background/commentary on the letter to be useful:

1. I repeat some of remarks I made when the email scandal arose (altered somewhat):

  • The Climate Hack is certainly egg on the face of some climate scientists – although this has been spun ridiculously out of context (much criticism is clearly simply wrong, though those who find the whole thing “delicious” have a tough time looking past the sources they prefer to read) – but the implication that the science is nothing but a conspiracy is an obvious fantasy. The political amateurishness of the scientists alone tells us that. (If any readers honestly need help in finding their way through the fog – self-deluded or deliberate – of the “skeptics” here, please let me know.)
  • Austrians/libertarians already knew that much of the climate science is politicized, especially here, not simply because of public funding, but chiefly because all parties – fossil fuel investors seeking to protect a generous status quo, enviros, politicians & bureaucrats, and those seeking greater advantage or more investment climate certainty – are seeking to steer government in particular directions, in ways that may significantly affect all of us. A further factor in such politicization is the simple difficulty that laymen (and scientists) have in wrapping their own heads around the climate science, and for which personal confirmation may take a lifetime. Personal and tribal predilections to hate “environazis”and the like, on the one hand, or to disdain evil capitalists, on the other, has nearly everyone looking reflexively for whatever scrap of science confirms their existing views and/or suits their political preferences.
  • The discord among scientists and attempts at gate-keeping are part and parcel of science – publicly-funded or not – but because of the political importance of climate science, we need greater, not less, transparency. The apparent efforts at gate-keeping (seeking to influence what gets published in peer-reviewed journals and what appears in IPCC reports) is what seems most objectionable, but there has been plenty of disagreement and change in views even in the dominant view; the science is and will always remain unsettled. All dissenters have found ways to make their views known, most of which have been examined and found wanting, and few dissenters have mutually coherent views.What has happened is that scientists who are extremely concerned about climate change have felt that political action is needed, and that dissenting views are dangerous distractions, and have made efforts to limit “distractions”. Such a belief appears to have been well-founded, but acting on it in this way a strategic mistake. Greater openness is required for publicly-funded research, particularly here where there is a strong, established and resistant rent-seeking class that seeks to minimize the science and to distract public discussion. While the efforts of climate scientists to provide data to and to address the arguments of “skeptics” would necessarily entail a distracting amount of attention, it is apparent that they simply need to grin and bear it.
  • Much – though not all – of the “skepticism” is clearly revealed as an extended, deliberate campaign by fossil fuel interests, dressed up in part by scientists who are non-experts in the field they criticize, with support by “conservatives” and “libertarians” who prefer a massive unmanaged meddling with global ecosystems (and defense of a government-entangled, pro-fossil fuel firms status quo) over a likely expansion of government.

2.  Andrew Revkin’s NYT Dot Earth blog piece and an article at the Guardian both provide useful explanation of background and links.

3.  The related editorial by Brooks Hanson (deputy editor for physical sciences) and has some insightful remarks on the perceived urgency of the problem and how scientists can better interact with the public and policy makers.

4.  Nature, the highly respected British scientific journal, had an interesting (but misguided, I believe) editorial in March that appears to have influenced this letter; here is an excerpt:

Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.

Climate scientists are on the defensive, knocked off balance by a re-energized community of global-warming deniers who, by dominating the media agenda, are sowing doubts about the fundamental science. Most researchers find themselves completely out of their league in this kind of battle because it’s only superficially about the science. The real goal is to stoke the angry fires of talk radio, cable news, the blogosphere and the like, all of which feed off of contrarian story lines and seldom make the time to assess facts and weigh evidence. Civility, honesty, fact and perspective are irrelevant.

5.  While scientists have concerns and policy preferences, clearly they are not politically powerful, even as opposition to climate change policy is very solidly grounded in efforts by sophisticated fossil fuel interests to protect investment returns. Here is a brief introduction to the mis-information campaign.

6. The Royal Society of New Zealand has recently posted a statement regarding man’s impact on climate and ecosytems that is also worth review.

7. Roger Pielke, Jr. has some interesting comments; chiefly, he seems to castigate scientists for their poor PR skills – an approach consistent with his penchant for ongoing criticism of scientists (to the approval of “skeptics”), but hasn’t led any scientists to sign Roger up to be their PR coach.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.