Tag Archives: Washington Post

Roy Spencer reveals his motivation for rejecting the climate mainstream- not science issues, but economic concerns

Image courtesy of Flickr user "SarahDeer", used under Creative Commons

Straight from the horse’s mouth, emphasis Spencer’s:

[Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin] provided several paragraphs alluding to why scientists on the [mainstream] side of the issue speak out, but nowhere could I find reasons why WE [i.e. the contrarian minority] speak out.

I had told her that ill-conceived energy policies that hurt economic growth kill poor people. Was that not a sufficiently interesting thing to report on?

I guess after a while, even ostensibly serious “skeptics” like Spencer forget that they’re supposed to pretend they’re arguing science instead of a whacked out, far right wing, “economic” ideology.

Although probably unnecessary, it might be worth pointing out that actual economists think that delaying action on climate change will hurt more than using “cheap” fossil energy will help.

The conservative face of science and the role of consensus

[I realize that this has already been covered at Climate Progress and elsewhere, I am doing this more or less for archival purposes. -TB]

Image courtesy of Flickr user Scott Ableman, used under Creative Commons

The year 2011 started off with something of a surprise- George Will seemingly supporting science! Yes, this George Will. I wasn’t the only one taken aback.

Will’s journalistic colleague Andy Revkin was likewise surprised by this seeming about face from someone who all too readily attacked science when it conflicted with his conservative ideology, writing:

I think it’d make sense to devote at least as many column inches to this vital issue as you’ve expended trying to undercut decades of scientific study pointing to a growing human influence on the climate system.

This summer, Revkin again called upon Will to show how serious Will actually is about supporting science (and again at the end of August) by penning “a fresh column… building on [Will’s] January rebuke of Republican lawmakers seemingly seeking to lead a charge away from federal support for science.” At the time, Revkin pointedly noted that Will was preoccupied with other topics.

Well, it appears Revkin now has Will’s response. GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman recently had the gall to side with the scientific community on the issues of climate change and evolution. Today’s Republican party is infamously unique in its rejection of the scientific reality of man-made global warming. That a top-tier Republican candidate like Jon Huntsman would unabashedly stand with the scientific community was a welcome surprise.

Such apostasy was apparently sufficient to rouse Will’s attention where Revkin’s pleas to stand up for science were not. Will took to the pages of Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post to join his fellow Republicans’ assault on science.

Will sneered:

For Jon Huntsman: You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?

Gee, Will sure does love recycling!

Setting aside the fallacy of believing that because science got something wrong in the past it follows that it’s incorrect now, Will is actually engaging in revisionist history.

Despite repeated claims by Will and others to the contrary, there was no consensus predicting cooling in the 70s. Rather predictions of warming “even then dominated scientists’ thinking” (Peterson 2008):

Had Huntsman listened to the balance of the scientific evidence in the 1970s, he would be looking pretty good 30 plus years later. Contrast that with Will, who manages to still get what was said then wrong today, even with the benefit of hindsight!

Will continues:

Are scientists a cohort without a sociology — uniquely homogenous and unanimous

I will freely stipulate that true unanimity is seldom achieved on any subject, no matter how well-established scientifically. That being said, on the question of the reality of man-made warming of the climate, it’s pretty darn close. Surveys of the primary literature show virtually no opposition (Oreskes 2004). Survey data also show that 97-98% of scientists with relevant expertise/who are actively publishing in relevant fields likewise support the consensus (Doran 2009, Anderegg 2010).

without factions or interests

On the contrary, climate science is necessarily an interdisciplinary field. And it’s precisely this patchwork, factious nature of the field that makes the aforementioned consensus all the more striking.

That scientists whose life’s work is focused on solar influence on climate are broadly in agreement with those who focus on the ocean’s role, and with those who study climatic changes in the geologic past due to orbital variation, volcanism, or plate tectonics, etc. that anthropogenic warming is driving the present climatic change is quite amazing, especially if one is as cynically-minded as Will. Self-interest (which we will see Will believes is quite the powerful motivator) is poorly served by the various alternative drivers of warming being exonerated by the scientists that study them.

and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies?

This is a rather pathetic appeal to motive. And it fails for much the same reason that the previous comment does. If one were interested in prolonging and maximizing the amount of funding one could receive for one’s own corner of the scientific community, swiftly and virtually unanimously reaching consensus on something is probably the worst possible way to go about it.

But if Will is genuinely interested in how scientific consensus can be reached and trusted, he could always consult an expert on the subject. Naomi Oreskes literally wrote the book on this topic as it concerns the triumph of plate tectonics (Oreskes 2001). For the truly concerned like Will, she’s also written an accessible primer on the consensus on global warming (Oreskes 2007).

Alas, given Will’s track record (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), the likelihood of him bothering to actually educate himself on the subject appears to be about as slim as Huntsman’s chances for the Republican nomination.

As a parting shot, Will cannot resist twisting the knife in Huntsman over his science-affirming campaign’s poor reception by today’s GOP voters:

Your chief strategist, John Weaver, says the “simple reason” the GOP is “nowhere near being a national governing party” is that “no one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.” … Although you say the country is “crying out” for a “sensible middle ground,” you have campaigned for three months on what you say is that ground and, according to the most recent Gallup poll, your support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is 1 percent.

The folly of codifying anti-science beliefs into a technologically-rooted nation’s political platform would seem self-evident, a “no brainer” as it were. Will and his fellow conservative elites would do well to reconsider their present course,  which is a “no brainer” of an altogether different kind.

Image courtesy of Flickr user saucy_pan, used under Creative Commons


  • Anderegg, W., et al. (2010): Expert credibility in climate change. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (USA), 107, 27, 12107-12109, doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107.
  • Doran, P.T., and M.K. Zimmerman (2009): Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(3), 22, doi:10.1029/2009EO030002.
  • Oreskes, N., ed. (2001): Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth. Boulder: Westview Press, with Homer E. Le Grand.
  • Oreskes, N. (2004): Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, 306, 57021686, doi:10.1126/science.1103618.
  • Oreskes, N. (2007): The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong? Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, 65-99, DiMento and Doughman eds., MIT Press.
  • Peterson, T.C., et al. (2008): The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89, 9, 1325-1337, doi:10.1175/2008BAMS2370.

[UPDATE: I see Phil Plait was having similar thoughts today.]

Sarah Palin, Washington Post op-ed, Fred Hiatt. Need I say more?


[UPDATE: More added as they come in.]

Who does the Washington Post consider to be an “expert” on the science of global warming?

WaPo has a new section called “Planet Panel: Views and Debates on Climate Change Policy”.

In it, you’ll find opinions by ten ostensible experts on the question (emphasis mine) “What Doubt is There About the Science Behind Global Warming?

How many of the experts actually have a relevant science background?

  • Rick Edmund – pastor, United Methodist Church (edu –?)
  • Donald Boesch – biological oceanographer
  • Lars Josefsson – energy co. CEO (edu – engineering/”technical physics”)
  • David Hales – college president (edu – poli sci)
  • David Hone – adviser to Shell (edu – petro engineering)
  • Robert Shapiro – business consultant (edu – econ)
  • William O’Keefe – CEO Marshall Institute, former API CEO (edu – ?)
  • Bill McKibben – environmentalist/350.org (edu – journalism)
  • Bjorn Lomborg – director Copenhagen Consensus Centre (edu – poli sci)
  • Reid Detchon – UN energy foundation VP (edu – ?)

I am not proposing that one must have a doctorate in a relevant field in order to have an opinion on climate as a topic, but if the Washington Post is going to make the question explicitly about the science, how can they justify having a single scientist with a somewhat-relevant background? Several, perhaps all, of the other experts listed might be experts on policy questions (although in the cases of and O’Keefe and Lomborg, doubtful), but that isn’t what the question was asking. Nor is it any better that the answers were largely in agreement about the reality of the scientific consensus on the need for mitigation. If you had the resources of the Washington Post and wanted to assemble a panel on a question about the science of a specific topic, how many relevant scientists would you have included? My guess is more than one.

This is simply disgraceful. Although hardly surprising, from the paper that elsewhere counts George Will among its authorities on climate.

Climate denialists George Will, Mark Steyn and school children

George Will just can’t help himself. And Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) just can’t help enabling him and insulting their readers. In his latest assault on climate reality, Will decries attempts at global mitigation in a whine that reduces to “but…but…China!”- the familiar “reasoning” that the developed world is demanding that developing nations sacrifice their economies/development to curb emissions, the developing world won’t, ergo we should do nothing about it. Will scrupulously avoids discussing the very real, significant steps to shift to clean energy that countries like China are pursuing even as they resist firm emissions targets, as well as any discussion of technological leapfrogging, a key tool in balancing global emissions reductions with improving standards of living.

The only time Will brushes up against “facts” in terms of climate itself is once again to spread the myth that the world has stopped warming, and he does so this time by quoting National Review pundit Mark Steyn (original here). As Carl Zimmer points out, Will used to cite the World Meteorological Organization as the source for his claims before the WMO rightly smacked him down for it. Going from the WMO to Steyn is indeed “quite the upgrade” as Carl snarked. Will, with Steyn in quotes:

Fortunately, skepticism about the evidence that supposedly supports current alarmism about climate change is growing…

“If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.”

Notice how Will/Steyn are attempting to use the “no warming since 1998” canard [see here and here] without showing their hand?

If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.

If you’re 29 now (born in 1980-1979) and your “adult life” began when you turned 18, that unsurprisingly gets you right back to the 1997-1998 El Niño.

If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.

If you’re graduating high school in 2009 (likely age 17-18), and you entered 1st grade at the typical age (6-7), that brings us back, once again, to……… 1998.

I, for one, am shocked (SHOCKED!) that Will and Steyn would resort to such strained, bizarre accounting gymnastics to perpetuate this tired, cherry picked, denialist crap.

What if their arbitrary cutoffs had been 28 or “since you entered second grade”, putting the starting period at 1999? The trend would inconveniently be strongly and significantly positive [as would 1996, 2000, etc.]. Of course, we know via Robert Grumbine that you want to use 20-30 years of temperature data before you start drawing conclusions about trends. If your “trend” is dependent on such specific cherry picking, it isn’t a legitimate trend. And if your cherry-picked “trend” has been so debunked that you’re reduced to hiding it behind children’s birthdays and grade school dates, it’s well past time time to retire that lie.

Grow up, gentlemen, will you?

[UPDATE: In addition to Carl Zimmer, The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson, Media Matters, and Joe Romm have more. Tim Lambert also points out Steyn’s illiteracy on that other favorite conservative science denier topic- evolution.]

Washington Post and Fred Hiatt escalate their war on WaPo readers’ self-respect

What do you do if you’re Fred Hiatt and you’re worried that the Washington Post might still have some shred of credibility remaining (despite your best attempts to destroy it, e.g. herehereherehereherehereherehere) on the topic of climate change and energy policy?

Turn your op-ed page over to Sarah Palin so she (or her similarly dimwitted ghostwriter(s)) can rant incoherently about cap and trade.

Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post can’t say it any clearer: they think their readers are abject morons deserving of nothing better than the histrionic, ignorant scrawlings of unstable celebuticians like soon-to-be-former Governor Palin.

If you’re interested in a more thorough takedown, Joe Romm has you covered. I’ll be too busy letting my friends and family know why they should cancel their WaPo subscriptions to do it.

Ones for the Road

[UPDATE: One more from James Annan: Who named the Maunder Minimum?]