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Whacking Moles: A Smörgåsbord of Sanity About “The WSJ 16”:

February 5th, 2012 · 3 Comments

As noted in Whacking 16 Moles, Whack A Mole Fever flaring anti-science syndrome suffering climate denier and delayer inanities often divert people from valuable and productive activities. Prominent eruptions of this malady, however, drive white-cell like effort to respond and dampen the damage. With the publication of “No Need to Panic About Global Warming”, “The Wall Street Journal 16” sparked such an effort. Here is a selection of responses to that travesty of a publication:

Kenneth Trenberth, et al, “Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate,” Letter to the Editor, Wall Street Journal (As Romm noted, “the signatories of the WSJ letter … reads like a Who’s Who of Climate Scientists”.)

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.

Skeptical Science, The Latest Denialist Plea for Climate Change Inaction, lays out the (lack of) qualifications of “The WSJ 16” before delving into the OPED itself

IIf we boil down this op-ed to its basics, we’re left with a letter signed by only two scientists with peer-reviewed climate research publications in the past three decades, which exhibits a serious lack of understanding of basic climate concepts, and which simply regurgitates a Gish Gallop of long-worn climate myths. The letter claims that climate “skepticism” is growing, and yet only has 16 signatories, at least 43% of which have received funding from the fossil fuel industry, and not one single new argument which hasn’t been long-debunked.

If this is the best today’s climate fake skeptics can do, perhaps, as Patrick Michaels suggests, they are losing the battle. We can only hope that this is the case.

Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth, New York Times, Scientists Challenging Climate Science Appear to Flunk Climate Economics quoting the economist (Nordhaus) who “The 16” used (evidently abused) in support of arguing against investment in climate mitigation:

The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.

Climate science discussion between Burt Rutan and Brian Angliss. This is a highly recommended set of interactions where engineer Brian Angliss seeks to engage engineer Burt Rutan about climate science … and where Rutan fails to deal, substantively, with any of Angliss’ very respectfully laid out substantive issues.

Ever since you won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 you’ve been a minor hero of mine. I’ve felt that the development of private human spaceflight was the critical next step toward moving humanity off our small blue marble since I was in high school, and SpaceShipOne was the first major step in that direction. The commercialization of space travel is a large part of why I work in aerospace myself designing satellite and space vehicle electronics.

This is why I was disappointed to find that you had co-signed a Wall Street Journal commentary regarding human-caused climate disruption along with 15 other scientists and engineers. The commentary was replete with incorrect and misleading information. So much so, in fact, that I was surprised that you, as an engineer, would attach your name to it.

While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower
, Bad Astronomy, in brief: “Shame on the WSJ for publishing that nonsense”

Andrew Glikson, We do need drastic action on climate change: a response to the Wall Street Journal, The Conversation

In their article the authors claim the reason for their doubt about the reality of climate change is “a collection of stubborn scientific facts”. My response below relates purely to scientific points. Let us look at the facts. …

… [multiple issues dealt with … below is one of the examples of stubborn facts/truthful discussion at odds with The WSJ 16’s truthiness-laded assertions.]

Carbon dioxide is not pollution

The authors claim “… CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle.”

This statement reflects a misconception regarding the physiological and biological effects of changing concentrations of elements such as carbon, oxygen, sulfur or phosphorous. A corollary would be the human lungs: a small increase in CO2 can lead to hypercapnia; a rise in oxygen beyond critical thresholds result in oxygen toxicity.

Improvements in plant photosynthesis do not depend exclusively on availability of CO2 but on the availability of water and on temperatures. The intensification of the hydrological cycle associated with global warming, resulting in floods in some regions and in droughts in other, is hardly conducive for agriculture.

Perhaps the most amazing statement made by the authors concerns the evolution of plants under high CO2 levels in the geological past. They state, “Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today.”

The evolution of plants and animals occurred over millions of years, when species had time to evolve and adapt to changing atmosphere and hydrosphere conditions. When changes occur at rates to which plants and animals cannot adapt, such as the current rate of 2 ppm CO2/year, unprecedented in geological history, mass extinction of species becomes a reality.

Suzanne Goldenberg, Wall Street Journal Rapped Over Climate Change Stance

The Wall Street Journal has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change. …

Union of Concerned Scientists, Dismal Science at the Wall Street Journal.

“While it’s entirely appropriate for scientists, like all citizens, to voice their personal opinions on public policy, the op-ed repeated a number of deeply misleading claims about climate science. To take just one example, the authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years. Here’s what we know: 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record. Over the past decade, record high temperatures outpaced record lows by more than two to one across the continental United States, a marked increase from previous decades.”

Peter Sinclair, The Wall Street 16 – Hapless Happer Leads Clueless Geriatrics in WSJ Fiasco, Climate Crock of the Week

Next time someone sends you a news item from any tentacle of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp/Fox News conglomerate, you should first ask them how that search for WMDs and Obama’s birth certificate is going. Case in point:

Last week, the once-proud Wall Street Journal, now a wholly owned mouthpiece of the Rupert Murdoch empire, the dead-tree equivalent of Fox News, published yet another in a long line of turgid propaganda pieces denying the threat posed by climate change – No Need to Panic About Global Warming.

Most notable among the signatories, besides their almost to-a-person lack of climate science expertise, and their heavy ties to the fossil fuel industry, was an over-representation by the geriatric, the retired, and the gone-emeritus. The title might just as well have been, “I’m not Panicking about Global Warming, because I’ve got mine, and I’ll be dead when it all goes down, suckers…”

Media Matters for America, The Journal Hires Dentists to Do Heart Surgery

After reportedly rejecting a climate change essay by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, the Wall Street Journal has published a flawed op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers instructing public officials not to fight manmade global warming. But most of these individuals do not actually conduct climate research, and their credibility is further undermined by the misleading and unscientific arguments presented in the op-ed.

Chris Mooney, On Global Warming, Should You Trust the Wall Street Journal, or Chevron, ExxonMobil and the Defense Department??, The Intersection

Words are cheap. Therefore, if we are to look outside our personal trusted sources of information for an objective perspective on climate change, we might need to look at who is actually taking action to respond to the so-called threat of climate change. I believe we all can agree that someone who chooses to make a substantial commitment to curbing greenhouse gases has very likely examined the scientific evidence and reached the conclusion that the risks of inaction outweigh the costs of action. That is why it is important to consider who is responding to the projected threat of global warming and why they are doing so.

Here are some real-world examples that, in conjunction with the science, make a compelling argument for not only rejecting this Wall Street Journal article, but also taking the time to rethink whether the threat of climate change merits a response: …

ExxonMobil: “Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems. Since most of these emissions are energy-related, any integrated approach to meeting the world’s growing energy needs over the coming decades must incorporate strategies to address the risk of climate change.”

Chris Mooney, In Which Climate “Skeptics” Drop the Lysenko Bomb. No, I’m Not Kidding….

There are many ways to refute the op-ed, but I want to focus on one not enough emphasized—the tone and some of the actual words and analogies used by its writers.

You see, when scientists provide advice to policymakers—as this op-ed purports to do—they tend to use pretty hedged, cautious, and even probabilistic language. Precisely because they don’t want to be accused of being “advocates,” they avoid using charged words like “alarmism”—as the WSJ piece does—or making political statements

The scientists writing in the Wall Street Journal go on to liken the “warming establishment” (another loaded phrase) to…well, read it:

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

Here is a list of ways in which this “Reductio ad Lysenko” argument fails—fails horribly, and then some:

1.      As I wrote in The Republican War on Science, Lysenko “promoted himself through party newspapers rather than rigorous experiments.” By contrast, the global community of climate scientists publishes repeatedly in the world’s leading scientific journals.

2.      Lysenko convinced Joseph Stalin to ban genetics, and was of course able to do so because this was a totalitarian regime. The idea that anything like this is occurring in the United States, or in the global scientific community, is risible. The Lysenko analogy fails because of freedom of speech and democracy.

3.      Yes, people were imprisoned or killed due to Soviet Lysenkoism. Which is another reason why the analogy is so inflammatory and inappropriate.

4.      The scientific process, working normally, wholly discredited Lysenko. The same scientific process is the one that has affirmed, repeatedly, the idea that human beings are warming the planet.

Encountering the Lysenko analogy in this context, then, certainly tells us something. It just doesn’t have anything to do with whether we should trust the scientific community on global warming.

Rather, the Lysenko charge is self refuting—really, a lot like the charge that President Obama is a socialist. It betrays such a combination rhetorical overreach, and the failure to draw basic distinctions, that it not only flops but ends up as a serious foot-shooting exercise.

Peter Gleick, Forbes:

“The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has long been understood to be not only antagonistic to the facts of climate science, but hostile. But in a remarkable example of their unabashed bias, on Friday they published an opinion piece that not only repeats many of the flawed and misleading arguments about climate science, but purports to be of special significance because it was signed by 16 “scientists.” … the most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journal in this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation. …”

Roy Grubb, The 16 concerned scientists … who are they? “Sixteen scientists.  Judge for yourself how many are qualified to opine on climate science.”

Steven Hamburg, A Flawed Global Warming Analysis in the Wall Street Journal, Climate 411

Many of the specific claims in the Journal piece also have already been definitively laid to rest. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out:

the authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years…. [yet] 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.

Moreover, every decade since the 1950s has been warmer than the last.

Michael Tobis, The Wall Street Journal, Again:

“As is common regarding this and other matters, the WSJ op-ed page gives space to arguments that are egregiously irresponsible. What is most striking about this piece is not its irresponsibility. We have come to expect that. The viciousness and the palpable malice are in competition with intellectual incoherence. The deniers are reduced to what amounts to essentially senile and/or paranoid blithering, and the leading paper of the financial sector gives them space to do it.”

Greg Laden, Two Incontrovertible things: Antropogenic Global Warming is real and the Wall Street Journal is a Rag:

“The Wall Street Journal has published one of the most offensive, untruthful, twisted reviews of what scientists think of climate change; the WSJ Lies about the facts and twists the story to accommodate the needs of head-in-the-sand industrialists and 1%ers; The most compelling part of their argument, according to them, is that the editorial has been signed by 16 scientists … The Wall Street Journal is trolling, and it is shameful. Almost everything they say in their piece is an out and out lie, easily falsified with even a cursory examination of the evidence. In fact, their piece is so bad that this is what we can say about the “16 scientists” who signed this letter: They are idiots. If any of those individuals actually read this piece as published and put their name on it, their credentials as climate scientists have just evaporated.”

Joe Romm, Panic Attack: Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal Finds 16 Scientists to Push Pollutocrat Agenda With Long-Debunked Climate Lies

I started by saying this piece had a counterfactual headline, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.”

Panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking….

It is the authors of the WSJ piece who are panicked because they have allowed their fear of climate action to “dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking.” They have abandoned science. Climate scientists and other climate realists like the IEA are not urging panic — quite the opposite, we are urging a reasoned and logical science-based policy response.

The tragedy is that if we listen to Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets and the handful of scientists willing to push anti-scientific nonsense, if we keep taking no serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then we make it far more likely that future generations will in fact panic, when they wake up sometime in the 2020s and realize how dire the situation is but how the disinformers have all but ended the possibility for averting catastrophe.

Rick Piltz, Climate Science Watch

In a letter to the WSJ, 38 climate science experts call down Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper for publishing an op-ed (“No Need to Panic About Global Warming”) “by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields,” the climate scientists’ letter says, “most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert.”  As Stephen Schneider told us in an interview on his climate science expert credibility study, “It really matters what your credentials are. We’re talking about planetary life support. That’s why it’s so important to understand who’s credible.”

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal:

“In a world full of doubt and contention, there are a few things, other than the proverbial items of death and taxes, you can count on to be completely reliable. And one of those is the ideological mendacity of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. “

Louis A. Derry, associate professor of geological sciences at Cornell University

This is, in my view, one of the most irresponsible and sad pieces of opinion writing I’ve seen in a long time. It is by no means science or even vaguely scientific, despite the scientific background of its signatories. If this is where debate among scientists about climate change is headed, we’re doomed to a dark age where politics, PR, and unfounded accusations will rule and science will become irrelevant. I have come to expect that from some of our politicians and paid talking heads. But to see people with once-respected scientific credentials stoop so low is truly depressing, and bodes very poorly for the future of science as a means of finding viable solutions to the many problems faced by society. What’s worse, I know some of these guys, and have hard time believing they actually read what they signed (I may be naïve). All of them have made productive careers doing science. To see them turn on science itself in such a profoundly unprofessional, disingenuous and dishonest way is particularly disappointing.

Additional posts — added pm 5 February 2012

Greg Laden, Climate Warming Battles on the Blogs — Very useful chronological annotated list of posts re The WSJ 16 — much overlap with this list.

Rabett Run, Ms Affiliation, Amusing little note about the WSJ’s difficulties in providing accurate affiliations for some of The WSJ 16

Eli was reading Skeptical Science’s takedown (it should be) of the Wall Street Journal 16 letter, when he noticed that one of the signers was listed as

James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University

Now everyone knows that this must mean the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University aka Virginia Tech, which is located in Blackburg …

a thought occurred, who else had they managed to get the attribution wrong on. Well how about Roger the Elder’s good friend

Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service and
Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris;

that should be the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the Institute of Geophysics

There may be a few others, but what this has is the stink of a letter put together by the same PR shop that provided the OISM petition but this time they outsourced the work to India (naw, the Indians speak English better than the Americans), but somewhere else. It also raises the question of whether the authors actually SAW the letter before it was published. The Rabett Hole you are associated with catches your eye on a letter you signed.

Simon Donner, Who to trust about climate change, Maribo

My sister is a neurologist. She’s highly active in her field and is often asked by the media to comment about her particular area of expertise within the field of neurology.

It is great having a sibling who is a medical doctor. Though she and I do technically both have the title “Doctor”, I have zero medical expertise, outside of some wilderness first aid, and maybe little random bits I’ve gleaned from various sports-related accidents and drinking the water in the wrong village during a field trip. When something medical comes up, I call my sister. She listens, humours me, and provides general advice. But if it is anything important, or that anything is not neurological, she tells me to see my family doctor, who is better equipped to either diagnosis and treat the ailment or refer me to a specialist who can. …

What those 16 scientists did, however, was very different. They took advantage of their scientific credentials to raise questions about the evidence for climate change, using ad hominem attacks and analogies in place of math, before arguing against action to reduce emissions. Their credentials, though certainly legitimate in their fields, simply do not extend to all areas of science, just as my sister is not an expert in all areas of medicine.

Bill Chameides, Wall Street Journal’s Portrait of the Young Climate Scientist, The Green Grok

The WSJ’s “No Need to Panic” op-ed contains a number of places where the facts are twisted and turned in strange ways. One example: the statement that there has been a “smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections.”
Not really:

yearly global average surface temperature
Temperature projections from the first three IPCC assessment reports (1990’s FAR, 1996’s SAR, 2001’s TAR) compared to observed temperatures. Note that the observed average annual temperatures (thick black line) are for the most part within the lower limit of the FAR projections, exceed SAR’s, and are near the top of the envelope of TAR’s projections. (Source: IPCC, AR4, WG-1, Fig 1.1)
  1. The first IPCC climate projection was made in the First Assessment Report, or FAR, in 1990. It did not include a single trend but an envelope of trends. While it’s true that the actual observed temperature trend falls below the so-called central prediction, it falls at the bottom but within the envelope of temperature predictions.
  2. The 16 concerned scientists fail to mention that the observed temperature for the most part exceeds the envelope of temperature predictions from the Second Assessment Report, or SAR, from 1996.

Update, 7 February 2012

The Reality Check #178: If you prefer hearing over reading, this is an accurate and amusing (chat like) discussion of The WSJ 16’s misrepresentations.

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Tags: climate change · climate delayers · Global Warming · global warming deniers · science

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