Dear Discovery Institute: I Got Your 'Note'

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 9, 2009 10:33 am


Thanks for writing and reading our blog. However, it seems you’re a bit confused, so I will clarify for readers. You began by quoting my post:

..The entire [Swifthack] episode is an unfortunate case study of our increasingly Unscientific America–an example of how the media distorts a story, partisanship spins the details to suit a particular agenda, and scientists are ill-equipped to manage the PR fallout. I am saddened to observe the state of broad perception of climate science, but not surprised. Further, this is not “the public’s” fault. It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message. If we aren’t prepared to speak up for ourselves in a united voice about the state of the planet, others with less noble intentions will. And we won’t like the result.

In your ‘note’, you take issue with the concept of staying on message:

Real scientists don’t have a “message.” Politicians and ideologues and science journalists have “messages,” and they have seduced many scientists to betray their science and “speak up in a united voice.”

You are spinning my words out of control. And I find it particularly amusing that a group intent on disputing evolution could have the audacity to accuse anyone else of betraying science. By staying on message, I mean that scientists must be clear when talking about science.  As Phil noted, when we don’t, others with a particular agenda will distort what’s said for their own political purposes, and the important message about climate will get lost. [As you’ve just demonstrated].

You accuse Chris and me of being “ideologues..who have perverted science with their hard-left ideology..damaging science in ways that scientists haven’t even begun to comprehend.” That doesn’t even make sense. My allegiances never fell neatly on one side of the aisle and my decisions are dictated by content. As far as global warming, I go with the best science available.

You call me a “science-journalists-with-an-agenda” who is “toxic to science” collaborating with “fools and opportunists” in the scientific community, before going on an incoherent ramble about invoking a “science-civil war.” Now it doesn’t do much good to address these kind of ridiculous remarks, so I will just make one point directed at what I percieve as your primary concern–the same I made in comments in the original post–and notably, the part you chose to omit:

While working on Capitol Hill, I became increasingly frustrated over the number of scientists that would arrive from universities, NGOs, and industry, who ultimately had the same goal regarding upcoming legislation, but a very jumbled mix of presentations with no notion of overlapping efforts. This is an institutional problem–much of which results from competing for limited resources and funding. On top of that, many scientists brought complicated p-values and figures yet did not explain to staffers what they represented. Meanwhile, psuedoscientific groups with a particular agenda were often well organized, articulate, funny, and could pack a briefing room by serving food. Now science, of course, should never be about lobbying. However, it is important to work across institutions and groups if we are to engage decision makers when we share common goals.


Comments (13)

  1. “You accuse Chris and I … ”

    Shouldn’t that be “Chris and me”?

  2. Sigmund

    Jeffrey Beall said:
    ““You accuse Chris and I … ”
    Shouldn’t that be “Chris and me”?”

    No, its definitely Chris and Sheril;)

  3. Excellent response Sheril!

    Might I mention that James Hoggan, in his book “Climate Cover-up,” has pointed out that the credibility of both sides of the argument should be explored. That is to say, what is the real agenda of the global warming proponents and “skeptics”? The proponents are apparently looking out for the health and welfare of this planet with funding from scientific organizations and the government while the “skeptics” are apparently looking out for special interest groups like oil companies and other who have a financial stake against global warming and are also funded by such organizations. From this, it is clear who has the best interest of everyone and who has their own best interest at heart!

    I attended the recent screening of Randy Olson’s “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy” (where both Randy and James Hoggan spoke afterwards) at UCLA. I became convinced that global warming is a real problem because the science is valid and that there is really an overwhelming case for it! What kept me “on the fence” for so long is because of the “smoke and mirrors” the “skeptics” use to obfuscate and confuse the issue. Their well funded crusade to do this to other scientists is not only unacceptable, but it is downright unethical! This goes to prove my opinion that the adage “Knowledge is power” is wrong! I say that, “Knowledge is not power- it’s what you do with knowledge- that’s power!” Unfortunately, the unethical use of the knowledge of global warming phenomenon is tainting the scientific community!

    Lastly, in the screening of Olson’s movie, I forgot who said this, but he said that he didn’t “believe” that global warming exists, he “knows” it does, because well tested scientific data is something one doesn’t believe in it, one knows it to be true!

  4. Yes, good catch Jeffrey. And thanks Paul.

  5. Pete

    Sounds like The Discovery Institute is grasping at straws.

  6. MartinM

    Real scientists don’t have a “message.”

    …says the Discovery Institute. Fantastic.

    Incidentally, since I am, apparently, Chris, I’d love to know when I get my share of the royalties 🙂

  7. John Kwok


    Very nicely done. However, I am sorry that you had to waste your time defending yourself from a pathetic fool like Dr. Michael Egnor of Stony Brook University’s School of Medicine. Here he is displaying as much of his scientific ignorance as is usually seen with respect to his inability to understand evolutionary biology, despite the fact that he is a professor of medicine at a well known American medical school.

    @ MartinM,

    I thought you were Jared Diamond! Never thought you were Chris Mooney, contrary to the absurd claim of one breathtakingly inane Militant Atheist who apparently enjoys posting here.

  8. Neuro-conservative

    Sheril — Your response is disingenuous. Your claim that “My allegiances never fell neatly on one side of the aisle” is silly — you have praised only the most liberal of Republicans (as well as plenty of liberal democrats).

    Moreover, you have shown little concern for the shocking lapses of scientific integrity revealed by Climategate — you seem much more concerned about the propaganda fiasco for your side.

    It would be more honest for you to simply state that you are a left/liberal with an ideological commitment to the global warmist agenda. Pretending that you are simply taking some kind of neutral, empirically-based approach is transparently phony.

  9. John Kwok

    @ Neuro-conservative,

    I am a Right/Conservative/Republican trained in geology and biology who recognizes the reality of climate change, especially with respect to Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Contrary to your rather risible condemnation of Sheril, the scientific data pointing to is quite substantial and robust. While I may not share her enthusiasm for the current President of the United States, I do support her conclusions with regards to the current state of climate change science and why it is important enough to merit serious attention from politicians both here in the United States and elsewhere around the globe.

  10. SLC

    Re John Kwok

    Of course, it should be pointed out that the Dishonesty Institute also includes, in addition to global warming deniers and evolution deniers, CFC/ozone depletion deniers, HIV/AIDS deniers, and, in the presence of John West, Holocaust revisionists. Good company for far right wing whackjobs like Mr. Neuro-conservative.

  11. And Neuro, the “global warmist agenda” as you put it this – prevent the collapse of human societies and ECONOMIES that is a LIKELY outcome of increased temperatures, sea-level rise, and the loss of glaciers and other forms of formerly stable surface ice.

    Yep, those of us who have read the science sure are a despicable lot for wanting to keep humans from destroying themselves and the world around them.

  12. John Kwok

    Speaking of the Discovery Institute, I’ve been posting this announcement at a few places online and hope you’ll support me:

    Here’s the text I received of the Dishonesty Institute’s appeal to its intellectually-challenged audience to write as many positive reviews of Meyer’s mendacious intellectual porn while dealing with the reviews of Meyer’s “evil Darwinist” opposition. Again, I urge you to vote yea on mine and Donald Prothero’s reviews (and on the other one star reviews) and vote no on the positive reviews that have been posted at a most frantic pace at since the Dishonesty Institute sent its online e-mail appeal yesterday:

    Dear John ,

    Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is gaining momentum, and now the Darwinists are fighting back. After Dr. Meyer and Dr. Sternberg trounced Darwinists Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero in last week’s debate, desperate Darwinists are lashing out at Dr. Meyer, trashing his book at They can’t afford for more people to be exposed to the arguments that Meyer is making, so they have resorted to trying to ruin the book’s reputation.

    If you have read Signature in the Cell, we need your help! Please write a review at (they need not be long, just honest). This is a book that has earned its place in the top 10 list of bestselling science books at Amazon, the book that made the Times Literary Supplement’s Top Books of 2009, and an author who was named “Daniel of the Year” for his work. Please take a moment and defend Dr. Meyer and his groundbreaking book.


    Anika M. Smith

  13. I’ve been transcribing a rant of a friend of the Discovery Institute, Christopher Monckton. One of the things he says rather applies here, with regard to the Discovery Institute.

    Monckton said (with a minor edit):

    Goodness knows where they get it [their money] from! Foreign governments, possibly! I don’t know! I haven’t looked. But it’s certainly an alarming question: Are the [climate and evolution denialist] movements being backed by China or India so they won’t have to compete with us for natural resources because we will have shut our industry down. It’s a question that the security services, I hope, are looking at, because it certainly worries me.

    If the Discovery Institute continues to carry water for China and India in their War Against American Science, who wins?

    No food, but surely they’ll not object to being held to (or crucified by) the same standards.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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