"Restoring Science to Its Rightful Place": Where It All Went Wrong

By Chris Mooney | October 28, 2010 8:40 am

Miller-McCune has an article, featuring me a lot, about why the Obama administration failed (not through any fault of its own, really) to restore science to Washington, as the president pledged in his inaugural address. Instead, we’re on the verge of having a new army of climate deniers in Congress.  My first quote about this situation evinces general shock at how far we’ve tumbled, and how fast:

“I did not feel then,” Mooney said, thinking back on the last election, “the sense that it would derail this quickly, this badly.”

What happened? Well, ClimateGate happened. Then the Tea Party happened. Climate science got stronger, but the issue became highly politicized and resistance became stronger than ever. I’m quoted on this, too:

“I think there’s no clear relationship between an increase in scientific knowledge and increasing public acceptance, if the issue is controversial. They can completely go in the opposite direction, and in fact climate change is a great example. We need to give up on the idea that truth finally triumphs because science figures something out. It triumphs within science, but that’s very different from having it triumph within society.”

So now what? Get ready for a different kind of war on science–fought against an administration, rather than by an administration, as occurred in the Bush years:

[Mooney] predicts that the ensuing scene, a bottom-up “war on science” driven by grassroots conservative anger, will look different from the top-down “war on science” that existed during the Bush administration. Then, the political meddling was largely a public relations push to align the government’s scientific output with the president’s position on climate action (or his supporters’ position on contraception or stem cell research.

This time, Mooney said, scientific skeptics are not trying to control the administration’s message, but to derail an administration’s goal. Instead of quietly rewritten climate reports, we may get theatrical congressional hearings investigating scientific research.

May? I’d say we will get them, unless the polls are radically wrong about the way the election is shaping up. It’ll be Ken Cuccinelli all over again, but in Congress this time.

Where does this leave us? Not a good place, but we’ve got to learn something from what happened. Now’s a time for figuring out where the rails of rationality were when we left them.

“Basically,” Mooney concluded, “we’re all in a huge state of introspection about what the hell didn’t work.”


Comments (43)

  1. Not Amused

    “Teach the children quietly/for someday sons and daughters/
    will rise up/ and fight while we stood still.”

    – “Silent Running”, by Mike and the Mechanics

  2. -We need to give up on the idea that truth finally triumphs because science figures something out.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I think that truth might still triumph eventually, like it did in the case of cigarette smoking and ozone destruction. In case of issues like global climate change however, the problem is that it might be too late then so “eventually” won’t be good enough.

  3. Jon

    Just a thought, but maybe one thing to do is support dissenting voices inside the Republican party. If you have an at least a partly science based Republican party, you’re quite a ways ahead, right? Because interests won’t be able to bank on GOP gridlock… (Again, just a thought.)

  4. james wheaton

    I am afraid I agree with Chris – except I am perhaps more pessimistic. I have experienced an awakening regarding John Q Citizen the last few years. My faith in America has gone south. Three years ago I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Mid South – it is here where my faith fell apart, seeing the wingnuttery all around. I now know that what we used to think were the things that make America great are actually its undoing. The wide open spaces, the land of plenty, the freedom to do what you want, two gas guzzling cars in every garage, the American dream. It is unsustainable, and always has been, and now very large 3rd world nations aspiring to break out want it too. We are heavy users, and the majority of us are not willing to do the things needed to change it significantly. It would never get the votes. The Obama administration knows we are in trouble and can do nothing about it – the opposing special interests and the Rethuglicans are just too strong.

    I sure hope the science is somehow wrong on AGW – that there is such a delayed effect. If so, we are literally doomed to live in a hostile world. We do not have it in us to change it. Or at least a powerful portion of us can block it. I fear for my children.

    It’s all very depressing. Watch Palin win in 2012 – that would put a fork in it….

  5. Stefan Jones

    In awful warning movies, the heroic scientist struggles to be heard, but is ignored even as the bodies pile up, because a pompous, scheming mayor (or industrialist) fears losing the tourist trade (or election, or profits).

    I feel like I’m living in one of those movies. Only, in movies the disaster is neatly averted and the last victim is the mayor (or industrialist) who dies in an especially grim way.

    In real life, the greedy bastards will all be dead by the time the shit hits the fan, and all of our kids — not just the sons and daughters of the denialists who did their best to fight solutions back when they were affordable — will suffer.

  6. Maybe truth has triumphed.

    Just as catastrophist Eugenics failed because of attrocities commited in its name http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp, and the failure of any predictions of doom to materialize http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_eugenics , so Catastrophist Climate Science is failing, because of the attrocities committed in its name http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/25/impending-global-food-crisis
    , and the failure of any predictions of doom http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/copenhagen/article6956783.ece to materialize.

  7. Bob B

    It was never about the science and more about control of the masses by enviro wackos.
    As far as the science goes, climategate has shown not even the AGW big wigs believe it and have to hide the decline because it doesn’t fit their models. Neither does the “hot spot” predicted by their models show up. There is no “OBJECTIVE” proof the recent small warming has anything to do with AGW

  8. Jon

    Bob: There is no “OBJECTIVE” proof the recent small warming has anything to do with AGW

    Scientific organizations like these:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change#Statements_by_concurring_organizations (Keep scrolling down for like, five minutes.)

    …Don’t come up with their statements regarding the consensus with no evidence. There is plenty of evidence that CO2 is causing warming:


  9. “This time, Mooney said, scientific skeptics are not trying to control the administration’s message, but to derail an administration’s goal”

    Can I just ask a daft question? Members of this blog (maybe), but definitely Phil Plait’s blog would argue that ‘skepticism’ is science. So how is it possible to be a ‘scientific skeptic’?

  10. Bob B

    Jon, your links are a joke–Wiki—they won’t let the AGW nut post on it anymore. Just take a look at the Vostok ice core data and you will find temps much higher then now in the past and it oscillates between warm and cold.

  11. FUAG

    @12 The Ice Core data is a FACT that is commonly overlooked.

    Can one scientifically explain how we can attribute ALL, or even a large portion, of the current warming and CO2 level increases to AGW when ice core temperature and CO2 information clearly show that temperatures and CO2 levels rise and fall every 100,000 years or so? And we are currently at a time when temperatures and CO2 SHOULD be rising based on the Earth’s history?

    See Here: http://www.artofteachingscience.org/?p=75

    Scientists have a long history of saying something is absolute, only to find out later they didn’t fully understand or are proven wrong. Is it that far fetched to think that once we reach our ~100,000 year peak that the earth will begin to cool and CO2 levels we decrease just as they have many times before?

    Assuming you believe the ice core data as 100% accurate, the logical conclusion is that the current warming trend is natural, and that it will start going the other way after we peak.

    If you want to say “AGW is enhancing the natural trend of increased temperatures and CO2 to an unmeasurable extent” you will find many much more accepting as that statement correlates with the facts.

    Now, why the Earth cools and warms every ~100,000 years? That’s for science to figure out…

  12. Bob B

    Here take a look at how “unprecedented” our recent warming is. It’s fun to watch and anyone who can read a graph can quickly figure out what a hoax the warmenistas have perpetuated:


  13. FUAG

    @14 Nice one Bob. I had to hunt around a while to find all those FACTS when I was making my decision on global warming. That link shows very clearly why many are skeptical and how obvious it was that the AGW main stream was cherry picking data to support their “conclusions” of world demise.

    I’ll also add that the link I provided (#13) is the exact graph Al Gore used in his movie to show how CO2 level precede temperature increases. However, it was later proven that the graph actually shows CO2 Level tend to increase following temperature increases, as well as, history shows that CO2 can increase while temperatures are decreasing. Thus proving increased CO2 does not directly correlate with warming.

  14. FUAG

    To loop this back to the topic “Where It All Went Wrong”: Start with Mann and Gore, work backwards from there.

  15. Jon

    Mann doesn’t even provide major research for determining AGW. paleoclimatology doesn’t even provide the major research. It’s more like a secondary data point. And of course, Al Gore didn’t do any research, whatever conspiracy theories you can dream up to the contrary.

    Bob B’s link from the movement conservative rumor mill is dealt with here:

    There is a YouTube movie currently propogating through the blogosphere that purports to [look at a broader picture]. Rather than narrowly focus on just the hockey stick of the last few thousand years, it examines temperature change in Central Greenland over the past 500,000 years. This shows that that there are periods where Greenland temperatures were warmer than today, including the Medieval Warm Period. If current temperatures are not unprecedented, how can we say global warming is not natural?

    Now one could nitpick the analysis by pointing out that it focuses on one location in Central Greenland. Temperature at a single location inevitably show greater variation than the global average. While Greenland showed strong warmth 1000 years ago, global temperature during the Medieval Warm Period was less than today. But the broader argument is that climate change has happened naturally in the past. Global temperatures have changed dramatically – in particular during those periods when we emerged from world-wide ice ages.

    Sure, the climate changes every 100,000 years or so, like during the last ice age. And I’m sure there are good reasons for this, like small changes in the earth’s rotation. But I don’t know about you–I don’t find that reassuring. We like our climate the way it is, and no doubt the farmers who grow the food for our tables do too (and those guys are kind of important on a planet with 6 billion + mouths to feed).

  16. Bob B

    Jon, yet another pitiful link. The site discusses it then does handwaving saying CO2 still has a big influence. It doesn’t take someone who can plot with EXCEL or taken simple courses in statisitcs to see that there have been huge temperature variations in the past and the very recent warming is but a tiny tiny blip. Nothing to see here move along.

  17. Jon

    I already posted a link upthread on the research demonstrating influence of CO2 on recent warming:


    CO2’s properties of trapping heat in the atmosphere are uncontroversial. You can go back 100 years and see it in scientific literature (before anyone was even thinking about changes in CO2 levels due to industrialization).

    A good discussion of the relationship between past CO2 levels and temperatures is here (links to research too):


    Sure there have been temperature variations in the past. They were called ICE AGES as I said above. That doesn’t mean they’re good things for civilization and we should want changes like that.

    Hey and don’t call my links names.

  18. Bob B

    Jon, your 1st link is not worth reading. Your second link goes in circular arguments and still doesn’t rebut the fact that the CO2 lags temp by 100’s of years. It has been asseted but not PROVEN that the CO2 caused it to go up more.

    Sure adding some CO2 will make T go up slightly. It has a logarythmic effect and not 1:1. The only case for ” harmful” AGW is from computer models which assume a positive feedback which people like Spencer are in the middle of proving they are negative. The models don’t really even cover cloud cover which dwarfs the ~3WMsq forcing of CO2. The climate models have no way of being tested in our lifetime according to the likes of Gavin Schmidt.
    The models also predict a “HOT SPOT” which has been measured to be not there.

    The only real test that I can see is to compare Hansen’s 1988 model prediction with his scenarios A-C against present MGST. You will see that they are nowhere close.

    So as far as worrying about AGW and spending trillions of dollars and huge percentages of GDP on what may not even be a problem as my claim as the recent —-tiny tiny blips.

  19. FUAG

    @19 Jon, your first link is stating that CO2 causes global warming, and your second link is arguing that CO2 levels do not affect global warming but are a derivative of global warming.

    Historical data proves the later, what is proving the former? Historical data has shown that CO2 can be rising as temperatures are falling.

    CO2 has heat trapping properties, but it’s only about .03% of our atmosphere. There is just no way to say CO2 is having a significant affect on warming.

  20. Jon

    BobIt has been asseted but not PROVEN that the CO2 caused it to go up more.

    Things aren’t “PROVEN” in science. Theories are developed through induction and observation. Newton’s Laws of Gravity have never been “proven.”

    In the case of the page that you said “wasn’t worth reading”, there is a list of experiments that were done where there are no reasonable explanations but that increased CO2 was causing the observed results. You could disagree with the experiments’ conclusions, but then you have to come up with your own explanation, other than “THOSE COMMIE SCIENTISTS WERE COLLUDING WITH AL GORE! [froth froth, spittle spittle]”

    FUAG your second link is arguing that CO2 levels do not affect global warming but are a derivative of global warming.

    If that’s what you think the piece says, I question your reading comprehension abilities, never mind your science knowledge…

  21. FUAG

    “A close examination of the CH4, CO2 and temperature fluctuations recorded in the Antarctic ice core records does in fact reveal that yes, the temperature moved first in what is, when viewed coarsely, a very tight correlation.”

    ” clearly ALLOWS FOR CO2 acting as a cause for rising temperatures while also revealing it CAN be an effect of them” Note the lack of the word DOES.

    Then you get this: “So, it is correct that CO2 did not trigger the warmings, but it DEFINITELY did contribute to them, and according to climate theory and model experiments, greenhouse gas forcing WAS the dominant factor in the magnitude of the ultimate change.

    It’s certainly a leap to go from a theory that “allows for” and “can be an affect” to “definitely did”.

    Not to mention the data supporting the theory was from long before anyone started burning fossil fuels, so how can one suggest the additional CO2 has any level of affect?

  22. The Ice Core data is a FACT that is commonly overlooked.

    Except by the many climate scientists who measure the ice core data in the first place. Strangely, none of them seem to agree with your interpretation of their data.

    Can one scientifically explain how we can attribute ALL, or even a large portion, of the current warming and CO2 level increases to AGW

    Yes. We know how CO2 works as a heat trapping gas, we know how much we have been injecting into the atmosphere over time and we know the residence time of that CO2. Not to mention the predictions over the last 50 years have all been born out. (BTW. Your final sentence in that paragraph is simply false).

    Scientists have a long history of saying something is absolute

    Scientists are so stubbornly unwilling to say their conclusions are absolute that even Evolution hasn’t gotten promoted from “Theory” status, yet.

    Now, why the Earth cools and warms every ~100,000 years? That’s for science to figure out…

    Of course it is. God forbid a climate skeptic should do any actual work.

  23. Jon


    Well again, paleoclimatology is not the primary evidence for warming, and we’re back to the uncontroversial property of CO2, that it traps heat. It is a greenhouse gas. If you are suggesting that all that CO2 goes into the atmosphere and doesn’t cause warming, you would have to tell me why those known properties don’t go into effect (properties known way before the idea of anthropocentric climate change, as I said above) .

  24. FUAG

    Jon, we’ve gone back and forth on this one a couple time. I can buy “some affect” but it has to be weighed against the fact that Earth is in a natural warming period. So to say “CO2 is the cause of the current warming” is just wrong. Again, I’ll buy “CO2 is enhancing warming to some extent, but that extent can’t be measured”.

    Also, CO2 is such a small part of the atmosphere, and is a very small percentage of green house gases. Water vapor being the most abundant. (Have you ever been in a desert at night? Notice how cold it is? That’s because there is no water vapor thus no green house effect.)

    This article sums it up pretty nicely: http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    Jinchi, see above as well for ” We know how CO2 works as a heat trapping gas”. Yes, at this point it’s common knowledge, thank you.

    And on absolutes: Good point, I probably choose the wrong way to phrase that. I’ll try again: Science has a long history of being wrong, so politicians and talking heads should not restate their theories as absolutes.

  25. Bob B

    Jon go get the ice core raw data and plot it yourself! Stop relying on the AGW warmist trash WEB sites. Can you use EXCEL?


    Scale the temp data and CO2 so they fall on top of each other. You will find MOST large temperature transitions within the data set where the temperature had major excursions and settled to near the final value while CO2 had no effect and settled thousands of years later. The typical delay time, if you know signal analysis shows ~ 800yr delay

    “Yes. We know how CO2 works as a heat trapping gas, we know how much we have been injecting into the atmosphere over time and we know the residence time of that CO2. Not to mention the predictions over the last 50 years have all been born out. ”

    The only forecast done as far as I know was Hansens 1988 simulation—not 50yrs ago!—it was crap:

    BTW don’t use the GISS Temp crap use the UAH temp data

    BTW also don’t trust “hindcasting” with 5-10 variables (fudge factors) I can fit anything to anything.

    OK so I will say the amount of CO2 released has caused maybe 1/3 of the recent small warming blip. But what we are talking about here is the crisis of run away warming does not exist and will not happen. There are very few things in nature which have positive feedbacks. There is not run away warming over the Tropics in Summer.

    Go back and live your lives and forget about this crisis that AGW warmenistas are trying to panic people with.
    I am really happy climategate happened and the cover was pulled away from the fake climate wizzards!

    I think the crisis is now over since the hoax has been exposed! Most people now are not buying it and that is a great thing.

  26. Stop relying on the AGW warmist trash WEB sites. Can you use EXCEL?

    So to translate: You think that the climate science community is engaged in an elaborate scam to defraud the public. This fraud is so widespread that scientists studying ice cores are willing to downplay the significance of their own work to keep it going. And you believe that the rest of the scientific community is too stupid to realize that they could bring the whole deal crashing down if only they had the wisdom and Excel skills of some guy named Bob.

    I usually enjoy engaging skeptics and I don’t even mind debating pure denialists if they’ve got a coherent story to tell. But I don’t think your brand of crazy is worth chasing down the rabbit hole.

  27. Bob B

    Jinchi, you need to dig into the data and read the technical papers in the science. I have. You and Jon quote some WEB sites with hand waving. Others have done what I have said and have shown the CO2 lags the temp.
    As far as Jon’s other WEB site is concerned, the one I have said is not worth reading does contain F-R-A-U-D. Perpetuated by the fraud of the Hockey stick—which has been totally debunked!
    If you actually have read the Climate-gate emails you will find fraud, deception,conspiracy to block sceptic papers, deleting emails etc.

    That is why the AGW group is in chaos and being marginalized:

  28. Jon

    Which hockey stick do you mean, Bob? There are several, all coming to the same conclusion:



    And the stolen emails were investigated and the researchers were exonerated:


    Your concerns about CO2 were addressed above.

  29. Bob B

    ROFLOL—-You are not serious are you? Did you read the frickin emails or not?—Typical climate groupee. Now that there will be a republican Congress maybe they can force UV to release Mann’s deleted email records and throw him in jail once and for all. As per the whole Hockey stick ordeal go to climate Audit to read about the debunking of the other sticks–you are a joke—goodbye–I don’t have time for someone who doesn’t bother to go to the sources of data and find out for himself.

  30. Guys, try to be sympathetic to the Warmist Climate NAZIs.

    Like good Germans led astray by Hitler’s fake Eugenics crisis, Warmists cant see they are the bad guys. The nature of crisis is you sometimes do things you would never consider doing in normal circumstances, and they believe we are in a crisis.

    When good Germans did the unthinkable, they thought they were saving Mankind from terminal genetic degeneracy, by restoring the natural balance – by culling people who (they thought) would never survive and procreate if they weren’t protected, by unnaturally soft lives provided by civilisation. In their minds, they weren’t killing Jews, they were killing genetic degenerates – people who, if they survived, would drag us all down, by procreating and burdening future generations with the care of their feeble offspring.

    When Warmists vote to do the unthinkable – condemning poor people to choose between freezing or starving, when their energy bills soar, and condemning people to starve in the third world, when their land is diverted to biofuel production – they believe that such sacrifices are part of the grim cost of preventing far greater casualties, which would occur if global warming was allowed to spiral out of control.

    They cant see, they dare not see, that they have simply been manipulated into condoning evil – that the greater evil they fear is an illusion, and that they have caused terrible harm, by supporting the bad guys.

    In fact, the more damage done by climate “mitigation” measures, the harder this admission of fault and guilt will become.

    Hitler understood this – this is why his treatment of Jews became progressively worse throughout his rule. The more brutal his treatment of “degenerates” became, the more impossible it became for people who helped him to admit what they were doing was wrong.

    The people who are manipulating the climate alarmist movement also understand this burden – they are continuing their biofuel subsidies, despite abundant evidence (see my previous post) that biofuel production does terrible harm to people who can barely afford to feed themselves, even without the added burden of reduced food cultivation, when land is diverted to biofuels.

    So give the footsoldier climate NAZIs sympathy, and help them to understand that, if they find the courage to realise they have made the wrong choices, they will receive our forgiveness and understanding, not our hate.

  31. Jon

    And Eric breaks Godwin’s Law:


    I didn’t know all these scientific organizations were secretly Nazis, Eric:


    Drawing a Hitler mustache on all climate scientists. Nice.

  32. Jon, you might find the following essay by the late Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) interesting.


  33. V.O.R.

    The Global Warming hoax is apparent mainly because of it’s sheer size. It’s self-defeating. So many fanatics, so much money, it’s gathered a lot of attention. But this can’t be the first large scientific fraud. Again I point to the size: That’s a lot of organization, a lot of buy-in. So, aside from vaccines and 3M’s post-it-note adhesives, what other frauds are on-going?

    That’s what scares me.

    I’ve already stopped using tape, hand sanitizers, and anything Oprah recommends. Plus I’ve started smoking again and I plan on getting a third SUV. Any other tips?

  34. Jon

    you might find the following essay by the late Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) interesting.

    I’ll let that speak for itself.

    (Who do we trust, fiction writers and guys named Bob noodling with EXCEL, or scientists?)

  35. Michael Crichton, unlike Al Gore and L. Ron Hubbard, never tried to pretend his science fiction was anything but entertainment.

  36. Jon

    You’re pretending it’s something other than entertainment, right here.

  37. No Jan, there is a difference between an author of fiction writing a serious essay, and a politician claiming his fiction is fact.

    The oceans haven’t risen, and the icecaps haven’t melted. “An Inconvenient Truth” is
    a work of fiction, just like “The Day After Tommorrow”.

  38. Jon
  39. genealogymaster

    Finally a proper investigation will occur. Phil Jones from the CRU has already publicly stated there has been no significant warming in the last 15 years. Until all their data is released the emails scrutinized thoroughly will we know what happened. We have no proof they didn’t delete emails, the Mann hockey stick has been debunked several times. When will the climate wackos see that politics has to stay away from research and stop funding grants. There is virtually no research in all causes of warming. Climate does change but there is no proof of man made global warming at this point. There have been all the scandals with the IPCC, so until such time as we have a proper investigation and not a white wash the public will no believe the wackos. I’m not a denier climate does change. I just will not accept Mann and the others are innocent just because they themselves say so and their universities say so, they will do anything to protect the flow of money.

  40. sHx

    What happened? Well, ClimateGate happened. Then the Tea Party happened. Climate science got stronger, but the issue became highly politicized and resistance became stronger than ever.

    But, but, but, but… you said Climategate was a storm in a teacup! But, but, but… Tea Party-goers were just a lunatic fringe! But, but… if climate science got stronger the resistance would be weaker. But, but, but… you wrote a ‘political science’ book entitled, “The Republican War on Science”!

    What happened? People like you happened.

  41. Richard Woods

    @29 Bob B

    “Others have done what I have said and have shown the CO2 lags the temp.”

    Haven’t you thought about the significant difference in cause-effect circumstance between all those CO2 increases in the past and the current increase?

    In all those past cases, there were only natural (non-manmade) sources of CO2, which were triggered largely by warming temps. But now, for the first time in history, we have built billions of machines burning carbon fuel and emitting CO2 that is entirely _in addition_ to natural sources of CO2. The amounts of this anthropogenic CO2 (billions of tons annually) are quite sufficient to account for the current increase. Thus, we now have, for the first time in history, a situation in which large CO2 increases are occurring _before_ temperature increases. (The temperature increases so far are only a fraction of what the extra CO2 will cause in future centuries.)

    Over and over I see anti-AGWers using the historical record to argue that since CO2 lagged temps in the past, it therefore must do so now … with no apparent consciousness of that significant difference between all past occurrences and our current circumstances. You’ve not shown that consciousness either.

    As long as someone fails to show awareness of such a significant and simple, easy-to-understand (once it’s thought about) difference, his arguments will fail to convince someone who has a broader historical/scientific understanding with appreciation of what’s different this time.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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