Announcing the Next Point of Inquiry: David Frum and Kenneth Silber

By Chris Mooney | July 28, 2011 11:26 am

Clarification: This show does not air until Monday. I was getting reader suggestions for interview questions. We pre-record the show, usually the week before it airs. Stand by for the link…

In about three and a half hours, I interview David Frum of and Kenneth Silber, a frequent contributor on science over there. The topic of the show is conservatism, science, and reality–and I’ve gotten two conservatives, albeit pretty much the opposite of Tea Partiers, to talk about it.

It is my perception that across a wide array of issues–from health care to, uh, light bulb policy–the U.S. political right today just views the world differently, and has a different set of facts (which, I’m afraid, tend to be wrong). I want Frum, and Silber, to tell me to what extent I’m right, and to what extent I’m wrong–and also to show me where the liberal blind spots are.

But of course, you may also have questions for them–so suggest away. They’ll be considered if posted in the next three hours or so….

By the way, here is a piece by Silber, entitled “How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy.” And here is Frum’s classic article taking on Rush Limbaugh.


Comments (30)

  1. Somite

    Please ask them how can we reverse the largely conservative trend that people can be entitled to their own facts.

    And related, what can we do about a media that doesn’t care about the accuracy of statements from the people they are supposed to be interviewing.

  2. Wil

    One of the larger (certainly louder) areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives is the subject of Global Warming. All those satellites that have been looking at the earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land surfaces are generating data, as intended. The following article came out yesterday:

    I wonder which side will be “denying” mounting scientific data like this? Typically, a scientist will discard a theory when that theory’s predictions do not match reality. That is one of the foundational practices of science.

  3. Chris Mooney

    #1 will definitely be covered.

    # 2 we will talk about global warming, but prob not in the way you would like.

  4. Johnny

    Please ask why liberals think they have a trademark on the word “Fact”?

  5. TTT

    ^Because we use them most. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, as they say.

  6. Wind energy has provided a surprising microcosm for the concoction of new realities, ranging from the far-fetched:
    to the ridiculous:
    Conspiracists might think big oil/ big coal are behind it, but the anti-wind activists seem to be pretty grassroots. Apart from conspiracies, how is this propagating? And, of course, I mean across the whole range of issues, from wind energy to stem cell research.

  7. Wil

    To continue from my comment above, the news attached below came out today.

    Charles Monnett, a biologist who has been key in making the case that Global Warming is hurting polar bears, was suspended for “integrity issues”, pending an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

    This is a highly unusual event. The Department of the Interior and the OIG do not undertake measures like this lightly.

    I would guess that Charles is not anything close to a conservative or a Republican.

    Of course, feel free to ignore this and other similar current events, in order to keep the narrative going – that conservatives are wrong, evil, dishonest and stupid.

  8. Gaythia

    @ Chris Mooney @3, IMHO, #2 is a good enough place to start with #1. The Yahoo “news” article quoted by Wil above heavily sprinkles in the word “alarmist” in ways that are, to me, reminiscent of creationist attacks and their use of “Darwinist”. Frequently, popular press reports on science articles questioning some small aspect of evolution are misconstrued as an attack on the entire theory. Something analogous may be happening here.

    At any rate, the original research article is available online, as noted by the Yahoo article:

    I think that any “gaping hole” would have to be constructed out of the following carefully limited paragraph, which hardly seems like a cannon ball. Note the phrases “nominally in the direction of” and “making accurate feedback diagnosis difficult”. As usual in science, a point is raised, and more research is necessary.

    “Yet, as seen in Figure 2, we are still faced with a rather large discrepancy in the time-lagged regression coefficients between the radiative signatures displayed by the real climate system in satellite data versus the climate models. While this discrepancy is nominally in the direction of lower climate sensitivity of the real climate system, there are a variety of parameters other than feedback affecting the lag regression statistics which make accurate feedback diagnosis difficult. These include the amount of non-radiative versus radiative forcing, how periodic the temperature and radiative balance
    variations are, the depth of the mixed layer, etc., all of which preclude any quantitative estimate of how large the feedback difference is. More recent work which attempts to minimize non-feedback influences [14] might well provide more accurate feedback estimates than previous studies.”

  9. Dan

    where is the podcast? Can’t find it.

  10. Marion Delgado

    Chris you MUST deal with the Monnet issue – an Obama war on science. Roughly what’s happening is ANOTHER sub agency at interior is as in bed with industry as Minerals was when they allowed the BP spill to happen. this rogue agency is the BOEM and Obama is leveraging their corruption to push for accelerated drilling permits in the arctic. It’s a repeat of the pre-BP Spill picture.

    What’s worse is the witch hunt against a good scienctist conducted by BOEM. They’ve brought in non-scientists to do a Star Chamber on Monnet and even worse, make a mockery of very recently announced standards to protect scientists at BOEM from exactly this harrassment – BOEM has been doing this over and over, but obviously they feel they have cover under obama and the mixed congress to do ANYTHING they wish to any scientist who’s not an industry shill.

  11. Nullius in Verba


    The “cannonball” is constructed, I think, from the author’s comments elsewhere. What he is saying in the paragraph you quoted is that there is definitely an error in the conventional calculation of sensitivity, but that he doesn’t have all the information needed to be able to replace it with a corrected calculation. There’s a gaping hole in the method, but because we don’t know what the real answer will turn out to be, he can’t prove that the erroneous calculation didn’t get the right answer by lucky chance.

    It goes back to our old question of whether science consists of a list of conclusions, or a method by which we can be reliably confident in those conclusions. If you think it’s the former, then there might not be a hole.

    It’s an interesting bit of science, anyway, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how it turns out. The debate is still going on, and it’s too early to declare a winner.

  12. Somite

    The debate is not going on. Roy Spencer is a loner that has been debunked previously

    The gaping hole discussed here is not a new paper but a press release that at the moment is unavailable. A google cache copy shows a paper that does not show a “gaping hole” but argues with mathematical models for a modeled climate sensitivity. This paper is published in a low impact journal called “Remote sensing” that I can’t verify if its even peer reviewed.

    As usual with denialism much ado about nothing.

  13. Johnny

    Remote Sensing is a peer reviewed publication. Roy Spencer is a distinguished Climatologist.

    If the alarmist community can’t except peer review that disagrees with their movement, then you have no right to cite peer review as a source of authority when it does agree with you.

  14. Somite

    @13 Is it? Can you provide a reference for this?

  15. Nullius in Verba


    Which part? That Remote Sensing is a peer reviewed publication? Or that Roy Spencer is a distinguished climatologist?

    The journal says it is, in its instructions to authors.

    Roy’s bio says:
    “Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he and Dr. John Christy received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for their global temperature monitoring work with satellites. Dr. Spencer’s work with NASA continues as the U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite.”

    Sounds reasonably “distinguished” to me…

    And arguments about either the journal or the author – rather than the content of the paper – are ad hominem and from authority. Tut. Tut.

    The paper doesn’t “argue with mathematical models for a modeled climate sensitivity”, it compares the behaviour of IPCC climate models with actual observations, and shows them to be radically different – then shows that incorrectly assuming the real climate data works like the models can lead to an over-estimate of climate sensitivity.

    The implication, if he is right, is that at the least the evidence for a large sensitivity is weakened – and from this and his earlier work, there is a possibility that AGW will be a little less than 1 C per doubling of CO2. It is potentially very significant.

    That said, it was only published a few days ago, and nobody has had the time yet to examine the arguments. While it is certainly peer-reviewed, I don’t put very much stock in that. It’s far too soon for the sceptics to be declaring victory.

  16. Somite

    Thanks for the clarification on peer review on that journal.

    Comments about the journal and the author are valid. Journal impact is important and conclusions published in Nature are not equivalent to those published in Remote Sensing. The latter would be preliminary, as you mention, and would have to be validated by the field. The problem with Spencer is that he has a history of stretching the conclusions of his papers in informal forums for which he has been criticized.

    In the end there is a very large difference between the minor conclusion of this paper (an argument for lower sensitivity) and the sensationalist “gaping hole”.

  17. Somite

    And here is a critic of the Spencer paper by climate scientists:

    “The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper. It turns out that Spencer and Braswell have an almost perfect title for their paper: “the misdiagnosis of surface temperature feedbacks from variations in the Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance” (leaving out the “On”).”

  18. Nullius in Verba

    “Journal impact is important”

    I disagree. But I suspect this is a point we’re never going to be able to agree on.

    There have been papers published in Nature that I’d give an F to if handed in as first year undergrad homework. It’s quite apparent that they weren’t thoroughly checked. The height of the bar depends on whether they like your conclusions or not. That sort of stuff is about academic/institutional politics, not science.

    Roy Spencer has already said that it was published in a journal not specialising in climate, because it’s well known that climate journals get leaned on if they publish sceptical papers. He got it published, and the journal is peer-reviewed, and there’s nothing the consensus can do about that. As the climate scientists would say, it won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically.

  19. Johnny

    @17 Somite

    I’m glad you’ve been able to acknowledge that Spencer is a Climate Scientist, and the Remote Sensing is a peer reviewed publication.

    Do you entirely miss the fact that the Spencer paper invalidates much of the work of the Real Climate team who you cite as disagreeing with him? Of course they’re going to trash it.

    Now you’re essentially arguing there is a “hierarchy” of peer review journals? Pathetic.

  20. Somite

    @19 There is a quantifiable hierarchy of peer reviewed journals. It is called impact factor.

    It doesn’t invalidate any previous work. It is just a slightly different, albeit unfounded, result.

  21. Johnny

    @21 Somite

    The “impact factor” is a means of scientific suppression by a consensus.

    Of course the side with more bodies will publish more and cite each other more. That doesn’t make the science more valid.

  22. Somite

    @21 Johnny That’s precisely the definition of consensus. Outliers are sometimes right but that is hardly common and they still have to be accepted eventually by the consensus.

  23. Johnny

    @22 Somite

    The definition of science is not consensus. The Real Climate team will never, ever except any evidence that even slightly contradicts their theory.

    Want proof? Look how many scientific papers include a line like “this does not question the science of global warming”.

    Its a throw away line in virtually every climatology paper, even if the paper isn’t even close to suggesting as such. They do it because the Real Climate team will block every publication of every piece of material they can.

    The Chief Alarmists wouldn’t lose faith in global warming even if there was an ice age.

  24. Somite

    On the conservative media misrepresentation of Roy Spencer’s paper

    Even Roy Spencer himself agrees.

  25. Nullius in Verba


    Ah, the usual suspects try to wriggle! Here’s what Spencer actually said:
    “I have received literally dozens of phone calls and e-mails asking basically the same question: did James Taylor’s Forbes article really represent what we published in our Remote Sensing journal article this week? […] The short answer is that, while the title of the Forbes article (New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism) is a little over the top (as are most mainstream media articles about global warming science), the body of his article is — upon my re-reading of it — actually pretty good.

    “About the only disconnect I can see is we state in our paper that, while the discrepancy between the satellite observations were in the direction of the models producing too much global warming, it is really not possible to say by how much. Taylor’s article makes it sound much more certain that we have shown that the models produce too much warming in the long term. (Which I think is true…we just did not actually ‘prove’ it.)”

  26. Somite

    You do see the disconnect between the minor difference that the paper argues could exist and the words used by conservative media and comments in this blogpost, right?

  27. Nullius in Verba


    I see a disconnect between what the paper argues and the words used by liberal media and certain deeply invested climate scientists use to try to downplay or dismiss it.

    But as I said in #15, it’s too soon to tell what it’s real significance is.

  28. ThomasL

    I don’t know Nullius,

    There are two real significant issues here. The first is how much will this affect our understandings and what will the adjustments to the maths end up looking like? On that one I agree time will tell, and I’m in no rush to jump to any conclusion (the only one I have made so far is we don’t even know a fraction of what we are pretending to in this climate issue).

    The second is social science stuff, a reminder that in the end it is a math problem we are talking about. It is not “climate”, or even reality we are dealing with, but rather our abstractions of them (we try to pretend they are the same). Math is most useful when you can “test” it. That actually requires *knowing* what the answer is, and then seeing if the equations we’ve worked out arrive there. If so, our math “works”, if not we’ve “misunderstood” something… Except we always misunderstand when we start thinking the maths and reality are actually interchangeable… Our maths will tell us what they are designed to, reality will do what it will. On this point I think it is, or should be, already relevant and of great significance…

  29. Nullius in Verba


    All of our knowledge is a mental model of the world filtered through the gates of perception. Mathematics is merely a more precise, unambiguous, and self-consistent way of expressing that knowledge, and deriving its logical implications.

    The philosophy of epistemology gets quite deep – but I don’t think we have to go that far in this case. The problems with climate modelling are well-known, and have been talked about for ages – that bit isn’t news. But the observations of “reality” rely on models, too. Models of satellite orbits and detector performance and so on. We need to be a little bit careful.

  30. ThomasL

    You are likely correct Nullius,

    But this whole episode of turning science into a war of “deniers” and “Believers” would make for one great epistemology chapter (likely a book as it’s got so many dynamics going on…), and as I’ve said, I find the maths and the models of science both very useful. But even in the case of satellite orbits I must remind myself that at this point our maths have only provided us with a useful tool and general vocabulary that allows us to take advantage of certain properties that something we call “gravity” presents. Yet we still don’t know what “it” – gravity – is (we have some very promising theories, but none of them are final yet), and it plays hell with our maths at higher levels where we see we obviously still don’t have a great grasp of it because the maths start falling apart. The reality of “it”, and our useful representations of such. Very different things. 😉


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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 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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