The Republican War on Science is back, and it’s badder than ever. Or, that’s what I reported over at Mother Jones’ “Blue Marble”:
…the Washington Post and ABC released the latest in a set of public opinion findings that have not only shown growing skepticism about mainstream climate science in the US, but now, negative views of environmental scientists in general.
More specifically, here’s what the new survey found. Forty percent of Americans don’t trust what scientists have to say about the environment; among Republicans, it’s nearly 60 percent. Both numbers are an increase from polling results in the past; and for the public in general, a significant part of the change seems to be coming among political independents.
….By seizing upon “ClimateGate” and directing concerted fire against the scientists involved, Republican politicians, activists and global warming “skeptics” and denialists have now arguably caused more damage to the scientific community than the Bush administration did.
You can read the full item here.
Sometimes, even when we know we’re playing hardball, we forget how hard the ball actually is.
Here’s a Newsweek.com bloggy profile hailing the tough-to-dispute successes of a leading nemesis climate progress, Marc Morano of ClimateDepot.com:
With “Climategate”—the release last month of thousands of hacked e-mails showing debate about climate change may have been stifled—[Morano] is now getting more attention than ever before. As of last Friday, according to one the many e-mails this—and probably most—reporters get, he’s currently stationed at ground zero of the climate-change debate, Copenhagen, which he points out in e-mails, “is extremely cold.” (Several independent reviews of the hacked e-mails conclude that some scientists were engaging in embarrassing and at times unethical discussions, but the scientific consensus showing anthropogenic global warming was neither compromised nor fabricated).
He has been on countless news shows lately, including the BBC and CNN where he’s engaged in what he described to me as “lively and hostile debates.” He’s also appeared on the national radio shows of Sean Hannity, Fred Thomspon, and Lars Larsen. One of his fans (and a former boss of Morano’s) is Rush Limbaugh, who last month inadvertently shut down Morano’s site by urging listeners to follow his coverage of Climategate. The race to Morano’s site came after Rush gave this blessing: “Morano’s probably single-handedly, in a civilian sense, the guy─other than me, of course─doing a better job of ringing the bells alarming people of what’s going on here.”
Rush is absolutely right. The two of them are driving waves of outrage against climate scientists that are significantly influencing the media and thus, probably, public opinion. And there is, in my mind, little effective counter.
It’s pretty unfair to call somebody “anti-science.” I mean, everybody likes science, right?
That’s what I always thought–at least until fairly recently. That Daniel Henninger Wall Street Journal article got me thinking otherwise, a bit–but only a bit.
But now comes a piece in Investors.com (“powered by” Investor’s Business Daily) by David J. Theroux, who is head of the Independent Institute, a think tank that in the past has been a recipient of ExxonMobil largesse. “Science is not the final arbiter of truth,” blazes the headline–but hey, we all know authors don’t write their headlines.
But the rest of the article is actually in a similar vein: Read More
The latest column by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post is a fascinating read. He starts out with a well reasoned account of why the stolen climate emails from East Anglia cannot be taken to undermine the global edifice of climate science:
But the hacked climate e-mails reveal a scandal, not a hoax. Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found not only in East Anglian computers but also in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Over millennia, the climate shifts in natural cycles. But we seem to be increasing the pace of change so rapidly that plants, animals and humans may not be able to adequately adjust.
Bravo! This is better than I could have put it. And yet unfortunately, Gerson then somehow goes on blame the scientists quoted in the emails for undermining the whole scientific enterprise:
This professional objectivity is precisely what the hacked e-mails call into question. Some of these scientists are merely activists, deeply invested in a predetermined outcome. They assume that political change is the goal; the scientific enterprise is the means — like a political ad or a campaign speech. But without trust in disinterested, scientific judgments on climate, most non-scientists will resist costly, speculative, legislative actions. When the experts become advocates, no one believes the experts or listens to the advocates.
It is an irony of the first order. Having accused others of a “war on science,” it is climate scientists who are assaulting the authority of science more effectively than anyone else.
I’m not saying that every scientist whose emails have been quoted in “ClimateGate” behaved in a perfectly appropriate manner. However, although he whirls around the phrase “war on science,” Gerson clearly doesn’t know what it means.
What it means, among other things, is that the very scientists now in question were at that moment, when they were writing those emails, subject to politically motivated data requests, harassment, and attempts to seed the scientific literature with questionable papers, all activities tied to fossil fuel interests and their supporting think tanks and politicians. All of this is documented amply in The Republican War on Science.
So for Gerson to describe the scientists as arrogant, “a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes”–this is ludicrous. These are people who are regularly slandered, pulled before Congress, and indeed, subject to email hacking. They have been under intense and politically motivated fire for years. And, yes, they developed a bit of a siege/herd mentality as a result. Who wouldn’t?
The East Anglia emails cannot be read in any other context but this one.
I’ve contributed another post to the Science Progress blog; it’s about how climate skeptics and deniers have been winning the PR battle the past two years, with science defenders and advocates still far too disorganized and ineffective. Here’s a sampling:
The new skeptic strategy began with a ploy that initially seemed so foolish, so petty, that it was unworthy of dignifying with a response. The contrarians seized upon the hottest year in the global temperature record, 1998—which happens to have been a powerful El Nino year, hence the record—and began to hammer the message that there had been “no warming in a decade” since then.
It was, in truth, little more than a damn lie with statistics. Those in the science community eventually pointed out that global warming doesn’t mean every successive year will be hotter than the last one—global temperatures be on the rise without a new record being set every year. All climate theory predicts is that we will see a warming trend, and we certainly have. Or as the U.S. EPA recently put it, “Eight of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.” But none of them beat 1998; and so the statistical liars, like George Will of the Washington Post, continued their charade. Read More
Every time I post about ClimateGate, it seems, Sheril brings me back down a few notches by pointing out that even if this scandal does not change the science of climate change one whit, it nevertheless has major implications for public opinion and the framing of the issue. Indeed, in the public arena, “ClimateGate” hurts badly the cause of curtailing our greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the way the incident has been spun and used, quite effectively, to suggest that the science of climate is all bogus.
I really don’t disagree with Sheril’s points; rather, I would add the following to them. Back when Bush was president and in power, I and others gained immense momentum by demonstrating–including through internal emails and the like–how the administration and the fossil fuel industry had conspired to undermine the legitimate science of climate change. As Matthew Nisbet would have put it, we therefore successfully exploited a “political wrongdoing” type of framing of the issue; The Republican War on Science helped to crystallize this message.
What’s so insidious about “ClimateGate,” in this sense, is that now the tables have been completely turned. I don’t believe the new charges are nearly as outrageous as the old charges were; I certainly don’t think they support the ridiculous claims about the bankruptcy of climate science they’ve been used to support. But nevertheless, I understand well the power of generating outrage by crusading against those in power and suggesting their malfeasance, wrongdoing, and corruption. Despite the invalidity of their position, you have to credit the Moranos of the world with a brilliant tactical move–and right now, I just can’t say how bad the damage is going to be. All signs at the moment point to massive.
I’ll be saying much more about this tactical side of “ClimateGate” in the coming days.
In the run-up to Copenhagen, we have now seen a second apparent attempt to steal computer files from a climate change research center. This time, the research institute in question is the Centre for Climate Modelling at the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada. See here for the story in Canada’s National Post.
It is too soon to say what these events mean–they are being investigated. We do not whether the Canadian and British stories are related, though some will inevitably speculate.
To me, though, one thing is clear. The global warming story, which I have watched and covered since the year 2003, is moving to a very new and different place, with a dramatically increased level of chatter and frenzy as the frame changes and this ceases to be a story about science, and becomes one about scandal and wrongdoing. As a result, the whole issue feels on the verge of a new tipping point as we move into the two weeks of Copenhagen.