Saturday, June 20, 2015

A flurry of activity

It has been a long time since I have posted. One update is that the BBC eventually completed retracted the segment from climate wars that discussed my father. They have stated that it will not run again. Of course this is after millions of people (or at least hundreds haha) saw it. Recently Justin Gillis from the New York Times contacted my sister who he had previously from writing about environmental issues in Florida. He was working on a profile of Naomi Oreskes and had heard about our issues with her work. My sister put him in touch with me and we spent some time going over the history. I had sent him our peer reviewed paper as well as a document I had put together some time ago that was a straight rebuttal of her Chicken Little paper. In the end he asked me to update it, and potentially include information about her horrendous Acid Rain chapter from Merchants of Doubt. I did all of that and he actually included a link to it in his article, which was very nice of him. In the article he quoted me and also John Perry who I had located for him. Perry told him that what she wrote about my father was completely wrong and he printed that. But it was all pretty soft. My biggest disappointment is that he didn't include the fact that both the BBC and the Times had to print retractions of stories that Oreskes had authored. Instead he mentioned some silly scientific issue having to do ocean acidification which, of course, made her critics look petty. Obviously a professor of history making a minor scientific mistake is no big deal. But a professor of history completely fabricating a newspaper story is a big deal. It was kind of interesting how few people actually followed the link to our newly updated rebuttal paper. Following the comments on the New York Times it appears that no one cares about the history, they just want to have the same old climate change arguments. Since Orestes is a professor of history it seems to me that this is the only thing that is relevant to discussing her, but I guess that isn't how the general public views it. I have kind of realized that there is no natural constituency for my story. People (generally on the left) who are sure that not enough is being done about climate change consider Oreskes a kind of Priestess and feel that anything that would diminish her will reduce the possibility of action on climate. People (generally on the right) who think that climate change is a bunch of malarkey don't want to hear that my father's 1983 NAS report completely agreed with the modern scientific consensus. And I guess everyone has just moved on regarding Acid Rain so the fact that her chapter on that topic was essentially a complete fiction doesn't matter either. Personally I believe that distorting history can only hurt climate science (and science in general) in the long run. As people learn about what really happened, whether it is this issue or something else, they lose faith and trust. The same kind of thing is happening as a result of scientists and science communicators making exaggerated and misleading claims about the state of climate science. The climate issue is clear enough without exaggeration and in any event most of these things are so easily seen through that they just reinforce doubt in expert opinion. I haven't decided whether to start blogging again about climate science. I had kind of moved on, but this recent experience as well as some unrelated but really bad science communication has gotten me interested again. If I do start blogging I think I will focus completely on issues in science communication.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The BBC Part 3

The BBC have published this correction on their web site. I am generally fine with the result, although it is annoying that they failed to engage on the question of how they characterized the report in general. They are sticking with the idea that the report coincided with Reagan's policy interests solely on the fact that it didn't recommend immediate changes in the fuel mix. This boils down a five hundred page detailed report on an issue to part of one recommendation. Hardly historically or scientifically accurate, but this is the BBC.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Our Peer Reviewed Paper is Published

I have just been notified that our peer reviewed paper on the 1983 NAS report "Changing Climate" has been published. This paper completely refutes the claims of the "Chicken Little" paper by Oreskes et al. published in 2008. It has been a long but very rewarding process for me.

We initially submitted a paper that was a straight rebuttal of the Oreskes paper. We received an encouraging reply, but we were informed that either it would have to be greatly shortened and published as a reply, or it would have to be rewritten as an original paper. At first I found this discouraging, but I took the challenge and went back to review all the source materials available in the SIO archives, as well as a much broader selection of the existing literature. This allowed me to see the entire context of the story and how the publication of "Changing Climate" had actually occurred. In my particular case the peer review process was a strong positive, and made the result much better than my original idea.

The story actually starts with the Carter administrations push for synthetic fuels, and concern that this would exacerbate a problem that people were already starting to worry about. Ironically by the time "Changing Climate" was completed the synthetic fuels program had collapsed.

One thing that is still absolutely clear from all of this is that Oreskes got the story wrong.

I hope you enjoy reading about this piece of history. If anyone is interested in any of the underlying source documents I have images of all of them.

The paper is presented here by permission of the UC Press. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 40, Number 3, pps. 318–349. ISSN 1939-1811, electronic
ISSN 1939-182X. © 2010 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Merchants of Doubt and Conspiracy

Oreskes devotes pages 197-213 to the "IPCC Chapter 8 Controversy." This was, in my opinion, a tempest in a teapot over the revision history of the 1995 IPCC chapter on attribution. The whole thing comes down to a few editorials in the Wall Street Journal, as well letters in the Journal of the American Meteorological Association.

According to Oreskes the attacks on the IPCC were an important event, and part of a long time conspiracy by a few scientists to distort the science on warming.

Interestingly Myanna Lahsen, who Oreskes references,wrote an entire paper on the Chapter 8 issue. Unlike Oreskes, Lahsen saw it as evidence of group thinking on all sides of the issue. She also felt that in the end it wasn't at all clear whether IPCC procedures were followed or not, but that in her opinion it didn't seem to change the meaning all that much. Also the attacks on the IPCC had little or no policy impact.

But the most interesting thing Lahsen wrote was the following. Which she clearly meant in a neutral way. Perhaps Oreskes should have read the whole thing rather than selectively quoting.

"Whether meant seriously or simply used as means [sic] of achieving political gain, attributions of conspiracy are unhelpful for constructive discussion about the state of scientific knowledge about climate change and about possible 'no-regrets' policy action (policy responses related to energy consumption that have environmental and economic benefits aside from reducing the potential risk of global warming). The vilification inherent in such attributions of sinister motives rarely resonates with the self-perceptions and intents of the accused, and hence further polarizes the groups involved in this already frequently antagonistic debate. One lesson to draw from this case study is the care with which charges of conspiracy must be received and their factual basis examined for assumptions of sinister plotting applied to a reality of much more complexity and much less coherence. Charges and suggestions of conspiracy spread with little resistance among sympathetic audiences in a social and scientific context characterized by uncertainty, fragmentation, complexity, and competing interests; who was who, and who said or provoked what and with what authority and expertise, is not always easily established. As a result most controversies around human-induced climate change--including this one concerning Chapter 8--remain unresolved, competing claims rarely verified but allowed to fester with the general effect of reinforcing preconceived suspicions and positions."
(Myana Lahsen, "Direction and Attribution of Conspiracies" )

Truer words were never spoken.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Oreskes New Book

So now Oreskes along with Conway have published a book called "Merchants of Doubt." (A name perhaps unfortunately similar to Merchant of Venice given that all the people she attacks are Jewish.) Anyway I just ordered a copy but it seems unlikely that this will be more factual than her peer reviewed work. In fact her non peer reviewed article in the Sunday Times was even more of a fabrication than her article, as was the BBC segment based on her work. So I have a feeling this is going to be horrible.

I knew how to respond to a bad paper, publish a correct paper. I also knew how to respond to an fabricated story in the media, get a correction published. But I have no idea how to respond to this book. All I have come up with so far is to put up a review on Amazon. Doesn't seem like much.

It just occurred to me that I never figured out how to respond to her inaccurate Congressional testimony either. She has this great soap box and the imprimatur of the university that makes correcting the history a real uphill battle.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The BBC Part 2

Well it took a long time, but the BBC sent me an email acknowledging that their program "Climate Wars" had significant errors in its coverage of my father, and the 1983 NAS report Changing Climate. Specifically the admitted that my father was not appointed by Ronald Reagan, and that the tone of their show would mislead a viewer in their understanding of the report and the role of the administration.

They made a kind of weak argument that since the 1980 election had been on the horizon that ties to Reagan might have influenced the NAS in the selection of my father. They also say that the television show accepted that the NAS report predicted "some warming." They also said that using the phrase "Nierenberg called in the experts" they had made it clear it wasn't his work alone.

I wrote back explaining that my father was appointed to the relevant position more than a year before Reagan's election. That the members of the panel weren't appointed by Nierenberg, but by the NAS. In addition the scientific conclusions were almost identical to the 2007 IPCC report, and have stood the test of time. Finally I pointed out that they needed to say that this was a product of the National Academy and not the Reagan Administration.

So now they are back reviewing what they think about that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I was in the UK over Christmas and it turns out that the BBC is still running their program "Climate Wars" from time to time. Anyway I watched the initial episode on the web and its portrayal of my father was based on the same erroneous facts as the Oreskes story in the Times On Line. Gee I'm so surprised that Oreskes didn't call up the BBC to correct this when she was forced to admit to the Times that they needed to print a correction to their story.

The BBC picks right up on the false claim the Reagan had appointed my father to produce a politically motivated report on CO2. They have a caricature of his career focused on his work on the Manhattan project. The whole segment falls apart if they would correctly state that the report was actually from the National Academy of Sciences, and that he had been appointed by the Academy prior to Reagan being elected. Maybe if the "scientist" who narrates the program had taken five minutes to actually read "Changing Climate" he would have been unwilling to read that kind of slander.

Anyway I have filed a complaint with the BBC. This took the usual couple of tries. My first attempt got the response asking me for when the show had aired. I replied by sending them a link from their own web site.

The latest reply said that they are looking into it, but that it may take some time due to the high volume of complaints recently. My goal is for the BBC to either not show that episode any longer, or for them to edit and correct the portion having to do with my father.