Monday, September 29, 2008

"OCS is Nonsense"

OCS is what William Connolley calls Oreskes et al. And he has decided it is nonsense. I have to say that I appreciate the time he and Atmoz have spent looking at it.

In the course of their postings they have alerted me to some stuff that I missed when we wrote our critique. We are updating it now to referenced the published version of Oreskes et al., and we will look at using their ideas.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More on Oreskes et al 2008 ("Chicken Little")

One of the interesting things that has happened as a result of blog discussions of the Times article is that errors and misrepresentations from Oreskes et al 2008 keep popping up. It almost as if you can look at any page in that paper and find something wrong.

A frequent subject of our criticism was the tendency of the "Chicken Little" paper to edit and paraphrase quotes in order to change the meaning. Well I'm sorry to say that I missed a good one that Atmoz discusses here. They use an elipsis to leave out a word, and then just cut the quote in mid sentence to completely change the meaning of what Dr. Revelle wrote regarding the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. (I may add that to our paper prior to submitting it for publication.)

There is this ironic point made here by Atmoz that the synthesis emphasized the issue of sea level rise more than the Revelle chapter. Just the opposite of the conclusions reached by Oreskes et al 2008.

On the post normal times web site Sylvia Tognetti quotes from "Chicken Little" to make a point about Nordhaus and Yohe. However I found it amusing that even in that short quotation there are two errors. First the Nordhaus and Yohe chapter is not chapter one of the report but chapter two. Second Jesse Ausubel is listed as an author of the chapter, but he was in fact not an author of that chapter. The first point is trivial I admit, but it does show a lack of care. The inclusion of Ausubel seems to me to be a little more deliberate since he wouldn't be perceived as an expert on that subject.

I think you can find a mistake or deliberate falsehood in that paper just by throwing a dart at it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oreskes blows a gasket

Something quite strange just happened. I recounted in my earlier post that Dr. Oreskes had promised to notify me when her paper was accepted for publication. Here is that email;


Dear Mr. Nierenberg,

Thank you for your detailed communication. I appreciate your concern for your father's legacy and your loyalty to him.

I have tried to explain the basis for my views to you; obviously we have a difference of interpretation here.

I believe that what I said in my senate testimony, as an expert witness, was a fair interpretation of the documentary evidence, which includes the minutes of the committee meetings, the report itself, the peer reviews of it, and its reception in the scientific community and the Reagan White House. You are, of course, entitled to a different interpretation.

The evidence for my reading of the historical record is provided in full in a paper I am currently preparing for publication, which is based on extensive archival research here at SIO and in the archives of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Once the paper has completed peer-review and is accepted for publication, I would be happy to share a copy with you. If you still feel my interpretation is faulty or incomplete, I would encourage you to write a discussion in the journal.

Yours truly,

Naomi Oreskes

I have only corresponded with her a couple of times since then, here is the full chain.

When I found out independently that her paper had been posted on line without any notification to me. So I wrote her the following on February 14th.

Can I assume that the paper that I have listed in the subject, which is the one that you referring to in December?


Nicolas Nierenberg

I received the following reply on February 15th indirectly from a Julia Partrdige


Yes but it is not yet published.

Naomi Oreskes


This was my response sent the same day


Perhaps, but it is now posted to the internet. If one desired to have a response posted is that available on the same site?

Nicolas Nierenberg


There was no correspondence between then and when I found out that her paper had been published without notification to me. I was not happy to find that out and wrote the following on September 7th.


I am sure that you have some wonderful explanation for why you didn't inform me that your paper on my father was accepted for publication, and is now in print. Your previous explanation was that the web site you published to was not a peer reviewed site, but I don't believe that was true in this case. One might almost believe that you were concerned about the journal seeing the response.

Nicolas Nierenberg


This is the bizarre response I just received from Shannon Sloan.


Mr. Nierenberg,
Given the hostile and threatening tone of your previous correspondence,
Dr. Oreskes saw no reason to further any conversation with you and now
formally requests that you cease and desist any further contact. Thank

Shannon Sloan
Public Relations/Assistant to the Provost
Sixth College Business/Provost Office

It appears that Dr. Oreskes' altering of the historical record is now not just limited to my father.

I should point out that her paper was published months before either this site was created, or I responded to the erroneous story in the Times on line on some blogs. So her failure to notify me, as she had promised to do, had nothing to do with that.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nierenberg and Oreskes

I first noticed the activities of Dr. Naomi Oreskes when I was doing research for the Nierenberg prize at the Scrippps Instititution of Oceanography. We were awarding the prize to Dr. James Hansen and I was looking for some historical information on my father Dr. William A. Nierenberg. What I found was very surprising.

In congressional testimony on December 6th 2006 Dr. Oreskes testified that

"In 1983 the National Academy formed a committee chaired by physicist William Nierenberg to look in greater detail to look at the issues raised by the Jason and Charney reports. The Nierenberg committee accepted their scientific conclusions , but declined to view global warming as a problem, predicting that many adverse effects would be adequately remedied by technological innovation driven by market forces."

I knew that my father had been critical over the years of the certainty expressed by many climate scientists, but I had never heard about this issue, so I decided to get a copy of the report. I initially found an article in the NY Times that had been printed the day after the report was published, and in reading that article it didn't seem to be in line with the comments in Oreskes' testimony.

The 1983 report "Changing Climate" is not available on line, but I was able to get a copy from the SIO library. After reviewing the report I was unable to find any justification for Oreskes' remarks to congress. Also the committee was clearly not formed in 1983, but rather in 1980 at the request of the US congress under then president Jimmy Carter.

UPDATE: May 2010, "Changing Climate" is available on line now so you can see for yourself.

I wrote Dr. Oreskes to get clarification of the basis of her remarks. She was unable to point me to anything specific in the report, but rather made vague references to technology being mentioned. She also said that she had other source materials and was working on a paper on the topic.

I asked Dr. Oreskes whether she would let me review a copy of the paper prior to publication, but she declined. She offered to let me know when the paper would be published, so that I could ask that a rebuttal be printed in the same edition.

Several months later I discovered that Dr. Oreskes had published a non peer reviewed paper at a web site for "working papers." I asked her whether this was the paper she was referring to in her earlier emails, and her response was "yes but it is not yet published." I considered this an inadequate response since in the modern era posting something on the internet is certainly publishing it. In any event I expected her therefore to let me know when it was "published."

Meanwhile I, along with Victoria Tschinkel, and Walter Tschinkel began working on a response to the internet published paper. This took quit a bit of time since virutally all of the source material that Oreskes et al use is not available on line and had to be retrieved from archives. I was quite shocked to discover that much of the material had been paraphrased in ways that changed the meaning, or which misrepresented the original document. I can only assume that the authors didn't think anyone would get access to the original material.

In the mean time two things happened. The Oreskes et al article was published, without Dr. Oreskes ever notifying me. When I recently wrote her an email asking abou this she chose not to reply. Second an article in the London Times online was published. This article was bylined by Dr. Oreskes, but it was factually completely incorrect.

"So Reagan commissioned a third report about global warming from Bill Nierenberg, who had made his name working on the Manhattan Project developing America’s atom bomb."

(As a side note although my father was proud of the work he did on the Manhattan project prior to receiving his PhD, I don't think any historian credits him with "developing" the atom bomb.)

But Dr. Oreskes own paper Oreskes et al stated that the Carbon Dioxide Research committee was formed by the National Academy in October of 1980. This is prior to Reagan being elected president. And other facts in her own paper make it clear that work on putting this committee together had proceeded for some time. So much like her congressional testimony, and I would argue her paper, Dr. Oreskes chose to ignore the facts that she already knew, in order to paint a misleading picture.

We asked the site that published Oreskes et al on the internet for the opportunity to publish a response, but they said that they didn't allow that. So we decided to publish the paper here for now.

UPDATE: May 2010, As you will see later on my blog, the Sunday Times published a correction to their story. Also the BBC is in the process of publishing a set of corrections to a segment of "Climate Wars" that they based on information from Oreskes.

Link to my web site containing the Oreskes et al 2008 critique