Thursday, October 9, 2008

It Just Keeps Getting Better

I have been going through the process of updating our critique to match the published version of Oreskes et al. ("Chicken Little"). As I was reading the paper I came across a story about Fred Koomanoff.

After relating the story about Koomanoff telling Keeling that his funding would be cut off. (Of course without mentioning that Nierenberg was the one who saved the funding.) They continue with this "The problem got worse when Democrats in congress held hearings on the climate research program. Koomanoff was a key witness, and he emphasized model uncertainty." This is uncited although the entire paragraph cites testimony of "Friends of the Earth". I don't think Koomanoff would have testified with that particular group.

In the next paragraph. "Koomanoff's testimony unsettled the climate scientists, but the difficulty went further. In a meeting with the Academy, he made it clear that the administration exprected the scientists to toe the line. 'Those who must make decisions...deserve better than to hear divergent voices from the scientific community.'" This cites a letter from John Perry to the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee

Now I didn't really think too much about this for a couple of reasons. First I had heard the story about Koomanoff and Keeling, so I could imagine him taking a hard line. Second it didn't directly involve the central themes of our critique. Or so I thought.

Then I considered the fact that there wasn't a single case where I had gone to a source document and found that is was consistent with what Chicken Little had said. There was always something wrong. In some cases, as I have documented in this blog, it has been pretty ridiculous. So just for fun I decided to get a copy of the Perry letter from the Scripps archives.

Well we can score another hit for Oreskes reporting something different than what is in the source document. And the cool part is that they cited from this letter three times, and they are wrong every time.

Let's start with the Koomanoff quote, as this one is pretty easy. There are two problems. First Koomanoff didn't say it. While Perry says that Koomanoff, and James Kane made introductory remarks this remark was clearly made by Kane. The second problem is that Koomanoff and Kane defined consensus "as 'sufficient agreement to form a basis for action.'" So other than the fact that Oreskes et al. attributed the remark to the wrong person, and changed the meaning completely they were right on the money.

Now let's look at another quote that they claim to pull from the same letter. "In meetings with the Climate Research Board, Energy Department officials told Academy members that they 'did not approve of...sepculative, alarmist, 'wolf-crying' scendarios." This quote can't be found anywhere in the letter at all. Maybe it is just an incorrect footnote since the next sentence references the fourth session of the CDAC in September 1981. The only person who mentions "wolf crying" in the cited Perrry letter is Mancur Olson from the University of Maryland. "Here fanaticism, wolf crying, and a multitude of dissenting views may unnecessarily slow the acceptance of information and the adoption of sensible adjustments to it."

Finally they 'quote' Tom Pesorius. "Moreover, there was no need for alarm, the new senior policy analyst at White House Office of Science and Technology, Tom Pesorius insisted, because 'technology will ultimately be the answer to the problems of providing energy and protecting the environment.'" Well, the last portion of this is correct. But Pesorius doesn't say that there was "no need for alarm", let alone "insist" on it. After a discussion of issues dealing with reaching a consensus Perry ends this paragraph with "Concluding, he expressed the belief that technology will ultimately the [sic] answer to the problems of providing energy and protecting the environment."

Now this last statement doesn't seem controversial to me. Solar, nuclear, sequestration, high mileage vehicles are all examples of technology. It only gets that way when Oreskes pumps it up with things like "no need for alarm" and "insists."

So there you go. My rule is intact, if you follow any reference from Oreskes et al. 2008 you find something completely different than what they say.

If you want to see the Perry letter here it is.