700 Club anchor touted global warming skeptics' petition reportedly signed by non-scientists, fictitious characters

Lee Webb, anchor of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, touted a petition he claimed was signed by “more than 17,000 scientists” that “says there is no scientific evidence that greenhouse gases cause global warming.” But the petition is more than seven years old and was apparently signed by many people who lack credentials as climate scientists.

On the February 9 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's (CBN) The 700 Club, anchor Lee Webb touted a petition he claimed was signed by “more than 17,000 scientists” that “says there is no scientific evidence that greenhouse gasses cause global warming.” But the petition Webb cited is more than seven years old and was apparently signed by many people who lack credentials as climate scientists.

Webb promoted the petition during a report on a new initiative by 86 evangelical Christian leaders to fight global warming. The New York Times reported February 8 that the group -- including “the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller 'The Purpose-Driven Life' ” -- signed a statement stating that “climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians.” According to the Times, the statement also calls for, in the newspaper's words, “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through 'cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.' ” The Times also noted that a second group of 22 evangelical leaders, including “Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention,” signed a letter “addressed to the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of churches and ministries, which last year had started to move in the direction of taking a stand on global warming. The letter from the 22 leaders asked the National Association of Evangelicals not to issue any statement on global warming or to allow its officers or staff members to take a position.” In his report, Webb stated that the second group of evangelical leaders “point[s] out that more than 17,000 scientists have signed a statement of their own. It says there is no scientific evidence that greenhouse gases cause global warming.”

As Media Matters for America has noted, there is broad scientific consensus that the dramatic global warming observed in recent decades is largely attributable to human-released greenhouse gases and other human activities.

According to an April 30, 1998, Associated Press article, the petition “surfaced shortly before the April 22 [1998] Earth Day.” The petition was a project of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), a group describing itself as “a small research institute” studying “biochemistry, diagnostic medicine, nutrition, preventive medicine, and aging.” According to the website PR Watch, OISM “also markets a home-schooling kit for 'parents concerned about socialism in the public schools' and publishes books on how to survive nuclear war.” PR Watch reports that although "[t]he OISM website says it has 'six faculty members, several volunteers who work actively on its projects, and a large number of volunteers who help occasionally,'" OISM's “only paid staff person ... is biochemist Arthur Robinson, the Institute's founder and president.” OISM's 2003 IRS Form 990 lists Zachary and Noah Robinson -- according to PR Watch, Arthur Robinson's sons -- as unpaid staff spending one half-hour per week working for the institute.

The petition is accompanied by a letter signed by Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and by a paper authored by Arthur and Zachary Robinson and two others. The letter accompanying the petition argues that the Kyoto Protocol -- an international agreement to reduce or limit net emissions of certain greenhouse gases signed in November 1998 by President Clinton but rejected by President Bush shortly after he took office -- is “based upon flawed ideas” and argues that “there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful.” The paper argues that “increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide ... have produced no deleterious effects upon global weather, climate, or temperature” and that “the effect on the environment [of increased CO2 levels] is likely to be benign” because "[g]reenhouse gases cause plant life, and the animal life that depends upon it, to thrive." PR Watch reports that the paper -- titled “Environmental Effects of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” -- “was printed in the same typeface and format as the official Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” creating “the impression that Robinson's paper was an official publication of the academy's peer-reviewed journal.”

But in an April 20, 1998, statement, NAS clarified that “this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal.” The statement added that "[t]he petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy."

The AP reported Robinson is “a physical chemist” who “acknowledges he has done no direct research into global warming,” and PR Watch reported that "[n]one of the coauthors of “Environmental Effects of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” had any more standing than Robinson himself as a climate change researcher." PR Watch also noted that "[Robinson's] paper had never been subjected to peer review by anyone with training in the field. In fact, the paper had never been accepted for publication anywhere. ... It was self-published by Robinson, who did the typesetting himself on his own computer."

PR Watch also noted that "[w]hen questioned in 1998, ... Robinson admitted that only 2,100 signers of the Oregon Petition had identified themselves as physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, or meteorologists, 'and of those the greatest number are physicists.' " The AP article reported the total number of signatures on the petition as of April, 1998 to be approximately 15,000. The AP reported that Robinson “acknowledged that little attempt was done to verify credentials of those who responded” to the petition, and though the names of the signatories are listed on the OISM website, many of the entries lack academic credentials, none lists a city of residence, and none lists an academic institution with which the signer is affiliated.

Moreover, the AP noted that although Robinson claimed the petition “includes thousands of people 'qualified to speak on this subject' including biochemists, geophysicists and climatologists,” he also admitted that “questionable names were added to the petition by pranksters.”

From the AP article:

Several environmental groups questioned dozens of the names: “Perry S. Mason” (the fictitious lawyer?), “Michael J. Fox” (the actor?), “Robert C. Byrd” (the senator?), “John C. Grisham” (the lawyer-author?). And then there's the Spice Girl, a.k.a. Geraldine Halliwell: The petition listed “Dr. Geri Halliwell” and “Dr. Halliwell.”

Asked about the pop singer, Robinson said he was duped. The returned petition, one of thousands of mailings he sent out, identified her as having a degree in microbiology and living in Boston. “It's fake,” he said.

“When we're getting thousands of signatures there's no way of filtering out a fake,” Robinson, 56, said in a telephone interview from Oregon.

A May 1, 1998, AP article reported that the petition also bore the signatures of “Drs. '[Maj.] Frank Burns' '[Capt. B.J.] Honeycutt*' and '[Capt. Benjamin Franklin ”Hawkeye"]Pierce'" -- three characters from the hit sitcom M*A*S*H.

A Media Matters for America review of the signatures on the petition revealed that the signatures of these fictitious persons appear to have been removed.

From the February 9 edition of CBN's The 700 Club:

WEBB: The evangelical leaders who oppose the global warming letter point out that more than 17,000 scientists have signed a statement of their own. It says there is no convincing scientific evidence that greenhouse gases cause global warming. Pat, what do you make of this?

ROBERTSON: Well, I make of the fact that some of the evangelicals are being used by the radical left to further their agenda. And if you look further in the agenda of some of the radical environmentalists, they want to shut America down. They just want to shut our industries down and put people out of work. And if need be, we'll have a long, cold winter where we'll all be freezing. As somebody said, ask the folks in up the Ukraine and in Russia how warm it is this year. I mean, it depends on where you live. But, of course, as evangelicals, we should take care of the environment. Of course, we should look after the streams and forests and wildlife and all these other things. But we should not become captives of a radical environmental group that have [sic] an agenda that's far beyond just helping the environment.

* The Internet Movie Database and the website of actor Mike Farrell, who played this character, spell this name “Hunnicut” and “Hunnicutt,” respectively. Based on the May 1, 1998, AP report, it is not clear which spelling of the name appeared on the petition.