After reportedly rejecting a climate change essay by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, the Wall Street Journal has published a flawed op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers instructing public officials not to fight manmade global warming. But most of these individuals do not actually conduct climate research, and their credibility is further undermined by the misleading and unscientific arguments presented in the op-ed.
WSJ Publishes Op-Ed By 16 Scientists -- But Most Of Them Don't Actually Conduct Climate Research
WSJ Op-Ed Vaguely Argues Against Doing "Something Dramatic" About Climate Change. The Journal published a January 27 op-ed signed by 16 scientists and engineers, many retired, titled "No Need to Panic About Global Warming." The op-ed directs candidates for public office not to do "something dramatic" to address man-made climate change. It then offers several fallacies -- such as 'plants love CO2' -- to dismiss the serious threats posed by climate change, compares climate scientists to Soviet scientists who "condemned to death" dissenting biologists in the 1940s, and suggests that scientists are concerned about climate change because they want "government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow." Without offering any evidence, the op-ed also claims that a "growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers" believe governments should not take action on climate change. [Wall Street Journal, 1/27/12]
Most Of The Scientists Who Signed The Op-Ed Do Not Actually Publish Peer-Reviewed Climate Research. Of the 16 scientists who signed the op-ed, no more than 4 have published peer-reviewed research related to climate change, according to the Scopus database. While they may be prominent in their own fields, their credibility on the science of global warming is not comparable to that of researchers who specialize in this area. For instance, Jan Breslow is a physician, Burt Rutan is a retired airplane designer, Harrison Schmitt is a retired astronaut and former Republican politician, and Edward David is a retired electrical engineer, among others whose expertise lies elsewhere.
- WSJ Reportedly Rejected Op-Ed By 255 Members Of The U.S. National Academy Of Sciences. From a Forbes.com column by Peter Gleick, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in response to the Journal op-ed:
But the most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journal in this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. [Forbes.com, 1/27/12]
Six Of The Scientists Have Been Linked To Fossil Fuel Interests. Roger Cohen and Edward David are both former employees of ExxonMobil. William Happer is the Chairman of the Board for the George C. Marshall Institute, which has received funding from Exxon. Rodney Nichols is also on the boards of the George Marshall Institute and the Manhattan Institute, which has been funded by Exxon and the Koch Foundations. Harrison Schmitt was the Chairman Emeritus of the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, which was funded by oil refiners and electric utilities in the 1990s, according to a Wall Street Journal report (via Nexis). Richard Lindzen also served on the Economic Advisory Council of the Center, was funded by ExxonMobil through the 2000s.
Scientists Behind The Op-Ed Have Made Some Colorful Claims.
- Happer Compared Mainstream Climate Science To The Holocaust. [The Daily Princetonian, 1/12/09]
- Rutan: Both The Democratic And Republican Parties "Are Socialists." [RPS3.com, accessed 1/27/12]
- Schmitt: "National Socialism" Is "The Logical End-Point Of Current Governing Trends." [AmericasUncommonSense.com, 4/2/10]
- Allegre Called Climate Scientists "Marxists." [The Week, 10/29/10]
Vocal Minority Of "Experts" Also Denies Second-Hand Smoke Risks, HIV-AIDS Link
Tobacco Industry Recruited Scientists To Obscure Health Effects Of Second-Hand Smoke. From a 2009 article in the European Journal of Public Health:
Denialism is a process that employs some or all of five characteristic elements in a concerted way. The first is the identification of conspiracies. When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is not because those scientists have independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion. It is because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The peer review process is seen as a tool by which the conspirators suppress dissent, rather than as a means of weeding out papers and grant applications unsupported by evidence or lacking logical thought.
The second is the use of fake experts. These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge. They have been used extensively by the tobacco industry since 1974, when a senior executive with R J Reynolds devised a system to score scientists working on tobacco in relation to the extent to which they were supportive of the industry's position. The industry embraced this concept enthusiastically in the 1980s when a senior executive from Philip Morris developed a strategy to recruit such scientists (referring to them as 'Whitecoats') to help counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This activity was largely undertaken through front organizations whose links with the tobacco industry were concealed, but under the direction of law firms acting on behalf of the tobacco industry. In some countries, such as Germany, the industry created complex and influential networks, allowing it to delay the implementation of tobacco control policies for many years. [European Journal of Public Health, January 2009]
Those Who Deny Link Between HIV And AIDS Also Claim To Have Scientists On Their Side. From a July 2009 New Scientist report:
The origins of the AIDS denialism movement can be traced back to 1987, four years after the discovery of HIV. Peter Duesberg was then a renowned researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who had shown that some cancers were triggered by retroviruses. In March that year, Duesberg performed an about-face, publishing an article in which he questioned his original finding that retroviruses caused cancer, and also whether HIV (another retrovirus, although not one that he had studied) caused AIDS.
At the time, HIV science was in its infancy, and Duesberg was not the only mainstream scientist to speculate whether AIDS was actually caused by lifestyle factors such as taking drugs, for example. Indeed, New Scientist published Duesberg's manifesto of dissent in 1988.
"Duesberg did get laypeople's attention, and they, in turn, got him scientific attention," says University of California sociologist, Steven Epstein, author of Impure Science, a book on AIDS research. "Credibility was cycled back and forth."
As the clinical and epidemiological evidence linking HIV with AIDS accrued, however, support for denialism among mainstream scientists fell away. In the mid-1990s came the clincher. Cocktails of ART [antiretroviral therapy] were found to halt the replication of HIV and reverse and prevent the development of AIDS. By the end of 1996, doctors in the west were witnessing the "Lazarus effect": AIDS patients who had been mortally ill were rising from their beds, putting on jackets and ties, and reporting for work.
Denialism in the west continued to limp along, attracting a following of conspiracy theorists, attention seekers, peddlers of pseudoscience and HIV patients in denial. The movement's leaders vary in their credibility. Duesberg's most vocal supporter is David Rasnick, a former biochemist who makes much of his research background, as he once studied a group of enzymes called proteases. HIV possesses a protease enzyme, and protease inhibitors represent a key class of ART drugs. However Rasnick only worked on rat proteases, never on HIV's.
Then there is Henry Bauer, a retired chemistry and life sciences professor at Virginia State University in Petersburg, who edits the Journal of Scientific Exploration. This publishes research on such topics as alien abductions and telepathy. Before dabbling in virology, Bauer was a leading authority on the existence of the Loch Ness monster. [New Scientist, 7/31/09]
Anti-Vaccine Movement Also Supported By "'Contrary' Expertise." From a May 2009 article in PLoS Biology:
Until the summer of 2005, Sharon Kaufman had never paid much attention to the shifting theories blaming vaccines for a surge in reported cases of autism. Kaufman, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Francisco, knew that the leading health institutions in the United States had reviewed the body of evidence, and that they found no reason to think vaccines had anything to do with autism. But when she read that scientists and public officials who commented on the studies routinely endured malevolent emails, abusive phone calls, and even death threats, she took notice.
Kaufman thinks the problem is more immediate than bridging the gap between lay and expert understanding of risk. Parents treated theoretical risk as fact even as scientists tested, and ultimately rejected, the possibility that thimerosal might harm children. Thinking the institutions that were supposed to protect them from risk failed, Kaufman says, people now do their own research. But instead of leading to more certainty, she explains, "collecting more information actually increases doubt."
With the explosion of "contrary" expertise online, Kaufman says, "many parents see even the most respected vaccine experts' perspective on the issue as just one more opinion." The bulk of antivaccination Web sites present themselves as legitimate sources of scientific information, using pseudoscientific claims and emotional appeals, according to a 2002 study in Archives of Disease in Childhood. Making matters worse, the study found, nearly all sites adopted an "us versus them" approach, casting doctors and scientists as either "willing conspirators cashing in on the vaccine 'fraud' or pawns of a shadowy vaccine combine." Parents' intuitive views about vaccines were elevated above "cold, analytical science." Accounts of children "maimed or killed by vaccines" were common--a finding that may help explain why those who advocate immunization receive death threats. [Public Library of Science, May 2009]
Op-Ed Tries To Use 10 Years Of Data To Refute Long-Term Trend
WSJ Op-Ed Misleadingly Cites "Lack Of Global Warming For Well Over 10 Years Now." The Wall Street Journal op-ed argues that policymakers shouldn't be concerned about global warming. It claims: "Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now." [Wall Street Journal, 1/27/12]
Independent Temperature Study: We Can't Make Conclusions About Long-Term Trends Based On "Periods As Short As 13 to 15 Years." From the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which independently verified the long-term warming trend in land temperature data:
Some people draw a line segment covering the period 1998 to 2010 and argue that we confirm no temperature change in that period. However, if you did that same exercise back in 1995, and drew a horizontal line through the data for 1980 to 1995, you might have falsely concluded that global warming had stopped back then. This exercise simply shows that the decadal fluctuations are too large to allow us to make decisive conclusions about long term trends based on close examination of periods as short as 13 to 15 years. [Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, accessed 1/30/12]
The Last Decade Was The Warmest On Record. Discovery News reported on November 29:
Thirteen of the warmest years recorded have occurred within the last decade and a half, the UN's World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday.
The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade since 1850, the report said.
2011 ranks as the 10th warmest year since 1850, when accurate measurements began.
This was true despite a La Nina event -- one of the strongest in 60 years -- that developed in the tropical Pacific in the second half of 2010 and continued until May 2011. [Discovery News, 11/19/12]
The following chart from NOAA shows decadal averages since the beginning of the instrumental temperature record:
[NOAA, accessed 8/26/11]
The following chart from Skeptical Science shows the perils of cherry-picking the temperature data:
Yale Economist: Op-Ed Includes "Complete Mischaracterization Of My Work"
WSJ Op-Ed Cited William Nordhaus To Argue Against Government Action On Climate. From the Wall Street Journal op-ed:
Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.
A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. [Wall Street Journal, 1/27/12]
Nordhaus: "This Is A Complete Mischaracterization Of My Work." Nordhaus stated via email:
This is a complete mischaracterization of my work. I have repeatedly called for restraints on CO2 and other GHG emissions. The most beneficial policies are ones with a modest near-term and sharply rising carbon price. The weasel word is "nearly," which allows them to make an inaccurate and misleading statement. [Email exchange, 1/27/12]
Op-ed Argues That Higher CO2 Levels Benefit Plants
WSJ Op-Ed Argues That CO2 Benefits Plants. From the Wall Street Journal op-ed:
The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere. [Wall Street Journal, 1/27/11]
Skeptical Science: This Argument Relies On The Fallacy Of Exclusion. A Skeptical Science post explains:
A quick look at the science behind this argument demonstrates its inherent weaknesses. In closed, controlled environments, like greenhouses and plant nurseries, an increase in CO2 does indeed spur plant growth. However, the globe is not a controlled environment, and it's incredible sensitivity to a variety of factors is something that is often taken for granted when such narrow arguments are proffered. A rise in CO2 levels is not the only consequence of climate change, and it is these other effects that have had and will have more abiding adverse effects on plant growth around the world.
While CO2 is an important element that stimulates plant growth, the planet's flora requires a cocktail of elements to maintain its health. Arguably the most important of these elements is water. With the global increase in temperature caused by the various factors affecting our climate's balance, increased evaporation means decreased soil moisture. Another effect of global climate change is erratic precipitation patterns. This causes extreme weather in certain geographic locations only sporadically, with overall, balanced rainfall drastically reduced.
[A]t its most basic level, the CO2 plant food argument rests on a simple logical fallacy--the fallacy of exclusion, which focuses on one cause-and-effect (in this case, more CO2 means more plants) to the exclusion of all other cause-and-effect chains. [Skeptical Science, 7/1/2010]
IPCC: Rising Temps. Will Put "20-30% Of Plant And Animal Species At Risk Of Extinction." The IPCC's 4th Assessment Report concludes:
Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C.
For increase in global average temperature exceeding 1.5-2.5°C and in concomitant atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species; ecological interactions, and species; geographical ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services e.g., water and food supply. [IPCC 4th Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, 2007]
National Research Council: Effects Of Climate Change "Pose Significant Risks To Both Human And Ecological Systems." From a 2010 report by the National Research Council:
Scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming. There is also a multitude of evidence that this warming results primarily from human activities, especially burning fossil fuels and other activities that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. Projections of future climate change indicate that Earth will continue to warm unless significant and sustained actions are taken to limit emissions of GHGs. Increasing temperatures and GHG concentrations are driving a multitude of related and interacting changes in the Earth system, including decreases in the amounts of ice stored in mountain glaciers and polar regions, increases in sea level, changes in ocean chemistry, and changes in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, precipitation events, and droughts. These changes in turn pose significant risks to both human and ecological systems. Although the details of how the future impacts of climate change will unfold are not as well understood as the basic causes and mechanisms of climate change, we can reasonably expect that the consequences of climate change will be more severe if actions are not taken to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts. [National Research Council, 2010]
WSJ Op-Ed Whitewashes Infamous Climate Research Paper
Op-Ed Claims 2003 Paper In Climate Research Was "Factually Correct." From the Wall Street Journal op-ed:
Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted--or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job. [Wall Street Journal, 1/27/11]
In Fact, The Climate Research Editors And Publisher Conceded That The Paper Should Not Have Been Published. The op-ed refers to a 2003 paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas that was published in the journal Climate Research. The New York Times reported on August 5, 2003, that the Soon-Baliunas paper "has been heavily criticized by many scientists, including several of the journal editors. The editors said last week that whether or not the conclusions were correct, the analysis was deeply flawed." The Times further noted that the "publisher of the journal, Dr. Otto Kinne, and an editor who recently became editor in chief, Dr. Hans von Storch, both said that in retrospect the paper should not have been published as written" and that von Storch resigned, "saying he disagreed with the peer-review policies." [New York Times, 8/5/03]
2003 Paper Was Partially Funded By The American Petroleum Institute. The Wall Street Journal op-ed accuses climate scientists of skewing their research in order to secure funding from the government, stating "a good place to start is the old question 'cui bono?' Or the modern update, 'Follow the money.'" It then goes on to discuss the 2003 Soon-Baliunas paper without noting that the study "was in part underwritten by $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, the voice of the oil industry," as reported by the Times. In addition, both Soon and Baliunas were employed by the George Marshall Institute. [New York Times, 8/5/03]
WSJ Ramping Up Climate Change Misinformation
Two Days Before Scientists' Op-Ed, WSJ Published Column Denying Evidence Of Harmful Climate Change. On January 25, Wall Street Journal editorial writer Holman Jenkins, Jr. published a column falsely claiming that "the evidence has thus far eluded the tens of billions spent on climate science" and "the known relationship between carbon and climate doesn't actually indicate a big reason to worry." [Wall Street Journal, 1/25/12]