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  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • Republicans And Right-Wing Media Championed Discredited 60 Minutes Benghazi Report

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ELLIE SANDMEYER

    Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.

  • Right-Wing Media Launches Kitchen Sink Attack On Obama's Afghanistan Speech

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    The right-wing media reacted to President Obama's address on troop withdrawals in Afghanistan by dredging up familiar, petty attacks, such as criticizing the number of times Obama referred to himself, and claiming the address was a "campaign speech" instead of a "war update." This follows a long history of the right-wing media launching frivolous attacks over speeches Obama makes on all manner of issues.

  • Predictable: Right-Wing Media Respond To WI Supreme Court Election With Baseless Voter Fraud Allegations

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Right-wing media reacted to news that Democrat-backed JoAnne Kloppenburg emerged from Wisconsin's Supreme Court election with a small lead by predictably bringing up baseless allegations of voter fraud. The right-wing media regularly uses voter fraud to respond to elections where a Democrat wins or is winning, especially following a close race.

  • Fox Whitewashes The Right In Accusing Dems of Politicizing AZ Shooting

    ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN & JUSTIN BERRIER

    Fox News has run repeated segments attacking some progressive media figures and politicians for suggesting that political rhetoric from the right inspired the recent tragic shootings in Arizona. In doing so, Fox has whitewashed right-wing media figures who have attempted to describe Loughner as a liberal and pin the shooting on "the left."

  • Kagan did not "manipulate medical science" on abortion issue

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

    In recent days, right-wing media figures and outlets have attempted to make hay over Clinton-era documents which they falsely claim demonstrate Elena Kagan's "willingness to manipulate medical science" for political purposes. In fact, Kagan did no such thing. The documents in question center around the drawn out debate concerning late-'90s legislation which would have banned, under most circumstances, so-called "partial birth" abortions. The Clinton administration's position was that the ban would be acceptable, provided there was a narrowly-drawn exception to preserve the health of the pregnant woman. The Clinton administration also endorsed a ban on late-term abortions that also had a narrowly-drawn health exception.

    Kagan served as a legal advisor to Clinton at the time and was involved in providing policy recommendations to the administration on the issue.

    The right has seized on several documents and memos related to the Clinton administration's talks with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) about an abortion procedure referred to as intact D&X (which ACOG determined was the likely target of the "partial birth" abortion proposals), and its necessity. In particular, they are highlighting a draft ACOG statement on pending legislation that would ban the procedure, in which the ACOG stated:

    Terminating a pregnancy is indicated in some circumstances to save the life or preserve the health of the mother. Intact D&X is one of the methods available in some of these situations. However, a select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which this procedure, as defined above, would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman. Notwithstanding this conclusion, ACOG strongly believes that decision about medical treatment must be made by the doctor, in consultation with the patient, based upon the woman's particular circumstances. The potential exists that legislation prohibiting specific medical practices, such as intact D&X, may outlaw techniques that are critical to the lives and health of American women. The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and potentially dangerous.

    In a December 14, 1996, memo, Kagan wrote that it would be a "disaster" if the ACOG issued this draft statement as its final statement. Kagan's files also include handwritten notes titled "suggested options," and those notes include language that mirrors ACOG's publicly released final statement on the "partial birth" abortion bill.

    The right-wing blogs are screaming that this is evidence that Kagan interfered with "medical science" to advance the Clinton administration's politics. But Kagan did no such thing. ACOG's final statement is perfectly consistent with the draft statement and with ACOG's medical panel's assessment that it "could identify no circumstances under which this procedure, as defined above, would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman." Indeed, the panel's assessment was still included in ACOG's final statement on the issue.

    And none of the right-wing media attacks have even plausibly suggested a way in which ACOG's draft statement and its final statement conflict.

  • Right-wing absurdly claims U.S. "apologizing" to China because of Arizona immigration law

    Blog ››› ››› KATE CONWAY

    Right-wing bloggers and Rush Limbaugh are pushing an absurd distortion of an AP report on a meeting on human rights to claim that the U.S. "apologized" to China over the Arizona immigration law. In fact, nothing in the reports indicates that the U.S. "apologized" to China.

    Here's what the AP wrote:

    [Assistant Secretary of State Michael] Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.

    He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its own a new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.

  • Right-wing media strain to portray Kagan as a "radical"

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Right-wing media figures have been quick to portray Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as a "radical" or an "activist." In fact, Kagan is considered "one of the more moderate choices" for the Supreme Court and has been described as "fair-minded" and "well-respected" by conservative political and legal experts.

  • Right-wing conspiracy theory: Obama admin. colluded with SEC on Goldman charges to gain support for financial reform

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    After the Security and Exchange Commission accused Goldman Sachs of fraud, numerous right-wing media figures have accused the Obama administration of attempting "to destroy Goldman Sachs" in order to "shift public opinion" in favor of financial reform. Simultaneously, conservative media have also falsely claimed that the financial reform legislation creates a "permanent bailout fund," which is "the payoff" Wall Street "has been waiting for."

  • Some media conservatives reject comparison of Reid's controversial comments to Lott's support of Thurmond

    ››› ››› GREG LEWIS

    The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru, and Power Line's Paul Mirengoff are among the conservatives to recently reject comparisons trumpeted by other right-wing media figures of Sen. Harry Reid's controversial comments about President Obama to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's past comments in support of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign. Hayes, Ponnuru, and Mirengoff join several civil rights leaders and other media figures in rejecting that comparison.