Tag Archives: Lies and Denial

Royal Society Puts Matt Ridley And His Friends On Notice

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest extant scientific society. And, it is a place where scientific controversy has a home. Both Huxley and Wilberforce were members back in the 19th century, when young Darwin’s ideas were first being knocked around.

More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Royal Society accidentally agreed to host a talk by coal baron and formerly respected science writer Matt Ridley. Matt Ridley has been a great disappointment to us scientists and science teachers. Many of us used his book as a supplementary reading in our evolution courses, for example (Ridley was a respected science writer back in the day). But more recently he has become a global warming science denier, and the suggestion has been made that this is because his personal wealth is tied up in coal mining.

Here are some resources to get up to speed on the Ridley controversy:

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/11/30/matt-ridley-and-benny-peisers-misleading-guide-to-the-climate-debate/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley and Benny Peiser’s Misleading Guide to the Climate Debate</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/01/19/testing-matt-ridleys-hypotheses-about-global-warming/"><strong><em>Testing Matt Ridley’s Hypotheses About Global Warming</em></strong></a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/10/mat-ridley-anti-science-writer-climate-science-denialist/"><strong><em>Matt Ridley, Anti-Science Writer, Climate Science Denialist</em></strong></a></li>

Anyway, the Royal Society accidentally allowed the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is an anti-science organization pretending to be a, well, a policy foundation of some sort, to book a talk by Matt Ripley. This was clearly an attempt to legitimize climate change denial. The real science community got wind of this, and objected. From Graham Readfearn:

The Royal Society is coming under internal pressure to cancel a booking on its premises made by climate science “sceptic” group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, DeSmogUK can reveal.

Several fellows and associates of the society – the world’s oldest scientific academy, founded in 1660 – are angry over an agreement to hire its premises to the GWPF for its 17 October annual lecture, to be delivered by Lord Matt Ridley.

DeSmogUK also understands some scientists intend to raise the issue at a meeting of the Royal Society’s governing council on 6 October, with a request to cancel the GWPF booking.

Well, they did. And the Royal Society thought about it and decided to allow the talk to continue.

And, we can get mad about that if we want, but I’m not. The Royal Society clearly made a mistake in making the booking, but this sort of mistake is one of the costs of at least trying to live in a world where the conversation over science can generally be an honest one, and nefarious shenanigans such as this booking by a fake think tank to have a fake expert talk about fake science circumvents that honest conversation.

I’m reminded of the time when Harvard’s Kennedy School of government accidentally booked Famous African Dictator Mobutu Sese Seku Kuku Kibombe of Zaire to give a talk as part of a series of world leaders talking about government. Not long after word of that got out, there was a move towards uninviting, but that is actually very difficult for an institution to do. That talk went forward, with protests, and Americans became suddenly much more aware of Mobutu and what he had been up to in the country formerly and currently known as the Congo. This actually helped with ongoing efforts to get the US Congress to cut ties with Mobutu (he had been a loyal mercenary extraordinary and plenipotentiary on behalf of the US for years, fighting the Libyans and other African bad guys …) but I digress. The point is, Mobutu’s talk at the Kennedy school ended up being an important nail driven into his eventual coffin.

DesmogUK’s Kyla Mandel now reports that the Royal Society will allow the talk to go forward, but promises that if the speaker throws science under the bus, there will be people watching and reporting.

When the Royal Society met to discuss the matter, there was general agreement that climate change was real, that Ridley was not a friend to the science, that they regretted giving the talk, etc. But they also felt that cancelling the talk would give more cachet to the cancelled speakers and his fake think tank than they deserved. Rather, they thought, let the talk go ahead and “If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.”

Sounds very Minnesotan. Passive aggressive counter attack, that.

Mandel’s report has more details, go read it here.

I look forward to the debunking of the talk by Matt Ridley, the 5th Viscount of Coal. Or whatever he calls himself. His career as a respected science writer is pretty much over, but there’s always room for one more nail.

The Argument Against Anthropogenic Climate Change Is On Drugs

First, a note on Lewis Carrol, Alice and Wonderland, and drugs. The current revisionist version of that work is that Carrol was not referring to drugs when he has Alice or other characters imbibe or smoke various substances (including ‘shrooms) and in so doing experience dramatic changes in reality. Uh huh, sure. The argument is based on the belief that Lewis Carrol did not do drugs. That argument is absurd, of course, because Alice in Wonderland and related works ARE FICTION. If these stories can only involve thematic metaphor to drug use by the author actually being on drugs while weaving the yarns, then what exactly do we expect Stephen King’s life to be like? But, I digress and we shall now get on to the point of this post.

There is a new paper by the Conspiracy and Consensus team exploring how climate science deniers, in a conspirational mode, are, essentially, on drugs. Not real drugs, just the metaphorical ones invoked when we think or utter, “What did he say? Man, he must be on drugs.” To be clear, this paper does not actually make the drug connection directly. The connection to the Alice down the rabbit hole metaphor is in the great disparity and incongruence among ideas proffered or claimed simultaneously by the deniers of climate science.

Here’s the details on the paper: Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. Synthese (2016). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6.

Click the link to get your free copy.

The authors make two key observations, and then explain them. First observation: The climate change denier community is capable of saying, seemingly at the same time, completely different things that contradict each other. Second observation: Same as the first one, but this also applies to individuals. In other words, the internally conflicting disparity of ideas does not solely represent heterogeneity in the denier community. It indicates a lack of need or desire for consistency or internal coherency. Science deniers do not care that they, as a group or as individuals, saying that even though paleo-temperature data from proxies are unreliable, a claim (which is incorrect) can be made that the middle ages were warmer than today. They can say that we can’t really measure atmospheric CO2 levels in the past, but they were higher in the past at particular points in time. And so on. The paper provides numerous examples.

The authors explain this lack of coherency by the fact that there is coherency, but at a different level. Given (or, as an assumption) that this is conspiratorial ideation in action, the deniers know (but are wrong) that there is a conspiracy at a higher level to obscure or hide the truth, or to make stuff up, etc. Therefore, any given idea, no matter how much conflict it implies with other ideas, is acceptable as long as it doubles as a finger pointing to the man behind the curtain, the deep and high level conspiracy. If an idea supports the idea that there is a conspiracy (any conspiracy, or just an unspecified conspiracy of some sort, not a particular one) then it is an OK idea.

I would either mildly disagree with this explanation, or take it one sept further and fully agree with it. I’m still thinking about it.

In dueling with deniers, one thing that very quickly becomes apparent is an utter lack of concern for honesty. One could ask the question, was honesty absent from the beginning, as a character trait of these individuals, or was it sacrificed in service of strong conspiratorial ideation? I think the lack of honesty is critically important, because this is what make it impossible, in a conversation, for the interlocutors to agree on what we are all getting at, or to acknowledge when we are going in a good vs. bad direction with intermediate conclusions or provisional ideas, or to in any way come to any kind of understanding about pretty much anything.

An honest conversation moves towards something, and that something is defined and redefined, and increasingly better understood, as part of the conversation itself. Deniers are not even moving towards a better and more coherent conspiracy. They are, rather, denying every aspect of the mainstream, coherent, consensus-seeking conversation, no matter what it is. You can test this, by engagement in comment sections of newspaper articles and blog posts. You can trick these folks into saying something that favors a normal interpretation of climate science, by simply letting them know that you are agin’ ’em, and then stating the opposite of what you want them to say. In the trenches, detailed positions are not necessarily developed and framed just in reference to the conspiracy by a higher power (the government, the academics, etc.), but also (or maybe mostly?) in simple opposition to whatever a scientist, climate change “believer,” etc. is saying.

That applies, by the way, to about everything one might talk about. On this blog, several folks who showed up as science deniers discovered a conversation about firearms, and engaged fully. And, the same tactics prevailed. I’m not sure how important that is, but those conversations might be worth a look.

This could be all about the Ultimate Conspiracy, and the dishonesty simply arises from the incoherence of the necessary arguments. Or, the Ultimate Conspiracy could be the final (and ultimate) excuse when everything else fails, and fail it must if ever the conversation goes on long enough for everyone to understand that the deniers have contradicted themselves and each other on everything they’ve said.

Either way, the utter lack of honesty must matter. The adherence to honesty in the normal, honest conversation about policy or science, or science policy, is critical. When that breaks down, and people involved in the conversation are working with other objectives, that is when you get serious problems (including post-modernism within academia, damaging political positions in state houses and national capitols, and utter craziness on the internet.) I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that disregard for honesty, or the inability to grok honesty, or something, is associated with a range of pathologies. I’d love to see this explored more.

<li><a href="http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/9/23/1573393/-Alice-in-Denialand-Mad-as-Hatters">ClimateDenierRoundup has more on this paper, here.</a></li>

<li>Graham Readfearn has this: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/sep/23/how-climate-science-deniers-can-accept-so-many-impossible-things-all-at-once">How climate science deniers can accept so many 'impossible things' all at once</a></li>

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper has this: <a href="http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2016/09/climate-science-denial-rational.html">Climate Science Denial: A rational activity built on incoherence and conspiracy theories</a></li>

And, now, a musical interlude.

Science Denial Bad Guys and Good Guys

White Supremacy, Climate Science Denial, Trump, Alt-Right

Peter Sinclair suddenly realized it is all one big interconnected complex hole! (Well, whole, but more like a hole because of what we are throwing into it).

Look at this classic video he made a while back:

Then, check out his post, here.

A lot of stuff about the MadHouse Effect

I reviewed the Madhouse Effect HERE.

Get Energy Smart notes that only a day after the Madhouse Effect authors highlighted nine key deniers (including Bjorn Lomborg) in the Washington Post, that venerable newspaper publishes yet another bogus editorial (YABE) by Lomborg.


See also:

EcoWatch: Michael Mann’s Hotlist of the 9 Most Prominent Climate Deniers

About an earlier editorial by Lomborg: Bjørn Lomborg WSJ Op Ed Is Stunningly Wrong

The National Academy of Sciences Writes One Of Those Big Letters

On September 20, 2016, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates, published an open letter to draw attention to the serious risks of climate change. The letter warns that the consequences of opting out of the Paris agreement would be severe and long-lasting for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.

Here it is.

The Wall Street Journal Is A Rag

But I’m sure you already knew that.

The Wall Street Journal is so far behind the curve when it comes to the science of climate change, and so deep in the pockets of the oil industry, that the following is now true: If you are in business or industry, and want to keep track of important news about markets and other important things, don’t bother with the Wall Street Journal. You no longer need it for the stock info (that’s on your smart phone). The editorial and analysis, and I assume the reporting, from the WSJ is so badly tainted and decades behind the times that the newspaper as a whole has lost all credibility.

Here’s an example.

It has been noted that,

The Wall Street Journal has published 21 opinion pieces since October opposing state or federal investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated the law by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change, a new Media Matters analysis finds, far more than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or USA Today published on either side of the issue. The Journal has yet to publish a single editorial, column, or op-ed in support of investigating Exxon’s behavior, and many of its pro-Exxon opinion pieces contain blatant falsehoods about the nature and scope of the ongoing investigations being conducted by state attorneys general.

The graphic at the top of the post reflects this.

This is part of a larger pattern, of which the WSJ is the worst offender.

The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post all published climate science denial and other scientifically inaccurate statements about climate change on their opinion pages over the last year and a half, while The New York Times avoided doing so, according to a new Media Matters analysis of those four newspapers. The Journal published by far the most opinion pieces misrepresenting climate science, while all three instances of climate science denial in the Post came from columns written by George Will. The Journal and USA Today also published numerous climate-related op-eds without disclosing the authors’ fossil fuel ties, while USA Today, the Post, and particularly the Journal frequently published some of the least credible voices on climate and energy issues.


There’s more. You can read the full analyses HERE and HERE

I’d like to add something. It’s Not Just The Editorial Page: Study Finds WSJ’s Reporting On Climate Change Also Skewed.

Hit list targeting climate scientists?

Just passing this along. Let me know if you see or hear anything suspicious.

In Prominent global warming doubter says there was a “hit list” apparently targeting climate scientists, Tom Yulsman writes:

In a comment on an August 3rd post at the Wattsupwiththat website, Patrick J. Michaels of the conservative Cato Institute said that there has been a “hit list” apparently targeting climate scientists, and that he had influence over who was on it.

At this point, it is unclear exactly what this list was about. But from what Michaels said, it looks like it consisted of scientists being targeted for termination from their jobs….

Read the rest here.

Climate Change Denial Threatens Our Planet and is Driving Us Crazy

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy is a great new book by climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles.

This book serves many purposes. It includes an overview of the basic science of climate change and human caused global warming. It has a compendium of many of the key science deniers, and a description of the well known taxonomy of science denial (“It’s Not Happening!”, “OK, It’s Happening but It’s Natural”, “It Will Take Care Of Itself”, “It Will Be Good For Us”, etc.). The authors discuss the war on climate science, and of special interest because it isn’t discussed enough, the prospects (which are poor) and the problems (which are very serious) of geoengineering as a means of addressing climate change.

And, everything is well documented with detailed notes and references at the end, including some to my own writing on the topic!

This is not like a cartoon guide to a topic (though those guides are great), but is mainly text richly illustrated with Tolees’ often ironic and biting cartoons. The text is well written and very accessible but at the same time authoritative.

And the book will prove its own need. Just visit the amazon reviews of this book and you’ll see, I suspect (give it a few weeks for the deniers to mass on the borders of reason and charge in).

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in climate change and global warming. Teachers discussing this issue in class may want to have a copy of it handy, especially to prepare for denialist charges and complaints, but also, for the basic science. Activists will find the material on what to do about climate change, at several levels, interesting and helpful.

The book is available now for pre-order.

Mark Steyn’s Latest Trick

UPSATE. The motion has been denied. Rather hilariously, bt the way.

Professor Michael Mann vs. Shock Jock Mark Steyn

You all know about the libel suit filed by Professor Michael Mann against Canadian right wing radio shock jock Mark Steyn. Steyn made apparently libelous comments linking Mann, who is widely regarded as the worlds top non-retired climate scientist, to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. (I don’t know what Steyn was implying but the only link is that both work(ed) at Penn State University!) There are other aspects of the libel suit as well, beyond the scope of this post.

The suit was filed in October 2012. I’m told this sort of law suit can drag on for years, and in this case, Steyn and the other defendants have taken action to delay what seems likely to be a decision against them, so this one might take a bit longer.

ADDED: It has come to my attention that some are arguing that Steyn has been trying to push this suit along while the other defendants are those responsible for the delay. You need to be aware of the fact that early on in the process, Steyn separated himself from the other defendants, and some observers have noted that he has been conducting his side of the process in such a way that has left legal scholars wondering if he has a competent lawyer. I have no personal comment on this. But it remains true that there is no way to separate the discovery part of this process among the parties. In other words, as the different parties in the defense take separate action, they are capable of playing something of a “good cop – bad cop” scenario, and that looks like what they are doing. In any event, Steyn has taken specific delaying action by filing a counter-suit.

Then, on June 1st, yesterday, Steyn’s lawyer requested that the DC Court of Appeals expedite the case.

Why is Steyn suddenly in a hurry to see this court case finished, when until now he has been more interested in delay?

I’m pretty sure the reason is a microcosm of how things are developing in the larger world of fossil fuel industry supported science denial, as well as the larger world of right wing vs. progressive politics.

Mann’s suit is not about arguing about science. He is perfectly capable of going head to head with anybody, even bought and paid for deniers, as he recounts in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

The suit serves, rather, as a part of a larger effort to combat the ongoing systematic attacks on well meaning and hard working scientists who are just doing their jobs. These attacks, in large part funded by energy industry front groups or “think” tanks such as the Heartland Institute, threaten to cast a chilling pall over over the scientific endeavor itself. Young people going into science careers, especially in certain areas, potentially face future denigrating attacks on their personal lives and character, and potentially career ending frivolous investigations by science deniers in Congress or in other positions of power.

A few months ago we saw shock jock Steyn called by anti-science Senator, failed presidential candidate, and widely detested Ted Cruz, in what can only be described as a three-ring circus of climate science denial. Steyn used his time before congress to argue his case in the Mann law suit, and to blow a racist dog whistle or two denigrating two of the DC Appeals court judges, Judges Natalia Combs Greene and Vanessa Ruiz. I only mention this because it gives background on Steyn and the overall anti-science movement. See Mark Steyn, The DC Appeals Court, and Congress for a detailed discussion of that).

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, science denier.

A couple of years ago, in Minnesota, a Republican House and Senate passed a bill to create a constitutional amendment making same sex marriage illegal. Why an amendment and not a law? It was generally thought at the time that the Republicans assumed that if Democrats took power (which they did right after that), that the law would be toast. A constitutional change is harder to undo. But there was another strategic reason to go for the change to the State’s Constitution, a reason that is directly parallel to Mark Steyn’s current strategy vis-a-vis the Mann law suit.

The Republicans legislators voted close to 100% in favor of banning same sex marriage in Minnesota, the Democrats voted close to 100% against it. The amendment then became a ballot issue, which was fought over for months in the public forum, and then, resoundingly defeated by the people of Minnesota. That was one of the first and key moments in the Great Domino Knockover ending legislation and constitutional restriction against same sex marriage.

So what?

Here’s what. During the public fight over the ballot amendment, I went to a fund raiser hosted by a colleague. At that fund raiser, a member of the Minnesota House told a story.

Every year, pages are brought to the legislature to work the legislative session. These are high school seniors representing every single district in the state, so they are geographically evenly distributed across liberal and conservative enclaves and regions. Urban Minneapolis is very liberal. One of the Urban members of the US Congress, Keith Ellison, is an African American Muslim Bernie Sanders Supporter. One of the non-urban members of the US Congress, for several years, was Tea Party co-Founder Michele Bachmann. So, you get the picture.

When the pages are first brought in, there are orientation activities of various sorts. One of the orientation activities is to poll the pages on various political questions. The pages, from Michele Bachmann’s district, Keith Ellison’s district, and everywhere else, were polled that year on their position on the Same Sex Marriage Banning Amendment. How did that shake out?

Every single page was opposed to the amendment. Every. Single. One. They were all about 18 years old.

The Republican strategy to make same sex marriage unconstitutional, instead of merely illegal, was motivated by a correct reading of the state’s demography. The next generation of Minnesotans was not going to have this sort of discrimination. Every year the state’s population would be increasingly in favor of marriage freedom and opposed to repression of LGBT people. The conservatives in the State Legislature had to act quickly to codify their systematic hatred before everyone else grew up.

Grumpy Old Men

Grumpy Old Men isn’t just a movie set in Minnesota. It is a key part of the demographic base for science denial.

At about the same time that the marriage amendment was being proposed and eventually put down in Minnesota, John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Jim Powell and their colleagues were turning out the Climate Consensus Project. This project paralleled and replicated earlier research, but using a different approach. The upshot of that collective research was to show that nearly, but not exactly, 100% of climate scientists and the peer reviewed papers that address climate change, all agree: Climate change is real, and human caused.

The actual studies are more complex and nuanced than that, but for now there is one conclusion that I want you to focus on. Something less than three percent of the people who’s opinion matter in the scientific world, those who are verified experts in this area, continued to question the legitimacy of human caused climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.

Who are these people?

We know from work by John Mashey, that science deniers with actual scientific credentials are like conservative Minnesota legislators.

Mashey examined the characteristics of individuals who opposed, from within, the American Physical Society’s position on the reality of human caused climate change. The opposition took the form of a petition signed by less than a half percent of the 47,000 member of the society. That subset of APS members tended to be in subfields that did not focus on climate science. But most interesting here is the demography of that group.

Mashey showed that the signers of the anti-science petition were, as a group, older and more likely to be retired than the APS members in general.

Of the 119 signers, 102 (86%) were born before 1950, compared to about 40% for overall APS. This is a strong effect, and cannot be due to “retired scientists are finally free to tell the real truth”, given that only one plausible climate scientist is a signer, and he is not retired.

In addition, there is evidence that as this non-representative sample of APS members was recruited to sign on, efforts were made by the petition organizers to find older or retired individuals, dust them off, and get them on board.

Like the situation with same sex marriage in Minnesota, the demographics are changing. That few percent that the Consensus Project and similar research identifies as not being on board with climate science probably represents the grumpy old men who are disappearing at the usual rate, like they do. The scientists who understand climate science and make up the bulk of the consensus are not only more involved in actual climate science, but also, are of the current generation of active scientists.

They are old. And, therefore, becoming less numerous with every passing day, with every tolling of the bell.

Who is Steyn’s dead guy?

A key reason given by Steyn and his lawyer for expediting the Mann lawsuit is that key witnesses that would support Steyn’s case may die off before the case comes to court.

According to the “request for expedited hearing” filed by Steyn’s lawyer,

Steyn’s expert witnesses are older than Mann’s; time affects them more. Many of Steyn’s expert witnesses are emeritus professors and comparatively advanced in years, being of an age and eminence that enables them to stand against the bullying and intimidation that prevails in climate science. Therefore, the passage of time is not an unimportant thing. Indeed, one of Steyn’s proposed witnesses has, in fact, died while this interlocutory appeal has been with the appellate court.

The brief does not mention which witness died. Any guesses?

Apparently, Steyn and his lawyer had a “holy crap” moment, realizing that if this law suit does not come to court sooner than later, there would be precious few individuals prepared to serve as witnesses in favor of an idea that about to get pulled off life support.

Time is running out for Steyn. Over time, those who question the validity of well established science are likely to change their minds once they get the proper information, realize that their position is laughable and walk away from denialism simply because it is embarrassing, or, apparently, die.

But it is more important that time is running out for the planet, and for the up and coming generation that is being handed a ruined environment.

Even as I write these words a news alert comes across my desk: “Europe floods: 10 dead amid fears of fresh heavy rainfall,” referring to flooding in France and Germany. Flooding in Texas over the last few days, and continuing, has taken at least a half dozen lives. To someone like Steyn, and his out of touch geriatric witnesses, this is small change. A half a dozen people here, a half a dozen people there. And that is exactly the problem and exactly why Mann’s lawsuit is important and valid. Climate denialism is, as a movement, effectively sociopathic. And, as individuals in that movement realize that, they tend to wander off.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season started yesterday and there are already two named storms. Major fires in the Canadian Rockies, the decline of iconic species such as the North American Moose, coral bleaching, the spread of very nasty diseases out of the tropics, record high temperatures, the Syrian refugee crisis, are all linked to climate change to some degree, often very directly, sometimes more tenuously. (See this for a current accounting of climate disasters ongoing.)

Extreme variability in precipitation patterns, including both short and long term droughts and major rain or snow fall events, has been linked pretty directly to anthropogenic global warming. Heat waves and sea level rise due to melting glaciers, and changes in ocean chemistry, are direct measures of increasing surface heat. Weather and climate are two faces of the same coin, different in scale with weather being in one spot and on one day, and climate being weather long term and everywhere. If we change climate, which we have, we change weather, and thus we affect day to day live, the food supply, the global economy, and global health.

People finally concerned about climate change

Though not enough. And for the wrong reasons. But this is still good news.

Somewhere around 1990, but you could justify an earlier date if you like, science knew enough about global warming, the increase in the planet’s surface temperatures caused by human release of greenhouse gas pollution and other human effects, to have initiated meaningful action to shift our energy supply away from fossil fuels. We didn’t know exactly what would happen, but we knew stuff would happen. How long has it taken for this science to turn into effective policy to address global warming? We don’t know, because, while some things are happening now, not enough. We are not doing what we need to be doing decades after we should have started doing it.

The main reason we have avoided effective action is because of bought and paid for denial of the science supported mainly by the industries that stand to lose the most if we eliminated our reliance on fossil fuels. These industries could have done something very different. They could have started to develop and deploy clean energy solutions, and dissolve their fossil fuel based assets. But they didn’t. So we are in a bad situation right now.

Meanwhile this systematic and effective denial of science has kept public opinion confused, with many people failing to accept the reality of global warming. But now, we are seeing a major shift away from denial and towards accepting, if not fully understanding, the science, and getting on board with a shift in policy.

That is a good thing, though it is slightly annoying that a) recent lackluster opinion has resulted from the incorrect perception that an expectable slowdown in warming means global warming isn’t real (it doesn’t actually mean that) followed by b) an uptick in global warming’s effects caused by short term exacerbation from the current, now winding down, El Nino.

The last time there was a big uptick in US public concern about global warming was in association with the most recent major El Nino, and now, with this new major El Nino, concern has risen again, according to Gallup.

Hunter Cutting has a piece on Medium exploring this in more detail. He asks if the current uptick in concern is a tipping point in public opinion.

He notes,

For the past year there have been hints of a significant shift in the U.S. political landscape on the question of climate change. Now, new polling numbers just out from Gallup confirm not just a shift, but a seismic shift, in public opinion on the question. The shift is so dramatic that we may have passed a key tipping point in the politics of climate change.

But he further notes,

The political landscape must change still further before federal action can take the next big steps forward on climate change. Despite increasing agreement that climate change is a problem, most still don’t see the problem as a pressing concern calling for immediate action. But U.S. politics are notoriously non-linear. Political change often happens fast once the ball gets rolling.

If a Republican is elected to the White House, and both houses of Congress stay Republican, expect anywhere from a half decade to a decade of delay in acting meaningfully on clean energy policy. Yes, the markets are already heading that way, but don’t underestimate the ability of a nefarious petroleum fueled anti-change government to slow that down or even reverse it. This is why this November is the most important election in American, and global, history. Please don’t blow it.

Putting the “Ex” in “Exxon”: AGU asked to dump big oil sponsorship

It is all about the honest conversation. And the dishonest conversation.

Corporate Funding of the Research Endeavor: Good

Corporations have an interest in research. They use this research for profit or to minimize liability. Some corporations have their own researchers, some provide grants to scientists to conduct research, and some fund activities that might not be thought of as research, but really are. For example, the publication fees for peer reviewed journals, funds to pay for scientists to attend conferences, and funds to support a scientific conference are paying for an important part of the research endeavor.

It is not always the case that a conflict of interest arises when a corporation pays for research. In a former life, I was an administrator for a moderately sized research funding entity. We had “member” companies that paid annual dues that were rather high. In return for those dues, we provided experts who would show up and give talks. This was a total rip-off to the companies, because they also had to pay for the travel costs of the experts, but that is not why they contributed. These were Japanese companies, and the experts were all economists. The point was to distribute the money to young scholars — graduate students, post docs, and junior faculty — for whatever research projects they needed money for. The projects had to be real research, but they did not have to be on anything in particular. The results were generally put into a free and open access publication series (along with other research) and we would ship off copies of the publication to all the member companies. Nobody was paying anybody to produce any particular result, but the research was sometimes (but often not) valuable to those companies. For example, some Japanese companies, including at least one that paid us dues, had developed a great new way to manage warehousing of parts. It saved money and reduced waste. One of the research projects we funded looked at that system, compared it to other systems, and recommended how it might be applied elsewhere. In another project, one of the firs studies to ever look at putting some kind of price on carbon was carried out. None of the companies that funded this research had any interest, for or against, this concept.

In the old days, AT&T funded Bell Labs. It still exists today, and I have no idea how it works now. I’m told by people who worked there back in the mid 20th century that it was a place where funding came in from the mother company to allow scientists to do more or less what they wanted to. Numerous important inventions that we use today came out of Bell Labs, and the people who worked there even won a bunch of Nobel Prizes. That was probably another example of industry funding research for the purpose of finding out new stuff, and little or no nefarious intent was attached.

Conferences are typically funded by a combination of grants from institutions (like the National Science Foundation, etc.), conference fees (which can be rather hefty) charged to participants, and grants from interested commercial parties. For example, a company that makes microscopes might kick in some money for a biology conference. They may also be represented in the part of the conference where private companies (or institutions with a product) can set up booths (that they pay for), like a trade conference.

Those private companies may well have an interest in the outcome of the research being performed by the various scientists who attend the conference. Maybe they want to sell the scientists a gadget to use in their lab. Maybe they want to use the research to advance their corporate mission, such as better ways to produce or deliver a product. Most of the time they probably just want people to like them, or to recognize their names.

So far, there is not much wrong with that, either.

Corporate Funding of the Research Endeavor: Bad

But sometimes private corporations have different kind of interest. They don’t just want to get more information and knowledge about the areas where science overlaps with their corporate mission. They don’t just want to be seriously considered as a source for some matériel or equipment that scientists use. What some corporations want to do, sometimes, is to influence the outcome of scientific research, for their own interests, in ways that require that the science itself be adulterated in some substantial way. They want to see the dissemination of results that may be bogus but that serves their financial interests, or they may want to repress results that would lead policy makers, legislatures, the public, or the scientific community, to criticize, eschew, or even stop one or more of their profitable activities.

This is a sufficiently important problem that one of the largest (possibly the largest, depending on how one defines things) scientific organizations related to the study of Planet Earth, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), has a policy about this. As part of their “organizational support policy,” the AGU says,

AGU will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.

Organizational partners are defined as those that make an annual financial commitment to AGU
of $5,000 or more.

Why not accept the money? Doesn’t it make sense to take the money and then have lots of money and stuff, and ignore the wishes of potentially nefarious actors in this game?

I knew a guy once, only barely (a friend of the father of a friend). He was a major research scientist at a major institution, and he invented a technology for seeing things that are very small, which had applications in a wide range of research and praxis, including materials science and medicine. But his methodology involved the development of technology that one might use to make a terrible but effective weapon. He received a lot of his funding from those who might fund such things, and this allowed him to do his work without having to spend much money on grant proposals. But, he claimed (in his retirement), he never intended his work to be used to make a terrible weapon. Furthermore, he knew, privately, from his own research that it never could be. What he was doing would simply not work in that context. But he never mentioned that to his funders. He just took the money, and used it to save lives.

Well, one of the reasons one might not want to take money from sources with nefarious intent (and here we assume developing a terrible weapon is nefarious, though one could argue differently, I suppose) without ever advancing said nefarious goal, is that it is actually unethical. But one could counter argue that the savings of lives and advancement of civilization and such outweighs the ethics, or more exactly, that it is appropriate to develop situational ethics.

That is an extreme example, but in some ways, parallel to what a major organization like the AGU would be doing if they knowingly accepted money from major corporations who intended to encourage, develop, disseminate, or otherwise use for their own interests any kind of fake science or anti-science. Why not take the money and run? Partly, one assumes, because it isn’t exactly kosher.

Another reason is that if one takes anti-science money, one may end up advancing anti-science agendas even if one does not want to. The very fact that an anti-science entity (a corporation or foundation funded by a corporation) funds a major legit conference is a way of saying that the corporation itself is legit. It is a way that a scientific organization can advance anti-science even if it doesn’t want to.

Scientist Tell AGU To Drop Exxon Sponsorship

You all know about the Exxon maneno. Exxon, aka ExxonMobil, has recently been exposed as having repressed scientific information that indicated that we, our species, would ultimately need to change our energy systems in order to keep fossil fuels in the ground, else face dire consequences. Decades ago, when the science already indicated that this was a problem, Exxon independently verified that we needed to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, then shut up about it, because it was, and is, in their corporate interest to take the fossil fuel out of the ground.

I wrote about the Exxon kerfuffle back when it first broke, here. In that post, I provided a thumb-suck analysis comparing what Exxon knew about climate change then, and what the IPCC and NASA know about it now. They are pretty much the same, with respect to global surface warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels such as those extracted and sold by Exxon.

Over a month ago, scientists Ploy Achakulwisut, Ben Scandella, Britta Voss asked the question, “Why is the largest Earth science conference still sponsored by Exxon?” They noted,

The impacts of Exxon’s tactics have been devastating. Thanks in part to Exxon, the American public remains confused and polarized about climate change. Thanks in part to Exxon, climate science-denying Republicans in Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level remain a major obstacle to U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change.

And thanks in no small part to Exxon, climate action has been delayed at the global level; as the international community began to consider curbing greenhouse gas emissions with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Exxon orchestrated and funded anti-Kyoto campaigns, including participation in the Global Climate Coalition. The latter was so successful at shifting debate that the George W. Bush administration credited it with playing a key role in its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, now there is a letter signed by many top scientists asking the American Geophysical Union to make ExxonMobile an Ex-contributor to the conference. According to the Natural History Museum,

more than 100 geoscientists sent the following letter to the President of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) – the world’s largest association of Earth scientists – urging the association to end its sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil. The oil giant is currently under investigation by the New York and California Attorneys General for its long history of climate denial campaigns.

Many notable scientists have signed on, including the former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies James E. Hansen, the former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Harvard Professor James J. McCarthy, Harvard Professor and author of Merchants of Doubt Naomi Oreskes, and Michael Mann– Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The letter is the most recent example of a growing trend of scientists stepping out of their traditional roles to urge science institutions to cut ties to fossil fuel companies.

As part of the press release announcing this letter, Michael Mann (author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change) noted, “While I recognize that it is a contentious matter within the diverse AGU community, I just don’t see how we can, in good conscience, continue to accept contributions from a company that has spent millions of dollars over several decades funding bad faith attacks on scientists within our community whose scientific findings happen to be inconvenient for fossil fuel interests.”

InsideClimateNews has a timeline of what happened with Exxon, here.

AGU’s president, Margaret Leinen, wrote on the AGU’s blog, that “The AGU Board of Directors will take up the questions raised in this letter at their upcoming meeting in April, and prior to that will carefully review the information that has been provided, and any additional information that becomes available in the meantime. We will consult with our various member constituencies as well other stakeholders prior to the Board meeting. In addition, the Board will look more deeply into the question of what constitutes verifiable information about current activities.”

InsideClimateNews notes that this campaign “…is part of a growing trend of scientists’ protesting efforts by fossil fuel companies to undermine climate science. Last year, for instance, dozens of researchers urged Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to cut ties with David Koch of Koch Industries.” See this post at InsideClimateNews for more information about the Exxon-AGU problem, and the broader movement.

As I noted at the beginning, this is all about the honest conversation. I’ve talked about this before. So often, the conversation, usually public and policy-related, is not about the science at all, but about other things, and the science itself gets thrown under the bus. My understanding (limited, I know) of the criminal justice system is that if a prosecutor knows about exculpatory evidence, they are required to provide it to the court or defense, thus possibly negatively affecting their own chance of success, but at the same time, doing the right thing. One would think that in science, institutions or individuals who know about evidence important in understanding some scientific problem, that they are ethically obligated to make that information available with reasonable alacrity. If all those involved in the large scale and complex conversations about climate change and energy had as a central ethical theme a commitment to accuracy, openness, and to the process of mutual aid in advancing our understanding of the topics at hand, it wouldn’t matter who gave money to whom, because that money would not be linked to efforts to repress knowledge or to produce and disseminate misinformation.

And, certainly, such corporations should not be attacking the science or the scientists, or funding other organizations that do. Contributing to a valid scientific organization like the AGU does not make up for such behavior.

Had that been the way things worked fifty years ago, by now, Exxon-Mobile and other fossil fuel companies would have shifted their corporate activities away from fossil fuels. They would be phasing out coal, oil, and natural gas, and developing clean energy solutions. They would not have stuck themselves with vast stranded assets that they now have a corporate responsibility, no matter how immoral or antiscientific, to develop. There is an idea that corporations are primarily responsible to their stockholders, and this widely accepted but highly questionable “ethic” has been applied to justify, it seems, a significant departure from the pursuit of knowledge and the application of that knowledge to managing human problems and protecting our precious planet. This is a fundamental flaw in how we do things, and it is the reason AGU has to but the “ex” in Exxon as a sponsor.

Scientists’ Letter to the American Geophysical Union

Here is the letter:

Dear Dr. Margaret Leinen,

We, the undersigned members of AGU (and other concerned geoscientists), write to ask you to please reconsider ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of the AGU Fall Meetings.

As Earth scientists, we are deeply troubled by the well-documented complicity of ExxonMobil in climate denial and misinformation. For example, recent investigative journalism has shed light on the fact that Exxon, informed by their in-house scientists, has known about the devastating global warming effects of fossil fuel burning since the late 1970s, but spent the next decades funding misinformation campaigns to confuse the public, slander scientists, and sabotage science – the very science conducted by thousands of AGU members. Even today, Exxon continues to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbying group that routinely misrepresents climate science to US state legislators and attempts to block pro-renewable energy policies. Just last year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson downplayed the validity of climate models and the value of renewable energy policies.

The impacts of Exxon’s tactics have been devastating. Thanks in part to Exxon, the American public remains confused and polarized about climate change. And thanks in part to Exxon, climate science-denying members of Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level remain a major obstacle to US efforts to mitigate climate change.

The research disciplines of Earth sciences conducted by AGU members are diverse, but they are united by their shared value of truthfulness. AGU states that its mission and core values are to “promote discovery in Earth science for the benefit of humanity” and for “a sustainable future.” Indeed, AGU has established a long history of scientific excellence with its peer-reviewed publications and conferences, as well as a strong position statement on the urgency of climate action, and we’re proud to be included among its members.

But by allowing Exxon to appropriate AGU’s institutional social license to help legitimize the company’s climate misinformation, AGU is undermining its stated values as well as the work of many of its own members. The Union’s own Organizational Support Policy specifically states that “AGU will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.” We believe that in fully and transparently assessing sponsors on a case-by-case basis, AGU will determine that some, including ExxonMobil, do not meet the standards of this policy. We therefore call on you as the President of AGU to protect the integrity of climate science by rejecting the sponsorship of future AGU conferences by corporations complicit in climate misinformation, starting with ExxonMobil.

While we recognize that some of AGU’s scientific disciplines are deeply tied to the fossil fuel industry, we are also increasingly aware of the tension within our community regarding how we should respond to the urgency of climate change as individual scientists and as institutions. It is time to bring this tension into the light and determine how an organization such as AGU should approach the major challenges of today to ensure that we truly are working for the benefit of humanity. In particular, as the world’s largest organization of Earth scientists, if we do not take an active stand against climate misinformation now, when will we?

Yours respectfully,

AGU members:

Robert R. Bidigare, PhD, AGU Fellow, University of Hawaii

Cecilia Bitz, Professor, University of Washington

David Burdige, Professor and Eminent Scholar, Old Dominion University

Kerry Emanuel, Professor, MIT

Peter Frumhoff, PhD, Director of Science and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Richard H. Gammon, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington

Catherine Gautier, Professor Emerita, University of California Santa Barbara

Charles Greene, Professor, Cornell University

James E. Hansen, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University

Charles Harvey, Professor, MIT

Roger Hooke, Research Professor, University of Maine

Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor, Stanford University

Dan Jaffe, Professor and Chair, University of Washington Bothell

Michael C. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs, Climate Institute

Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University

James J. McCarthy, Professor, Harvard University

James Murray, Professor, University of Washington

Naomi Oreskes, Professor, Harvard University

Nathan Phillips, Professor, Boston University

Christopher Rapley, CBE, Professor, University College London

Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California San Diego

Pattanun Achakulwisut, PhD Student, Harvard University

Becky Alexander, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Theodore Barnhart, PhD Student, University of Colorado/INSTAAR

Yanina Barrera, PhD Student, Harvard University

Dino Bellugi, PhD Candidate, University of California Berkeley

Jo Browse, Postdoctoral Research, University of Leeds, UK

Adam Campbell, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Otago

Chawalit Charoenpong, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sarah Crump, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Daniel Czizco, Associate Professor, MIT

Katherine Dagon, PhD Student, Harvard University

Suzane Simoes de Sá, PhD Student, Harvard University

Michael Diamond, PhD Student, University of Washington

Kyle Delwiche, PhD Student, MIT

Sarah Doherty, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Liz Drenkard, Postdoctoral Researcher, Rutgers University

Emily V. Fischer, Assistant Professor

Priya Ganguli, Postdoctoral Fellow

Gretchen Goldman, PhD, Lead Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Meagan Gonneea, Postdoc

Jordon Hemingway, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Hannah Horowitz, PhD Student, Harvard University

Irene Hu, PhD student, MIT

Lu Hu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Eric Leibensperger, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

Marena Lin, PhD Student, Harvard University

Simon J. Lock, PhD Student, Harvard University

Andrew McDonnell, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bruce Monger, Senior Lecturer, Cornell University

Daniel Ohnemus, Postdoctoral Researcher, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Morgan O’Neill, Postdoctoral Fellow, Weizmann Institute of Science

Cruz Ortiz Jr., PhD Student, University of California Santa Barbara

Jonathan Petters, Research Fellow, University of California Santa Cruz

Allison Pfeiffer, PhD Student, University of California Santa Cruz

James L. Powell, PhD

Christina M. Richardson, MS Student, University of Hawaii Manoa

Ignatius Rigor, Senior Principal Research Scientist, University of Washington

Paul Richardson, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oregon

Erica Rosenblum, PhD Student, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ben Scandella, PhD Student, MIT

Neesha Schnepf, PhD Student, University of Colorado at Boulder/CIRES

Amos P. K. Tai, Assistant Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Robert Tardif, Research Scientist

Katherine Travis, PhD Student, Harvard University

Britta Voss, Postdoctoral Fellow

Andrew Wickert, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota

Kyle Young, Graduate Student, University of California Santa Cruz

Xu Yue, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

Emily Zakem, PhD Student, MIT

Cheryl Zurbrick, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT


Other concerned geoscientists:

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, CBE, Professor, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Helen Amos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Antara Banerjee, Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Emma Bertran, PhD Student, Harvard University

Skylar Bayer, PhD Student

Thomas Breider, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Stella R. Brodzik, Software Engineer, University of Washington

BB Cael, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sophie Chu, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Archana Dayalu, PhD Student, Harvard University

Gregory de Wet, PhD Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Christopher Fairless, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Mara Freilich, PhD Student, MIT

Wiebke Frey, Research Associate, University of Manchester, UK

Nicolas Grisouard, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Sydney Gunnarson, PhD Student, University of Iceland/University of Colorado Boulder

Sam Hardy, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

David Harning, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Sophie Haslett, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Richard Hogen, Aerospace Thermodynamic Engineer, United Launch Alliance

Anjuli Jain, PhD Student, MIT

Harriet Lau, PhD Student, Harvard University

Cara Lauria, Masters Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Franziska Lechleitner, PhD Student, ETH Zu?rich

Michael S. Long, Research Scientist

John Marsham, Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK

Catherine Scott, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds, UK

Rohini Shivamoggi, PhD student, MIT

Victoria Smith, PhD, Instrument Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds, UK

Gail Spencer, Environmental Specialist, Washington Department of Ecology

Melissa Sulprizio, Scientific Programmer, Harvard University

Rachel White, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Washington

Leehi Yona, BA, Senior Fellow, Dartmouth College

Yanxu Zhang, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University