The other day a friend asked me, “Is Forbes Magazine legit? Should I believe what it says about climate change?”
It was a good question, since there are many outlets that have clear biases in favor of climate inaction, or even, climate reality denial.
I’m actually not sure if Forbes is a trustworthy source. I’ve seen articles about energy that are informative, and I’ve seen articles about energy that are misleading. I don’t remember off hand any articles about climate change per se.
Roger Pielke Junior has an op ed that does damage to Forbes’ reputation, and to Roger’s reputation as well. And, unfortunately, it is a sad story. In the OpEd Roger seems to be claiming that the volunteer organization, Skeptical Science, has done damage to a short list of academics, including his father, his colleague Judith Curry, and himself. What Roger does not understand is that the criticisms that come from Skeptical Science are true. The damage to these three was self inflicted.
Here is the story.
There are two Roger Pielkes: Senior and Junior. Both are academics, and both have produced work that has been criticized by the climate science community. I’m not actually all that familiar with Senior’s work, but Junior’s work has been on my radar screen for some time, and it is an enemy ship, as it were. Junior’s main point is to contradict the increasingly well established science on the frequency, level of impact, and importance of major storms like Atlantic Hurricanes. He has variously made claims that they have not gotten stronger, that climate change is unrelated to these storms, that they are not coming with more frequency, and that their impact is not important. I believe that way down deep in his analysis, there is a fundamental flaw. He shows that the overall economic status of the US is not impacted by hurricanes, but the former is measured by GDP, and GDP increases with increasing devastation by major storms. This is because when a major storm comes along and wipes out cities or coastlines or whatever, there is so much economic activity spent on recovery that GDP goes up.
Junior has taken criticism from other academics poorly, and he has taken it personally. He has teamed up with another academic who has also been criticized heavily. This is Judith Curry. Curry’s work has been criticized by the climate community for a few reasons, but mainly this: She claims that the trend towards increasing global surface temperature is predictable by a non-global-warming scenario in which some other internal variation explains the warming. This idea, however, seems to come from a misunderstanding of the underlying stochastic (and other) dynamics of the models she has used. She is, I’m pretty sure, wrong. There may have been a time, perhaps 15 years ago, when her interpretation of the data could stay alive while more information was gathered, but that time has long past, and sadly, she has not allowed her hansom hypothesis to die an honorable death by fact.
The third element in the current drama is the organization and web site “Skeptical Science.” It is a volunteer run entity that has help from a lot of scientists and communicators. Some of my own work has been reprinted there, and I use it as a reliable and well organized source of information on climate denialism, and actually, climate change itself. If you don’t know skeptical science, you should. It is an excellent resource.
Now, here is the sad part. Rumor has it that Roger Pielke Sr. has recently become ill, and it appears that Junior is in a state of upset, possibly depression, and almost certainly in some kind of socio-psychotic episody state of some sort. I’m not qualified to diagnose so I won’t, but in the vernacular sense Junior has gone ’round the bend, and is in a mode of attacking the Skeptical Science people who, over the years, have been hard on Senior, Junior, and Curry, all three.
This is not an over the top inappropriate hardness, that Skeptical Science has produced. In fact, it is relatively toned down compared to the feelings the three deniateers have produced when they hate on science and love on the fossil fuel industry, indirectly, in their writings, their congressional testimony, and so on.
Having said that, I can’t say what exactly is going on with Roger Junior other than that he is clearly upset. He has produced a large number of tweets attacking Skeptical Science and its volunteers. He has tweeted out personal and private information about Skeptical Science people and other scientists, information that was previously stolen by denialist hackers. His tweets have been, at least in part if not majority, taken down by Twitter, and his account was, at least for a time, suspended.
Roger Pielke Junior attacked volunteers and scholars who had been defending science, attacked them, and science, in inappropriate ways, and for his trouble he has been chastised by Twitter.
I and several colleagues have contacted Roger, or friends of Roger, to see if someone can talk to him, to see if someone can talk him down.
But what happened instead, is Roger published an OpEd airing his grievances in Forbes, raising the stakes, and making his attack official and sanctioned by a major publishing outlet.
This is a credibility hit for Roger, but not one that will matter to him. This is a credibility hit for Forbes. I have no idea if Forbes Magazine cares about its credibility in the science community, or in the environmental community.
Regardless of what Forbes intended, or wanted, it got this: Scientists and science communicators must now regard Forbes Magazine, or its editorial staff, as dangerous. Roger Pielke Junior, having some sort of apparent breakdown, was easily able to weaponize Forbes. That can only have happened if Forbes wanted it to happen. Stay away from Forbes, my friends and colleagues. Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole, unless your ten foot Pole is a very tall Eastern European attorney with experience in libel law.
This is a developing situation. Much of it is happening on Twitter. One of the more pertinent tweets I’ve seen so far is this one by Climate Scientists Gavin Schmidt:
Sunday afternoon thought: it’s fascinating to see some folk whose opinions have been heavily criticized for flawed science or misrepresentations convince themselves instead that it’s their honesty & stand on integrity that makes them unpopular.
Pro tip: it’s not.
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) February 9, 2020
And now (added) Dana Nuccitelli has tweeted this, with a link to a new Skeptical Science post addressing this issue:
— Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) February 10, 2020
And from Katharine Hayhoe:
If one does not want to be held accountable for spreading climate misinformation, it's an easy fix. As Dr Phil would say: JUST STOP. https://t.co/9PgHJ6edxZ
— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) February 10, 2020