HuffPo puts foot in mouth about global warming

David Freeman is the science editor of HuffPo, and is the guy who keeps asking me to write a blog for them.  I’ve equivocated on this, but today’s events have made me decide I never want anything to do with that place.

Yesterday Freeman wrote a piece on global warming, in particular the “news item” that 49 former NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientists and astronauts had signed a letter questioning the role of carbon dioxide in anthropogenic global warming:

“We believe the claims by NASA and GISS [NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies], that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data,” the group wrote. “With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”

The group features some marquee names, including Michael F. Collins, Walter Cunningham and five other Apollo astronauts, as well as two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The letter included a request for NASA to refrain from mentioning CO2 as a cause of global warming in future press releases and websites. The agency’s “Global Climate Change” webpage says that “Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.”

That report occupied most of the article, with a lame attempt at “balance” with a quote from the Environmental Protection Agency website:

The EPA website says that “Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.” It goes on to say that “The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.”

That’s it: no mention of the massive and growing evidence that carbon dioxide is contributing substantially to global warming, and it’s a clear and present danger to our planet. Balance that against the headline of the HuffPo piece:

But if that weren’t bad enough, the original version of the article, as reported by David Roberts at Grist, ended with this question for readers:

What do you think? Is NASA pushing “unsettled science” on global warming?

Incensed, Roberts wrote this:

Uh. David. I mean no insult to Huffington Post readers when I say that they are probably not the best arbiters of this question. Instead, you might consult, oh, any science academy from any country in the world. Or the 2010 survey from the National Academy of Science that found that 98 percent of working climate scientists affirm anthropogenic climate change. Or the Presidential Task Force on Climate Change. Or, I dunno, the entire published corpus of atmospheric science.

As you are a journalist, I feel confident that you could ferret out this information with, say, a Google search. Typically this is what journalists do: find out what’s happening and tell readers. They do not typically ask readers what the facts are, though I admit I may not understand “new media” in all its facets.

Indeed; it’s as if HuffPo put up a piece saying “Science’s Acceptance of Evolution Blasted by Hundreds of Ph.D.s” (indeed, such lists exist), and then asked readers,  “What do you think? Are scientists pushing ‘unsettled science’ as the truth about evolution?”

I just noticed that HuffPo has now eliminated the question and put up a disclaimer:

Editor’s note: We believe it’s newsworthy when 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts pen a letter to the agency — or to anyone — about climate change. But what really raised temperatures is when we asked our readers to weigh in. We’ve removed the question because HuffPost is not agnostic on the matter. Along with the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (including 98% of working climate scientists), we recognize that climate change is real and agree with the agencies and experts who are concerned about the role of carbon dioxide.

“Newsworthy” my yiddishe tuchus!  Is it “newsworthy” when a bunch of misguided Ph.D.s say that evolution is bunk? HuffPo has now realized that it needs to be on board with the findings of modern science, but it’s too late.  They tried to stir up controversy and, in the process, misled the public about science. The damage is done.  I, for one, will never appear on HuffPo Science, and I call on my colleagues Victor Stenger and Sam Harris, who blog there—as well as other scientists—to quit the place, too.  It’s the scientific equivalent of page 3 of The Sun, and it’s not worth associating with such a venue simply to reach a lot of readers.

h/t: Tom

109 Comments

  1. R. Lee Bays
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Ha! I’ll borrow this idea from one of my comments threads:

    49 Climate Scientists Agree to Design and Build the Next Rocket for Space Flight (I don’t imagine too many astronauts would be signing up for that maiden voyage)

    • Tulse
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      +1

  2. Jim Jones
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    “As you are a journalist, I feel confident that you could ferret out this information with, say, a Google search. Typically this is what journalists do: find out what’s happening and tell readers.”

    Apparently you are unfamiliar with the USA and its ‘journalists’. ‘Ferreting’ is too hard – they might need to be able to think. Typically they just guess and copy off each other – even the $25 million per year ones.

    • Justicar
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of a comment left on a video about a certain skepchick calling Christians stupid while explaining to them that they (the church that is) are the ones guilty for the execution of Galileo for his heresy. It applies here, and I’ll modify it: “I must sympathize with [the journalist]: there’s just no efficient way to research the facts of [climate change], so the best approach is to guess, and [write an article] right away.”

      • Allienne Goddard
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I can see why you would be reminded of something unrelated, since the situations are completely different. In the one case, a reporter failed to be critical of a story, and in the other a person made a mistake. Naturally, you made the connection. Bravo!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

          Speaking of invalid equivocation, I’ll bet that certain skepchick called belief in religion stupid while saying nothing on the level of stupidity of people.

          Because that would be superficially a similar mistake, and because that is what actually happened in 99.99 … 98 % of such cases when you [ahem, critically] check them out.

          • Allienne Goddard
            Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

            Indeed, thank goodness that you have revealed the quality of your mind in such an obvious way. It is wonderful to have exemplars of intellectual complexity and depth that can perceive the connection between one mistake and a specific other, even if the number of similar mistakes numbers in the billions. That the comparison happens to target a particular individual who is constantly mocked and threatened by misogynists is merely an unfortunate coincidence, naturally.

  3. Kevin Meredith
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Are astronauts especially qualified to comment on climate science? After all, they just fly through the weather briefly before getting into space, which lacks weather. I think a better source of climate opinions would be people who fly in planes a lot, since they fly through regular weather the entire trip.

    It’s also worth noting that a lot of astronauts are from the Air Force, which is notoriously conservative — the Air Force Academy even got in trouble a few years back for fostering an aggressively evangelical atmosphere at the school.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:35 am | Permalink

      Space weather is a young contender to be a science discipline.

      “The term space weather came into usage in the 1990s when it became apparent that the impact of the space environment on human systems demanded a more coordinated research and application framework.[2] The purpose of the National Space Weather Program in the USA is to focus research on the needs of the commercial and military communities which are affected by space weather, to connect the research community to the user community, to create coordination between operational data centers and to create better definitions of what the user community needs are. …

      One part of the National Space Weather Program is to make users aware that space weather affects their business.[13]” Re the crashing power grids of many nations during some CMEs & solar storms hitting Earth, as well as problems with commercial or navigational satellites and their services, and going into resource prospecting by EM methods et cetera.

      However, space weather lacks greenhouse effects and has been shown to very little influence on this planets (and probably other planets) greenhouses. Space weather, including solar irradiance, is like ~ 0.5 % of Earth climate forcing IIRC.

      FWIW, I assume space climate will be a future science as well. IBEX, the Voyagers et cetera shows how the heliosphere affects and is affected by the local interstellar environment over time scales of, likely, ~ 1000 years. This affects fluxes of everything from space dust to cosmic radiation and hence space and planet weather.

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      The trouble is ‘people who fly in planes a lot’ are responsible for putting MORE CO2 into the atmosphere…!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Are astronauts especially qualified to comment on climate science? After all, they just fly through the weather briefly before getting into space, which lacks weather…

      No, because as you may have heard, weather != climate.

  4. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    “It’s the scientific equivalent of page 3 of The Sun.”

    This conjured up a few “naughty” images in my mind.

    Well Huffpo, I look forward to reading your forthcoming article on 49 airline pilots’ public objections to the fluoridation of water.

    • PSF
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      You do realize don’t you, that it was a couple of years ago Scientific American raised a red flag on water fluoridation?

  5. Sunny
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    There is definitely some warming on page 3 of The Sun!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      I just Googled that. The Sun Page 3 is definitely more fun than PuffHo, and probably more intellectually honest – it doesn’t even try to pretend to be highbrow.

  6. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    This is absolutely idiotic. I was an external peer reviewer for the last IPCC round (my specialty is numerical modeling of weather and climate impacts). Climate science is very specialized – I’d guess at best under a thousand people worldwide really understand the current generation of climate models. A quick scan of the names only shows one “meteorologist” – a forecaster, not a researcher, and I couldn’t find any pubs for him.

    This letter is as silly as the polls of TV weather readers on climate change. I might trust them to forecast the weather for planning a weekend outing, but not much more than that.

    • Linda Jean
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      is it possible to plan for more than a weekend?…..i doubt it

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      You point out something that frequently bothers me, and that is that the specialization and the dependence on computer models makes it very difficult for me to evaluate the various claims of climate change science. I want to be able to grab my friends by the collar and say, “Doom is coming! Stop digging up fossil fuels! Prepare or the end is near!” I want to scoff at deniers, the way I scoff at evolution deniers. I want to have that kind of confidence, but in reality my belief in climate science reduces to little more than appeal to authority. Climate scientists, these thousand or so people, tell me that it is so and I am inclined to believe them. That makes me very very uncomfortable. This would not bother me in the slightest except that it is obviously such a critical question. It is one thing to say, “I believe this group of specialists”. It is quite another to say, “I’ll bet trillions of dollars and/or the future of humanity on this group of specialists”.

      My own experiences trying to build models of cell states and responses does not make me feel better about it. It is very easy to fool one’s self with big data sets and complex models. I don’t have a prescription to address this unease I feel, other than more study on my part. I am just saying that it troubles me.

      In the case at hand, though, I agree, derision is probably appropriate because there is no reason to suppose that these letter signers have any ability to evaluate the science and, importantly, no evidence that they have done any work to even try.

      • rhetoric
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        “It is one thing to say, “I believe this group of specialists”. It is quite another to say, “I’ll bet trillions of dollars and/or the future of humanity on this group of specialists””

        Trying to unpack this… how is moving from unsustainable to sustainable energy supplies betting the future of humanity? Just because climate scientists can’t predict the future with 100% certainty does not make any of the hard science they do illegitimate. The acidification of the ocean should be enough cause for confident action.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          I meant the “future of humanity” to be the counter-bet if we bet against the climatologists.

          As for climate science, I do not claim or think it is illegitimate. It’s good science. I don’t think they need 100% certainty either, but their certainty factors into how much we should invest. Are they nutritionist certain? Psychologist certain? Physics certain? It matters.

          As for action, I think action or no-action is a straw man. Perhaps people who expect God to destroy the Earth soon do not think we need to move from unsustainable to sustainable energy supplies. Everyone else knows that we must. And, I think, clearly we can have sustainable energy. At 200 W/m^2 (24-hour/365-day averaged), we could easily supply our energy needs by the “simple” expedient of paving over Nevada with solar cells. I’m all for starting this project immediately. Confident action! The only question is whether this has to be a 10-year do-or-die devote-the-entire-economy-to-it crash project, a wildly ambitious 50-year project, or a lazy 200-year stroll in the park.

          Said another way, what is the short term cost? If we could simply spend US $500 billion and solve the problem, then we’d be fools not to, because we currently waste $500 billion on all sorts of useless things, from wars to happy meal toys. I think that climate science is good enough that collectively we should be willing to gamble $500 billion on them being right. If you think it is that cheap to solve, then it would be astonishing that we don’t just get on with it, and I fully agree. I don’t think it is going to be cheap at all, though (unless you’re talking geoengineering, which we don’t mention in polite company). I expect the actual costs will be quite astonishing. What if the five year cost is $10 trillion? $20 trillion? $100 trillion? Now we’re talking big chips on the table. Are we willing to gamble $20 trillion on the predictions of climate science? It is that question that makes me nervous.

          Again, I’m not saying I think they are wrong, or that it’s not worth $20 trillion, or even $100 trillion. I just don’t know, and all I have to go on is a smallish group of scientists. I’m up to a pretty big annual number in my confidence. I just wish there were some way to increase my confidence so that I could stomach the larger amounts if called for.

          • Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

            Well, you’re discussing dozens of different topics all at once here. Certainty about what? Nighttime temperatures? Ocean temperatures? The rise in category 4 and 5 hurricanes? Shifting USDA hardiness zones? Thzt’s the tip of the iceberg (har har) for global warming topics.

            As for cost, you can’t discuss that until you first calculate what it will cost us if climate disasters begin to wipe out our resources and live with increased natural disasters. How much do you think your water supply is worth? How much would you want to pay if it were between death and water?

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

            - Certainty will be a void factor on a very short time scale. I estimate that the projected increase in signal and assuming gaussians for simplicity will give ~ 50 % likelihood for the SNR increase resulting in 3 sigma certainty in attribution at the time of the next IPCC review 2014.

            What is good enough for physicists should be good enough for geosciences.

            Meanwhile, a pathological patient is ~ 80 % certain of a correct diagnosis on average IIRC. And have ~ 60 % cure rate on average, I believe. We still attempt cures et cetera since individuals are unique (Erathd is too), it is the moral thing to do (avoiding personal harm due to AGW is too), et cetera.

            – The direct cost has been claimed to have been ~ 1 % of raw energy cost some decades ago. Today that cost is likely more like 2-5 %. In a decade or two no cost in the world will mean a cure, just alleviating symptoms.

            On the other hand, the net cost is perhaps negative already. This graph over historical cost of US weather disasters can be tentatively used to claim that the increased cost to US due to AGW in the last 30 years have been ~ 0.8 trillion USD.

            The current energy cost in US is ~ 1 trillion USD/year, I believe. If US had invested 1 % of 1 trillion since 1980, it would have cost them ~ 0.3 trillion USD to avoid the increased cost. Not to mention increased waste of life, harm, and damage on personal property.

            (Yes, other nations would have necessarily needed to do this too. But they were prepared at the time, it was US that opted out.)

            To that, we should probably add increased health cost from unnecessary emissions.

            It looks to be interesting if someone actually researched this.

            • Linda Jean
              Posted April 13, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

              good for physicysts, good for geosciences? which ones : NASA physicysts or stringers?

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

      The work you climate scientists do is not unappreciated. The failure of this satellite will make this harder though –

      http://www.nature.com/news/workhorse-climate-satellite-goes-silent-1.10443

      • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Thanks – One of the biggest problems with climate modeling and monitoring are the quality of long term data sets. I’m working on a project right now studying extreme rain events. In theory we should have several thousand “long” period (50 years or more) rain gauge stations world wide. After we got through QC, we had 83!

        It’s really hard to get funding for even relatively inexpensive long term monitoring like rain gauges, stream gauges, etc. And the satellite situation is becoming critical because the follow-on projects to vital systems like EOS and TRMM are behind schedule and/or underfunded. Without overlap between sensors, we can’t compare the measurements directly, which increases the uncertainty of estimates of change. That gives those who want to attack the science a somewhat legitimate complaint.

        I do lectures to a variety of groups on natural disasters and climate change. I guess I’m a bit naive because it took a while for this to sink in, but I finally realized that the climate debate doesn’t have much to do with science, or even politics. It’s at least 75% religion. It is horrifying how many people reject the possibility that humans can influence climate simply because “God wouldn’t let us”.

        • Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          That religion-led naïvety is depressing. To twist Dr Seuss, those who care don’t matter & those who matter don’t care.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

        And the launch of a “weather satellite” by North Korea also failed.

    • nazani14
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      Is the impact of CO2 really that hard to understand? Decades ago I did experiments in school with the greenhouse effect, acidifying water, etc. And then in Earth Sci 101 I learned about how a plume of magma ignited a coal bed in Siberia, and the CO2 that was released led to the Permian mass extinction.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        I would guess that explanation for the Permian extinction is probably a bit speculative and controversial.

  7. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    This is like the moronic petition signed by 32,000 “scientists” who doubt global warming. What they don’t mention is the credentials are not checked and the vast majority of signatories were either simple college grads with some random science degree, or if they were real doctors they were either M.D.s or Veterinarians. When do M.D.s study global warming – in between the lessons for wart identification and urinalysis?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      It’s journalism by counting.

      If 3 former NASA employees (note: not scientists — employees, which could include the cafeteria lady) had signed the letter, it would have gotten a big yawn.

      10: No, that’s just silly.

      20: Oh well, that’s not that many people, is it?

      49: WHAT!eleventy11!! Forty-nine?!! It’s amazing news.

  8. Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Plus, you reach the wrong readers, the uninformed looking to support their prejudices — they are a waste of time and effort.

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      Exposure. It’s all well and good preaching to the choir here, but it’s the more public places that expose our views. Though there may be quite a few people in other camps that come here (theists, ant-evolutionists), they are free to misrepresent anything Jerry says here on their public posts.

      So personally I think it would help if Jerry, joined Sam Harris and Victor Stenger by writing for HuffPo. It’s a very public space, so the more sense that gets on there the better.

      You can bet that for any good argument jerry might put on there, there would be many evolution deniers flaming and simply ignoring the arguments. But so what? Better to get through to just a few who can respond to reason rather then none by not being there.

  9. FastLane
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    from here: http://www.secularcafe.org/showthread.php?t=18997

    Quite a spectacular indictment and a great goddamned headline!

    What you may not have done, however is dig down to the source of the letter, a H. Leighton Steward, chairman of the “non-profit” Plants Need CO2. “Non-profit” is evidently supposed to mean “pure as the driven snow.”

    More info here: http://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-scientists-dispute-climate-change-2012-4

    So if you don’t know what Plants Need CO2 is, or who Steward is: http://sourcewatch.org/index.php/H._Leighton_Steward

    H. Leighton Steward is the spokesman for front group Plants Need CO2 (the 501(c)(3) backed by coal baron Corbin Robertson) and the registrant of its PlantsNeedCO2.org website. According to its corporate Certificate of Formation, Steward is also a director at oil and gas company EOG Resources, formerly known as Enron Oil and Gas Company, where he earned $617,151 in 2008. Steward also serves as an honorary director of the American Petroleum Institute.

    According to the “Plants Need CO2″ website, Steward is “a geologist, environmentalist, author, and retired energy industry executive” who’s interested in “helping to educate the general public and the politicians about the tremendous benefits of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it relates to the plant and animal kingdoms and their related ecosystems and habitats, and the general health of humanity”.

    Steward was previously President, Chairman and CEO of New Orleans-based oil and gas company Louisiana Land and Exploration Company. “Mr. Steward, who joined Louisiana Land in 1982, previously managed Burlington Northern’s oil, gas and minerals activities. He also worked for the Shell Oil Company for 16 years. Mr. Steward is a geologist with degrees from Southern Methodist University…[He] is interested in protecting Louisiana’s wetlands from erosion and serves with a number of oil industry groups.”

    And that was Fun With Sources!

    Strange bedfellows, eh?

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      Pity he can’t see that climate change is a major threat to Louisiana’s wetlands.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      No doubt ~ 40 degC and 100 % humidity would be much more productive for cellulars than today’s climate. However, what fits athlete’s feet may not be the most thriving climate for humans.

      In ~ 0.5 – 1.5 Ga it is time to up the carbon dioxide (and reduce the nitrogen to compensate for the increased solar irradiation), as the increased geological lock in will have plants being marginal for it.

      • Linda Jean
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 4:47 am | Permalink

        whats a cellular?

  10. Patrick Stinson
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I’d be much more interested in what the CURRANT NASA scientists think.

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      You think it’s a case of sour grapes?

      /@

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes, well; not grapes exactly…

        • bismarket
          Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          I see what you did there, treading all over that guys comment;-P

          • Pete Cockerell
            Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            No need to be raisin a fuss about it.

            • Pete Cockerell
              Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

              Damn! Should have read one comment further down. Sorry for my lack of originality. I need a glass of wine now.

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      They’ll be raisin some objections, I expect!

  11. yesmyliege
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    HuffPo:

    “We believe it’s newsworthy when 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts pen a letter to the agency — or to anyone — about climate change.

    NASA has between 18,000 and 352,000 employees, depending on how one counts.

    I’ll bet there a hell of lot more than 49 current NASA scientists who would have a very different opinion on the relationship between CO2 and climate. (Those beings the ones who still believe the laws of physics still apply in the real world.)

  12. Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    “It’s the scientific equivalent of page 3 of The Sun” – Well, I guess there were a couple of big boobs. :-O

    /@

  13. Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Bravisimo!

    This is why, in conversations w/ friends, I often refer to you as one of my life’s heroes.

  14. rhetoric
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    It is what happens when you care more about money than your actual job. I’d say shame on Mr. Freeman, but that would presume he even remotely cares about accurately portraying science to the public.

    The fact that he is the science ‘editor’ for a major news outlet speaks volumes for the current state of journalism in the US.

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      There’s also the “man bites dog” effect. “The world is warming. Humans are to blame. We have to take radical action” is not news (any more). “Important scientists disagree with the consensus!” is news.

  15. Tim
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    David Freeman is the science editor of HuffPo, and is the guy who keeps asking me to write a blog for them. I’ve equivocated on this, but today’s events have made me decide I never want anything to do with that place.

    Jerry,
    If you have ever seriously entertained Freeman’s requests, it is clear that you shouldn’t be talking to Freeman – talk to his boss about Freeman’s job. A guy who has launched a “Science” section like the mess he has offered up should be replaced – pronto!

  16. Keith
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    If they want their critiques of the science to be taken seriously, these 49 NASA employees need to get off their collective asses, do the necessary science and analytical work that would support their alleged skepticism, and publish their findings in reputable scientific journals. The same holds true for evolution deniers. Put up or shut up.

  17. Kevin
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    When HuffPo first appeared, I gave it a shot…for all of about 15 minutes.

    I found nothing in it worthy of my time and effort.

    Frankly, the only time I hear about it is when some moron sticks his foot in his mouth and it’s mentioned here or over at FtB.

    Nothing I’ve ever seen commented on has made me want to reconsider my decision to avoid it.

  18. litchik
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I would listen to anything Bill Anders or Neil Armstrong had to say about climate science, mainly because they would be informed and thoughtful in there remarks. It is one of the traps scientists fall into claiming only scientists or scientists of a field can speak to it. If the data is there then anyone who can read it can speak on it.

    I found the letter and read the list of signers because I was certain Charlie Duke would be on the list. He was. He is a born again Christian. Some others are hard core Texas/Arizona style Republicans. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the signers but I do question whether the critique coming from these folks is new. Because they happened to have worked for Goddard or NASA doesn’t take them out of the regular camps of human impact on climate change deniers.
    So, my complaint as to the reporting is that there is none. Outlets have reprinted the press release without looking into how the letter came to be or if there is any news here at all.

    • PSF
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Can you tell us more about what you know, re: the signers other politics/views?

  19. Occam
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    “One hundred authors against Einstein” (1931).
    Upon which Einstein reputedly commented:

    If I had been wrong, one single author would have been enough to refute me.

  20. neil
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    While I am no specialist, I’ve done a fair amount of reading on this subject in order to decide for myself whether anthropogenic warming is happening. While I do believe it is, my confidence in this belief is certainly not that of my confidence in evolution. On the Dawkins 1-7 scale of disbelief, evolution is 1 whereas global warming is maybe 2-3.

  21. exrelayman
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    C’mon folks. This isn’t rocket science!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      +1

  22. Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Ugh. Whenever people go off on whether they “believe” in global warming, I get annoyed. No one cares what you believe. Refer to a group of studies and specifically state how or why the methodology is flawed. Thoughts are not evidence.

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      I think belief is a perfectly acceptable word for a non-expert to use. I believe climate change is happening, but I have only read a few climate science papers. I simply don’t have the time to become an expert so that I can draw a well-informed conclusion about the science. I think it is appropriate that the letter uses the word belief too. None of the signatories are experts and, like me, can’t claim that their position is anything more than a belief. But, you’re right that nobody should care what they believe. If you want to make knowledge claims, you gotta bring the evidence!

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        Given that climate change is an issue with major implications for how we should mangage our economies it is necessary for many people from outside the climatology science field to form a view on it. Governments need to make decisions about energy policy and hopefully these decisions will be based on sound scientific advice (sadly we can’t be confident of that) but inevitably the politician who takes the decision will do so on whether or not he/she believes one piece of advice or another. And of course we really should care about what they believe. That’s why it is important to challenge people who peddle misinformation on climate change.

      • PSF
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Belief is what people use when they lack data.

  23. Liz Naples
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Having just watched this talk by Daniel Dennett, I have to wonder what these “rebel” scientists are afraid of:

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Thanks for posting this. Dennett is always impressive, though talks like this seem to me to be preaching to the choir, as of course they are, and perhaps should be. If Dennett substituted “climate scientist” for “priests” here he could be an impressive climate denier (which he is not, of course). I mean this in the sense that he is not giving a complete roster of reasons why people believe in God etc, or at least is giving a list that is entertainingly condescending – a strategy used by climate deniers (climate scientists don’t really believe in this, they are afraid of what happens if they don’t hedge their bets, it’d be embarrassing to admit that they no longer believe the science etc). Isn’t religion an experiential matter for most people?

      Though there is a small discussion here of empirical investigations of people’s believe there is not much data in the talk.

      • Liz Naples
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        I apologize for not having fleshed out my point in the first place.

        What I was really commenting on were the likely fence-sitting scientists in the climate change debate. If I were to use a similar argument as Dennett’s, I have to wonder if the scientists in question feel compelled or *beholden in some way or another* to adhere to their “belief in the belief” of the status quo. As an ordinary citizen, it seems to me that what’s behind much of the denial of climate change is the fear of losing our current standard of living and wealth in North America. There is definitely a movement underfoot to maintain the status quo, in big business and big oil.
        Could there be a fear that dismantling the status quo will result in some catastrophic result to the North American economy and maybe even the global economy? Could the climate-change fence-sitters be denying real science for the sake of some pragmatic untruth, for their perceived “greater good”?

        • Liz Naples
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          Slight correction to the above wording – “Could there be a fear that dismantling the status quo will result in some catastrophic downturn in the North American economy and maybe even the global economy?”

  24. Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Any chance they’re all named Steve?

  25. jay
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    “…no mention of the massive and growing evidence that carbon dioxide is contributing substantially to global warming, ..”

    well, sort of. The CO2 warming is the most understood part. Approx 1C is predicted from the CO2 component modelling from CO2 doubling (so far about .7 has been observed). An issue but not catastrophic. The catastrophic predictions are based on other more speculative ‘positive feedback’ effects; along with an assumption that the positive feedback will swamp all negative feedback effects.

    The thing that makes me question the role of positive feedbacks is that, if our climate were really on a knife edge, ready to go wildly off the deep end at the slightest push, it would have already, many times.

    I’m not here to get into a long discussion on this, or really change anyone’s mind, just pointing out that some are just not so inclined to believe in a Biblical disaster.

    • Tim
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      I’ve listened to a lot of climate scientists discuss their work. I’ve read a lot of papers. Your description mischaracterizes where they stand on the science and you’ve misrepresented the results. For example, aerosols remain “speculative”, H₂O feedback isn’t speculative. Climate models that do a good job of reproducing the last century’s climate predict a temperature rise of 3.0 ± 1.5 ˚C by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario. Evidence collected in the past 10-20 years indicates that, so far, reality has been going worse than the models.

      Oh, and there is no “biblical disaster” horseshit in any of the papers. (e.g., I hosted Gerald North as a speaker just two months ago. Listen to real scientist talk about a broad overview of the issue – no hysterics as disappointing as that may be for you to hear.) The inflamed rhetoric flows much more freely from the mouths of deniers and the propagandists who have duped them than from the mouths of climate scientists.

    • yesmyliege
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      “Approx 1C is predicted from the CO2 component modelling from CO2 doubling”

      I think that is incorrect. 2C is closer to the mark, the range being ~ 1.8C -> 3.5C.

      And that is pretty darned frightening, considering that 280ppm is the pre industrial age figure baseline, we are now at 390 ppm, and MIT has predicted we are likely to hit 1000 ppm by 2100. That will be the end of humanity if it occurs.

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      The climate HAS made wild swings many times in the past.

  26. Ken
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    “….that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”

    http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      A quote mine without a quote!?

      This is what NOAA does on climate:

      “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group II, will release its report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change in Brussels, Belgium on April 6, 2007. This report assesses the science produced over the last five years on current and future impacts from climate change in regions around the world and in sectors including water, coasts, ecosystems, agriculture and human settlements. The report discusses climate change in the context of other socio-economic change and assesses possible remedies to future changes through adaptation.

      NOAA individuals and expertise contributed significantly to this report. Roger Pulwarty, a NOAA scientist with OAR, was a lead author of the chapter on adaptation. Additionally, many NOAA-funded activities contributed data and research to the growing body of literature on impacts and adaptation assessed by this report. For example, a number of scientists supported by NOAA’s Regional Integrated Science and Assessment (RISA) program contributed research on impacts expected for different regions of the U.S.”

      “Many NOAA scientists authored or reviewed specific chapters in the report, and NOAA climate observation networks, computer modeling labs, and research programs provided much of the data and analysis on which the report is based.”

      IPCC 4th report 2007 was the one that famously could observe that

      “The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR, leading to very high confidence[7] that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2 (see Figure SPM.2). {2.3, 6.5, 2.9}”

      And specifically the NOAA group, Working Group II, summary observed that

      “A global assessment of data since 1970 has shown it is likely[6] that anthropogenic warming has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems.

      Much more evidence has accumulated over the past five years to indicate that changes in many physical and biological systems are linked to anthropogenic warming. There are four sets of evidence which, taken together, support this conclusion:”

      Whether these changes are judged “catastrophic” or not by climate science denialists is besides the point of the changes happening and their predicted impact.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      Oops. You probably meant to point out that most climate scientists are not raising the “c” word.

      Still, I can’t find that quote.

  27. Tumara Baap
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Huffpo’s objective is to increase traffic. To that dogged end this tawdry site played right into the Energy industry’s anti-science campaign of sowing doubt. What the editors did was likely very deliberate. And it makes me sick. I can certainly understand Coyne withholding blogging for them until they hold themselves up to much higher standards.
    They can start by stating there is absolutely nothing newsworthy about 49 of countless ex-employees of NASA peddle a politically contrived lie. Especially when not even one of them has an iota of authority on the subject.

  28. Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone else think it’s funny that they fell one short of getting to 50?

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Sad that they found that many.

    • Logicophilosophicus
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      Not at funny as “…the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” That is the clause with which Ben Santer single-handedly replaced over a dozen more cautious conclusions agreed by himself and his 27 chapter 8 co-authors. One person. Funny they couldn’t muster 2, then…

      • Tim
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        What I don’t need are 49 individuals who have made ZERO contribution to climate science to interpret the IPCC reports. I don’t need an anonymous crank who has likely never written a scientific paper in his life and who spews bullshit on the internet to interpret the IPCC reports. I understand error bars, and I understand the weight of the evidence “that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is [indeed] needful” is needful.

  29. Achrachno
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I think this shows they NEED you at Huffpo. I’ll bet you could get them straightened out.

  30. PSF
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    I had often heard HuffPo criticized but wasn’t sure if it was valid, however, util recently.

    Their handling of the Martin/Zimmerman case was so repeatedly low-quality (often offering chracterizations rather than facts) that I began to understand why HuffPo is suffering. They seem to have the same cancer well-known in right-wing “journalism” (albeit HuffPo comes from another side) wherein facts are cherrypicked to reinforce a desired reality.

    I don’t think HuffPo was wrong to run the story, but the real story was:

    * Who organized this list? A PR team from the oil industry?

    * Why do we care what astronauts think? They’re usually just test pilots.

    * These signatories appear to be ex-employees. Anyone want to guess why they’re “ex”?

    * How many of these people are really scientists at all, let alone climate scientists?

    * How accurate are the positions listed? Working in a department doesn’t mean you head the department in science. Some of these folks could be janitors for all we know (no offense to janitors intended).

    * 49 or 50… either way this is a TINY number compared to the pool of former NASA workers. The real story here is why is the press running this as it it’s big news, when even 5 seconds thinking about the ratios will tell you that there are probably at least 50 Creationists among e-NASA employees too (including one in a lawsuit against NASA now).

    Anyway, rather than bail on HuffPo, I encourage you to ask WWCSD? Carl would probably roll up his sleeves and and dive in. Yes, they suck. And you can change that. If their science editor wants you, insist on some changes at HuffPo. :-)

    • Sigmund
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

      HuffPo doesn’t exactly originate from a different source from the right wing sources it currently mirrors. I think it was originally set up by Adriana Huffington, when she was a republican, with the help of Andrew Breitbart (the Tea Party activist behind the Shirley Sherrod, Acorn frames)
      Like most modern media it works on the basis of the number of people using it rather than any reputation for accuracy or objectivity.

      • PSF
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

        > HuffPo doesn’t exactly originate from a
        >different source from the right wing sources
        >it currently mirrors.

        Actually HuffPo tends to lean left, not right.

        > I think it was originally set up by Adriana
        > Huffington, when she was a republican

        No, IIRC, she had already changed teams when she created HuffPo.

        > with the help of Andrew Breitbart

        Where are you getting this from?

  31. Arnie
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    I also think that ignoring HuffPo would be a huge mistake, how do you change the world with an attitude like that?

    There is a reason why Sam Harris and Victor Stenger are there.

    • Jamie
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      The issue is similar to the one regarding whether it is appropriate to ‘debate’ certain lunatic fringe persons. The PR principle that there is no such thing as ‘bad’ publicity is the core of the matter.

      HuffPo presents itself as an important major platform for public discussion. To the extent that HuffPo is starved of the most prolific and most cogent authors who carry on their public discourse in other more responsible venues, it’s reputation and influence over public discourse diminishes.

      To answer your question more directly, you “change the world” by making it so that HuffPo’s claim to be an important platform for public discussion becomes transparently false. Sometimes the best response to nonsense is to pointedly ignore it. And the best response to someone falsely claiming to lead the discussion is simple non-participation.

      I think Jerry is right to refuse to contribute his time and reputation to bolstering HuffPo’s position as a platform. Jerry’s time and reputation are a far more valuable gift to HuffPo than HuffPo’s eyeballs are to Jerry.

  32. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    1) The 49 signatories expressed low confidence in claims of “catastrophic” climate change due to “man-made carbon dioxide”. That’s quite specific, and is not a denial of human influence, nor of climate change, nor of climatic catastrophe.

    2) It is a challenge to the mantra that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is needful.

    It doesn’t take a scientist of any kind to understand that the elements in (1) are not rigorously connected. That follows from carefully re ading the IPCC Assessment Reports, with particular attetion to the error bars and the levels of uncertainty.

    • Tim
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      My comment above linked to the wrong bit of nonsense you’ve posted.

      So…as for Ben Santer being just one guy who misrepresented his coauthors … it is amazing that he bamboozled the rest of the people in the field and the elite of the scientific establishments of every major nation on earth. Good thing we have Anthony Watts to keep us straightened out.

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        You characterized my post as “spewing bullshit” in your misplaced comment. But my Point (1) says, in part, that “CO₂ makes a significant contribution to warming on its own, and the balance of feedbacks seem to be positive – though the greatest uncertainties ramain over aerosols and cloud effects” since those uncertainties are exactly the reasons why catastrophic effects are doubtful. But I’m willing to be persuaded. Could you point out one example of a catastrophic prediction on a centennial timescale in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC which is “very likely”?

  33. Egbert
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the current standard climate change model based on the idea that CO2 is a trigger and not the direct cause of global warming?

    It seems to me that most people who believe in global warming think CO2 by itself is directly responsible for global warming. Is that the case? If so, then aren’t they the ones who are mistaken?

    • Tim
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      Websites run by real climate scientists (Skeptical Science or Real Climate) make the role of CO₂ and other greenhouse gases and the extent of un/certainty regarding various feedbacks very clear. It is also made very clear in the IPCC reports.

      • Egbert
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Which is what? Trigger or direct cause?

        • Tim
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          Both. CO₂ makes a significant contribution to warming on its own, and the balance of feedbacks seem to be positive – though the greatest uncertainties ramain over aerosols and cloud effects.

        • Tim
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          Why don’t you go read about it yourself. Both sites are very informative and communicate the range of the science well. Gerald North, of colleague of mine (and no firebreather) at Texas A&M thinks Real Climate is very well done. You can watch North’s lecture for beginners in a link I gave above.

          • Egbert
            Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            Tim, saying CO2 makes a significant contribution to warming on its own shows that you don’t understand the complexities involved.

            • Tim
              Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              Nonsense. Look, I have spent 30 post-PhD(chemistry) years reading scientific literature in chemistry and physics. I understand the complexities of a lot of science, but I’m not a climate scientist. As an interested scientifically-trained consumer of the climate literature, I’m better informed than most. In recent years have read quite a bit of the original literature in the area.

              We’re not going to settle this in the blogosphere – go read about it. My summary is as accurate as one can get in a comment thread – listen to Gerald North’s talk, and you’ll see that I’ve been accurate.

              • Egbert
                Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                In my original comment, I tried to raise the question why people continued to perpetuate the falsehood that CO2 was directly responsible for global warming. It does not, since CO2 is a trigger. Yet you, with your 30 years experience in Chemistry and Physics and apparently ‘informed’ in the climate change literature continue on promoting this error.

                That’s bad science as far as I’m concerned, and that should be exposed.

              • Tim
                Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                You’re just wrong, but there isn’t any point in going back and forth over it.

                This is the point at which I tell deniers to put up or shut up. Write it all up, publish your views in peer-reviewed venues – back it up with data and proper analysis. Oh – and you’ll have to call yourself something other than “Egbert”.

    • yesmyliege
      Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      “…people who believe in global warming think CO2 by itself is directly responsible for global warming. Is that the case? If so, then aren’t they the ones who are mistaken?”

      Huh? Can it be that you are not aware of the Greenhouse effect? CO2, methane, water vapor and some other atmospheric gases reflect heat radiated from the Earth back to the Earth,instead of allowing it to pass harmlessly back into space, therefore causing the temperature of the planet to rise.

      CO2 is absolutely directly responsible for global warming. Indeed, if there was no CO2 in the atmosphere, Earth would be ~ 80F cooler than it is – an iceball.

      The incremental increase of CO2 from pre industrial times until today adds the heat equivalent of half a billion Hiroshima bombs every year to the Earth. CO2 has a very long half-life in the atmosphere. The effects from this extra CO2 will last for 2,000 to 10,000 years. What we are doing to the planet is absolutely insane.

      • Egbert
        Posted April 13, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Once again, someone proves my point. They don’t understand the standard model as given by climate scientists, that CO2 is a trigger not a direct cause of global warming.

        • Tim
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          …and you’ve proven the point that “skeptics” have an agenda and aren’t interested in the what the science says. The issue isn’t a T/F question, and if you were interested in the truth you wouldn’t cast it as such.

          • Egbert
            Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Yes, personally attacking those who disagree with you, shows an interest in truth, Tim.

            • Tim
              Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

              Your trolling is getting tiresome.

  34. MAUCH
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    It intrigues me how HuffPo can have a science editor the does not accept science and scientific evidence. With that attitude perhaps they would like Jerry Coyne as their religion editor.

  35. Phoenix
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, hate to rain on your parade, but you of all people should know that science is not done by voice vote. 98 or even 100% of “experts” does not make poor science true. You are too young to remember, but you have certainly read about the 98% of cosmologists that believed in “Steady Sate,” knowing that “beginnings” and “something out of nothing” was outside of science and the “Big Bang” theory was being promoted by some fundamentalist Judaeo-Christians trying to get science to confirm their preconceived belief in Gen. 1:1.

    Surely you know that NASA’s James Hansen is a lightning rod for warming extremism and an embarrassment to many who otherwise affirm his overall concerns. A person of no less standing than Dr. Freeman Dyson, has said that his 25 million [or however stupendous] computer model to predict CO2 warming effects was not worth the energy to power it up, and after 20 years of study, doubts that CO2 has a significant effect on warming [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSxubKfTBU among many others]. You are aware also that Hansen played his Goddard/NASA connection to the hilt in trying to maintain some personal credulity. Is it surprising, then, that others in NASA wanted to have their say and shouldn’t they be allowed to? Strange that someone so devoted to “science” should want to shut them up. Oh, I forgot, Al-baby decreed “The Debate Is Over,” and Climate-gate revealed to the world just how that was to be accomplished; they thank you for your cooperation, I’m sure.

    Concerning your “consensus” group, might it not be interesting to determine what percentage of that group are dependent on the 5 [or is it 9?] Billion yearly sugar teat from Sugar Daddy to stay employed, knowing that non-anthropogenicism is a killer? Do you think that it could possibly be less than your 98%? Just asking!

    • David Duffy
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Phoenix hopes to get the last word here, I feel.

      1) Steady State was first put forward in 1948, and pretty well put to sleep by 1967. It was controversial from the first given it contradicted general relativity, and was never widely accepted – with attempts at refutations based on observational evidence appearing all through the 1950’s (I am relying on the review in Balashov 1994 here).

      2) Dyson is one individual physicist who admits he has no particular expertise in climatology, and who is just as keen on the use of geoengineering if we do see warming, using methods to target atmospheric CO2.

      http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/the-starship-vs-spaceship-earth/ expands on this.

      3) I really truly can’t see us having many more or many fewer climate scientists working in the field whether or not changes in climate are anthropogenic or not.

  36. Chris (A Different One)
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, I’m not sure that “Michael F. Collins” is a “marquee name”. This does not appear to be the Mike Collins of Apollo 11 fame (I don’t believe he has a middle initial, and the title on the signature didn’t indicate he was an astronaut). None of the other astronaut names surprised me, but Collins’ name did. If the astronaunt Mike Collins was actually the one who signed this, it will just make me cry.


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