WSJ ‘No Need to Panic’ Op-ed Prompts Heated Exchanges, Leading to Long-Awaited ‘Last Word’ (Not really of course)

Point. Counter-point. Point. Counter-point. Check … and Check Mate. And, alas … the ‘last word’ on gulf dividing climate scientists and their critics. (If only)

Perhaps no recent exchange — actually a volley of four exchanges — better illustrates the sizable gap separating the large majority of climate scientists and their smaller, but sometimes more vocal, critics.

News Analysis and Commentary

It was the shot, as we’ve heard before and perhaps even in the context of climate science, across the bow. The bow, that is, of the “consensus” view expressed by IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and virtually all of the professional scientific societies. And it’s easily accessible, readable in plain English, and not hidden away in a highly respected journal, where it likely would never have gotten out of the starting block in the first place. While not all four of the elements in this puzzle are in the public domain of newspaper print, two are. And the other two are easily available online.

Read them all to get a full sense of the “gulf”:

  • It starts with a Wall Street Journal January 27 “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” op-ed that almost instantly became the talk of the town. (That is, of the town talking about climate science.) Signed by 16 scientists with impressive-sounding quals, if perhaps fewer peer-reviewed citations to their credit, the column laid out a usual litany of often-rebutted but still standing challenges to the underlying climate science. There followed, as of February 2, more than 2,600 comments. And still counting, no doubt.
  • Next came the response of 38 — count them 38! — generally highly regarded climate scientists, who no doubt wanted to undercut their critics not only by more than doubling the signers, but also by qualitatively challenging their bold assertions. “Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate,” this one was not so subtly titled. For an op-ed page not known for readily publishing scientists’ rebuttals to its perspectives, merely having their letter published was something of a victory on their behalf.
  • Next came a three-page rebuttal of the WSJ op-ed by Louis Derry, Cornell University geological sciences assistant professor, submitted to The New York Times’ Dotearth blog. For those thinking the initial WSJ op-ed was way off base, the Derry critique certainly must warrant an A+.
  • Which is not to suggest that Derry’s is “the final word” on the exchanges. Nothing ever is in the climate science arena, it seems, and Anthony Watts’ ever-skeptical “Watts Up With That?” site came up with a rejoinder to the 38 scientists’ letter, this one penned by long-time climate “skeptic” Indur M. Goklany, often known to colleagues as “Gokes” (with a hard “G”).

Smart money has it that his too won’t be the final word in this long-lived discussion. It’s all enough to make Dotearth editor Andy Revkin, promoting his view that economics trumps climate science in shaping approaches to climate change, murmur “so tired of this crap.”

To which one seasoned and wizened climate change aficionado had what just might indeed be the “final word” on it all: “You said it brother. I’ve decided to photograph sunsets for awhile.”

Good idea, that one.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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4 Responses to WSJ ‘No Need to Panic’ Op-ed Prompts Heated Exchanges, Leading to Long-Awaited ‘Last Word’ (Not really of course)

  1. I notice that Dr. Trenberth has the title, “Distinguished Senior Scientist,” and I wonder who conferred that title on him. (I have no doubt that he is indeed “distinguished” in the opinions of many of his fellow global warming enthusiasts, but it is apparent that some institution somewhere must have conferred the title upon him. We should have that information.)

    Back in the early days of English jurisprudence there was in use the practice of “waging your law.” The parties to a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution would bring into court any number of people who would swear that they believed what one or the other party was alleging as truth. They did not allege that they themselves knew the facts of the case. They only purported to believe whatever one or the other party might allege under oath. These supporters were called “compurgators.” The party that could marshal the most compurgators in support of his case would be declared the winner of the case.

    I have a suspicion that the same thing is going on with respect to the global warming controversy. I suspect that many of the “distinguished scientists” who make up the supporters of Dr. Trenberth and Vice President Gore are people who themselves know little or nothing about greenhouse gases and their effects on climate but who are eager to step forward and support fellow scientists who insist they know what they are talking about. It’s the scientific method they believe they are defending.

    Numbers of believers do not determine the truth or falsehood of any assertion of fact. Legions of angels could appear in the heavens, proclaiming that excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing unnatural warming of our planet, but the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would still amount to less than four one-hundreths of one percent of the total, and water vapor would still be the predominant greenhouse gas. Compurgators cannot alter facts.

    • Bud Ward says:

      Daniel: Thanks for your comments. You might refer to this site — http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/polpro/section7/7-2.html — concerning the “Distinguished” title. One need only check the academic backgrounds, formal affiliations and honors, and record of peer-reviewed articles published and frequently cited to suspect that your own “suspicion” of supporting scientists is ill-founded. As for your point about CO2 concentrations relative to that of water vapor, it’s no secret that relative proportions alone do not tell the most important part of the story. By that rationale, “compurgators” might not alter facts, but they sure could hide them.

  2. John says:

    And here’s a breakdown of the 16 authors of the WSJ op-ed that was recently posted on Yahoo Answers. My apologies, to the author whom I can’t remember, but all these positions can be checked. (I edited out the ad hominems in the original post.)
    - 1 french politician who believes asbestos to be harmless (Allegre);

    - 1 former president of research at Exxon Corporation (Edward David);
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    - 1 retired Exxon Executive (Roger W Cohen);
- 1 forecasting and marketing expert. Has no peer-reviewed papers published on climate science nor on polar bear populations, subject on which he testified nevertheless before US Congress (Armstrong);
- 1 medical doctor specializing in atherosclerotic disease (Breslow);

    - 1 physicist who has specialized in the study of optics and spectroscopy and who is affiliated with multiple industry (= oil, gas, etc.) funded think-tanks and organizations (ie, Director of the Marshall Institute, Director at the Richard Lounsbery Foundation [which funded Fred Singer's SEPP science denial organization] (Happer);

    - 1 Consultant on Science and Technology Policy, who has never published any peer-reviewed studies on climate science. Former staff member at the Richard Lounsbery Foundation (Nichols);

    - 1 professor of Technology who specialized “electronic structure of metals and semiconductors” (Kelly);

    - 1 professor of chemistry who specializes in polymers and carbon fibers (McGrath);

    - 1 former director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Service and Professor of Aeronautical Engineering specialized in turbulence. Has written many non-peer reviewed articles on Fred Singer’s site. No peer-reviewed articles known (Tennekes);

    - 1 professor of astrophysics who believes the sun is the primary driver of climate change (Shaviv);

    - 1 aeronautical engineer who has never published any peer-reviewed paper on climate science (Rutan);

    - 1 former astronaut who has never published any peer-reviewed paper on climate science and is Emeritus Chair of the ExxonMobil funded Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy(Schmitt);

    - 1 retired meteorologist. Despite his lack of knowledge, he published a book on climate science via the Lavoisier Group which has a known anti-climate science stance (Kininmonth);

    - 1 nuclear physicist with no known peer reviewed publications on climate science (Zichichi);

    - 1 climate scientists who in the past has taken money from the oil industry and is listed as ‘Expert’ at the industry funded Heartland Institute (Lindzen);

  3. Russell Seitz says:

    Oaths of compurgation began in Saxon law- prudence dictated that an oath of acquittal by four and twenty armed men on horseback should take precedence over the opinion of twelve good men and true.