Michael Mann – Unprecedented Attacks on Climate Research

February 26, 2010

For the scientists who study global warming, now is the winter of their despair.

In the news, it has been climate scandal after alleged climate scandal.  First came “ClimateGate,” then “GlacierGate,” “Amazon Gate,” and so on.  In public opinion polls, meanwhile, Americans’ acceptance of the science of global warming appears to be declining.  Even a freak snowstorm now seems to sow added doubt about this rigorous body of research.

In response to growing public skepticism—and a wave of dramatic attacks on individual researchers—the scientific community is now bucking up to more strongly defend its knowledge.  Leading the charge is one of the most frequently attacked researchers of them all—Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann.

In this interview with host Chris Mooney, Mann pulls no punches.  He defends the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, and explains why those who attack it consistently miss the target.  He also answers critics of his “hockey stick” study, and explains why the charges that have arisen in “ClimateGate” seem much more smoke than fire.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.  His research focuses on the application of statistical techniques to understanding climate variability and change, and he was a Lead Author on the “Observed Climate Variability and Change” chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report.  Among many other distinguished scientific activities, editorships, and awards, Mann is author of more than 120 peer-reviewed and edited publications.  That includes, most famously, the 1998 study that introduced the so called “hockey stick,” a graph showing that modern temperatures appear to be much higher than anything seen in at least the last thousand years.  With his colleague Lee Kump, Mann also recently authored the book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming.  Finally, he is one of the founders and contributors to the prominent global warming blog, RealClimate.org.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, February 26, 2010. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. On my last show, I promise to focus in on the hottest issues. The intersection between science and public policy is far and away. The biggest such topic right now is global warming. It’s also an issue where, if you ask me, the advocates of science and reason have really been getting it handed to them lately by what we might call the climate denial machine in the news. We’ve gone from climate scandal to alleged climate scandal. First there was, quote, climate gate, then Glacier Gate, Amazon gate and so on and so on. In public opinion polls, meanwhile, Americans acceptance of the science of global warming appears to be on the decline. Even a freak snowstorm now seems to sew added doubt about this rigorous body of research. You know, if the climate change battle were a football game, I think the climate skeptics would be spiking the ball in the end zone right now and doing a global cooling celebratory dance recently in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There was a true sense of crisis in the air about all of this. The scientists on hand just couldn’t believe how stolen emails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit were a few errors found in the massive reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, could have been blown so far out of proportion. They even held a special symposium and press conference to discuss the new wave of angry blogs, swarming attacks on climate research and to ponder how to answer them while still maintaining at least a modicum of scientific decorum. 

That’s part of the asymmetry. They can do that. They can get in the gutter. 

Okay. Thank you very much. And thanks to our speakers. We’re extremely grateful and they have been extraordinary, Frank. And you’ve been very well behaved. So thank you both. 

Afterwards, I caught up with panelist James McCarthy, the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and currently the Alexander Agassi professor of biological oceanography at Harvard. 

This last minute symposium was organized to talk about the climate gate fiasco and how to respond. Why did you feel that it was necessary to pull together something like that? 

As many of us were very surprised by the attention that the media gave to the glitches in a couple of sentences and 3000 pages of IPCC reports, the last assessment. And many of us were surprised to see how email messages from a decade ago snippets, portions of sentences stuck together to create a story, even though portions of sentences were not even in chronological order. 

McCarthy went on to say that at first scientists just found the attacks baffling. But it became clear they were having a big impact. 

And as we saw increasingly that not only were people taking it seriously, but people who were now not just concerned about whether there was a lack of attention in the editor of the IPCC process, but using it to question the conclusions of the IPCC, using it to questions the validity of what we call mainstream climate science. 

And it isn’t only the scientific data and evidence that are under fire. The latest scandals have also led to harsh attacks on several prominent climate researchers who’ve been accused of anything from quashing scientific dissent to data manipulation and fraud. One of them, Dr. Michael Mann, will be our guest today and get a much needed chance to defend himself and his work, both of which were vindicated recently by an investigative committee of his employer, Penn State University. Although one aspect of that investigation currently continues in this context, it’s particularly fortunate to be able to hear Dr. Mann’s side of things and his reflections on what is, by any stretch, a true winter of despair for many scientists in the climate field. And most of all. I’m really looking forward to hearing his defenses of the scientific consensus on climate change. As you may have noticed, that’s a subject I don’t see much justification for applying the standard media norm of so-called balance. But before going any further, I want to shift gears. Let me remind listeners once again that we have very active online forums for point of inquiry. So if you want to get involved in a conversation about today’s show, I encourage you to visit. Center for Inquiry, dot net slash forums and then click on Point of Inquiry. And with this show, I will also be inaugurating a new tradition of asking our guests to answer several questions that were first posed of him on the forums. And now on to that guest, Dr. Michael Emman is a member of the Penn State University faculty and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. His research focuses on the application of statistical techniques to understanding climate variability and change. And he was a lead author on the observed climate variability and change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, his third scientific assessment report. Among many other distinguished scientific activities editorships, an awards man is author of more than 120 peer reviewed and edited publications. That includes, most famously, the 1998 study that introduced the so-called hockey stick graph showing that modern temperatures appear to be higher than anything seen in at least the last thousand years. With his colleague Lee Komp, man also recently authored the book Dire Predictions Understanding Global Warming. Finally, many of us know him as one of the founders and contributors to what is in many ways the top global warming blog, Real Climate Talk. 

Dr. Michael Mann, welcome the point of inquiry. 

Thanks. Glad to be here. 

It’s great to have you. And I think my first question is one you can certainly answer. And that question is, what is it like to be Michael Mann? I mean, because to me, you’re sort of the poster child for the war on climate science. You’re the lead author of perhaps the most attacked study in all of climate research. The famous 1988 hockey stick. And you’ve had your data demanded by Congress. You’ve had your grants attack, your private e-mails expose. You’ve had CBS airing a YouTube video that, you know, also attacks you. Is this what you thought it would be like when you decided to get into science? And how do you ever find any time to do research? 

Yeah, well, of course, no, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting involved in when I decided to work on the science of climate. And in fact, my original work was in the area of climate research was not even related to global warming. It was related to understanding natural climate variability. That’s what led me to look at long term indicators of climate, so-called proxy data like tree rings and corals and ice cores. And it was only through the work that we did and the conclusions that we came to about what those sorts of data tell us about the observed recent changes. These of the path changes. It was only through that work that I was sort of led into the fray of the climate change debate. 

And naturally, I never planned for or intended to be at the center of the sorts of attacks that have been launched by those who are opposed to taking action to combat climate change. Against the science and against the scientists. I think it’s it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to that point that those who are sort of if we wanted to call them the forces of inaction when it comes to climate change, they’ve sort of lost the scientific debate. And so they’ve instead turned to smear campaigns to try to discredit scientists, to try to discredit the science because they know they can’t actually take on the evidence for the reality of climate change. That evidence is quite compelling and there’s no legitimate argument against the evidence. 

So let’s talk about the science, the big scientific case first. I mean, give me your absolute best answer for why we should believe in trust that the scientific community is correct. Global warming is human caused. Happening now. 

Well, OK, first of all, let’s talk about the greenhouse effect. You’ll hear some people somewhat amusingly say they don’t believe in the greenhouse effect. If it weren’t for the greenhouse effect, Earth would be a frozen and most likely lifeless planet. So there’s no controversy about the greenhouse effect. It’s been known for nearly 200 years. 

Some of the great early scientists of the 19th century, like for E.A., were aware of and did research on the greenhouse effect. And so over that period of the past two centuries, we’ve essentially been refining our understanding of the greenhouse effect of so-called feedbacks that can amplify warming due to the greenhouse effect. And the basic physics and chemistry behind the greenhouse effect is undeniable. And that same chemistry and physics dictates that as we increase concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the atmosphere will warm. And that’s basic physics and chemistry. And so that’s the bottom line has nothing to do with theoretical climate models. It has nothing to do with proxy data. It doesn’t even have anything to do with our surface temperature measurements from thermometers. It’s basic physics and chemistry. Now, these other lines of evidence, what the data tell us. They tell us that the globe is warming. Indirect lines of evidence tell us that this warming is unusual in a long term context. The climate models which embrace the basic physics and chemistry of the oceans. The atmosphere in the climate system predict a certain set of changes in association with the warming of the globe. 

In response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations that very closely match with the observations show is happening. So I could go on and on there many independent pillars of evidence for the reality of human caused climate change. But the basic case for it rests on physics and chemistry. That’s nearly 200 years old. 

There it is. Ben, let me push you, though, just a little bit farther, because I want to throw in a question from the point of inquiry forums on this topic. A lot of people wrote questions aimed at you. I won’t be able to use all of them, but there’s one that seems pretty appropriate in the moment. This is a contributor who goes under the name Pragmatic Naturalist, and he wants to know the following, quote, What sort of potential evidence might be discovered in the near future, i.e., besides cooling that could possibly falsify the current consensus about the cause of anthropogenic global warming or what might cast in doubt? Are there any competing hypotheses or theories that are taken seriously by reputable climate scientists? 

Yeah. In fact, I mean, there are decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world pursuing every lead. So it isn’t like scientists don’t think of other explanations. Most of what scientists spend their time doing is thinking of all of the different possible explanations for the phenomena that they observe. Now, there is literally no evidence that I have ever seen. That calls into question the basic radiative properties of greenhouse gases. Every line of evidence, every study that’s been published, looking at the radiative impact of greenhouse gases reinforces the basic conclusion that you increase greenhouse gas concentrations, you will warm the atmosphere. Mostly what scientists have been debating in recent decades is not the reality of that. I mean, to question the reality of that basic physics is almost like questioning the reality of the spherical nature of the earth. What scientists actually spend time debating and pursuing is issues like feedbacks. What are the processes that can amplify that warming? What are the processes that might diminish that warming? And indeed, there is evidence that can be brought to bear that can challenge various existing theories, for example, of how clouds might the role that clouds might play as a feedback. As the climate warms, there are open questions about how the El Nino phenomenon might be influenced by global warming. There are open questions about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes and tropical storms. There are questions that are still being actively pursued. But as far as the basic issue of the warming influence of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere, the scientific community moved on from that question decades ago. And we’re pursuing questions that relate much more to the specifics of how the climate change and how various phenomena might be influenced. 

What I’d like to do, you know, for part of the interview is actually go a little bit back in time and sketch the story of the hockey stick, which, you know, I I’m guessing there’s no study. There’s more tech than the hockey stick. But maybe if we can go back to 90, 1988, where all this began and I think you’ll agree with me, there is probably not nearly so strong scientific consensus on global warming then as there is now, although it was certainly forming. So you come out with this study. What originally, you know, before any of the misinformation and any of the attacks, what originally was going on and what was. What we’re trying to do. 

It’s an interesting question. What was really driving us in our original work, as I alluded to earlier, using proxy data to reconstruct past climate patterns, was that we wanted to understand more about the natural variability of the climate system. We only have about 100 years of widespread thermometer measurements. We wanted to use these indirect lines of evidence from proxy data to investigate how El Niño might have varied in the more distant past, how regional patterns of temperature may have been influenced by certain types of phenomena like the so-called North Atlantic Oscillation or the so-called Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. There’s this notion of a multi to canel oscillation in the climate system. But since we only have one hundred years of data, it’s very difficult to tell if that’s an isolation or just some sort of trend. And so one way to get a better handle on whether there are multidecadal oscillations in the climate system is to try to extend the record by using proxy data. These are indirect natural archives of information. From tree rings and corals and ice cores and sediments and even stalactites and stalagmites, that can actually give us indirect information about how the climate changed prior to the relatively recent period, really only about the past century, where we have widespread instrumental measurements that tell us how the climate is very different, changed. 


Well, then I guess some problems began because as a young journalist in the year 2003, I became aware of you because you just testified before Congress about your work in pretty hostile circumstances, because Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma had a whole hearing to debunk this study. And at this point, you seem to me the epitome of a scientist under attack in the so-called war on science as I was styling it. So how did it get to be that way? 

Well, it’s not my area of expertize, but I have read what others have had to say, those who’ve studied the history of both the science and the attacks against it. And there is a clear indication that some time around 2002, there was a concerted effort by the fossil fuel industry to attack the science of climate change because they clearly felt threatened by the potential for actions for policy action to combat greenhouse gas emissions. So the industry at some point decided that they were going to engage in an All-Out war against the science and against the scientists and to those who think it’s some sort of conspiracy theory. This whole strategy was outlined in a memo by a famous Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, back in 2002. The memo very clearly described the strategy that the foes of climate change action should take to try to discredit the science and discredit the scientists. And I think everything that we saw thereafter, 2003 to date has been the orchestration of that basic plan. 

I think, yeah, people would get to go back and read the journalism. But I agree with you, we we documented it quite well. 

Four or five years ago that there was a strategic attempt through that. I saw it as centered on a number of conservative think tanks to sow doubt. Right. And that it was it took tobacco style strategy in order to sow doubt and prevent action. And one of the things they did was they sought to sow massive doubt about the hockey stick. And so there was the and valueless paper, the MacIntire McKitrick paper, the wet Wegmann reporting. I mean, you know all this better than me. And we’ve got some questions from the forums or people are asking very technical things about, you know, how would you respond to this or that charge from all these? I don’t want to go into those weeds, but I would ask you to respond sort of generally without having to tell us what principal component analysis is or anything. Why? Why do you think all the critiques didn’t really hold water? 

Well, I think what you see is that the critiques and we see this over and over again with the climate change deniers, their critiques almost exclusively, never actually discredit a line of evidence or a basic conclusion. What they seek to do is to take some small technical part of an analysis, try to manufacture a controversy about that, too, essentially to discredit the work, to discredit the conclusions by finding some small potential flaw with one part of an analysis. It’s sort of like saying that you’re going to throw out the book because you found a typo in it. It’s not quite that bad, but it’s almost that bad. And in the case of the let’s take the first challenge that soon in Balloonists article in climate research in 2003, it really was one of the poorest pieces of scholarship that any of us in the climate research community had ever seen. And the fact that it was published led the editor in chief and half the editorial board to quit because it was clear that there was an effort by some on the editorial board to compromise the peer review process and allow through this deeply, deeply flawed paper in the professional literature where it was a you know, it was almost immediately held up by those in Washington opposed to taking action against climate change. It was immediately held up by those forces as somehow being a dagger in the heart of the case for global warming, when, in fact it was just an extremely bad study that never should have published. And some people say, oh, well, you know who’s. To decide that peer review, the peer review process, when you just allow the publication of an article like the Soon and Blueness article, aren’t you censoring science? No. The whole reason for the peer review process is to identify papers that have flaws that are so obvious, that are so fundamental, that there’s no chance that the analysis can support the conclusions being made. And that was clearly the case with that suit and a balloonist study. Now, it’s several years later. There are more than a dozen reconstructions that have been published in the peer reviewed scientific literature. Every one of them comes to the same conclusion as our original decade or old work, that the recent warming is anomalous in at least a thousand years. And in fact, because of the larger number and longer reconstructions that have now been done, the IPCC in the most recent report came to an even stronger conclusion than we did in our original work, concluding that the recent warming is likely anomalous in at least the past thirteen hundred years. So they’ve extended that conclusion back even further. So our attackers never want to look at the big picture. They never want to look at the question of whether these critiques have any impact at all on the bottom line conclusions, because they know that they don’t sit well. 

Let me, um, I want to go on to the whole climate gate issue. But I guess there’s two more things here, because you talk about, first, how the climate skeptics or deniers that they pick a little piece and they don’t ever successfully intellectually dismantle the whole. But they certainly so doubt and create controversy. I mean, in a sense that the attack on the hockey stick itself is that because the hockey stick is not central to the worry about global warming? 

Yeah, that’s right. So even if they had been successful in taking down the hockey stick, which they haven’t been, it still wouldn’t amount to undermining the central case for the science Jim Underdown. 

And the only other question I want as users during all of this. There are also demands that many in the scientific community stood up and defended you against demands from Joe Barton for, you know, data and your computer code and all these. But you finally gave gave the information that was being demanded. 

All of our data was available in the public domain and any claim to the contrary was dishonest. So those who claim that our data weren’t available were we’re being dishonest. We simply pointed out to Barton that all of our data were available. The question came down to the computer code. Are scientists required to turn over their computer code in the National Science Foundation has spoken very clearly on that. They consider that the intellectual property of the scientist and the scientist is under no obligation to provide the code. Nonetheless, we ended up putting it in the public domain. 

Well, this is this is a theme that I think gives the skeptics some momentum, is when they can claim that they’re, you know, being blocked in some way from getting any particular kind of thing in. And I know that a lot of some scientist don’t want to give it to them because they’re afraid it’s going to be misused. But what do you think our policies or our universal principles ought to be for the sharing of data and methods on an issue like this, where you where there is reason to be suspicious, but where, you know, openness and transparency are clearly important values anyway. 

Well, I can only speak for, you know, my the way my collaborators and I conduct our research. We as a result of these manufactured controversies, we’ve made the decision to provide all of the code that we write, every scrap of code, as well as every scrap of data in the public domain. At the time we publish a paper. So we we’ve actually, in some sense, gone beyond what the standards of the community are. In paper, we published last December in Science, we uploaded nearly 30 megabytes of supplemental material, which included all of the data. And we’ve always made all the data available in our studies, but also all the code that we wrote. But again, that’s going beyond what the expectation generally is upon scientists. 

Well, let me move on now. 

I mean, I think this is a really good background for everything that exploded with the climate gate scenario, because sort of the ground was laid and a lot of climate gate did end up turning on various issues related to the hockey stick when the story broke. The emails were out in late 2009. I guess something like 200 of your emails were among the documents exposed. And among the most famous things in the in the documents are, well, I’ll list some of them. There’s a call from Phil Jones to delete emails. And you never did do that, right? I mean, that’s what your university determined, is that you didn’t actually take anything out of the record. 

Oh, yeah. No. And I never had any intended all of deleting any emails. And I’m not even sure Phil Jones himself did. I mean, thought that was an email that he wrote in the heat of the moment. He was under attack. I mean, keep in mind, this guy received some like 40 FOI demands over a weekend. He was being harassed intentionally and the FOI demands that were being. Made against him were, in fact, for materials that crew legally could not even distribute. So these were frivolous demands. It was an attempt to harass and yeah, under that sort of harassment. People sometimes say foolish things. And I think it was foolish for him to to raise the specter of deleting emails. We certainly didn’t do it. And I don’t think he did it himself. 

And another, you know, perhaps the most famous e-mail is the one that I think amounts to the stupidest allegation. This is the one where the word trick is used. Right. And is used by somebody else. Is not used by you. 

Right. But it’s to describe how you presented data and your university found that this was just a matter of semantics. And yet it’s quoted all over the Web. 

Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s a good example of how those looking to make mischief can take a term that they probably fully know is perfectly innocent. In the end. You know, in scientific lingo, the term trick is used by mathematicians and scientists to denote a clever approach to a problem, a clever way of accomplishing something. And my guess is those who are making a big deal out of this fully knew that and were exploiting the fact that it sounds very different to a non-technical audience, to people who aren’t familiar with science, are familiar with the language of science. The way scientists talk that term might appear to imply something very different from the innocent way that it was being used here. And so I think it really speaks to the the disingenuousness of those who are leading the attacks to intentionally misrepresent words and phrases cherry picked from thousands of emails in a in a very cynical attempt to distort the scientists views and to basically try to cast aspersions on the scientific discipline. 

Are there any these e-mails that are yours now they’re out there that you would say? You know, I really regret having sent that one. I mean, even if the e-mail does not constitute any kind of wrongdoing, according to Penn State or anybody else, do you really wish that you hadn’t pushed the button on that one or that you’d phrase it differently? 

I don’t think there’s one. Anyone among us who would not phrase things very differently in the e-mails and instant messages and notes that we send each other to our close friends in confidence and close colleagues. Is there anybody who wouldn’t phrase things very differently and be far more careful in their choice of wording and language? Were they to know that all of those private correspondences would be released to the entire world? No, and I’m no different. 

Another charge is that, you know, I totally believe you and that and I don’t I wouldn’t want mine mine being read, but. Well, even if there’s no wrongdoing again. Do you agree that because of the political situation, you’re in the fact that the hockey stick was under attack, that some of the e-mails do seem to show something like a siege mentality among a group of you folks? I mean, we’ve already established that you kind of were under siege. Do you think that that’s apparent? 

Look, the idea that scientists under siege should unilaterally disarm should just give in to the sometimes criminal attacks of the anti science forces looking to discredit them and to discredit their science. Does anyone really believe that in that situation that scientists should not stick up for their science? They should not stick up for their colleagues. They should not fight back against these criminal efforts to misrepresent them and to impugn their integrity and to discredit them and discredit the science. I think it would be terribly, terribly misplaced if scientists were not to do all they can to fight back against this sort of disinformation campaign that’s being run by the climate change denial industry. 

You know, and I just I want to give you a chance to to respond to some of the stuff that’s out there. I want to bring on a question from John on my blog. Who writes? Does he does. Does Dr. Mann have any ideas about what could have been done differently in responding to the stolen e-mails controversy? 

Yeah, I think that there’s now a growing awareness on the part of the scientific community and the climate science community in particular, that we have to be far better at defending ourselves and defending our science against disingenuous and dishonest attacks. The side that is issuing these attacks, our detractors are extremely well-funded. They are extremely well organized. They have basically had an attack infrastructure of this sort for decades. They developed it during the tobacco wars. They honed it further in other efforts. To attack science, that industry or other special interests finds inconvenient. So they have a very well honed, well-funded, organized machine that they are bringing to bear in their attack now against climate science. And it’s literally like a Marine in a battle with a Cub Scout. When it comes to the scientists defending themselves, we obviously don’t have the resources. We don’t have the experience. We haven’t been trained. We’re not public relations experts like they are. We’re not lawyers and lobbyists like they are. We’re scientists. We were trained to do science. And so it is a it’s sort of a classic example of asymmetric warfare. And that’s really the way we should think about this. 

Well, let me ask one more point. I mean, I do agree that, you know, there’s an infrastructure in place in terms of existing conservative think tanks who have been fighting on the climate issue for a long time and they need to be responded to. But I think there’s a different factor that isn’t preexisting and is new. And I think it’s the blogs have gotten a lot more powerful. And they’re not necessarily it depends. But I mean, they’re not necessarily part of that same old infrastructure. 

Something else is going on with this sort of really energized anti global warming movement on the Web. 

Yeah. I think what’s happened is that this anti science, the anti science industry, has fully exploited the resources made available by the worldwide web. So it isn’t coincidental. It isn’t like that’s an organic thing that’s emerged from grassroots anti climate change activists. It’s Astroturf. It’s just like this sort of Astroturf campaigns that are talked about in other contexts. That’s what we have here. I think what we have is an effort to exploit that resource to exploit the worldwide web. I would imagine that much of what might appear to an outsider to be organic, to be grassroots, is actually connected. Funded and manned by those connected with the climate change denial movement. I think that a lot of the comments, the more informed, the clearly more informed and clever responses, attacks, criticisms that one sees on many of the newsgroups, the Internet news sites and comment threads and blogs. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those who are participating in those comment threads are professionals. And so I think you’re right there. 

There’s even proof of that, though, do we? I mean I mean, certainly I’ve had my suspicions when my blog gets overrun, as it very often does by, you know, the duck climate denial machine. But I mean, I don’t have any proof. 

Well, we we do have some proof. We’ve seen, for example, IP numbers coming in. I won’t name names. We’ve seen we can check the IP addresses of those who make comments at real climate. 

And we’ve seen we’ve seen people coming in from fossil fuel industry, corporations. We’ve actually seen that or coming from lobby groups in D.C. who are connected with the climate change now movement. So actually, you can confirm that sometimes. 

I guess I would like to see more of that, because I do feel that this is part of the, you know, sort of whole outrage against Obama and Tea Party ism and kind of it kind of stirring on the political right as well. That’s sort of playing out in this particular area. But but clearly, it’s a hard fought battle. And I agree that the warfare is is asymmetric. One question is, you know, can the scientific community fight harder or must it draw the line somewhere? I mean, you know, you got someone out there like Marc Morano who’s incredibly effective doing what he does. The scientific community does not have is Web climate depot. It’s very, you know, very high traffic. The scientific community does not have its equivalent. And the question is, should it or is that crossing some kind of line? 

Well, it’s the old line about getting into a fight with a pig. You know, you’ll get dirty and the pig enjoys it. So that’s, you know, that that there’s some truth to that. And I think there’s a delicate line to be crossed between being a scientist and defending yourself in a way that is appropriate as a scientist and wading into territory that you ought not to be wading into and getting down in the mud with somebody like, you know, a professional, you know, climate change denier like Morano. And there does need to be, you know, those who you know, there are those who have reason to want to defend some. And defend the scientists in the policy community, in the non-governmental organization community. There are many out there who care about science and who are very deeply disturbed by the growth of anti science. The attacks against climate change, the attacks against evolution. And I could go on down the list. And those those forces seem to be better organized and ready to to go to war with the forces of anti science. The scientists can’t do it. Scientists are trained to do it. They’re not equipped to do it. We don’t have the resources to do it. But others who have some stake in this debate, who do have those resources and who are better organized need need to step up. 

Well, let me ask Ashley. I want to take a couple more from the forums and then we’ll wrap up. Brendan Mackenzie asks, Do you find that climate change denialism is responsive to data and factual arguments, or is it ultimately a faith position or one based on ideology, political, economic, religious, rather than on a genuine skepticism about the quality of the data? 

It’s a good question. You know, I don’t think it’s a one size fits all. I think, you know, there are many different flavors of climate change contrarians or deniers or, you know, or skeptics. And skepticism is a good thing in science. We should all be skeptics. And I believe that there are some who out there who are generally skeptical, meaning that they’re not convinced that the evidence supports the conclusion that humans are influencing the climate. Now, I would argue that they’re misinformed and perhaps misguided, but they may believe that in good faith. So there are certainly individuals, scientists, policymakers who fall into that category. On the other hand, I believe that there are many who are essentially serving as shills for the fossil fuel industry that are doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and are not engaging in good faith, debate in good faith discourse, but are simply looking for a way to malign the science and the scientists and to advance a policy agenda. And I do believe that there are many that fall into that category as well. So, you know, there are different people come into this perhaps with different motives. But the bottom line is that what should be informing the discussion is legitimate. Science is peer reviewed scientific research, not the opinions of bloggers or the attacks of politicians with extreme views. But, you know, the climate change policy discussion should be informed by what legitimate science has to say. And unfortunately, I think there are too many who are trying to insert politics into the process. 

Well, I mean, overall and I think this is the question I’ll end on, although and by any closing thoughts from you, it’s a pretty it’s been a pretty dark hour for climate science with climate gate and all the attacks on the IPCC. And the skeptics are clearly out for as many scalps as they can get, including yours and probably mine after this show airs. How do you think we’re gonna come out of this? What do you look to when you want to feel hopeful? 

Well, I think that many of us didn’t believe it would ever come to this. In other words, the case, the scientific case for the reality of human caused climate change has been clear now for several years now. It doesn’t mean that the science has done some sometimes like to say or that there’s no uncertainty that we know we have all the answers that we need. There’s much we still need to learn and there are many significant outstanding uncertainties. But we do know enough to know that human caused climate change is a reality. There are many in the scientific community, perhaps in the policy community as well, who thought, perhaps somewhat naively, that in the end science would carry the day, that the strength of the scientific consensus would be enough to lead those who might have doubted the reality to concede that. Yes. You know, the scientific case for the reality of human caused climate change is solid. I was always a bit skeptical. I always felt that there were special interests who had way too much invested in well, in protecting the fossil fuel industry. And that despite all the talk a few years ago about that, quote unquote, debate being over, that they were just lying dormant to the forces of anti scientific disinformation, were laying dormant, but they would be back. And so this didn’t surprise me at all. 

And in fact, I fully expected in advance of the Copenhagen summit that we would see an increased number of attacks. I guess what we all underestimated was the degree, the depth of dishonesty and. Pettiness and cynicism to which the climate change denial movement would be willing to stoop to advance their agenda. That’s the only thing that I think has surprised many of us. 

Well, you know, on that thought. And it’s a powerful ending. 

Dr. Mann, I just want to thank you for being willing to speak candidly with us and not pull any punches in trying circumstances. It’s been great to have you on. 

My pleasure, Chris. My pleasure. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry for updates throughout the week on the subject of this show. Please check out my blog at blogs, DOT. Discover magazine dot com slash intersection. Also, be sure to visit our online discussion forums to continue the dialog by clicking on. Center for Inquiry, dot net slash forums and then point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Whalen. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. 

I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.