Director of ICSC Responds to 'Nature'

Director of ICSC Responds to 'Nature'
July 29, 2011

The following was originally posted as a comment on Nature.com's: "Climate-change politics: The sceptic meets his match". 

It is difficult to find the time to properly critique the Nature attack on Joe Bast and the Heartland Institute over their handling of the climate issue. There are just too many serious flaws in the Nature analysis-errors in science, logical fallacies and outright mistakes in both pieces, but especially in the editorial.

That said, as the Executive Director of International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) and a co-sponsor of the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, I comment as follows on some of the more obvious mistakes and misrepresentations by Nature.

First, in the relatively good feature piece "Climate-change politics: The sceptic meets his match" by Jeff Tollefson:

1 - Jeff Tollefson writes, "Joe Bast and his libertarian think tank are a major force among climate sceptics - but they just can't win the battle over science."

THIS MISLEADING: Heartland and other climate realists are not trying to "win the battle over science". They support science, just not the science that Nature promotes.

2 - Tollefson: "Since they began in 2008, the conferences have become a prime networking opportunity for those who oppose political action relating to global warming."

THIS WRONG: The conference attendees and presenters generally don't "oppose political action relating to global warming". They oppose wasteful and unproductive "political action relating to global warming". Many of the presenters strongly support actions to help societies prepare for climate hazards and continuing to fund the research so that someday we may properly understand climate change. We certainly do not now.

3 - Tollefson: "Heartland's annual report says that corporations provided 34% of its US$6.1-million budget in 2010, with the rest coming from individuals and conservative foundations - some of which have industry ties of their own."

THIS IS A LOGICAL FALLACY REFERRED TO AS MOTIVE INTENT: Besides the fact that Heartland's budget is minute in comparison with that of groups on the other side (for example, Climate Works Foundations started life in 2008 with over $500,000,000 (yes, over ½ BILLION dollars) in funding (to be used over five years). See the ICSC compilation of some of "What we are up against" here: http://tinyurl.com/3pmdxw6), the fact that some on Heartland's side may have vested financial and or philosophic motivations is completely irrelevant. All that matters is whether they are scientifically and economically justified in what they are promoting. Similarly, the fact that those opposing Heartland have also many vested financial and philosophical interests does not make what they are saying invalid either.

4 - Tollefson: "Bast's assault on climate research ."

THIS MISLEADING: Heartland and other climate realists are not assaulting climate research; they are promoting it, just not the same research Nature promotes.

5 - "Jay Gulledge, senior scientist at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington DC, says that Bast, Heartland and the NIPCC all approach scientific data as attorneys, simply trying to sow doubt and justify political inaction."

THIS MISLEADING: They do not need to "sow doubt". Doubt already exists in spades among leading climate scientists. Heartland, ICSC and others on the climate realists' side (see our Climate Scientists' Register at http://tinyurl.com/2es3rqx for a small sample of those in our camp, for example) treat the public like adults and so tell people about the very real and important uncertainties that exist in the science.

5 - Tollefson: "Getting serious about global warming means implementing government regulation, going after industry, raising taxes, interfering in markets - all anathema to a conservative agenda.

IMPORTANT OMISSION: "Getting serious about global warming [cooling] means", most importantly, helping vulnerable people adapt to inevitable climate change.

NOTE: William O'Keefe, chief executive of the conservative George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Virginia, makes a very important point when he writes, ".when the economy does finally get on a sustainable growth path there will be a willingness to go back and revisit that discussion." In other words, the global warming war will intensify as the economy rebounds.

Now, to make a few points concerning the truly horrible editorial, "Heart of the matter"

1 - "The Heartland Institute's climate conference reveals the motives of global-warming sceptics."

MOTIVE INTENT LOGICAL FALLACY

2 - "They [Heartland Institute's climate conference] are curious affairs designed to gather and share contrarian views, in which science is secondary to wild accusations and political propaganda."

THIS IS WRONG: The primary purpose of the conference is to share views about the science, science that Nature often goes out of its way to ignore.

3 - "in the United States at least, they have cemented their propaganda into a broader agenda that pits conservatives of various stripes against almost any form of government regulation."

THIS IS MISLEADING: It is a different view than Nature to be sure but it is not propaganda and yes, Heartland DID allow (indeed, they invited) contrary views in the conference. In fact, the major event of the conference was a debate between a leading climate realist scientist and a leading climate alarmist scientist (see http://tinyurl.com/688olzk) - will Nature do the same?

Also, groups like ICSC that are non-partisan were there as well. There were even socialists at the conference who agree that the science backing the climate scare is at least suspect.

4 - "The sceptics like to present the battlefield as science, but, as the News Feature on page 440 makes clear, the fight is, in fact, a violent collision of world views."

THIS IS WRONG: There are obvious alarmists and skeptics on both sides of the political spectrum. It is just currently not politically correct for leftist or centrist skeptics to make their views known in public. ICSC is working to change this unfortunate situation by promoting the climate science issue as NON_PARTISAN - see our brief description of this on page 2 of our flier here: http://tinyurl.com/6eq3tb8 .

5 - "Yet this is also how sceptics characterize climate scientists, whose careers and reputations they claim are intertwined with protecting the science of anthropogenic global warming."

THIS IS MISLEADING: Nature writes as if all the scientists of any significance were all on their side. In reality, many, highly qualified climate science experts entirely disagree with the approach Nature is taking on the climate file.

6 - Nature refers to their side as being supported by "robust science".

THIS IS MISLEADING: The science is all over the map and much of the so-called "settled science" is completely unsettled and almost certainly wrong. I explain this in my presentation that one can view on line at: http://tinyurl.com/3cprpds (part 1 of 1) and http://tinyurl.com/3nmuj5v (part 2 of 2).

7 - "The News Feature is intended to offer researchers outside climate science a window into the motives and tactics of those who have set themselves up as such a voice."

MOTIVE INTENT LOGICAL FALLACY

8 - "Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth."

THIS IS MISLEADING: The skeptical scientists are approaching the issue exactly as all scientists should approach such complex and controversial issues. Rather than repeat what Joe Bast explained so well in his response to Nature, I simply cut and paste what he wrote:  "the scientific method.proceeds by the falsification of hypotheses, not their defense by every means possible, which is what Nature and regrettably other leading science journals have resorted to in the case of man-made climate change. The goal ought not to be to defend a hypothesis, but to test it, and if it fails, to consider competing hypotheses and test those just as rigorously."

This is precisely what ICSC Climate Science Advisor Professor Bob Carter writes and speaks about all the time (see his Web site here http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc/ )). Besides, contrary to the implication in Nature's editorial, there is no "truth" in science; it is merely our best understanding at the present time.

9 - ".their attacks on science will continue."

THIS IS MISLEADING: Climate realists (aka "skeptics) continue to generate leading science of their own - see http://tinyurl.com/4yzxar9 for an example released just this week.

10 - "Many climate scientists have already tried to engage with their critics, as they did at the Heartland event. The difference, of course, is motive."

MOTIVE INTENT LOGICAL FALLACY

11 - "Scientists work to fill the gaps in human knowledge and to build a theory that can explain observations of the world. Climate sceptics revel in such gaps, sometimes long after they have been filled."

AD HOMINEM LOGICAL FALLACY: The implication here is that scientists who do not agree with Nature on this topic are being dishonest.

12 - "It is scientists, not sceptics, who are most willing to consider explanations that conflict with their own."

MISLEADING: The skeptics are often leading scientists themselves.

13 - "And far from quashing dissent, it is the scientists, not the sceptics, who do most to acknowledge gaps in their studies and point out the limitations of their data"

QUESTION TO NATURE: Ignoring your mistaken implication that skeptics are not scientists, will you then illustrate what you say above by allowing the publication of more scientific papers by leading climate skeptics (realists, we like to call them). How about sponsoring an open, public debate between leading scientists on both sides, as Heartland did at their conference. I am sure James Taylor, who moderated the event can help you out with advice on how to keep such an event civilized and constructive if you believe that you would find that difficult to handle.

14 - "which is where sceptics get much of the mud they fling at the scientists."

MISLEADING AND INAPPROPRIATE: If Nature does sponsor an open, public debate between experts, I suggest that the writer of this "mud they fling" sentence would not be a good choice to moderate the event. Nature needs to have a look at how James Taylor handled the moderation duties in an appropriate fashion here <http://tinyurl.com/3el4mfm> .

Tom Harris
Executive Director
International Climate Science Coalition
http://www.climatescienceinternational.org