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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christian Science Monitor jumps the shark with pre-debunked, anti-science op-ed by Anthony Watts on Harold Lewis’s resignation from APS: Peter Sinclair weighs in

Dear Readers,

Please, please, if you have time, go to the contact link at the bottom of this post and complain.

Update:  you can send comments to the head editor via this link:


UPDATE 2:  Peter Sinclair, creator of the by now famous "Climate Denial Crock of the Week,"  has sent the following message to John Yemma:

Dear Editor,

Your decision to print a deceptive anti-science screed by Anthony Watts, a non-scientist (whose only qualification besides a high school degree, is having been a weather reader at a right wing radio station), does a terrible disservice to your readers, and to the credibility of your newspaper.

One of the terrible tragedies of our age has been the willingness of journalists to assume that if science has established that "x" is the truth, that there must be some "y" that is the "other side" to the story.

What is the "other side" to the theory of gravity? The speed of light?

Could the moon really be made of cheese, after all?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Normally when we wish to get an expert opinion, we go to actual experts who have studied complex issues for a lifetime.

A panel of such experts, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, in an urgent appeal to the world, recently wrote:

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Glenn Beck, who you might be aware of, is also a non-scientist, has recently declared that the theory of evolution is in error.

May I look for you to be featuring Mr. Beck's paleontological musings on your pages soon?

Peter Sinclair

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, October 19, 2010

One of the many differences between science and religion is that science is almost completely unconcerned with what any individual scientist believes, no matter how famous.  Religions, of course, are typically built around famous individuals, like, say, Mary Baker Eddy, and what they believe.  Sadly, these days, journalism — even at once-great newspapers  — also appear to care more what one individual believes than what scientific observation and analysis actually tells us.

Last week I wrote about how a physicist named Hal Lewis who doesn’t know the first thing about climate science resigned from the American Physical Society because he doesn’t know the first thing about climate science.  I debunked the laughable — and unintentionally ironic — post by “former television meteorologist” Anthony Watts comparing Lewis’s words of resignation to “a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door.”

Only anti-science disinformers believe scientific views are no different from religious ones, that a letter from a non-climate-scientist (particularly one who hasn’t bothered to learn the first thing about climate science or talk to actual climate scientists) would carry any weight at all, let alone lead to a major new science religion of Lewisism (Wattsism?), since, of course, that’s not how science works.

I never would have imagined in a hundred years, though, that the once respected Christian Science Monitor would publish a piece by Watts that opens with this pure anti-science headline and subhead (and picture of Martin Luther):

Climate change ‘fraud’ letter: a Martin Luther moment in science history

Esteemed physicist Harold Lewis is calling global warming the ‘most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen.’ His resignation letter could mark the unraveling of one of the great scientific mistakes in history and the beginning of a needed reformation of the scientific community.
Temp Headline Image
In this 1872 painting by Ferdinand Pauwels, Martin Luther nails his “95 Theses” to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1517.
Just as an aside, I spent many years in Boston headquarters of CSM [and I particularly loved to visit the awesome Mapparium, which provides an amazing perspective on our planet].  It was a highly respected institution, and, of course, famously founded by, well, here how the CSM puts it:
The Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, explained our mission this way: “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” 
While we may not land on the doorstep or in the inbox of all mankind (though we’d like to), our aim is to embrace the human family, shedding light and understanding with the conviction that truth is the beginning of solutions. This conviction has served our readers and story subjects well over the years, winning us seven Pulitzer Prizes and more than a dozen Overseas Press Club awards. 
Mrs. Eddy’s statement contains another distinguishing feature. The purpose of our journalism is to “bless” not “injure.” That is central to how we cover the news….
  • And we make a point of resisting the sensational in favor of the meaningful.
Not in this case.  Of course, Eddy founded Christian Science.  As Wikipedia notes, “Christian Scientists believe that sickness is the result of fear, ignorance, or sin, and that when the erroneous belief is corrected, the sickness will disappear.”

What makes the publication of this op-ed so absurd is that the American Physical Society had already officially responded to and debunked Lewis:
There is no truth to Dr. Lewis’ assertion that APS policy statements are driven by financial gain. To the contrary, as a membership organization of more than 48,000 physicists, APS adheres to rigorous ethical standards in developing its statements. The Society is open to review of its statements if members petition the APS Council – the Society’s democratically elected governing body – to do so. 
Dr. Lewis’ specific charge that APS as an organization is benefitting financially from climate change funding is equally false. Neither the operating officers nor the elected leaders of the Society have a monetary stake in such funding. Moreover, relatively few APS members conduct climate change research, and therefore the vast majority of the Society’s members derive no personal benefit from such research support. 
On the matter of global climate change, APS notes that virtually all reputable scientists agree with the following observations: 
  • Carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere due to human activity;
  • Carbon dioxide is an excellent infrared absorber, and therefore, its increasing presence in the atmosphere contributes to global warming; and
  • The dwell time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is hundreds of years.
On these matters, APS judges the science to be quite clear. However, APS continues to recognize that climate models are far from adequate, and the extent of global warming and climatic disruptions produced by sustained increases in atmospheric carbon loading remain uncertain. In light of the significant settled aspects of the science, APS totally rejects Dr. Lewis’ claim that global warming is a “scam” and a “pseudoscientific fraud.” 
Additionally, APS notes that it has taken extraordinary steps to solicit opinions from its membership on climate change. After receiving significant commentary from APS members, the Society’s Panel on Public Affairs finalized an addendum to the APS climate change statement reaffirming the significance of the issue. The APS Council overwhelmingly endorsed the reaffirmation…
You can read the 2007 APS statement on climate change here (plus a 2010 explication of it).  It is rather mild, as such statements go:
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes. 
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now. 
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
I had written that Lewis’s Inhofe-esque statement “this is the greatest and most successful pseudo-scientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist,” accuses the scientific community broadly defined of conspiring in deliberate fraud – and not just the community of climate scientists, but the leading National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and the American Geophysical Union, an organization of geophysicists that consists of more than 45,000 members and the American Meteorological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see “Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts“).  Such a statement accuses all of the member governments of the IPCC, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on the Assessment Reports word for word. And it accuses all of the leading scientific journals of being in on this fraud, since the IPCC reports are primarily a review and synthesis of the published scientific literature.

A. Siegel of GetEnergySmartNow, who has a great post on this embarrassing episode, asks:
Does the CSM editorial board really stand with those accusing so many scientists, from so many fields, from so many nations of engaging in systematic fraud?
He also quotes a commenter, Eric Grimsrud, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Montana State University, who writes:
We have here an example of a “perfect storm” of conditions on the waves of which the deniers of CO2’s warming effects will ride as hard as they can. The three elements that created this storm are the “reporter” Mr. Watt, who is in the denier’s camp, Dr. Lewis, who was a respected elderly physicist but not in the field of climate science and the Christian Science Monitor, whose poor judgement in running this “story” surprises me. 
While I’ll not waste time trying to understand the motives of the first two elements, I suspect that the CSM indulged in the time-honored newspaper inclination to give equal attention of “both sides” of all issues. Unlike politics or economics, however, in science there comes a point when there are no longer equally valid different views of a given topic. Mother Nature tends to do things either one way or the other. Just as we now know that the Earth is not flat, we also know that it is being overheated by the excess CO2 we are putting into its atmophere.
At DotEarth, blogger Andy Revkin notes that Lewis himself embraced this “pseudo-scientific fraud” two decades ago in his book, Technological Risk:

There’s no law against changing one’s views, of course, but it is doubly bizarre to accuse the American Physical Society — and indeed the entire scientific community — of pseudo-scientific fraud for holding a view he himself once held (on far, far weaker scientific evidence at the time, it must be added).

Lewis’s letter was devoid of any actual critique of climate science, but he offers some of his amazingly uninformed statements on the subject here.  Eli Rabett debunked the whole thing here.  Lewis asserted “nobody doubts that CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for the better part of a century, but the disobedient temperature seems not to care very much,” whereas Rabett notes among other things, “The temperatures are tracking the CO2 forcing just fine.”  Lewis bizarrely asserts, “people and plants die from cold, not warmth.”  Tell that to the folks in Moscow this summer — or Europe in the summer of 2003.

Lewis states:
I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help…
This line tells you the author not only doesn’t follow the scientific literature, but that he doesn’t actually associate with or talk to anybody who does.

As Rabett explained, “Well, actually most people who have a clue think that without our contributions the surface would be cooling a bit right now due to the Milankovitch cycles which have reached and passed the warm peak.”  Indeed, he points us to the 1980 Science article, “Modeling the Climatic Response to Orbital Variations,” which concludes “Ignoring anthropogenic and other possible sources of variation acting at frequencies higher than one cycle per 19,000 years, this model predicts that the long-term cooling trend which began some 6000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years.”

More recent money-grubbing conspirators include those folks at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in at least 2,000 years, new research indicates. The study, which incorporates geologic records and computer simulations, provides new evidence that the Arctic would be cooling if not for greenhouse gas emissions that are overpowering natural climate patterns.
But Lewis knows not a single person who denies the earth has been warming for thousands of years.

Let me end where I began.  Watts says of Lewis, “he’s no lightweight, and he’s well respected in the field of physics.”  So what?  “Einstein himself is well known for rejecting some of the claims of quantum mechanics” even though Einstein actually helped establish some of the foundations of quantum mechanics.   So what?  It turned out Einstein’s intuition was wrong.   That’s why science isn’t built around what individual scientists believe, no matter how famous.  In this case, Lewis isn’t even a climate scientist.

The Christian Science Monitor should retract this op-ed, apologize for it, and publish the APS response.  Here is their contact page.

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