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Monday, September 19, 2011

John Cook, Skeptical Science: Chasing Pielke's Goodyear Blimp

Chasing Pielke's Goodyear Blimp

by John Cook, Skeptical Science, September 19, 2011

Roy Spencer and John Christy have on a number of occasions misinformed the public and even US Congress about climate science. Skeptical Science (SkS) has begun documenting their misinformation (not finished yet, it's a big job). As SkS is solely about the science, we haven't critiqued their political views but examined their science. And as SkS doesn't allow ad hominem attacks, we haven't attacked them personally, but restricted our focus to their misinforming statements. Our resources on Spencer and Christy are part of a larger resource that documents quotes and articles from a number of misinformers, as well as rebuttals of their misleading statements.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., has observed our resource on misinformers and taken offense. It's not our scientific arguments that bother him. He doesn't flinch at the sight of Christy delivering demonstrably false statements under oath to Congress that contradict the peer-reviewed science, the laws of physics, and even his fellow "skeptics" (such as his hot spot statement). Pielke has taken umbrage at the use of the titles "Christy Crocks" and "Spencer Slip-ups." After registering his displeasure, Pielke then engaged in a lengthy defence of the UAH satellite data that Spencer and Christy were involved in.

Reading his post brings to mind a scene from the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. As Wild West cowboys converge on them, Bill and Ted distract their approaching adversaries by pointing off in the distance and exclaiming "look, it's the Goodyear Blimp!" In this case, Pielke's blimp is a lengthy exposition about UAH data that had nothing to do with our critiques of Spencer and Christy's misinformation.

"I am not aware of John stating that the predictions of global cooling in the 1970s were the same as predictions today. The models were much more primitive than, so clearly they are not the same predictions, and I am certain John knows that. However, this issue is not particularly relevant (when raised by anyone) to the current important climate science questions."
Curiously, this is in direct contrast to Christy's own words, where he cites the similarity from 1970s climate science to current science as an argument to cast doubt on today's understanding of the climate system. Having brushed off Christy's misinformation, Pielke once again cries "Goodyear Blimp!" with a series of unrelated questions on topics he is much more comfortable discussing.

So we observe repeated instances where Pielke is unable to acknowledge Spencer and Christy's misinformation, and tries to move the discussion to more comfortable waters. Confronted with the misinformation of his colleagues, Pielke turns a blind eye and instead laser focuses on the Goodyear Blimp of UAH satellite data. When confronted with specific examples, he brushes them off and completely changes the subject.

Personally, I find the crocks themselves significantly more offensive than the use of the word "crocks." But as to the question of whether Skeptical Science will change the titles "Christy Crocks" and "Spencer Slip-ups," I have no emotional attachment to the titles themselves and am happy to change them if they bother people. Suggested alternatives are welcome. The only requirement is they capture the fact that Spencer and Christy are misleading the public about climate science. So a title like "Spencer's Promotion of Misinformation to the Public about Climate Change" fits perfectly, although it doesn't roll off the tongue quite so nicely. And "Christy's Demonstrably False Statements to Congress While Under Oath" captures exactly what the series covers, but good luck making that readable in an 88-pixel button!

Nevertheless, SkS does intend to chase after Pielke's blimp. The questions he raises about framing and diagnostics are interesting questions worthy of discussion, and we're more than happy to delve into them. In the meantime, we will continue to document quotes and articles from various misinformers and add them to our misinformers resource. Our goal is to make the science more accessible and easier to find by grouping it by Misinformer, as well as by topic. Of course, as observed in our exchange with Pielke, the information won't be found by those who have no motivation to find it.

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