Recently, the Wall Street Journal refused to publish a letter on the subject of climate change that was signed by 255 scientists—all of whom are members of the United States National Academy of Sciences. The WSJ chose instead to publish an opinion piece titled No Need to Panic about Global Warming that was written by 16 “other scientists.” It has been reported that the 16 “other scientists” include engineers, a physician, a retired airplane designer, a retired electrical engineer, and astrophysicists. Also included among the “No Need to Panic” authors are two men—one who questions whether smoking causes cancer (Richard Lindzen) and another who does not believe that asbestos is a health hazard (Claude Allegre).
According to Media Matters, most of the scientists who signed the WSJ op-ed do not publish peer-reviewed papers on climate research. In addition, more than a third of them have links to fossil fuel interests.
Peter Gleick, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a MacArthur Fellow, wrote an article for Forbes descrying the WSJ’s actions.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has long been understood to be not only antagonistic to the facts of climate science, but hostile. But in a remarkable example of their unabashed bias, on Friday they published an opinion piece that not only repeats many of the flawed and misleading arguments about climate science, but purports to be of special significance because it was signed by 16 “scientists.”
Serious doubt has been cast on the actual expertise on climate science of the signers and on the accuracy of the content, here and elsewhere, and the strawman arguments and technical flaws of their opinion piece are evident to anyone actually versed in the scientific debate. For example, their op-ed has fundamental errors about recent actual temperatures, they use false/strawman arguments that climate scientists are saying climate change “will destroy civilization,” they launch ad hominem attack on particular climate scientists using out-of-context quotes, and so on. Formal responses are in the works, and will be available from a variety of groups in the next day or so. [Just as an example, as pointed out here previously, and at the Union of Concerned Scientists: the authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years. The reality? 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.]
But the most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journal in this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.
Climate Change and the Integrity of Science, the letter that was signed by the 255 scientists, spoke of their concern about the recent escalation in assaults on scientists—especially climate scientists. They said that the assaults on both climate science and scientists came from climate change deniers who “are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.” The scientists called “for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.”
Not long ago, I was disheartened to learn that climate scientists in the United States and in other countries have become victims of cyber-bullying. In 2010, Douglas Fisher wrote an article for Scientific American titled Cyber Bullying Intensifies as Climate Data Questioned. Fisher spoke of how climate researchers have to purge crude and crass emails that they find in their inboxes every day. Some consider purging such correspondence as a task they must deal with as part of the job of being a climate scientist. Others, however, “see the messages as threats and intimidation—cyber-bullying meant to shut down debate and cow scientists into limiting their participation in the public discourse.”
Clive Hamilton, an Australian author and academic said, “The purpose of this new form of cyber-bullying seems clear; it is to upset and intimidate the targets, making them reluctant to participate further in the climate change debate.” Gavin Schmidt, a scientist who works for NASA, said that “organized, ‘McCarthyite’ tactics aimed at specific scientists by various groups can be stressful.” He added “‘Frivolous’ Freedom of Information Act requests can tie up considerable quantities of researchers’ time.” Schmidt claims that the worst things of all are the “‘intimidating letters’ from congressional members threatening dire consequences to scientists working on climate change.”
Last month, MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, a Republican and the director of MIT’s Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate program, received a “frenzy of hate male” after a video that featured an interview with him was published by Climate Desk.
VIDEO LINK: Not all Republicans are climate deniers (In the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, former Rep. Bob Inglis, MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, and other Republicans talk about why climate action is a conservative value)
Mother Jones reported that the emails contained “veiled threats’ against Emanuel’s wife—as well as other “tangible threats.” Emanuel said, “They were vile, these emails. They were the kind of emails nobody would like to receive.” He added, “What was a little bit new about it was dragging family members into it and feeling that my family might be under threat, so naturally I didn’t feel very good about that at all. I thought it was low to drag somebody’s spouse into arguments like this.”
The Guardian reported last June that Australian climate scientists had been receiving death threats. As a response to the large number of threatening emails and telephone calls, the Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra moved some of its “leading climate scientists to a secure facility…”
Ian Young, ANU’s vice-chancellor, said, “Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time. These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it’s completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this.” Young added that “scientists had been threatened with assault if they were identified in the street.”
Canberra Times reported last year that more than 30 researchers in Australia—including ecologists, environmental policy experts, meteorologists, and atmospheric physicists—told the paper that they had been receiving a “stream of abusive emails threatening violence, sexual assault, public smear campaigns and attacks on family members.” Some of the scientists installed upgraded home security systems and switched to unlisted phone numbers because they were fearful that their homes and cars might be damaged.
One researcher even spoke of “receiving threats of sexual assault and violence against her children after her photograph appeared in a newspaper article promoting a community tree-planting day as a local action to mitigate climate change.”
One climate scientist, who did not want to be identified, told ABC News that a dead animal was once left on his doorstep. He said he now travels with bodyguards at times. David Koroly, a professor at the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Science, told ABC that he receives threats whenever he is interviewed by the media. He said, “It is clear that there is a campaign in terms of either organised or disorganised threats to discourage scientists from presenting the best available climate science on television or radio.”
Addendum: An Excerpt from Cowards in Our Democracy: Part 1, Written by James Hansen, Climatologist and Head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Today most media, even publicly-supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual. Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces — all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability.
Distinguished scientific bodies such as national science academies, using the scientific method, can readily separate charlatans and false interpretations from well-reasoned science. Yet it seems that our governments and the public are not making much use of their authoritative scientific bodies. Why is that?
I believe that the answer, and the difficulty in communicating science to the public, is related to the corrosive influence of money in politics and to increased corporate influence on the media.
Climate Change and the Integrity of Science (Science Magazine)
The rise of anti-science cyber bullying (ThinkProgress)
Climatologist James Hansen on “Cowards in Our Democracies” (ThinkProgress)
Cowards in Our Democracies: Part 1 (Columbia)
The Journal Hires Dentists To Do Heart Surgery (Media Matters)
Cyber Bullying Intensifies as Climate Data Questioned: Researchers must purge e-mail in-boxes daily of threatening correspondence, simply part of the job of being a climate scientist (Scientific American)
While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower (Discover Magazine)
Australian climate scientists targeted by death threats (Climate Science Watch)
ABC World News: Climate Scientists Claim ‘McCarthy-Like Threats’ (Climate Science Watch)