E-mails show climate scientists struggling with push-back on anti-science political assault


Greenwire and the New York Times on-line reported today on leaked e-mails among leading U.S. scientists who are exchanging views on the question of how the climate science community can best counter the global warming denial machine, which is currently engaged in an all-out attack on multiple fronts seeking to delegitimize leading scientists, scientific organizations, and the scientific evidence on climate change.

We appreciate both the conscientious dialogue and the growing sense of urgency among members of the science community, who are faced with an unprecedented and malign assault by non-scientist political operatives that threatens to damage the country’s ability to engage in rational discourse and respond effectively to the threat of global climatic disruption. Some high-ranking politicians and corporate executives who surely know better appear to be, if not directly fanning the flames, at least using the current controversies as an additional excuse to delay or derail effective climate change policymaking.

From the New York Times on-line, March 5 (excerpt):

E-Mails Show Scientists Planning Push-Back Against ‘McCarthyite’ Attacks on Climate Science

By ALEX KAPLUN of Greenwire (Greenwire is by subscription)

U.S. scientists are planning to counter criticisms directed at them during the “Climategate” scandal and congressional debates, saying conservatives and industry groups have waged a “McCarthyite” campaign, according to e-mails exchanged by the researchers.

The e-mails obtained by E&E show the scientists are considering launching advertising campaigns, widening their public presence, pushing the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to take a more active role in explaining climate science and creating a nonprofit to serve as a voice for the scientific community.

“We need to develop a relentless rain of science and scientific dialog on the incredible, destructive demagoguery that has invaded the airwaves, the news media and the public forum and has prevented a rational discussion about political solutions to human perturbations on the environment,” wrote Paul Falkowski, a professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University, wrote that the scientific community has been subjected to “neo-McCarthyism” fueled by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and his staff. “I am hopeful that all the forces working for honest debate and quality assessments will decry this McCarthyite regression, and by name point out what this Senator is doing by a continuing smear campaign,” Schneider wrote.

Schneider was among 17 scientists whom Inhofe said may have violated federal law in connection to last year’s hacked e-mail controversy, which has been called “Climategate.”

Though the scientists’ strategy e-mails show a desire by the scientific community to push back against attacks from climate change critics, it is not clear that they have produced a consensus on what steps to take.

The messages, which were distributed mostly in late February through a listserv maintained by the National Academy of Sciences for members in its environmental sciences and ecology division, involved a dozen or so scientists who are academy members. Their e-mails to the list appear to have been forwarded outside the group by an unknown person.

An NAS spokesman said that the discussion was a private conversation between individuals and does not represent the views of the organization as a whole. …

We were asked to comment:

Rick Piltz, director of the watchdog organization Climate Science Watch, expressed concern over the continued public exposure of private discussions among scientists but also said he was proud of the effort the scientists were looking to undertake.

“I think they’re doing exactly what needs to be done; the communications exude intellectual integrity and public concern,” Piltz said. “Clearly, nobody in the political and corporate elites of this country believe that the global warming denial machine is right and the National Academy of Sciences are wrong about climate change.”

The article concludes with:

Some have suggested that scientists need to become more active in politics by running for office or engaging more directly with politicians and voters.

It remains to be seen whether any such prolonged efforts will occur in the wake of Climategate, but the e-mail exchange at NAS and recent comments from a number of scientists do indicate that the community is increasingly starting to believe that its scientific goals are irrevocably linked to the political debate.

“Most of our colleagues don’t seem to grasp that we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against well-funded, merciless enemies who play by entirely different rules,” wrote Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Stanford University.

“Science is getting creamed with no effective response, and our colleagues involved with the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] are getting threatened with prosecution by the likes of Inhofe. It is not clear whether the NAS can ever be an effective voice, but if we don’t start some action it surely never will be.”

Earlier CSW posts:
March 1: UK Guardian: “US Senate’s top climate sceptic accused of waging ‘McCarthyite witch-hunt’”

February 24: Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists

February 23: Scientists ill-equipped to deal with all-out war on climate science community

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