“Like dentists practicing cardiology” – Climate scientists respond to Wall Street Journal disinformer op-ed. When you’re talking about planetary life suppport, it really matters what your credentials are.


In a letter to the WSJ, 38 climate science experts call down Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper for publishing an op-ed (“No Need to Panic About Global Warming”) “by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields,” the climate scientists’ letter says, “most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert.”  As Stephen Schneider told us in an interview on his climate science expert credibility study, “It really matters what your credentials are. We’re talking about planetary life support. That’s why it’s so important to understand who’s credible.”

[More from Steve Schneider below, after the letter]

Suzanne Goldenberg writes in the Guardian (“Wall Street Journal Rapped Over Climate Change Stance”):

The Wall Street Journal has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change. …

The offending article, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, which appeared last week, argued that climate change was a cunning ploy deployed by governments to raise taxes and by non-profit organisations to solicit donations to save the planet.

It was signed by 16 scientists who don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that climate change is happening and is largely man-made – but as Wednesday’s letter points out, many of those who signed don’t actually work in climate science. …

The letter does not go into the background of the 16 scientists who signed the original article, but at least two used to work for Exxon and six others have worked for thinktanks funded by industry groups including Exxon.

The letter also choose not to dig into the long history of the Wall Street Journal’s rejection of climate science. The paper had earlier refused to publish a similar letter from 255 scientists from the National Academy of Sciences that supported the mainstream view on climate change.

The rejection was seen by some as further evidence that Rupert Murdoch is using his news organisations, such as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, to further his own anti-regulatory agenda.

Here’s the full text of the scientists’ letter:

Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean.

Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.

Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.

The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.

Here’s the full list of signers of the letter (with a few links to some earlier posts):

Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research  [See Straight talk from Kevin Trenberth on denialists, climate science communication, and climate change policy]

Richard Somerville, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego  [See Six public guidelines for recognizing and rejecting junk climate science and disinformation]

Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University

Rasmus Benestad, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, The Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Gerald Meehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research  [See Weather extremes in a changing climate: Like Barry Bonds on steroids]

Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences; Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University

Peter Gleick, Ph.D., co-founder and president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Michael C. MacCracken, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Climate Institute, Washington  [See MacCracken v. Happer: The Real Truth about Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change]

Michael Mann, Ph.D., Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University  [See Michael Mann in Washington Post op-ed: “Get the anti-science bent out of politics” and new book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines]

Steven Running, Ph.D., Professor, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana

Robert Corell, Ph.D., Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; Principal, Global Environment Technology Foundation  [See National Academy of Sciences releases a must-read report: Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate]

Dennis Ojima, Ph.D., Professor, Senior Research Scientist, and Head of the Dept. of Interior’s Climate Science Center at Colorado State University

Josh Willis, Ph.D., Climate Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Matthew England, Ph.D., Professor, Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia

Ken Caldeira, Ph.D., Atmospheric Scientist, Dept. of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution

Warren Washington, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Terry L. Root, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University

David Karoly, Ph.D., ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

Jeffrey Kiehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Donald Wuebbles, Ph.D., Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois

Camille Parmesan, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, University of Texas; Professor of Global Change Biology, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, UK

Simon Donner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada

Barrett N. Rock, Ph.D., Professor, Complex Systems Research Center and Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire

David Griggs, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia

Roger N. Jones, Ph.D., Professor, Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Australia

William L. Chameides, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, School of the Environment, Duke University

Gary Yohe, Ph.D., Professor, Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, CT

Robert Watson, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chair of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia  [See Robert Watson: IPCC is fundamentally sound; don’t let “skeptics” distract or derail action]

Steven Sherwood, Ph.D., Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Chris Rapley, Ph.D., Professor of Climate Science, University College London, UK

Joan Kleypas, Ph.D., Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

James J. McCarthy, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University
[See James McCarthy and Tim Wirth: Time for Obama to Set the Record Straight on Climate Change]

Stefan Rahmstorf, Ph.D., Professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany

Julia Cole, Ph.D., Professor, Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

William H. Schlesinger, Ph.D., President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

Eric Rignot, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

Wolfgang Cramer, Professor of Global Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France

Some earlier posts:

Letter from 255 National Academy members on Climate Change and the Integrity of Science (May 2010)

The letter, from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates, begins: “We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. It says: “We call 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.” Apparently, a strongly worded statement from many of our most esteemed scientists, about climate science and a controversy that is very much in the news and fundamental to our future, is considered unworthy of space in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. All three rejected the 700-word, op-ed length letter before it was published in the May 7 issue of the journal Science.

The Importance of Science in Addressing Climate Change: Scientists’ letter to the U.S. Congress (January 2011)

New study finds striking level of agreement among climate experts on anthropogenic climate change (June, 2010)

“Expert Credibility in Climate Change,” a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that 97-98% of climate researchers examined who are most actively publishing in the field support the IPCC conclusions, i.e., are convinced by the evidence for human-caused climate change, and that the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of researchers questioning the findings is significantly below that of convinced researchers. The authors of this first-of-its-kind study used metrics of climate-specific expertise and overall scientific prominence to examine expert credibility among scientists who agree with or question the primary conclusions of the IPCC.

Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study (July 2010) [VIDEO]

Excerpt from the interview:

It really matters what your credentials are. If you have a heart arrhythmia as I do, and I also have a cardiologist, and you also have an oncological problem as I do, I’m not going to my cancer doc to ask him about my heart medicine and my cardiologist to ask about my chemo, I’m going to the experts. Who’s an expert really matters. People with no expertise, their opinion frankly does not matter on complex issues. …

We’re talking about planetary life support. People who are special interests in making money in the fossil fuel industry, who are ideologues, who are so deeply opposed to government regulation or international agreements, will just make any wild claim to support their ideology or special interest. They’ll find some hired gun PhD, or they’ll pick weak scientists for the most part – and should they really be afforded as much credibility? Can you tell me that a hundred institutions around the world, that have been working for 40 years, that have had dozens and dozens of carefully reviewed assessments, are somehow no more credible – even if they’re more elitist – than petroleum geologists funded by an oil company? They’re as knowledgeable about climate science as I would be about how to fix the leak in the Deepwatergate problem. I mean, they’re really not experts, and it really does matter what people know. If we do not do the due diligence of letting people understand the relative credibility of claimants of truth, then all we do is have a confused public who hears claim and counter-claim.

That’s why there’s a National Academy of Sciences: it has to sort out the relative credibility of claims. Why is there an IPCC? Because the average person is not trained in what cloud feedback is, nor is the average geologist, just as the average climate scientist is not trained in how to find oil! So, let’s stay where we have our expertise. Science is a meritocracy. You have to have evidence. When somebody says I don’t believe in global warming, I ask, “Do you believe in evidence? Do you believe in a preponderance of evidence?” …

[W]e are talking about the relative likelihood that there could be serious or even dangerous changes. Because before you even decide how you want to deploy resources as a hedge against a wide range of important social problems, you have to know how serious the problems are. All we’re trying to do in science is give the best estimate that honest people with a lot of evidence can, about the relative risks, so they can make wise decisions in their own lives and in who they elect about how we should deal with it.

If you have no idea about the risk, it’s very hard to rationally do risk management. And we feel that there are many people deliberately muddying the risk waters because of a combination of ideology and special interest. We have every right to point out that they have weaker credentials in science than those who are convinced on the basis of the forty year record and longer that the scientific community has been successively examining, year after year after year. That is how we make decisions in medical, in health, or in business. We operate on the basis of preponderance of evidence. The same thing must be done for the planetary life support system. That’s why it’s so important to understand who’s credible.

Some additional commentary on the Wall Street Journal/Rupert Murdoch disinformer fiasco:

Joe Romm at Climate Progress: In Must-Read WSJ Letter, 3 Dozen Top Climate Scientists Slam Murdoch’s 16 Posers: “Dentists Practicing Cardiology”

Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute, at Forbes: Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal

Chris Mooney at DeSmog Blog: In Which Climate “Skeptics” Drop the Lysenko Bomb. No, I’m Not Kidding….

Media Matters for America: WSJ Publishes Op-Ed By 16 Scientists — But Most Of Them Don’t Actually Conduct Climate Research

Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: The Wall Street 16 – Hapless Happer Leads Clueless Geriatrics in WSJ Fiasco

Andy Revkin at New York Times DotEarth: Scientists Challenging Climate Science Appear to Flunk Climate Economics 

Peter Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists:  Dismal Science at the Wall Street Journal

Greg Laden’s Blog

Michael Tobis, Planet 3.0 – Beyond Sustainability:  The Wall Street Journal, Again

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6 Responses to “Like dentists practicing cardiology” – Climate scientists respond to Wall Street Journal disinformer op-ed. When you’re talking about planetary life suppport, it really matters what your credentials are.

  1. Christopher says:

    While the WSJ signatories lack the best credentials, I still think it’s just difficult to believe that climate change could “end the world” as we know it (see http://tinyurl.com/3cxdouj & http://tinyurl.com/7yezx26).

    Reasonable estimates for temp. increase about about 3 C at the high end of this century, i.e., 90 years from now, which wouldn’t be good but it’s hardly the end of the world. Same with rising sea levels: reasonable prediction suggest a rise by the end of the century that will be more than manageable.

    More to the point, if you’re really worried about the end of the world, it can easily happen, and not in 90 years but in less than 90 minutes. In 30 minutes in fact.

    20 years after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the end of the cold war, 1000s of multi-megaton thermonuclear weapons remain on high alert. The chances of an accidental small or all out massive nuclear exchange are far from zero and we’ve had several very close calls w/in the last 50 years, the most serious in 1994 when Yeltsin actually had to open his nuclear football to enter launch release codes before they figured out that the missile their early warning radar was tracking was carrying a weather station into space.

    Today, the U.S. & Russia have a combined strategic nuclear force of about 3000 on each side, not counting reserves after a first strike or retaliation. An attack with just two 1-megaton nuclear warheads would unleash explosive power equivalent to that caused by all the bombs used during World War II. Today, there’s over 6000 on high alert, and most of these weapons are at least 1-2 megton, many are in the 5-10 megaton range (designed to obliterate large cities, e.g., NYC, Chicago, etc., and kill 10 million people in quarter of a second).

    http://www.nucleardarkness.org works through the consequences of even a small exchange. Where as climate change predicts, at worst, a 2-3 C rise in global temp. over the coming century, a small nuclear exchange would drop global temps of at least that w/in 24 hours. An out all exchange would drop temps by up to 10 C. Basically, this will be a man made ice-age, and it would only take a few hours to create it, killing 100s of millions in the process and ending both civilization and history w/in the same time frame. Oh, radioactive fallout would blanket much of the planet.

    Steven Starr, senior scientist with Physicians for Social Responsibility, said research makes clear the environmental consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear war: “If these weapons are detonated in the large cities of either of their nations, they will cause such catastrophic damage to the global environment that the Earth will become virtually uninhabitable for most humans and many other complex forms of life.” And it would only take 24 hours to create these conditions.

    Climate change has nothing on accidental or deliberate nuclear war.

    Why haven’t we had an accidental exchange? We’ve been lucky, many times, but if you keep doing something dangerous, sooner or later, your luck runs out. We need to de-alert these massive weapon systems now. We need serious disarmament now. Those of us old enough to remember the cold war days . . . climate change is a problem but hardly the end of the world . . .

    • Rick - Climate Science Watch says:

      We’ll post this one, but in general we don’t put up comments that don’t seriously address the topic of the post and that veer off into unrelated topics. Nothing in the climate scientists’ letter to the Wall Street Journal talks about “the end of the world” or the “end of the world as we know it,” so you’re starting with a straw man, then dismissing it superficially. Nor does anything in the post compare the likelihood or relative destructiveness of global climatic disruption and nuclear war. If you think a 3 degrees C or more of increase in global average surface temperature, or centuries of sea level rise, especially at anything like the upper end of the projected range, along with a wide range of additional projected impacts of climatic disruption, could not present an extraordinarily large problem for society and the global environment, you need to do some more homework.

  2. Christopher says:

    Thanks for publishing the comment. I certainty do think the planet is warming. This issue is polarized, however, with one saying CC is bunk and the other saying the end is near. Those of us in the middle see it as cause for concern, but CC is not something that can end the world now or in the future or even do serious damage (as far as the data goes, at least so far). Bjørn Lomborg has done a lot to rationally rank order the problems we face in terms of seriousness and importance, and CC isn’t at the top. In fact, the court of public opinion, the alarmism has far more hurt than helped the ’cause:’ http://tinyurl.com/82qjew7. The nuclear war scenario was my attempt to put CC into some sort of rational perspective for all the extreme alarmists out there.

  3. I think the best solution anyone can hope for has been put forth by Roger Pielke (http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/) in his book “Climate Fix:” http://www.amazon.com/Climate-Fix-Scientists-Politicians-Warming/dp/0465020526/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328319634&sr=8-1

    The gist is that there is no way in hell the world is going to reduce carbon emissions enough to “stop” or even significantly slow down global warming (as recommended by the most extreme models). The cost is far to high and China and south east Asia just will not do it. It’s like Nancy Reagan’s solution for the (at the time) AIDS crisis: total abstinence — it just wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t happen.

    Pielke puts forth a very practical realistic plan — his rational, of course, is that CC/GW is not an imminent catastrophe. If he’s wrong, if the alarmist are right, then we’re probably screwed because whatever the solution is going to be, it’s probably not going to be more radical that what Pielke suggests, so I guess we better hope and pray those extreme models aren’t correct, at least until stronger evidence for an imminent catastrophe comes along.

    He’s given some talks on his book starting here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHgKicMiiZk

  4. Pingback: Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’ « The Mormon Organon

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