Popular Science reviews denialists’ war on climate scientists


“How had a small band of non-scientists managed to so quickly and thoroughly  pursuade the nation’s leaders to reject an ever more coherent and definitive body of scientific evidence?” asks Popular Science magazine, in “The Battle Over Climate Science.” This solid and detailed article looks at Sen. James Inhofe, Myron Ebell, Steve Milloy, the Heartland Institute, and online global warming denialist aggression.  Michael Mann is front and center, talking about the much-needed pushback from the climate science community. Ben Santer, Katherine Hayhoe, and others are quoted.  We talked with the reporter about how climate change denialism in Washington politics leads to attacks on climate-related research and program budgets and federal agencies shying away from describing their budget requests in terms of climate change. 

The Battle Over Climate Science – Climate scientists routinely face death threats, hate mail, nuisance lawsuits and political attacks. How much worse can it get? By Tom Clynes, Popular Science, posted 06.21.2012

It’s a long piece. Two extracts:

For the many scientists who consider themselves both political conservatives and supporters of the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change, ideology and party affiliation provide little shelter from attacks and harassment. Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, a political conservative and an evangelical Christian. In 2007, Terry Maple, the co-author of Newt Gingrich’s  forthcoming book on environmental entrepreneurship, asked her to write a chapter reviewing the scientific facts surrounding climate change. For most of his political career, Gingrich championed the virtues of science, but last year, while campaigning in the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped Hayhoe’s chapter after Rush Limbaugh discovered her contribution and ridiculed her as a “climate babe.”

“Nice to hear that Gingrich is tossing my climate chapter in the trash,” Hayhoe tweeted on hearing the news. “100+ unpaid hours I could’ve spent playing w[ith] my baby . . .” The day after Hayhoe’s tweet, the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a conservative think tank, announced that it had filed a FOIA request with Texas Tech University “relating to collaboration on a book, using public time and resources.” The ATI’s paperwork referred to Hayhoe as a “climate activist.”

“I can delete the death threats and the e-mail I got calling me a ‘Nazi bitch whore climatebecile,’ ” Hayhoe says, “but responding to nuisance lawsuits and investigations takes up enormous amounts of time that could be better spent teaching, mentoring, researching, doing my job.” …

“When I get an e-mail that mentions my child and a guillotine,” Hayhoe says, “I sometimes want to pull a blanket over my head. The intent of all this is to discourage scientists. As a woman and a mother, I have to say that sometimes it does achieve its goal. There are many times when I wonder if it’s worth it.”

With scientists reluctant to speak out (and drowned out when they do), skeptics have had more room to attack climate-research programs. Last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives made a unanimous decision to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse-gas pollution threatens public health. Texas representative Ralph Hall, the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, along with 10 of his Republican colleagues, also called for budget cuts and program terminations that directly targeted climate-science research, efforts to curb emissions, and preparations for climate-change impact at the National Science Foundation, the EPA and the Department of Energy.

Although many of the cuts were undone in the Senate, funding for climate-related programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not fare as well. After launching an investigation into NOAA’s attempts to reorganize its climate services into a single unit, Hall successfully pushed through legislation to cut the agency’s climate-research funding by 20 percent, forcing it to cancel research grants.

“Now government agencies and researchers are doing anything to keep the word ‘climate’ out of their budgets and proposals,” we told the reporter. “And this at a time when all agencies need to be thinking about how the nation will be affected by climate change and factor it into their planning.”


Just as in the rest of the country, belief in human-caused climate change in Oklahoma has been rising with the thermometer—according to Krosnick, a large majority of Inhofe’s constituents now believe that anthropogenic global warming is real. I ask Inhofe if he’s noticed any climate changes in his home state, such as last summer’s unprecedented heat and severe drought, withering crops, wild fires and dramatically expanded tornado season. “There’s not been any warming,” he snaps. “And there’s actually been a little bit of cooling. It’s all documented. Look at the Dust Bowl. Back then it was a lot hotter. Matter of fact, now they say the hottest time was actually during that time—1934, I guess.”

Actually, last summer’s average temperature of 86.9˚ was the highest ever recorded in Oklahoma. And last spring’s drought, when hundreds of farmers abandoned livestock they could no longer manage to feed or water, was the worst since 1921.

Many of the scientists I’ve spoken with say that no single act of harassment or intimidation has stung more than Inhofe’s “list of 17,” the call for the congressional investigation of prominent climate scientists. Mann, I tell Inhofe, said it “smacked of modern-day McCarthyism.”

“I’m not the guy that called for investigations, I don’t think,” Inhofe says. He quickly glances at his communications director, Matt Dempsey. “Did I ever call for investigations?” I study Inhofe’s face for a clue as to whether he’s joking—he brags about the episode in his book. It’s clear that he is not. Dempsey nods at his boss. “Okay,” Inhofe says. “Maybe right after Climate Gate, I said they need to be investigated.”

The room is nearly empty when I ask Inhofe, finally, if he could imagine the possibility, however remote, that science could provide any amount or type of evidence that could convince him that human-caused climate change could be real. The senator darts an impatient look at his watch, and his handlers rise. It’s clear that the interview is coming to an end. “When people like you ask that question,” Inhofe says, “I can tell you believe it.”

And a last word from Mike Mann:

Scientists are starting to fight back…. “We have a responsibility to the scientific community to not allow those looking to discredit us to be successful,” Mann says. “What they’re going to see is that they’ve awakened a sleeping bear. We will counterpunch.”

Earlier posts:

Global Warming Denial Machine category archive

Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists category archive

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

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

Virginia Supreme Court tosses out AG Cuccinelli inquisition on Michael Mann

In defense of academic freedom against denialist FOIA inquisition tactics

Washington Post editorial: Resist denialist ‘freedom of information’ harassment of climate change scientists

Interview with Michael Mann on the Penn State Final Report and the war on climate scientists

Michael Mann in Washington Post op-ed: “Get the anti-science bent out of politics”

Inspector General’s review of stolen emails confirms no evidence of wrong-doing by NOAA climate scientists

NSF IG report on Michael Mann investigation: “No research misconduct. Case closed.” Don’t bother telling Rick Perry.

Leading US climate scientists are being subjected to a barrage of right-wing lunatic hate mail

Denialist Morano on scientists: “Rejoicing that their entire careers are getting pissed on”

“Cyber bullying” and Congressional inquisition aim to chill the work of climate scientists

Straight talk from Kevin Trenberth on denialists, climate science communication, and climate change policy

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

Climate scientists form rapid response media team to counter denialist claims

PEER adopts the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

Pacific Institute reinstates Peter Gleick after Heartland Institute incident

Leaked Heartland Institute documents include plan for climate disinformation curriculum in schools

General Motors pulls funding from Heartland Institute; Heartland responds

Even denialist Rep. Sensenbrenner recoiled at loathsome Heartland Institute Unabomber global warming billboard

Thanks to State Farm insurance for dropping the Heartland Institute

Deep Climate investigation of denialist and “skeptic” attack on Hockey Stick temperature record

A review of the climate science stolen email controversy, with a few lessons for the future

Debunking ‘Climategate’

Stephen Schneider: Climate Denier Gate a case of Science as a Contact Sport

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Associated Press, FactCheck.org, and other sources

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Nature, AAAS, AMS, Union of Concerned Scientists

Sensenbrenner IPCC witch-hunt: Attempt to blacklist climate scientists must be rejected

Rep. Sensenbrenner projects “fascism” and “fraud” onto scientists, is rebutted at hearing

Ben Santer: Open letter to the climate science community

The “Vanishing” National Climate Change Assessment, Part 1: The Administration

“This report will be attacked” – Statement to the National Climate Assessment committee

“Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America”

“The Inquisition of Climate Science” takes down the denialists

Talking at Power Shift 2011 about how to deal with climate change denialists

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4 Responses to Popular Science reviews denialists’ war on climate scientists

  1. mk says:

    The comments section on that article display the usual tragic ignorance, lack of logic and intelligence, and intellectual dishonesty of the denier crowd. Each of their claims is individually readily refuted, and has been repeately, but none of that gets through their collective Gish gallup.

  2. Tony Loman says:

    I agree with MK. I have been a PopSci subscriber for many, many years. This is not the first time they have published on climate change and environmental/resource issues but this entire edition was superb, and I immediately wrote a letter to the editors praising them. Then I went to the on-line article on the denialist’s war and read the comments, and whoa!, how disappointing. Looks like the same small group that goes berserk whenever Scientific American or other less technical science mags publish anything on this topic–authoritarian, closed minded and unwilling even to consider alternatives. Rational and evidence-based arguments do not work with these minds but I think their comments need to be answered because for every person like this writing a comment there are many other more open-minded individuals who read their comments and wonder whether they are correct or incorrect.

  3. Jim C. says:

    Many people recognize that Republicans have been punks for decades, but now they’re truly evil punks. Their lack of respect for nature has life-threatening consequences and goes far beyond “agree to disagree.” They deserve no polite handling anymore.

    There ought to be a heavily advertised, nationally televised debate between right-wing shills and renowned scientists who can speak in ways that get attention. The debate would need to draw a large viewership and become a must-see event. Stage it on a Sunday night, maybe, with no sports interfering. Paul Ehrlich isn’t an official climatologist, but I’ve always liked his stark delivery. He’d be good on the panel. Someone who’s not meek needs to shut up these mindless right-wingers on a public stage, and none too soon.

  4. g kaplan, MD says:

    WE must educate all about climate change or the consequences will be catastrophic.

    Earth Is Headed for Disaster,
    Interdisciplinary Team of 105 World Academies of Sciences Concludes

    The Global Network of Science Academies (IAP),association of National Academies of Science, released a statement on population and consumption, which cites population growth and unsustainable consumption, is the root cause of precipitous destabilization of society threatening the future of the world within 20 years.

    http://www.interacademies.net/File.aspx?id=19193 .

    Published in Journal Nature: June 6, 2012

    Our big problems are due to shortages in:
    infant and child mortality
    climate change

    The root cause of all:
    Sex education, access to contraception and protected sex are the answers. Let’s invest in this, and we will prosper as a world community. The alternative is a PERFECT STORM of shortages, that will take civilization to a halt by 2020

    Do the math:

    in 1800 the USA had 23 million people, now 311 million
    in 1800 the World had 1 billion people, now 7 billion
    Each time we consume natural resources, we destroy the environment, pollute
    and expel CO2. It is that simple.

    TODAY, 3 new people are born for each one that dies. But in about 20 years, as we have reached earth’s tipping point of sustainability, the death tolls will be exponential
    Overpopulation is causing climate changes, destroying lives, crops and habitats for all, NASA chief reports this week
    “We are now experiencing this scientific fact,” Hansen told the Associated Press in an interview.
    G Kaplan, MD, President,

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