James Taylor's deceptive attempt to discredit National Climate Assessment experts

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In a new Forbes op-ed, James Taylor denigrates the validity of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) on the grounds that seven of its directors have past connections to groups he considers to be biased. His accusations are thoroughly misleading and dishonest in that they ignore the great extent, diversity, and stature of NCA authors and the consensus nature of the NCA process.

The following is a guest post by Climate Nexus (in PDF format here).

JAMES TAYLOR’S DECEPTIVE ATTEMPT

TO DISCREDIT NCA EXPERTS

In a new Forbes op-ed, James Taylor denigrates the validity of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) on the grounds that seven of its directors have past connections to groups he considers to be biased. His accusations are thoroughly misleading and dishonest in that they ignore the great extent, diversity, and stature of NCA authors and the consensus nature of the NCA process. 

The claim:

Taylor calls attention to the top 13 scientists on the NCA Development and Advisory Committee. He lists seven of them as having past connections to what he calls “environmental activist groups,” namely the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and Second Nature. He uses these connections as grounds to dismiss the entire assessment report as “a farcical group of agenda-driven activists… passed off as authoritative science.” 

The context:

- The 13 scientists that Taylor mentions compose the Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Executive Secretariat (full list). These are just a small fraction of the high-ranking scientists involved in the NCA. The Development and Advisory Committee alone contains an additional 32 committee members, and the report itself has over 240 lead authors (full list).

- By design, the leaders of the NCA represent a variety of backgrounds, including those from green groups, but also from business, industry, consulting, and academia. The report is the result of a consensus between all of these diverse voices.

- The seven scientists that Taylor criticizes are all leaders in their fields, with thousands of papers between them published in the top peer-reviewed journals. Their connections to nonprofits are of a scientific nature and do not invalidate their significant body of work.

- If Taylor believes that connection to an agenda-driven non-profit destroys the authority of a speaker, he should first look to himself. He is a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute, an organization self-described as promoting free-market solutions for social and economic problems. The Heartland Institute has been credited with climate change denial efforts such as the now-notorious billboard campaign comparing those who believe in climate change to serial killers like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson.

The facts:

NCA’s Executive Secretariat incorporates many scientists with conservative or corporate backgrounds of which a free-market advocate like Taylor would approve. All are high-ranking voices that fully participate in the NCA consensus process. For example:

-   Sharon Hays, who served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Bush administration.

-   David Gustafson, who is currently a senior fellow at the major agribusiness, Monsanto.

-   Lindene Patton, who is currently Chief Climate Product Officer for reinsurance giant Zurich Financial Services.

The Advisory Committee contains more such representatives, most notably:

-   Arthur Lee, who is a Chevron Fellow at Chevron Services Company.

-   Jan Dell, who is a Vice President in the Energy and Water Division of engineering and construction company CH2M HILL.

Furthermore, the “activist connections” that Taylor criticizes are so tenuous as to be absurd. The scientists involved in NCA are established experts and as such are frequently consulted on scientific questions by many different groups. This is not the same as advocacy for a group. For example:

-   Chairman Jerry Melillo assisted UCS with a regional climate impacts report. He was invited to review the report based on his expertise in climate science, not to be a spokesperson for the report or UCS itself.

-   Vice-Chair Gary Yohe’s “involvement” with the WWF was as a reviewer to the Climate Witness interview series. His role was to give his professional judgment on whether the scenarios described in the interviews were representative of global climate change. This was science-based and not a promotion of the WWF.

Overall, the NCA has long stated its goals of facilitating an inclusive, broad-based process for communicating the state of scientific knowledge. It achieves this through a large, robust, consensus process featuring top experts with a wide variety of backgrounds.

*    *    *

Earlier Climate Science Watch posts:

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

Draft U.S. National Climate Assessment report released for public review

Release of National Climate Assessment review draft: Roundup of media coverage

New National Climate Assessment draft report a reminder of the first NCA and the Bush White House denial machine

 

This entry was posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Global Warming Denial Machine. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to James Taylor's deceptive attempt to discredit National Climate Assessment experts

  1. Anne says:

    It should be stated right up front that James M. Taylor, lawyer and Heartland Sr. Fellow and serious bullpucky specialist, bears no relationship whatsoever, except by name, to James V. Taylor: famous musician, avid lifetime champion of environmental causes, Carly Simon's ex-husband, and an active supporter of President Obama's presidential campaigns who sang at this year's inauguration. It took me just a little too many seconds to realize that we hadn't entered an alternate reality!

  2. Forest says:

    The twisted thinking of groups like Heartland is intentionally designed to cast doubt on science in order to facilitate and focus acquisition of wealth into the hands of a few. This is sociopathic thinking at its best.

    The welfare of "others", including the long term health of the planet, is never a consideration. These organizations and their spokesman need to be called out at every opportunity. Well done in this instance.

  3. Brian says:

    I just finished reading the 2013 draft NCA report. It has a lot of good information. But knowing there may be alternative motives from these panels of climate scientists could change my views. There will always be political motives on these panels no matter what. We can't use this as an excuse though to deny climate change. It is happening no matter who is on these panels.

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