[Please post your response to Tierney’s column here.]

Science advisor pick John Holdren gets global warming. Although he is wildly overqualified for the job compared to anybody a GOP President has named in recent memory — heck, Holdren was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — the deniers and delayers have their knives out.

NYT “science writer” John Tierney has assembled critiques from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Bjorn Lomborg, and Roger Pielke, Jr., in one of his classic science articles disinformation screeds, “Flawed Science Advice for Obama?” The first thing to say is that if Tierney, Pielke, Lomborg, and CEI all disagree with you on any point related to climate, energy, or science, you can sleep soundly knowing with 100% certainty you are right.

Lomborg and Pielke are probably the two most debunked non-deniers in the world — though in fact Lomborg is a denier-equivalent and Pielke is a delayer-equivalent, as I’ll discuss below. And it is perhaps telling that Tierney — a non-scientist — did not manage to find a single scientist to quote dissing Holdren.

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Tierney is easily the worst science writer at any major media outlet in the country. Pretty much every energy or climate piece he writes is riddled with errors and far-right ideology, including this one.

Amazingly, Tierney quotes CEI attacking Holdren. Now CEI is itself probably one of the top five anti-scientific think tanks in the country. It has taken $2 million of ExxonMobil money in the past decade to run an anti-science disinformation campaign with ads that claim the ice sheets are gaining mass when they are losing it and ending with the absurdist and suicidal tag line, “CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!” And those are only some of their ads aimed at destroying the climate for centuries.

No reputable science journalist would quote CEI’s opinion on science or climate issues. Worse, guess who he quotes?

At OpenMarket.org, the Competitive Enterprise Institute blog, Chris Horner criticizes the reported Holdren appointment and suggests that Dr. Holdren got in to the National Academy of Sciences through a “back door.”

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Now I don’t feel so bad that Horner called me a “climate thug.” Asides from his apparently congenital pettiness (“back door”?), Horner is a master of pushing long-debunked denier talking points, stating as recently as April 2005, “the atmosphere inarguably shows no appreciable warming in the 25-year history of satellite and radiosonde measurements (initiated in response to the cooling panic).” Amazing how “inarguable” denier claims turn out not only to be arguable but scientifically disprovable.

No reputable journalist — indeed, no rational blogger — would quote Chris Horner in support of an argument on science or climate.

But then Tierney himself is hell-bent on using his NYT column to actively push his own brand of climate disinformation whose ultimate end can only be the self-destruction of humanity. He shockingly writes in his column attacking Holdren:

Dr. Holdren is certainly entitled to his views, but what concerns me is his tendency to conflate the science of climate change with prescriptions to cut greenhouse emissions. Even if most climate scientists agree on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, that doesn’t imply that the best way to deal with the problem is through drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions. There are other ways to cope, and there’s no “scientific consensus” on which path looks best.

No, no, and no. For a detailed discussion of precisely how suicidal this view is, see “Hadley Center study warns of “catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path.”

Yeah, Tierney, we can “cope” with 5-7°C warming — much as the citizens of New Orleans “coped” with Katrina. Although I don’t like the word “consensus” as used here, there is in fact an unbelievably strong agreement among climate scientists and the overwhelming majority of independent energy analysts (such as the IEA) that we must have drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophe.

If he wants to pretend to be a science writer, Tierney should at least read what most people call the scientific consensus on climate change (see “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly“).

Tierney is apparently suggesting that because there is some argument over whether our target should be 350 ppm or 450 ppm or, for a dwindling few, maybe 550 ppm — all of which require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — he can throw up his hands and say nobody knows what the hell we should do.

[Note: Tierney’s view here is indistinguishable from CEI’s view here, namely that scientists are only allowed to diagnose the problem. If they propose a solution, then they are stepping over the boundary into politics and must be trashed. This is, of course, Roger Pielke’s raison d’être, as discussed below.]

The fact that the NYT gives a science column to someone who wrote a paragraph so ignorant of science boggles the mind.

Tierney, of course, has much more nonsense to peddle. He actually open his attack on Holdren saying, “Does being spectacularly wrong about a major issue in your field of expertise hurt your chances of becoming the presidential science advisor?” Yes, Holdren was wrong and made a stupid bet … 28 years ago! Tierney is spectacularly wrong every time he writes a column, yet nobody seems to blink over that.

Tierney then cites Holdren’s critique of Lomborg as evidence again Holdren. Seriously. Lomborg is someone who also actively opposes any significant effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now — and thus he is also hell-bent on humanity’s self-destruction. Lomborg pretends that he believes in climate science, but his arguments are indistinguishable from those of climate deniers. I’m going to call him a denier-eq, since he is equivalent to a denier in his messaging, much as other greenhouse gases can be normalized to be equivalent to CO2 in their climate forcing (see “Lomborg skewers the facts, again” and Debunking Bjørn Lomborg — Part I and Part II and Part III.)

No attack on a scientist in the political realm would be complete without quoting the ever-debunked Pielke:

Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics,” discussed Dr. Holdren’s conflation of science and politics in a post on the Prometheus blog:

“The notion that science tells us what to do leads Holdren to appeal to authority to suggest that not only are his scientific views correct, but because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views.”

Actually if you’ve ever heard or read Holdren, you know that first and foremost he appeals to the actual overwhelming scientific evidence and detailed scientific understanding of the climate system. But Holdren was making a very specific argument in an op-ed that both Pielke and Tierney attacks. Let me reprint it here to show how anti-scientific they both are — and because it is a piece well worth reading even if Holdren were not going to be Obama’s science advisor:

THE FEW climate-change “skeptics” with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.

Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you’re wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, “Climate isn’t changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.”)

Then they tell you you’re right but it doesn’t matter. (“OK, it’s changing and humans are playing a role, but it won’t do much harm.”) Finally, they tell you it matters but it’s too late to do anything about it. (“Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it’s too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we’ll just have to hunker down and suffer.”)

All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun’s output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven’t even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:

  • The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action.
  • This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.
  • All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.

US polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions. (Senator Barack Obama’s position is similar.)

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed – and continues to delay – the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.

Holdren was not, as Pielke spins it, making an “appeal to authority to suggest that not only are his scientific views correct, but because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views.” He was making a scientific argument and then, since this is a short Op-Ed and the public is not in a position to adjudicate scientific arguments, was making a pretty standard argument to show that the theory of human-caused global warming is in the mainstream of scientific views, whereas the deniers are not. But the NYT‘s Revkin did give Holdren the chance to elaborate on his Op-Ed, which he does here (reprinted below).

And what does Pielke mean by saying “because his scientific views are correct, then so too are his political views”? This op-ed is almost entirely about Holdren’s scientific views. What political views are Holdren pushing — “early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions”?

Is Pielke, like Tierney and CEI, attacking anybody who proposes early and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as pushing their political views on the public?

Pielke has previously taken great umbrage when I have called him a Delayer, but in fact Pielke absolutely refuses to detail the specific policies he would embrace to stabilize at concentrations he says are needed (roughly 450 ppm). Yet he attacks any scientist who does specify those policies as “political” and hence untrustworthy and out of the mainstream — even if they are a widely recognized expert on both climate science and energy technology like Holdren:

If you are a scientist, then you have to figure out what you think about the relation of science in policy and politics. If you think that science compels political outcomes then you will follow the lead of John Holdren. If you think that science does not compel political outcomes, then you’ll follow the lead of Robert Lackey. But you do have to choose.

My advice? See what scholars of science in policy and politics have to say about this question, and make an informed decision. One of these distinguished scientists has views consistent with the consensus view of relevant experts, and one does not.

In other words, all you climate scientists out there who are thinking about telling the public that we need early and deep cuts greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophe — shut the hell up about those “political outcomes” because the consensus of the “scholars of science in policy and politics” (i.e. Pielke) says so.

No, I’m not making this up. Pielke is appealing to consensus while attacking Holdren for doing the same thing!

Pielke is a Delayer-eq, he is equivalent to a Delayer because he attacks any and all scientists who propose not delaying. Indeed, perhaps a better term is Delayer10F-eq, since if all the world’s scientists actually listened to Pielke, then we would certainly stay on our business as usual path on which 10°F warming is “likely” by 2100.

As for Tierney, he trashes Holdren’s op-ed by selectively quoting it:

Dr. Holdren’s resistance to dissenting views was also on display earlier this year in an article asserting that climate skeptics are “dangerous.”

Tierney includes the hyperlink, but his expertise on all matters science apparently does not include the realization that the people might click on the link and read what Holdren actually wrote:

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous.

It is unfounded skepticism about climate disruption that is dangerous. Duh! Tierney’s column itself is proof of that. If we listen to Tierney or any of the non-scientists he quotes that diss Holdren, then we would almost inevitably end up with catastrophic warming of 5°C to 7°C. And if that isn’t dangerous, well, then Tierney is a legitimate science reporter after all.

Here is Holdren’s expanded Op-ed with links:

Climate-Change Skeptics Revisited, by John P. Holdren

I did not expect that my op-ed in Monday’s Boston Globe, to which the editors gave the title “Convincing the Climate-Change Skeptics”, would actually convince many skeptics. It was aimed more at reinforcing the resolve of the majority in the public and the policy-making community who, betting on the scientific consensus, are ready to move forward with a serious approach to dealing with the problem but are being slowed down by the ill-founded skepticism of a minority. That is why my own title for the piece was “Climate-Change Skeptics Are Dangerously Wrong”.

I am being castigated by many respondents for resorting to reference to authority rather then providing substantive responses to the specific arguments of climate-change deniers. I suggest that this criticism is in part based on a misunderstanding of what is possible within the length constraint of an op-ed piece. The “top ten” arguments employed by the relatively few deniers with credentials in any aspect of climate-change science (which arguments include “the sun is doing it”, “Earth’s climate was changing before there were people here”, “climate is changing on Mars but there are no SUVs there”, “the Earth hasn’t been warming since 1998″, “thermometer records showing heating are contaminated by the urban-heat-island effect”, “satellite measurements show cooling rather than warming”) have all been shown in the serious scientific literature to be wrong or irrelevant, but explaining their defects requires at least a paragraph or two for each one.

This cannot be done in the 700 words of an op-ed piece. But there are plenty of other forums where it can be…and has been. Persuasive refutations are readily available not only at a high scientific level in (among others) the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc.ch), the UN Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development (unfoundation.org/SEG/), the US National Academy of Sciences (dels.nas.edu/globalchange), the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (ucar.edu), and the UK Meteorological Office (met-office.gov.uk) — as well as on a myriad of websites run by serious climatologists (e.g., columbia.edu/~jeh1/, stephenschneider.stanford.edu, realclimate.org ) — but also in a form boiled down for the intelligent layperson by organizations skilled in scientific communication, such as the BBC (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/7074601.stm) , the New Scientist magazine (http://environment.newscientist.com/climatemyths), and the promising new Climate Central organization (climatecentral.org) featuring The Weather Channel’s climatologist, Heidi Cullen. Any skeptic who actually wants to know what’s wrong with the standard deniers’ arguments can easily find out.

I provided all the above-mentioned references and more in a longer essay on climate-change skepticism that I wrote in June in response to requests for an explanation of the apparent continuing influence of deniers in the U.S. policy process, and from which I abstracted the op-ed I submitted to The Globe. The references wouldn’t fit within the op-ed word limit without losing too much else that I thought needed to be said.

Even more regrettably, I agreed to a further shortening of what I submitted by the editors at The Globe. I regret agreeing to it because it’s clear (from the responses I’m receiving) that the resulting omission of a sentence about the value of skepticism in science left the impression that I am unaware of the positive role that healthy skepticism has played in the scientific enterprise over the centuries. The omitted sentence was in the middle of a passage that in the original read as follows (omission italicized):

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. We should really call them “deniers” rather than “skeptics”, because they are giving the venerable tradition of skepticism a bad name. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

As my original reference to “the venerable tradition of skepticism” indicates, I am in fact well aware of its valuable and indeed fundamental role in the practice of science. Skeptical views, clearly stated and soundly based, tend to promote healthy re-examination of premises, additional ways to test hypotheses and theories, and refinement of explanations and arguments. And it does happen from time to time — although less often than most casual observers suppose — that views initially held only by skeptics end up overturning and replacing what had been the “mainstream” view.

Appreciation for this positive role of scientific skepticism, however, should not lead to uncritical embrace of the deplorable practices characterizing what much of has been masquerading as appropriate skepticism in the climate-science domain. These practices include refusal to acknowledge the existence of large bodies of relevant evidence (such as the proposition that there is no basis for implicating carbon dioxide in the global-average temperature increases observed over the past century); the relentless recycling of arguments in public forums that have long since been persuasively discredited in the scientific literature (such as the attribution of the observed global temperature trends to urban-heat island effects or artifacts of statistical method); the pernicious suggestion that not knowing everything about a phenomenon (such as the role of cloudiness in a warming world) is the same as knowing nothing about it; and the attribution of the views of thousands of members of the mainstream climate-science community to “mass hysteria” or deliberate propagation of a “hoax”.

The purveying of propositions like these by a few scientists who do or should know better –and their parroting by amateur skeptics who lack the scientific background or the motivation to figure out what’s wrong with them — are what I was inveighing against in the op-ed and will continue to inveigh against. The activities of these folks, whether witting in the case of the scientists or unwitting in the case of their gullible adherents, have nothing to do with respectable scientific skepticism.

It also needs to be understood by publics and policy makers alike that, while it can never be guaranteed that a mainstream scientific position will not be overturned by new data or insight, the likelihood of this occurring gets smaller as the size and coherence of the body of data and analysis supporting the mainstream position get larger. The lines of evidence and analysis supporting the mainstream position on climate change are diverse and robust — embracing a huge body of direct measurements by a variety of methods in a wealth of locations on the Earth’s surface and from space, solid understanding of the basic physics governing how energy flow in the atmosphere interacts with greenhouse gases, insights derived from the reconstruction of causes and consequences of millions of years of natural climatic variations, and the results of computer models that are increasingly capable of reproducing the main features of Earth’s climate with and without human influences.

The public and the policy makers who are supposed to act on the public’s behalf are constantly having to make choices in the absence of complete certainty about threats and outcomes. If they are smart, they make those choices on the basis of judgments about probability: Which position is more likely to be right? On climate change, the probability is high that the scientific mainstream is right about its main conclusions, even if all the details are not yet pinned down. Those main conclusions are that climate is changing in ways unusual against the backdrop of natural variability; that human activities are responsible for most of this unusual change; that significant harm to human well-being is already occurring as a result; and that far larger — perhaps catastrophic — damages will ensue if serious remedial action is not started soon.

The rationale for calling the attention of the public and policy makers — the audiences for an op-ed — to the number, diversity, and distinction of scientists and scientific organizations embracing these conclusions is to inform them of the extent to which this is the view of the most qualified people and groups that have studied the matter. Given the unavoidable fact that most people do not have the training (or the time) to reach an independent conclusion on a scientific matter of this kind, knowing where most of the people who do have the training and who have taken the time come down on the matter is the best guide available on where the public and its policy makers should place their bets.

Hear, hear.

Tierney ends his one-sided, non-scientific and anti-scientific smear, asking disingenuously, “What kind of White House science advisor you think Dr. Holdren would make?” (sic)

That’s easy — he’ll be one of the best of all time.

“What kind of White House science advisor you think Dr. Holdren would make?” Post your answer here.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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