The George C. Marshall Institute has published a reply to the book, “Merchants of Doubt”, which is just another vehicle for the usual “ad hominem” accusations from Warmists. Such accusations are of no scholarly or scientific worth but non-scholars sometimes are influenced by them so some reply is needed. Below is a summary of the full reply which the Institute has circulated by email. The full reply is available here.
If anybody is vulnerable to “ad hominem” accusations, Naomi Oreskes, one of the authors of “Merchants of Doubt” is. She is a history professor in her early ’50s who got an absurd paper published in a major journal which reported UNANIMOUS support for man-made global warming among scientists. See here for one commentary on the dishonest way she arrived at that finding. So let me pay Naomi in her own coin: She is a dishonest political hack — and ugly too
Replete with half-truths and mischaracterizations, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book besmirches the reputations of three great American scientists to silence dissent within the ranks of scientists and stifle debate among policy makers about how to respond to global warming. Their message is both anti-science and anti-democratic. Whether the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is desirable or not is irrelevant, the merits of their scholarship and its implications are clear.
Predictably, they create a tobacco strawman and knock it down to set the tone of a grand conspiracy to harm the public. Specifically, the work overstates the linkage between Dr. Seitz, a past president of the National Academy of Science – the nation’s most senior scientific establishment, and a past president of a leading biomedical institution, the Rockefeller University in New York City, and R.J. Reynolds. Yes, Seitz helped establish an advisory committee to direct a research and development program upon his retirement as president of Rockefeller. Why? Because Reynolds and Rockefeller University (as well as the Rockefeller family) had a long-standing relationship and it was an opportunity to provide input into a multi-million dollar program in basic medical and human health research. Seitz assembled a team of eminent health scientists to provide insight and advice. What did the research contribute? A Nobel Prize, for one, while others included studies of the effect of renin on blood pressure, factors affecting cell development, and contributors to arterial sclerosis.
The very documents Oreskes and Conway cite to build the tobacco strawman reveal that Seitz and his colleagues did nothing more than direct an advanced research program. The underlying citations state the Seitz-led research program was independent of Reynolds and conducted by scientists and scientific institutions of the highest regard. Other than asserting guilt by association, Oreskes and Conway present no evidence that Seitz and his many colleagues were participants in some grand conspiracy. That conspiracy exists only in their minds.
Next Oreskes and Conway claim Seitz and the George C. Marshall Institute wrongly defended the creation of a ballistic missile defense. Yes, Seitz and his colleagues, Dr. Robert Jastrow and Dr. William Nierenberg, believed it was morally repugnant to allow citizens to stand defenseless before the prospect of nuclear annihilation as an intentional U.S. government policy. Construction of a defense was technically possible and would enhance the security of the United States, they believed. Others didn’t and the debates across the foreign policy and scientific establishments were as charged and vociferous as any seen before or since. The facts are: the Soviet Union fell, President Reagan’s advocacy of missile defense was part of the equation contributing to their fall, the emerging missile defense offers the prospect of security against rogue states and terrorists for whom traditional deterrence likely fails, and a world where nuclear weapons were rendered obsolete (Dr. Jastrow’s 1983 book outlines steps toward this end) remains a goal of presidents of both political parties.
Next comes the charge that Seitz et al engaged in personal attacks on prominent climate scientists in hopes of fostering doubt about whether humans were causing global warming. If Oreskes or Conway had bothered to speak with anyone who actually knew or worked with these men, they would have quickly learned that they were men of principle, motivated by concerns about the erosion of scientific literacy and dangers of manipulation of science for political ends arising from that erosion. What caused them to look at climate change science? Curiosity about the scientific basis of claims of apocalyptic global warming and worry about the implications that political leaders would draw from potentially inflated claims. Each had decorated scientific careers and each had been leaders of world-class scientific institutions and participants on government-sponsored scientific panels. Jastrow was a professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth and founder of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Nierenberg was the head of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Each had considerable experience working at the nexus of science and public policy and understood the role that scientific information played in shaping policy and political outcomes.
Oreskes and Conway claim an opposition to government regulation motivated the Institute’s founders’ positions on climate change. Speculating about what Drs. Jastrow, Seitz, and Nierenberg felt about global warming is unnecessary as they clearly described their concerns, “If the changes in our atmosphere are likely to cause consequences, we must understand the problems and promote sensible policies to remedy them. What would be unwise is to lapse into apocalyptic thinking or ostrichlike denial. We believe ourselves far more sophisticated, more enlightened, than preceding generations. Until we can calmly and objectively approach our environmental challenges without promoting public hysteria and exciting short-sighted, self-interested reaction, we cannot claim that we are.” (Scientific Perspectives on the Greenhouse Problem, Jameson Books, 1990: 92-93).
In fact, their work is remarkably prescient. Writing 20 years ago, Seitz, Jastrow and Nierenberg identified the critical variables affecting estimates of temperature and man’s impact of climate that remain the central focus of the scientific debate today. They were: adjustments for uncertainty in the temperature observations (the quality of the surface temperature record has been shown to be in question); the effect of the ocean thermal lag (the role of the oceans and the movement of heat and carbon dioxide in the oceans remains an area of active study); adjustments for natural variability (our understanding of the natural patterns of Earth’s climate is still under development); and procedures for estimating 21st century warming (a process based entirely on computer models and forecasts which have known limitations).
For its part, the Marshall Institute is not a “merchant of doubt.” Our long-held position is simple – take action on climate change commensurate with the state of knowledge and have that action be flexible so it can adjust as our understanding of man’s impact on the climate changes. Do we oppose cap-and-trade or Kyoto Protocol like policies? Yes. They are expensive and will yield little environmental return. Do we propose actions to take? Yes. Did Oreskes and Conway bother to inquire about them? No.
Oreskes and Conway’s work is the latest in a long line of one-sided, fear mongering pseudo-exposes whose purpose is to incite and intimidate. Readers are left with a clear message –Doubt and dissent are dangerous and scientists that question the conventional view of climate change are corrupt charlatans in the pocket of industry. Doubt and dissent are cornerstones of the advancement of knowledge and the scientific process.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here