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Ron Bailey Comes Clean:

Science writer Ronald Bailey, a longtime skeptic about whether global warming presents an apocalyptic threat, responds to charges that he and other climate "skeptics" are nothing more than paid stooges for evil corporations. As Ron notes, his longtime skepticism of the climate threat can not be explained by his financial interest.

if corporate shilling doesn't explain my stubborn skepticism about global warming, what does? Looking back over my reporting on the issue, I would argue the consistent theme is my reliance on temperature datasets as a way to either validate or invalidate the projections of computer climate models. Up until the last year or so, the satellite data and weather balloon data pointed to relatively modest global warming much below the trends predicted by most climate models. If those trends were correct then there was no imminent "planetary emergency." When the trends were shown to be incorrect last year, I "converted" into a global warmer. . . .

And then there is also the matter of my intellectual commitments. We all have them. Since I work for a self-described libertarian magazine that should indicate to even the dimmest reader that I tend to have a healthy skepticism of government "solutions" to problems, including government solutions to environmental problems. I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization. That's because I believe that the overwhelming balance of the evidence shows that centralized top-down regulation tends to be costly, slow, often ineffective, and highly politicized. As a skeptic of government action, I had hoped that the scientific evidence would lead to the conclusion that global warming would not be much of a problem, so that humanity could avoid the messy and highly politicized process of deciding what to do about it. Unhappily, I now believe that balance of evidence shows that global warming could well be a significant problem. . . .

So I didn't get any stacks of $20 dollar bills in brown paper bags from ExxonMobil (don't believe any photoshopped pictures you may see to the contrary). I also don't think that I was duped by paid-off scientists. Except for climatologist Robert Balling, as the embedded links above show, the sleuths at Exxonsecrets have uncovered no payments to the scientists I chiefly relied upon in my reporting over the years. But was I too skeptical, demanding too much evidence or ignoring evidence that cut against what I wanted to believe? Perhaps. In hindsight I can only plead that there is no magic formula for deciding when enough evidence has accumulated that a fair-minded person must change his or her mind on a controversial scientific issue. With regard to global warming it finally did for me in the last year. That was far too late for many and still too early for others. . . .

So then not a whore, just virtuously wrong. Looking to the future, I can't promise that my reporting will always be right (no reporter can, but I will strive to make it so), but my reporting has always been honest and I promise that it always will be.

54 Comments
Godwin's Law and Global Warming:

Roger Pielke Jr. has had enough of comparisons between global warming skeptics and holocaust deniers.

Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is meant to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". As such the phrase conjurs up a symbolic allusion fully intended to equate questioning of climate change with questioning of the Holocaust.

Let's be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let those who would make such an allusion instead be absolutely explicit about their assertion of moral equivalency between Holocaust deniers and those that they criticize.

This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system.

Let's declare a moratorium on the phrases "climate change denier" and "climate change denial." Let's invoke the equivalent of Godwin's Law in discourse on climate policy. Maybe call it the Prometheus Principle.

No more invocation of "climate change deniers."

Pielke could further add that the allusion is meant to pillory those with dissenting views. Like other forms of ad hominem attack, it assails the individuals, not their arguments. It is also inapt in many cases, as many so-called "climate change deniers" accept that human activity is contributing to climate change. What they dispute is that such effects are necessarily catastrophic and/or that it makes sense to adopt proposed emission control schemes.

UPDATE: Speaking of holocaust analogies in the climate policy debate, a few weeks back Dave Roberts of Grist claimed the global warming "denial industry" should be subject to Nuremberg-style war crimes prosecutions:

When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards -- some sort of climate Nuremberg.
Yesterday Roberts half-heartedly acknowledged his rhetoric might have been a little bit excessive:
Surely we can agree that global warming denialists, while not "as bad" as Holocaust deniers, are nonetheless really damn bad.

Nuremberg trials? Eh, whatever. Sue me for rhetorical excess. But let's not forget that a moral crime is taking place under our noses, and nothing is to be gained by being polite about it.

Today, however, Roberts retracted teh remarks:
There are people and institutions knowingly disseminating falsehoods and distortions about global warming. They deserve to be held publicly accountable.

As to what shape that accountability would take, my analogy to the Nuremberg trials was woefully inappropriate -- nay, stupid. I retract it wholeheartedly.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Roberts Reconsiders Nuremberg Analogy:
  2. Godwin's Law and Global Warming:
  3. Ron Bailey Comes Clean:
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Roberts Reconsiders Nuremberg Analogy:

Grist's David Roberts has concluded it was wrong to suggest Nuremberg-like trials for climate change deniers. He gives three reasons:

First off, never violate Godwin's Law. It's a law for a reason.

Two, the Nuremberg trials resulted in executions. I'm opposed to state-sanctioned execution in all cases, but would certainly never advocate it merely for the crime of being a lying scumbag.

Third — and more to the point — Nuremberg was primarily about prosecution and punishment. I'm not a particularly vindictive person, and I'm not that interested in retribution. What I'm interested in is the truth: that the truth be aired; that those who have lied own up to it and be held accountable; that those who suffered as a result of the lies be allowed to tell their stories.

For these reasons, a far better analogy for what I had in mind would have been South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or perhaps what the Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

Roberts continues, noting that his larger concern is the notion of truth in public debate:
The public is losing hold of the notion that there can be such thing as "the truth." They're coming to accept that there is our truth and their truth, and no way of weighing them against one another. In that atmosphere, persuasion falls by the wayside, and only the raw struggle for political power remains. Epistemology becomes ideology. That is precisely what the leadership of the modern American right wing wants.

That's what I most resent: not the lies themselves, but the concerted effort to derogate all sources of independent, verifiable information — to derogate the very possibility of such information. The attacks on science, the attacks on the media, it's all part of the same project.

Given these comments, I assume Roberts will do his best to eliminate ad hominem attacks from the pages of Grist in the future. For instance, scientific claims will be evaluated on their merits, and not on their sources of funding. If so — and the example is followed elsewhere — this would be a signficant step forward in public discussions over environmental risks.

In a related vein, the comment thread to Roger Pielke's post that initiated this discussion indicates that the phrase "climate change denial" was intended (at least by some) to draw a parallel to holocaust denial. (See John A.'s 10/12 comment at 3:25pm and Roger Pielke's 10/12 comment at 8:44pm).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Roberts Reconsiders Nuremberg Analogy:
  2. Godwin's Law and Global Warming:
  3. Ron Bailey Comes Clean:
32 Comments