Credibility up in smoke

by John Quiggin on April 23, 2006

Among the scientists taking a public position sceptical of global warming, Richard Lindzen has always seemed the most credible. Unlike nearly all “sceptics”, he’s a real climate scientist who has done significant research on climate change, and, also unlike most of them, there’s no* evidence that he has a partisan or financial axe to grind. His view that the evidence on climate change is insufficient to include that the observed increase in temperature is due to human activity therefore seems like one that should be taken seriously.

Or it would do if it were not for a 2001 Newsweek interview (no good link available, but Google a sentence or two and you can find it) What’s interesting here is not the (now somewhat out of date) statement of Lindzen’s views on climate change, but the following paragraph

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Anyone who could draw this conclusion in the light of the evidence, and act on it as Lindzen has done, is clearly useless as a source of advice on any issue involving the analysis of statistical evidence.

Now with added irony Lindzen argues that we should be equally sceptical about both climate change and the link between smoking and cancer, but his argument can just as easily be turned around. If you accept Lindzen’s ‘impeccably logical’ view that the two arguments are comparable, you reach the conclusion that the link between human activity and climate change is now so well-established that it makes about as much sense to doubt it as to doubt the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, that is, no sense at all.

A notable fact about the professional climate sceptics is that many of them (Singer, Seitz, Milloy and so on), are also paid advocates for the tobacco industry, there’s no* evidence to suggest that Lindzen is acting from mercenary motives. It appears that he’s just an irresponsible contrarian as a matter of temperament.

Hat tips to Tim Lambert and Eli Rabett

*Update Well, not much. Sourcewatch reports allegations that Lindzen was consulting for oil and coal interests in the early 1990s, but I haven’t seen anything more recent than this.

{ 86 comments }

1

bryan 04.23.06 at 3:07 am

“Lindzen’s case enables us to draw the conclusion that the link between human activity and climate change is now so well-established that it would make us much sense as to doubt the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, that is, no sense at all.”

WHAT!?!?

Although I believe both these things are happening and the above statement must be meant ironically, I think your delivery of it lacks the nuance that would establish irony as the context.

2

Brandon Berg 04.23.06 at 3:57 am

Never attribute to irony that which can be explained by incompetent typing.

3

T. Scrivener 04.23.06 at 4:19 am

“Lindzen’s case enables us to draw the conclusion that the link between human activity and climate change is now so well-established that it would make us much sense as to doubt the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, that is, no sense at all.”

True conclusion, bad argument.

4

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 5:00 am

OK guys, I’ve turned up the irony a bit. See how you like it.

5

Inigo Jones 04.23.06 at 5:06 am

Isn’t this an argumentum ad hominem? Holding an indefensible stance on the smoking/cancer issue should not automatically exclude him as a credible source on other matters. What thinker or scientist, now seen in the flattering light of their verified theories – Newton comes to mind – did not also at some point hold screw-ball views on different issues?

6

joel turnipseed 04.23.06 at 5:17 am

I don’t know… the irony-meter was clicking pretty furiously first go-round for me, but maybe I’m due for a calibration?

Still, I wonder if one difficulty with this is the difference between a behavior that is self-destructive and one that is mutually destructive? That is, the price to be paid for smoking is (more or less: I’ll leave the second-hand smoke issue aside for the moment) a personal choice issue (however obviously a bad one) and the global warming issue is one that will see us all on the wrong side of our collective behavior.

Which is to say: it is one thing to be willfully iconoclastic–a kind of iconoclasm I’m partial towards championing, actually (will the last proud smoker please stand up and take a bow in defiance–or better yet, just plain give us the finger) & another thing altogether to be a complete asshole to the rest of the world (SUV drivers first in line for global approbation).

I realize, of course, that this attitude strikes a teetering balance between the old-line Progressive thinking that gave us, say, Prohibition & the New Left personal liberation=global salvation muddle-think. But such is the dilemma I inhabit…

To the main point, however, I can only agree: shoddy thinking under any guise is a sad thing to behold–and easily turned against itself (cf. Plato’s Theaetetus).

7

marcel 04.23.06 at 7:29 am

John: In the first sentence of the paragraph (that I think) you added, Now with added irony Lindzen argues that we should be equally about both climate change and the link between smoking and cancer, but his argument can just as easily be turned around, it appears that you dropped a word. Skeptical? credulous? Outraged? Pleased? My money is on one of the first two.

I do like the wording of the title.

8

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 7:38 am

Thanks marcel. As you conjectured, the missing word was “sceptical”.

I’ll get this one right in the end.

9

Slocum 04.23.06 at 8:48 am

I worry about how all this works. Because climate science is esoteric and complex, lay persons are forced to rely on experts. One side wins the argument and convinces the laity by assembling a strong majority of experts. We would hope this comes about because that majority of experts reach the same conclusions based on independent assessments of the evidence.

To a layperson, the more it appears that politics, intimidation, and groupthink are part of the process of assembling that majority, the less impressive and convincing that majority seems. For that reason, I think that it is absolutely crucial that climate change proponents be scrupulously fair and respectful in debating skeptics–addressing their arguments and avoiding ad-hominem and cui bono attempts to discredit.

The ‘full-court press’ method of establishing expert consenus by making it a career killer to express skepticism may work in the sense of creating that expert majority but the cost is that the kinds of arguments that Lindzen makes here then will resonate with the public:

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008220

It may prove entirely possible to assemble that expert supermajority and have the voting public not find that majority compelling (which seems to describe current trends).

10

Seth Finkelstein 04.23.06 at 9:34 am

slocum (#8) – The problem is that when there are lying corrupt slavering hacks-for-hire, someone, somewhere, in the whole universe, is going to cut loose at them in frustration, and say “You are a lying corrupt slavering hack-for hire”. It’ll happen. It’s a big world out there.

The Mighty Wurlitzer will then swing into action, crying “Help, help, we’re being oppressed!”. Decorum has been violated. Thought-Control, Orthodoxy, Lysenko!

I think it’s just a choice of which argument one would like to have – either berate the liars, or berate the honest people for calling out the liars. And that’s no choice at all.

11

eudoxis 04.23.06 at 9:57 am

[Lindzen will] even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking.

Does anybody have a quote of what Lindzen actually said about lung cancer and cigarette smoking? The tobaccodocument.org archive just highlights some general quotes from Lindzen unrelated to lung cancer or cigarettes.

Is there any evidence that Lindzen is paid by the tobacco industry? Guilt by association?

The worst of it: Lindzen smokes.

Kerry Emanuel recently had an article in Nature showing a correlation between the rising sea surface temperatures and an increase in tropical storm intensities over the past 30 years.

Emanuel explains to Mark Hertsgaard about the connection between global warming and hurricane Katrina for the May issue of Vanity Fair.

“It’s a bit like saying, ‘My grandmother died of lung cancer, and she smoked for the last 20 years of her life—smoking killed her,'” explains Kerry Emanuel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied hurricanes for 20 years. “Well, the problem is, there are an awful lot of people who die of lung cancer who never smoked. There are a lot of people who smoked all their lives and die of something else. So all you can say, even [though] the evidence statistically is clear connecting lung cancer to smoking, is that [the grandmother] upped her probability.”

The use of the smoking-lung cancer link metaphor is most apt because it is an example of a probabalistic link most people can correctly relate to.

12

eudoxis 04.23.06 at 10:04 am

“You are a lying corrupt slavering hack-for hire.”

CT readers are so easy.

13

jet 04.23.06 at 10:04 am

Is a discount rate of 5% a fair number for the world economy over the next 50 years? If so, then we’d need Al Gore levels of harm done from Global Warming before doing something about it makes sense. And as we all know, Al Gore is an assclown.

14

Barry 04.23.06 at 10:23 am

jet, please stop projecting.

15

jet 04.23.06 at 10:40 am

Heh, so Al Gore says that this is a realistic scenario for Global Warming and I’m the assclown. Idiots like Al Gore and the people who support him are why Bush got reelected, if you don’t recall.

16

KCinDC 04.23.06 at 10:55 am

The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (the group Philip Morris founded to discredit secondhand-smoking studies, which then moved into other areas of “junk science”) did attempt to recruit Lindzen, but I haven’t found that he joined them.

17

Matt Weiner 04.23.06 at 11:17 am

Jet, where did Al Gore say that that was a realistic scenario for global warming? He’s quoted as saying, “I do want to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the movie…to talk about what the real issues are,” which rather sounds as though he doesn’t think the movie itself addresses the real issues per se.

In re ad hominem: It’s not fallacious to say “Person X holds a crazy view on this subject p, so we have reason to discount his opinion on related subject q [in this case, the analysis of statistical evidence].”

18

jet 04.23.06 at 11:34 am

Matt, if I use the word assclown, I’m being flippant (so much context lost in text). But I do recall Gore on tv looking pissed and shouting how Global Warming would kill us all if we didn’t implement Kyoto or some other horseshit.

As for the ad hominem, you are right. A scientist/data analyst who looks at the data linking lung cancer to smoking and then discounts it probably doesn’t have much ethos left when it comes to his not-so-1337 analysis skilz.

19

Matt Weiner 04.23.06 at 11:48 am

Global Warming would kill us all if we didn’t implement Kyoto or some other horseshit.

Well, I think that it’s not obviously horseshit to think Global Warming –> melting of Antarctic ice shelves –> lots and lots of flooding and other Bad Things. Also the redirection of the Gulf Stream seems like a possibility and a dire one. But this is where the real debate is, over consequences and what measures might be required to stop them.

20

Slocum 04.23.06 at 11:53 am

slocum (#8) – The problem is that when there are lying corrupt slavering hacks-for-hire, someone, somewhere, in the whole universe, is going to cut loose at them in frustration, and say “You are a lying corrupt slavering hack-for hire”. It’ll happen. It’s a big world out there.

Well, the problem is not that ‘someone, somewhere, in the whole universe’ cuts loose but that ‘cutting loose’ and trying to tar dissenters as ‘corrupt, slavering hacks-for-hire’ seems to be too common a response.

I think for example of the Bjorn Lomborg / Scientific American dispute, for example. Scientific American published a Lomborg ‘hit issue’ and then had their lawyers threaten him for copyright violations for issuing point-by-point rebuttals on his web site. Even if (perhaps especially if) you think Lomborg is wrong, I would argue that sort of thuggish attack is stupid and counterproductive.

21

Ajax 04.23.06 at 12:41 pm

So now global warming, also, is the fault of smokers?!!

22

c 04.23.06 at 12:50 pm

Slocum I think you’ll find the full Lomborg reply AT THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN WEBSITE http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00000B96-9517-1CDA-B4A8809EC588EEDF

Complaining about “corrupt, slavering..” in the same post that uses “thuggish” is hypocrisy.

I do find it interesting that an administration that invades countries and tortures chicken farmers on the off-chance that they represent a threat turns all skeptical over catastrophic climate change.

23

Uncle Kvetch 04.23.06 at 1:34 pm

I do find it interesting that an administration that invades countries and tortures chicken farmers on the off-chance that they represent a threat turns all skeptical over catastrophic climate change.

Not to mention that people who express little to no concern over a war of choice costing $1 trillion (so far) go apoplectic over the fact that complying Kyoto will cost money.

24

Slocum 04.23.06 at 2:15 pm

Slocum I think you’ll find the full Lomborg reply AT THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN WEBSITE

Yes, that was how the dispute was ultimately settled–Lomborg was eventually allowed to respond in SciAm itself (some months after the initial issue, IIRC), but SciAm’s initial response was to threaten legal action and force Lomborg to pull his rebuttal off his web site. It’s quite easy to find a history of this via google, so there’s no real point in trying to airbrush it.

Complaining about “corrupt, slavering..” in the same post that uses “thuggish” is hypocrisy.

I think ‘thuggish’ is a reasonable description of SciAm’s use legal threats to stifle Lomborg’s rebuttal–do you really disagree?

But my point was not to re-fight the Lomborg/SciAm dispute but to argue that attempting to discredit and intimidate dissenters is inherently counterproductive. I would argue that the Scientific American special issue was less effective in it’s goal because of the heavy-handedness than it might have been otherwise.

If the general public becomes convinced (or even strongly suspects) that a consensus in favor of climate change is as much political as scientific and is being produced (even in part) by the silencing or intimidation of dissenters, the political mandate to address climate change will not be forthcoming. Ad hominem attacks do as much damage to the side employing them as they do to the targets.

25

jet 04.23.06 at 2:31 pm

C,
That article in Scientific American proves the opposite point you think it does. Lomborg was allowed one fucking page, while his attackers were initially allowed 11 pages plus all the following attacks that appeared in Thuggish Groupthink American Scientific American. The first 11 page attack was pure horseshit also. It was petty character assassination coupled with sniping attacks on minor errors, which Lomborg quickly corrected (these errors also had zero effect on his overall thesis).

The “Right” can always look back on that 11 page piece as strong evidence of how the scientific community will react to criticism. Lomborg may have been wrong, but that 11 page article didn’t do a damn thing to prove it.

To prove my point that Lomborg is being thuggishly attacked by groupthinking assholes, how about his Copenhagen Consensus being attacked for not using a

26

jet 04.23.06 at 2:32 pm

0% discount rate on the world economy, and thus placing Global Warming as “only” the 10th most important use of money rather than 1st. The fellow scientist while under the thumb of the evil Lomborg all agreed that Climate Change wasn’t as important as say stopping aids and malaria, solving nutrient deficiencies, or helping developing nations gain trade access to developed nations. But once they were out into the “freethinking” scientific community, where certainly no pressure was applied to their careers, several cried that “evil” Lomborg forced their names to the document, and of course Climate Change should be placed before supplying clean drinking water to people who live on less than $1/day.

27

albert 04.23.06 at 2:53 pm

Oh Jet! The false tradeoff again, because we were just about to fix global poverty before these global warming people got to us weren’t we.

28

jet 04.23.06 at 3:04 pm

Albert,
So you don’t disagree 600+ pages of the Copenhagen Consensus argueing about priorities, only the preface that says we should order what would give us the best return on a hypothectical extra $50 billion? Forgive me if I just can’t see where you are coming from. Becuase for some reason it kind of makes sense that someone did an in deapth study on what would give the world the most bang for their buck in saving human lives. Perhaps you should contemplate what all this arguement over Climate Change does to the arguement of how much we should spend fighting malaria in S. Asia and Africa. And it is a trade off on how large the attention span of the public is. There is only room for a very limited number of world crisis stories in the news. Google news has a (crappy) date range tool, but it is good enough to show that African malaria stories don’t spike at the same time Global Warming stories do.

But your kneejerk reaction is typical.

29

c 04.23.06 at 3:05 pm

No, jet, scroll down on the page whose link I provided and you will find “Lomborg’s detailed response to our article in PDF format” which clocks in at *32* pages.

Writing “fuck” and its derivatives is not a substitute for facts. I have no idea what you’re raving about in the rest of the post.

On fair use: http://gonzoengaged.blogspot.com/2002/02/per-denver-i-went-and-checked-out-prof.html

Slocum now retreats to another point, but still wants to have it both ways. Science requires critique. Blomborg’s book was critique. Others critiqued Blomborg, and I think you’ll find that the Scientific Am article carefully works through the evidence and argument. #24 is ultimately grounded in an argument about public perception, with of course slocum’s own perceptions being used as evidence of public perception, so you have a typical trollish tautology: they’re outraged because they’re right and right because they’re outraged, becuase ultimately all they have to say is that they ARE outraged and who can argue with that?

Other wingnut troll constants: any critique by a guy on your side is a brave exposition of the truth. Any critique of a guy on your side is a thuggish attempt to stifle the truth. If your guy happens to be in a tiny minority, why, that’s just evidence of how vast and effective the thuggish conspiracy to suppress the truth is. What did I miss — sprinkle in hard-boiled prose and obscenities, and make up weirdly hysterical straw-man arguments to rant against. Jet’s “evil” is a classic example — he’s not actually quoting from anything, just the strawman he’s assembled in his own mind.

30

jet 04.23.06 at 3:17 pm

C,
SA didn’t put up Lomborg’s full response until April 15th, after the Economist showed how fallacious the original 11 page hit piece on Lomborg was, and also not after they threatened Lomborg with lawsuits to keep him from posting his own reponses on his website.

31

jet 04.23.06 at 3:22 pm

C,
Have you even read the original 11 page article in SA? Have your read Lomborg’s response? Have you examined the points of contention in the SE? Do you have a clue wtf you are talking about, or are you just taking exception with my rhetorical technique?

32

Slocum 04.23.06 at 4:37 pm

Slocum now retreats to another point, but still wants to have it both ways. Science requires critique. Blomborg’s book was critique. Others critiqued Blomborg, and I think you’ll find that the Scientific Am article carefully works through the evidence and argument.

I’ve retreated to nowhere. I’ve made no claims on way or another about whether Lomborg or his critics were correct. Publishing an issue of SciAm criticizing ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ was not thuggish — but threatening legal action to try to prevent Lomborg from quickly and effectively responding to that criticism WAS thuggish. (And, IMHO, stupid and counterproductive).

33

albert 04.23.06 at 4:42 pm

Jet-

I’m not having the knee-jerk reaction here, projector.

Please see #23 for what we should do with this hypothetical $50 million dollars from the CC. Please note, this doesn’t mean I’m against all C-B-A, I just think the CC’s framing of the issue is a bit precious.

And I do take issue with your rhetorical technique. Shame on me for encouraging you to hijack the thread.

34

Jon H 04.23.06 at 5:14 pm

jet writes: “The fellow scientist while under the thumb of the evil Lomborg all agreed that Climate Change wasn’t as important as say stopping aids and malaria, solving nutrient deficiencies, or helping developing nations gain trade access to developed nations.”

Solving nutrient deficiencies will be made more difficult when climate change screws up weather patterns and growing seasons, so that formerly productive land becomes desert, or swamp, or is flooded with seawater.

Climate change will, however, arguably help the first world deal with developing nations, because a good number of developing nations will likely disappear under water. No more problem!

35

Jon H 04.23.06 at 5:19 pm

c writes: ” Science requires critique. Blomborg’s book was critique.”

Science requires scientific critique. Blomborg’s book was not a scientific critique, thus it is not particularly useful.

Any crank can get a book published, after all. That doesn’t mean the critique is well founded.

36

Jon H 04.23.06 at 5:32 pm

jet writes: “Perhaps you should contemplate what all this arguement over Climate Change does to the arguement of how much we should spend fighting malaria in S. Asia and Africa”

The difference is that climate change can be done in the developed countries, where corruption and other obstacles are not as prevalent. Indeed, much of the required work is technological, legislative, and regulatory. Create the necessity and the markets will come up with the technology to fulfill the necessity as economically as possible.

Furthermore, it won’t cost the government anything – the regulations create an impending huge market demand, which would pique the interest of venture capital firms and large corporations who want a piece of the new business.

For example, governments legislate tax law. They don’t also have to pay for the development of Turbo Tax and other accounting software. Companies do that on their own dime, in order to serve the demand created by the law.

This is a whole lot easier than trying to effect change in the corruption-riddled chaos of developing countries.

Realistically, if you took all the money the US spent on NASA progams since the 60s, and had instead spent it on the kinds of programs you think are a higher priority than climate change, there probably wouldn’t have been much of an improvement.

37

Jon H 04.23.06 at 5:50 pm

jet, there’s a story in Businessweek about the Bush administration cutting funding for efficiency-related programs.

Here’s something that caught my eye: “Setting efficiency standards for refrigerators alone is saving nearly $20 billion a year, the California Energy Commission estimates.”

That means $20 billion a year is being saved, which could potentially be spent on the “more important” issues like malaria, poverty, and AIDS.

I just don’t see how anyone could contend that climate-related efforts are mutually exclusive from dealing with other problems in the world.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if we’re spending all our money on energy, we aren’t spending that money on improving conditions in developing nations.

38

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 5:52 pm

We’ve discussed Lomborg at length here (start here and work back, or just search the site).

Shorter JQ: He’s a con artist

39

Slocum 04.23.06 at 6:23 pm

Shorter JQ: He’s a con artist

That seems rather strong given the linked entry. The Copenhagen consensus did not include climate change proposals less comprehensive than Kyoto that might have done better from a cost-benefit perspective? Well, OK, but what I’ve been reading about Kyoto from many proponents is that while it won’t achieve a great deal on its own, it is paving the way for stricter and more comprehensive measures to follow. So not including milder alternatives does not seem to me to be an obvious sign of bad faith.

40

am 04.23.06 at 6:50 pm

‘Unlike nearly all “sceptics”, he’s a real climate scientist …’

Thus spake John Quiggin, economist.

Or was that not the sort of irony we were meant to perceive?

And did you *really* believe that none of your readers were aware of the recent open letter to Stephen Harper? Sixty climate scientists there, John. It’s going to take a lot of postings for you and your co-religionists to be able to find a way of demonstrating that all those people are corrupted industry shills or loonies.

41

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 7:16 pm

“Sixty climate scientists there, John. “

Are you counting Ross McKitrick, environmental economist, as a climate scientist, am? Or Benny Peiser? Or David Wojick? Or the large number who list their job as “consultant” or “adjunct”? About half of those listed don’t seem to have any real scientific job. The list is here.

As far as I can tell, the signatories to the list include only three currently active climate scientists – Lindzen, Pat Michaels and Roy Spencer. Spencer is even more embarrassing than Lindzen as a sceptic, since he’s a creationist, but he also appears to be honest. Pat Michaels is worse – he’s a partisan hack, and his credibility has been shredded by the ludicrous errors in his joint work with McKitrick.

42

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 7:22 pm

Slocum, follow the links back, and you’ll find plenty more to support the conclusion that Lomborg is pulling a con job.

43

Barry 04.23.06 at 7:27 pm

“Oh Jet! The false tradeoff again, because we were just about to fix global poverty before these global warming people got to us weren’t we.”

Posted by albert ·

Albert, you’re being a bit soft – a ‘false tradeoff’ would be when somebody’s making a logical error; this sort of thing is better called a ‘fraudulent offer’.

44

anon 04.23.06 at 8:51 pm

Let’s see…solving the lack of malaria treatment vs. fixing global warming. Seems like on the one hand you need doctors, biologists, biochemists, public health experts, biotech companies. On the other hand climatologists, various types of engineers, economists, energy infrastructure companies. Completely interchangeable I’m sure. Probably we can only do one thing at a time.

Then there’s the fact that changing modes of energy use can cut waste, create new jobs, countervail the expenses of the development.

Wait, could we have another example of the false dichotomy?

45

jet 04.23.06 at 11:00 pm

“Shorter JQ: He’s a con artist”
What would Kyoto like expenditures cost the world at a 5% discount rate over the next 50 years?

Don’t answer as it may make you look like a con artist bashing Lomborg so you can hang with the cool kids.

46

jet 04.23.06 at 11:19 pm

Yeah, it is Lomborg who’s the con artist. He was certainly wrong that we won’t be lowering emmissions without Kyoto.

47

John Quiggin 04.23.06 at 11:39 pm

“What would Kyoto like expenditures cost the world at a 5% discount rate over the next 50 years?”

About 0.5 per cent of GDP annually, therefore about 0.5 per cent of the present value of GDP, whatever discount rate you use. See here for example. Money quote:

“All the studies project irreducible losses to the economy that are small (less than 1 percent of GDP in 2010 and 2020) in absolute magnitude”

“Don’t answer …”

Never ask a question you don’t want answered, jet

48

Tim Lambert 04.24.06 at 12:28 am

Another interesting feature of the “60 scientists” letter is that one of them has repudiated it, saying that he was misled into signing it, Link

49

Lee A. Arnold 04.24.06 at 1:39 am

Richard Lindzen’s recent article in the august and seemly op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal appears to be saying (A) that his own theories of climate are more valid than are given credit, (B) that he is being unfairly dealt with, and (C) in a way that may hurt his future funding. The only known fact is, the climate journals have not validated his “Iris” hypothesis. He also maintains a second, simultaneous rhetorical argument using three false assertions: (1) that climate alarmism is entirely unfounded, (2) that the vast bulk of the climatologists are alarmists, and (3) that alarmism is dangerous, because mitigation must lead to certain economic damage. (Here again, we find it in yet another article: Although it is a bottom-pivot, we are never given proof of this economic assertion.) Mr. Lindzen demonstrates his arguments by implication, indeed by allusive suggestion, using parallel anecdotes. We the readers are left to combine his two arguments and conclude that Mr. Lindzen, and the public interest, are being unjustly harmed in the bums’ rush to avoid a trumped-up, phony catastrophe.

Scientific American did NOT threaten to sue Bjorn Lomborg over his making a rebuttal, as was claimed by a commenter above, it threatened a copyright suit to prevent him from republishing their critical article on his website. Far from being thuggish, this was entirely appropriate — and probably very wise, given the final quality of Lomborg’s enormous rebuttal, because he is quite a logic-chopper, misleading himself and therefore others with an occasionally quite shallow understanding of the underlying scientific disciplines. The Scientific American critique demolished Lomborg’s scientific credibility; see it along with his entire rebuttal at

http://www.sciam.com/media/pdf/lomborgrebuttal.pdf

as well as Scientific American editor John Rennie’s detailed reply to Lomborg’s rebuttal, at

http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=00040A72-A95C-1CDA-B4A8809EC588EEDF

Any notion that The Economist knew what was going on, is laughable.

50

albert 04.24.06 at 1:47 am

Jet-

“He was certainly wrong that we won’t be lowering emmissions without Kyoto.”

If you’re going to offer a link to support your argument, you might want to verify that the article says ANTHING AT ALL about net emissions reductions, instead of you know, being a PR peice about how Whole Foods has bought into wind power.

51

Slocum 04.24.06 at 6:19 am

Scientific American did NOT threaten to sue Bjorn Lomborg over his making a rebuttal, as was claimed by a commenter above, it threatened a copyright suit to prevent him from republishing their critical article on his website. Far from being thuggish, this was entirely appropriate…

Lomborg ‘fisked’ the article with his rebuttal comments interspersed with the original text in the usual manner.

…and probably very wise, given the final quality of Lomborg’s enormous rebuttal, because he is quite a logic-chopper, misleading himself and therefore others.

In other words, the legal threats were not to protect SciAm’s financial interest in the copyrighted text but rather to try to suppress Lomborg’s detailed rebuttal because it might be ‘misleading’. Sorry — that is abusive and thuggish.

52

Ginger Yellow 04.24.06 at 8:58 am

It’s a side matter, Jet, but idiots like George Bush and the people who support him are the reason George Bush got reelected. It’s not a difficult point to grasp

53

jet 04.24.06 at 10:47 am

Albert,
The link was clear. They were buying wind power at $.07KWh. Natural gas costs $.05 more than that and coal/nuclear is only slightly cheaper. Wind is already cheaper than all the natural gas energy plants we have and will continue to come down in price. Just pointing out that when Lomborg said fossil fuels days were numbered and would be gone by 2050, he was probably wrong and they’ll be replaced earlier.

John Quiggin,
So at current GDP, and assuming we started Kyoto in 1998, it would cost $62 billion a year to implement Kyoto. And this will do almost nothing to stop Global Warming in the next 100 years. But if we invested that annual $62 billion, it would pay for a lot of environmental damage in 100 years (perhaps $150+ trillion worth). The US currently spends ~$2-3 billion on alternative fuel research, which we could increase by 20-30 times for the cost of Kyoto. If I’m going to support a tax on the energy market, then I want the money spent on R&D and not a 0 sum purchasing “carbon rights” from developing nations.

Lomborg is right.

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Elliott Oti 04.24.06 at 11:29 am

Jet wrote:
The US currently spends ~$2-3 billion on alternative fuel research, which we could increase by 20-30 times for the cost of Kyoto.

We could indeed. The results would probably be vastly preferable to the results of the Kyoto Accord.

The problem is it’s not happening.

The tragedy is not that people are too stupid to think of good environmental policies, the tragedy is that protocols like the Kyoto Accord are the best outcomes we can achieve after years of blood, sweat and tears in negotiations. It has taken a tremendous amount of effort to get massive compromises like the Kyoto Accords on the table – and even then many people still aren’t happy.

A better global strategy will need even more effort and momentum behind it than Kyoto or else it ain’t gonna happen. If Kyoto is ditched, I guarantee you nothing else is going to take its place. Certainly not annual $100 billion taxpayer-funded research into alternative energy, which has just about zero political momentum behind it.

On the other hand, think of the domino effect a succesfully implemented, if flawed, Kyoto will have on even better environmental proposals.

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cdunc 04.24.06 at 11:41 am

Could we get back to discussing Lindzen?

I’m curious: what are the strongest arguments against discounting his credibility as a climate scientist? His tobacco/cancer-skepticism is suggestive but there are surely better arguments. An earlier comment noted his “Iris Effect” theory has not been supported in the follow-up peer-reviewed literature. Any other examples like this? How seriously is he taken by his scientific peers and what are their reasons for/against taking him seriously?

I’m surprised too that no one has mentioned his links with oil industry, if Sourcewatch is to be trusted:

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Richard_Lindzen

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Lee A. Arnold 04.24.06 at 2:17 pm

On Richard LIndzen, see Wikipedia and links. Discussion of Lindzen’s very recent Wall Street Journal opinion has been going on at RealClimate.org, and in those posts and comments there are other links.

The defense here of Lomborg continues by using a contention that Lindzen recently used in that Wall St. J. piece: that other scientists, or Scientific American, quake and quiver in fear of the truth, and seek to suppress rebuttals of their quackery. This conspiracy theory doesn’t survive the very next test, which asks how that suppression would remain undiscovered. Lomborg’s entire rebuttal is out there, in fact Scientific American provides a pdf link to it. If you have already studied the science, go and read him: he hangs himself.

Those Scientific American pieces have provided the single best short judgement of The Skeptical Environmentalist: “what is good in it, isn’t new; and what is new in it, isn’t good.”

But from the evidence of recent U.S. opinion columns, the anti-science contrarians are hoping to hide their intellectual failures by falling back on the “suppression” reasoning wholesale — having nothing else to offer as to why their theories aren’t proven scientifically. It also fits snugly with hypothesis of evil motive: by suppression of the truth, the dastardly left is winning pecuniary disbursements from the public trough, to forward their pernicious ideas! On both suppression and its motive, no evidences are adduced, only conspiracy implied. We may expect to see these rhetorical tactics become more common, since they closely follow long-term U.S. political-rhetorical gibberish.

Kyoto: the agreement ENDS in 2012. It is meant to be entirely re-negotiated then. The contention that it will do nothing to stop global warming over the next 100 years is a rhetorical diversion, because it will not be in effect over that period. (The genuine estimate is that it will, by itself, have “minimal impact.” Everybody knew this.) The reason Kyoto seeks to penalize the U.S. is because the U.S. belches 25% of the total world carbon dioxide, and some of the people in the other countries are eating dirt tonight for dinner. George W. Bush’s father accepted that. The U.S. Senate should be ashamed of itself, but hey, that is nothing new.

As a process, not a goal, Kyoto is enormously valuable. Even some economists who have effectively criticized Kyoto are on record with the opinion that it is still a good first step in learning how to manage international relations at this extraordinary level of complexity. It would finally cost the U.S. very little or nothing to join because almost no other country is going to meet its target either, and it is practically unenforceable anyway. Instead, Kyoto has become another straw-man in the employ of the U.S. anti-science brigade.

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jet 04.24.06 at 2:45 pm

Arnold,
What is this supposed to mean “The reason Kyoto seeks to penalize the U.S. is because the U.S. belches 25% of the total world carbon dioxide, and some of the people in the other countries are eating dirt tonight for dinner…” ?

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Functional 04.24.06 at 2:58 pm

Quiggin: As far as I can tell, the signatories to the list include only three currently active climate scientists – Lindzen, Pat Michaels and Roy Spencer.

What’s your definition of “currently active climate scientist”? Why doesn’t it include (from the list): Ian Clark, Timothy Patterson, Cornelius van Kooten, Chris de Freitas, George Taylor, and William Kininmouth?

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Slocum 04.24.06 at 4:02 pm

This conspiracy theory doesn’t survive the very next test, which asks how that suppression would remain undiscovered. Lomborg’s entire rebuttal is out there, in fact Scientific American provides a pdf link to it. If you have already studied the science, go and read him: he hangs himself.

But that is my point. If it is true that Lomborg’s entire rebuttal constitutes a self-hanging, then it was incredibly effing stupid for SciAm to threaten legal action to suppress it–which they indisputably did do. If skeptics can be answered by argument and evidence rather than repression that is how they should be answered. Any other response (even if later reversed) creates a substantive foundation for the claim that the dispute is political rather than scientific. Which is why the right way to answer Lindzen is to argue substance rather than try to tar him as a tobacco shill.

As a process, not a goal, Kyoto is enormously valuable. Even some economists who have effectively criticized Kyoto are on record with the opinion that it is still a good first step in learning how to manage international relations at this extraordinary level of complexity. It would finally cost the U.S. very little or nothing to join because almost no other country is going to meet its target either, and it is practically unenforceable anyway. Instead, Kyoto has become another straw-man in the employ of the U.S. anti-science brigade.

OK, let me see if I’ve got this straight — as a proof-of-concept project, Kyoto is ‘enormously valuable’ even though hardly anybody is going to meet their targets (or write the checks necessary to buy credits to cover their excess emissions) and there is no enforcement mechanism? The U.S. should have joined because pretty much everybody is going to ignore their treaty obligations anyway?!? Should we assume that this will pave the way for future, more stringent agreements (that will likewise be ignored)?

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John Quiggin 04.24.06 at 4:14 pm

“Currently active climate scientists”
excludes geologists (Clark & Patterson) and people who’ve retired (Kininmonth). It’s not clear whether Taylor’s job involves significant research – he doesn’t have a PhD, so it seems unlikely.

I missed van Kooten and de Freitas, but the last of these is yet another embarrassment for the sceptical cause. See here.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.24.06 at 5:30 pm

What’s not to understand? The metaphors are exacting, the intentions cherubic, the inference clear.

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John Quiggin 04.24.06 at 7:40 pm

Actually, functional, you can scratch van Kooten. He’s an economist.

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Functional 04.24.06 at 9:21 pm

Clark’s and Patterson’s biographies both mention “paleoclimatology.” If you have the right to opine about climate science, why exactly are you trying to dismiss their opinions? Does paleoclimatology not count for anything?

Taylor may not have a PhD, but his bio seems to indicate that he is well-qualified to judge the state of the research. Dare I say it, at least as well-qualified as you are. Why do I get the feeling that you’re stacking the deck here? (“No one dissents from the most hysterical global warming scenarios out there.” “Oh? Actually, here are several qualified people who demur on one ground or another.” “Ah, they don’t count, because one is recently retired, and the other is only a paleoclimatologist (not a climatologist), etc., etc., etc.”)

What’s more: Freitas is an “embarrassment”? How? Is your link supposed to demonstrate that? All I see from the linked story is that Freitas helped process a controversial paper that disputed various global warming claims — even though none of the reviewers recommended rejection of the publication and the review process had been “properly conducted.”

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John Quiggin 04.24.06 at 9:38 pm

Functional, I’m an economist, not a climate scientist. I don’t put my name to public) statements about the science (as opposed to the economics) of climate change. I agree that quite a few of these people are as well qualified as I am to sign a letter of this kind; that is, they are not qualified.

If they choose to write blog posts on the topic, I won’t criticise them on the grounds of lack of credentials, but if people want to claim that this is a letter by “60 climate scientists”, as am did above, I’m pointing out that only a handful of the signatories actually meet that description, and that there are good reasons to doubt the credibility of that handful.

As against this, there are thousands of real climate scientists actually working on the topic and producing results that, taken together, provide overwhelming support for the conclusion that human activity is generating global warming.

65

Seth Finkelstein 04.24.06 at 10:07 pm

Folks, in case anyone is still reading, this thread is another proof of what you’re up against with the Mighty Wurlitzer. They will invent a claim of persecution, and whine it repeatedly, no matter what. Here’s what Scientific American really said:

“What Lomborg’s web site does not acknowledge, moreover, is that when we first pointed out the copyright infringement to him, we volunteered to put his entire response onto our web site, thus eliminating the copyright infringement problem. This posting will occur concurrently with our May issue. Scientific American has no interest in trying to stifle debate on this subject and has done nothing toward that end. We are disappointed that Lomborg or some of his supporters might have anyone think otherwise.”

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frankis 04.25.06 at 6:24 am

Well as these comments have been under sustained attack by Jet on one of his famous assclowning extravaganzas nothing’s going to stop me just cutting and pasting my own on-topic comments from JQ’s other secret site into this thread.

—-
Never mind mere drivel, two very recent quotes from Lindzen prove him a liar.

The latest was on April 12th with “… significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary”. http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=3711460e-bd5a-475d-a6be-4db87559d605
That is, if “we’d” known years back what “we” know today then an international treaty would likely not have been signed.

When some people, like Benny Peiser, sign statements such as that it may be because they’re simply out of their field, just singing along in harmony with people they admire. No need to attribute mendacity to them when delusion would suffice. For a scientist in the field like Lindzen though signing such makes him a liar as well as a fool. This is because six days earlier he’d whined to Wall St that he and his fellows can’t get published today because they won’t toe the consensus line on climate change: “… sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis”. http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008220

In short he claimed to speak for an international consensus position on 12th April, six days after having complained bitterly about how marginalized he and his bravely dissenting skeptic colleagues have been. He’s not in reality both marginalized and representative of a consensus position so it’s liar _and_ fool I’m afraid.

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Slocum 04.25.06 at 6:46 am

Folks, in case anyone is still reading, this thread is another proof of what you’re up against with the Mighty Wurlitzer. They will invent a claim of persecution, and whine it repeatedly, no matter what. Here’s what Scientific American really said:

Yeah–the Lomborg issue of SciAm was January 2002. SciAm offered to publish Lomborg’s short printed response and post his long, point-by-point rebuttal only in May (at which point, the impact would be significantly reduced). The point-by-point rebuttal could, of course, have been posted on the SciAm web site immediately (there’s no print-associated delay there) but, of course, SciAm does not say they offered to do that that. (But if I’m wrong, and SciAm offered to post Lomborg’s entire reply at the time they insisted he remove it from his own web site rather than months later, then I will agree that there was no harassment in the case).

The idea that SciAm was only worried about Lomborg’s fisking of their article hurting sales and that it had nothing to do with their publishing an issue that very forcefully took sides on a highly controversial issue … well reasonable people can differ on whether that is BS or not.

In general, the anti-Lomborg issue was a highly unusul exercise for Scientific American. In that case, for their own benefit, they should have bent over backwards to give Lomborg full freedom to respond, rather than harrass and try to delay it and give him a reason to cry foul (along precisely some of the same lines Lomborg had criticised environmental activists in his book). It was just stupid on Scientific American’s part.

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John Quiggin 04.25.06 at 7:05 am

Honestly, slocum, it’s a bit lame to be complaining about a delay of four months years after the event. Lindzen had a similar whinge on an unrelated publication delay in his WSJ piece. Unless these guys get instant satisfaction it’s “Help, help, I’m being repressed”.

You’d never for a moment think that they had access to a publicity machine lavishly funded by Exxon, the coal industry and (at least in Lomborg’s case) the Danish government.

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jet 04.25.06 at 9:30 am

John Quiggin,
The Danish government? You seem fully aware that Lomborg was under official government attack in Denmark until more than 2 years after his book was published. You also seem fully aware that the DCSD, after having been ordered by their minister to “provide specific statements on actual errors.” dropped their case (maybe because their case was built on two non-peer reviewed Scientific American articles[yes the articles Slocum and you are discussing, as you well know], while Lomborg’s book had been peer reviewed by the Cambridge press).

But there you are in comment 68 saying Lomborg had access to the Danish government as his personal spin machine. John Quiggin, you appear to contradict yourself.

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jet 04.25.06 at 9:35 am

Oh, and just to make sure anyone else still reading this knows, the DCSD actually tried to stop Lomborg’s book from being published. Shutting down publication of a controversial book, no, only a crazy person would think Lomborg was subject to “thuggish” behavior from environmentalists.

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Functional 04.25.06 at 10:07 am

Quiggin: Your doubt of Freitas’s credibility seems to be utterly baseless. At least it has no basis in the linked article. All you’ve shown is that Freitas, a skeptic, agreed to publish an article by another set of skeptics. Is that supposed to be even remotely surprising, let alone discrediting?

Besides, while another commenter here claimed that the 60 people were “climate scientists,” their actual letter merely claimed that they were “accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines.” This description seems perfectly defensible to me.

In any event, I think that you’re being a bit slippery here: “overwhelming support for the conclusion that human activity is generating global warming.”

From what I’ve seen: 1. Overwhelming support for the proposition that some modest warming has occurred.

2. Good support for the proposition that some of this warming is human-caused, but not 100% certainty about how much.

3. Is there a consensus on the proposition that human beings could take any realistic action that would truly slow or stop warming? This seems much less certain.

4. Is there a consensus on the proposition that human beings should take whatever action is necessary to stop global warming, rather than adapting to it (i.e., by Floridians migrating to Minnesota or North Dakota over the next few hundred years)? Again, I don’t see how anyone could even pretend that there is any certainty about this question.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.25.06 at 10:53 am

(1) Is 70 to 80% of the voting public any sort of consensus?

(2) The continuing complaint about Scientific American also does not make any sense on an additional account, since they are under no obligation to print anything, while you were under no inconvenience to find it: just a click of the mouse would take you to the posting at Lomborg’s own site, where he could easily revise and rewrite it to his heart’s content.

Also, please provide the evidence that Lomborg’s book at Cambridge Press was “peer reviewed” in climatology, energy studies, demography, and wildlife extinction biology.

The information being provided above about the Danish controversy over Lomborg’s book is misleading. The Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty acted after publication of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” and the DCSC decision was then overturned by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation because, among other reasons, (1) the book is not a scientific publication in the first place, so out of jurisdiction, and (2) it is not clear whether its distortion of statistical data was deliberate or not! (He must have gotten some good legal help!) On the web of course, you can now find out most of the real story yourself; e.g., the sordid tale is sketched at Wikipedia.

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jet 04.25.06 at 11:08 am

Arnold, are you blind or just simple. Could you not read 4 more sentences about how the DCSD didn’t bring any specific examples of their problems with him? And all your vaunted opinion of the subject is based on Quiggin and Wikipedia with no contact with the original source. Opinion like that is usually called “blather”.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.25.06 at 11:48 am

He was so egregious, they didn’t think they needed to. Their mistake. But they couldn’t prove it is a scientific book anyhow.

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jet 04.25.06 at 12:06 pm

Wow, and here you are privy to their notes and thoughts. Either that or you have been endowed with the power of ESPN and can read minds (while tuning in sports shows).

As for this “But they couldn’t prove it is a scientific book anyhow.”, while I don’t have my copy with me, I’m pretty sure he makes this claim himself. The book isn’t about his research. It is about commentary on other people’s research and what it means to the state of the world.

And has for “Their mistake.” Perhaps when a government funded scientific body wants to force a press to stop publishing a controversial book, having credible evidence against the book should probably be a requirement. Otherwise they might make themselves look like kneejerk thugs, enforcers of groupthink.

Poser.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.25.06 at 12:59 pm

By now reading this thread, even a simpleton will be privy to the obvious. I have my copy of Lomborg with me, on a foot-long section of the bookshelf devoted to unusable junk and/or outright propaganda in the sciences. His is not the only one, although it may be reaching A Record in Our Time for the most amount of gibberish produced in its defense.

Certainly reading the original source, The Skeptical Environmentalist, on a subject that you know about, is likely to prove that it should never have made it through the publication process. On wildlife extinction biology, of which I have studied a great deal, the book is wrong. And his rebuttal section to Scientific American’s critique of that chapter, finally destroys his intellectual credibility. He has little idea of the chain of inference in the study of extinction rates; is completely ignorant of the theory, evidence, and process of “extinction debt;” and calls Thomas Lovejoy’s statements thereon “almost farcial” [i.e, “farcical.”]

This is a very big mistake in science, or even in “making commentary about other people’s research and what it means to the state of the world.” We shall no doubt all be thanking him and you shortly, for these clarifications! Back in the real world, here Lomborg presumes to know more than an expert in a science, without learning that science, and moreover his knowledge is demonstrably false. I infer from the criticisms of others, a few of which I have followed quite carefully, that this mistake is multiplied throughout his efforts. And we are seeing this fatuous attitude in other people throughout popular debates on science everywhere, now. Why have we forgotten the fine example of Isaac Asimov? I won’t waste any more time on Lomborg. Intellectually, he cannot be trusted — and he is not the only one!

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jet 04.25.06 at 1:37 pm

Are you speaking about Mr.Shouldn’t-we-have-lost-20%-of-the-biota Lovejoy? Yeah, appropriate you bring him up on a thread about blown credibility.

And since you’ve finally alluded to having some first hand knowledge of that which you speak, I’ll go back over the criticims of his wildlife extinction chapter. Perhaps you can point to something extra besides what was listed in Scientific American?

“We shall no doubt all be thanking him and you shortly…”, With new wind turbine farms going up producing electricty at

78

jet 04.25.06 at 1:38 pm

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jet 04.25.06 at 1:39 pm

$.07KWh (which will continue to decline in price along with solar), yes I am thanking him for giving me a heads up 4 years ago, that while Climate Change was probably real (he only had 1999 data to go on), doing something like Kyoto about it was a waste. We are well on track to start curbing CO2 output without Kyoto-esque treaties.

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John Quiggin 04.25.06 at 3:21 pm

“All you’ve shown is that Freitas, a skeptic, agreed to publish an article by another set of skeptics. Is that supposed to be even remotely surprising, let alone discrediting?”

Actions of this kind don’t usually lead to mass resignations. In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing in economics, even though we are notoriously prone to disagreement (for example, over issues like the effectiveness or otherwise of Keynesian fiscal policy)>

It’s clear that most of those associated with the journal thought the article was substandard, and that Freitas’ actions in securing the publication such a piece by his ideological allies were unethical.

On the general point, I was responding to a claim in the comments thread that the signatories of the letter were climate scientists and you chose to jump in. I agree that the letter shows that 60 scientists (out of, say 60 million in the world if you include social scientists like Peiser and don’t require that they be actually working) are willing to put their names to something like this, and that this 60 includes a handful of climate scientists (four by my count, maybe eight to ten by yours) out of the thousands working on climate change.

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jet 04.25.06 at 3:39 pm

Arnold,
In the Scientific American response to Lomborg, where does Lovejoy make the points that show Lomborg was biasing the data? I reread it trying to see it from a anti-Lomborg point of view and just can’t find the slam-dunks against him. It was humorous and hard to miss Lovejoy make a claim that Lomborg ignored a particular subject and then Lomborg quote his book to refute him. But I’d really like you to point out the points that I’m missing.

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frankis 04.25.06 at 5:13 pm

Confess Jet – you are Blomberg are you not?

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jet 04.25.06 at 10:41 pm

Heh, me thinks Lomborg pwn3d the climate change chapter. Oh, and did I also mention I buy my electricity from a wind farm and pay ~$.0140KW/h less than regular grid power? I’ll have to admit Lomborg was a little conservative about how long it would take the free market to lower CO2 output without Kyoto-esque zero-sum treaties.

Wow, so renewable energy is in the first stages of becoming a major player in energy production. By 2020 it should be the dominant form of energy production, which will be convenient for the fleet of hydrogen cars that are expected to be online.

But don’t fear haters of progress, Malkin has a piece about new environmentalist groups ramping up to stop new wind power as it just enables, gasp, more growth. They are certainly taking new memberships.

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albert 04.26.06 at 12:59 am

Jet-

You, Whole Foods, and everyone else can buy their wind and solar at whatever premium or slight discount you want. It’s a huge (and bad) assumption that this is offset production. It’s not, it’s added production. And then, even if some of it is offset, the Jevons efficiency paradox sets in and leads to a slowing (or full-out reversal) of the decline curve. Are you claiming that by 2020 market measures will have CO2 & other emissions the levels they’d have been at under Kyoto?

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jet 04.26.06 at 1:04 pm

So in 2-5 more years when wind is as cheap as coal, my state’s coal plants, which have been putting off pollution upgrades for over a decade, will finally pay for those upgrades rather than just ramp down coal production as they ramp up wind production? I see what you are saying. Less efficient means of production never are replaced with more efficient means. They both stay around forever adding to total.

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albert 04.26.06 at 8:23 pm

Jet-

“Less efficient means of production never are replaced with more efficient means. They both stay around forever adding to total.”

No that’s not really it. If you changed ‘never’ to ‘only slowly’ and ‘forever’ to ‘…because increasing efficiency depresses prices and increases overall consumption therefore…’ you would have what I actually meant.

Anyway, I don’t know why you think the price window for wind power is 2-5 years. If the market were headed in that direction that fast, I don’t think there would be the policy handwringing that is going on now. I haven’t seen any studies that show a 2 year price shift for wind.

I don’t think there’s any fundamental reason to assume that wind will wind up cheaper than coal. It may be headed in that direction, but regulatory changes or lower cost abatement technologies may mean that coal remains cheap alongside wind, rather than one displacing the other. Also, energy markets don’t function purely on a $/Kwh basis. There’s lots of sunk capital in the coal mining and electricity sector. Your state’s electricity companies may diversify into wind, but there will likely still be companies whose bread and butter is coal. As long as there is demand for their product (even at an assumedly higher price), coal will still be used.

Third, your assumption contains a market correction rate that isn’t reasonable. Even if wind is cheaper in 2 years, the shift between electricity sources will take much longer. Especially, as I said earlier, if the Jevons effect lowers the cost of electricity and increases demand, thus slowing the transition away from fossil fuels.

Last, there’s much more than the market involved here. If states enacted policy favorable to off-grid and local production (especially net metering) the transition to affordable, non-carbon renewables could go much faster. The electricity industry has fought this hard though, and there seems to be little evidence for a political shift. Wind is still a niche player, and from the studies I’ve seen, will remain one for some time.

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