Draft Contribution to Tech Central Station

by Kieran Healy on December 4, 2004

So, there “appear”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_12/005256.php to be _no_ explicit arguments in the “peer-reviewed scientific literature”:http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686 against the consensus position that, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, “Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” The “Tech Central Station”:http://www.google.com/search?q=flack+central+station&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 Op-Eds rebutting this finding must be in the hopper even now. To help them out, I have cobbled together one made up largely of statements in earlier columns by the likes of “Joel Schwartz”:http://www.techcentralstation.com/080404H.html, “James Glassman”:http://www.techcentralstation.com/112000A.html and “Iain Murray”:http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/murray200311030813.asp.

*The Main Source of Hot Air is Plain to See*
Kieran Healy (assisted by Schwartz, Murray and Glassman.)

“As Tech Central Station readers well know, there are reasons to be skeptical of claims of substantial human-caused warming.”:http://www.techcentralstation.com/080404H.html A “recent article”:http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686 in the fringe leftist journal _Science_ discovers a puzzle: none of these reasons is to be found in a survey of 928 peer-reviewed articles published in the past 10 years. Its author concludes that “Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.”

Remarkable, indeed. As you know, a “superb analysis”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002392.html by Ross McKitrick and Steven McIntyre showed that the famous “hockey stick”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3569604.stm finding — on which the consensus rests in part — was completely bogus, assuming you don’t know the difference between “degrees and radians”:http://cgi.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/2004/08#mckitrick6 and think that “temperature is not a physical quantity”:http://cgi.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/2004/05#georgia. (Setting “missing temperature values to zero”:http://cgi.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/2004/05#mckitrick3 helps also, but is an advanced quantitative technique.) This is just the sort of nitpickery by which the notoriously left-wing scientific establishment keeps dissenting views out of the journals. The whole affair bears strong resemblance to the recent Bellesiles controversy. Emory University historian Michael Bellesiles won a Bancroft Prize for his argument that gun ownership in early America was not widespread. It took an amateur historian, Clayton Cramer, to point out that this claim could not be substantiated on the basis of actual gun-ownership records. In an exactly parallel way, it took an incompetent analysis by two non-experts to undermine the hockey-stick finding.

Had he worked for a “hack website”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000853.html, Hayek would surely have been the first to note that the very idea of peer-review, and the free sharing of data and ideas, positively reeks of socialism. The market, and not Lysenkoist scientists, should be allowed to decide the truth about climate change. The present situation is a discouraging spectacle to anyone who expected rational, scientific discussions, but climate change has become an issue teeming with emotion, and uncertainty is not a word the participants in the so-called “scientific community” like to hear. Just like “Dow 36,000”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0609806998/002-1583111-0813632?v=glance is not a word I like to hear. Stop it. I told you, that shit ain’t funny.

Kieran Healy is unqualified to comment on matters of climate change, and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

(Hat tip: “Chris Mooney”:http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp?Id=1432.)



belle waring 12.04.04 at 1:54 am

superb rebuttal! you’ve saved someone at FlackCentral quite a bit of time with this!


PZ Myers 12.04.04 at 2:22 am

Brutally beautiful.


cloquet 12.04.04 at 2:29 am

Is the author a believer or non-believer in global warming? I can’t tell. And I would venture to say that any first time or casual Crookedtimber reader would have a hard time with reading this. Just when you are finished plowing through the links, out pops a reference to a man named Hayek and what does this have to do with global warming?

Of course people who are for the idea of global warming publish where they do and the antis must publish somewhere else. The question is, what exactly are we supposed to make of all this? Peer review is all fine and good, and I am all for it, but you must also determine when it is constructive and when it is a manifestation of herd mentality. Remember that a lot of scientists, when they first discovered something, would have been blackballed by “peer review.”

When I was in junior high and high school, the word was that we were headed into another ice age, geologically speaking, since the average inter-glacial period was 10,000 years and we were just about at the end of it. When you are talking tens of thousands of years, it is difficult to say what a warming trend is caused by.

On the other hand, I believe it is wise to take a conservative position, that the consequences of increased CO2 in the atmosphere could very well be real and terrible. Plus it is also the conservative position to invest more is alternative energy research, and to find better ways to conserve what we have, both worthy goals regardless of your view of global warming.

I would much prefer to see this, rather than spend many more dollars for the two sides to argue this point that could be spent on something more productive. I realize that people will argue from both sides that more research is needed, and some more may be needed. But sometimes it is just used as a stall tactic to divert our attention away from the fact that the Western developed countries use a lion’s share of the carbon fuel.


sennoma 12.04.04 at 2:32 am

Now that’s comedy gold.



John Quiggin 12.04.04 at 2:34 am

With respect to sources of hot air, empirical research conducted onsite by AEI staff suggests that K Street is a major urban heat island


sennoma 12.04.04 at 2:36 am

Argh. I meant Kieran’s post, not cloquet’s comment.


Richard Bellamy 12.04.04 at 4:45 am

Kieran on global warming studies:

“Had he worked for a hack website, Hayek would surely have been the first to note that the very idea of peer-review, and the free sharing of data and ideas, positively reeks of socialism.”

Today’s TCS column on the Kyoto Protocol, based on global warming studies:

“What would Hayek have written about Kyoto? Nobody knows. Yet, I venture the thought that it is possible to infer his views about the issue from his intellectual legacy. Let us see what the application of Hayekian reasoning will produce.”



Tom Weisshappel 12.04.04 at 6:15 am

As one of those “first time” Crooked Timber readers that was alluded to above, let me say that I did not have a hard time discerning the satirical nature of this article (it’s pretty obvious after clicking the first link).

An unfortunate detail of climate change is that the most severe consequences probably won’t be felt by any of the folks currently saying “ain’t gonna happen.” Therefore, it’s easy for them to treat climate change as a theoretical exercise for which they can just keep analyzing and analyzing ad nauseum.

Are we 100% sure human activities are influencing global climate? No – but when will we ever? What personal decision, business decision, political decision is ever made with 100% certainty?

The majority of our world’s best and brightest climatologists – people who have devoted their lives to understanding the complexities of the earth’s climate – are saying that the earth’s climate is being changed by human behavior. So, what if:
(1) They’re wrong and we do nothing? We all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
(2) They’re wrong and we implement changes? We breathe a sigh of relief – but inhale much cleaner air than that found in (1).
(3) They’re right and we implement changes? We breathe a sigh of relief that we had the foresight to take action when we did.
(4) They’re right and we do nothing? We curse the folks of this generation who were willing to risk long-term societal chaos in exhange for short-term financial gains.


bad Jim 12.04.04 at 8:09 am

Better, perhaps, had it been entitled Daft Contribution, but possibly redundant.

Americans love SUV’s, the Chinese want Hondas, both believing that personal vehicles are their birthrights. Higher energy prices are universally considered a threat. Under these circumstances despair is perfectly rational.


asg 12.04.04 at 10:43 am

Isn’t the IPCC the same body whose reports, it was revealed, were heavily edited by its political management, in order to advance conclusions far more specific and committal than the scientific membership was prepared to endorse? Or was that a myth?

Anyway, reading the Science magazine link, most of the statements quoted are, as one would expect from scientific bodies, highly tentative and nuanced (except on the central point of whether human activity is influencing global temperature trends). Much like this statement on climate change from the American Association of State Climatologists: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/aasc/aascclimatepolicy.pdf

If the sin of the right is misrepresenting the state of consensus on the existence of human influence on global climate change, the sin of the left is pretending that there’s a scientific consensus that Kyoto or some other policy has been settled on as the objectively scientifically best course to adopt, and only the depredations of (invariably “well-funded”) right-wing think tanks are preventing us from adopting this righteous course. (I am not accusing Kieran of this.)


David Tiley 12.04.04 at 12:41 pm

The document that asg cites is a shocker. Since it is prepared by state climatologists, I imagine some at least feel conflicted about what they can say as political appointees responding to political demands.

They say the bit about getting more money for themselves clearly. The rest is muddle and obfuscation. If they want to say something, the document is a fabulous example of how not to say it and should be taught as a case study in science communication courses.

Talk about the burying the point two thirds the way into each qualifying paragraph.


Tom Weisshappel 12.04.04 at 1:04 pm

asg states that “the sin of the left is pretending that there’s a scientific consensus that Kyoto or some other policy has been settled on as the objectively scientifically best course to adopt.”

I agree. I believe that there is a lack of true awareness of this issue across the entire political spectrum. Many countries are patting themselves on the back for adopting Kyoto. However, it seems my, albeit superficial, reading of the latest climate change forecasts suggests that much more drastic action must be taken than Kyoto prescribes. If these countries themselves truly believed that climate change was as serious as they publicly expound, they’d be furiously pressing for additional restrictions on top of Kyoto. Curiously, they seem rather silent on this. It’s as if they’re saying “We did our symbolic act of adopting Kyoto, we don’t need to do anything further.” In this way, they are acting no better than the U.S. in ignoring the consensus scientific opinion.


Rob 12.04.04 at 1:31 pm

Social Security? A governemnt progrma that may run into small problems 50 year in the future. Conservative response: We must completely overhaul the program! Radical change is needed!

Global Warming? A scientifically supported event that could cause catastrophic changes 50 years hence. Conservative response: We should wait a bit longer. No need to go off half-cocked.


cliu 12.04.04 at 2:45 pm


Warren 12.04.04 at 4:28 pm

Hi there,
First time visitor here, and for the record a big Hayek booster. I thought I might introduce you to Patrick J. Michaels an actual accredited scientist type fellow. One of his main critiques of the so-called scientific literature is that there’s not enough peer review.

(2) They’re wrong and we implement changes? We breathe a sigh of relief – but inhale much cleaner air than that found in

You’re overly simplified perspective has done you a disservice. The actual consequences run more along the lines of; Millions of people remain, and are forced into poverty. Power is further concentrated into the hands of the elite. Tyranny… corruption… end of civilization… Hmmmm, I might be overstating the matter.


Warren 12.04.04 at 5:15 pm

technical difficulties.
The Patrick J. Michaels link seems to be broken. It was meant to show that he is the best selling ‘global warming’ author. Try this one, or better yet this one


Robin Green 12.04.04 at 5:28 pm

Warren, your link is broken.


Jim Harrison 12.04.04 at 5:33 pm

I’ve worked with some of the technical folks who project future coal prices. They routinely include the cost of the recapture of CO2 in their estimates because they take it for granted that any administration, left or right, will eventually have to take serious action about greenhouse gases. These economists and engineers are hardly radicals or even environmentalists, but they are realists.


cloquet 12.04.04 at 7:22 pm

If you read the last few paragraphs of the Oreskes paper, you may get the feeling that yes, the author agrees with the conclusion, but nevertheless the unanimity of the scientists to that degree is a bit disturbing.

It is as if the scientists have segregated themselves into like minded groups, and you have to be careful when you look at their conclusions.

She states that of “928 papers, none argued that current climate change was natural.”

But I would agree that upsetting the balance of CO 2 in the atmosphere is the major concern. After all, there was concern not too many years ago to the loss of ozone to fluorohydocarbons, and this led to use of different propellants, not a long dispute over whether this was normal or not.


John Quiggin 12.04.04 at 7:55 pm

“After all, there was concern not too many years ago to the loss of ozone to fluorohydocarbons, and this led to use of different propellants, not a long dispute over whether this was normal or not.”

On the contrary, cloquet, many of the leading CO2 sceptics cut their teeth as ozone layer sceptics and a few (eg Singer, I think) still maintain this position. Here’s Sallie Baliunas


Chet Murthy 12.04.04 at 8:17 pm

Gotta love it: “The market, and not Lysenkoist scientists, should be allowed to decide the truth about climate change.”

You had me fooled for a sec there!
I was about to flame-on!


Antoni Jaume 12.04.04 at 9:35 pm

Tom Weishappel, if “Kyoto” is insufficient, and most people I think knowledgeable do think so, it is due to the will to find a middle ground that would be acceptable by the USA, in the hope that once agreed upon a way to mitigate the effects, more useful methods would get effected.



cloquet 12.04.04 at 10:51 pm

To John Quiggen:

The main point is that action was taken. If anything at all, this points to the difficulty in implementation when you have point vs. non-point pollution. Point pollution is usually industrial. Non-point are things like sewage treatment plants, even though they also release at a “point” to change requires sacrifice on the part of everyone, rather than focusing on industry as the bad guy.

Just look around, you can see cases that when proper pressure was applied, private industry did what it was supposed to do. In a community near where I like, they still have problems with sewage treatment overflows during heavy rains, primarily because the cost of proper sump drainage must be met by the individual, and not one industry. The individual gets leeway that industry would never get if faced with the same cleanup responsibility.


Tom Weisshappel 12.04.04 at 10:54 pm

Warren – yes, I’ll admit that mine was an overly simplified perspective.

However, what if the Earth’s climate can be accurately described as a chaotic system? Tinkering with the “initial conditions” as we are doing could push the Earth’s climate into a pattern that has not been experienced by mankind for a long time (or perhaps ever). That, at least to me, is scarier than any other alternative could possibly be.

We could, as some have suggested, continue to study the issue. Maybe in 100 years a climatologist will give a worldwide press conference and say,
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We now have a perfect understanding the Earth’s climate.” (applause)
“We now know with 100% certainty that the Earth’s climate passed a tipping point 10 years ago and that there is absolutely nothing we can do at this point to prevent it from continuing. Thank you and have a nice day.”


Gar lipow 12.05.04 at 5:30 am

Also if you look at literature, the idea we will see major effects in 50 years is pretty much obsolete. We are seeing significant effects now, and can expect major effects within ten or fifteen years. This is not just your grandchildrens problem people.

Real email is Garlpublic followed by the at sign, then dot then net.


vernaculo 12.05.04 at 5:32 am

Automobiles: biggest industry in US.

Traffic fatalities: biggest single cause of death in US for people under 30.

Oil. Gasoline. Cars. I don’t know, but I think there’s a connection in there somewhere. Iraq. Iran. Ossetia. Sudan. Nigeria.
And, oh yeah, increasing incidence of “extreme weather” due to increased temperatures. Glacier melting. Species migration into previously inhospitable regions and away from vice versa. Inuit hunters on thin ice.
The scam is to make the individual driver/owner feel responsible, because you know, you chose to do that. And American TV is roaring with brand-new SUV’s all shiny and protectively large and powerful, conquering the hostile landscape. Suggesting confidently the fear will be ameliorated by its cause.
Who’s running this scam?
Where’s the inertia?
We’re living in a climate of politcal/religious security/terror that requires constant vigilance and endless pre-emptive war to make us safe. Well?


Gar Lipow 12.05.04 at 5:42 am

The one thing that bugs is commens about effects “50 years from now”. A fair number of people are suffering today from global warming; that suffering is currently trivial compared to world hunger and preventable diseasers , war and such, but still kills a fair number of people in the absolute sense.

Further recent data shows those effects increasing much faster than expected a few years ago. We may start seeing catastrophic results in as little as a decade – certainly within 20 or 30 years. In short global warming is our problem – not merely our grandchildren’s.


Tom Weisshappel 12.05.04 at 7:37 pm

Sad to say but 10 years might as well be 50 or 100 in the eyes of some of my fellow Americans.

I would guess that most business leaders’ vision extends out to 5 years at most. However, even this narrow vision is mainly focused on the next year or next quarter.

Politicians are only concerned if something will come back to bite them before they come up for re-election (OK – maybe I’m over-generalizing on that one but it seems to hold true more often than not). Given that the longest term in U.S. government is 6 years (for senators), it seems unlikely that any solution will be put forward by U.S. political leaders anytime soon.

I think, in the end, it’s up to each of us to do our part. We need to continue to build our own awareness and let our actions flow accordingly. As small and insignificant as it may seem, what we do is really the only thing we have control of. And if enough of us do it, we can do more than any politician or business could ever hope to do.


Strange Doctrines 12.05.04 at 7:58 pm

Very nice job. I think they might have some work for you over at the CSC as well.

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