Bad climate science in US schools: an open letter to Heartland & NIPCC
Open Letter — October 2013
To: Diane Carol Bast, Executive Editor, The Heartland Institute
Re: Release of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science
Dear Mrs. Bast,
Thanks for sending out your helpful, if somewhat self-congratulatory, memo to so many US teachers (PDF). Its subject is important: the NIPCC’s gripping sequel “Climate Change Reconsidered II”, a title as original as the ‘Not the IPCC’ nomenclature is witty.
While I’m sure nobody would question your organisation’s motive in wanting to reach out to so many young and impressionable minds (and I’m sure very few will conflate this initiative with Heartland’s sturdy defence of the embattled tobacco industry during the 1990s) there are some minor issues that might demand attention.
“With the 2013-14 school year well underway, you’re no doubt planning how you will discuss with your students the subject of global warming (aka climate change)”.
The NIPCC report claims to be a ‘scientific’ document ‘faithful to the scientific method’. When you represent it, perhaps it would be better to use terminology that is equally faithful? Global warming may, to the popular media, be synonymous with ‘climate change’, but in climate science they are two different things. Global warming is a process, climate change is the result. It may seem like a small point, but science is irritatingly full of them. When discussing a curriculum with our educators, accuracy is a great virtue. It would be unfortunate if teachers were to gain the impression that such casual laxity was representative of the entire NIPCC report.
“You have an important decision to make. Will you tell your students the “science is settled” on global warming, as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims it is?”
I’m having trouble finding that exact statement in any IPCC document ever published. Are you perhaps confusing the IPCC with Al Gore – an easy mistake to make, after all?
“Or will you explain to them that real science is never settled…”
Good point. Science can only ever be ‘settled’ when we know everything there is to know about everything. Meanwhile, let’s ensure we don’t imply that because we don’t know everything, we therefore know nothing.
“…the essence of science is skepticism, the questioning of theories and predictions based on fear and ignorance rather than facts and reason?”
I could not agree more. Skepticism ‘based on fear and ignorance’ is to be avoided at all costs. Conversely, skepticism towards climate science based on the reasoning of science, and the facts represented by the evidence, are an essential part of the scientific method. As I’m sure you know, the only way to challenge science is with better science.
“Many scientists believe the widely cited reports of the IPCC are flawed”.
So they do. But perhaps we should point out – in the interests of balance, say – that beliefs do not contribute to scientific knowledge. Only science does, using the facts and reasoning you referred to earlier to create the better science I mentioned.
“Some of the world’s most prominent physicists and atmospheric scientists are on record saying popular fears of global warming are…[etc]…”
I think you missed out the bit where you explain their prominence is attributable to their repeated, and somewhat ‘individual’, statements to the media. Still, we shouldn’t begrudge them their fifteen minutes, even if their work doesn’t have sufficient credibility to earn meritorious celebrity.
“I have enclosed here the Summary for Policymakers of the most recent volume of Climate Change Reconsidered II – Physical Science, the new report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”.
And I’m sure we’re all grateful. As an aside, I did a Google search on the paper and found a strange thing: virtually all the listings, reports, citations and supportive discussions of the NIPCC and its reports were on sites and media outlets associated with climate change denial in one way or another.
‘Climate scientists’? Apparently not: just ’50 scientists’. Is there a difference, perhaps?
Sorry – just nit-picking; what I really wanted to ask was this: why it is I keep reading so many scurrilously malicious attacks on prominent contributors to your report? Surely it can’t be true that a number of them have close ties to the fossil fuel industry (as does Heartland, so they say). Tell me it’s all a pack of lies that some contributors routinely take the proffered thirty pieces (or maybe just a free lunch) to misrepresent climate science on behalf of vested interests, sowing doubt about it in much the same way some of them also attempted to undermine science on the detrimental consequences of smoking tobacco?
“It is the first of two volumes that together mirror and rebut the reports of Working Group 1 and Working Group 2 of the IPCC”.
Really? I wonder if a little more circumspection (or modesty) is called for, since you appear to claim that the NIPCC report ‘rebuts’ the entire canon of climate science, as synthesised by the IPCC from the work of thousands of climate scientists published in equally voluminous numbers of peer-reviewed papers. Surely the report cannot rebut all of it?
“Like the IPCC’s reports, NIPCC’s reports cite thousands of articles appearing in peer-reviewed science journals relevant to the subject of human-induced climate change. CCR-II arrives at conclusions very different from those of the IPCC”.
By the way, speaking of peer-review, it’s odd how many of the ‘scientific’ theories cited in the NIPCC report did not actually get published in any peer-reviewed paper. I expect it’s some kind of conspiracy to suppress the truth. (Curiously, many of the claims do however feature in the website Skeptical Science. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?)
“We hope you can spare a few minutes to examine the Summary for Policymakers and use that work to inform your thinking — and your students — on this important issue”.
Let’s hope they take your sage advice. The NIPCC report is indeed important, as is its origin, the reason for its production, and the motives of its sponsors – but mainly for the qualities of the science it describes. Conventional climate change science, the kind documented by the IPCC, is a paradigm accepted by 97% of the world’s climate scientists. It is worthy and noble of Heartland to lend its clarion voice to the other 3%.
(PS – do mention to your husband Joe, who I understand is quite prominent in the Heartland hierarchy, that although I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change, the only connection I have with Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski is the one your husband speciously attributed to me for the sole reason that I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence.)