Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holy Followers of the Oily Shoe

By Bob Ferris

I am engaged in yet another long and exasperating dialogue with a climate denier 2 (i.e., an anthropogenic climate change denier who denies he or she is an anthropogenic climate change denier).  This one revolves around the mass mailing to teachers of the Heartland Institute’s Second Edition of their industry-influenced, “skeptical” take on climate change called Why Scientists Disagree at Global Warming: The NIPCC Report on Scientific Consensus.

The technical aspects of this document has been well-critiqued by an AP science teacher in Georgia who felt obligated to defend her discipline.  My hat is off to Brandie Freeman for this piece and also having the courage to teach science in this age of fake-news.  Folks in her profession need all of our support as they not only have to teach complicated concepts to often less-than-receptive students but do so in the presence of a giant global industry dedicated to filling their students minds with the intellectual equivalent of dirt.

The Heartland Institute’s publication is interesting.  I have worked on many science-based publications over the years and generally the idea is to gather well-respected experts and have them write, review or endorse your publication.  The notion being that there is a positive correlation between credentials and credibility.  The writing of these qualified folks leading to a better draft publication and the review helping with the final version.  Both of these are complemented by a foreword written by someone of such repute and expertise that it sets the whole tone for the publication.  The Heartland Foundation has taken a different, arguably reverse, approach.

Here the foreword is written by Marita Noon whose background is writing Christian living literature and freely admits that she is not an energy expert nor a scientist.  Moreover, she currently runs two non-profits advocating for issues like the use of hydraulic fracking and fossil fuels.  As her funding flows from the oil and gas interests in New Mexico, it is really hard to understand why the Heartland Institute would see her as an informational or credibility engine for this document.  Particularly as she is such an unaware and comic figure (see above Jesse Ventura clip or the Daily Show segment).

The scientists chosen are likewise puzzling.  Particularly if the goal of this publication is really credibility rather than some glossy trickery.  S. Fred Singer one of the publication’s three authors got his PhD in 1948 when he was twenty-four.  His publishing in legitimate journals was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Some good work but more recently his efforts have been seriously tainted by controversy.  Craig Idso and the late Robert Carter are no strangers to controversy either.  So all three authors are somewhat less than shining paragons of scientific credibility.  So why would Heartland use them and not others?

And when we shift our attention to those singing accolades about this work those too are puzzling if indeed this is about scientists and their associated discussions.  Why, for instance, would someone like E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D. be included by Heartland?  Beisner is a conservative theologian  not a scientist or someone with a background in energy.  How could those at Heartland think that this adds credibility to the document?  How is this not like having a butcher review a vegan cookbook?    A third of this list of endorsers are not scientists at all and many not legitimately involved in this debate.

Which brings me back to the beginning because what I have just done above would be characterized as an ad hominem attack by the climate change denier 2 making an appearance in science teacher’s blog thread.  In my experience during many, many such debates on technical issues this is frequently the defense of the least credentialed or those who present absolutely no credentials at all.  It seems illogical to me in the extreme to not want to know if someone presenting a complex idea lacked the appropriate credentials or was compromised through ideology, past transgressions or funding.  Why would it be rational to ignore these factors when trying evaluate any issue of import?

With the lawsuits on climate change (1,2,3) and Rex Tillerson’s e-mail alias, it should become clearer and clearer that the fossil fuel companies have known for a generation about climate change and their role in creating it.  Their response to the science was to create a set of alternative-facts and fabricate a debate that did not exist (see Andrew Revkin’s piece).

In the end our climate change denier 2 reminds me of those people following the late Graham Chapman through the streets in the movie “The Life of Brian.”  The fossil fuel industry and their allies like the Heartland Institute have created this “shoe” and many have unfortunately picked it up, tied it to a pole, and are walking through the streets worshiping it.

1 comment:

  1. Your knowledge base is impressive (and depressing when you think of the implications). Thanks for the mention and for fighting the good fight!