'Trust Us, Skeptics Are Crooks'

One of the most overlooked aspects of the anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming (AGW) issue is the way it defends its science conclusions by saying nobody offers valid scientific critiques.  The science is settled.

Anyone suggesting otherwise is branded an anti-science heretic, with the mere mention of the words "skeptic climate scientists" bringing on withering accusations about skeptics being paid by the fossil fuel industry to lie about the issue.

Notice the problem there?  We have an unsupported assertion about settled science, and adjectives about skeptics that are impossible to misinterpret -- "invalid," "anti-science," "heretic," "corrupt," "liar."

This fault becomes impossible to miss in an analogy any ordinary citizen can understand:

Imagine yourself at an informal car show, where you stop alongside another fellow to admire a pretty blue '80s-era sports car.  The owner sees your interest and exclaims, "This is an extremely rare 1983 Corvette.  You probably won't see any others in your lifetime."  But the other fellow scoffs, "This is probably no older than an '84 model.  GM made over 50,000 of 'em that year.  There's plenty of discussion among auto experts about this."

Corvette owner's option #1 reply: "Don't listen to this guy.  He worked at the Dodge trucks division in the late 1960s, he knows nothing about Chevys, he hasn't written any articles in Chevy or Corvette magazines, and in fact, he belongs to groups associated with people who advocate new technology over preserving automotive cultural icons.  He's an anti-history nut who would wipe out every junkyard on the planet.  Look at the organizations he's associated with, which get money from new-tech industries.  They channel money to people like him so he can spew anti-automotive history propaganda!  Despite what he says, every car collector organization in the country agrees that any 1983 Corvette is extremely rare, and they are all unanimous on our need to rise up and protect our history against these deniers of our heritage!  We need to have a national discussion on preserving our history, and anyone who doesn't agree with this is an ignorant anti-history zealot who'd scrap any car more than ten years old!"

Option #2: "I understand the gentleman's assumption.  GM made only 43 of these; supposedly all were scrapped after being officially used only by the factory.  It's said that the only 1983 unit in existence is at the National Corvette Museum, which had been hidden for years, but I have verified information to prove that this was a second hidden one, and I will be more than glad to compare notes with this gentleman in order to establish this one as genuine.  And I openly invite anyone else to prove me wrong, because I want to be absolutely certain that what I claim is correct beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Swap out the Corvette in this situation for man-caused global warming, swap the doubter for skeptic climate scientists, swap the owner for AGW promoters, and swap yourself into the shoes of the bystander listening to the #1 reply.

Your automatic reaction should be, "Wait a minute.  That other fellow said your car is probably not a 1983.  You never disputed what he said.  Why did you respond with this diatribe?"

That reaction has been missing from the global warming issue.  Almost from the inception of the issue, it has been suggested the matter was closed and that skeptics had questionable motives when they criticized the idea of the phenomenon being largely driven by human-induced greenhouse gases.

A particular phrase from physicist John Droz's recent Science Under Assault presentation to North Carolina legislators succinctly captures the problem.  To fully comprehend the science of anything we see, we must understand that "real science is about adjudicating the facts, not casting aspersions on the source."

As common citizens without science expertise, the majority of us are forced to leave the debate over the actual causes of global warming to the scientists.  But we can participate in another process -- namely, finding out for ourselves whether the narratives about the issue and its scientists ring true.  Examples include whether a commonly heard description about skeptics being "climate deniers" is true, when elemental examinations of skeptic reports indicate that it's more accurate to say they dispute that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has conclusively made the case for human-induced greenhouse gases being the primary driver of global warming.

Thus, what explains the "denier" label when the mere presence of some degree of global warming is not being disputed by the skeptics?

Worse, there is the accusation about skeptic scientists being crooks.

In the time between 1991 and late 1995, a few book references and magazine/newspaper articles suggested that skeptic scientists were out to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)" at the behest of the coal industry, supposedly proven by a leaked memo with that implied exact instruction.

Then ex-Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan publicly re-emerged in December 1995, more or less simultaneously with his infamous Harper's magazine "The Heat Is On" article, and in an NPR "Living on Earth" radio show interview.  In the latter, he reworded the memo phrase as "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact."  Each event is a case study on mimicking the "Corvette owner's option #1 reply" tactic above.

From that point forward, luminaries such as Al Gore credited Gelbspan as a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist who discovered and exclusively exposed the "reposition global warming" memo and other associated leaked memos, which were "evidence" of a fossil fuel industry disinformation campaign reminiscent of the way the tobacco industry employed "shill experts" to confuse the public about the hazards of cigarette smoking.  However, detailed examination of publicly available information instead points out the following: others wrote briefly about the memos before Gelbspan did, including Gore; the Pulitzer organization does not recognize Gelbspan as a Pulitzer winner; in 1995 he hadn't been working as a journalist for years; and when the otherwise hard-to-find memos are read in their full context, they appear to be nothing more than inter-office guidelines for conducting a pilot project ad campaign.

One more critical point: nobody corroborates the accusation that Gelbspan began to make famous back in late 1995; scores of people only repeat it.

For an issue supposedly rooted in pure science, it's hard to overlook how promoters of man-caused global warming have every appearance of being not only anti-intellectual, but also blatantly anti-science when they want us to unquestioningly ignore an entire side of the issue based on a yet to be proven accusation that skeptic climate scientists are corrupted by industry funding.

The elemental question to be asked is, if the media and the public relied on this accusation as an excuse to dismiss skeptics out of hand for nearly twenty years when it was never a valid excuse from the start, how long will this tactic be used before it ends up collapsing the entire global warming ideology?

Russell Cook's collection of writings on this issue can be seen at "The '96-to-present smear of skeptic scientists."  You may also follow him at Twitter via @questionAGW or at his Facebook page.

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