17 February 2012

People Who Live in Glass Houses..

Posted by Dan Satterfield

I tend to steer away from politics in this space, but this issue goes directly to science education in the classroom, and therefore it’s fair game.

Update: Several of the top climate experts (Dr. Ben Santer, Michael Mann and others) who have been the target of Heartland’s smear campaigns have written an open letter in the UK Guardian here.

I wrote a blog post about a pamphlet full of pseudo-science sent to me (and hundreds of other on-air weathercasters) over a year ago. It was, in a scientific sense laughable, and you can read that post here. Unfortunately the propaganda in the pamphlet was repeated by quite a few weathercasters. Fast forward to this week and the news that someone stole private documents from Heartland that put them in a rather bad light. Theft is theft, and this is no more legal than the theft of thousands of private emails from climate scientists two years ago.

The Heartland claim that the weather stations in the U.S. are not acceptable is not supported by the science. Heartland is paying more money to spread this kind of disinformation through a California blogger.

Heartland has screamed foul, which rings a bit hollow, since they were the ones that tried intently to make something out of the climate emails. This failed of course because there was nothing there and EVERY investigation into those who wrote them said so. Those who live from one conspiracy theory to the next will not accept that, but most reasonable people do. The press certainly accepts it, because they gave a big yawn when a new batch of these emails were released recently. It actually had the opposite effect than the thief hoped. Most of the press articles pointed out that all of the claims that Heartland promoted were shown to be false.

Heartland claims that at least one piece of the stolen material is faked, but the documents that seem to be real show that they are paying California weatherman Anthony Watts (who was behind the pamphlet sent to weathercasters) money to keep riding that train, even though the track was washed away by the facts. Watts has apparently confirmed this regardless of the veracity of the released documents from Heartland. Even more concerning is the project to produce a curriculum funded by fossil fuel contributors to confuse students on the issue of climate change. This is apparently being produced not by someone with a background in atmospheric or climate science but an adviser to the fossil fuel industry.

American students are falling ever more behind in math and science, while more and more teachers are reporting they get grief from parents and even administration over basic science like evolution or climate change in the classroom. In science, there is the peer-reviewed literature and scientific method. Anything outside of that may be the other-side but it is not science. It’s belief. There are plenty of subjects students can take to study political and religious beliefs, but  they have no place in a science classroom.

The connection between those who manufactured doubt on tobacco smoke and those who are doing the same on climate science is detailed in a book by Dr. Naomi Oreskes.

A number of other bloggers who I greatly respect have written on this issue. Below are links to their thoughts on the matter. Many of these people have backgrounds in science.

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy

Richard Black at The BBC (The BBC remains one of the best mainstream media outlets for accurate science reporting)

The NY Times Coverage

John Cook at Skeptical Science

From the AP via the CBS

Andy Revkin at Dot Earth

Peter Sinclair has embedded a video that shows the close connection between Heartland, and other think tanks with those who claimed cigarette smoking was not dangerous. In many cases it’s the same campaign, and the same handful of scientists involved with manufacturing doubt on tobacco and climate science. Read Naomi Oreskes for the amazing details on this.

Note: Heartland says it was duped into emailing the private documents to someone, and they could release that email if they wish to show that some of what was sent by the thief was doctored. Comments are open as always, but be prepared to back up your claims, (esp. with anything to do with climate science) and do not waste your time name calling. I will not approve those kind of comments.