Is the word of one climate scientist worth that of 420 Spice Girls? | RenewEconomy

Is the word of one climate scientist worth that of 420 Spice Girls?

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In a week when Arctic sea ice levels plunged to a record low, the infamous climate change-denying ‘Oregon petition’ has resurfaced in mainstream media and on talkback radio, pitting the ‘expert’ views of vets, dentists and Spice Girls against peer-reviewed climate scientists.

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It is ironic that in the very week that Arctic ice levels reached a record low and warnings were made about the amount of methane that might be released from melting ice in the Antarctic, we should be reminded by the climate denialist community that we should reject mainstream climate science on the say-so of Ginger Spice and Hot Lips Houlihan.

You’ve got to admire them for persistence. I first wrote three years ago about the 31,000 “Oregon petition” – the document promoted as “proof” that there is no consensus about climate science. The document was thoroughly discredited then (as it had been previously), but here it is surfacing again.

It’s worth going back through its history, because not only is it an entertaining story, but it is also very informative about the background and the motivations of those who want to perpetuate such nonsense. And here it is back in the mainstream media and on talkback radio.

The Petition Project actually goes back to 1998, when it was first released by the founder and head of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, one Arthur Robinson. It claimed then to have 17,000 signatures from scientists rejecting the findings of the IPCC and the Kyoto Treaty. It was an online petition that invited “scientists” to register their support. Environmental groups had a ball – the petition was so poorly conceived that it was possible to insert the names of the entire cast of M*A*S*H and even Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell, who actually had two entries, one as a Boston-based microbiologist.

“When you get thousands of signatures, there’s no way of filtering out a fake,” Robinson told Associated Press in 1998.

Ten years later, he was at it again, this time with an even bigger petition, with more than 30,000 signatures, of which 9,000 had PDHs in “relevant” sciences, he told Glenn Beck from Fox News in this interview. Robinson said these scientists all agreed that CO2 was good for the environment, and led to more plants and animals “…and it means American forests are growing faster,” he told a clearly impressed Beck.

Robinson is an interesting character. His institute is in fact a father and sons enterprise located in a barn on his property in Cave Junction, Oregon. Robinson’s main business is to sell “home schooling” kits that include 22 CDs that cover the entire syllabus of 12 years of schooling. Presumably they learn just enough to be able to understand the instructions of Robinson’s other best-selling video, “How to survive a nuclear war.” Apparently you need to dig at least eight foot down, but the ventilation can be tricky.

Robinson is typical of the climate denialists’ camp. He rails against a hoax conjured up by the UN in its desire for world government and global taxes. The local newspaper, The Register-Guard, says he is a signatory to the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which promotes Intelligent Design as an alternative to the theory of natural selection. He wants to disband  Social Security, Medicare and environmental regulations, as well as the public education system, because they all bring a “socialist intrusion on personal and corporate freedom.”

Robinson is also seeking election to Congress, for the second time. His opponent, the 12-term sitting Democrat Peter DeFazio, describes Robinson as a “pathological nut-job” from a “survivalist compound.” This time Robinson tried to rattle his opponent by getting his 24-year-old son Matthew to run against DeFazio in the Democratic primary. Not that his son is a Democrat. He says he own views are “very similar” to his father. At least we know the CDs are effective.

Peter Dykstra, from Mother Nature Network, summed it up this way in 2009:

“The Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine isn’t one of those ivory-tower think tanks. In fact, it’s run by a father-son team in a barn near Cave Junction, Oregon. Its oft-cited Petition Project is the Magna Carta of climate denial. Originally launched, and immediately discredited, in 1998, the OISM Petition has risen from the dead like the corpse in the bathtub at the end of a Stephen King flick.

“Originally a manifesto claiming the signatures of 17,000 “scientists” firmly opposed to the notion of global warming, Art and Noah Robinson’s project took in the names of just about anyone with a science degree — in at least a few cases, fictional people with science degrees: Drs. Pierce, Burns, Hunnicutt, Potter, Houlihan, and O’Reilly signed up to deny the existence of global warming. So did Dr. Geri Halliwell. If you’re keeping score, that’s most of the cast of the M*A*S*H and “Ginger Spice” from the Spice Girls.

“The National Academy of Sciences, learning that OISM had published the petition on a cheap knockoff of NAS letterhead, offered an unusually stern rebuke. None of which phased the Robinsons, who also market nuclear war survival kits from the OISM site. They published an updated list of 31,000 scientists, including veterinarians, engineers, and plastic surgeons whose work has apparently revealed the folly of global warming. Through it all, the OISM petition has been unskeptically embraced by talk shows, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senator Inhofe, and countless blogs.”

Why should we bother with this? Well, here it is again, being cited, like yet another Stephen King sequel, in what purports to be serious piece of opinion published in mainstream media and quoted on talkback radio.

The modern petition appears to have filtered out the M*A*S*H cast, the Spice Girls, and Michael J. Fox. But pick any group of names – and some of them are pretty weird – and see if you come up with anything about the scientific degrees when you Google them. You may find a lot of vets and dentists.

But the petition project organisers are unrelenting. The OISM now proudly boasts a list of “experts on global warming” – about 100 actors and musicians, media types, Prince Charles and Richard Branson, most of whom it says had either dropped out of high school or college, or didn’t have a science degree. And then it provides a link to the 31,000 “experts” who disagree.

The blogger, Jo Nova, whose article lauding the petition appeared in The Australian last week, and on her website, asked in her article if the word of one climate scientist pushing the anthroprogenic climate change barrow was worth that of 420 “scientists” who disagreed with him or her. Perhaps we should ask whether the word of a climate scientist who has published a peer reviewed paper, and the academies of science that support them and thousands of others, is worth equal weight to the opinion of 420 vets, dentists and Spice Girls. The answer should be pretty obvious to most.

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9 Comments
  1. Martin Nicholson 7 years ago

    Such perpetuating of nonsense isn’t limited to climate change. My local community up here in Byron Bay has recently been blessed by a revisit of an ex-local resident – retired doctor and anti-nuclear campaigner, Helen Caldicott. Last Monday, Helen happily told a gathering of 200 or so anti-nuclear believers (I’m surrounded by them up here) that a million people died as a result of Chernobyl and three million will die from Fukushima. She doesn’t have a scrap of evidence to support either supposition but that doesn’t stop her preaching her nonsense to the converted.

    • Ken Fabian 7 years ago

      It’s not the strength of anti-nuclear sentiment that keeps nuclear off the table in Australia, it’s the weakness of support.

      The views of a minority of extreme anti-nuclear activists are a minor problem for nuclear compared to mainstream political parties that deny the seriousness and even the reality of the climate problem. Whilst the former represents exaggerated strength of small numbers of extreme opponents to nuclear the latter represents a very large number led by the cream of professional right leaning political persuaders who persist in abusing their positions of public trust to maintain a dangerous illusion for the sake of fossil fuels. They are using everything they have to undermine public acceptance of the best reason in a long time to look at nuclear and perhaps reconsider it in terms of the relative costs and risks. Why pro-nukers don’t see that as a profound betrayal and stab in the back has me puzzled.

      As far as dangerously irresponsible idiocies go climate science denial trumps anti-nuclear hands down.

      Martin, if you really want mainstream political support for nuclear, turn your attention on the LNP coalition – until they drop the BS climate denial position they will never truly support the replacement of fossil fuels with nuclear or anything else.

  2. J 7 years ago

    Climate politics is a belief system for those on the extreme right and sadly for those on the extreme left as well. It is the centre that will be swayed by evidence. If suddenly the scientific opinion swung on the basis of new evidence from 98% consensus to 45% consensus, the far left would not ‘believe ‘ the new evidence either.

    50% of Americans ‘believe’ that god created the earth less than 10,000 years ago and placed on it humans in their current form. Evidence is simply irrelevant for these people. Just as the far left does not believe the scientific evidence of the safety of GMO crops and engages in violence to destroy them. Same animal, different belief system.

    A good many of these people (including many friends of mine) are intelligent professionals from engineers to doctors. Many work with the scientific method every day but still manage to hold these bizarre beliefs.

    This is a pychological state known as ‘doublethink’ and is employed by athletes to maintain a winning state of mind even if they are ranked 150 in the world and defeat is inevitable. It is why an extremist must see their ideology win the argument despite the evidence to the contrary. Facts don’t matter.

  3. Nick James 7 years ago

    Any chance of getting the Australian to print this article as a follow up to Joanne Nova’s column, Giles?

  4. George 7 years ago

    @Martin Nicholson – You have to be very careful comparing anti-nuclear sentiment with climate denial.

    Whilst they may be some similarities in (non-critical) thinking in some groups, there are also very real reasons why nuclear generation is problematic ( for technical, social and economic reasons ). So a broad brush dismissal of one is certainly not applicable to the other.

    As for Helen’s claims of death and illness from nuclear accidents, I am not defending them per se, but I think it is also fair to say that we can and will never know the full extent and impact. However if you extrapolate from exposure levels using a linear, no threshold model for radiation damage( which is the most probable relationship and endorsed by medical and scientific peak bodies ) then very large numbers of people have and will be affected.

    Of course the defense that there is no evidence is as hollow as the similar assertion made by climate deniers that climate change has/will cause no harm “because there is no evidence”.

    In other words, I would be very careful making this analogy, not to mention its divisiveness. Perhaps “vaccination denial” or “HIV denial” would be more comparable.

  5. Emm 7 years ago

    @J – on the GM thing, its a complete misconception that all the people of the “far left” are against GMs being “unsafe” to eat. What’s truly ‘unsafe’ about them in my eyes, and in the eyes of many others who campaign against them is the idea that a corporation can own the patent to a seed – a seed which is resistant to said company’s weed-killer – a seed which will contaminate the environment around it with its progeny, and become an environmental weed / screw with everyone else’s crops.
    GM is a load of baloney – it doesn’t make food cheaper, it only gives the workers of Monsanto and Bayer a job.

  6. jd 7 years ago

    Great article Giles, and very timely.

    Never mind that despite the fact that the article had nothing to do with nuclear fantasies the nuclear fantasists tried to use it to bolster their delusions. Let it be said once again – Australia has the best renewable energy resources in the world and (whatever arguments may or may not stand for other nations) it makes NO sense for Australia to use nuclear fission plants when our renewable opportunities are so fantastic. George left a very reasoned reply to Martin and I’d like to request that we keep on topic.

  7. Mogumbo Gono 5 years ago

    Any author who labels those he disagrees with as “deniers” and “denialists” has a screw loose, and is far nuttier than anyone he is criticizing. Name-calling like that wins no debates.

    If you cannot debate science based on facts and evidence — and it’s clear that you can’t — then your whole screed is a discredited ad hominem rant.

    After so many years of NO global warming, which has thrown the climate alarmist crowd into major consternation, it is clear that the only reloevant Authority, Planet Earth, has debunked the “carbon” scare.

    Only a few years ago there was real concern expressed by the commenting public under articles discussing global warming. But no more. Now, almost all reader comments ridicule the global warming scare as a money-grubbing hoax.

    That it is. No credible science supports the hoax. And it will only get worse for the Chicken Little crowd.

    • Dano2 5 years ago

      Actually, denialists have zero data to support their ideological worldview or self-identities. None. Science refutes their worldview.

      Best,

      D

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